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PZ Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Chris Mooney - New Atheism or Accommodation?
Posted: 18 October 2010 04:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 106 ]
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Hi Eli

your story is very interesting, I am largely in agreement with you.  I too consider I wasted a lot of time with false belief that was very hard to shake off.  My way out of the maze came about by examining the counter evidence with a view to refuting it.  I was surprised at the outcome of my investigations!  Importantly, these were self originated, and would probably never been a response to a perceived intemperate hostile attack.

Now I know nothing about Polkinghorne nor do I consider it at all necessary for two reasons:


1) What use is a (presumably sophisticated) belief that requires superior amount of study and intelligence to defend it?  On the face of it it’s suspect, because an ordinary mortal would not have the resources to properly fund his faith except by such effort.

2) IMHO the simplest and best criticism against all Abrahamic systems are those against its moral foundations in the OT, particularly in the matter of divinely mandated crimes of genocide against tribal enemies of the Jews.  Defences of those crimes are weak and outlandish.  With the biblical moral authority thus discredited, the edifice of all the Abrahamic faiths collapses.  This connects with point 1; one doesn’t continue to build upon irreparable foundations, morally, logically or concretely.

Thus the reasonableness of faith in the popular perception of God was very unwarranted, and made for a strong likelihood that all traditions are substantially false.  There remains a few generalities of genuine wisdom in the bible, but it being so seriously discredited, it’s often undesirable to credit the source, so I think.

While every word PZ spoke was true, his approach would have left me cold or even obdurate during the very many months I was reevaluating my faith.  Anecdotally some of my friends agree, while others do not.

Only two cheers for Mooney and Hecht, because they seem to deny PZ the right to mouth off.  I defend that he has that right, while maintaining that he often achieves the opposite of his intentions.  I have had a similar tone in other forum postings.  I would not presume to think they had much effect on believers, but it did feel good.  He can be entertaining in a self-indulgent way.  However Tom Paine in The Age of Reason is still the man that says it best, and he is merciless.  So I do allow occasional success to the hardcore atheists.  In the end it depends on the individual I guess.

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Posted: 19 October 2010 02:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 107 ]
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Eli Winsor - 18 October 2010 07:03 AM
dwilton - 18 October 2010 04:38 AM

To me, it makes more sense to tackle the hardest arguments first.

Fine, in your opinion which is the hardest argument? Give me the best and I’ll shoot it down.

This is right out of the standard theist playbook. Accuse the atheist of not addressing the best argument for God and then refusing to say what that argument is. If the atheist takes on the argument, then “it wasn’t one of the good ones.” If the atheist responds to a particular theist, then “he/she wasn’t the best choice.” The best argument for the existence of God is always over the next hill.

This is right out of the handbook of blind faith! Have you stolen your tactics from a revival? You clearly have not read literature from either Polkinghorne or Gingerich, hence why you refuse to respond to anything specific about their arguments. It is entirely possible to be credulous for the truth.When someone supports an idea solely because it supports their views it does not make them critical. What good is supporting truth if you have never questioned why it is truth and only claim it truth as it is what you want to believe, they have demonstrated credulity. There is no honor in believing in truth because it supports you, but there is honor believing in truth because you have done your best to examine it. Critical thinking does not mean supporting a position because those smarter than you support it. What good is it to replace one system with another when the adherents came to their position from the same mechanisms as the original system? I

How about you show how you came to your position (that Polkinghorne and Gingerichs arguments are not the best) other than through blind faith you appear to be showing. You made it appear that you have read their work, so please, comment on it, and do so without using wiki, as after all, you read their books! Polkinghorne has a slew of books that go deep in to quantum physics and faith, so why not comment on some of them instead constantly dodging the fact that you let Dawkins do your talking.

There is a reason that Dawkins claimed he was bewildered with the beliefs of Polkinghorne, but did not attempt to argue them. It is much harder to definitively win when you are playing on equal grounds. Again, the angry atheist beat their opponents with ad hominem, and their opponents are always the weak. It would seam that those such as Mooney truly care about science, as they don’t mock those with infantile beliefs, instead they let science do the talking, and encourage critical dialog. The authors I listed in the previous post all discussed science, and didn’t need to pollute their work with childish bantering. The science can defend itself, it does need an angry ass standing up for it. Look at the good Myth Busters has achieved for promoting science. Science is cool enough on its own.

I would be a lot more convinced by your argument if I was convinced that you weren’t recomending books you have never read. Give us the arguments, the authors are irrelevant.

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Posted: 19 October 2010 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 108 ]
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Seems that Eli is using the same tactic that annoyed me about Jennifer in this podcast: making vague unsubstantiated accusations, then evading rather answering when challenged. I finished listening to this podcast yesterday, and I must say that while PZ did sound a bit frustrated at the end, he showed a lot more patience that I would have with Jennifer’s antics. She came across as rude, evasive and condescending. I would have called her out her early on when she made the claim about re-deconverting some Christians turned atheists turned Christian again by Richard Dawkins’ writings. That is an extraordinary claim. I am insulted she finds me naive enough to believe such obvious bullshit. She displayed rudeness by interrupting PZ to refute points he was trying to make. When PZ finally asked her for specifics she merely offered vague evasiveness.

This podcast made me wonder why I bother wasting hard drive space on Point of Inquiry. If not for Karen Stollznow I would unsubscribe to the Podcast. At least I can go through and delete the crappy ones like this one under discussion, and everything Robert Price has hosted.

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Posted: 20 October 2010 09:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 109 ]
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Rudeness and tone are issues of PR, not of content.

PR is important, of course, but as far as actual content goes, the only thing that worries me about “strong” atheism is scientism: some strong atheists get overconfident in science and start treating even fairly speculative scientific theories as proven truth. Science becomes their new religion. It is really dangerous because a major debating pitfall for atheists is the “atheism is just another religion” fallacy.
I’m not sure if PZ Myers is prone to this mistake, but Dawkins makes it all over the place in “The God Delusion”, and it worried me to hear Myers singing the praises of that book, when really it is an example of how atheism can become contaminated with scientism.

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Posted: 20 October 2010 10:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 110 ]
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Hilbert - 20 October 2010 09:13 PM

Rudeness and tone are issues of PR, not of content.

PR is important, of course, but as far as actual content goes, the only thing that worries me about “strong” atheism is scientism: some strong atheists get overconfident in science and start treating even fairly speculative scientific theories as proven truth. Science becomes their new religion. It is really dangerous because a major debating pitfall for atheists is the “atheism is just another religion” fallacy.
I’m not sure if PZ Myers is prone to this mistake, but Dawkins makes it all over the place in “The God Delusion”, and it worried me to hear Myers singing the praises of that book, when really it is an example of how atheism can become contaminated with scientism.

Care to point to specifics?

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Posted: 21 October 2010 04:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 111 ]
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Bruce, you don’t really expect specifics from someone who posted a straw man argument do you? No? I didn’t think so.

Hilbert - 20 October 2010 09:13 PM

... some strong atheists get overconfident in science and start treating even fairly speculative scientific theories as proven truth.

Undoubtedly there are some atheists who think like this, but they are statistical outliers, not the norm.

Science becomes their new religion.

Science is religion applies only to crackpots who pursue their ideas despite all the evidence they are wrong.
Edit: After further reflection, crackpots do not make science their religion. They reject scientific thinking and their ideas become their religion.

It is really dangerous because a major debating pitfall for atheists is the “atheism is just another religion” fallacy.

This fallacy is not a “major debating pitfall,” it is easily refuted. Science and religion are opposite worldviews. Science relies on evidence, religion relies on faith. 

I’m not sure if PZ Myers is prone to this mistake, but Dawkins makes it all over the place in “The God Delusion”, and it worried me to hear Myers singing the praises of that book, when really it is an example of how atheism can become contaminated with scientism.

As Bruce said, give us some specifics. All you have done is the same thing Jennifer Hecht did in the podcast and Eli has done in this thread; throw out vague, unsubstantiated assertions as if they are facts. Actually, your arguments go further by promoting obvious straw men.

[ Edited: 21 October 2010 05:24 AM by DarronS ]
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Posted: 21 October 2010 10:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 112 ]
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Bruce Gorton - 20 October 2010 10:47 PM

Care to point to specifics?

Sure. For example, to deal with the argument from personal experience he invokes recent cogsci speculation about the brain’s “simulation software”. But obviously the flaws in that argument are deeper and independent of whether those speculations turn out to be correct or not.
Another example is his discussion of the argument from design, where he unnecessarily invokes the “multiverse”, a piece of speculative cosmology with negligible evidence to support it. Again, he overlooks the fact that the argument from design has more general flaws independent of the success or failure of the multiverse theory.
He does something similar with the origin of life, unnecessarily getting embroiled in speculative scientific hypotheses, as if they were the main argument against the theist’s claims. Obviously you don’t need your own working theory of the origin of life, to argue that a personal God is not the best or only explanation!

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Posted: 21 October 2010 10:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 113 ]
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If PZ is interested in persuading the opposition I think his style ain’t a’gonna do it.  People are obviously not strictly logical mechanisms; therefore the logic of what he has to say to them is going to be lost in the murk of their insulting manner.  I think he and the other “new/angry” atheists may enjoy a bit too much the pejorative contempt they rain down on their enemies.  Methinks their enemies won’t be persuaded.

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Posted: 22 October 2010 02:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 114 ]
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Eli Winsor - 17 October 2010 03:26 PM

I also found the angry atheist attacked the weak. There is no glory in winning a battle when the person you were fighting is a child! I found Dawkins always went after the most extreme fundamental, and never the intelligent moderate. Why doesn’t Dawkins address arguments presented by the likes of John Polkinghorne or Owen Gingerich. Why is it that most angry atheist only go after the clueless creationists? The only angry atheist that made me think twice was Hitchens, and for me it was because he had original argument, and went after the giants instead of the pathetic.

This is a completely misleading argument, and it came but in the Shook-Wright podcast (Wright improved but a long way to go).

Most Protestants and Catholics say the Nicene Creed—PZ brought this up and Hecht tried to dismiss it as “out of date”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed

Either Chrisitans believe in the Nicene Creed (which starts in English ... I believe…) or they don’t.  If they believe in it literally, then there is something concrete to discuss that is every bit as baloney as creationism.  If they only believe in it metaphorically then they are not the accomodationsm problem.

I really don’t see what is wrong with going for the weak points in someone’s argument—maybe you could try to explain that —is your point that you don’t think most Christians are creationists? That’s probably why I brought up the Nicene Creed as a “lowes common denominator” weak point.

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Posted: 22 October 2010 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 115 ]
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I think he and the other “new/angry” atheists may enjoy a bit too much the pejorative contempt they rain down on their enemies.

When have any of the new atheists been “angry”? I hear this word applied to them a lot (usually, but not always, by people who have not read what the new atheists have written), but I’ve never heard a word or tone of anger in any of their arguments. Myers comes the closest, but even he is calm and low key. The new atheists actually come across like really friendly, extremely polite, and likable people.

And the same goes with “pejorative.” Sometimes they go over the top in their rhetoric (e.g., Dawkins likening childhood religious indoctrination as “abuse”), but I’ve never heard Myers, Dawkins, Hitchens, or Dennett make any kind of personal attack or insult any individual because of their religious belief.

Compared to their theist counterparts, the new atheists are the Emily Posts of debate strategists. It’s the theists who are the angry ones, shouting, talking over their opponents, not letting their opponents speak, etc.

The only thing that I can figure out that the new atheists have done to deserve such criticism is that they dare to challenge religious ideas in public. As a society, we—and that includes most atheists—are so indoctrinated to sacredness of religious thought, any public challenge to religions is angry, destructive, pejorative, and even blasphemous.

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Posted: 22 October 2010 04:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 116 ]
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dwilton - 22 October 2010 03:32 AM

The only thing that I can figure out that the new atheists have done to deserve such criticism is that they dare to challenge religious ideas in public. As a society, we—and that includes most atheists—are so indoctrinated to sacredness of religious thought, any public challenge to religions is angry, destructive, pejorative, and even blasphemous.

*golf claps*

Exactly.

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Posted: 22 October 2010 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 117 ]
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Hilbert - 21 October 2010 10:05 AM
Bruce Gorton - 20 October 2010 10:47 PM

Care to point to specifics?

Sure. For example, to deal with the argument from personal experience he invokes recent cogsci speculation about the brain’s “simulation software”. But obviously the flaws in that argument are deeper and independent of whether those speculations turn out to be correct or not.
Another example is his discussion of the argument from design, where he unnecessarily invokes the “multiverse”, a piece of speculative cosmology with negligible evidence to support it. Again, he overlooks the fact that the argument from design has more general flaws independent of the success or failure of the multiverse theory.
He does something similar with the origin of life, unnecessarily getting embroiled in speculative scientific hypotheses, as if they were the main argument against the theist’s claims. Obviously you don’t need your own working theory of the origin of life, to argue that a personal God is not the best or only explanation!

I think you are taking Dawkins’ comments out of context and twisting them to fit a preconceived notion. I don’t have the reference material at my side, but I would be shocked if Dawkins stated the multiverse idea is fact. I would appreciate it if you could quote the objectionable passages in context, or at least point the out book and the pages where you found them so I can look them up.

[ Edited: 22 October 2010 10:51 AM by DarronS ]
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Posted: 23 October 2010 07:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 118 ]
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DarronS - 22 October 2010 06:01 AM

I think you are taking Dawkins’ comments out of context and twisting them to fit a preconceived notion. I don’t have the reference material at my side, but I would be shocked if Dawkins stated the multiverse idea is fact. I would appreciate it if you could quote the objectionable passages in context, or at least point the out book and the pages where you found them so I can look them up.

Certainly, that’s a reasonable request. I left my copy at the office so it’ll take a couple of days for me to get back to you. By the way, I did not preconceive this notion. I read Dawkins’s book and discovered that he made these (to my mind) mistakes. Also, I’m not saying he presented the multiverse as fact. If I remember correctly he presented it as the main counter-argument against the theist’s “Goldilocks” argument for God. But it’s a very weak counter-argument because the evidence for it is so weak. He should have emphasized the internal inadequacies of the theist’s case (why does the mechanism that “fine tunes” the laws of physics have to be a personal God, or any kind of being at all?).

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Posted: 23 October 2010 07:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 119 ]
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Hilbert, sounds good to me. I have not read The God Delusion so cannot comment on its contents. I agree that the multiverse idea is not a good main argument against the Goldilocks argument because the multiverse idea is speculation, and the Goldilocks argument is itself fallacious.

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Posted: 24 October 2010 10:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 120 ]
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PZ Myers is good at separating religious beliefs from all other kinds of beliefs.  Then he attacks those distinct religious beliefs with no mercy.  This is great if you can be that discriminating, but most Christians are not that way.  Life is complex and even with lots of self reflection and analysis it is difficult to sort out and separate all the different issues and ambiguity in life.  Also, Christians have been taught since they were converted to integrate and fuse religious and Godly beliefs into every fiber of their being.  To ask them to give up God and religion would be like asking them to give up life.  This needs to be taken into consideration when trying to talk with the religious.  Unfortunately, this will require a great deal of patience.

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