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Jerry Coyne - CFI Declares War On Atheist
Posted: 25 September 2010 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]
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From Jerry Coyne’s Blog Why Evolution Is True - Posted on September 25, 2010

CFI Declares War On Atheist

Opening paragraph:

Over at the Center for Inquiry, it looks like open season on atheists.  First Mooney, then De Dora, then Ronald Lindsay (the president) and now John Shook, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, and Director of Education at the CfI—all have gone out of their way to criticize their atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance.  I’m not sure what’s going on over there—is this a covert policy or just coincidental buffoonery?—but the anti-atheist chorus has just swelled by one voice.

Highlighting Shook’s essay:

If you’re a CfI supporter, go read it, if only to see where your money’s going.

Jerry is on a roll of occasionally writing unreflective post.

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Posted: 25 September 2010 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This is massively ironic given how recently CFI was being branded as a militantly atheist organization.

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Posted: 25 September 2010 11:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I notice that Ronald Lindsay has commented on Coyne’s post.

Response from Lindsay - Link

@Jerry Coyne: I am extremely disappointed that you would make such an unsupported and rash accusation against CFI. If you can point out one instance where either I or someone speaking for CFI in an official capacity has gone out of his/her way to criticize CFI’s “atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance,” please do so. If you cannot, please withdraw the statement.

I have not even read John Shook’s post—although eventually I hope to get around to it. We have religious skeptics with diverse views working for CFI, with these views mirroring the diversity within the community of religious skeptics. Several of these individuals write blog posts, articles and so forth that are not screened by CFI management prior to publication for the very good reason that they represent the personal views of the author, not CFI as an institution. CFI encourages the expression of differing opinions, believing that doing so best serves the interests of the nonreligious. The day that CFI imposes a party line on its entire staff is the day that CFI would become intellectually dead.

Go ahead and criticize John Shook’s piece on the merits if you’re so inclined, but don’t use your disagreement with Shook as a basis for smearing CFI.

Take note of the absolutely absurd comment made to Lindsay - HERE

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Posted: 25 September 2010 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Ahh, the old “my group is better than yours.” Basically, one of the fundamental drives culminating in speciation. Glad to be witnessing evolution firsthand.  grin

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Posted: 25 September 2010 07:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The winner of the most specious argument to follow from Jerry’s post (unfortunately) comes from Ophelia Benson.

Ignore the logo, no matter how big it is

I saw John Shook’s Huffington Post article on “O lord how awful are the ways of thy gnu atheists” a few days ago, and even read a bit of it, but I got bored so I didn’t finish, or comment on it. But Jerry did a post on it today, and the response has been energetic. A good many gnu atheists are irritated at yet another bucketful of crap being thrown at them by another atheist.

In turn, Ron Lindsay is irritated that Jerry criticized the Center for Inquiry (where Shook works) because Shook wrote what he wrote.

[Snip]

The trouble with that is that an onlooker would have no way of knowing that Shook was not speaking for CFI in an official capacity in the article, given that he was identified as “Director of Education and Senior Research Fellow, Center for Inquiry” at the top of the article. That looks to an impartial observer as if he is speaking in his official capacity.

The same applies to the CFI blog, even though Ron Lindsay and Michael De Dora both like to insist that blog posts must be seen as the author’s independent opinions, not anything to do with CFI.

But I think that’s an absurd expectation. Look at the CFI blog. Would anyone glance at that and think that the post that appeared below the banner at the top was nothing to do with CFI? Look at it! It’s not what you’d call inconspicuous.

It’s odd for CFI officials to try to disavow things that have their name on it in GREAT BIG LETTERS.

That follows her comments to Ronald on Jerry’s blog - HERE

Ron – I think there’s a real problem here, for CFI at least. It just doesn’t work to have a group blog under the CFI logo and then try to insist that particular posts there are totally independent of CFI. It really doesn’t. People just are going to see posts on the CFI blog as representing CFI – and that’s not obviously crazy.

That’s simply disinformation which is speciously reworked later.

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Posted: 25 September 2010 07:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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This is also a very sad position to take. Benson is suggesting that CFI muzzle all of its employees so that she can be certain of what CFI stands for. Isn’t she adult enough to tell the difference between an official position paper and something written by an employee?

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Posted: 27 September 2010 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I was going to avoid to further involve myself in this issue until I read Ronald Lindsay’s blog today and also reading more comments which then brought a few thoughts to mind.

First is a comment by Jerry Coyne on Ophelia Benson’s blog highlighted in an above post of mine [#4].

Jerry’s comment - HERE

I don’t mind so much someone identifying his position (after all, if it was just “John Shook” with no ID I’d have to look him up, but it should always be stated CLEARLY that any opinions given are those of the individual alone and not necessarily of his/her organization.

I would also recommend going through the comments on Jerry’s post - 504 comments at last check - which also includes an update with a quote from Shook - CFI Declares War On Atheists

To also read through the comments on Ophelia post - 46 at last count. I realize reading through all the comments is a bit much, but spending a little time on them is a good idea I think.

Jerry’s an Ophelia’s comments are very troubling for obvious reasons. I’m also worried about what this may bring - after all I’ve been a reader of Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquiry for over 15 years now. I have learned a great deal about open debate through these journals. The question of what these shoddy arguments could bring was made crystal by what I read on Lindsay’s blog post.

Ronald Lindsay - Commemorate Blasphemy Rights Day—Have a Bake Sale or Read the Bible - September 26, 2010

Specifically this quote:

But in a textbook example of poisoning the well, soon after CFI’s announcement of Blasphemy Day some opposed to CFI’s mission redefined the purpose of Blasphemy Day, claiming that CFI was sponsoring Blasphemy Day solely to ridicule and belittle believers. Unfortunately, this tactic had some success. Mud does stick.

I recall criticism of this announcement coming from within and outside of CFI - Lindsay’s blog taking on the issue - Two Different Understandings of Blasphemy—Two Different Visions of CFI - September 29, 2009

It appeared to me at the time that Lindsay did a fine job of defending his position. It is worth noting the ‘other side’ of the coin concerning arguments about the direction CFI is taking, briefly mentioned in a comment by Lindsay today on his blog when he notes: “It’s bad enough to be considered a fundamentalist atheist (in the view of Kurtz and company) or someone hostile to atheists (in the view of Coyne and company).” I would assume by “company” that Lindsay is referring to people within and outside of CFI.

The later argument was taken up by Lindsay in his blog post - Have “Atheist Fundamentalists” Taken Over CFI? - October 21, 2009

The above is a spirited defense of CFI with statements worth highlighting here, such as:

In this regard, I am troubled by recent claims, strewn over articles, blogs, and other sites on the internet, that “atheist fundamentalists” are now directing policy at CFI. [Snip]

In short, there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that “atheist fundamentalists” are now running CFI. That claim falls somewhere between windy rhetoric and a desperate, unprincipled slur. Whatever its appropriate characterization, that charge has no place in reasoned debate. If you disagree with CFI, its positions, or its tactics, by all means let us know and, more importantly, let us know why you disagree. But if you have any respect at all for the staff of CFI, please drop the insults. You’re wasting our time and yours.

I have not seen this type of defense of CFI coming forward with this latest bought of faulty arguments and accusations. In fact, in my opinion it has been fairly quiet considering what has transpired. I could surmise a few things then. First, that these criticisms of CFI have dealt a body blow. Second, that the arguments themselves are not well understood as to their potential ramifications and groundlessness (the caption: CFI declares war on atheist was written by the author). Lindsay does seem to grasp these to a degree as clarified in his response to Coyne on his blog (see my post #2].

Worth noting also because it at times falls into the same type argumentation is a blog post up today by Russell Blackford - The Shook Distraction (3) - September 27, 2010

Blackford states:

The better resourced the organisation becomes, the better in the scheme of things ... especially as it goes through a period of adjustment now that the Paul Kurtz years have come to an end.

But the Shook distraction shows how the good will built up by all the good work can be negated by bad organisational communications. No one sees the totality of what CFI is doing - except, of course, for a few insiders - but a statement at a highly-visible outlet such as the Huffington Post is seen by very many people all over the world, most of whom have no idea what CFI does ... or even what it is.

Individuals associated with the CFI (and other such organisations) would do well to keep this in mind. They have it in their power to do enormous damage very quickly, and to undo an organisation’s reputation built up by countless hours of hard work, some it spectacularly successful, by many, many people. That’s the kind of responsibility that is on your shoulders when you speak for an organisation - even if you don’t think you’re speaking for it on that particular occasion.

The question for me then is how much of this will “stick”. The prospect is frightening to say the least and I’m no longer sure I want to stick around to find out.

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Posted: 27 September 2010 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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So when are the atheists going to have our version of the Protestant Reformation?  Or are we having it now?

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Posted: 27 September 2010 11:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Dead Monky - 27 September 2010 10:52 AM

So when are the atheists going to have our version of the Protestant Reformation?  Or are we having it now?

You guys are going to have to start your own denominations….  tongue laugh

IMO people speak for themselves. IDK that they can really speak for anybody but themselves. IDK that they should.

It starts becoming a bit authoritative.

A group is made up of individuals. Why can’t individuals disagree?

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Posted: 27 September 2010 12:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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LOL  I’m pretty sure we already have denominations.  We have New-Atheists, Neo-Atheists, Humanists, Neo-Humanists, New-Neo-Atheo-Humanists.

Humanity: Always uniting and coming together for a common cause.

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Posted: 27 September 2010 12:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I wonder if what is happening is well understood - it potentially dwarfs the impact of what occurred with the militant atheists taking over at CFI claims.

As an example to a certain degree we could use another data point for clarification.

On August 16, 2010 Jerry Coyne post a blog post titled Stenger at HuffPo!

Jerry’s comments are positive and he begins by stating: “As a palliative to all the nonsense about science and faith at HuffPo, you can now read Victor Stenger, who has already produced three nice columns there this month.”

Victor Stenger’s bio at Huffpo is impressive and includes:

His current positions are adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii. Vic is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a research fellow of the Center for Inquiry. Vic has also held visiting positions on the faculties of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Oxford in England, and has been a visiting researcher at Rutherford Laboratory in England, the National Nuclear Physics Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, and the University of Florence in Italy.

(BTW, Victor has a very good post up today)

Nowhere does is it “stated CLEARLY that any opinions given are those of the individual alone and not necessarily of his/her organization.” I would argue from my reading the blog posts and comments that what may “stick” is a formidable attempt at “groupthink” (there, I said it).

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Posted: 27 September 2010 01:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Dr. Shook is right.

Sorry not sure who is supporting who but Shook is absolutely right. One must know their opponent.

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Posted: 29 September 2010 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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That’s simply disinformation which is speciously reworked later.

Could you elaborate? That borders on saying I’m lying. What, exactly, is “disinformation”? What is “specious”? What exactly did I say that was untrue?

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Posted: 29 September 2010 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Hm. Well, I was trying to keep this thread focused on a certain type of argument being made. It may be worth starting a thread on John Shook’s Huffpo essay. I will say that in all Shook’s essay is pretty lousy. I could expand on that with the main points being how it is unfair because “atheist” targets lack clarification and identification. Also, it fails on the “theology” front partly for the same reason. I have no problem with statements such as: “Taking theology seriously enough to competently debate God should not be beneath atheism.” - However, I don’t really see the arguments as fully ignored (or anything really new except what Stephen J. Gould called “woolly metaphor misportrayed as decisive content” by trying to work science into faith) and have yet to see any truly competent argument for god come forward by modern “theology”. It comes down in both cases of “show me” Shook.

Anyway, back to why I started this thread.

PZ Myer’s has a post up today that mentions CFI and what has transpired - Want to know about religion? Go to your local atheist, not your priest - September 28, 2010

Massimo Pigliucci also makes mention of Coyne’s post in his Picks - Massimo’s Picks - September 28, 2010

It appears both post seem to retain a reasonable focus.

PZ states:

Lately, a certain faction within CFI (not the whole organization — I know several staff who disagree) has taken it upon itself to slam the Gnu Atheists as a gang of crude louts who know nothing about religion
[Snip]
In your face, John Shook. Take that, faitheists of the CFI.

There’s no problem there really since it’s not smearing the organization unfairly and implicitly calling for a type of censorship. However, even though the comments on the blog post stay focused a few run afoul by basically arguing that CFI is allowing itself to alienate it’s base and should know better. That, like how Coyne and Benson screwed up, are simply going to far and using arguments that criticize certain atheist (as wrong as they may be - after all, it appears clear that outside the arguments by Shook about theology the real problem people are having that brings in CFI concerns his comments about atheist) to pull in an advocacy for something nearing “groupthink” - this has become painfully obvious.

Massimo states:

Jerry Coyne slams CFI for declaring war on atheism. The substance of his post is actually mostly on target, but given the rhetoric, methinks the guy needs a large dose of valerian…

I also think the substance of Coyne’s piece is right on, and have enjoyed his follow up post about Swinburne. It’s interesting to note that Coyne is advocating a greater knowledge of religious claims with those post - even though I think John Schellenberg is wrong in giving so much weight to “analytical philosophy of religion”.

However, Massimo seems to be ignoring what else is put forward by Coyne. First off the caption is deliberate hyberbole that is misleading and disinformation which has obviously had the effect Coyne was going for. The argument to back up that claim fails miserably for anyone familiar with CFI - it is a unfair smear, but extremely effective. Other claims such as: “Over at the Center for Inquiry, it looks like open season on atheists.” and “I’m not sure what’s going on over there—is this a covert policy or just coincidental buffoonery?” are also ridiculous and show an amazingly shallow familiarity with CFI - as do Benson’s arguments (incredibly, but I suppose predictably considering her reactions of late to Mooney on PoI), Blackford’s and a truck load of commenters.

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Posted: 29 September 2010 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Ophelia Benson - 29 September 2010 06:32 AM

That’s simply disinformation which is speciously reworked later.

Could you elaborate? That borders on saying I’m lying. What, exactly, is “disinformation”? What is “specious”? What exactly did I say that was untrue?

Gladly.

First off, you are making it appear that Shook should be seen as speaking for CFI. That there are people who would see that he is should be a consideration of what is allowed to be said when someone is identified with CFI. The call by Coyne that one should be clearly identified as speaking independently has not ever been called for before this by anyone I’m aware of. However, you did not even ask for this, you are implicitly arguing a certain type of censorship should be taking place because of what others unfamiliar with CFI may take as official statements.

Second, it is disinformation for the obvious reason that Shook’s piece was in Huffpo - Coyne’s post and Ronald’s response deal with what Shook had written primarily and nothing pertaining to something said under the CFI logo. Besides that, it simply doesn’t matter - the opinions expressed are those of the authors and Ronald is not distancing himself from the Shook essay in his response (though he may at some point or vehemently disagree) - you appear to be deliberately bringing in something important to you and does not rationally follow the discussion.

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Posted: 29 September 2010 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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dougsmith - 25 September 2010 07:56 PM

This is also a very sad position to take. Benson is suggesting that CFI muzzle all of its employees so that she can be certain of what CFI stands for. Isn’t she adult enough to tell the difference between an official position paper and something written by an employee?

I think placing focus on the issue of official CFI positions versus employee thinking misses an important point. I get the sense that many believe John Shook’s essay—even if written under the guise of speaking freely as an employee—does not fit into CFI’s mission. That is, “Yes, we understand his essay is not an official CFI position statement, but why the hell would CFI employee someone like John Shook?”

For my own part, I think John’s essay and its problems—poor language choice and perhaps a lack of specificity—merited serious, critical discussion. It’s unfortunate that certain aggressive and hyperbolic approaches make that discussion hard to have. My issues with the essay aside, I see two problems with the argument regarding John’s place at CFI.

First, I’m not entirely sure John was working outside or against CFI’s mission with his essay. He did not question the importance of secularism, reason, science, free inquiry, or humanist values. He did not argue against atheism and promote evangelical Christianity. He was arguing against a specific approach atheists take. Certainly atheists out there believe there is little to no use to studying theology and other religious arguments; that much is obvious. Whether or not that approach is harmful or wrong is an issue worth debating. It’s one thing for John to love reading theology; but do all atheists need to do so?

Second, the argument ignores than John has written hundreds of other quality blog posts, organized fantastic conferences, given great talks and lectures, run online courses on humanist thought, and done numerous other things to serve CFI’s functions.

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