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Behold, the latest New Atheist venture: A+


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#1 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 06:19 AM

One of the criticisms of New Atheism is that there is nothing particularly new about it, given that concepts bandied by them date back centuries. Now, the Gnu's have come up with a new idea:

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Yep. Atheism plus. Jen McCreight, one of the bloggers at Freethought Blogs is responsible for this idea, and summarises the reason for the latest phase in the atheist revolution:

It’s perfect. It illustrates that we’re more than just “dictionary” atheists who happen to not believe in gods and that we want to be a positive force in the world. Commenter dcortesi suggested how this gets atheists out of the “negativity trap” that we so often find ourselves in, when people ask stuff like “What do you atheists do, besides sitting around not-praying, eh?”

We are…
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

It speaks to those of us who see atheism as more than just a lack of belief in god.

Well, I'll grant that it reflects a desire to do something, rather than tackle the low hanging fundamentalist fruit, and pretend that they've demolished Christianity by taking out the independent fundamentalist baptists. Trouble is, Atheism Plus, just like New Atheism itself, isn't new. It already exists under the guise of secular humanism. Massimo Pigliucci, a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York notes:

Historically, what Jen, Greta and others are looking for already exists. It’s called secular humanism, and it has had (and continues to have) a huge impact on precisely the issues listed above. How huge? Well, just to cite an example, the UN Declaration of Human Rights is a quintessential humanist document, which has influenced international relations since its adoption in 1948.

Secular humanism has a long history, depending on how exactly one defines the concept, and it includes a series of Humanist Manifestos (the first one of which was published in 1933, the last one in 2003) that address precisely the sort of issues that A+ is concerned with, and then some.

So, my first point isn’t a critique of A+ as much as a reminder that, well, some of us (secular humanists) have been doing that sort of thing for almost a century (not I personally, I’m not that old...).

It's this ignorance of its own history which is one of New Atheism's more amusing features, if only because it shows that they're quite likely to be uninformed of the theistic responses to those atheistic arguments which date back centuries. Pigliucci continues by expressing his belief that A+ is unlikely to get off the ground as it is not a philosophy:

When atheists are concerned that their position is perceived as being only negative, without any positive message, they shouldn’t really be worried, but should rather bite the bullet: a-theism simply means that one lacks a belief in god(s), and for excellent reasons. It is akin to a-unicornism, the lack of a belief in unicorns. That lack of belief doesn’t come with any positive position because none is logically connected to it.

It is a similar situation for skeptics, who also often suffer being labeled as nay sayers without a positive message. If you are skeptical of, say, homeopathy, you don’t need a positive message qua skeptic: your job is to debunk the irrational and explain why that particular notion doesn’t make any sense (and may cost money and lives). End of story.

Now, skepticism does have a positive counterpart: it’s called science. If you wish to redirect former believers in homeopathy onto a better path to health you send them to a medical doctor who uses science-based medicine. This, however, does not require the skeptic herself to be a medical doctor (nor to play one on tv), it just requires that the skeptic be aware of the relevant literature and community of expertise.

Pigliucci nails it when he points out that there is no equivalent positive counterpart to atheism, as evidenced by the heterogeneous philosophical positions maintained by atheists:

Those like Jen and myself adopt a progressive liberal approach to social issues, i.e. we become secular humanists. But other atheists choose libertarianism, or Objectivism (yeah, don’t ask me why). And let’s not forget that — as much as we usually don’t acknowledge it — there are likely plenty of straightforward conservatives who are also atheists. This variety shouldn’t at all be puzzling, because atheism is not a social or political philosophy in its own right, it is a simple metaphysical or epistemic statement about the non existence of a particular type of postulated entity.

That of course raises the question as to why a progressive liberal approach to social issues is right, as opposed to libertarianism, conservatism or Objectivism (Pigliucci's scorn is well-placed.) Christians would argue that much of the liberal approach to social issues derives from a religious base, with secular humanism being dependent on Christianity for those values. Irrespective of whether Christians are ultimately right to make that assertion, it's not unreasonable for them to make it.

The best part of Pigliucci's post comes at the end, when he comments on Richard Carrier's endorsement of A+, which was - robust - to say the least:

Here are some excerpts from Carrier’s post about A+, just to give you a taste:

“There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all.”

“Anyone who makes a fallacious argument and, when shown that they have, does not admit it, is not one of us, and is to be marginalized and kicked out, as not part of our movement, and not anyone we any longer wish to deal with.”

“I do not think it is in our interests any longer to cooperate in silence with irrational people, when it is irrationality that is the fundamental root cause of all human evil. Anyone who disagrees with that is simply not someone we can work with.”

“We cannot hold our tongue and not continue to denounce their irrationality in any other sphere, because to do so would be to become a traitor to our own values.”

“This does not mean we can’t be angry or mean or harsh, when it is for the overall good (as when we mock or vilify the town neonazi); ridiculing the ridiculous is often in fact a moral obligation, and insults are appropriate when they are genuinely appropriate.”

“And if you are complicit in that, or don’t even see what’s wrong with it, or worse, plan to engage in Christian-style apologetics for it, defending it with the same bulls__t fallacies and tactics the Christians use to defend their own immorality or that of their fictional god, then I don’t want anything to do with you. You are despicable. You are an awful person. You disgust me. You are not my people.”

I suspect his computer screen needed to be vigorously scrubbed after that tirade. Turns out the most enthusiastic supporter of A+ didn't impress its originator:

And here is the kicker: shortly after Carrier posted his rant, Jen McCreight herself tweeted the following:

“Finally had time 2 read Richard Carrier's #atheismplus piece. His language was unnecessarily harsh, divisive & ableist. Doesn't represent A+.”

I guess the new movement has already excommunicated someone, and that happens to be its most viciously vocal supporter so far.

:coffee:

Edited by Ken Gilmore, 30 August 2012 - 06:23 AM.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 06:32 AM

So funny! Deserves to be a blog post on Berea.

#3 Evangelion

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 06:56 AM

What an absolute cracker of an article.

Poor Carrier. So desperate to be part of the 'in crowd', he'll jump on the next bandwagon that rolls into town without even checking its merits. That little tirade (and its humiliating consequences) is a testament to the superficiality of his thinking.

Look before you leap, Richard. Look before you leap...

Some great comments below the article:

Mr. Carrier seems a very excitable fellow. It unfortunate someone who apparently knows so much about the intellectual history of ancient Greece and Rome has not benefited from the wisdom of the Stoics.


:rotfl:
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#4 Evangelion

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 07:03 AM

Carrier has already beaten a hasty retreat! Here's Pigliucci replying to a commenter:

[quotename="Massimo Pigliucci"]> Carrier rescinded his rhetoric in a later post. <

Too late. As I said, Richard has a habit of doing that sort of thing and I'm a bit tired of it.[/quote]
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#5 Fortigurn

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 07:13 AM

[quote name='Evangelion' timestamp='1346331796' post='442711']
Carrier has already beaten a hasty retreat! Here's Pigliucci replying to a commenter:

[quotename="Massimo Pigliucci"]> Carrier rescinded his rhetoric in a later post. <

Too late. As I said, Richard has a habit of doing that sort of thing and I'm a bit tired of it.[/quote]
[/quote]

Too good! So typical of Carrier of course.

#6 Evangelion

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 07:53 AM

Ronald A. Lindsay made an excellent contribution on his blog, and like Pigliucci, he mentioned Carrier:

JM made it clear that she believes the secular/skeptical movement needs to be more diverse. I doubt whether any leader of the various secular/skeptical organizations would disagree. We need more women and minorities. One, we want more people, period; two, we want to ensure our groups are representative and that we get the benefit of the perspective of a wide range of people.

However, whether intentionally or not, the way JM first expressed the need for diversity came across more as a lament about the abundant presence of old white men in the movement. This was exacerbated by a tweet she sent in which she apparently said, “Dear smug humanists: My critique of the atheist movement included you. Your groups are infamous for being mostly old, white, men.”

Hmm. First, I don’t think that’s really an accurate description of humanist organizations currently. CFI has 200+ campus groups affiliated with it. Lot of women, and a lot of people under 30.

Second, leave the white male issue aside for the moment. Is being old an intrinsically bad thing? This would be a strange position to take, especially as combatting “ageism” is one of the explicit goals of A+.

Aggravating matters was a blog post by Richard Carrier that appeared two days after JM’s initial post which was—how to put this— a wee bit strident. References to enemies, kicking people to the sewers, and a closing call for “everyone now to pick sides … are you with us, or with them; are you now a part of the Atheism+ movement … or are you going to stick with Atheism Less and its sexism and cruelty and irrationality.”

Effectively, Carrier’s message was: Decide Now! Decide whether you are with us or against us! 48 hours after the first tentative unveiling of A+ and before discussion of any sort of detailed program or plan of action. Decide Now—or be kicked to the sewer like the scum-sucking enemy of the people that you are.

Whew. I think Carrier may have had one too many 5-hour energy drinks that day.

So the first impression of some was that this was going to be a group more focused on exclusion than inclusion. Understandably, there has been some pushback.


:D
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#7 Fortigurn

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Posted 30 August 2012 - 07:54 AM

We should be paying for this kind of entertainment! :D

#8 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 05:24 AM

Pigliucci has another cracking post pointing out the lack of reason within the "Community of Reason":

The problem is that my experience (anecdotal, yes, but ample and varied) has been that there is quite a bit of un-reason within the CoR. This takes the form of more or less widespread belief in scientific, philosophical and political notions that don’t make much more sense than the sort of notions we — within the community — are happy to harshly criticize in others. Yes, you might object, but that’s just part of being human, pretty much every group of human beings holds to unreasonable beliefs, why are you so surprised or worried? Well, because we think of ourselves — proudly! — as a community of reason, where reason and evidence are held as the ultimate arbiters of any meaningful dispute. To find out that too often this turns out not to be the case is a little bit like discovering that moral philosophers aren’t more ethical than the average guy (true).

It's hardly surprising that some of the Gnu's aren't that taken with him, and resort to the usual dismissal of philosophy as a valid discipline (shades of the Courtier's Response) rather than meaningfully engage with his arguments.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#9 Fortigurn

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 05:45 AM

Loving this. :D

#10 Evangelion

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 05:51 AM

The brief time I spent at the RatSkep forum proved to me beyond any shadow of a doubt that rational skeptics are seldom as rational as they want us to believe.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#11 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 05:53 AM

Loving this. :D

Get it while it's still free. :)
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#12 Evangelion

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 06:00 AM

Loving this. :D


It's like watching the BNP, EDL and White Supremacist/Nationalists tear each other apart. Their tribalist tendencies are so overwhelming, they can never agree on a single identity and a common ethos. All it takes is one little issue to splinter them into a thousand break-away groups.

The New Atheists are no different. Having spent all their lives being anti- they have no idea how to be pro. And what kind of rallying cry is atheism anyway? Clearly not one with a great deal of pulling power.

A few months after my arrival in Knoxville, the extremely (to this day) unenlightened TN legislature began discussing a bill that would have allowed school boards to fire teachers who presented evolution as a fact rather than a theory (it is both, of course). The bill died in committee (though a more recent one did pass, go Volunteers!), in part because of the efforts of colleagues and graduate students throughout the State.

It was because of my local visibility during that episode (and then shortly thereafter because I began organizing Darwin Day events on campus, which are still going strong) that I was approached by some members of a group called “The Fellowship of Reason” (now the Rationalists of East Tennessee).

They told me that we had much in common, and wouldn’t I want to join them in their efforts? My first thought was that an outlet with that name must be run by cuckoos, and at any rate I had a lab to take care of and tenure to think about, thank you very much.


:rotfl:

His list of the silly ideas, attitudes and downright woo-woo confessed by so-called rationalist/atheist skeptics is utterly damning.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#13 Evangelion

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 03:41 AM

Shamelessly hoiked from James Hannam's forum:

Posted Image

:D
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#14 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 04:27 AM

It's funny because it's true. :coffee:
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei




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