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Atheists should be allowed to argue their case - Comments

Vaal's Avatar Comment 1 by Vaal

So, although religious believers have persecuted and murdered atheists, and anyone else who disagreed with them; while religion has happily promoted genocide, slavery, the oppression of women and other races, sexual repression and the use of force to ensure conformity (this being only what the Bible flat-out recommends); and while religious authorities have fought tooth and nail the liberalization of our ethics and politics, to say nothing of steadfastly opposing progress in scientific knowledge and technical ability, what is really counter-productive is that atheists have the temerity to think their tendency to base belief in reason means they might have something to say about the truth of matters, and are downright arrogant in expecting those who disagree with their conclusions to do so on reasoned grounds

What a great quote, and encapsulates religions hostility to opposition in one paragraph. The fact that we are fighting tooth and claw with the outright lies, pseudo-science and propaganda of ID in the 21st Century is testament to the indomitable opposition of religion to knowledge. The history of science is strewn by incessant bitter dog-fights with the enemies of reason. How much good science has been wasted, when scientists from Galileo onwards have spent much of their time having to argue with cretinous ignorant theists, desperate not to lose authority.

All the same, I can only wonder what use compromise with religion could be to atheists, apart from deflecting a small amount of the hostility directed their way

What compromise can we have with religion? I wouldn't even be on this board at all if religion kept their delusions to themselves, yet instead try to impose their arrogant anachronistic nonsense on the rest of us. Look at the hissy-fit they have when you even put an advert on a bus suggesting that their deity is a figment of their imaginations.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 07:41:00 UTC | #342882

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 2 by Mark Jones

Comment #359145 by Vaal

Yes, I was going to highlight that paragraph - it is a good quote.


It seems quite clear that in the eyes of many, including some atheists, the only acceptable way to be an atheist is to shut up about it and not disturb believers’ complacent presumption of their unassailable metaphysical and moral position, their conviction that anyone who could oppose governance by their religious principles must surely be beyond the pale, if not actually evil.

I think that this *is* the position the atheist has found himself in the past, er, thousands of years, and Baggini demonstrates the point with his atheist-but article. But I feel that there is a gradual change of culture, and it is becoming *more* acceptable to voice criticism of faith, even if the vocal non-believer still automatically gets cast as 'strident'. But the more the atheist message is broadcast the more it will be accepted as 'respectable' and within the Pale, and for this we have a lot to thank anyone writing and speaking from an atheist standpoint.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 07:55:00 UTC | #342890

InfuriatedSciTeacher's Avatar Comment 3 by InfuriatedSciTeacher

Great critique... perhaps moreso in my eyes because he attacks portions of the original we didn't bother to address here.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 07:59:00 UTC | #342894

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 4 by SaganTheCat

great response to Baggini

well done!

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 08:07:00 UTC | #342898

AllanW's Avatar Comment 5 by AllanW

Really impressive writing; understandable points, clear structure, fine flowing argument and hits each point squarely. In fact, a complete contrast to the article he is so surely eviscerating. Bravo, Mr Williamson.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 08:12:00 UTC | #342902

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 6 by Chrysippus_Maximus

Word.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 08:18:00 UTC | #342907

Rosser's Avatar Comment 7 by Rosser

To Mark Jones

"I feel that there is a gradual change of culture, and it is becoming *more* acceptable to voice criticism of faith, even if the vocal non-believer still automatically gets cast as 'strident'"

I could not agree more, but I personally find that it is when an atheist defends his/her own ideas rather than criticising others' beliefs that we become labelled as strident. I'm having repeat incidences (in my own college no less) where if I stand up and defend my ideas I get given the same patronizing treatment as a fussy child.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 08:29:00 UTC | #342919

Gregg Townsend's Avatar Comment 8 by Gregg Townsend

This is a thorny political problem for greater minds than mine. But it seems to me that what is moderate about a believer is rarely their religion. Rather, their moderateness is so to the extent of their secularity, to the extent that they are not religious.
Well said.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 08:37:00 UTC | #342930

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 9 by Ignorant Amos

Great counter article and Vaal has give the only response I could make, but far better, thanks

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 08:51:00 UTC | #342938

beanson's Avatar Comment 10 by beanson

Hang on- I said all this in response to Baginini's article 2 weeks ago

=)

...lucid ratiocination- bravo

I have no idea as to how one makes rapprochment with religious moderates, nor even what value doing so might have for atheists.

mucho agreement on this point

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 09:03:00 UTC | #342947

prettygoodformonkeys's Avatar Comment 11 by prettygoodformonkeys

Very good points.

However...

1) Why not read the books, if you are writing an article on them? "He didn't read them and neither did I, but..." - everything he says would be even stronger if he had read the books and said so. Hell, I've read them all, and most people here have. Be nice to always be able to shove that in the face of a believer who hasn't.

2) I love irony & sarcasm, and it is well used here. Unfortunately, the better it is, the subtler it is, and hence becomes much less understandable to the religulous. But then, so is reason, and I don't expect them to get any of that either, so I don't have much of a quibble.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 09:05:00 UTC | #342948

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 12 by aquilacane

I don't have to read beyond the headline "Atheists should be allowed to argue their case." to come to my first opinion on this article. Why the hell does anyone think atheists need permission to argue anything? Who exactly is making this "allowance"? That's like saying, "despite it being almost dinner time, the children should be allowed to have a cookie." As if arguing our case is a well known faux-pas, but they are willing to make an exception this time.

Thank you, but I don't need permission to argue my case. Were it ever deemed I did, it would not matter, I would still argue my case. Were I forced to be quiet, I would argue my case. Were I caged, I would argue my case. If you kill me, well then, I couldn't argue my case. In other words, your allowance is hollow. If you want me to be quiet, kill me, otherwise your opinion is irrelevant, I am going to argue my case, allowed or not allowed.

Everyone should be allowed to argue their case because if you don't allow civil liberty you'll get civil war!

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 09:37:00 UTC | #342964

GOD?'s Avatar Comment 13 by GOD?

A well said article, with some new angles not brought up when the topic was posted here a some weeks ago
Also agree no 'allowance' needed

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 10:03:00 UTC | #342981

R. A. B.'s Avatar Comment 14 by R. A. B.

As near as I can tell, believers all-but-explicitly regard their faith as exempting them of the burden of providing evidence, if not in the first instance, then at least in the last. Calling this a cop-out may not be welcome, but is it worse than ‘calling a spade a spade’?


There is something to be said for being honest and direct, even when it upsets people.

So, although religious believers have persecuted and murdered atheists, and anyone else who disagreed with them; while religion has happily promoted genocide, slavery, the oppression of women and other races, sexual repression and the use of force to ensure conformity (this being only what the Bible flat-out recommends); and while religious authorities have fought tooth and nail the liberalization of our ethics and politics, to say nothing of steadfastly opposing progress in scientific knowledge and technical ability, what is really counter-productive is that atheists have the temerity to think their tendency to base belief in reason means they might have something to say about the truth of matters, and are downright arrogant in expecting those who disagree with their conclusions to do so on reasoned grounds.


I loved this part. It's wonderfully stated and makes the point really well. Why is it that religion gets away with horrible things, but everyone else has to be nice? How is it counter-productive to point out the bad things that are happening and say, "That's wrong"?

But it seems to me that what is moderate about a believer is rarely their religion. Rather, their moderateness is so to the extent of their secularity, to the extent that they are not religious.


I never did learn many morals from going to religious school. I learned right and wrong mostly from looking around myself and from learning history in school. All the people who stood up for equal rights and for a secular government were the people I learned from. I didn't learn much from Adam or Moses or Mohammad.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 10:52:00 UTC | #343008

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 15 by NewEnglandBob

Fantastic article by George Williamson. Everything AllanW said in #5 and more.

This can be used as talking points of atheism vs religion beyond its critique of Baggini’s poorly written piece. One could quote nearly every paragraph for his salient points.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 12:06:00 UTC | #343036

mcstu's Avatar Comment 16 by mcstu

I remember seeing the original article and started reading it, the moment I read that he hadn't bothered to reading any of the books of the people he was critising I stopped reading. Reminded me of the MPs who critised the brass eye TV show without having seen it or knowing what the show contained but just commented on the alarmist exaggerations by papers looking to stir it up to sell papers. I figured Julian's opinion would have been as accurate and as well informed as those politicians.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 12:22:00 UTC | #343043

Eshto's Avatar Comment 17 by Eshto

I think this deserves the slow clap. Who's with me?

Clap.

...

Clap.

...

Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap-clapclapclapclapclap.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 12:33:00 UTC | #343048

MelM's Avatar Comment 18 by MelM

Important and well said!

But the fact that intelligence is not infallible does not justify any general skepticism about reason. In any case, what would it mean to ‘be more skeptical’ about reason? ‘Being skeptical’ itself only means taking care to scrutinize the justification for a claim before believing it. That's not any different from the appropriate use of reason in the first place.


I quote from Timothy Keller's book "The Reason For God":
...skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts...are really a set of alternative beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A except from ... faith in Belief B.
...
Every doubt, therefore is based on a leap of faith.
Conclusion: our beliefs are irrational and we should shut up.
This stuff is toxic.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 13:00:00 UTC | #343059

AmericanGodless's Avatar Comment 19 by AmericanGodless

I think that someone accurately and concisely summed up the philosophical position that Mr Williamson is confronting here, as the argument from SHUT UP!

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 13:56:00 UTC | #343077

PaulJ's Avatar Comment 20 by PaulJ

The problem with the original (Baggini) article is that it erroneously places atheism and theism as equal and opposite to each other. The argument goes like this: those abrasive new atheists can hardly complain about the proliferation of religious points of view when their own statements of unbelief are so strident.

But though atheism is opposite to theism, the two are not equal. Atheism does not set up a whole panoply of beliefs in opposition to theism, it simply doesn't accept theistic beliefs. "Lack of belief in a god or gods" is as far as atheism goes*. Theism, on the other hand, is replete with myriad fantastical nonsense that appears to have no end, and when any particular variety of this nonsense is promulgated within atheism's earshot, theists object when reasonably asked to give a rational basis for their beliefs.

*That's my preferred definition of atheism. It's simple, concise and easy to understand. My worldview, though derived from atheism, is more complex than this.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 14:14:00 UTC | #343080

njwong's Avatar Comment 21 by njwong

Agree.

Off-topic: Why does Williamson refers to Baggini throughout as "Mr Baggini", while Richard is referred throughout simply as "Dawkins"? Why the difference? To be consistent, shouldn't he have also written "Mr Dawkins" throughout?

For some reason, I kept thinking of "Mr Bilbo Baggins" everytime I saw the words "Mr Baggini" in the article :-)

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 14:38:00 UTC | #343085

Kiwi's Avatar Comment 22 by Kiwi

‘Atheism’ is a negative term (constructed by negation of ‘theism’), and, bound in opposition to ‘theism’


No, the prefix "a" in this case means absence of, as in amoral, without morals, not immoral, bad morals.

The absence of a belief in something does not imply a negation or opposition of that thing. Try it with something you do not have a belief in, or maybe even knowledge of, such as .

It doesn't make a comment on positive or negative as a term, simply on the non existence of god(s). A non existence is not a negative. Any more than the absence of numbers is a negative number.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 15:06:00 UTC | #343097

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 23 by Russell Blackford

My feeling about all this is that it's a storm in a tea-cup. Julian probably didn't express himself as well as he'd have liked in his original article, which he had to cut back for space considerations, and which had a misleading title slapped on it by the magazine. Maybe he'll think further and find an opportunity to say something about the "New Atheism" that does more justice to his position.

I can assure you, though, that he's not trying to shut anyone up or saying that atheists shouldn't present their case to the public or that he's going to stop doing so himself.

As for working with moderate theists, there are many circumstances in which that's useful. Some of those moderate theists are just as keen as we are to support secularism, the teaching of good science in schools, etc. Richard works with some of these people himself. The idea that it's worthwhile working with moderate theists on a range of issues shouldn't be too controversial. In that context, the last three paras of Williamson's article seem a bit odd.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 15:27:00 UTC | #343106

HenryFord's Avatar Comment 24 by HenryFord

21. Comment #359360 by njwong
"Off-topic: Why does Williamson refers to Baggini throughout as "Mr Baggini", while Richard is referred throughout simply as "Dawkins"? Why the difference? To be consistent, shouldn't he have also written "Mr Dawkins" throughout?"

It's the same reason you call someone you find irritating "Sir" whilst calling you best mate by their nickname. Dawkins gets a Dawkins 'cause everyone knows Dawkins, but Baggini gets a Mr 'cause he's a git. It's false respect, not too disimilar to those daft theist letters that go:
Dear Sir/Madam, I hope you burn in hell forever, yours respectfully. (but without the burning in hell bit)

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 15:37:00 UTC | #343107

Goldy's Avatar Comment 25 by Goldy

Not sure if he is an atheist, but he does argue a good case ...

Breeding disaster

At last, blame for the destruction of the planet is being firmly placed on the fecund heterosexuals of the world (Science notebook, 10 March, Big Question, 20 March). Why then does the Christian church continue to spew out homophobic rhetoric£ We do not expect a change of tune from the Vatican, but the silence from Canterbury and York is deafening. The most homophobic prelates of the Anglican church are the bishops of West Africa and the West Indies, whose low-lying dioceses will be the first to be submerged under the rising sea.

Hugh Jenkins

London WC1


In http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/letters/letters-wealth-provokes-anger-1661051.html

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 16:04:00 UTC | #343114

rivetheretic's Avatar Comment 26 by rivetheretic

Maybe the new atheists are arrogant, but so far, no one has been burned at the stake for apostasy from reason.


Has anybody else struggled with how to come to terms with the French Revolution? The Terror seems to have, at least partially, been carried out in the name of Enlightenment ideas and rationality.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 16:36:00 UTC | #343120

Goldy's Avatar Comment 27 by Goldy

Comment #359397 by rivetheretic
Same as any other far reaching revolution. You're trying to put the French Revolution into our times - the zeitgeist has changed.

Who is to say what they did was not rational according to the thinking of the time (though, methinks it wasn't as it was against God).

I did once think about it - but then I thought of the eugenics movements in Europe and came to the conclusion they mistook Darwin's theories with animal breeding....

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 16:43:00 UTC | #343121

MelM's Avatar Comment 28 by MelM

19. Comment #359352 by AmericanGodless

I think that someone accurately and concisely summed up the philosophical position that Mr Williamson is confronting here, as the argument from SHUT UP!
I think it's more like: "Doubt your own rationality, then SHUT UP!". Are the holy men going to shut up too? Not a chance.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 17:20:00 UTC | #343124

Broshiesq's Avatar Comment 29 by Broshiesq

Comment 24. By HenryFord:

21. Comment #359360 by njwong
"Off-topic: Why does Williamson refers to Baggini throughout as "Mr Baggini", while Richard is referred throughout simply as "Dawkins"? Why the difference? To be consistent, shouldn't he have also written "Mr Dawkins" throughout?"

It's the same reason you call someone you find irritating "Sir" whilst calling you best mate by their nickname. Dawkins gets a Dawkins 'cause everyone knows Dawkins, but Baggini gets a Mr 'cause he's a git. It's false respect, not too disimilar to those daft theist letters that go:
Dear Sir/Madam, I hope you burn in hell forever, yours respectfully. (but without the burning in hell bit)

Yes, false respect. Overt subtle derision, for anyone in the know. Just as Hitchens calls the pope Mr. Ratzinger. Or when,during an interview or debate, in response to something completely inane, he interrupts: "Excuse me, Sir..." I find it most times too difficult to maintain the patience necessary for exercising this form of subtle derision. More often than not, I'm like Kevin Kline, when he's supposed to apologize to John Cleese in A fish Called Wanda: "I'm ssssss I'm sorrrr Ahhhh fuck youuuu!"

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 17:37:00 UTC | #343127

Diacanu's Avatar Comment 30 by Diacanu

I prefer Burgermeister Ratzinger.

Has a smooth flow to it.

Especially done in a sloppy Schwarzenegger impression.

Thu, 02 Apr 2009 17:41:00 UTC | #343128