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Two White Guys Walk Into a Bar... - Comments

DeepFritz's Avatar Comment 1 by DeepFritz

Why do we like listening to Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett and Harris£ It could because they are intelligent and that their arguments are rooted in some form of logic...

Yes it is time that we moved beyond the faith v reason argument, reason wins hands down... Let's all have gatherings where we are told interesting stuff like africa and america moving away from each other at the rate that fingernails grow... Oh hang on, not as controversial there...

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:12:00 UTC | #407653

Mango's Avatar Comment 2 by Mango

So uncinematic is this picture—two middle-aged white men talking—that my attention insistently wandered

The speakers' ideas, not their appearances, are the point of the film. Who is this dullard Lisa Miller and why is she allowed to write for Newsweek? God forbid she sit down to watch "My Dinner with Andre."

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:19:00 UTC | #407655

prolibertas's Avatar Comment 3 by prolibertas

Sam Harris' book, the very first of the new atheist wave, WAS about morality and transcendence not requiring the supernatural... the whole point was that since we CAN have these things without the supernatural, religion is without excuse for all the suffering it causes. It's not as though the atheist authors been neglecting the morality/transcendence issue in favour of a fight. Has Lisa Miller even read The End of Faith?

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:22:00 UTC | #407658

Bala's Avatar Comment 4 by Bala

What a biased report!. Its dripping with religious apology in every para. We've had centuries of religion's monopoly on the public arena and after a few years of Reason's reemergence she says "this version of the conversation has gone on too long. "

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:23:00 UTC | #407660

GalacticAtom's Avatar Comment 5 by GalacticAtom

Together they've sold more than 3 million books worldwide, which suggests they may be in this for more than just our edification.

So what were they supposed to do? Tell the publishers to limit the print runs, in case they end up being too successful? It's not as though they're churning out new books every other month!
But this version of the conversation has gone on too long.

Oh come on!! Four or five years is too long? The Christian version of the conversation has been going on and on and on every Sunday morning and some for two thousand years!
We need urgently to talk about these things: ethics, progress, education, science, democracy, tolerance, and justice—and to understand the reasons why religion can (but does not always) hamper their flourishing.

I agree. I would like to see a much higher profile for positive Humanism alongside (not instead of) the anti-religious discussion.

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:25:00 UTC | #407661

j.mills's Avatar Comment 6 by j.mills

There are other voices out there, and other, possibly more productive ways to frame a conversation about the benefits and potential dangers of religious faith.
Benefits and dangers. Not whether it's true. In fairness, the Hitchens/Wilson debate is reported here as being about whether christianity (rather than religion, NB) is "good for the world" - a digression that already gives the theists a leg-up by not focussing on the central point.

Are there gods? Whilst there are still those claiming that there are, without evidence, and influencing the world in consequence, this 'conversation' must definitely continue.

...a book arguing that people can have everything religion offers—community, transcendence, and, above all, morality—without the supernatural. This seems to me self-evident...
...and yet, alas, it's far from self-evident to the majority of the world's population. Thus the 'conversation' that DDHH started (or revived), making many of the points Miller makes, only years earlier...

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:33:00 UTC | #407664

A's Avatar Comment 7 by A

Oh Lisa Miller - you silly old shit (internet LOL!)

Why aim this arrow at Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens ?

If you want to ask "really, what's the point of all this?" - these ongoing (and admittedly repetitive) lectures - then direct your gaze towards the frozen epistemology of your local cleric or supernaturalist, they have quite a considerable march on Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens.

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:33:00 UTC | #407665

sidelined's Avatar Comment 8 by sidelined

It is yet another example of the relentless approach of nightfall for religious superstition and magical thinking in general.
Day after day month after month year after year the pursuit of reason is advancing into all areas of social life and conversation.
There are yet many decades of work to be done but it seems quite certain that in a world of increasing complexity the poor arguements of the past are doomed to fail to sway new generations and none too soon I warrant.

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:34:00 UTC | #407667

Ned Flanders's Avatar Comment 9 by Ned Flanders

A search on Amazon:

"Jesus" - 421,404 Results
"Christianity" - 416,845 Results


"Atheism" - 50,073 Results
"Secularism" - 23,449 Results

Ms Miller, we've barely started the conversation. You'd better get used to it.

Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:40:00 UTC | #407668

TIKI AL's Avatar Comment 10 by TIKI AL

"I don't think it's so bad if religion survives, if it's getting together once a week and singing a song in a beautiful building, to commemorate life's most important moments."

...but it's not JUST that, that's the whole point! It's passing legislation to make us like them. It's going door to door to make us like them. It's taking away the rights of gay people.
It's flying planes into buildings. Etc, etc.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:06:00 UTC | #407673

Agrajag's Avatar Comment 11 by Agrajag

"Together they've sold more than 3 million books worldwide, which suggests they may be in this for more than just our edification."

I wonder if Lisa Miller gets paid for her writing.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:07:00 UTC | #407674

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 12 by NewEnglandBob

What a pointless article.

She gets half of the facts wrong. This is why I stopped reading Newsweek around 35 years ago.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:12:00 UTC | #407675

Quine's Avatar Comment 13 by Quine

Nothing to see here; move along.

P.S. The book, Doubt, by Jennifer Michael Hecht is excellent. I doubt Lisa Miller got past the table of contents.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:14:00 UTC | #407676

Janus's Avatar Comment 14 by Janus


These people will never understand that the issues of religion's usefulness and ethical value simply cannot be discussed without first settling the question of religion's truth. Of course, this question has been settled, but people like Miller refuse to truly acknowledge the falsehood of religion as an obvious and necessary starting point for more complex discussions. Do so and we'll gladly 'move on'. In fact, we already have, but you won't be able to join us until you acknowledge a few basic facts: Faith is self-deception, religious beliefs about reality are false, and religious morality is based on (and dependent upon) these beliefs about reality.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:17:00 UTC | #407677

JackR's Avatar Comment 15 by JackR

Why does this person feel the need to make an issue of the fact that Hitchens and Wilson are white when their colour has nothing to do with what they're saying?

Always interesting when people do that, isn't it?

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:26:00 UTC | #407678

rhis's Avatar Comment 16 by rhis

If the media wants RD to get less coverage, they're free to cover him less.

If they think other people should get more coverage, they're free to cover other people more.

This seems like yet another attempt at saying, "Yes, you have good arguments. Now kindly stop telling people about them."

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:36:00 UTC | #407680

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 17 by Cartomancer

Would it help if the film was done by Whoopi Goldberg and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the middle of Times Square on trampolines?

This is an IMPORTANT conversation. And the way the Four Horsemen argue it is bang on the money. It will not stop, indeed it must not stop, until there is close to universal recognition of the falsehood of religious claims, and religions are afforded no more respect or influence than any other purely arbitrary cultural forms.

Just because some Newsweek journalist wants to pretend that there is more to the issue than that, it doesn't make a difference. There isn't. It's really very simple. Religion must get no free passes. That's it.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:39:00 UTC | #407681

root2squared's Avatar Comment 18 by root2squared

Dear Ms. Miller

You are in the wrong bar. Chippendale's is the one next door.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 01:11:00 UTC | #407688

tadgh's Avatar Comment 19 by tadgh

I tried attending Mass as a child, but all that standing around talking caused may attention to wander. I mean, really, what's the point?

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 01:56:00 UTC | #407690

SPS's Avatar Comment 20 by SPS

Let's move beyond faith versus reason.

Nah.Let's move beyond faith.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 02:21:00 UTC | #407692

Liveliest Crib's Avatar Comment 21 by Liveliest Crib

Lisa Miller:

All the while Hitchens and Wilson went on and on and on and on, always well mannered, never conceding a thing. [ ] There are other voices out there . . . . Hecht is as much of an atheist as Hitchens and Harris, she says, but she approaches questions about the usefulness of religion with an appreciation of what she calls "paradox and mystery and cosmic crunch." . . . . "I don't think it's so bad if religion survives, if it's getting together once a week and singing a song in a beautiful building, to commemorate life's most important moments." [ ] We need urgently to talk about these things: ethics, progress, education, science, democracy, tolerance, and justice—and to understand the reasons why religion can (but does not always) hamper their flourishing.
Oh, there is no better example of the modern American media's attitude than this! First, she clearly hasn't read any of the books by Harris, Dawkins et. al., since they all discuss what she purports to want to discuss. She probably does not even know that Harris avoids the word "atheist." He advocates avoiding the word. He advocates the very "rational spirituality" she says is lacking in the debate. But like a typical pseudo-journalist, Ms. Miller hasn't bothered to understand what she is critiquing.

Moreover, and more importantly, she's simply bored with the back-and-forth. All the people who seek actually to learn something from it can go to hell as far as she's concerned. Because that's what the modern media is all about: putting up two people with opposing viewpoints to yell at one another until the topic gets boring, whereupon it just moves on to the next match. Nothing is really investigated and nothing is really learned. Hell, they'll even manufacture issues where none exist, just to have the next match televised.

As for the rest of her drivel . . .
Together they've sold more than 3 million books worldwide, which suggests they may be in this for more than just our edification.
Seriously? An ad hominem motive attack? Yeah, their books make money. Let me guess, had the books not made so much money, that would likewise have been a reason to disregard them, right?
The atheists are, more than other interest groups, joyous cannibals and regurgitators of their own ideas.
Repeatedly outlining one's own position is what one does on a speaking tour. As for the cannibal part, may I just say, WTF?
Let's move beyond faith versus reason.
i.e. We're losing. Let's move the goal posts.
The whole thing has started to feel like being trapped in a seminar room with the three smartest guys in school, each showing off to impress … whom? Let's move on.
i.e. We're losing. Let's move the goal posts.
They thrive online, where like adolescent boys they rehash their rhetorical victories to their own delight.
Since we're just tossing around insults, Ms. Miller, why don't you go blow a rodeo clown?

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 02:30:00 UTC | #407693

Danish's Avatar Comment 22 by Danish

So the fact that these books have sold very well, suddenly says something about the motives of the authors? How dishonest and biased is a NEWSWEEK "journalist" allowed to be these days?

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 03:14:00 UTC | #407695

hoops mccann's Avatar Comment 23 by hoops mccann

What a stupid article. I can understand wanting to bring attention to writers other than Hitchens, Sam Harris,, but does she have to slam these individuals so gratuitously? And her to appeal to (outdated) identity politics is a desperate attempt to give cheap populist legitimacy to her tantrum. Hasn't she heard that political correctness is passe? Damn, now I want to see the movie more than ever.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 03:15:00 UTC | #407696

DalaiDrivel's Avatar Comment 24 by DalaiDrivel

I agree with Lisa Miller that debate for the sake of debate is tiresome, if that's what she means. Maybe "Collision" really is just entertainment and not educational. I don't know.

It could be both. I'd rather not it be just the former.

If we were playing for no more than that, than staging debates where no one, including the debaters themselves, are going to change our minds then I think such sparring matches would indeed be useless.

I think Lisa assumes that people's minds do not change, and that reason vs. faith is equivalent to blue vs. green.

But we do change people's minds. A billion people (if the subtitle of "Good without God"- I think I might buy that book- is accurate) is a big interest group that can influence policy and confront others about their own views using reason.

The game then, is much larger than mere debate for debate's sake.

As an aside, I don't much like arguing with anyone anymore, in the emotional, "blue vs. green" sense. I look for opportunities for reason to pull the weight of argument for me and force agreement from the other side. If that can't be done, the other person is not worth arguing with, or the conversation is of a trivial nature.

If I am drawn into a debate with someone, it's easier to have them to submit to reason, logic and evidence, than to me. As Sam Harris observed, no one wants to be be an enemy of reason.

9. Comment #425923 by Ned Flanders on October 23, 2009 at 12:40 am
avatarA search on Amazon:

"Jesus" - 421,404 Results
"Christianity" - 416,845 Results


"Atheism" - 50,073 Results
"Secularism" - 23,449 Results

Ms Miller, we've barely started the conversation. You'd better get used to it.

Good illustration. Yes, she should!

20. Comment #425947 by SPS on October 23, 2009 at 3:21 am

Let's move beyond faith versus reason.

Nah.Let's move beyond faith.

Let's! Reason needs a fresh challenger- if there is one.

(*edited for clarity)

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 03:57:00 UTC | #407700

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 26 by Jos Gibbons

(1) If you find debate boring, stuff you. (2) Popularity that gets you money is not evidence of seeking money. In any case, CH/RD were very well established writers already anyway. (3) It’s 16 per cent – keep up to date. (4) The requirement that claims be based on evidence isn’t a dictation by a triumvirate – it’s the only game in town. (5) The cannibalism argument is ludicrous. If anyone recycles arguments, it’s those with a dogma. At least individual atheists are creative. That’s why no two new atheism books are very similar. (6) This isn’t about impressing people. The reason you feel that way is the same you couldn’t start “nerds” at school – because you’re so thick you find debate boring as per (1). (7) “Move on” how? We either discuss controversial topics with those with whom we disagree, or we don’t. We’ve tried both options now. Not doing it sucked. (8) Belief is about what is true. Science is about knowing what is true as effectively, and with as much honesty regarding what you do NOT know, as possible. Poetry is not about what is true or false, and is notable for not needing a story, which even by literary standards is pretty impressive in terms of not making claims. Therefore, poetry is not suitable for beliefs. (9) Whether or not it’s easy to be clearer about what you think by stating propositions rather than using labels for people who think those things, all that has nothing to do with poetry. Poetry, if anything, would have quite the opposite effect. Hecht’s just proving (9) for me. (10) It’s obvious Hecht is dishonestly extending the definition of religion to mean the fun stuff theists do rather than the beliefs they have. The fun stuff is justified two ways – by being necessary to have a good time after death (which relies on dogma), and to try to enrich life (which doesn’t). It’s obvious that “religion” isn’t about the second one, since religious people always stick to one religion and no others, whereas the second reason to do fun stuff would rationalise using as effective a variety of techniques as possible – a bit of Mass here, a bit of meditation there, all kinds of art/music ... You can have spiritual experiences listening to hymn-like music, be it about God or Pokémon. (Seriously, I’ve done it.) (11) Religion, *honestly* defined, does always hamper good stuff. (12) Okay, which parts of this were Cornblatt’s fault?

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 04:47:00 UTC | #407708

mirandaceleste's Avatar Comment 25 by mirandaceleste

This is a truly awful article in every possible way. Vile, ignorant, mean-spirited, and very, very poorly argued.

What's especially galling is her claim that by propagating the (very true and very much-needed) message of "there's no reason to hold belief in something for which there is no evidence" those Mean Militant Atheists of Doom are somehow engaging in self-serving "framing":

We have allowed three people to frame it; its terms—submitting God to rational proofs and watching God fail—are theirs

Um, no, there is no other way to "frame" it. There's no evidence of the existence of anything supernatural, and thus no justification whatsoever for any of the epistemological claims made by religions.

But, wait! I had forgotten that the author was "reframing" the debate here. Silly me! Why bother worrying about all of that reason and evidence nonsense when you can instead just accept the truth of a claim because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. How nice that she found a friendly "non-militant" atheist whom she could quote in support of that point:

"I don't think it's so bad if religion survives, if it's getting together once a week and singing a song in a beautiful building, to commemorate life's most important moments."

Yes, right. Religion is so wonderful and happy! Pretty songs in pretty buildings! It's completely harmless! It never tries to make any claims to truth and it never tries to force those claims on anyone else! Of course not! And it makes people feel warm fuzzy feelings! Therefore, it makes complete sense to believe in it and don't let those Mean Militant Atheists of Doom "frame" the debate into one about evidence, rationality, and the validity of epistemological claims.

No, instead, just bask in the songs and the stained-glass windows and enjoy the delightful harmlessness of religion. Who cares about whether it's true or not? Clearly not Lisa Miller, she of the Karen Armstrong School of "God is art and poetry and dance! And it is impossible to know or to describe his ineffable stardusted sparkly poetic ethereal transcendental spiritual sparkly pretty poetic musical ambrosial wonderfulness. Therefore, God exists!"


Goddamn, this nonsense is frustrating.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 04:47:00 UTC | #407707

debaser71's Avatar Comment 27 by debaser71

It's the same Lisa Miller from,4402,Fact-Impact,-Lisa-Miller---Newsweek the article about Sam Harris's new research paper. She sucked then. She sucks now. Newsweek sucks.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 05:12:00 UTC | #407709

epeeist's Avatar Comment 28 by epeeist

Comment #425929 by steveroot:

I wonder if Lisa Miller gets paid for her writing.
Of course she does, just not as much as RD, Hitch or Harris -

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 05:39:00 UTC | #407713

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 29 by Carl Sai Baba

This old hag isn't really saying much. Why doesn't she add something to the issue instead of just bitching?

She accuses Hitchens, et al, of being intellectual "cannibals and regurgitators", and yet the only real content in her article is a quote from someone else!

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 06:12:00 UTC | #407716

TheVirginian's Avatar Comment 30 by TheVirginian

Nontheists are not keeping the conversation going. It's Christians who keep yammering about how immoral we are because we don't believe in the Christian voodoo spirit. If Christians would acknowledge the obvious fact that you can be good without a voodoo spirit, take their obscene slogan off U.S. money, stop putting voodoo slogans on public buildings, and stop holding their witchdoctor rituals in government meetings, then nontheists could ignore all the silly voodoo cults out there.

Except, of course, when a voodoo practitioner lets his/her child die of a treatable or preventable disease because a witchdoctor persuades the parents that a voodoo incantation, rather than science-based medicine, is all the cure that they need. Or a witchdoctor persuades people that some amongst them are "witches" who need to be killed, like, say, children in Nigeria murdered by their church-bewitched parents.

I could go on, but my point is clear. As long as theists insist on trashing nontheists just for not believing in (name a voodoo spirit) while promoting superstitions that lead to the deaths of children, rapes of children, spread of HIV, denial of basic rights to women, etc., then we will keep on blasting away at these murderous, bigoted, insane collections of myths and lies. If Lisa Miller wants to write something intelligent, explain why we atheists persist in our "militancy." It's because Christians give us no choice.

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 06:56:00 UTC | #407721