This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Open letter to Michael Shermer in response to his letter...

Open letter to Michael Shermer in response to his letter... - Comments

Corylus's Avatar Comment 1 by Corylus

I agree with a fair bit of this, there are many good points in here.

Unfortunately, he got me in a bad mood at the start by talking about "A totally cool atheist chick". He doubtless meant this a compliment, but unfortunately merely made himself sound like a sexist child.

If you want to persuade people it is a good idea not to talk down to half your audience.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 11:10:00 UTC | #61570

roach's Avatar Comment 2 by roach

Nice article. But again I hope that at least one if not all four of the men to whom the open letter is addressed responds in the coming days/weeks.

Off-topic: Referring to women as "chicks" is sexist? I suppose when I call my guy friends "dudes" I am being equally disparaging.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 11:25:00 UTC | #61574

Peacebeuponme's Avatar Comment 3 by Peacebeuponme

Corylus - I have to agree. He's pulled the rug out from under himself there with comments that have no place in a serious debate.

It's funny because I was reading Madalyn Murray O'Hair's opening statement to the Supreme Court earlier, and was thinking how good it was that we had moved on from a time when even a woman used "man", "he" and "his" as general terms.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 11:26:00 UTC | #61575

Robert Maynard's Avatar Comment 4 by Robert Maynard

Corylus: If you want to persuade people it is a good idea not to talk down to half your audience.
And what if she is, in fact, a totally cool chick? :P
I don't want to turn this into a debate about feminism, and I don't find myself using the term much, but I don't think "chick" is particularly sexist. I think the implicit meaning has drifted safely away from its roots as a variant on "bird", or whatever.
It seems on the same level as describing someone as a cool dude. *shrug*

In any case, Shermer is a cool dude, and so is Sapient.
I like to imagine folks like Sapient becoming what you might call "second-generation" "New Atheists", easy-going non-scientist super-arguers milked on the literature of their forebears, who'll be in the front line against the next generation of creationists, people like.. for example, Bizarro Dawkins.
I'm about 7 years behind Sapient, but I also like to imagine I'll be able to contribute something solid to this conversation someday too. :P

Atheism looks like it will have an exciting future. All we have to do is stay media-savvy, and our battle is half-won. To that effect, the RRS has been doing a fine job so far.


Wed, 22 Aug 2007 11:37:00 UTC | #61576

Corylus's Avatar Comment 5 by Corylus


"Referring to women as "chicks" is sexist?"

I wouldn't be surprised if this is partly due to a tranatlantic difference of language. However, to my (admittedly snooty :-)) British ears, this does indeed sound sexist.

"Chicks" give the impression of extreme youth (and thus someone who can be talked down to) "dudes" does not have the same connotation.

Agreed that that this should not be a debate about feminism.

Lets talk about the article instead. It is just one of those words that raise my hackles - we all have them!

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 11:37:00 UTC | #61577

BicycleRepairMan's Avatar Comment 6 by BicycleRepairMan

I dont really see the point of these tactics-debates, in my view, there is both room, and need, for both "reason" approaches, both outright hostile Hitchen attacks and subtle Dennett'ing, also throw in the comedy approach for good measure (George Carlin kicks ass) Not one of these approaches will deconvert the faithful, but in the fullness of time, they all play their little part. A devotee needs sometimes to hear that its possible to take the completely opposite view.

In large parts of the Islamic world, a popular method of indoctrination is simply "Denial of Existence" Homosexuals dont exist, atheists dont exist, sexual abuse doesnt exist, and so on, it may sound absurd, but its actually quite common. One guy on national TV going "Nope, there is no God, sorry" wont convert, but it may spark a fuse or two somewhere.

Its all trickle trickle, like evolution, it might take a few generations longer than we expect, but before we know it, atheism will flourish.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 11:39:00 UTC | #61578

Janus's Avatar Comment 7 by Janus

Good reply to Shermer's letter. I prefer mine, though. :P

As for the people above me moaning about sexism, kindly get over yourselves.


Just one comment about your comment: I don't think I've ever heard a "new" (i.e. forthright) atheist like Dawkins or Harris attack a fellow atheist for using a different tactic to criticize religion. I've only ever seen them attack those who attack their tactic!

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 11:40:00 UTC | #61579

roach's Avatar Comment 8 by roach


Where is your response? In thread connected to Shermer's letter? *Goes and checks*...Yeah that was good and I'd say better.

We shouldn't take the thread off course and start talking about sexism. Although derailing threads and taking them on elaborate tangents used to be a specialty of mine on other forums.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 12:14:00 UTC | #61589

kellym78's Avatar Comment 9 by kellym78

Just an FYI, I wrote the little blurb about the "totally cool atheist chick" and I am proud to be one myself. Some people are entirely too sensitive.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 15:08:00 UTC | #61655

sapient's Avatar Comment 10 by sapient


I swear I was just logging in to say the same thing, and there you are beating me by 3 hours. You're a totally cool atheist chick!

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 15:38:00 UTC | #61663

OhioAtheist's Avatar Comment 11 by OhioAtheist

I'm glad Shermer wrote his letter, and I'm glad Sapient wrote this response. (Though the grammar-policeman in me cringes at his form.) In my opinion, this is a much more constructive form of internal debate than Greg Epstein's attempt to cut the legs out from under Harris and Dawkins.

Anyway, as others have pointed out, there's plenty of room for various tactics in any successful movement. I suspect both Shermer and Sapient would agree.

P.S. I see that the Rational Responders themselves have commented. Brian and Kelly, you're doing great work with the Squad. Keep it up!

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 18:02:00 UTC | #61699

Yorker's Avatar Comment 12 by Yorker

5. Comment #64934 by Corylus

I'm with you here, I've always found the word "chick" tasteless, it would embarrass me to use it. To liken a young woman to a young bird is not to my taste, even the British use of "bird" meaning woman shows a lack of taste also. Of course it may be the fact I'm an older and possibly "uncool" dude that makes me feel that way but no matter, I'd just kick the ass of any young cool dude who disagreed with me! :)

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 18:04:00 UTC | #61700

Janus's Avatar Comment 13 by Janus

OhioAtheist said:

Anyway, as others have pointed out, there's plenty of room for various tactics in any successful movement. I suspect both Shermer and Sapient would agree.

Um, have you read Shermer's letter? He's _against_ the Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens tactic. He wants them to _stop_ being so direct and forthright in their criticism of religion.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 18:09:00 UTC | #61701

Monkey2's Avatar Comment 14 by Monkey2

Michael Shermers article was rubbish. Sorry. I think Michael Shermers article was rubbish. It was full of statements that made me shout "That's rubbish". I feel that my personal view has been vindicated by the number of posts and the 'Rational Response' response.

My original reaction to the article was that here was an atheist that was just having a bad day. Just as Bizarro Dawkins turns out to be a 20 year old virgin and we can all say "Ah poor thing. I know what he needs", so Michael Shermer may have been feeling a bit down in the dumps.

I wondered if there was anything we could do to cheer him up. I reread his article trying to find out what it was that he wanted. Apart from the silly reference to 'militancy' his article is fine until he gets to his numbered reasons. Suddenly the black clouds arrive almost as if he has cut and pasted them on a rainy day.

Don't attack religion or their numbers will increase. Confine yourself to the wonders of science. It reads a bit like a personal mantra. After such a distinguished career in the service of atheism perhaps he just wants to retire quietly and be left alone. There is no doubt his phone must have been ringing non-stop recently from journalists wanting 'Mr Skeptic' to comment on the recent attack on religion.

I suggest that, in order to cheer him up, we have an annual awards ceremony for atheists and that 'Mr. Skeptic' is nominated for a lifetime achievement award.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 18:50:00 UTC | #61708

zarcus's Avatar Comment 15 by zarcus

Brian Sapient Wrote;

I personally was one of these "respectful atheists" for a while.

It is good to see Brian Sapient respects that "such people" still exist. How secular organizations have failed or prospered within the political atmosphere where a recognized "religious population" exists is no excuse to believe that hostility or a condescending attitude to which Michael Shermer makes reference will now aid the situation. This argument is used often when criticism of Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens is forwarded. Organizations such as Americans United for Separation for Church and State share a vital common goal with Religious Skeptic's. AUSCS is also open to all belief systems.

I am sorry to note but feel compelled to note that the view that this "movement" is simply "anti-something" by itself is a view typically held by those with such hate and vitriol for us that they prefer to hold a delusional outlook of our position in an attempt to impugn our character and efforts.

Perhaps it was elsewhere where Michael Shermer mentions, "movement", because it is missing from his Rational Atheism Sciam article, in the way implied. There are a great number of reasons to think Michael holds Richard to great esteem, including dedicating Why Darwin Matter to him. The author of Why People Believe Weird Things I am sure is a vital voice in the movement to forward science and reason. I tend to not think that individuals who recognized their beliefs in Michael's books would declare him to be a saint.

Stating that Atheist cannot simply define themselves by what they do not believe, to me is self evident.

You've included a man nicknamed Darwins Rotweiller on your list of "new atheists," there is certainly much championing of science and evolution from the crew listed.

Here again I must point out that Michael does not use what is put in what appear to be misleading quotes, this time, "new atheist", in his Rational Atheism article. Michael has recognized and championed the work of Richard, and Dennett many times. The Skeptic's Society hold's the work of Richard out in the exalted position they deserve, both through their web site, and in Skeptic magazine.

Should you seriously not be able to find any positive assertions for science and reason from the works of books listed and from the efforts of groups like mine, I can provide a small list upon request.

Indeed, from reviews Michael has penned, he finds many positive assertions in The God Delusion and Breaking the Spell. In Michael's review of Dan Dennett's Breaking the Spell he speaks highly of Dan's work, supplying the readers with the subtleties found within the pages.

Michael states:
Through his many provocative books Dan Dennett has emerged as the adocatus diaboli of science, and his belief in belief concept is his most dangerous idea to date.

Michael's essay found in Skeptic magazine [vol. 13 no. 2] entitled The Skeptic's Chaplan, ends with these words that close a wonderful personal experience he and Richard shared;

Richard turned to me and said, "All of this makes me so proud of our species that it almost brings me to tears."

I can only echo the same sentiment about the works and words of Richard Dawkins

When I first read those words, I felt a great sense of acceptance and admiration Michael shared for a fellow scientist, and advocate for science and reason.

Brian Sapient Wrote;
Isn't it possible that there is rational middle groundsÂ… can you see how a diverse approach from a diverse group can be rational?

This idea is brought to fruition with the claim; "Sometimes people need a reality check and sometimes condescension is just what one needs to kick them into gear."

I fail to see how this is rational. If striking a condescending tone is the remedy for forwarding science and reason, then it will in fact be answered in kind. Secularist are speaking with a greater united voice in recent years, with that has come on occasion finding common ground with Religionist who share important goals for the betterment of humanity.

I speak up because I see a travesty on our planet. I see a society with tons of promise and hope but its being hindered. The science that we hold near and dear is under attack,

I agree both in the practical application of this sentiment, as well as the emotive recognition of the power of accepting the future of scientific discovery. I know few others who would agree more then Michael Shermer. Michael has written many times on the importance of recognizing ones own biases so as to not allow for shunning informed reason, in the same way he has eloquently aided many to identify others biases, armed with this knowledge, a rational path to breaking barriers of scientific obscurantism may arise.

You've implied or inferred inaccurately that that "new atheists" or the authors listed, or whoever you're referring to are simply anti something, don't embrace science, don't make assertions, and aren't rationalÂ… which to me is either one big "prejudgment" or one incredibly jaded and vacuous view of the position of those listed.

This is a false assertion. Furthermore to view Michael's opinions as stated in his article Rational Atheism as jaded and vacuous is to announce oneself as not understanding the context of the piece.

I hate to have to point it out yet again, but inferring any of those negative stigmas again is a gross mischaracterization of the authors positions and an opinion typically held by those deluding themselves to reinforce theistic self delusions.

This appears to be what I have recognized when skepticism arises over approaches advocated by the author's mentioned, which is to imply an apologia to the claimant. If this is the case, it must be done without full knowledge of the breath of Michael Shermer's work.

But, then again, I may be wrong.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 19:25:00 UTC | #61715

troodon's Avatar Comment 16 by troodon

If theism were a single target, and we had only one arrow to shoot, Michael Shermer's strategy would probably be the best. But we live in a world of thousands of beliefs ranging from Osama bin Laden and Pat Robertson to the 80-year old grandmother selling cookies at a church rummage sale.

Perhaps our most important audience is young people, from school children up through about age 30.

There are a number of young adults and teenagers on this forum, so I have a question directed at them. How can we best reach out to their friends who are theists? Would they respond best to the warm, fuzzy approach like Michael Shermer? Honest, rational arguments? Ridicule of religion with humour like George Carlin and Bill Maher? Inspiring them through the wonders of science like Carl Sagan? Emphasizing the importance of human rights and protecting the environment?

With my own kids I had reasonable results with a combination of honesty, science and ridicule. Once they realize how silly religion is they don't want to be associated with anything so "retarded". George Carlin's "On Religion" was a great reinforcer.

But so much seems to depend on their friends and fitting with the group. Here in Canada the young people seem pretty secular but I can see it would be more difficult in the bible belt of the U.S.

I really want feedback from the young men and women here.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 19:46:00 UTC | #61718

sapient's Avatar Comment 17 by sapient

Um, have you read Shermer's letter? He's _against_ the Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens tactic. He wants them to _stop_ being so direct and forthright in their criticism of religion.

On his podcast with us he said he accepts all of their tactics, and recognizes various approaches can be beneficial. I will try to upload all of the content for free soon, and alert you to the info in this thread. After hearing him on our podcast, I think you'll find his letter to be very odd and out of place.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 20:52:00 UTC | #61731

zarcus's Avatar Comment 18 by zarcus

This commentary has reminded me of Richard Dawkins' journal entries during his book tour.

It is important to understand the issue at hand and how Michael Shermer has presented his opinions.

This was the entry that came to mind after reading the above thread entries.

Richard Dawkins Wrote [November 10, 2006];

Pasadena was also a welcome opportunity to catch up with my old friend Michael Shermer who, with his Skeptics, hosted the event. Michael and I have a slight disagreement over the right tactics to employ in dealing with religion. He thinks it is not just tactically unwise but actually irrational to be too confrontational, and it was good to discuss the matter with him. I disagreed, but I am still thinking about it.

It is quite clear that Richard is aware of Michael's views on this matter. Perhaps others may recognize Richard's thoughtful consideration.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 21:12:00 UTC | #61736

roach's Avatar Comment 19 by roach


Thanks for posting RD's entry. I have now recognized Richard's thoughtful consideration. So what? He still disagrees with Shermer on the "right tactics".

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 22:01:00 UTC | #61747

82abhilash's Avatar Comment 20 by 82abhilash

I Just wanted to state that Brian Sapient's Open letter to Michael Shermer in response to his letter... was precise and rational. Very much up to the point. Michael Shermer grew up in a time when it was considered 'the right thing' to be polite to people of faith. He seems yet to fully grasp the fact that it doesnot work, we need to be more proactive and he has told him why.

On another note I would like to add that this event is the best display of the tendency of reasonable people to self-critical, something the religious are not. We must always be suspicious of people who are absolutely certain, but donot feel complled to offer proof.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 22:26:00 UTC | #61753

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 21 by Russell Blackford

I prefer my response on the other thread, of course. ;)

I also prefer "dudette" to "chick", but that's just me.

Actually, this is a great response ... and I'd be prepared to endorse just about everything it says. Good for Brian. I still don't know what Shermer was thinking.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 22:50:00 UTC | #61759

Richard Morgan's Avatar Comment 22 by Richard Morgan

kellyM78 :

Some people are entirely too sensitive.

"entirely too....?"
Oh dear : I'm sure there must be a more perfect way of using the English language. And I'm not suggesting that my perception of the correct use of grammar is the most unique in the world.
"entirely too..."
There are some linguistic memes up with which I will NOT put.

Wed, 22 Aug 2007 23:31:00 UTC | #61765

roach's Avatar Comment 23 by roach

"more pefect"?

"most unique"?

I suppose I could be playing right into the hands of a linguistic joke. It's happened to me in the past.

Thu, 23 Aug 2007 00:03:00 UTC | #61769

Peacebeuponme's Avatar Comment 24 by Peacebeuponme

Sexist or not, I just don't think "totally cool chick" helps in a response to a serious letter. It's not a skateboard forum.

Outside of that I tip my hat to Brian's and the Rational Response squad's welcome efforts.

Thu, 23 Aug 2007 00:56:00 UTC | #61778

Richard Morgan's Avatar Comment 25 by Richard Morgan


"more perfect"?
"most unique"?
I suppose I could be playing right into the hands of a linguistic joke. It's happened to me in the past.

It's just happened to you again, sweety!
And strangely enough, I'm not just playing silly-buggers. Grammar is the protocol of verbal communication, and sloppiness in the use of words can lead to unpleasant problems of communication. This would be highly regrettable in a forum dedicated to truth and reason, since words are all we have for describing truth and demonstrating reason.
Like y'know, yer see what I mean, it's sorta, y'know like, wow and yoopee 24/7 innit?
OK - I'll just fetch my coat.

Thu, 23 Aug 2007 02:32:00 UTC | #61799

pewkatchoo's Avatar Comment 26 by pewkatchoo

For those who are worried about atheist chicks and their relative body temperature, you are in danger of missing the woods because of all those trees!

This is an excellent reply to Mr Shermer's rather poor piece. It also, of course, vindicates my own stance (^8, so I would say that. I think Michael Shermer is mostly OK, but it just sends a message that he, like everyone else, needs to keep on top of their game and not undermine other good work, deliberately or not.

It is very easy to produce stuff when you are having an off-day and I am sure that this piece simply reflects how Mr Shermer was feeling on a particular day. Even I have days where I am more fluffy bunny than my usual velociraptor mode. I prefer me in velociraptor mode though.

Thu, 23 Aug 2007 04:12:00 UTC | #61822

Shalini's Avatar Comment 27 by Shalini

Kelly said:

Just an FYI, I wrote the little blurb about the "totally cool atheist chick" and I am proud to be one myself. Some people are entirely too sensitive.

I am also proud to be one myself and I take no offense at being described as such.


Thu, 23 Aug 2007 07:30:00 UTC | #61868

roach's Avatar Comment 28 by roach

Richard Morgan,

You're creeping me out. Next time break the prozacs in half.

Thu, 23 Aug 2007 10:12:00 UTC | #61897

joaquinvalencia's Avatar Comment 29 by joaquinvalencia

Regarding "tactics", I have heard Dawkins (and possibly Harris) specifically state that he agrees that his tactics are not the only ones that should be used.
I have been watching "God's Warriors" on CNN and I find I can only watch 10-20 minutes at a time without becoming furious. The constant "assertions" of authority over other people in contravention of law makes me so angry that ONLY a little bit of Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens can calm me down.
After watching "Enemies of Reason part II" and listening to Deepak Chopra pull a Ted Haggard in calling scientists "arrogant" because they insist on defining words, I decided to read Chopra's latest: "Life After Death". He goes from broad assertion to broad assertion and the closest he comes to substantiating any of his hypotheses is the occasional anecdote: "I know a guy who sometimes sees the spirits of the dead leave their bodies"...followed by 12 pages of horse$#it about astral planes and vibrations.
I'm glad someone in the public eye is standing up and calling this drivel what it is!

Thu, 23 Aug 2007 10:46:00 UTC | #61902

J.C. Samuelson's Avatar Comment 30 by J.C. Samuelson

Perhaps ironically, I agree with the overall thrust of both articles. It seems to me that some are reading far too much into Shermer's article. The way I read it, he was offering a caution against getting carried away with ourselves. It's all too easy for any human to get caught up in our own "righteousness" (so to speak) and become the very thing we abhor.

Civility doesn't imply political correctness, and it's quite possible to have a "civil smackdown" of religion; one that's not laced with ad hominem and intellectual brute force tactics.

Having said that, after reading Mr. Shermer's article repeatedly to try and see it from another perspective, I do admit one thing: His article was largely pointless with respect to Dawkins, et. al.. Those authors have been civil as I would define it, so I'm not really sure now why Shermer felt compelled to write it in the context of an open letter to them.

Dawkins, Dennett, and Shermer (at least) are all Brights, and as the founders note on their website, it's a constituency of individuals. There is no party line that every person must toe to be a part of the movement.

The day that True Atheism™ is defined by a set of rules to which we all must adhere is the day it ceases to be about freethought and becomes a dogmatic position no better than religion.

Thu, 23 Aug 2007 11:01:00 UTC | #61906