Sunday, September 26, 2010

No longer a friend of the center...

Rather than writing a long post, I'll just link to Jerry Coyne's comments as he and I seem to perpetually be on very nearly the same page.

I'll be speaking to CFI Tampa on October 16th. I plan to talk about whatever they want to talk about and I have no intention of walking into their home and telling them everything that I think is wrong with the organization.

Why not?

Because the organization, on the whole, is one that I still respect and would like to support. CFI members at the local level are some of the best people that I've met and have been great promoters of reason, discussion, conversation and fellowship (a word I'll use with a grin, and mean it).

But, as I've said before, I'm disturbed by a number of individuals in leadership positions in various skeptic and secular organizations that have explicitly or implicitly tried to ostracize outspoken atheists from their organizations. Some of them seem to be doing it for 'big tent' reasons, some are opting for a style over substance accommodationism and some have simply been duped by lies ("skepticism has nothing to say about untestable claims" or "outspoken atheists hurt the cause").

I love the idea of CFI and the JREF and dozens of other organizations. I love the people in those organizations. I greatly admire and respect many of the leaders of those organizations - even those with which I strongly disagree on some subject.

The difference is that I'd never implicitly or explicitly attempt to make them feel like they didn't belong or that they shouldn't be permitted to present their views or any of the other nonsense that has been directed at atheists.

Dr. Shook, you've been duped and dazzled by sophistry and intellectual masturbation. The "contempt for religion's intellectual side" is the result of understanding, not misunderstanding. But hey, if you'd like to send out a few free copies of your book, let me know. I think I'd like to read it...and then I'd like to have myself, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and others offer reviews and commentary on it.

Let's actually promote inquiry and discussion. Now there's a thought.


  1. Good read Matt. It seems as though accommodationists are everywhere these days. I know a number a skeptics and even atheists who are accommodationists and I find that to be frustrating as hell.

    It's of special concern however when prominent individuals adopt and promote that approach to skepticism.

  2. Okay, this is a pet peeve of mine so I have to rant a bit. There is no argument more disingenuous and dishonest than the whole "you haven't studied theology so therefore you can't really talk about religion" one. What a load of fucking shit. The fact is that there isn't anything more to be found in theology that isn't accurately represented in all the 'common' arguments like Kalam, design, first cause, etc etc. There are no deep mysteries. No profound insights. It is the exact same thing that everyday theists do, that is go find a gap in out current knowledge and put god there, except with longer words and more flowery, obfuscating language. That's it. And guess what? That doesn't equate to proof of jack shit.

    Evidence does not require complicated mental gymnastics. Electricity, thermodynamics, and gravity don't require obtuse philosophical wranglings to uncover. The big, fat, red bottom line is until religion can pony up some EVIDENCE then it doesn't have even one leg to stand on. This isn't changed no matter how many pontificating buffoons you cram into a seminary and have musing about extra-dimensional consciousnesses and other nonsense.

    Furthermore if you grab any Christian off the street they aren’t going to say, “I believe in a rather vague, disinterested god-consciousness that exists somewhere”. They are going to say that they believe in a god that cares who you have sex with, who you pray to, and will reward you when you die. Religion isn’t defined by theologians, it is defined by its followers. And as long as religions followers insist on blatantly ridiculous claims like zombie Jesus then criticizing that is absolutely fair game and not off limit because it doesn’t address some obscure philosophical non-point.


  3. Precisely.

    The money that would have made up my membership of CFI will now go to a cause which is straight off a darn sight intellectually more honest - the Atheist Community of Austin. Tomorrow. It is 2.30AM, and I'm teaching a uni class in 6 hours.

    Probably your first member in Japan!

    Seriously, that Shook dude doesn't even seem to know what the word atheist means.

    As for his "don't know" atheists, well, the reason we don't know is because no theist has ever been able to come up with a coherent definition of a god that'd be worth worshipping! The ones they do come up with have no evidence.

  4. It's funny, I commented on John Shook's article at HuffPo right after it appeared and I've been following what Jerry Coyne has been saying and I commented over at Ophelia's Butterflies and Wheels as well. I took a look at CFI's web site and there seem to be some good essays concerning the irrationality of religion, a recent one by John Shook. It's like some kind of weird skeptical schizophrenia. I have noticed a slight trend for him to push his new book in his recent essays, not necessarily anything wrong with that if it is illustrative, but I did take exception to the questions he asks in some of the chapter titles. I would also like to check it out and proffer a review.

  5. I love the whole "you have to know theology to refute it" claim. It's like saying you have to be a scientist in order to refute claims about the moon landing being a hoax, despite the fact that anyone who buys into it are more likely to hold you suspect for being a scientist.

    I get the impression that what the accommodationists are trying to do is promote science education. They claim, and may be right, that if people believe that learning about science will put their god belief in jeopardy they will not learn science and see this as the obstacle to overcome in the immediate future. They may be trying to allay those fears but I think they are doing so in a manner that is ultimately a "bait and switch" tactic. All that will happen is that we might get some theists with better attitudes towards science and the like but we will likely see an increase among the religious of those who regard scientists, atheists and educators as deceivers.

  6. Frankly, I've gotten into too many esoteric, meaningless arguments with D&D rules lawyers, World of Warcraft drama llamas and fanboys of every conceivable type to want to discuss theology as a serious subject. Shook is advocating that I'm a "know-nothing" for not wanting to talk about fantasy like it's real. Eff that noise. I know perfectly well that theology, like my study of English Literature, requires a heavy use of jargon and convoluted logic constructs (often with questionable premises) to basically make certain that most laypersons wouldn't understand a damn thing about these arguments. Frankly, I'd be very surprised if more than a handful of Catholics around my neck of the woods would even be familiar with Karl Rahner or even G.K. Chesterton.

  7. BTW, the amount of rationalizing and excuse-making being done by CFI reps and supporters on Coyne's blog is really quite astonishing.

  8. From Shook's article:

    "Christian theology has come a long way since St. Thomas Aquinas."

    Really? In other words, up until recently Christians have been completely mistaken about their religion, that for the past 2000 years there has been no logical reason to believe in the Christian god, but millions have anyway? And suddenly after all that time he claims that there are solid logical reasons to believe...or, at least there are better arguments?

    In 2000 years no one has discovered God, or a god. This in spite of millions seeking one. And now, what, there's TAG? Give me a break.

  9. What really, really bugs me about this snobbery can probably be explained by an analogy:

    If someone claims that a circular square exists, then it does not matter how many arguments people produce on the subject, until they show that something can be both circular, and square, I'm not going to believe it exists.

    So, I don't care how intricate/ingenious/tedious their arguments are; they are going to have to answer certain objections I have before I'm at all interested in them.

    1) What is god? What is it made of? What does it look like? What are its properties? How can you tell it apart from other entities? I want to know what it is rather than what it isn't, so don't tell me that, say, it is 'not material' - that tells me virtually nothing. If it is then it must be something, so what exactly is it?

    2) You say your god is omnipotent? What do you mean by that? All definitions I have thus far heard for omnipotence are internally inconsistent. Especially when you add scripture into the mix.

    3) Ditto with omniscience.

    4) Omni-benevolence - what does that mean? For it to make any sense good and evil must be separate from god, correct? (Otherwise the word is effectively meaningless - you're just saying god is best at wanting what god wants...). So presumably you believe that god is not the standard for good and evil? Omni-benevolence too - given what we widely accept to be good - is internally contradictory: take for example justness and mercifulness. Whilst both are recognised as benevolent traits to have, it is impossible to be both, for the act of mercy prohibits a just punishment.

    5) All the extra contradictions the above raise with each other.

    6) ...

    Well, you get the point. I do, indeed, have more.

    I have yet to come across an adequate answer to #1 (let alone all the others) above, and until I am persuaded that:

    a) The concept of god is meaningful.
    b) The concept of god is internally consistent.
    c) The concept of god is consistent with what we know about existence.

    I have little interest in pursuing the subject.

    That doesn't make me arrogant nor ignorant - it just means that I do not accept your initial premises, and you're going to have to persuade me that they are true before we continue.

    One other thing that irritates me intently. These people (like Shook) who claim we're only disproving a 'medieval god', rather than their new improved version really have to get into their head that the vast majority of believers in this world today don't believe in that new improved version.

    They believe in the medieval one.

    As such, they should be right alongside us in criticising the medieval Christian (say) god. Well, assuming that they are intellectually honest, anyway.

  10. The "contempt for religion's intellectual side" is the result of understanding, not misunderstanding.


    Well done Matt.

  11. It's so tiring to see these people suggesting that religion should not be subject to the same kind of skeptical inquiry as any other kind of woo. But isn't this exactly what Richard Dawkins pointed out in The God Delusion? It's taboo to criticize religion. We're supposed to "respect" people's ridiculous beliefs.

  12. I'm leaning less towards the 'duped' explanation and more towards the 'deliberately antagonistic to promote my crap' one.

    In defense of the former, I've never heard of Shook before this event. He may be earnest in his opinions. Then again, in defense of the latter... I've never heard of Shook before this event. Its a common practice that if you want to gain notoriety, go on the attack, and the fact that he's shilling a book in the same article pretty much cliches it for me.

  13. Phil Plait was at it again a few days ago. To paraphrase: I have a friend of a friend who thinks there might be something to skepticism but is put off by bad thing said about his faith...

    Ridiculous. Phil Plait has really lost my respect.

  14. Some of what he has to say is why I don't say much around other atheists. I don't want to appear ignorant of the prominent philosophies of atheist or theology.

    I do, however, take umbrage at his characterization that atheists know less about theology than their religious counterparts. In my experience, I know MUCH more about the bible than the believers I know personally. I think a lot of it boils down to their blindness to their own belief system and my ability to see past it based on my knowledge of their good book, which I've read many times over thanks to my upbringing and later, my own search for facts and truth.

    It is hard to be a less-learned atheist these days, though. No matter what I read, it seems I'm always a half-dozen publications behind.

  15. Your average, rank and file, Sunday-go-to-meetin' Christian doesn't know jack about all this "spohisticated" theology Shook seems to find so impressive either. They simply believe in a big smiling, loving Sky Daddy who holds their hands through life and cannot wait to give them shiny presents in Hebbin.

    And yet, Shook is saying that this ignorance is less excusable in unbelievers than in believers?

    Eat my balls.

  16. I'm sure he has studied extensivly the mellenium old Yogi arts to know enough to claim their spiritual magic claims are bunk, right?

    Or you know knows everything about the vast tomes of traditional Chinese medicine?

    Oh wait I forgot...when it's brown and yellow religious traditions and superstition that's bunk, but our good old fashion traditional white religions, why we have theology for that! I'm sure CFI would go head over heals to debunk someone claiming to be the reincarnation of Napoleon or Ghandi...but someone who has seen heaven? Nah clearly one is the sophisticated theology. Suck my privledge

  17. Oh and Phil PLait's friend is invited to my minute violin recital.

    "Hey there's something to that rationalism....but it says bad things about my religion, clearly it's that rationalism that's the problem|!"

    Hey Phil, I think the problem ain't on our end!

  18. How can he write, in his official capacity of CFI leadership, a screed which so flagrantly violates the CFI mission statement?

    Fostering a secular society requires attention to many specific goals, but three goals in particular represent the focus of our activities:

    1. an end to the influence that religion and pseudoscience have on public policy

    2. an end to the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies

    3. an end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.

    "Except when we do it. Then it's cute."

    CFI could always oust the guy on the back of this -- we'll see which way the wind blows.

  19. I have a friend of a friend who thinks there might be something to skepticism but is put off by bad thing said about his faith...

    Ok, let me get this straight. His friend is starting to realize that faith is ridiculous and that skepticism may be the way to go, but has decided to stick with faith cause people mock it?!?!

    I call bullshit on his little anecdote. "Oh, look, I magically came up with a convenient personal story that supports the unpopular position I took not long ago!"

  20. Meh, this just seems like par-for-the-course self-spruiking to me.

    'Obviously useless crap... BUY MY SHIT!'

    No one but believers legitimately whine that we aren't taking their beliefs seriously enough.

    But on the off chance that this guy wasn't just using something semi-controvesial in order to get more eyes on his 'BUY MY SHIT!' message... wow, he's not a very good skeptic. "Atheists don't pay attention to 'sophisticated theology' " "Theology has come a long way since Aquinas". Bite me. Until you can back up your hitherto baseless assertions with evidence, the most we can say is that theologians have become better at obfuscation and obscurantism. That's not sophistication, that's sophistry. Pure blinding with science, if there was any science to be found.

    The reason vey little new stuff is getting refuted is not because it's 'more sophisticated' than it's predecessors, it's because when new stuff gets put forward (and precious little is) it's that bloody convoluted that no one knows where to start. There's a difference between reacting to an argument by saying "...Huh?! What the fuck did you just say, dude?" and reacting by saying "You know what? Yeah, you're right." The latter signals a good argument. The former signals an argument that is just incoherent. No one bothers with that shit, and John Shook should know the difference. He should know that there are some things that just aren't worth spending the time and energy it'd take to refute, when laughing at it is easier and as effective.

  21. The reason the new stuff is never refuted is

    a) no one really believes it. no theist has ever accepted it as the reason of faith. It's not a reason it's a justification

    b) It's not new, it's the same shit in a new box.

    c) Again why do we have to be homeopaths to criticize homeopathy. The CFI will claim it's different because homeopathy has never shown itself to work; HELLO!?

    I do love the hypocrisy of the open tent people apparently feeling free to call Atheists, who by definition are they're most consistant supporters, assholes. DO they figure there's no chance we'd stop supporting CFI or skepticism? Everyone is concerned with Phil's friend but no one cares about people like me who have decided not to financially support CFI or other orgs because of the anti-anti-god sentiment in it. I can't be the only one, but apparently like everywhere else, no one will give a voice or give a shit about what the unpopular atheists say. Christians are many, so we'll decieve them and take their money and support while keeping kiddie gloves on for them. Let's call the problem for what it is; skepticism inc wants to sell out.

  22. The heart of religion seems the same to me as it always has been. "You have to believe in this claim despite a complete lack of evidence, and perhaps even in spite of evidence presented." This is dead simple, nobody has to study theology to present an objection to this.

    The real problem is the emotional terrorism and indoctrination that religion uses. Leprechauns and Santa topple pretty easily on top of the above argument. 8th graders should indeed be able to see through this ploy.

    But heck, let's give it a go and study the advanced arguments. Let's put on a weekly show where people can call in and present any arguments for god they want. Maybe then we will be qualified to refute theistic claims.

    Oh, wait . . .

  23. Most of my recent exposure to CFI has been through listening to the Point of Inquiry podcast, and I find myself getting more and more frustrated with it since DJ Grothe has left.

    I mean, right off the bat I couldn't believe they picked an accomodationist apologist like Chris Mooney to be his replacement. I did my best to ignore my pre-existing irritation with him due to his spats with PZ Myers, but he seems to actually go out of his way to ask even other atheists stupid questions like "What do you think about this New Atheist movement? They're pretty smug and rude, eh?" Half the time his guests don't seem to have any idea what he's talking about, and the other half they launch into a smarmy little rap session together about those mean old atheists.

    Robert Price seems to be even worse. I don't begrudge him his fascination with the Bible, but a lot of us do not share it. It's a book. Some parts of it are well written, others are not, but focusing on any one book as culturally important to the exclusion of all others, whether it's the Bible or the Collected Works of Shakespeare or even my personal favorite, Godel Escher Bach is ridiculously single-minded outside of a classroom setting.

    I'm tired of the show, and becoming continually less willing to sit through the chaff in the hunt for the good episodes.

  24. The "know nothing wing of new atheism"? Does he have some examples?

    I would suspect that he is comparing random atheists to Vatican theologians, and acting shocked that not every atheist on a You Tube comment section knows as much as someone whose occupation involves writing apologetics.

  25. So, wait, does that mean I can write a 100,000 page book detailing the complex intricacies and nuances of advanced Fairytaleology, and no one can legitimately reject it without first understanding every last word in the book?


  26. You know, I don't even like the fairyology analogy that Dawkins and others use. To me it boils down to two words: Show me. Don't tell me that, oh some theologian or philosophers somewhere has a great argument for god. Tell me what it is. If you can't tell me what the argument is then how do you know they have a great argument? If you can tell me then do so and I will bet dollars to donuts we can point out the same old flaws in no time flat.

    Like the follow up post on Coynes site mentions philosopher Richard Swinburne as a 'good' example of 'real' arguments for god. You can read an article by Swinburne that basically sums up his book here. Guess what? It is mostly just the argument from fine tuning with a side of Jesus resurrection thrown in. It isn't new. It isn't subtle. It isn't refined nor compelling.

    For me it boils down to put up or shut up. If there is such an awesome argument out there don't just sit and tell us 'it exists', tell us what it actually is. Of course it means that the believer has to actually stop blowing smoke and make their case rather than just deflecting criticism with some red herring but tough. Welcome to the skeptical world.

  27. From the OP:

    Dr. Shook, you've been duped and dazzled by sophistry and intellectual masturbation.

    Which is to say, the "baffle 'em with bullshit" ploy worked on Shook.

  28. Shook actually identifies something that I always find so annoying about theists claiming their theology is so sophisticated:

    "Too many "refutations" of atheism just complain about its failure to appreciate religion's depths and nuances, without going on to explain theology."

    The irony here is that Shook didn't go on to "explain theology" either. Instead he just tells people to buy his book. Only THEN will readers get this sophisticated theology that has proved so elusive.

    Utter bullshit. If these sophisticated arguments really existed, we wouldn't be able to get away from them. We would be getting bombarded with them.


    Who the knows nothing what now?

  30. I love that this came right before the Pew study came out.

  31. Please tell me someone has pointed this guy to the Pew study.


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