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Three New Hosts for Point of Inquiry
Posted: 03 February 2010 08:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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I saw the email too.  I’ll miss DJ doing the show, but who knows. This different approach could be just as good if not better.

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Posted: 03 February 2010 10:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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I read the piece you quote from above (it’s replicated on Blackford’s blog linked to above) and I just don’t see it the way you do. I suspect you’re interpreting it through the lens of your opinion of Mooney, justified or not, and I submit it does not seem to someone who hasn’t already made up their mind about Mooney nearly as inflammatory as you suggest. To me it seems a perfectly civil criticism of the strategic and public relations merit of the position articulated in the book review, which was itself quite similarly critical of the position taken by the authors. What I see here is a reaction against Mooney’s appointment to host POI that is being justified in terms of outrage that he would have the nerve to publically disagree with or criticize fellow atheists or their criticism of religion.

No - as I said, that’s not it. It’s not that Mooney “would have the nerve to publically disagree with or criticize fellow atheists” - it is (much more complicatedly and lengthily, and less stupidly) that he called a complex carefully-argued book review in The New Republic “uncivil” and then never explained further. It’s that that is a pattern. It’s that many many intelligent commentators have pointed out flaws in Mooney’s claims, and/or have asked him reasonable questions about them, and that he refuses to engage. It’s that he stonewalls everyone except people who already agree with him. It’s that he has continued to use inflammatory rhetoric about “new” atheists for months and months, in large-circulation media, all without having engaged with the above-mentioned objections and questions. It’s that he doesn’t argue and he doesn’t respond, he simply keeps repeating the same flawed claims. It’s that on the rare occasions when he does take an objection on board and incorporates it into his claims, he doesn’t acknowledge that he has done so, much less that there is any merit in what people who disagree with him have said.

You’ve said that you haven’t been following this, and that you haven’t read Unscientific America. Well I have, and that’s why I have the views I have. Does it not strike you that it’s a bit 1) rude and 2) epistemically reckless to attribute my views (and Josh’s etc) to “outrage that he would have the nerve to publically disagree with or criticize fellow atheists or their criticism of religion”?

I was a big fan of Mooney’s first two books, and of his journalism at that time. I was very surprised by his recent turn to “framing” and especially by the evasive and unreasonable way he has been putting it into practice.

At any rate - given that you don’t know much about the subject, I really think you should be a good deal more cautious about attributing unworthy motives to people who do know much about it. You might be just plain in error.

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Posted: 03 February 2010 01:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Ophelia Benson - 01 February 2010 02:44 PM

I seriously wonder if Chris Mooney can do justice to any but very apologetic bashful atheists.

Mary Estelle Christ! I go off for a bit of schlepping around the unexcavated lost cities of the Yucatan (no, seriously), and
I come back and this sort of thing has been going on??? I well remember that masterful interview in which DJ basically handed
Mr. Mooney his ass, and now he’s going to be the host? It really must be said: this does not bode well.

I need a drink or several.

Great to see you here, by the way, OB. I’m a fan.

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Posted: 03 February 2010 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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I’m a fan of hers too.  smile  I enjoy getting her news letter and often share some of the articles she finds with others.  Keep up the good work!

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 03 February 2010 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Ophelia,

I see that you’re frustrated, and I have acknowledged repeatedly that my concerns about motives are based on the perceptions generated by the elements of the debate I am familiar with and that, as you say, I may very well be wrong. On the other hand, all you and some of the other Mooney opponents are doing to respond to my concerns is tell me to stop insulting you and shut up. You appear to take offense at reasonable concerns very quickly, and you offer nothing to rebut those concerns but a repetition of your assertions. How is this helpful?

I would be surprised if I am the only CFI member to wonder about the vehemence of the criticism of Mooney and to wonder if he truly is as unfit for the job as you say. It seems to me you have the choice of either not caring what I think and ignoring me, or of making some good faith effort to show me exactly how I’m wrong. Simply telling me I’m wrong and I should take your word for it isn’t pursuasive, and accusing me of being rude for not accepting your assertions at face value is just being unreasonable and thin skinned. I’m trying to be open-minded, but apart from fotobits the responses I get only confirm the impression of anger and self-righteousness rather than reasoned, principled opposition. Don’t shout at me to stop questioning you, show me I’m wrong. Isn’t that the whole point of the kind of rational debate we are trying to promote? Is admitting there are things I may not be aware of and that I may be wrong, but that I have concerns about the tone and motivation of the opposition really so inappropriate? Shouldn’t ignorance be treated with education, not indignation?

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Posted: 03 February 2010 04:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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On the issue of gentler versus less gentle atheists, Susan Jacoby from CFI-NYC has an interesting article out in the Washington Post’s On Faith site.

FYI.

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Posted: 03 February 2010 04:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Hmmm. She makes a number of good points, but I do wonder if we can entirely dismiss the differences in style between different publically visible atheists as a myth conjured up by believers. We debate the merits of different approaches and “strategies” here all the time, which suggests there are some substantive differences of opinion among atheists on the subject. And subjectively it seems to me that some speakers are more abrasive and agggressive, intentionally or not, than others on the subject of religion. I’ve mostly come around to the position Doug often articulates that there is value to a varied set of voices and strategies on these issues, but I do find the tone of some figures more palatable and, dare I say it, perhaps more strategically appropriate and “kinder” than that of others, so I do think the distinction has some reality behind it.

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Posted: 03 February 2010 06:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Thanks Steve and Mriana!

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Posted: 03 February 2010 06:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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On the other hand, all you and some of the other Mooney opponents are doing to respond to my concerns is tell me to stop insulting you and shut up.

I beg your pardon? Where did I say that? Or anything like it?

you offer nothing to rebut those concerns but a repetition of your assertions.

That’s not true either - I did at least expand on them. You could make an effort, and for instance read the book, and/or read Mooney’s blog and the comments on it from the past 8 months.

However, the last project of course would be an immense amount of work. Even collecting a useful assortment of links for you would be an immense amount of work - and I don’t have time or inclination to do it. However - I did not tell you to shut up; what I said was

You’ve said that you haven’t been following this, and that you haven’t read Unscientific America. Well I have, and that’s why I have the views I have. Does it not strike you that it’s a bit 1) rude and 2) epistemically reckless to attribute my views (and Josh’s etc) to “outrage that he would have the nerve to publically disagree with or criticize fellow atheists or their criticism of religion”?

This is an epistemic point as well as an ethical or etiquette one. Can you really not see that? You have said yourself that you don’t know much about what Mooney has been up to. Well I do. Does it not seem rash then for you to correct me quite so assertively, when as you have said you know almost nothing about the subject?

Imagine I’m a Holocaust scholar, and you know very little about the Holocaust. Wouldn’t you feel on shaky ground challenging my interpretation of some particular aspect of the Holocaust, even if it sounded wrong to you? Wouldn’t you feel somewhat hesitant about correcting me?

accusing me of being rude for not accepting your assertions at face value is just being unreasonable and thin skinned.

See above. It’s not that I expect you to accept my assertions at face value, but you made some fairly strong accusations for someone who admittedly doesn’t know the facts:

What I see here is a reaction against Mooney’s appointment to host POI that is being justified in terms of outrage that he would have the nerve to publically disagree with or criticize fellow atheists or their criticism of religion.

1) That’s not what I said; 2) you have no way of knowing that, as you have admitted; 3) I have explained what it is that I am objecting to, in order to distinguish it from “outrage that he would have the nerve to publically disagree with or criticize fellow atheists or their criticism of religion.”

I hope this clears things up. I don’t like being accused of dubious motivations on no grounds whatsoever by someone who avowedly knows much less about the subject at hand than I do. I could of course be wrong about Mooney - but your just not liking my tone, or whatever it is, is not enough to demonstrate that.

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Posted: 03 February 2010 06:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Anyway - since you suggested I should educate you - try this and this. There are lots of others like it, but that’s a start.

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Posted: 03 February 2010 08:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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accusing me of being rude for not accepting your assertions at face value is just being unreasonable and thin skinned.

No, McKenzie. Not accepting assertions at face value is one thing. Actively accusing us of reacting to Mooney’s appt. out of “dogma” or “ideology” is another thing altogether. That is not skeptical reserve, it’s actively deciding that you think someone’s claims are bogus and unjustified.  If one wants to take the skeptical stance, one says, “OK. I don’t know much about this debate, so I can’t say whether I think your concerns are justified or not, or to what degree. I’m open to forming an opinion based on what I learn.”

That’s not what you did. You came right out of the barrel actively accusing Ophelia, me, and others, of reacting out of nothing more than personal pique - even after you admitted you hadn’t read much of the background. That’s not maintaining a neutral, skeptical, wait-and-see stance, that’s making a positive assertion that your interlocutors are full of it. I can turn that right back around and ask you - on what evidence do you make that claim?

Different situations need different approaches. Prior plausibility has to inform the way we evaluate claims. For example, if Ophelia, or Russell Blackford, or anyone else stormed in here and said, “Chris Mooney is an unfit host because he’s an undercover operative for the Republicans, oh, and also, he was also responsible for 9/11 and stole my mom’s socks”, you’d be perfectly right to say, “Bullshit, that’s outrageous, and I don’t believe a word of what you say without proof.”

Call this the “Backup up your idiot troofer claims, or I think you’re a liar” response.

But we didn’t claim anything nearly so outrageous. We merely claimed there’s a long history of Chris Mooney treating prominent and not-so-prominent commentators in a dishonest, agenda-driven, and unfair way. No, you don’t have to accept our conclusions at face value, but that kind of claim - given its prior plausibility - deserves a less incredulous response. Perhaps something like, “OK, I can understand that, even if I don’t necessarily endorse it because I haven’t slogged through the whole tattered history of it.”

Call this the “I’m not taking sides, but that concern seems reasonable, and I’ll form a judgment as time goes on” response.

That’s not what you did. You got on your high horse and blasted us as if we were Troofers, and you did it with the confidence of someone who *knew* we were full of it. And you acted as if our concerns were so ridiculous and over the top on their face, that any reasonable person would think we were out of bounds. Why?

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Posted: 03 February 2010 08:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Ophelia,

The first link you provided is just a repeat of the Barbara Forrest reference which was on Blackford’s blog, and as I’ve said before, I don’t agree with all of it but I don’t find it nearly as objectionable as you do.

The second is interesting. I do agree with your point that he described the Coyne review in an exaggerated and unfair way, and he did not directly step down from the description. Nonetheless, I don’t see that he was stonewalling critics all together. What I see when I read the comments is that you seemed to challenge him in a tone that seemed to me as an outsider quite hostile and he fairly pointedly ignored you, responding by name to other commentors but not to you.  As Occam here often points out, quite correctly, it is easy to see the unreasonableness of one’s opponent in debate, but one’s own arguments seem like pure sweet reason to oneself. Anyway, while I agree his characterization of the Coyne review was unfair, I still don’t feel it merits the strong position that you have taken which argues he is not suitable for the POI position.

As for your responses to me, I don’t agree that there was anything epistemically reckless in questioning the background motive for the intense objection to Mooney’s appointment. Given the frequent and often heated debates among atheists about “angry atheists” and “accomodationists” (an somewhat inflammatory and perjorative-sounding term you make frequent use of in your comments on Mooney’s blog), I think asking whether the opposition might be ideological rather than strictly rational is perfectly fair. I have not conlcuded or claimed that it with certainty is, only that some of the dialogue creates that impression and that it is a concern.

I understand that you don’t have the time or responsibility to lay out a comprehensive case for me, but the things I have see are not persuasive that your objection is justified, nor do they dispell my concern that they reflect an underlying difference of opinion about the tone atheists ought to take publically. You clearly disagree with Mooney’s “accomodationist” stance, and I would not see it as at all unreasonable for you to argue that he shouldn’t be the host of POI if you feel this stance is incompatible with CFI’s mission, though I wouldn’t agree with such an argument. You deny this disagreement plays any role in your opposition, but as someone not directly involved in previous interactions with you or with Mooney, I am still not entirely certain that is true. I am sorry if that seems insulting or offensive, for I don’t mean it to be, but I still think it’s a fair concern and I don’t accpet that it is rude to express it as I have. I don’t see myself as “correcting” you, nor do I think I have been all that assertive, since I have tried very deliberately to make heavily qualified and cautious statements. I accpet you disagree and don’t like what I’ve said, but I don’t see that anything I’ve said is out of bounds for civil and reasonable discussion on the issue of whether the guy is suitable to host POI, which is really the underlying issue.

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Posted: 03 February 2010 08:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Joshua,

I’m really sorry if I gave the impression of being as hostile as you describe, becasue that was not my intent. Unnfortunately, I also find it hard to see how my remarks could be fairly seen in that light. As I’ve said, I haven’t formed a firm opinion on Mooney’s fitness for the job. Nor have I “accused” you and Ophelia of anything. I will try to clarify my position since you have interpreted it to be other than what I intended, and frankly in a way I don’t accept as entirely reasonable.

1) I think the earlier work Mooney did with Repblican War on Science is very consistent with the approach CFI takes, and this suggests he might be an appropriate choice.

2) I can’t say with any certainty if he has sometimes been as rude and hostile towards other atheists as you describe, but I’ve not seen that behavior in any of the articles or blog posts/discussions I’ve seen, and while he has sometimes used hyperbolic and unecessarily inflammatory language in those, so have Ophelia and others so it doesn’t seem to be all Mooney. In addition, you have both characterised my comments as rude, which I find hard to see, which gives me some cause to question the fairness of the accusation against Mooney.

3) The Barabara Forrest/Coyne bit has been brought up several times as an example of “outrageous” behavior on his part, and again it doesn’t strike me that way, so it undermines the argument.

4) In the 3 years or so I’ve been moderating here, I have seen the “angry atheist” vs “accomodationist” battle many times, and it is clearly an emotional and divisive issue among secularists and CFI supporters. Some of the specific objections used to argue against Mooney’s appointment are directly tied to that issue and some of the language used to characterize him is commonly used in that debate, so I don’t think it is unreasonable to question (NOT assert, as I have repeatedly said) whether that ideological division plays a role here. And given that Ron Lindsay independantly raised the same concern, I don’t think it is unreasonable or idiosyncratic of me to wonder about that. FWIW, as I said above, I would find the argument that Mooney’s stance on critcising religion is inconsistent with CFI’s mission to be a perfectly reasonable argument against him, though I would not personally agree with it. So I don’t see that suggesting that divisive issue is playing a role here is at all accusatory or rude or inappropriate.

I accept that you and Ophelia do not feel motivated to oppose Mooney having the POI ob on the basis of that specific ideological disagreement. Nevertheless, I can’t say as that your assertions to that efffect entirely convince me that it doesn’t have some role. I’m sure that pisses you off, but I’m afraid I think there is some evidence tat runs counter to your claims on that point.

5) Finally, I have no firm opinion on whether Mooney should host POI. I’m inclined to do exactly what you accused me of not doing, which is wait and see how it plays out. Since I have not yet seen convincing evidence that he is unsuitable, I’m inclined to favor letting him try hosting and seeing whether he does the awful ob you believe he will. If he does, I will be quite willing to come back and say “You were right all along.”

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Posted: 04 February 2010 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Brennen,

Those claims are much more qualified and explained, and thus much more reasonable. The original claim was just a good deal too shoot from the hip, especially given what you’d admitted about your lack of background knowledge. To clarify just one thing -

You deny this disagreement plays any role in your opposition

No no, not at all. Of course it plays a role - arguably it’s the same thing as my opposition. What I deny is that my opposition is purely a matter of personal pique - I think the disagreement is substantive and reasonable even though it is by now, of course, also full of irritation.

There really is a principle at stake. I really do think that someone who argues publicly that a thoughtful, well-reasoned book review in The New Republic should not have been written, on the grounds that it might be alienating or annoying to some religious believers, is someone who is not fundamentally interested in “free inquiry” and thus is not a good choice to host a related podcast which is about, precisely, inquiry.

It’s also true that I think that all the more because Chris Mooney has done such an abysmal job of acknowledging opposing views ever since the publication of Unscientific America, and that I find that irritating - but the first point stands.

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Posted: 04 February 2010 11:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Ophelia,

Well I’m glad the most recent expression of my stand seems mre reasonable to you, since I’m certainly not interested in offeding anyone or bickering. I’ve gone back and re-read my previous posts, and I still don’t see what I said then as all that different from what I said recently, but either way I think I understand your position even though I’m not yet convinced you are correct, and I will be interested in seeing how he turns out to do once he starts hosting. I appreciate you making the effort to establish a clear understanding between us, even if we must politely agree to differ for the present. That sort of resolution is , after all, an example of the sort of rational approach we both advocate.

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