Are There Any McCarthyites at the Center for Inquiry?

October 28, 2009

I was shocked and dismayed to read Ron Lindsay’s blog posted on October 21, 2009, titled "Have Atheist Fundamentalists taken over CFI?" accompanied by a photo of Senator Joe McCarthy, with the caption "He has a list of 57 card-carrying atheist fundamentalists at CFI."

Presumably this was supposed to describe yours truly, for I have criticized "atheist fundamentalism" and suggested that we need to focus instead on the constructive values and ideals associated with secular humanism. (Indeed, my entire career has been devoted to this task.) This is exactly why the Center for Inquiry was founded: It was not founded to advocate for atheism, or serve as a civil rights organization for atheists. I have never accused CFI’s dedicated staff members of being "atheist fundamentalists," though I have expressed concerns over the future direction of the Center for Inquiry. Yet, the problem of atheist fundamentalism is a very real one and needs to be faced. We are not going to solve the massive problems facing civilization on a global scale by merely attacking and ridiculing religion. Questions about human rights, abuse of power, and the creation of meaning and value for a secular age are as vital today as ever. These and other pressing issues were examined with prescience from a secular and naturalistic perspective by presenters at last weekends CFI sponsored conference here in Amherst, New York (October 22-24) honoring John Dewey on his 150th birthday, as well as his impact on America and the world. All in attendance were united by a single theme: We need to get on with the business of advancing a constructive secular alternative.

I am providing readers of this blog a link where they can read my upcoming editorial "The True Unbeliever," to appear in the next issue of Free Inquiry , to more fully explain what I am concerned about.

I should add that I deeply regret the fact that the Center for Inquiry has been overtaken by negative controversy instead of focusing on its positive contributions.

The “True Unbeliever”

Do fundamentalist theists have their atheist counterparts? Alistair McGrath, a Christian theologian, used the word fundamentalist to describe certain kinds of atheists. A fundamentalist is a person who is committed to a set of basic beliefs or doctrines with dogmatic and inflexible loyalty.

The word originally applied to Protestant fundamentalists who interpreted the Bible literally and would brook no criticism of it. Their beliefs included the inerrancy of scripture, belief in the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection, and the eternal salvation of those who believe in him. The word was subsequently applied to so-called Islamic fundamentalists, who are so committed to the Qur’an that they will brook no deviation from their understanding of it. They are all too willing to use violence to impose its commandments on others. Fundamentalists typically loathe doubters or dissenters. Witness the intolerant Protestant-Catholic wars of the early modern period. It is worth noting that despite their often-intolerant rhetoric, the Christian fundamentalists of today no longer display this level of intense hatred.

In any belief system, a fundamentalist is one so overcome by zeal that he or she will never bend: that is, “a true believer.” We have seen extreme illustrations of this in the Puritan heresy trials, inquisitions, witch hunts, and various fierce campaigns against sin. Practices like these no longer occur in Christian countries, though “the virtue police” are regrettably still active in many Muslim societies.

We need also to ask: are there fundamentalist “true unbelievers?” Many secular-atheists in twentieth-century totalitarian societies were indeed fundamentalists, in the sense that they sought to impose a strict ideological code and willingly used state power and brutal violence against anyone who dissented. Stalinism is the best example of the readiness to punish deviation in the name of “the holy secular doctrine,” which the Commissars in the gulag used to enforce obedience. Fortunately, the extremes of this form of doctrinal terror have declined with the end of the Cold War.

Nonetheless, there still lingers among some true unbelievers an unflinchable conviction toward atheism—God does not exist, period; they are convinced of that! This kind of dogmatic attitude holds that it and only it is true, and that anyone who deviates from it is a fool. This insults a great number of reflective believers.

John Dewey, the noted American philosopher, observed that

… the aggressive atheist seems to have something in common with traditional superstition... The exclusive preoccupation of both militant atheism and supernaturalism is with man in isolation from nature (A Common Faith).

This form of militant atheism is often truncated and narrow-minded. It does not appreciate the cosmic setting of the human species in the nature of things. It lacks any “natural piety,” said Dewey, nor is it concerned with the humanist values that ought to accompany the rejection of theism.

The New Atheists, in my view, have made an important contribution to the contemporary cultural scene because they have opened religious claims to public examination—for religion often was considered immune to criticism. Moreover, most atheists that I know are decent and compassionate folk. What I object to are the militant atheists who are narrow-minded about religious persons, nor will they have anything to do with agnostics, skeptics, or those who are indifferent to religion, dismissing them as cowardly.

Eric Hoffer used the term “true believer” to refer to religious fanatics. There is an analogous “true unbeliever” syndrome among some atheists who, I submit, are intolerant of those who hold differing views.

Science writer Nicholas Wade pointed this out in his New York Times review of Richard Dawkins’ excellent new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (excerpted in this issue) (October 11, 2009):

This brings me to the intellectual flaw.... in Dawkins’ otherwise eloquent paean to evolution: he has let himself slip into being as dogmatic as his opponents... condemning the doubters of evolution as “history deniers” who are “worse than ignorant” and “deluded to the point of perversity!” This is not the language of science or civility.

I think that Wade has overstated his case. After all, atheism has not had a fair hearing in contemporary society, where believers have dominated the public square. Dawkins and the other New Atheists are to be congratulated for their efforts to redress this imbalance. Yet Wade’s point needs to be appreciated: one should exercise restraint in attacking one’s opponents. Atheism, like agnosticism and skepticism, can be a dignified postures when it is based on careful reflection and civilly expressed. It should not be mean-spirited. Many of us prefer a kinder and gentler form of secular humanism.


#1 Amanda Peet (Guest) on Wednesday October 28, 2009 at 9:40pm

I apologize for the bother - is that [facebook] link broken? I can’t get to it from here.

#2 Edwardson on Thursday October 29, 2009 at 2:49am

“New atheism”, “militant atheism”, “atheist fundamentalism”. I don’t find these labels useful. They seem to have been coined to disparage atheists who’ve become vocal and visible, to make them appear as a threat to society. To me they’re little more than ad hominems. Given how I’m very much a skeptic and anti-quackery—critiquing and deriding ridiculous beliefs along the way—I guess I should expect to be called a militant skeptic and skeptic fundamentalist very soon.

#3 Ronald A. Lindsay on Thursday October 29, 2009 at 6:19am

I find it interesting that Dr. Kurtz deplores “negative controversy” at the Center for Inquiry as there is no controversy at CFI other than the one that Dr. Kurtz and his proxies assiduously keep trying to manufacture.
Dr. Kurtz deploys strawmen as though he were responsible for supplying the entire U.S. with scarecrows. He constantly contends that CFI should focus on the constructive values associated with secular humanism, as if this were a point of contention between him and others at CFI. It is not.  No one at CFI has ever maintained that we should not focus on the constructive values associated with secular humanism. No one at CFI has ever stated that we should advance atheism as an end in itself. In fact, to cite just a couple of examples, Tom Flynn and I have written on a number of occasions that we should not promote atheism as an end in itself. So where is the substantive controversy? Again, there is no controversy other than the one Dr. Kurtz is trying to create.
I regret that what is essentially an internal governance matter keeps being aired in public, but it appears this pattern will continue. Dr. Kurtz is deeply dissatisfied with various decisions of the CFI board of directors, so he will use any and all means to generate turmoil within CFI and among CFI supporters. That this cannot but damage CFI does not seem to cause him to hesitate for a moment.
As for the McCarthy analogy, yes, I had Dr. Kurtz (and others) in mind when I used this analogy. The analogy is apt and I stand by it. To begin, this statement in Dr. Kurtz’s post is false and he knows it to be false: “I have never accused CFI’s dedicated staff members of being ‘atheist fundamentalists.’” To cite but one publicly available example, in his blog post last month, Kurtz had this to say about the CFI staff who had supported and worked to promote Blasphemy Day: “The celebrating of ‘Blasphemy Day’ by the Center for Inquiry by sponsoring a contest encouraging new forms of blasphemy, I believe is most unwise. … It is not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era. Yet there are some fundamentalist atheists who have resorted to such vulgar antics to gain press attention. In doing so they have dishonored the basic ethical principles of what the Center for Inquiry has resolutely stood for until now: the toleration of opposing viewpoints.” So without naming names, Kurtz accused various CFI staff of being “fundamentalist atheists” Further, in a despicable analogy, he likened the work they were doing to that of the Nazis. I’m sorry, but if smearing our staff as atheist fundamentalists and calling them Nazis is not a McCarthy-like tactic, I don’t know what is. For the record, CFI staff who endorsed and/or worked on various aspects of our Blasphemy Day commemoration included Barry Karr, John Shook, Derek Araujo, D.J. Grothe, Tom Flynn, Sherry Rook, Lauren Becker, Debbie Goddard, Dan Riley, Jeff Seaver, Jim Underdown, Justin Trottier, and Melody Hensley. All these staff were gratuitously insulted by Dr. Kurtz.
If Dr. Kurtz is truly interested in having CFI focus on its “positive contributions,” then the solution is simple. He can stop engaging in ruthless guerilla war against the organization of which he remains a director.

#4 Ophelia Benson on Thursday October 29, 2009 at 7:06am

“Yet, the problem of atheist fundamentalism is a very real one and needs to be faced. We are not going to solve the massive problems facing civilization on a global scale by merely attacking and ridiculing religion. Questions about human rights, abuse of power, and the creation of meaning and value for a secular age are as vital today as ever.”

But what is “atheist fundamentalism,” Paul? How can we even know how to face the problem of atheist fundamentalism when we don’t know what it is? Perhaps you think it is self-evident, but I certainly don’t. Does it mean people who think we are going to solve the massive problems facing civilization on a global scale by merely attacking and ridiculing religion? If so - I think the atheist fundamentalist is a mythical beast. I don’t think anyone on the planet believes anything so silly.

#5 diogenes99 on Thursday October 29, 2009 at 8:21am

I think the disagreement can be bold down to these two positions:

1. Gently persuade believers with rational argument that ethics is God-independent.  This is a means to creating a larger moral community that can live in greater harmony and solve important problems.

2. Do (1) but also promote Blasphemy Day contests.

The dispute boils down to this: Some think (1) is not enough, others think (2) is contradictory (i.e., it both promotes and undermines the goal of persuading believers and creating a unified moral community).

The “fundamentalism” argument is beside the point. The issue is whether God needs to be dead, or just ignored.  I hope CFI can resolve this internally.

#6 Arkaro on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 10:06am

Typical - both sides. I have been in such heated internal debates brought public for the sake of how organizations are to be run.. and it almost always ends badly.

All public mudslinging must cease - angered individuals need to sit together in a room with unbiased arbitors until some sort of reconciliation takes place. Then go public with appropriate and heart-felt apologies directed to those where unintended harm has been wrought.

#7 Arkaro on Sunday November 01, 2009 at 10:26am

Personally, I feel most of the confusion lies in to what extent Secular Humanism has to do with atheism and personal god beliefs. Is CFI against organized religions that twist individual personal beliefs into doing the will of the group - or to mock all personal beliefs generally out of line with scientific literature? I’d suggest the former, but to my dismay, I’m seeing the latter more and more.

I would even go so far to say that Secular Humanism doesn’t have to be atheistic at all, but purely unbiased personally: to be secular. As far as I’m concerned, Secular Humanism has nothing to say about judging, mocking, or making suggestions as to what personal beliefs one may have (pro or against divine existence.) Secular Humanism, to me, is a social perspective on how various conflicting groups (that make such suggestions on personal beliefs) work together to achieve mutual understanding & goals most efficiently.

I’m an atheist, but I don’t feel that you have to be to be a Secular Humanist in my terms. Lots of Christians are perfectly capable of not letting their personal beliefs get in the way of their business, friendships, and even life partnerships. Demanding a stance on personal beliefs on such unknowable topics makes CFI seem to be just as much a ideological tyrant as any religious group.

It shouldn’t matter what people believe, but how they act and use their beliefs (founded in either revelation or the scientific literature) to influence others and solve the world’s problems.

I hope that someday CFI will be able to be one of the first organizations to move past personal differences and help the world deal with problems from an religiously unbiased perspective. A truly Secular Humanist perspective.

I’ve always felt a slight cringe when I heard Paul Kurtz’s quote describing Secular Humanism: “God is dead. Humans are alive!” It strikes me as sloppily taking Nietzsche at face value - ignoring the actual intent of his works: understanding what role the concept of god serves humanity and finding a suitable alternative either through a modern mythology or realistic philosophical perspective on life.

I’d like to propose the following alternative for Secular Humanism in the future: “God (belief) is personal, therefore we are diverse!”  Notice that even as an atheist, I can still honestly say that ‘God is’ or exists to an extent. Atheism or the lack of a particular belief still means something slightly different to each person who identifies with the label. Please keep this concept of diversity in mind when moving on to future CFI projects.

We must not strive to eliminate or compensate for diversity as has been attempted throughout modern human civilizations and laws. We must learn to embrace diversity.. disregard personal beliefs and focus instead on navigating around and compensating for the conflicts such diversity that humanity naturally creates.

-Miguel Picanco

#8 The Armchair Skeptic on Monday November 02, 2009 at 5:40am

The editorial does look largely like a strawman argument, for the reason Ophelia pointed out in comment 4.  But the following part bothers me also:

“Atheism, like agnosticism and skepticism, can be a dignified postures when it is based on careful reflection and civilly expressed. It should not be mean-spirited. Many of us prefer a kinder and gentler form of secular humanism.”

This sounds like an argument for style over substance, or “the medium is the message.”  While rude and inflammatory language can distract people from the message, it’s the message itself that’s important.  Or is it OK to be insulting and hurtful, as long as it’s expressed without being vulgar?  Civility, too, can be used to distract from the underlying message, and that superficial sort of kindness and gentleness is just as bad, if not worse.

In my view, the general problem isn’t really about people who have a dogmatic disbelief in a god per se; it’s about self-righteousness.  It doesn’t harm anyone for an atheist to be a “true unbeliever,” nor does it harm anyone for a religious person to persist in his or her faith.  It’s when a person, of whatever belief, is so convinced of their moral superiority that they can start rationalizing away harmful behavior, no matter how it’s expressed.  And that sort of self-righteousness can be found even in some who identify as secular humanists.

#9 Spection on Monday November 23, 2009 at 7:40pm

And here I thought skeptics and secular humanists were supposed to enjoin themselves to carefully parse written messages so as to reduce the risks associated with misconstruing or misrepresenting them. And also that the proper response to what someone considers to be logically fallacious is not simply hurling back yet more logical fallacies in turn.

Am I mistaken in those beliefs?  Perhaps I am.

Yet I’ve not encountered anything quite so callously vindictive and personally insulting to a fellow secular skeptic as the content of Mr. Lindsay’s post (though I admit I’m not about to go looking).  I’d be hard pressed to imagine a more vile calumny than accusing a respected, long-serving, intellectually honest and forthright secular humanist philosopher of being the equivalent of Joe McCarthy!  Can you, fellow readers?  Is Lindsay’s rant not deeply offensive to you as well?

Dr. Kurtz wrote: “I have never accused CFI’s dedicated staff members of being ‘atheist fundamentalists’...”.  In reply to which Mr. Lindsay cites the following words of Dr. Kurtz as ostensibly compelling evidence that Kurtz is not only Joe McCarthy II but also a bald-faced liar: “Yet there are some fundamentalist atheists who have resorted to such vulgar antics to gain press attention.”

While it is true that the very next phrase Kurtz writes is “though I have expressed concerns over the future direction of the Center for Inquiry”, Lindsay is on monomolecularly thin ice by alleging that his wildly exaggerated and cruel character assassination is factually justified by Kurtz’s phrase!  The logical distance between claim and evidence is vast and stark.  Do we not justly criticize pseudo-scientists, fundamentalists, and other sloppy thinkers for the very same offense?  And should we not decry it even more strongly still when such a scurrilous tactic is employed by a secular humanist against another?

While it’s clear that tempers have flared and that skeptics and secularists are apparently no more immune to hateful lashing out than anyone else, I can only hope that Mr. Lindsay will choose to align his position more closely with the facts should he wish to redeem himself—in my eyes if no one else’s—as an honorable individual.

Or not, as the case may be.  But identifying the more rational and wiser individual between Kurtz and Lindsay is not a difficult task: It is Kurtz, and by far more than just a nose.

#10 Spection on Monday November 23, 2009 at 10:53pm

Regarding “atheist fundamentalists”, whatever nomenclature one chooses to adopt to apply to the most egregious offenders against the ideals of atheistic secular humanism by other atheistic secular humanists, the fact of their misguided,  high-decibel existence and the damage they are doing to our cause is manifest to those who look with keener eyes.

It disturbs me greatly.  And it should disturb all of us non-doctrinaire atheists.

A message board is not a suitable vehicle for stating and elaborating my case persuasively, please permit me to make a few short observations…

I am an atheist myself and have been for 35 years or so.  I, too, believe that nearly all religious, supernatural, and paranormal beliefs and belief systems result in the perversion of reason and clear thinking.  But as E. O. Wilson, Boyer, Dennet and many others have revealed, religion is an inevitable consequence of natural selection, the manner in which our brains function, and basic sociobiological human nature.  Banning genetic engineering, religion will be with us forever, and even if it were somehow totally obliterated across the globe, it would be born anew in the very next generation.

Since eliminating religion and religious belief is an impossibly Sisyphean task, it is simply not worth pursuing; we have too much to do in defending reason and science and clear thinking to waste our time chasing futile fantasies.  I contend that this relatively new worldview of atheist extremism (my own choice of terminology) is extremely counterproductive.  Its stink is greatly reminiscent of (Ayn) Randianism that is also in resurgence today, yet Randian economics and Objectivist atheism are no less superficial and irrational in the final analysis.

I believe that no one is doing more damage to our cause of promoting clear, critical thinking than the extremist atheists screaming at the world that we see around us these days.  I understand that journalist E. J. Dionne is no atheist and is instead something of a liberal Catholic apologist, but I contend that he is nevertheless entirely correct to point out that those of us who strive and call for reason and clear thinking should not abandon those principles by demonstrating such an irrational obsession with trying to totally eliminate religion and religious belief rather than pursuing the wiser and more achievable goal of encouraging religious people to employ objective reason and clear thinking when interacting in the public sphere.

If there is one individual who most justifiably deserves the sobriquet of atheistic extremist, that person is surely Christopher Hitchens, hate-fueled, sloppy-thinking sophist extraordinaire.  The last time he spoke of it, he was still vigorously defending the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the utterly debunked “grounds” that Hussein really DID work with al Queda to plan 9/11, but his subtext that pretty much any military invasion of any Islamist or Israeli or other primarily religious nation simply because it IS a primarily religious nation is not particularly well-hidden.  He rants and rails against what he calls Martin Luther King Jr’s “sordid” theology and, all in all, vomits forth more extremely irrational hatred than any dozen radical mullahs and Southern Baptist televangelists put together.

But perhaps the most revealing bit of Hitchens’ anti-rational, anti-scientific sophistry lies in his self-humiliating fanaticism concerning even modern secular, surgical male circumcision, which he repeatedly insists in “God Is Not Great” and elsewhere is fully equivalent to female clitoridectomies and related culturally sanctioned female genital cutting.  He claims that even secular male circumcision performed by surgeons in Western hospitals, offices, and clinics is nothing more nor less than the “mutilation of a powerless infant with the aim of ruining its future sex life”.

Note that Hitchens never hesitates to employ nakedly emotional, fallacious guilt-by-association tactics.  He is At War Against Religion, and apparently he not only takes no prisoners, he’s more than willing to torture logic and his readers to get whatever he wants.

By trying to equate scientifically well-justified male circumcision(*) to utterly barbaric religious dogma that calls for female mutilation—which unlike male circumcision has no scientific justifcation whatsoever—Hitchens stands revealed as the kind of atheistic extremist that Dr. Kurtz and I are credibly apprehensive of.

If Christopher Hitchens represents an example of rational atheism, I’ll be converting to Scientology or Mormonism soon in order to put myself in wiser and much more rational company.


(*) See my next post.

#11 Spection on Monday November 23, 2009 at 11:04pm

(*) This is not the right place to defend the repeatedly demonstrated scientific medical benefits of male circumcision at length, so I’ll just provide the following citations/links for those who would challenge my comments in that regard:

(I): The U.S. Centers for Disease Control stated that the 2007 results of studies in high-risk men, the first pass adjusted relative risk was 71% lower for circumcised men. They add: “A few men who had been assigned to be circumcised did not undergo the procedure, and vice versa. When the data were reanalyzed to account for these deviations, men who had been circumcised had a 76% reduction in risk of HIV infection compared to those who were not circumcised.”

(II): A prospective study of heterosexual men attending an urban [American] STD clinic, when controlling for other risk factors, uncircumcised men had a 3.5-fold [350%] higher risk of HIV infection than men who were circumcised. (Buchbinder SP, Vittinghoff E, Heagerty PJ, Celum CL, Seage GR, 3rd, Judson FN, et al. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2005 May 1;39(1):82-9.)

(III): RECENT FINDINGS: The first randomized controlled trial of adult male circumcision found a highly significant 60% reduction in HIV incidence among men in the intervention arm… The biological rationale is that the foreskin increases risk of HIV infection due to the high density of HIV target cells and lack of keratinization of the inner mucosal surface. (Weiss HA. Male circumcision as a preventive measure against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.” Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2007 Feb;20(1):66-72.)

(IV): Of those with invasive penile cancer where the circumcision status is known, 97.7% of them were uncircumcised. Worldwide, Israel has the lowest number of cases while countries where circumcision is rare can see as much as 4000% higher incidences. In Uganda, penile cancer is the most common cancer among men, and it results in 17% of all malignancies in some areas of Brazil. (Owor R. Carcinoma of the penis in Uganda. IARC Sci Publ. 1984;63: 493–497; Ornellas AA, Seixas ALC, Marota A, Wisnescky A, Campos F, de Moraes JR. Surgical treatment of invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the penis: retrospective analysis of 350 cases. J Urol. 1994;151:1244–1249)

(V): Squamous cell carcinoma of the penis is an uncommon malignancy in the United States, accounting for less than 1% of cancers in males.[59] By contrast, the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma of the penis ranges from 10% to 20% of male malignancies in some parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. A striking correlation exists between the practice of circumcision and the occurrence of penile cancer. Circumcision confers protection; hence, this cancer is extremely rare among Jews and Moslems and is correspondingly more common in populations in which circumcision is not routinely practiced. It is postulated that circumcision is associated with better genital hygiene, which, in turn, reduces exposure to carcinogens that may be concentrated in smegma and decreases the likelihood of infection with potentially oncogenic human papillomavirus (HPV). (Robbins and Cotran, source citation misplaced)

(VI): Circumcision is the removal of all (or a part) of the foreskin. This procedure is most often done in infants but it can be done later in life. Circumcision seems to protect against penile cancer when it is done SHORTLY AFTER BIRTH. Men who were circumcised as babies have less than half the chance of getting penile cancer than those who were not. (American Cancer Society)

(VII): [American] Officials Weigh Circumcision to Fight H.I.V. Risk.

(VIII): It is often claimed that male circumcision provides no protection against HIV infection in MSM (men who have sex with men), but the evidence for that hypothesis has always been weak.  In fact, cohort studies in San Francisco and New York in the early years of the AIDS crisis in the United States revealed vast differences between circumcised and uncircumcised MSM in regards their HIV antibody status: Uncircumcised gay men were found to be 800 to 1200 percent more likely to be HIV seropositive than circumcised gay men in those studies.  Although a 2008 meta-analysis by Millett, et al., failed to provide consistent evidence of the benefits of circumcision in MSM, skeptics who read The Skeptical Inquirer should be familiar with the flaws of meta-analysis, which have been seen to convert a collection of negative psi studies into a positive meta-analysis more than once.  In any case, the Male Circumcision Clearinghouse reported the following 2009 results: “An observational study involving 363 men who have sex with men (MSM) from Soweto — who reported engaging primarily in insertive anal intercourse with their male partners — found that circumcised men were less likely to be HIV positive than uncircumcised men.”

As for Hitchens’ claim that male circumcision’s “aim” is to “ruin its future sex life”, see:

(IX): Compared to before they were circumcised, 64.0% of circumcised men available at 24 months reported their penis was “much more sensitive,” and 54.5% rated their ease of reaching orgasm as “much more”. [The rest reported no change.]

Conclusions: There were no differences in sexual function between circumcised and uncircumcised men. Circumcised men were generally satisfied with their circumcision and many reported increased penile sensitivity and enhanced ease of reaching orgasm. (J.N. Krieger, S.D. Mehta, R.C. Bailey, K. Agot, J.O. Ndinya-Achola, C. Parker, N. Pugh, G.A. Magoha, S. Moses: Adult male circumcision: effects on sexual function and sexual satisfaction, J Sex Med. 2008 Nov;5(11):2610-22. Epub 2008 Aug 28.)

#12 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday November 24, 2009 at 1:11pm

Nice job of showing the “screaming” new atheists how to be reasonable and civil! Not to mention elegant and succinct.

Got any views on fluoridation for us?

#13 Spection on Tuesday November 24, 2009 at 3:28pm

Ophelia, I am very gratified by your kind words.  Your post #4 above reveals a clear-thinking and thoughtful kindred spirit, and thus you have encouraged me to spend more time here in the future.

Even though I have subscribed to The Skeptical Inquirer since about 1979 (and I still greatly miss the original format!) and have also subscribed periodically to Free Inquiry, I only found this site and this page quite unexpectedly from a web search for something else (must have been McCarthy).  Thus, my introduction to the content here was this very page and it’s disturbing content.  My eyes opened wide in shock when I read it!

As for your question, by sheer coincidence I happen to have been raised in the first city in the U.S. to try municipal water fluoridation: Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I certainly never experienced any problem of any kind from drinking the water for all those years; it tasted and smelled and looked great all along and no one I knew ever even commented on the water—or fluoridation, for that matter.

The first I’d heard of it was when I saw Dr. Strangelove when it first came out, what with Gen. Ripper and his deranged fear of the stuff corrupting his “precious bodily fluids”.  And Grand Rapids was an even more conservative city than it is today, so one would have thought there would have been protests or letters to the editor while I was growing up.

I have no idea if it made a difference in cavities or not, though.  Even if I thought there might have been a difference, it would just be anecdotal.

Why do you ask?

I ask this last because we don’t know each other yet, and, with genuine respect, it seems there’s a tiny chance that your post #12 might have been a bit sarcastic, what with your reference to my posts being “succinct”—which given my habitual verbosity would be the first time I’ve received such a compliment!

When I combine that with the fluoridation question, I can’t help wondering if you might have been implying that I was a “screaming atheist” myself, ranting on in a way that you might have found reminiscent of General Ripper.

Yes?  No?

Just curious, really…

#14 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday November 24, 2009 at 6:27pm

Yes, that was a General Jack D Ripper joke. Well spotted! (Seriously.)

Sorry, but I think your posts were a tad over the top, especially in the language about atheists. We get called strident, shrill, aggressive, militant, extreme, violent, etc etc etc, relentlessly, by theists and by other atheists who think we should be Silent Atheists. I dislike that kind of rhetorical bullying - and you went in for some of it.

(The fluoride joke was because the long comment about circumcision is a considerable digression, so it looks like a hobby horse - as General Ripper’s was.)

#15 Spection on Tuesday November 24, 2009 at 7:43pm

I see. You reply with derisive and juvenile mockery and sarcastic abuse, yet you contend *I* am the bully.  You could have simply not responded, but you chose to lie and humiliate me instead.

How nice.

How typical of you atheist extremists.

This should not have surprised me, but you duped me well.  What a fool I was to expect anything different from the likes of the despicable Mr. Lindsay and yourself.  Sadly, the deep character flaws that prohibit you and Lindsay and Hutchins from intellectually honest self-reflection also cripple your ability to evaluate fairly whether criticism is valid and deserved or not.

Forget what I said about sticking around (though I’m sure you’ll be happy quite about my departure).  The deeply flawed critical thinking skills you and Lindsay have demonstrated here convince me that you’re just not worth the candle.

Scientology, here I come…

#16 Ophelia Benson on Wednesday November 25, 2009 at 10:04am


Yes, of course I could have simply not responded, but you wrote three very long comments, two of which were laced with vituperative name-calling directed at atheists. I see a lot of that kind of thing these days, and I think it’s unjustified, and dangerous, and malicious, so I often criticize it instead of just not responding. I didn’t lie - and I didn’t intend to humiliate you. But what did you intend by all the name-calling directed at Ron Lindsay and at atheists? Was that a friendly gesture? I don’t think so.

As for my ‘ability to evaluate fairly whether criticism is valid and deserved or not,’ criticism is one thing and calling us ‘the extremist atheists screaming at the world’ and complaining of our ‘misguided, high-decibel existence’ is quite another. That’s not criticism, it’s verbal abuse - as, of course, is asserting that I lied.

You and Scientology deserve each other. (And by the way, note that you are anonymous while Ron Lindsay is not and I am not. There’s something terribly chickenshit about hurling verbal abuse at named people while remaining anonymous oneself. So yes, I do contend that you’re the bully, and a very nasty one. Bye now.)

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