Atheists Eat Their Own

September 24, 2012

New Atheism, the movement that holds that religious belief should be strongly criticized and countered because it is dumb, delusional and dangerous burst on the scene early in the 2000’s with a flurry of best-selling books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. Motivated in part by the perceived religious motivations of the 9/11 attacks and George Bush’s overt religiosity and fueled by the easy communication of blogs and discussion boards, New Atheism quickly grew into something of a movement. Foundations, conferences and rallies have since provided a sense of community and identity to the nascent cause. And yet, while there has been much fanfare about the growth of New Atheism, at nearly a decade out the movement appears to be employing the same attacks against itself that it once leveled against the religious and with greater effect.

Overt acts of sexism and harassment by men in the movement against participating women have recently splintered the movement. New Atheism has also dividing over what it means to be an atheist; whether the movement is merely skeptical of religion or obligated to advance certain social and political concerns like feminism, gay rights and social and economic justice. In short, some want to offer a progressive agenda, or what has been dubbed ‘Atheism+’. Atheist journalist Nelson Jones gives a good overview at the NewStatesman:

A number of incidents have served to crystallise the sense that all is not right in the world of unbelief. Most notoriously, there was “Elevatorgate”, an late-night incident in a lift during an atheist conference in Dublin during which the blogger Rebecca Watson was propositioned. Her subsequent public complaint about the man’s behaviour and sexual harassment within the Skeptic movement drew criticism from Richard Dawkins himself and fuelled an ugly flame war. She received, and continues to receive, rape and death threats…

…The first item on the Atheism+ agenda, then, is a cleansing one. [Jen] McCreight [A founder of the movement at PZ Myers Freethought blogs] herself says: “We need to recognize that there’s still room for self-improvement and to address the root of why we’ve been having these problems in atheism and skepticism.” Greta Christina has gone so far as to devise a checklist of goals to which atheist organisations should aspire, including anti-harassment policies and ensuring diversity among both members and invited speakers. “To remember that not all atheists look like Richard Dawkins.”

Not long after this article was published skeptic Jen McCreight ceased blogging at FreeThoughtBlogs over the harassment she received from her criticism of her fellow atheists. Beyond the blog wars, major players in the atheist movement like Dawkins and PZ Myers and Sam Harris are vociferously at odds over all sorts of issues. While the blog comment sections and discussion boards of atheists have always been offensive and irrational places for believers, they are now verbal torture chambers for fellow atheists.

As a Christian I would normally avoid commenting on the internecine battles of groups that don’t include me. It is no skin off my nose that atheists are attacking each other. But I think the current state of affairs is instructive when it comes to understanding the modern atheist movement and human nature.

The first thing to understand is that ‘New Atheism’ is primarily the domain of young white males. And not ordinary young white males, but the sort whose lives consist largely of the consumption of video games, pornography and internet trolling. Psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo described this group recently in his book The Demise of Guys. While many of the leaders of New Atheism appear to be respectable enough folks, New Atheist leaders like PZ Meyers, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne have been idolized by troops of young men because they justify their chosen lifestyles. Whereas it was once expected that a man in his twenties would do something productive and profitable like advancing a career or starting a family, now we have millions of young men who feel completely content to squander their lives engaging in artificial combat to conquer digital worlds while satisfying themselves with virtual relationships. They are ripe for the picking by folks like PZ Myers who created a legion of trolls by whipping fan boys into a frenzy against imagined evil religious hordes. There is little wonder then that the fun was spoiled when real women started showing up at the party, with all their expectations of social maturity and common decency. Their presence, and the insistence by certain atheist leaders that the some of their followers need to grow up was like Peter Pan telling the lost boys to leave Neverland and get a life.

While this was true for the minions, for leaders of New Atheism it has never been about mere skepticism. New Atheism is closely allied with progressivism because they share a common enemy. Progressives see atheism as useful to diminish the power of conservative faiths that are the primary bulwark against leftist agendas. Of course the fan boys in the atheist movement aren’t nearly so high-minded – they see religion as bulwark against their chosen lifestyles. As much as this mindless passion causes young men to rail against religion, they are useful to leaders on the left. That is why the movements in the sixties could encompass both the high-minded feminist notions of ‘equality’ alongside the ‘free love movement’ which consisted mainly of mainstreaming sexual promiscuousness. To advance, both required diminishing traditional and religious beliefs about family even though they shared little in common with regard to actual goals. They were literally strange bedfellows.

The reason conflicts have arisen in the atheist movement is the reason conflict inevitably arises in all human movements – the selfishness and hubris that is inherent to human nature. This comports with first and foremost truth advanced by Christians that all men are sinners – that is by nature we are selfish, proud and corruptible creatures. This is why the very atheist hordes PZ Myers used to command against the religious now clog his inbox with messages of contempt. It is the reason the very folks Richard Dawkins inspired to be rationalists now label him a misogynist. And it is why Sam Harris, whose books partly inspired the New Atheist movement, is now labeled among the ‘5 Most Awful Atheists‘ by some of his peers. Atheists imagined that religious belief itself exacerbates conflict and once it was done away with reason would reign – now they prove that a devotion to reason is no remedy for the inherent human tendency to advance one’s ambitions over the interests of others.

Atheists often cast aspersions on the Church because there are multiple Christian denominations. ‘How can there be one truth with so many different variations?’ goes the reasoning – all the while ignoring the basic creeds that Christians overwhelmingly adhere to and the fact that the Church experienced no significant splits for over a thousand years of its existence. They tout their movement as one motivated by reason and thus immune to the vagaries that plague many religions; yet they can’t deal with basic matters amongst themselves with common civility.

If we can test the truth of a proposition by the consistent agreement about its basic tenants among its proponents, then New Atheism, a small movement that is splintering almost as soon as it has begun, is almost certainly false.

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The Nonsense of the Reason Rally

March 23, 2012

I have to say up until now my reaction to the ‘Reason Rally’ (other than, “Did it happen yet?”) is one of mild bemusement. This reaction comes in part from my years of interacting with atheists on and off the internet and being told repeatedly as one someone did recently in my combox that, “atheism entails nothing. It’s the rejection of a particular belief because there is insufficient evidence to affirm it.”

The regular definition of atheism as the simple lack of a belief in a God or gods is a useful meme because it doesn’t require one to actually defend atheism. In addition one can claim the theist has the burden of proof when arguing that God exists. Of course if it were really a “Rally For Unbelief” as the Huffington Post recently put it, then there wouldn’t be anything to rally for. Given the purpose of a ‘rally’ is to organize people to accomplish something, unbelief alone obviously isn’t in and of itself sufficient for this cause. So it’s obvious that for the purposes of this event atheists will be putting aside their minimal definition for the day.

Thus it’s called the ‘Reason Rally‘. This is better than the name of the previous gathering of atheists in D.C. in 2002 which was called, “The Godless March on Washington“. No seriously, that is what it was called. It attracted about 2000 people, or roughly the population of homeless people on the National Mall. But these folks are no dummies so it took them just ten years to come up with a new name. No Godlessness this time, now they will be championing the worthy cause of Reason. Everyone loves reason – as Dawkins recently asked, “Who would rally against reason?” I agree, no one would, sign me up! Of course no one really believes that is the purpose of the rally. If it were there would be lectures and studies and maybe debates on issues of concern instead of bad rock bands, bad comedians and politicians. An event centered on reason would totally alienate the Occupy crowds, who have been looking for a place to hang out since they were evicted from their camps. Who would pad the crowd numbers then?

So if it isn’t about ‘Reason’, then what is it about? We know based on the participation of folks like Dawkins and PZ Myers, it will be a ‘Religion is Deluded, Stupid and Evil‘ rally. Of course, they won’t be attacking all religions this way – the New Atheists are generally indifferent to the existence of Buddhism and Hinduism in large segments of the world. And it won’t be an anti-Muslim rally because that would be dangerous. It also won’t be anti-Jewish because that would be politically incorrect – though in all fairness, this may be changing. So it will mostly be an anti-Christian rally.

And the atheists that will be welcome there represent a particularly narrow segment of the secular population. As detailed recently in a New Statesman article, The God Wars, all atheists are equal, but some are more equal than others. You won’t see ‘accommodationist‘ atheists speaking there. People like John Gray and Alain de Botton, Penn Jillette and Ayaan Hirsi Ali who despite being atheists don’t seem to see religions as perniciously evil. As de Botton experienced, it only took him suggesting that not everything about religion is bad to become the object of the ire of the ‘Reason Rally’ crowd:

There have been threats of violence. De Botton has been told he will be beaten up and his guts taken out of him. One email simply said, “You have betrayed Atheism. Go over to the other side and die.”

Like any Christian who has discussions on the internet I am of course rather used to that sort of thing from New Atheists, but it is interesting to see it applies to atheists who don’t fall in line with the approved dogma as well.

This isn’t to say no one will be there – as John Stewart showed us last year if you throw together some music, comedy and food on the National Mall a few thousand people will come and ‘rally’ for anything. I am simply pointing out this all has nothing to do with ‘reason’, but rather it is an attempt by a small and cultishly dogmatic group of people to paint those who don’t agree with them as insane, irrational and evil. Of course if this group was more organized and efficient, they wouldn’t need a whole day to do this, they could do it in two minutes:


Observations

November 17, 2011

Though it’s tempting to try to tie the Whitehouse shooter with the Occupy movement the way the Left tried to do with Jared Loughner and the Tea Party movement, I won’t go there no matter how much they tempt me.


PZ Myers on Living a Lie

October 18, 2011

Recently PZ Myers was considering a question from an atheist who wondered whether it would be better to hold false beliefs if those beliefs led to a more peaceful and fulfilling world. PZ answered that such a scenario would not be better, reminding me why I consider him to be one of the most honest atheists out there. As he explains:

“You see, living a lie is nearly universally considered a bad thing. Even the people who most devoutly believe in the most wacky fundybeliefs, or scientologists, or Mormons, do not argue that their ideas are falsebut that they believe in them anyway — they all argue that they are literallytrue. The truth of Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or whatever is consideredvery important, but they’ve simply deluded themselves into believing that they
are true (and we know that they can’t all be true, since they’re mutuallycontradictory).”

The problem with this answer is that almost all atheists do live a lie; they have to or they couldn’t live. As I have pointed out elsewhere there is no reason for atheists to believe they can choose their beliefs, or that human rights exist, or human equality has any basis in reality, or that they should be concerned with the suffering of strangers. In fact PZ’s statement contains a lie he himself apparently holds; namely that it should be considered bad to ‘live a lie’. There is in fact nothing in atheism that would lead one to that conclusion. For the most part atheists conform to the morality of the society around them because it is comfortable to do so, not because such conformity proceeds from beliefs they hold to be true.

And that is one of the primary differences between atheism and Christianity – atheists must live a lie in order to operate in ordinary society. Christians on the other hand can act consistently with their beliefs to the betterment of society.

So whether or not atheists consider it bad to live a lie, they all do.


Is New Atheism Antagonistic to Scientific Research?

June 7, 2011

 

One of the main arguments of New Atheism against religious belief is the supposed detrimental effect religious belief has on the acquisition of scientific knowledge. Religious faith is portrayed as being a viral delusion which undermines reason and contradicts that which gives us the only source of reliable knowledge – scientific research. And yet, when one considers the record of New Atheists on scientific research, it would seem being a New Atheist leader is quantitatively antagonistic to scientific research. Consider for a moment the research publication record of various New Atheist leaders:

Richard Dawkins – Last date of publication, 2004

Jerry Coyne – Last date of publications, 2007

PZ Myers – Last date of publication, 2002

Sam Harris – Last date of publication, 2011, the only paper in the last three years.

And of course Christopher Hitchens, not being a scientist, has never published research.

It seems the pattern with New Atheists is to get a degree in some scientific field, write a few popular books on a scientific subject, and then abandon scientific research all together to pursue the advocacy of atheism. In fact these folks aren’t particularly notable for their ground breaking research in a field of science; they are more notable for their popular books and their strident advocacy of atheism.

Of course nothing prevents them from pursuing what they consider to be the most reliable form of truth, scientific knowledge. Amongst the myriad of blogs advocating New Atheism there is a constant din concerning the value of scientific knowledge –and very little attempt to actually acquire such knowledge or utilize it in any practical way. Instead there is mostly a critique of religious belief (mainly Christianity) and practicing scientists who don’t throw in with the New Atheists. New Atheists spend as much time or more discussing religious beliefs as do religious people; certainly more time doing so then they do discussing hard science.

In the end the objective reader is forced to conclude that pursuing scientific knowledge is not nearly as important as wrangling over metaphysical issues; a conclusion with which I would heartily agree.

This is however unlikely to be the conclusion the New Atheists desire.


Atheism and Sex

May 24, 2011

There is a study currently being touted on the web and in the press that purports to show that atheists have better sex lives than the religious. I first heard about it on a post on Mike’s (a somewhat frequent commenter here) The A-Unicornist where it was titled ‘Atheists have better sex than believers’ – a title, in all fairness, he has backed away from. Nonetheless it provoked a rather lengthy conversation about the veracity of such a poll. I cited a number of readily apparent flaws in the ‘study’. Problems include:

  • The source. Mike makes this out to be an ad hom, but the person conducting the poll (and touting its results) isn’t a university researcher or a professional pollster, he is psychologist Darrel Ray, the New Atheist author of The God Virus. As a poll taker, there is an obvious conflict of interest there – he is looking for an outcome that would cast atheism in a good light (and what better light than great sex!). Now this doesn’t necessarily disqualify his findings, but it does impinge upon him an obligation to demonstrate his bias is corrected for by the polling methodology. As we shall see, no efforts appear to be made in this regard.
  • The group polled is also problematic. To conclude that one group is happier with regard to an aspect of their lives than another, it is probably important to poll members of both groups; that didn’t happen here. The only people polled were atheists, the majority of whom claimed to be members of some former religious group. This is like polling only divorced people about whether they are happier married or unmarried, and concluding people are happier if they are unmarried. They were asked to compare how happy they were with their current sex lives to their sex lives as believers, and most (unsurprisingly) were happier.
  • The means of soliciting those to be polled is extremely problematic. Notably, people were solicited for the poll at PZ Myers well known atheist site Phyrangula. PZ Myers often brags about his ability to skew polls by soliciting participation on his website. So rather than a random sample of individuals in this group, this study represents a self-selected and highly motivated group of advocates representing a skewed slice of a group that is already a small minority of society.
  • The demographics of the group is hardly representative of society as a whole, and somewhat explains the results achieved. Though Darrel Ray has done a terrible job of publishing the methods and demographics of the group, they appear to be available from some sources:

    69.4% male and 29.7% female with .2% intersexed and .7% answering “other.” This is slightly [!]biased towards male compared with random surveys.

    47%, 30 or younger and 61.1%, 35 or younger. This is biased towards younger secularists which is consistent with the observation that this is an especially tech savvy population, and also hints at the effect of atheist blogging and general visibility on the internet.

    In the younger category, women were over-represented, which says something valuable about the power of secularism to undo the repression of religious sexual indoctrination and allow young females to discuss and think about their sexuality openly.

    “Alternative Sexualities,” mainly gay, bisexual, and lesbian, were also over-represented. It is impossible from this survey to ascertain a direct causal line, but intuitively, it seems that this might point to religious repression, and the comfort level secularists feel in “coming out” compared to religious environments where such lifestyles are demonized and practitioners persecuted.

    Respondents were far better educated than the average population, with over 70% having higher degrees.

    So a significant portion of the respondents were young tech savvy single men, a number of whom were adherents to alternative sexualities. This is hardly representative of any general population and so it tells us nothing about the happiness of an average person when it comes to sexuality and religious adherence. It is however more representative of atheists as whole though, who tend to be “younger, mostly male, with higher levels of education and income, more liberal, but also more unhappy and more alienated from wider society.”

  • The survey equates freedom from guilt with happiness and better sexual experiences. The problem with this sort of conclusion is that it doesn’t tell us why the person felt guilty to begin with. For example, if one of these young men felt guilty about soliciting prostitutes, and as a result of rejecting religious belief felt less guilty about doing so, does it follow he was having ‘better sex’? He might feel better about having sex with a prostitute, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that his experience is better compared to others who choose not to do so.

I could go on with the problems of this ‘study’. For all their claims of being rigorous adherents to good science, which they hold to be the most reliable form of knowledge, the New Atheists who are advocating this study are proffering the shoddiest science imaginable. But I don’t think their goal is to advance knowledge, but to sell atheism – and as we all know, sex is the primary method in our society of doing so. As one New Atheist advocate of this put it, “This report, people, is our sales pitch”.

The reality is that there are a number of good studies out there that concern happiness and it’s connection to other factors. For example:

Married people tend to be happier than singles, and have more sex than singles (as a Christian, I would hope so!)

– The happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners is 1

Married men tend to be happier

Religious people tend to be more happy, and the more committed you are, the more happy you are.

So contrary to the very flawed New Atheist study, multiple objective studies indicate happiness and good sex are tied to marriage, commitment, and having a strong faith.

So I guess as a Christian with a loving wife and family who is dedicated to following Christ, I appear to be the happiest person I can be. J


When is Desecration not Desecration?

April 14, 2011

This last week, in the Minnesota city of Lakeville a man came into a Catholic church and dumped a jar of urine on the altar in the middle of Mass. As he was being removed from the sanctuary by an off-duty police officer and a group of congregants he shouted, “I hate Christians!” a proclamation that would, if posted on the internet, barely warrant a raised eyebrow.

 It became apparent fairly quickly that the perpetrator had a history of mental illness and whatever his motivations, that illness seems to have rendered him incapable of discerning the wrongness of his act. Unlike those on the secular left who tried to pin Jared Loughner’s actions on the rhetoric of certain parties on the Right, there is little need for sensible folk to ascribe this man’s actions to the rhetoric of any group in this case.

 That being said, I am hard pressed to find a reason why the act itself, the desecration of a sacred symbol in the Catholic Church, was any worse than what PZ Myers did to another sacred Catholic object a few years ago.

 Certainly in the latter case there would be no insanity defense, but it is not clear beyond that why someone would see one act as the result of a deranged mind and the other as an intellectual protest.