Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On A+, with a comment about Richard Carrier’s intemperance


freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag
by Massimo Pigliucci

The buzz is on: the third wave of atheism is on the march. It’s called A+, and it has a nice logo to go with it. A+ is the brainchild of Jen McCreight, a liberal blogger and “perverted feminist” (her words) who writes for Freethought Blogs, and rose to fame initially for her very funny “boobquake” stunt a couple of years ago.

Jen is concerned about issues that have worried me for some time too, particularly the fact that the atheist community seems to me to be rife with misogyny and very little concern for social issues (not even when it comes to the freedom of speech of other atheists, see the abysmally embarrassing failure of the petition on behalf of Alexander Aan).

As a reaction, Jen has proposed a new type of atheism, a third wave after the “intellectual and academic” beginnings and the confrontational “New Atheism.” She proposes an atheism concerned with social issues, where the light of reason and critical scrutiny is directed not just at debunking creationists but also to illuminating questions of injustice about gender, ethnicity and the like.

Here is Jen’s summary of the programmatic points for A+, in a follow up to her original post (see also endorsements by Greta Christina and Nelson Jones):

We are…

Atheists plus we care about social justice,

Atheists plus we support women’s rights,

Atheists plus we protest racism,

Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,

Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

Perfect, I’m on board. But (you knew this was coming, yes?) I do have a couple of observations (before I get to Richard Carrier, as the title promises). One is historical in nature, the other philosophical.

Historically, what Jen, Greta and others are looking for already exists. It’s called secular humanism, and it has had (and continues to have) a huge impact on precisely the issues listed above. How huge? Well, just to cite an example, the UN Declaration of Human Rights is a quintessential humanist document, which has influenced international relations since its adoption in 1948.

Secular humanism has a long history, depending on how exactly one defines the concept, and it includes a series of Humanist Manifestos (the first one of which was published in 1933, the last one in 2003) that address precisely the sort of issues that A+ is concerned with, and then some.

So, my first point isn’t a critique of A+ as much as a reminder that, well, some of us (secular humanists) have been doing that sort of thing for almost a century (not I personally, I’m not that old...).

My second point is more philosophical in nature: I am skeptical that something like A+ can get off the ground — as much as I support its aims — for the simple reason that atheism is not a philosophy, and we should stop pretending that it is.

When atheists are concerned that their position is perceived as being only negative, without any positive message, they shouldn’t really be worried, but should rather bite the bullet: a-theism simply means that one lacks a belief in god(s), and for excellent reasons. It is akin to a-unicornism, the lack of a belief in unicorns. That lack of belief doesn’t come with any positive position because none is logically connected to it.

It is a similar situation for skeptics, who also often suffer being labeled as nay sayers without a positive message. If you are skeptical of, say, homeopathy, you don’t need a positive message qua skeptic: your job is to debunk the irrational and explain why that particular notion doesn’t make any sense (and may cost money and lives). End of story.

Now, skepticism does have a positive counterpart: it’s called science. If you wish to redirect former believers in homeopathy onto a better path to health you send them to a medical doctor who uses science-based medicine. This, however, does not require the skeptic herself to be a medical doctor (nor to play one on tv), it just requires that the skeptic be aware of the relevant literature and community of expertise.

So, what is the equivalent positive counterpart to atheism? Philosophy, obviously. But things get a bit more complicated than in the case of the skepticism-science relationship because different atheists may endorse different positive philosophies. Those like Jen and myself adopt a progressive liberal approach to social issues, i.e. we become secular humanists. But other atheists choose libertarianism, or Objectivism (yeah, don’t ask me why). And let’s not forget that — as much as we usually don’t acknowledge it — there are likely plenty of straightforward conservatives who are also atheists. This variety shouldn’t at all be puzzling, because atheism is not a social or political philosophy in its own right, it is a simple metaphysical or epistemic statement about the non existence of a particular type of postulated entity.

Despite my reservations, I wish Jen and the others the best of luck with A+. As Jen put it, “I want to improve the atheist movement, not create a splinter faction or something. But it’s fabulous marketing-wise and as a way to identify yourself as a progressive atheist.” Count me in, I am a progressive atheist; otherwise known as a secular humanist.

And now to Richard Carrier. He too immediately endorsed A+ over at Freethought Blogs, but his language was so unnecessarily harsh that I almost called up my priest to ask him for some lessons on Catholic tolerance throughout the centuries (ok, that’s not actually true). I have had occasional epistolary encounters with Carrier, and they have left a seriously bad taste in my mouth. His intemperance with people who happen to disagree — even marginally — with his position is nauseating (just ask the editor of Skeptical Inquirer, who occasionally receives and promptly refuses to publish Richard’s letters about my columns).

Here are some excerpts from Carrier’s post about A+, just to give you a taste:

“There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all.”

“Anyone who makes a fallacious argument and, when shown that they have, does not admit it, is not one of us, and is to be marginalized and kicked out, as not part of our movement, and not anyone we any longer wish to deal with.”

“I do not think it is in our interests any longer to cooperate in silence with irrational people, when it is irrationality that is the fundamental root cause of all human evil. Anyone who disagrees with that is simply not someone we can work with.”

“We cannot hold our tongue and not continue to denounce their irrationality in any other sphere, because to do so would be to become a traitor to our own values.”

“This does not mean we can’t be angry or mean or harsh, when it is for the overall good (as when we mock or vilify the town neonazi); ridiculing the ridiculous is often in fact a moral obligation, and insults are appropriate when they are genuinely appropriate.”

“And if you are complicit in that, or don’t even see what’s wrong with it, or worse, plan to engage in Christian-style apologetics for it, defending it with the same bullshit fallacies and tactics the Christians use to defend their own immorality or that of their fictional god, then I don’t want anything to do with you. You are despicable. You are an awful person. You disgust me. You are not my people.”

It keeps going like this for quite a bit, but I think you get the point (if you don’t, uhm, we may have a problem, but I will not tell you that you are fucking evil, nor will I throw you out of my club — particularly because I don’t have one).

And here is the kicker: shortly after Carrier posted his rant, Jen McCreight herself tweeted the following:

“Finally had time 2 read Richard Carrier's #atheismplus piece. His language was unnecessarily harsh, divisive & ableist. Doesn't represent A+.”

I guess the new movement has already excommunicated someone, and that happens to be its most viciously vocal supporter so far.

p.s. Ron Lindsay of CFI just published a commentary on A+ where he hits most of my points, albeit phrased differently.

126 comments:

  1. And in the end Sam Harris position is probably right, as usual.

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    1. What is Sam Harris' position, exactly?

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    2. Lars is probably referring to Harris' position that science can answer moral questions. He is actually off the mark:

      http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/04/about-sam-harris-claim-that-science-can.html

      http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/02/genuinely-puzzled-what-exactly-is.html

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    3. Interesting, however Massimo you'll have to count me amongst the many who disagree with you on that.

      Getting a bit off topic, but...

      I find it odd that you're happy to define morality as "maximization of human welfare and flourishing", but don't think that that leads to being able to answer moral questions with science.

      Surely "x increases human welfare and flourishing more than y does" is a scientifically testable hypothesis?

      Honestly, your response to Julia's post appears to support Harris' view wholeheartedly.

      "to say that something is objectively true is not the same as to say that it is a fact"

      This is a bizarre notion, and surely splitting hairs. Honestly your disagreements with Harris appear to be on specifics, not on his overall contention.

      I strongly suspect that if science were to show that hitting children improved school performance, your rejection of hitting children despite this would be more scientific than you are claiming. After all, hitting children might have long term negative effects (indeed its looking like this is the case: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110726111109.htm), so you would need to weigh the benefit of better school results in the short term against this.

      Seems perfectly scientific to me!

      I also suspect, based on her 'straw Vulcan' talk, that Julia may have changed her tune slightly since the 'Hume's guillotine' piece. But I may be reading into it a bit much.

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    4. bilbo,

      well, that definitely is off topic, and I have addressed Harris in the two posts linked to above. If you read them, you'll find my answers to your objections. Briefly though:

      I never said science has nothing to say about moral questions. Of course factual matters are relevant to issues of wellbeing. But that's not what Harris is arguing (if it were, he would be making a point that is trivially true, and certainly not worth a whole book). He claims that science can handle questions of values, or alternatively that there are no such questions (he is ambiguous about it).

      As for objectivity and facts, the entire fields of logic and mathematics produce truthful statements that are not about (empirical) facts, so there is no splitting of hairs going on at all here.

      As for hitting children and the like, I frankly don't give a rat's ass about what science says: hitting children is, in my opinion, morally wrong, regardless of the consequences. See, it's a great example because in order to follow science there you have to start from a position of moral consequentialism, which is fine, except that consequentialism itself is not "demonstrable" empirically.

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    5. Well you're always going to have the moral highground with the child-hitting example, but a rationalist such as yourself should see how easily that kind of reasoning leads to absurdities:

      "As for knitting scarves and the like, I frankly don't give a rat's ass about what science says: knitting scarves, in my opinion, morally wrong, regardless of the consequences"

      I contend that you appear to be forming opinions based on moral consequentialism, however much you deny it.

      I look forward to debating this further someplace else in the future.

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    6. bilbo: I agree that, if you could demonstrate that knitting scarves leads to some horrible consequences, then I would morally object to that activity. Lacking that demonstration...

      But then that begs the question: Why do I deem those consequences so horrible? I don't think either science or philosophy can answer that question in a way that would cause me to change my (emotionally charged) reaction (or "give a rat's ass", as Massimo put it).

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    7. bilbo,

      > you're always going to have the moral highground with the child-hitting example <

      That was *your* example.

      Concerning your knitting scarves counter-example, see mufi's comment above.

      > I contend that you appear to be forming opinions based on moral consequentialism <

      I contend that is not true, since I have written several times on this blog that I am a virtue ethicist, not a consequentialist:

      http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/08/on-ethics-part-iv-virtue-ethics.html

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    8. It was your example, you mentioned it in one of your posts you linked to in your first reply to me. Not that it should matter, of course.

      I'll read up more on what you've posted on ethics in the past, i'm admittedly not well-versed.

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  2. "Now, skepticism does have a positive counterpart: it’s called science."

    I disagree. Science is not necessarily a positive thing as you have often pointed out yourself. Science is just a tool. Tools can be used to build schools or torture chambers.

    Science explains the mechanisms of the universe and the universe just is. Unlike the ironic Fox News logo it is neither fair nor balanced. Human beings have it within their ability to impose a little fairness and balance in their interactions with each other if they so choose but it doesn't come included.

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    1. You miss the point. It's positive in the sense that it makes positive claims about the world, it doesn't just deny something.

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    2. I admit that possibility. English is terribly imprecise in this regard. Science is positive in the sense of its verifiability. It is not however positive in the sense of being particularly encouraging for human fulfillment (whatever one might interpret that phrase to mean). Often the cheerleaders of science try to promulgate the idea that science can somehow fill the emotional void left by a lack of religion, but while I sympathize with their sentiment I do not agree. Science is only wonderful for those people who desire to know. Those indifferent will find the halls of science to be cold comfort indeed.

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    3. But the statement isn't talking about everyone, it addresses skepticism. Skepticism is about questioning, science is about verifying answers.
      No where does it imply that science is about filling an emotional void, one that assumed on your part in the first place. Many atheists I know left religion because IT WASN'T EMOTIONALLY SATISFYING.
      Science is positive as a theory, or method, of knowledge. For the record, I most certainly do agree that it is both refreshing, and that it therefore is emotionally satisfying.

      I call you on your sentiment "cheerleaders of science" as indicative of strong bias to your opinion.

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    4. mikmik - "science is about verifying answers"

      The verification principle was refuted long ago. Logical positivism, "positive" science, went down along with it. We can only falsify not verify. So I'd have to agree with Thameron here.

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  3. "A+" sounds distressingly like "brights", a smug, self-
    satisfied term that I cannot stand!

    But I would be happy to get on board with those who work for
    social justice, women's rights, etc. Thanks for letting
    me know about this group.


    P.S. Sam Harris is usually WRONG!

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  4. Secular humanism seems more personal, and A+ more political. Also, it's not impossible to imagine a secular humanist who's not much of an advocate for women, whereas A+ stresses feminism. It seems good to have A+ out there as a variant, but not as a substitute for just plain A, as even social conservatives should have a community to support them when they stop believing in God.

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  5. Atheism is a cross-cutting issue as you point out. I think it's absolutely a mistake to try to organize it as a political philosophy beyond "a group of people who don't believe in gods." Frankly I'm not even sure why Atheism has a "community" at all - but any community should be loosely associated due to the singular nature of the issue.

    This seems like a thinly veiled attempt to commingle Atheism with liberalism and it's guaranteed to anger the political minorities.

    Keep Atheism a single-issue community!

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    1. Its not a thinly veiled attempt to commingle Atheism with liberalism. Its a brazenly blatant attempt to commingle Atheism with feminism.

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  6. Great article, I think you speak a lot of sense on the subject. I have many issues with the whole concept of A+, not least that which you have already identified - that atheism is not a philosophy in itself and should not be painted to be.

    I've had a fair amount of interaction with vocal atheists whilst studying philosophy of religion; most recently some of the more verbally aggressive proponents of A+. I was surprised and rather disappointed to find some individuals making sweeping statements about those who dared not join and declare themselves part of the A+ club. The language used by these individuals seems to be remarkably reminiscent of threats of eternal damnation: 'If you don't/are....then you will/are'. How ironic that some of those who claim to be fighting against the segregation, fear, and discrimination brought about by threats and labels are now doing exactly the same thing themselves, albeit without the purported backing of a supernatural being.

    It has occurred to me that perhaps some of the individuals indulging in such behaviour have become atheists after being heavily indoctrinated. I cannot help but wonder if perhaps the individuals demonstrating such behaviour are finding it hard to cope with the sudden gulf in their lives where the structure, rules, and superiority complex of their indoctrination used to be. Perhaps this is the reason they feel inclined to create some sort of club or set of rules whereby they can feel superior to others. It seems that as a result of their behaviour they are missing out on many of the freedoms that life as a free thinker could afford them if only they would let it. After all, what could be more liberating than the realisation and embracement of the fact you have the power to choose your own personal values and philosophies in life rather than being dictated to by others?

    What a waste therefore to devote so much time to preaching to the converted whilst baiting and mocking those who are still theists and even fellow atheists who simply do not agree with a certain viewpoint. I have witnessed more than a few individuals who seem to spend a great deal of time picking arguments with theists in order to appear to be or to confirm to themselves that they are in some way superior. I have in fact myself encountered the wrath of some of them because, despite being an atheist, I dared to disagree with them on some of their points of view. Such behaviour seems far too similar to the segregation, fear, and hatred they claim to be fighting against in the first place to be at all useful to their cause. Why not utilise the time to become more learned in subjects other than the scriptures they have rejected as fiction? I appreciate that many will argue that religion is harmful and therefore must be confronted but as the old saying goes, 'you'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar'.

    For what it’s worth, my personal opinion is that any movement which seeks to label, belittle, and segregate people, can only bring more harm than benefit. Whilst the original intent behind the concept of A+ may have been honourable, the speed at which it has been engaged by some people to beat others over the head with shows how unhelpful such labels can be. Perhaps atheism would serve us better not as a badge to proudly demonstrate to the world that we have arrived but as a stepping stone to help us on our way in the pursuit of knowledge now we have finally opened our eyes.

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  7. I like the term "progressive atheist" myself, as i like "secular humanist" as well. I identify with both. Personally, it's nice to see the word "atheism" highlighted because in the US, atheism is really demonized; This conversation would not be making any sense in, say, France. Visibility will eventually lead to normalcy, like it happened with the LGBT community. It's possible that A+ ends up being a positive rebranding of progressive atheism. I wish Jen and the others the best of luck. And if A+ doesn't go anywhere, at least we are having good conversations.
    Massimo, I would not have used the word "excommunicate" to describe Jen pointing out that Carrier's comment or tone do not represent her view of what A+ is. "Excommunicate" gives ammunition for the contrarians who keep arguing that A+, FTB, feminism, etc., have designated "popes" or are dictating what atheism is or isn't. Just a thought.

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  8. I find the "atheism plus is trying to change the definition of atheism" criticism odd. It's like saying a women's only soccer team is trying to change the definition of soccer. The point is not to change the meaning of atheism, but to profile yourself as being an atheist, plus caring about other issues. I think that's commendable, personally, and I think it could help change the negative public perception of atheism, something you can't achieve by just calling yourself a secular humanist.

    Anyway, great article. People who don't want or like the label but share the same values are allies, not opponents.

    P.S: Carrier rescinded his rhetoric in a later post.

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  9. People might more readily identify with an aetheist tag than a socialist one, although in wider society they are sometimes used interchangeably to insult aetheists. I would be a socialist first, and an aetheist second, if a tag is needed for convenience.

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  10. I'd of course recommend that atheists widen their horizon and see that they are, for the most part, naturalists: not believing in the supernatural, we end up with worldview naturalism as a expression of what we *do* believe. For instance see www.worldviewnaturalism.com , www.naturalism.org and an upcoming workshop on "Moving naturalism forward" organized by Sean Carroll at http://preposterousuniverse.com/naturalism2012/

    Regarding the progressive bent of A+, I don't think it's a coincidence that naturalists often end up more liberal than not, http://www.naturalism.org/politics.htm#humanists

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    1. Tom,

      I take your comment to be confused. First, rejecting supernaturalism does not entail rejecting the existence of deities -- only the rejection of supernatural deities.

      Second, an atheist need not reject supernaturalism at all: she may reject all conceptions of a supernatural deity, but simultaneously accept the existence of any number of other supernatural entities (souls, ghosts, auras, etc.).

      Third, as may be seen in the history of philosophy, atheists may reject supernaturalism and naturalism entirely: they, e.g., be idealists of some sort. For examples of atheistic idealist philosophers, see here: Schopenhauer, JME McTaggart, FH Bradley, early John Dewey, and T.H. Green, to name only a few.

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    2. Eamon,
      What religion has a deity that isn't supernatural?

      Like Tom, I come to atheism as a consequence of my materialism (I think that is the same as naturalism). Atheism (especially in the common form of denying the existence of a Christian, Jewish, Islamic god) does not imply materialism. And I think Tom was careful not to make that claim either. See his "for the most part"

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  11. Mr. Carrier seems a very excitable fellow. It unfortunate someone who apparently knows so much about the intellectual history of ancient Greece and Rome has not benefited from the wisdom of the Stoics.

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  12. I disagree with your analysis of atheism/philosophy and skepticism/science. This problem has arisen because skepticism has chosen (why? since when? who decided?) to decide that politics and economics gets a free-ride. Why is skepticism not a political standpoint in its own right? Why are we happy to concede different flavours of skeptical view according to unaddressed political ideologies? Can nobody else see how oxymoronic that sounds? Skepticismplus would have made way more sense.

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  13. You mention that diversity of political views in ateism is to be expected because it is not a philisophy. But you do not address the presumably unexpected diversity in skepticism, which *is* a philosophy. Why are we allowing this group-think, this unquestioning assumption that skepticism is not applicable to politics? That is the root of this trouble. Here's why I think its occurred:

    grimeandreason.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/an-attempt-at-being-constructive.html?m=1

    And here is how to guard against it, the community I'm waiting for before committing again.

    grimeandreason.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/building-sustainable-community-that.html?m=1

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  14. The plus functions as a kind of nudge or reminder - psst, women, half the population, should be treated as equals, thank you for your consideration in this matter. Not (as I see it) a departure or a usurpation, just a nudge.

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    1. Which confirms my assertion that Atheism Plus is NOT "Atheism Plus Social Issues", but is in fact merely "Atheism Plus Feminism".
      Those rejecting membership in your club are those rejecting your gender-biased and discriminatory movement.

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  15. You've missed the boat on this one, Massimo. In fact, you missed the train, bus and even the taxi you called to pick you up.

    First, but least importantly, Jen didn't come up with A+.

    Second, you completely ignored the many blog posts just on FtB that said, no A+ is not secular humanism. As far as movements (and people), I'm a strong believer in self-labeling and others respecting that, so on that ground alone your criticism fails.

    Third, why did you have to drag philosophy into this? (rhetorical) Do you really think that it is obvious that a "positive counterpart" of atheism is philosophy? (non-rhetorical) Obviously, many people disagree - the huge comments threads were full of people who supported A+ and didn't mention philosophy.

    Fourth, although you mention your common objection to misogyny in the atheist community, you don't describe how this was the original spark for A+. For a reminder, re-read Jen's original post linked above. And then re-read the follow-up. Respect for women is the sine qua non of the posts. It became the driving force of how popular the idea was. Yes, the list of Atheism plus ... has other positive ideas in it, but women's rights was on the top of mind for almost everyone who chimed in.

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    1. Well, even if he missed all those things, he still has the horse he rode in on.

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  16. As for Richard Carrier, meh. Of course there will be splinters, you're-not-helping and dissent from all sorts of people. So what. A+ isn't a religion as your excommunication line implies. But even granting that conceit, wouldn't it be a good sign that someone behaving viciously, even in support, should be told that vicious behavior is not kosher?

    I would like to challenge you to post any of Carrier's letters to the editor about your columns here. Would be a great comment thread at the least.

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  17. Who decided skepticism was just about debunking what you've mentioned? Why is 'Skeptic' not a political label for us all?

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  18. I don't believe the atheist community is "rife with misogyny". Just as we are evolved to perceive human-length time intervals (and not deep time) and human-magnitude velocities (and not near-lightspeed velocities), we misperceive the attitude of millions of people when we use our limited contact with blog comments as evidence. See the 90–9–1 principle for example.

    There is a wide range of variability in Internet addiction or at least Internet obsessiveness. Out of millions, we expect some number to exhibit strong obsessiveness, and for some of those to have misogynist tendencies. This group generates far, far more content relative to the average individual. The extreme end of the distribution curve is therefore exaggerated, leading to misperceptions. It should be clear that what we read in blog comments is not a representative sample of the atheist population. The Internet plays tricks with our perceptions, and we should be skeptical of sweeping conclusions based upon nothing else but our perception.

    In addition, being personally attacked also skews our perception, causing us to give undue weight to a small sample of the population. When we shift focus to them it creates a vicious cycle whereby they generate even more content in response.

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    1. Craig: Yes, this is a key issue.

      Based on my broad experience in skeptic circles (yes, yes, it's anecdotal but so is Watson, Jen, et al's experience), the rate of "misogyny" (or how 20-something Womyn Studies majors define misogyny) is no higher than in the general population -- and I would guess that it's actually lower.

      This brouhaha is much ado about nothing.

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  19. People keep making the point that atheism+/secular humanism share many of all the same goals in an “I’m just saying” kind of way, but I’m not sure what the practical point is, beyond brand protection. And they keep making the same point even after it has been addressed multiple times now by Jen, Greta, Lousy Canuck (complete with Venn diagrams!), and others. I think the arguments about keeping Atheism+ separate are good historical and social ones. Don't you think you would advance the conversation more if you took on their responses, rather than just being the umpteenth person to make the same, rather trivial, observation?

    You make historical and philosophical points, but you only use history to discuss secular humanism. When you come to atheism, you toss history out the window and discuss only philosophy, (whereupon we find that atheism doesn’t have a philosophy). Philosophically, there may be no difference between belief in unicorns and belief in god. Historically, however, there are some subtle, but nonetheless important, differences in the social impacts of unicorn-belief and religious-belief. Atheism is not just a philosophical issue. In the US it has usually been integrated with other social movements.

    With Atheism+ I think it makes sense to look at history as well as philosophy. Some communities and movements equate to scholarly counterparts (e.g., science and philosophy) but that is not all that is going on here. Communities and movements also come out of historical situations, such as injustices and inequalities (sexism, racism, class, etc.). The modern atheist movement is a social and political entity in its own right, and is characterised by more than just the absence of belief in god. It has a history, culture(s), and demographics—all those messy things, besides philosophies, that humans develop when they get into groups. Atheism+ is a response to a culture within atheism, a culture that has actually does have a set of positive beliefs (if you can call them that) about the entitlements of white men in regards to women and other groups.

    Whatever Atheism+ becomes, right now it is just a space where people who identify *as atheists* can discuss social justice issues without attracting a horde of enraged trolls trying to silence the conversation. There are groups for atheist gardening and atheist gamers. This is a group for atheists interested in social justice.

    As an aside, I second Adriana on your excommunication comment. Jen expressed a reasonable disagreement with Richard Carrier. There’s no difference between expressing reasonable disagreement and excommunication? I realise you were being light-hearted, but I think that was uncalled for, especially given the somewhat unhinged rhetoric surrounding the creation of Atheism+.

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  20. Adriana,

    > "Excommunicate" gives ammunition for the contrarians who keep arguing that A+, FTB, feminism, etc., have designated "popes" or are dictating what atheism is or isn't. Just a thought. <

    Noted, but I refuse to be hostage to people who will twist every word (or, in this case, a harmless quip) one utters or writes. Let's bring back a bit of sense of humor into the movement, yes?

    Magicthighs,

    > The point is not to change the meaning of atheism, but to profile yourself as being an atheist, plus caring about other issues. <

    Yes, and as I said, I agree this is commendable. But my two points are that: a) we already have that sort of thing, it's called secular humanism; and b) it is a shaky proposition on philosophical ground because there are plenty of atheists who do not recognize themselves into that sort of political agenda (if they did, they would count themselves as secular humanists, instead of conservatives, libertarians or objectivists).

    > Carrier rescinded his rhetoric in a later post. <

    Too late. As I said, Richard has a habit of doing that sort of thing and I'm a bit tired of it.

    Tom,

    > I don't think it's a coincidence that naturalists often end up more liberal than not <

    I disagree. There is nothing particularly natural about progressivism (as much as I am myself a staunch progressive), and I'm pretty sure our fellow conservatives, libertarians and objectivist atheists would vehemently reject any such notion.

    Ben,

    > Skepticismplus would have made way more sense <

    Maybe, but I'm not sure in what sense you think that skepticism does not extend to political issues. Skeptics do wade into politically charged controversies, like the one on climate change. But of course science-based skepticism as reflected, say, in Skeptical Inquirer or Skeptic magazine has precious little to say about values, since those are the province of moral philosophy (pace Harris).

    > you do not address the presumably unexpected diversity in skepticism, which *is* a philosophy <

    I don't see in what sense skepticism is a philosophy. It is a type of approach to evidence-based claims, nothing else.

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    1. What is a philosophy but a way of thinking? I agree skepticism will touch on politics, though only when one of the skeptical push-buttons is involved - medicine, climate change etc. In and of themselves, these things aren't political. I'm sorry, but I just do not see how citing climate change as an example detracts from the very real (imo) issue that when it comes to things like political ideologies, economics, social justice issues... the skeptical community have nothing to say on these things, despite their being no obvious reason not to discuss them (unlike atheism). Skepticism is not simply the purview of hard, empirical study - everything that exists can be approached in a skeptical way because everything can be approached with the same methodology. It's easier for some subjects than others for sure, but my experience of trying to debate politics within the skeptical community has been one of despair. Strawmen, ad-homs, faith-based arguments... I predicted a long-time ago such group-think would lead to a rupture.

      Brian Dunning has maintained for months to me on Twitter that skepticism *is not even applicable to politics*, what with it being 'value-based'. He has so far avoiding answering why political values are immune but religious values fair game, or even what the difference is between the two. And no, political 'values' are not based on evidence either. Why is this acceptable? Why does something so fundamental to skepticism, "Can skepticism apply to politics', produce polar opposite reactions from skeptics? It is so basic, it's scary.

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    2. @Massimo, fair point about sense of humor. I'm all for it.

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    3. "it is a shaky proposition on philosophical ground because there are plenty of atheists who do not recognize themselves into that sort of political agenda (if they did, they would count themselves as secular humanists, instead of conservatives, libertarians or objectivists"

      I really do not understand this sort of objection. The only way I can make sense of it is if you, again, think that they're redefining the term atheism. They're not, they want to start a new movement consisting of atheists who care about social justice, etc. If people don't care about those issues they don't have to join.

      "Too late. As I said, Richard has a habit of doing that sort of thing and I'm a bit tired of it"

      If Carrier has a habit of doing this then why didn't you just ignore him? Why include his statements in a post about A+, even though Jen said his statements weren't representative, and Carrier rescinded and apologised before you wrote this blog post?

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    4. I agree MagicThighs, it's unnecessary but also kinda understandable. At least it's tagged on to a serious attempt at debate for once.

      I feel like I'm going mad. Am I the only one who thinks group-think simply has to be to blame for the term 'libertarian skeptic', or any other ideology + skeptic, being accepted by the community as anything other than an ironic joke?

      Ideology. Skepticism. How? Anyone?

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    5. No doubt politics is a rational enquiry, not merely value-based, and perhaps the most fundamental practical rational enquiry. We ignore the traditional taboo of discussing religion more readily than politics if we revert to rationality applied to spirituality without finger pointing at priests and so on, as polite discussion. With politics, we probably cannot hide behind debunking abstracts, simply because it is just as real as religion but not as abstract.

      So, in all, I would go with a socialist tag ahead of an atherist one, but I can't blame people for taking it one half step at a time in overturning taboos (which are only taboos because people get heated up and the discussion suffers). I disagree with whoever said politics is not a rational enquiry; the problem is it is far more rational than religion and cannot be politely debunked in its abstracts. It is too hard a subject for many people.

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  21. Mark,

    > You've missed the boat on this one, Massimo. <

    I was not aware there was any boat leaving, but I'm pretty confident you entirely missed the point of my post.

    > Jen didn't come up with A+. <

    I know, I linked to her two initial posts. But she is the one that began the conversation about a third wave of atheism. I think the concept is more important than the name, unless this is entirely a marketing thing (which would be fine, but not worth an ongoing discussion).

    > you completely ignored the many blog posts just on FtB that said, no A+ is not secular humanism. <

    I did not, but I see no substantive difference there, despite pleads to the contrary.

    > I'm a strong believer in self-labeling and others respecting that <

    Drop the self-righteous talk about respect. Nobody is questioning anyone's right to call themselves whatever they want. But it is interesting to point out that what is been sought is already there, and then to ask why do we need to reinvent the wheel.

    > the huge comments threads were full of people who supported A+ and didn't mention philosophy. <

    And that is relevant how? One of my issues with the atheist movement is that people disdain philosophy while at the same time engaging in (usually badly informed) philosophical discussions. How is atheism not a philosophy? How is bringing attention to social issues not a philosophical move?

    > although you mention your common objection to misogyny in the atheist community, you don't describe how this was the original spark for A+. <

    I linked to that original post, but I think that the most important point is what A+ wants to do (which is why I listed Jen's programmatic points) rather than what precisely sparked the initial discussion (and by the way, respect for women is embedded in said programmatic points; and moreover, anyone who doesn't have respect for women, or minorities, whatever the movement he belongs to, needs to be educated or challenged - this isn't just an atheist problem).

    > A+ isn't a religion as your excommunication line implies <

    People, stop taking things so darn literally. It was a *quip*, a *joke*, a funny reference.

    > even granting that conceit, wouldn't it be a good sign that someone behaving viciously, even in support, should be told that vicious behavior is not kosher? <

    Indeed, and nothing I wrote implies otherwise. But it was ironic (as in, *funny*) that Richard's own self-righteousness immediately got him in trouble with the same boat that he so eagerly tried to get on.

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  22. Mark,

    > I would like to challenge you to post any of Carrier's letters to the editor about your columns here. <

    Can't do that, those letters are property of Skeptical Inquirer.

    Criag,

    > It should be clear that what we read in blog comments is not a representative sample of the atheist population. <

    That is very likely the case, but your other claim:

    > This group generates far, far more content relative to the average individual. <

    is also empirically unsubstantiated. We just need some sociology student to do a dissertation on this... The issue is that the perception generated by the (likely unrepresentative) sampling of the blogosphere is still a problem that needs to be addressed.

    Apxeo,

    > I think the arguments about keeping Atheism+ separate are good historical and social ones. Don't you think you would advance the conversation more if you took on their responses, rather than just being the umpteenth person to make the same, rather trivial, observation? <

    This is my first post on the topic, it cannot be comprehensive. However, again, I have looked at the alleged differences between A+ and humanism, and I don't see them. It's not a question of branding (I don't belong to any organization, humanist or otherwise), it's a matter of taking on board, instead of ignoring or rejecting, our own history as a movement.

    > Atheism is not just a philosophical issue. In the US it has usually been integrated with other social movements. <

    Yes, but my point is that those social movements are varied, and often at odds with each other, *because* they do not stem logically from atheism, which strictly speaking is *only* a metaphysical or epistemological position, and nothing else.

    > Whatever Atheism+ becomes, right now it is just a space where people who identify *as atheists* can discuss social justice issues without attracting a horde of enraged trolls trying to silence the conversation. <

    Correction, where atheists of a progressive political bent can do so. Conservatives, libertarians and objectivists will likely stay out.

    > There are groups for atheist gardening and atheist gamers. <

    That actually makes my point. I'm sure there are, but equally surely you are not making any logical connection between atheism and gardening, are you?

    > There’s no difference between expressing reasonable disagreement and excommunication? I realise you were being light-hearted <

    No, apparently you don't, which is becoming another popular and irritating feature of the movement. I find it strange that so many people have no trouble when well known bloggers openly insult fellow atheists, but then are squimish about what you yourself refer to as light-hearted comments. Oh well.

    Thameron,

    > Science is positive in the sense of its verifiability. It is not however positive in the sense of being particularly encouraging for human fulfillment <

    But you have been a reader of this blog for a while, so you must know that I meant the first one, as I am often critical of people who claim the second.

    > you do not address the presumably unexpected diversity in skepticism, which *is* a philosophy. <

    No, it isn't. It is a general attitude toward evidence and critical thinking. Unless you are referring to the philosophy of skepticism in the technical sense of the term. But that is not a kind of philosophy many people endorse these days.

    > Who decided skepticism was just about debunking what you've mentioned? Why is 'Skeptic' not a political label for us all? <

    Nobody decided it, my comment is a reflection of my own analysis of the writings and talking of skeptics. What political label would you attach to being a skeptic, just out of curiosity?

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    1. Thats my point. The label would be skeptic. I apply skeptical thinking, a skeptical philosophy, to *everything*, politics included. I would expect the burden of proof to be on those who think otherwise, since they would have to explain being both a holder of an unfounded (in evidence) ideology AND a proclaimed skeptic. *That is a contradiction* surely?

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    2. If I had to define it further, I would say that skepticism is a cognitive philosophy. It takes what we know of our flaws and creates an objective framework to interpret new data. That is philosophy any day of the week. To then limit that philosophy so that 'values' remain unaddressed is exactly analogous religions last days in charge of natural philosophy, or science as it came to be known. There is an unspoken consensus that in politics and economics, skeptics are free to believe doctrinal thoughts as fact, or at the very least solid enough to impose on others in the public sphere, without being held to the same standards as if they were talking about homeopathy or religion. You keep quiet, I'll keep quiet, and we can all get along as though everything is fine. In my opinion: Group-think.

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    3. Ben,

      > To then limit that philosophy [skepticism] so that 'values' remain unaddressed is exactly analogous [to religion's] last days in charge of natural philosophy <

      Question: if 'values' become fair game, then how do we evaluate such analysis? Wouldn't we wind up evaluating one set of values in terms of other values? I'm thinking here of the is/ought naturalistic fallacy. At some point, don't you have to choose values that are based upon nothing but your own desires? Science can tell you if "A" will get you to "B", but not if "B" is the ideal place to get to. Of course, another application of the scientific method can tell us that "B" is superior to "C" -- but only in terms of some other value that is assumed. Don't we get infinite regression? How do you evaluate the evaluation?

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    4. It might only be by rational discourse that eventually leads to voting by values using that discourse for guidance. We canot avoid values, or as yet understand objective bases to their formation (not until we have Evolutionary Psychology and Psychoanalysis nailed down to Evolutionary Biology for security, using Chemistry).

      However, that should not prevent either the hopeful search for objective bases, or the open rational evaluation of political arguments and their logical bases. Rationality appears to be the product of human psychology, and we should use it in application to any and everything until we have the greatest rational satisfaction we can muster. All that "is/ought means" in the present day is that we cannot literally foresee the future, which I realized long before reading Hume.

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  23. @ Massimo

    > Historically, what Jen, Greta and others are looking for already exists. It’s called secular humanism, <

    Agreed.

    > When atheists are concerned that their position is perceived as being only negative, without any positive message, they shouldn’t really be worried, but should rather bite the bullet: <

    Atheism does have a public relations problem.

    > a-theism simply means that one lacks a belief in god(s), and for excellent reasons. <

    I disagree. Atheism implies a metaphysical belief in materialism. If an atheist is not willing to acknowledge that, then he or she is harboring some kind of spiritual-, supernatural-, or God-belief.

    > Now, skepticism does have a positive counterpart: it’s called science. If you wish to redirect former believers in homeopathy onto a better path to health you send them to a medical doctor who uses science-based medicine. This, however, does not require the skeptic herself to be a medical doctor (nor to play one on tv), it just requires that the skeptic be aware of the relevant literature and community of expertise. <

    There is scientific evidence that faith is healing. (It's called the "placebo effect".) There is also scientific evidence that skepticism may actually be detrimental to your health. (It's called the "nocebo effect.")

    By the way, your above statement is an example where your "scientism" is showing. (Your expressing the belief that "scientific medicine" is the only valid form of medicine.)

    > It keeps going like this for quite a bit, but I think you get the point (if you don’t, uhm, we may have a problem, but I will not tell you that you are fucking evil, nor will I throw you out of my club — particularly because I don’t have one). <

    There was no need to employ profanity in order to make your point.

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    1. He said he will *not* call you fucking evil. More a dig at those who use profanity, rather than personal use to get the point across :)

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  24. Pigliucci needs to calm down and read what the people talking about A+ are actually saying. Which is pretty much explicitly: "There is no contradiction between being A+ and a secular humanist." Pigliucci should also be able to understand that people don't join groups/movements/causes etc. because they've performed some sort of utilitarian calculus with respect to the ideals of the group/movement/whatever. If it helps, you could think of A+ as a marketing campaign to serve as a bridge between gnu atheism and secular humanism. Pigliucci himself laments the lack of social justice advocacy among gnu atheists but when a bunch of folks make an explicit attempt to address that lack he responds with "get off my lawn youz kids!" In golf I think they call that a "slice."

    Jean Kazez seems to have a pretty reasonable attitude towards it. Listen to Jean.

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    1. "There is no contradiction between being A+ and a secular humanist."
      ...as long as your secular humanist philosophy completely agrees with the philosophy of the people behind A+.
      Otherwise, as Carrier has said, GTFO.

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  25. Sounds like A+ will be another PC police. All that's missing from their list is Islamophobia.

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    1. I mean fighting Islamophobia and religious intolerance.

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    2. Fighting Islamophobia and religious intolerance would be good additions.

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  26. Thanks, Massimo. This post inspired a post titled "Value-free atheism" on my blog:

    http://www.skepticblogs.com/justinvacula/2012/08/29/value-free-atheism/

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  27. Adriana,

    > fair point about sense of humor. I'm all for it. <

    Thanks, much appreciated!

    Ben,

    ah, I think I see the problem:

    > Brian Dunning has maintained for months to me on Twitter that skepticism *is not even applicable to politics*, what with it being 'value-based'. He has so far avoiding answering why political values are immune but religious values fair game, or even what the difference is between the two. And no, political 'values' are not based on evidence either. <

    I'm afraid Brian is correct, in part. Take religion first: if we are talking about a religiously based claim about matters of fact - say that the earth is 6000 years old - then of course empirical evidence matters and skepticism is warranted. But if we are talking about the morality of abortion from a religious standpoint, then empirical evidence recedes into the background and issues of theology or philosophy of religion become most relevant.

    Similarly with political positions: if a conservative says that climate change is not occurring, the skeptic is perfectly within his rights to point out that the available empirical evidence strongly suggests otherwise. But if the conservative is arguing against, say, gay marriage, we have shifted into moral philosophy, where the empirical facts are not determining our values.

    > I would say that skepticism is a cognitive philosophy. It takes what we know of our flaws and creates an objective framework to interpret new data. <

    You seem to be referring to a meaning of the term "skepticism" that I do not recognize in either the philosophical literature or in the literature of the skeptic movement. I'm not sure what a "cognitive philosophy" is.

    Alastair,

    I am not going to address most of your points because we have discussed them ad nauseam in other posts. However:

    > There was no need to employ profanity in order to make your point. <

    First, you missed the ironic use of that phrase, I was simply imitating the sort of intolerance that one can so clearly perceive in Carrier's post. Second, the "f-word" is regularly used by comedians for effect, and I'll be darn if I allow a prudish sense of "profanity" (whatever that is) to censor my own blog.

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    1. Thanks for engaging on this BTW. I think though we are being forced into a turning point on that which you are so certain. Network theory, complexity and information theory... these things will (unless someone can offer a reason why not) force us to confront more and more political ideology with skeptical thinking, just as it has slowly intruded on almost every aspect of religious claim.

      Take for instance the political belief in the notion of free-markets. Not applicable to skepticism? Then please explain how such a believe can purport to what no skeptic or scientist would or should even remotely claim: that one can predict the emergent property of a complex system. You simply can't. It is a fundamentally flawed argument from a skeptical perspective.

      That's just one off the top of my head, but can you not see the potential for this being a trend that religion couldn't stop and politics wont stop either. Unless you are content having the skeptical community either slowly tear itself apart or else become irrelevant, these are questions we must be able to discussed openly and in a skeptical manner. By denying this, we are simply giving free reign to the continuation of a level of discourse unbecoming of the term skeptic.

      re. cognitive philosophy, I did a course on it at uni. It's the catch all term for theories of mind. Technically, I see skepticism as simply being the rational conclusion of what we know from cognitive science, formed into a method of thinking that is as objective as possible. There is no reason to throw this out the window as soon as someone changes the subject from religion to politics (which are way more alike than you might realise). That's like admitting defeat and saying well, we all have a bit of ideology in us somewhere, what'ya gonna do?

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    2. Also, regarding whether skepticism is applicable to politics, DJ Grothe says *the exact opposite* to Brian Dunning. Two influential skeptics with polar opposite ideas on a fundamental aspect of the nature of skepticism. Is that not something we should maybe discuss, particularly in light of all this?

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    3. Me: It takes what we know of our flaws and creates an objective framework to interpret new data.

      (expanded: Knowledge of skeptical fallacies, flaws in intuition, flaws in perception etc are used to create an objective framework - including use of evidence, scientific method etc - to interpret information we receive)

      You: "You seem to be referring to a meaning of the term "skepticism" that I do not recognize in either the philosophical literature or in the literature of the skeptic movement."

      Does this still hold after what I have said? If so, then I am sorry but a new movement is definitely needed, one that does see this as the basis for addressing ALL issues.

      Incidentally, your point regarding gay marriage. Why is religious opposition based on no evidence different to a political opposition based on no evidence? I don't understand why the provinance matters when neither origin was the result of critical reasoning based on evidence. Whether religious or political, BOTH infringe upon others, both seek to implement those views on public life yet only ONE of them is deemed worhty of challenge. Look forward to hearing your response, and thank you again for this blog and this debate,

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  28. Magicthighs,

    > The only way I can make sense of it is if you, again, think that they're redefining the term atheism. They're not, they want to start a new movement consisting of atheists who care about social justice <

    But they *are* trying to redefine atheism, hence Jen's referring to A+ as the "third wave." If they were not, then they would be doing standard secular humanism.

    > Why include his statements in a post about A+, even though Jen said his statements weren't representative, and Carrier rescinded and apologised before you wrote this blog post? <

    First, this post was written before Carrier's apology, which I had not seen until you pointed out on this thread. Second, and more importantly, because Carrier is a leader of the movement, and I am making a habit to call out leaders when they behave in irrational or uncivil ways. (Naturally, people should feel free to do the same with me. It's about improving, not winning.)

    30c3e83c etc.,

    > Pigliucci needs to calm down and read what the people talking about A+ are actually saying. <

    Pigliucci is perfectly calm, and has read what A+ supporters have been writing. Hence Pigliucci's comments.

    > There is no contradiction between being A+ and a secular humanist. <

    It's more than there is no contradiction, there doesn't seem to be any difference.

    > If it helps, you could think of A+ as a marketing campaign <

    Pigliucci has pointed that out in his post (did you read it?), which is a point that Jen herself has made. Pigliucci has no problem with that, but had some thought to add nonetheless, and he was under the naive impression that he could do so without being the target of sarcasm. Pigliucci, it appears, was wrong.

    > Listen to Jean. <

    Pigliucci very much listens to Jean, and even agrees with her most of the times.

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    1. "It's more than there is no contradiction, there doesn't seem to be any difference."

      Well, there is one difference, in that a religious person can also be a secular humanist, but not a member of A+. I think that some A+ proponents have noted this point.

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    2. "But they *are* trying to redefine atheism, hence Jen's referring to A+ as the "third wave." If they were not, then they would be doing standard secular humanism"

      Sorry, this is simply nonsense. Compare this to Second-wave Feminism, which did not try to redefine the meaning of the term feminism, but (successfully) tried to change the focus of the feminist movement.

      "First, this post was written before Carrier's apology"

      Carrier mentions apologising in a blog post published on August 24th, your blog post was published the 29th.

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  29. Massimo,

    Thanks for this article. I just recently found out what A+ was and I have not had enough time to thoroughly assess it. What I have consistently found is that you and your contributors' blogs seem to be very centered and reasonable (duh...!). So this article was really helpful...!

    I think the whole thing is too new to make adequate conclusions about but I do agree that it seems very similar (more like the same) to secular humanism. I think adding the + will ultimately lead more people to add "dogma=religion", which will defeat their underlying purpose of 're-imaging' the word atheism.

    Lena

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  30. @ Massimo

    > I am not going to address most of your points because we have discussed them ad nauseam in other posts. <

    Then you concede the points by default.

    > First, you missed the ironic use of that phrase, I was simply imitating the sort of intolerance that one can so clearly perceive in Carrier's post. Second, the "f-word" is regularly used by comedians for effect, and I'll be darn if I allow a prudish sense of "profanity" (whatever that is) to censor my own blog <

    The bottom line is that you stooped to his level in order to make your point.

    By the way, why are you using "darn" rather than "damned?" It sounds a little prudish to me.

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    1. To be clear about the humour, one could use the word "farted" instead of "damned". Just a thought bubble...

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    2. There's a difference between conceding a point and declining to continue a fruitless and endless conversation.

      A polite way to put that is: "Let's just agree to disagree."

      A not-so-polite way to put that is: "Fuck off, you troll!"

      Massimo appears to favor the former approach, for which I commend him.

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    3. @ mufi

      > There's a difference between conceding a point and declining to continue a fruitless and endless conversation. <

      My argument stands:

      Atheism implies a metaphysical belief in materialism. If an atheist is not willing to acknowledge that, then he or she is harboring some kind of spiritual-, supernatural-, or God-belief.

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    4. Yes, that's your assertion. Enjoy it!

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    5. @ mufi

      > Yes, that's your assertion. Enjoy it! <

      This is coming from a guy who believes that Buddhism is compatible with atheistic materialism.

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    6. To be more precise, Owen Flanagan persuaded me that Buddhism can be naturalized (i.e. stripped of its supernatural content) and yet still have a lot of content left over that's worth examining. Whether you choose to call that by-product "Buddhism" or something else is up to you.

      As for whether naturalism assumes or inevitably leads to materialism, that seems like another area of disagreement, which (if history is any guide to the future) we seem unlikely to resolve.

      Regardless, neither "atheism" nor "materialism" are dirty words in my vocabulary, nor should they be in yours.

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    7. > To be more precise, Owen Flanagan persuaded me that Buddhism can be naturalized (i.e. stripped of its supernatural content) and yet still have a lot of content left over that's worth examining. Whether you choose to call that by-product "Buddhism" or something else is up to you. <

      Why is it that the so-called "irreligious" are always attempting to co-opt religious practices?

      After you eliminate Buddhism's eternal Buddha, bodhisattvas, buddha-nature, deities, ghosts, evil spirits, mindstream, karma, reincarnation, dependent arising, and nirvana, then you really don't have anything that remotely resembles Buddhism.

      > As for whether naturalism assumes or inevitably leads to materialism, that seems like another area of disagreement, which (if history is any guide to the future) we seem unlikely to resolve. <


      "What is a nonreligious, MATERIALLY grounded spiritual seeker to do?" (emphasis mine)

      (source: book description to "The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalism" by Owen Flanagan)

      > Regardless, neither "atheism" nor "materialism" are dirty words in my vocabulary, nor should they be in yours. <

      I never said they were.


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    8. After you eliminate Buddhism's eternal Buddha, bodhisattvas, buddha-nature, deities, ghosts, evil spirits, mindstream, karma, reincarnation, dependent arising, and nirvana, then you really don't have anything that remotely resembles Buddhism.

      Insofar as that's true (with the caveat that Flanagan either interprets or "tames" a couple of those concepts - like dependent arising - in naturalistic terms), then I have no interest in Buddhism.

      As for what's left over, once we're rid ourselves of the supernatural content (or, less flatteringly, superstitions), I admit - that interests me (not that one should accept even that uncritically).

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    9. @ mufi

      > Insofar as that's true (with the caveat that Flanagan either interprets or "tames" a couple of those concepts - like dependent arising - in naturalistic terms), then I have no interest in Buddhism. <

      What hypocrites. You and your ilk bash religion and then attempt to co-opt its principle practice - "mysticism."

      "Dependent arising" is the fundamental doctrine in Buddhism; it furnishes the basis for all other Buddhist doctrines.

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    10. I'm not aware of having "bashed religion" but, if I have, I take it back.

      Like I said, Flanagan interprets dependent arising as a natural process, so if what you say is true (neither of us are scholars of Buddhism, as far as I'm aware), then it would seem to follow that his naturalized Buddhism is indeed Buddhism.

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    11. @ mufi

      > I'm not aware of having "bashed religion" but, if I have, I take it back. <

      You referred to the vast majority of Buddhist doctrines as "superstition."

      > Like I said, Flanagan interprets dependent arising as a natural process, so if what you say is true (neither of us are scholars of Buddhism, as far as I'm aware), then it would seem to follow that his naturalized Buddhism is indeed Buddhism. <

      Materialism holds that the objective exists independently of all subjectivity. This is not compatible with Buddhism. (By the way, it's not compatible with contemporary physics.)

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    12. You referred to the vast majority of Buddhist doctrines as "superstition."

      Well, I did put that phrase in parentheses for a reason (viz. as a "some might say..." aside), but now that you press me on it, the shoe does appear to fit many religious doctrines, as in: "Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality" (source).

      Can there be a religion without superstition? I think so, but I admit that the two are usually coupled.

      Materialism holds that the objective exists independently of all subjectivity. This is not compatible with Buddhism.

      I know several Buddhist practitioners (and know of more) who would disagree with you there, but this really isn't the place to have that out. (For that, I might recommend the discussion forum at the Secular Buddhist Association site, where I sometimes participate.)

      (By the way, it's not compatible with contemporary physics.)

      That's one lay person's opinion, not (as far as I can tell) that of most physicists or philosophers of physics. (Indeed, consciousness plays no necessary role in most interpretations of QM - including the Copenhagen.)

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    13. @ mufi

      > Well, I did put that phrase in parentheses for a reason (viz. as a "some might say..." aside), but now that you press me on it, the shoe does appear to fit many religious doctrines, as in: "Superstition is a belief in supernatural causality" (source). <

      The Buddhist doctrine of "rebirth" is based on meditative practice as is the Buddhist doctrine of "dependent arising." (It's interesting that Flanagan is willing to accept the latter, but not the former.)

      "Buddhist contemplatives base their highly detailed accounts of the sequence of death, intermediate state, and rebirth [on] meditative practices that enable the adept to refine and stabilize the mind so that an unbroken clarity of awareness is maintained throughout all these events."

      (source: pg. 184, "Choosing Reality" by B. Alan Wallace - a Buddhist scholar and former Buddhist monk)

      > Can there be a religion without superstition? I think so, but I admit that the two are usually coupled. <

      Well, if you define superstition as "a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any physical process linking the two events,"[1] then all religions must be characterized as superstitious. Heck, the simple belief in free will (which is based on evidence accorded to our first-person experience) must qualify as a superstition.

      [1] (source: Wikipedia: Superstition)

      > I know several Buddhist practitioners (and know of more) who would disagree with you there, but this really isn't the place to have that out. (For that, I might recommend the discussion forum at the Secular Buddhist Association site, where I sometimes participate.) <

      Buddhism is not compatible with materialism. You can attempt to redefine Buddhism, but your definition has absolutely no relationship with historical Buddhism.

      A "materially grounded spiritual seeker" (to use Flanagan's words) is an oxymoron. Spirituality presupposes "spirit." If you're a "spiritual seeker," then you're seeking the "spirit." (I have to state the obvious because there are many here who would attempt to obscure the issue.)

      > That's one lay person's opinion, not (as far as I can tell) that of most physicists or philosophers of physics. (Indeed, consciousness plays no necessary role in most interpretations of QM - including the Copenhagen.) <

      "The Copenhagen interpretation is one of the earliest and most commonly taught interpretations of quantum mechanics.[1] It holds that quantum mechanics does not yield a description of an OBJECTIVE reality but deals only with probabilities of observing, or measuring, various aspects of energy quanta, entities which fit neither the classical idea of particles nor the classical idea of waves."

      (source: Wikipedia: Copenhagen interpretation)

      Probability waves are mathematical abstractions. And as you will recall, you have already gone on record and agreed with me that mathematical abstractions cannot exist independently from a mind that abstracts.

      Delete
    14. Again, if you want to discuss Buddhism, or argue about whether or not secular/naturalized Buddhism qualifies as such, I recommend the SBA forum. We've taken up enough space here with that side topic.

      As for how to interpret QM, this is hardly my area of expertise (or yours, apparently), but I agree that probabilities are mathematical abstractions (based on experimental data, in this case), but that does not entail that they are literally (or mind-independently) real as such - nor does the Copenhagen (let alone all QM interpretations) assert that they are.

      I'm pretty sure that I've referred you to this comparison table before, but here it is again. Note the variety of features (all of them more philosophical than scientific in character), particularly the "Wavefunction real?" and "Observer role?" columns.

      But this, too, is off-topic and (if history repeats itself) likely to go on endlessly in circles, so I leave the last word of this conversation to you.

      Delete
    15. @ mufi

      > Again, if you want to discuss Buddhism, or argue about whether or not secular/naturalized Buddhism qualifies as such, I recommend the SBA forum. We've taken up enough space here with that side topic. <

      I'm fairly well-versed in Buddhism. I know for a fact that Buddhism is not compatible with materialism. And I have already provided you with reliable sources to document my position.

      > As for how to interpret QM, this is hardly my area of expertise (or yours, apparently), but I agree that probabilities are mathematical abstractions (based on experimental data, in this case), but that does not entail that they are literally (or mind-independently) real as such - nor does the Copenhagen (let alone all QM interpretations) assert that they are. <

      To begin with, I did not argue in my previous post that contemporary physics holds that consciousness collapses the wave function (although this is a valid interpretation of QM). What I argued was that materialism is not compatible with contemporary physics. (But I can see why you interpreted my statement as you did based on how I had previously defined materialism.)

      Both quantum indeterminism and quantum entanglement are part and parcel of quantum mechanics. Also, quantum mechanics holds that nature is fundamentally dualistic (wave/particle duality). Based on these facts alone, contemporary physics does not support materialism.

      Also, Massmimo's case for "ontic structural realism" was based on the argument that contemporary physics reduces everything to immaterial, mathematical structures. As I recall, you did not object to this. In fact, it appeared to me that you made the argument that the Buddhist doctrines of "dependent arising" and "impermance" support this view.

      That being said, there are two interpretations of the Copenhagen interpretation concerning the ontological status of the "wave function:" the "subjective" and the "objective." The objective view allows for a real wave function.

      "There are some who say that there are objective variants of the Copenhagen Interpretation that allow for a "real" wave function"

      (source: Wikipedia: Copenhagen interpretation)

      Finally, the Copenhagen interpretation does seem to imply that the act observation collapses the wave function. (This a valid interpretation of the Copenhagen interpretation.)

      "In the Copenhagen interpretation, quantum mechanics can only be used to predict the probabilities for different outcomes of pre-specified observations. What constitutes an "observer" or an "observation" is not directly specified by the theory, and the behavior of a system after observation is completely different than the usual behavior. During observation, the wavefunction describing the system collapses to one of several options. If there is no observation, this collapse does not occur, and none of the options ever become less likely."

      (source: Wikipedia: Quantum mind-body problem)

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  31. Pigliucci said:

    > We just need some sociology student to do a dissertation on this... The issue is that the perception generated by the (likely unrepresentative) sampling of the blogosphere is still a problem that needs to be addressed. <

    I hope this point gets more attention. I see it as a crucial problem that has little awareness. I cited the 90–9–1 principle and the empirical observation -- if we just look -- that personal attacks create a vicious cycle leading to an even greater exaggeration of the distribution tail segment. We don't see tit-for-tat exchanges of kindness that drag out for months or years, or whole websites devoted solely to raining compliments upon a group of bloggers.

    That's not a dissertation, but it's something. We should be skeptical of an individual's assessment of a particular group's social problems formed from the individual's anecdotal perceptions gathered online. And we should refrain from promulgating such assessments.

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    1. I agree Craig. It's the runaway tit-for-tat game theory strategy. The inability to ride the errors rather than automatically respond in kind is worrying.

      Delete
  32. They cannot redefine atheism, as it deals with belief or otherwise is spirituality (God), and can be restricted to polite debunking of abstract ideas of spiritualitists without touching the real implications of spirituality in religious practices (good & bad in reality, but nevertheless abstract in ideals).

    A way to evaluate the real consequences of spirituality in religious practice is by using the backdrop of politics, to move from atheism per se to the political consequences for individual and collective decision-making from religion. We can propose democracy as a guiding principle and consider how interference with the capacity of individuals for effective decision-making is impacted by religion (having established that religion has a fraught spiritual basis).

    But that is a different agenda from atheism per se, and that polite debunking of spirituality by skepticism. Call it a half step in that direction as A + to distinguish it from atheism per se. Less polite, but a recognition that we don't have to be bound by terms such as atheism. Reality demands dispensing with old limited definitions, or extending them. It is a living language, so we should try to extend it from time to time with shorthand additions.

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  33. Massimo, I've corrected you on this before, it's Lindsay, not Lindsey.

    Do you have any recommendations of people or blogs that would identify with secular humanism over atheism? Just to see more from the other perspective.

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  34. I have no problem if people want to take the success of the new atheist movement (as opposed to simply being an atheist - which isn't anything more than a single proposition) and try to focus it in certain directions. It's when people are saying the A+ will separate out the chauvinist pigs, or that people will take opposition to their behaviour as opposition to the values that their behaviour stems from, or that they will act self-righteously and create elaborate straw-men to argue against, that's where I think there's some problems. It's good people wanting to do good things, though I'm not really sure how it will work out.

    I do find it interesting that like the accommodationist arguments, it's people with a very similar outlook and very similar aims arguing over how the other side is doing it wrong and that they represent the good approach.

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  35. Yes atheism is a negative buy this technical and abstract view ignores cultural context. People who explicitly self-identify as atheists are a very small part of the population. My guess is that many of those doing so have seriously thought about the weaknesses of the evidence for theistic and supernaturalistic claims. In the process of doing so such individuals have likely to a certain degree positively embraced science and its findings, rational thinking and the need to have compelling, credible evidence to make truth claims about the world. So while technically atheism is only a negative idea, in reality it does not exist in a social vacuum, and is supported by much that is positive.

    The idea of talking philosophy, however can sound intimidating to some people, myself included. Well I do have a layman's interest in philosophy, some of its great figures and philosopher academics who engage with the public (and did by the way like your book Nonsense on Stilts), I also find some aspects of philosophy to be dense, opaque and difficult to understand. If I say I were to be invited to a conference of philosophers, my initial thought is that I would likely find the topics hard to follow and not have very much to contribute. I have, however, attended an atheist conference and found the event to be very enjoyable and accessible. In short, I do think there is some benefit for atheists to be able to gather and communicate with fellow atheists, but I don't think that philosophy has quite the compatibility and overlap with atheism as does skepticism and science (e.g. one can be theistic and sill philosophical, but it is hard to do science without any skeptical thinking and many skeptics rely on science and its findings to think about many issues).

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "but I don't think that philosophy has quite the compatibility and overlap with atheism as does skepticism and science"

      In which case Atheism+ should have difficulty, because it has added philosophical positions (progressive values) to a skeptical position (there is no evidence for god).

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  36. >> I don't think it's a coincidence that naturalists often end up more liberal than not <<

    >I disagree. There is nothing particularly natural about progressivism (as much as I am myself a staunch progressive), and I'm pretty sure our fellow conservatives, libertarians and objectivist atheists would vehemently reject any such notion.<

    Yet it is the conservatives, libertarians and objectivists that those who frequently fight facts and the finding findings of science because of their ideology. Ayn Rand thought that government anti-smoking campaigns were some type of communist conspiracy, and members of the right to this day continue to stick up for tobacco. Using similar tactics of cynically distorting and mocking science, it is the right wing (including libertarians and objectivists) who systemically attack scientific findings showing the impact of human pollution and environmental destruction, such as in the cases of carbon emissions and climate change, ozone destruction, acid rain, second hand cigarette smoke (tobacco yet again) etc. The book Merchants of Doubt throughly documents how this anti-science attacks are motivated by hysterical aversion to government regulation (equated with communism) rather than genuine scientific interest.

    Or to quote Stephen Colbert "Facts have a liberal bias." Along these lines naturalism (deference to the factual findings of scientists and other experts) tends to have a liberal bias as well.

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    1. Matthew,

      Your comment is grotesquely simplistic.

      Delete
    2. Matthew, I could list quite a few anti-scientific/irrational beliefs to which liberals are far more disposed than conservatives (caveat: without thereby implying or denying that it is "about equal on both sides"), but that would be missing the point.

      To take an example, you may want to criticize climate change deniers, and it is undeniable that conservatism correlates with their ideology. But conservative *value judgments*, such as an emphasis on freedom even at the price of utility, or respect for tradition, are not the proper meat of science-based skepticism or what you are calling "naturalism" (which isn't really the right term, btw).

      If you don't believe me, go ahead and show me the experiment that proves that tradition isn't valuable (or isn't as valuable as conservatives think). You will not find it.

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    3. The first issue is that value judgments change by rational enquiry. For example I saw a documentary last night where someone said "the law must be obeyed to the letter", to deny entry to to an illegal immigrant who claims to be a refugee. The person is taken to refugee camps and weakens his "value" to allow for those cases. Reality can change "values" in undertaking a rational enquiry.

      The second issue is that it is just defeatist to say that "values" in individual human psychology have no objective bases, if that's your claim. Clearly, they have no known objective bases because psychology currently has no objective basis in the greater certainties of biology and chemistry. It is a much neglected research program, not an excuse for dead end analyses.

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    4. Marcus, clearly the relation between facts and values is complex, but sorry, your counterexample doesn't do the job.

      If we take the anti-immigrant to the refugee camp and he *doesn't* change his values, he may be a jerk, but it would be a stretch to call him "irrational" and nonsense to call him "unscientific" or "un-atheist" or something.

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    5. I like my example. I don't draw the conclusion that such a person must change values when assessing new first-hand information. I am simply observing that when given that opportunity for rational enquiry, they can do. It's only a strictly scientific question if values can one day be understood scientifically, but that doesn't prevent improvement and debunking of ignorant or illogical analyses supporting "values". In those terms, they might indeed by "wrong" about the stated exemplars of their "values".

      What I am clearly proposing is to open their perhaps limited enquiries and experiences to date (in the case above) to futher rational enquiries, and see how it all goes. I am confident that will increase the likelihood that their "values" have sound bases in facts and logic, and a context of competing "values" of others. You can reverse my example in the way you have, to say that they are wrong to conclude another way, but only to the extent they have stated something as an exemplar of their values and it has been been debunked by further rational enquiry. Straw man again.

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  37. Crap I'm late to the party again. I think this is a very interesting idea. I would add a couple more.

    Atheists plus we don't bore you to death explaining exactly what that means unless you ask.
    Atheists plus we take Stalinism seriously and don't just hand-wave it away. "How will this not lead to something like Stalinism?" Is always a legitimate question for any movement. If you think your particular philosophy doesn't have a dark side, you haven't paid much attention to history. Remember the Sermon on the Mount can turn into the Hundred Years War. Is there a direct causal link between the Sermon on the Mount and such things? No, there is a complicated human history, but one shouldn't be naive. Yes, pessimism is important. Pessimistic meta-induction for atheism please. Proceed with caution.

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    1. "Crap I'm late to the party again."

      It's a good to be late to this party. Kind of like the Donner Party.

      Delete
  38. Let me try to be less oblique. I don't think Atheism Plus is more prone than the first waves of atheism to excess. I just think we shouldn't dismiss the part of us that wonders if there isn't something a little ad hoc to the plus, and that there isn't a deeper threat we are trying to stave off. We shouldn't assume that we are the first generation to be smarter than all the rest. We should assume we are part of a long line of apes and we are more likely to act like ourpredecessors than our fantasy future selves.

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  39. Just FYI, I have apologized, revised, clarified, or corrected much of this (although my intemperate language against rampant sexists and people mocking basic moral values I don't apologize for).

    See:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2289/

    And:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2412/

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    1. Great TFL;DFR walls of disingenuous rationalizations and justifications are not apologies, and neither are crocodile-tear "apologies" that you bury deep behind them, Dr. Carrier.

      If there actually was anything vaguely resembling a tattered semblance of an apology in either of those abortions you linked to, you would do well to post it alone or at least quote it standalone here. But I very much doubt you will do that, considering your continued strawmanning of anyone who has called you on your outrageous rhetoric and your blatantly fallacious false-dichotomy ultimatums as being "rampant sexists mocking basic moral values, psychopaths against reasonableness, compassion, and integrity, douchebags, retards, etc (ad nauseum)".

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  40. All,

    thanks for the (largely) constructive comments. I'll do my best to keep the discussion going and address some major points. Just remember that this isn't my full time (or even part time) job.

    Ben,

    > Take for instance the political belief in the notion of free-markets. Not applicable to skepticism? <

    Again, you need to distinguish values from factual claims. Yes, the factual claims of free marketers can be examined empirically (and have been debunked). But if a libertarian tells you that his values are such that any restriction on his liberty is unacceptable, including taxes and regulations, the discussion turns philosophical.

    > cognitive philosophy, I did a course on it at uni. It's the catch all term for theories of mind. <

    That seems to me a different field altogether: philosophy mind and/or of cognitive sciences. I'm familiar with it, but I don't think it's pertinent to this discussion.

    > Incidentally, your point regarding gay marriage. Why is religious opposition based on no evidence different to a political opposition based on no evidence? <

    They are both based on values, not evidence. Again, there is a distinction, though not an absolute one (because facts can inform value judgments).

    > if 'values' become fair game, then how do we evaluate such analysis? Wouldn't we wind up evaluating one set of values in terms of other values? I'm thinking here of the is/ought naturalistic fallacy. <

    Interesting you brought that up, since someone who would determine values by way of facts is actually much more likely to commit that fallacy. Anyway, you discuss values by way of philosophical analysis. For excellent examples on how to do this check out Michael Sandel's book, Justice.

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  41. Chris,

    > a religious person can also be a secular humanist, but not a member of A+. <

    Why would a religious person consider himself a secular humanist, since SH are *atheists* with a progressive political agenda?

    Alastair,

    > Then you concede the points by default. <

    I don't wish to be too harsh, but no, that's true only in your apparently deluded mind.

    Mark,

    > I've corrected you on this before, it's Lindsay, not Lindsey. <

    You know, Ron should really change his name so that I don't misspell it anymore...

    > Do you have any recommendations of people or blogs that would identify with secular humanism over atheism? <

    I must admit that I read blogs largely when people point individual articles to me. But I would check the blogs produced by the AHA and by CFI. Again, Ron's post being a good example.

    Magicthighs,

    > this is simply nonsense. Compare this to Second-wave Feminism, which did not try to redefine the meaning of the term feminism, but (successfully) tried to change the focus of the feminist movement. <

    Just because you disagree with my take it doesn't mean that I'm talking nonsense. The history of the feminist movement is very different from that of atheism and humanism. Feminism has been focused on social issues from the beginning, atheism - again - cannot be because there are many different kinds of atheists with radically different sets of values when it comes to social issues. That's why we have secular humanism (which, by the way, has in fact already gone through three "waves," defined by the three Humanist Manifestoes).

    > Carrier mentions apologising in a blog post published on August 24th, your blog post was published the 29th. <

    As I said, I was unaware of Carrier's apology until you (I think) brought it up. It doesn't change the glimpse one got into his attitude from his original post.

    Matthew,

    > The idea of talking philosophy, however can sound intimidating to some people, myself included. <

    Indeed, but talking science should be just as intimidating. That's why we need scientists and philosophers involved in the movement, and why we need people to simply pay attention to both philosophical and scientific issues.

    > to quote Stephen Colbert "Facts have a liberal bias." <

    I enjoy Colbert as much as anyone, but no, facts don't have value biases, though our interpretation of the facts certainly does.

    Richard Carrier,

    > FYI, I have apologized, revised, clarified, or corrected much of this (although my intemperate language against rampant sexists and people mocking basic moral values I don't apologize for). <

    Noted.

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    1. "Why would a religious person consider himself a secular humanist, since SH are *atheists* with a progressive political agenda?"

      Perhaps you're right. I've seen blog comments noting what I said about the difference between atheism and SH, but perhaps those folks, like me, were a little confused about the difference between being a secularist, which religious people who value the separation of church and state can be, and secular humanism, which does appear to be nontheist. Well, maybe they can keep those crummy agnostics out of A+ then!

      Delete
  42. ATHEISM is not "rife with misogyny". And by that I mean you should simply say "the planet" is rife with misogyny. Since Atheism itself does not promote an agenda or core set of beliefs I would not like to see the correlation made between the two. Rather, there are misogynists who came to this character flaw through other means(upbringing, childhood religious indoctrination, media and culture, etc) who also happen to be atheist. Do you see my point here? The same applies to racism.

    Also, how can you claim that Atheism is not concerned with social issues? Honestly how would you know? Do you track the actions of every Atheist? Or are you referring only to what a small number of atheist groups are doing?

    See I think what you are trying to do here is to create a religious substitute. I think moving in the direction of trying to lump all atheists together is a mistake. Many atheists are so because they are independent thinkers and doers. And this article sounds to me like you are trying to either "lead the flock", or break atheists into small splinter groups of people who "think like me". Those social ideals you propose - social justice, women's rights, anti-racism - are wonderful, no argument here, but sadly they have nothing to do with atheism. What you are talking about is humanism. I'm not trying to pick hairs but this already exists, with people who are and having been working toward these ideals for a long time. Creating more groups doesn't help. Instead, seek out the ones already established and join their cause.

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    1. You... should re-read the article.

      Delete
    2. >> "What you are talking about is humanism. I'm not trying to pick hairs but this already exists, with people who are and having been working toward these ideals for a long time. Creating more groups doesn't help. Instead, seek out the ones already established and join their cause."

      From Massimo's post: "Historically, what Jen, Greta and others are looking for already exists. It’s called secular humanism, and it has had (and continues to have) a huge impact on precisely the issues listed above."

      I'm wondering if you're not responding to someone else entirely?

      Delete
  43. @ Massimo

    > I don't wish to be too harsh, but no, that's true only in your apparently deluded mind. <

    My argument stands:

    "Atheism implies a metaphysical belief in materialism. If an atheist is not willing to acknowledge that, then he or she is harboring some kind of spiritual-, supernatural-, or God-belief."

    By your own admission, you believe in a realm of immaterial entities (mathematical abstractions). That qualifies as a belief in the supernatural. Why? Because you are positing the existence of a nonphysical realm that is not located in time and space. As such, it transcends the physical (natural) world. (The term "supernatural" literally means "beyond the natural.")

    Merriam-Webster defines "supernatural" as "of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe."

    "supernaturalism" is "the belief in a realm of existence over and above the material realm of existence."

    (source: pg. 304, "The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy")

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    1. By the latter definition, you could say that belief in gravity is supernatural. (After all, it's not made of matter; rather, it's an interactive force by which objects attract each other.) Yet, I suspect that most of us would agree that gravity is quite natural (e.g. a feature of "the visible observable universe", as per the former definition).

      My own hunch is that mathematical objects are, first and foremost, mental abstractions (i.e. based on objects of human sensory-motor experience, which have been translated into cultural artifacts). Still, we most likely have them because they "work" (i.e. they allow us to survive and flourish in our environment and communicate in a language that seems universal), and they most likely "work" because they tell us something that's true about ourselves and our environment.

      As for what we and our environment are made of? Who knows? Better yet, who cares?

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    2. @ mufi

      > By the latter definition, you could say that belief in gravity is supernatural. (After all, it's not made of matter; rather, it's an interactive force by which objects attract each other.) Yet, I suspect that most of us would agree that gravity is quite natural (e.g. a feature of "the visible observable universe", as per the former definition). <

      Gravity is equivalent to the curvature of space-time (Einstein's general theory of relativity). It does not transcend space and time. Nonphysical mathematical abstractions transcend space and time. As such, they are supernatural entities.

      > My own hunch is that mathematical objects are, first and foremost, mental abstractions. <

      My argument is that mathematical abstractions cannot exist independently of a mind that abstracts. So, it would appear that you agree with me, not Massimo.

      > As for what we and our environment are made of? Who knows? Better yet, who cares? <

      If you don't care, then you should not participate in any metaphysical debate.

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    3. Perhaps I do agree more with you than Massimo, but only to a point.

      Let's just say that I see metaphysics as a low priority, and that while no such speculation is likely to be definitively true, some such speculations are more valid than others.

      Delete
  44. Good article, Massimo. I confess I have lost what little interest I previously had in atheism as a social project, but it seems doubly unwise to try to attach a laundry list of social concerns to atheism. This is true regardless of how worthy the social concerns may be, when there is no direct logical relation between them and atheism (and even the indirect relations are mostly pretty tenuous).

    I might as well start a "compatibilists+" movement, or an "antirealist-about-personal-identity+" movement, it would make almost as much sense.

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    1. The relation between atheism and social issues is more direct than tenuous, as any quick study of any religion will show. You can extricate spirituality from the social impact of religions with difficulty, although I just debunk the spiritual. I deal with religion as a political matter. Your analysis is simplistic in the extreme, or should I say your conclusion without any analysis.

      Even if one analyzes and concludes that religions are value based, that does not mean they are impenetrable to rational evaluation. We can have confidence in rationality exposing faults, whether or not others shift their values accordingly in religion and politics. Rationality is a powerful tool in the hands of a wordsmith, and the objective bases to human subjective values are far from fully explored.

      Best not to be simplistic or defeatist in this area, or lazy in attempts at obviation. The conncection between spirituality and religion is too direct to ignore, and religion is a social concern. I use a narrow definition of atheism in a post above, but that does not mean spirituality is not fundamentally connected to religion, which is why we can be flexible in extending atheism to concerns with religion as a natural accompaniment.

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    2. "Even if one analyzes and concludes that religions are value based, that does not mean they are impenetrable to rational evaluation."

      I wholeheartedly agree! All of religion's claims, empirical and philosophical, are quite penetrable to rational evaluation.

      But atheism is not the sum total of rational evaluation. Atheism is one *conclusion* (arguably the correct one) of rational evaluation of evidence for gods.

      Delete
    3. Yes, but allow the natural connection to religion. I suspect in some cases spirituality is to social control as nitrous oxide is to car racing.

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    4. Marcus,

      The utterance "in some cases" serves to advance your point (whatever it may be) little (in fact, I take it that the utterance serves little more than to allow you to criticize without having to commit to any falsifiable position). Of course in some cases certain religious beliefs made certain forms of socio-political control more cogenial. But what purchase does this insight have? Historical cases abound in which the non-religious fought to increase socio-political control, and the religious (or "spiritual") fought to liberalize socio-political control.

      Delete
    5. It might be a final warning for a well worn subject. My point is quite simple. The drives to social control by religion might have no basis in spirituality if it is debunked, leaving what? What is left is a humans' motivations for social control, or at least some kind of social order they understand and administer.

      What purchase does nitrous oxide have to that basic insight? It purchases blind obedience to a cause. I have posted already that there is good and bad in religious social control, regardless of any fictional spirituality. I would just deal with religions as I deal with political lobbies. So, my point would that background in this well worn coverage of the issues.

      I am not debating here whether spiritualists are nicer or nastier at social control than atheists. Stalin didn't believe in God. Just a little warning by me about boosting social control with spritiual fanaticism, for example. You can add any abstract ideology to that list. Worth opening your mind to the idea, as difficult as it appears to be for you.

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  45. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKhEw7nD9C4

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  46. "Atheism" has about as much social and political commitments as afairyism, which is to say it has none at all. It is not enough simply to identify theists / polytheists / deists (whatever) who hold certain socio-political views or who hold certain socio-political views for religious reasons. One would have to demonstrate that one is logically committed to a set of socio-political beliefs on the basis of one's religious beliefs. If one thinks this can be done, I would very much like to see the argument.

    On a related note, "atheism" further has little, if any at all, metaphysical commitments, which is to say an "atheist" may logically hold to any metaphysical view, whether idealism, naturalism, physicalism, supernaturalism, or any other metaphysical fancy.

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    1. A quite irrelevant point made here. It's obvious that words can be analyzed for their isolated meanings, and for their meaning in connection with other words. The addition of + to atheism is to emphasize the connectivity rather than isolation, which is a nice way to deal with it. In fact "spirituality" (countered by atheism) is connected to "religion". Spirituality is cited as the basis for religion, and people say that they follow the prescriptions of their religion because God provided them.

      We can isolate meaning in blind ignorance of connections, or acknowledge them and work with language to explain them. Cleary I favor the latter, as it is more responsible, realistic, interesting, and creative. As for the connection between "religion" and "society", again, I would have thought it obvious. Perhaps being an ostrich in reasoning about meaning, nothing is obvious anymore and no connections can be made, so its a useless exercise. I am quite happy to avoid that approach in this case.

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  47. Massimo, you're too kind, maybe even way too kind, to the plusers, who are almost as confrontational as Carrier, as well as largely seeming egotistical enough that they've created some great new movement. Once again, youth is wasted on the young, with many of the semi-juvenile plusers, especially those of ninth-wave feminism.

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  48. Petrus,

    > how can you claim that Atheism is not concerned with social issues? Honestly how would you know? Do you track the actions of every Atheist? <

    No, I was making a logical point there: there is no necessary connection between non believing in gods and any particular political or moral position about social issues. Which is why there are atheists who are progressives, libertarians, objectivists and even, gasp!, conservative.

    > I think moving in the direction of trying to lump all atheists together is a mistake. Many atheists are so because they are independent thinkers and doers. <

    That, ironically, is precisely my point.

    > this article sounds to me like you are trying to either "lead the flock", or break atheists into small splinter groups of people who "think like me" <

    I assure you I have no interest in leading any flock. As for splintering, I wasn't the one who created a new movement...

    > What you are talking about is humanism <

    And I say so explicitly in the post. Did you read it?

    Chris,

    > perhaps those folks, like me, were a little confused about the difference between being a secularist, which religious people who value the separation of church and state can be, and secular humanism <

    Exactly. The term "secular" applies much more broadly than "secular humanism," and the distinction is precisely what you have summarized. A+ certainly isn't secular in the broad term, but it is - as far as I can tell - indistinguishable from secular humanism.

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  49. Several points:

    1) Political groups have employed (historically) both religion and science to promote their particular agenda.

    2) The political left as well as the political right have both employed religion and science to promote their particular agenda. For example, liberals have employed the "social gospel" to promote socialism while conservatives have employed "social Darwinism" to promote free-wheeling or laissez-faire capitalism.

    3) Politically speaking, Marxists and proponents of liberation theology share a lot of things in common as do Evangelicals and "Ayn Randian" atheists.

    4) The political persuasions of "believers" run the gamut as do the political persuasions of "non-believers."

    5) Politics is as much about forging alliances as it is about demonizing your perceived enemy.

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  50. I read about the "what it is like to be a" tag being used creatively to distinguish a blog about "women", and being extended to "zombies" by another group, welcomed generally by the first group that invented the usage (I cahtted in a blog with them). They saw it as a tip of the hat. Now, I wonder, if A + social justice, womens rights, etc were adopted by another group who called themselves A + reactionary conservatism, how Jen McCreight might regard it.

    As pointed out by several here, atheism is not confined to people with left or right political values and their irrational or rational factual bases, so the + can apply to any fair connection. A reactionary group might use atheism to demystify a socialist religion and reveal its remaining socialist values, and then rationally explore the bases of those values in opposition to them. I would keep the A + as an open tag for any atheist's use, to be fair to reactionaries, but Jen should use it only for social justice etc and let the reactionaries try to take it over if they have the pull. Wait till there is any tug over the tag.

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  51. Scott Siskind explains nicely one of the problems with A+.

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  52. Actually, referring to an earlier post about anything being given a + I might agree if it declares your position and aim in addition to strict atheism or whatever. People should know if you have one, as it assists their understanding of what you write (even if you try to be super objective). So if anyone tells you "Im a skeptic", just say "and?".

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  53. Jen has been apparently harassed into silence:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/09/goodbye-for-now/

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    1. Having dramatically announced she would be 'done with blogging for an indefinite period of time', McCreight started again just 6 days later. I guess that feels like a long time to a narcissist.

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