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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

For those who haven't seen it, more stupidity from the Colgate Twins

While travelling in North America, I've been busy catching planes, surviving airports, meeting new people, and squeezing in some much-needed work that I've promised to various folks. Commenting on the day-to-day antics of the Colgate Twins has been low on my list of priorities ... but, yes, I've been more or less keeping up via the fine blogs and sites of such people as Jerry Coyne, Ophelia Benson, Richard Dawkins, and PZ Myers. Just in case any of my readers have not seen it, and have not become totally bored with this issue, here's the latest nonsensical rant from the twins. Enjoy. Or not.

Yawn.

Edit: All the above said, I should add that I support the entirety of what Jason Rosenhouse has to say on this topic in his most recent comment.

In particular, I join with Jason and others in objecting to the metaphors of violence that the twins have taken to using whenever they characterise the actions or speech of the people they have constructed as opponents - all those horrible "New Atheists", such as Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins. More specifically still, I object to the over-the-top language that has been used to describe the views of the small number of people who have, relatively recently, protested the more religion-friendly statements made on behalf of the the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

The position is that some of us, most notably Jerry Coyne but also me among them, have argued in a civil and constructive style that the NCSE should not endorse any particular religious view, or claim that certain religious views that it believes to be mainstream are compatible with the scientific image of the world, including the well-established facts of biological evolution. Rather, the NCSE should concentrate on the purely secular (and intellectually overwhelming) arguments for evolution. It should not, furthermore, publish official documents that appear to endorse a highly controversial philosophical position such as the doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria. Nor, however, should it express the view that evolution creates problems for some, or many, religious positions. That claim may well be true (I believe it is), but the NCSE should concentrate on the secular arguments for evolutionary theory, allowing the implications for religion to fall where they may.

Regardless whether we are right or wrong about this, we are entitled to express such a view, and it is in the public interest that we do so. The Colgate Twins have - and should continue to have - every legal right to exhort us to self-censorship, but such self-censorship is not in the public interest, and it is morally reprehensible for them to urge it ... rather than simply addressing our arguments on their merits. The twins have moved the debate to a meta-level where our actual arguments are not addressed and we are forced to defend our very right to put them. This is a time-wasting distraction. Worse, we are presented as vicious and violent; we are demonised, rather than being treated as reasonable, peaceful people with a valuable role to play in public debate on serious issues.

When faced by this, we quite properly respond with anger and contempt. There is an appropriate time for those emotions - a time when they are healthy - and this is one of them. The twins have shown that they are not just reasonable people who happen to disagree with us on important issues. That would be fine. But they have no rational arguments relating to the issues of substance; instead, they are purveyors of hatred and bigotry who choose to demonise opponents. They choose to treat us as beyond the pale of substantive discussion of our ideas. Well, we are entitled to say what we think of them; we are also entitled to go on making our substantive points, patiently, civilly, and reasonably, as we have done throughout.

It will take more than these two privileged nitwits with bright, toothy smiles to get us to shut up.

63 comments:

Brian said...

Dr. Dr. R. Blackford 1 - Toothy ones 0.

Roko said...
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Roko said...

I think that it is worth taking a step back and asking what the long-term prospects for religion are. There are two important forces as I see it:
(1) science is actually useful for the economy and the military, so in the long term any nation dominated by a religion that oppresses science will lose, and lose big.

(2) religion is actually useful for keeping people happy, patriotic and under control, so absent other methods of doing this, any nation that is dominated by an intellectual establishment that eliminates religion will lose out to other nations that are strengthened by their religion. Look at the power that Islamic fundamentalism affords Islamic nations: whenever anyone criticizes them, they just mobilize a Jihad, and Bob's your uncle. Your late uncle, that is.

Thus I predict that some "de-facto" accommodation between religion and science is inevitable from an evolutionary perspective.

Israel/Judaism is an examplary religion/science accommodation IMO. Judasim has become a cultural religion - i.e. it has all the psychological benefits of religion without impeding scientific progress. We see that Israel does rather well out of it: a booming high-tech centre, nuclear weapons 30 years before its enemies, and a global network of loyal, rational supporters.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"That claim may well be true (I believe it is), but the NCSE should concentrate on the secular arguments for evolutionary theory, allowing the implications for religion to fall where they may."

So the NCSE should shut up about religion, even though religious beliefs are a big part of the reason for its need to even exist?

Mike Haubrich said...

J. J. - if the NCSE wishes to engage with religious people it is okay. What Russell is saying is that they shouldn't be so concerned with modifying the message that they are bending over backwards to please them.

You are suggesting that the NCSE concede religion's power to ask the "why" questions, implying that religion has a way of providing the answer.

Well said, Russell.

Georgi Marinov said...

I don't understand why even people who are on the "New Atheist" side of the issue support the claim that scientific organizations should be silent on the issue of religion.

First, there is a very clear scientific answer to the question "Is there a God?" and it is "God is a hypothesis not supported by the evidence". Even stronger things can be said about the teachings of the major religions, for example the number of things in the Bible that have been shown wrong by science. Those are the correct scientific answers to those questions and it is to betray science to demand scientific organizations to keep silent about it.

Second, and this we can argue about, but I think scientists and science can only benefit from some forcing of the issue in the public domain, the question about whether we base our society on superstition or on reason should be a primary topic of public debate, and this isn't going to happen without the official scientific institutions making a move. The "New Atheists" may be stirring some controversy here and there but they are not a major enough force to make a change.

So why do you insist that the NAS NCSE, and others do not comment on religion?

J. J. Ramsey said...

Mike Haubrich: "J. J. - if the NCSE wishes to engage with religious people it is okay."

That seems inconsistent with our host's notion that the NCSE should make no pronouncements on the relationship of religion and the theory of evolution. How is the NCSE supposed to engage religious people about their concerns on how evolution impacts religion while not expressing any views on how evolution impacts religion?

Matti K. said...

J.J "How is the NCSE supposed to engage religious people about their concerns on how evolution impacts religion while not expressing any views on how evolution impacts religion?"

I don't think NCSE has any authority to decide how evolution impacts a particular religion. There are so many of them and the theologicans differ very much on the matter.

I think that a scientist can honestly state only that science deals only with the physically observable. It is up to religious people to make science compatible with their irrational beliefs, and NCSE will never have the capacity to give detailed help for everyone in that.

At most, NCSE could have a link-library with links to religious sites where the compatibility of science and religion is promoted. An honest approach would be to provide links to sites that are skeptical towards this compatibility, too.

Russell Blackford said...

I've now written a whole post in response to JJ's tu quoque - spelling out what should be obvious, and tacitly accepted by everyone. It seems that the debate has reached a point where many seemingly uncontroversial points now need to be explained and defended explicitly. What a train wreck the twins have caused.

Ophelia Benson said...

"I join with Jason and others in objecting to the metaphors of violence that the twins have taken to using whenever they characterise the actions or speech of the people they have constructed as opponents"

Really. I am so sick of all these wild accusations of bashing, assaulting, flogging etc etc etc - and of people who are so dishonest that they won't even admit that the metaphors of violence are just that.

J. J. Ramsey said...

About all these complaints about metaphors of violence. From PZ Myers: "It's time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots."

Why is it okay for those on the side of the "New Atheists" (or whatever you want to call them) to use metaphors of violence to describe what they do or want to do, but not okay for others to use metaphors of violence to describe what the "New Atheists" are doing? There is also the matter that such metaphors are pervasively used in contexts where physical violence is obviously not involved, even outside debates about religion.

Ophelia Benson said...

Who said it is okay? Not I, for one. This is all part of the absurd myth that the Twins are creating - that all "New" atheists are essentially one thing so that what one "New" atheist does, all "New" atheists endorse or even do. Then all a dedicated critic of the "New" atheists has to do is find one sentence from one "New" atheist and hey presto, that becomes something all "New" atheists endorse and are responsible for.

A separate objection is that the "New" atheists, on the whole, don't complain about other people's horrid militant confrontational blah blah blah while resorting to metaphors of violence to describe the other people in the same breath.

ckc (not kc) said...

...the question about whether we base our society on superstition or on reason should be a primary topic of public debate...

I would hope that if it's going to be a primary topic of debate, the question be phrased with a little more, shall we say, balance? - (unless you're shooting [sorry] for a very short, one-sided debate).

Georgi Marinov said...

How exactly do you suggest to phrase other than using the proper words?

ckc (not kc) said...

Well, apart from the implied value of basing society on anything in particular, there are significant connotations to the words "superstition" and "reason", which may or may not be intended. On the face of it, there are probably few good arguments (in a debating sense) for "basing a society on superstition" (though I'm open to convincing). If you want a good debate, you need to spend a bit of time on the proposition.

Georgi Marinov said...
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Georgi Marinov said...

On the face of it, there are probably few good arguments (in a debating sense) for "basing a society on superstition" (though I'm open to convincing).

Let's hear them.

Anyway, we have a society based on superstition in front of our eyes, we live in it. You see where we are now because of that.

The debate should about whether we want to rebuild it based on reason and what happens if we don't. But don't worry, it won't happen

ckc (not kc) said...

"..there are probably few good arguments.."

(can't debate if you don't pay attention)

That we have a society based on superstition is an interesting observation - it doesn't jibe with my experience (sitting typing this comment on my laptop - connected via a wireless router to the whole world). Are you arguing for that side of the proposition?

Georgi Marinov said...

Sorry about that, read it as "a few"

I don't see much reason in our society, if you do tell me where to look for it

ckc (not kc) said...

The problem is in your dichotomy between "superstition and reason as a basis for society". It's much too simplistic - there's all sorts of irrationality (including religious irrationality) in our society, but (in my very humble opinion), a good deal of it is inherent in our "meatiness" (so to speak), and to propose replacing superstition (or irrationality) with reason is much too ambitious a project.

Georgi Marinov said...
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Georgi Marinov said...

As I see it the problem with the whole discussion about evolution is that otherwise smart people are too focused on an issue that's really very small compared to "the big picture" problems we have to solve. As I have said many times, compared to the importance of getting rid of religion, making sure creationism isn't taught in schools is a trivial and insignificant problem, and getting rid of religion on its own shouldn't be the big goal, it is only a prerequisite for us to walk the path from our current state to a new, rational, Homo sapiens

Until all those otherwise very smart but unfortunately very shortsighted people, who currently are wasting their time fighting over school curriculums, grasp the "big picture" there is little hope. And we are running out of time...

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "Who said it is okay?"

I have certainly not seen Myers be challenged by, say, Dawkins or you for such language. Now to be fair, it would be hard to object to PZ Myers' choice of phrasing without being called a "concern troll," "Chamberlain," or, to use the newly minted slur, "faitheist," but that state of affairs says something in and of itself.

Benson: "all a dedicated critic of the 'New' atheists has to do is find one sentence from one 'New' atheist and hey presto, that becomes something all 'New' atheists endorse and are responsible for."

If one were to quote Hitchens on the Iraq War and suggest that all "New Atheists" endorsed his views, that would be dishonest. However, among the so-called New Atheists, there is a common tendency toward harsh rhetoric that gets the base fired up. PZ Myers has his brass knuckles and little old ladies who faint at the sight of monkeys, Dawkins has a bit about faith-heads and "Chamberlain" rhetoric, and you have assorted talk about moral slime and total body infections. At this point, I am not commenting on the wisdom of such rhetoric, but I am noting that it does exist. Furthermore, those whose who share this tone often endorse each other's views. It's not exactly as if Myers' tone isn't representative.

Torbjörn Larsson, OM said...

Good rant. (Especially considering the preceding yawn. :-o)

I agree that science and education organizations shouldn't take sides on philosophical and religious questions.

They can, and should, of course note that specific beliefs are superstitions, viz on the empirical level astrology is debunked by horoscope studies and religion by prayer studies, astrological charts and theistic evolution are pseudoscience et cetera. (Not that I expect specifically NCSE to pick up that moral and practical obligation anytime soon. :-/)

But aside from that it behooves scientists and their proponents to concentrate on general science, not comment on specific culture.

"the Colgate Twins"

I'm bad, I first read that as Colgate Twits. :-D

Torbjörn Larsson, OM said...

"the newly minted slur, "faitheist,""

But that is a term with a good motivation behind. So is "Chamberlain", as you object to later.

OTOH, the newly minted term "New Atheists" is a misnomer and so seems to be used solely for the purpose of a slur. For example, Dawkins has been vocal and criticized religion long before, there isn't anything new in the message or strategy. To my (limited, obviously) knowledge, no one of those that have been afforded the label have understood or accepted it's rationale, if there is one.

"but that state of affairs says something in and of itself."

It doesn't seem so, as it _is_ concern trolling. As Ophelia said, violence hasn't been consistent use in a narrative, as in M&K case. If it is, real concerns would rise above the trolling level. Instead, examples are cherry-picked.

kynefski said...

I loved the Darwin quote in the piece, endorsed by Mooney and Kirshenbaum: "...freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds..." I don't know the date of the correspondence quoted, but the man died in 1882. Ya think maybe he was wrong?

Being a "faith-friendly" atheist, as Mooney and Kirshenbaum recommend, is kind of like being a Log Cabin Republican: The powers to whom you accede are happy for your support, but they don't want to hear from you.

(Apology for the US-specific reference. Look it up; it's pathetically amusing.)

ckc (not kc) said...

The powers to whom you accede...

whoa! glad I don't have your "friends"!

Georgi Marinov said...

"...freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds..."

This may have been valid in the 19th century, in the 21st we have had the opportunity to observe how well it has worked for the last 130 years and the judgement is that it is ineffective.

For simple Darwinian reasons, I should add. Ignorance breeds ignorance in vastly higher number than knowledge and reason can propagates themselves; the entropic cost of the latter is very high after all.

ckc (not kc) said...

For simple Darwinian reasons, I should add. Ignorance breeds ignorance in vastly higher number than knowledge and reason can propagates themselves; the entropic cost of the latter is very high after all.

Citation? or reasoning? or anything?

Georgi Marinov said...

The well-known inverse correlation between the number of children one has and his education level should be sufficient evidence

ckc (not kc) said...

Yes, I often include "well-known" in my citations. Too bad this correlation, no matter how "well-known", has nothing to say about "Darwinian reasons", nor the entropic costs of knowledge.

Ophelia Benson said...

"However, among the so-called New Atheists, there is a common tendency toward harsh rhetoric that gets the base fired up."

Well, I have said a few times that I wish Dawkins hadn't used playgroundy rhetoric in his book. The total body infection is in a co-authored book, so let's bracket that - but otherwise, true, I do sometimes use harsh rhetoric. But I don't think I make a habit of accusing groups of people of various forms of violence when all they are doing is writing things. There is more than one kind of harsh rhetoric, used for more than one kind of purpose. It is fundamental to the twins' project to portray public atheists as illegitimate, and one way of doing that is to "frame" them as violent merely for being public. The twins are not just expressing indignation - they're distorting the truth in an attempt to make their case. If I'm not mistaken they've increased the amount of violence-talk over time, as their claims have received more and more criticism.

Ophelia Benson said...

"Being a "faith-friendly" atheist, as Mooney and Kirshenbaum recommend, is kind of like being a Log Cabin Republican"

Good analogy! Why didn't I think of that?

Georgi Marinov said...

Yes, I often include "well-known" in my citations.

Yes, I include a list of references in all my blog posts

ckc (not kc) said...

...and the "Darwinian" implications of the correlation are???....

kynefski said...

The powers to whom you accede...

whoa! glad I don't have your "friends"!


Oh, hell, I used accede wrong, didn't I? I couldn't think of the right word.

ckc (not kc) said...

HINT: superstitious people have higher fitness

Georgi Marinov said...

...and the "Darwinian" implications of the correlation are???....

The Darwinian implications are that if you have a group of n people where k aren't idiots and k is much less than n, and if each individual in the n-k group has on average m1 offspring while each individual in the k group has m2 offspring, and m2 is less than m1, and if there is a very low probability that if your parents were idiots, you aren't going to be one too, then in the end the population will end up being almost entirely dominated by the idiots.

It will probably also end up using up all its natural resources, overshooting the carrying capacity of its environment and crashing, totally destroying the small k group in the process.

In real-life terms, this means that if the fundies are having 3-4 children per couple because it's God's will to do so, and the educational system and the media in the United States are making sure that if your parents weren't smart, you aren't going ti be different, then the long-term prospects aren't good.

ckc (not kc) said...

Oh, hell, I used accede wrong, didn't I?

Well, it depends what you meant, but I would guess that you used it correctly (or as intended). The equating of "faith-friendly" with "acceding to power" is what caught my attention.

ckc (not kc) said...

...the long-term prospects aren't good.

...well, in a "Darwinian" sense, the long-term prospects (fitness-wise) are very good indeed for the idiots (except that there is no good/not-good in evolutionary processes). If you're going to argue the evolutionary processes (fitness) involved in superstition/reason in human populations (especially as affected by the stance of the NCSE and/or the colgate twins), you'll have to develop some more sophisticated data than a correlation.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Torbjörn Larsson: "the newly minted term 'New Atheists' is a misnomer and so seems to be used solely for the purpose of a slur."

It was a term minted in Wired Magazine originally to describe the authors of books on atheism that managed to be covered in the mainstream media--which was the main new thing about the "New Atheism." It's not so much a slur as it is fuzzily defined.

Torbjörn Larsson: "It doesn't seem so, as it _is_ concern trolling."

Ok, so PZ Myers uses the colorful violent metaphor about "steel-toed boots and brass knuckles" once or twice, and this is okay, and objecting to it is even concern trolling. Dawkins makes a reference to an actual war and likens himself and his allies to the fighting Churchill as opposed to the cowardly Chamberlainers, and this is okay, too. M&K use "assault" and "attack" as metaphors (and rather colorless ones at that), and this--rather than the metaphors, name-calling, and assorted insults from Myers, Dawkins, Coyne, and so on--is what projects the images of the "New Atheists" as "vicious and violent."

Ophelia Benson: "But I don't think I make a habit of accusing groups of people of various forms of violence when all they are doing is writing things."

M&K is not accusing anyone of violence. No one is going to read them and come off thinking that Dawkins is going to shoot off an AK-47 at the Archbishop of Canterbury while PZ Myers grenades churches and Sam Harris bombs mosques.

J. J. Ramsey said...

BTW, Georgi Marinov, see this XKCD strip: http://xkcd.com/603/

Georgi Marinov said...

BTW, Georgi Marinov, see this XKCD strip: http://xkcd.com/60

That's a very mistaken distortion of my views.

I don't understand how exactly you decided that I am decrying the decline of something that I don't think has ever existed? Or that I have elitist views?

If anything, what I think we should be aiming for is for each and every person on this planet to be on an intellectual level comparable with the brightest minds out there. And I think this is what we should be aiming for not just because it would be good, but because otherwise we go extinct in the not so long term (because the idiots take over as I said above).

But it isn't going to happen without some top-down intervention, and this is what few of even the most radical among the "New atheists" realize. And they can't connect the dots because doing good science among other things requires being able to overcome even the most cherished beliefs that has been imposed by you by the culture you have been raised in, and each of us has those. In this case it is the belief in democracy and the fear from totalitarianism, imposed on people's minds by decades of Cold War that gets in the way and makes them not want to see the obvious - that if you have people who don't want to listen to what you say to them, and what you have to say to them is really really important, you better forget about your damn democracy and force them to hear it. And nobody here is advocating mandatory teaching of atheism in schools, not at all, this would backfire very badly, and it is not good science. Just teach the kids how to think critically, show them the incosistencies in the Bible, and explain to them that while they are free to believe whatever they want, it is bad science to do so. These are perfectly good scientific positions, and to prefer to keep entirely silent on the issue instead of saying these things is to betray our mission as scientists.

ckc (not kc) said...

...explain to them that while they are free to believe whatever they want, it is bad science to do so...

Science has nothing to do with belief. Belief has nothing to do with science (good or bad).

Georgi Marinov said...

Science has nothing to do with belief. Belief has nothing to do with science (good or bad).

Total nonsense. Belief is the antipode of science, and in that sense science has very much to do with it because it has to battle it all the time. To point out that belief is bad science (or that it is incompatible with science, to be precise) is precisely the right thing to do. Everything else is burying your head in the sand / not understanding what science is

ckc (not kc) said...

...belief is bad science (or that it is incompatible with science, to be precise)...

Here is the crux of my disagreement with you, I suspect. Bad science is bad science (many things will fall under this rubric) - things which are incompatible with science (including some beliefs) are not necessarily bad science, they are merely irrelevant to science. [They may not be irrelevant to scientists, either as scientists or as people, but they should not be characterized as bad science unless it's warranted.]

Georgi Marinov said...

That's arguing over semantics.

Once again, I will state the obvious and repeat that belief isn't irrelevant because there is the small detail that in the world we live in belief is considered equivalently good or even better than scientific reasoning and this is a very real problem which we have to address.

ckc (not kc) said...

...belief isn't irrelevant

I didn't say that belief is irrelevant, merely that it is/may be irrelevant to science (and that I think that the converse - "belief must be relevant to science" - is not true).

How the world judges the value of belief vs science is an entirely different question, which is not a scientific question (unless you want to revisit the fitness value of "believers/idiots" vs scientists). It is fundamentally a social/political question, and tied closely into the educational system (hence the discussion about the stance of the NCSE). I reiterate - belief is not necessarily bad science (though it may be); it is fundamentally irrelevant to science per se (though relevant to "science in society", if it may be phrased that way).

c said...

...belief is considered equivalently good or even better than scientific reasoning...

(Of course, I should acknowledge that some folk* think that ALL questions, or at least any that are of any importance, are scientific questions (as opposed to political or social questions), which are to be investigated using the correct scientific methods. This would, one presumes, include the relative value - measured in some appropriate units - of belief vs science.)

*no citation - personal observation from blog comments.

Toby said...

Roko said: "We see that Israel does rather well out of it: a booming high-tech centre, nuclear weapons 30 years before its enemies, and a global network of loyal, rational supporters".

You must be joking. At the moment the former Prime MInister is under indictment for corruption, a current Minister is being indicted; the President has stepped down to answer charges of rape. Israel has been sharply criticised for its behaviour in recent wars. Its politics are dominated by loony religious parties - recently a group of rabbis flew in a plane around the border of Israel blowing horns to ward off swine 'flu! And this is your example of a model religious country!

Ophelia Benson said...

"M&K is not accusing anyone of violence."

Of course they are. They said, for instance, that Jerry Coyne "assaulted" the NCSE. Michael Ruse the other day called the "New" atheists "people who are aggressively pro-science, especially pro-Darwinism, and violently anti-religion of all kinds."

Of course the language is figurative, and no one says otherwise, but it doesn't have to be literal to do its dirty work. The intention is obviously to stir up anger and hatred, and it will do that. The twins are playing with fire - and they can't even claim to be doing it innocently, because people have been telling them that's what they're doing.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Benson: "The intention is obviously to stir up anger and hatred"

What is so obvious about that? Think about the common ways to stir up hatred against a particular group. Name calling is a common technique for doing this. Exaggerating the evils of the opposition by, for example, suggesting on shaky evidence that the moderate members of the opposition cover for extremists, or using rhetorical sleight of hand to imply that they generally hate women, or using a Chamberlain analogy to liken the opposition to Nazis, is also another such technique. One can also spur people to attack or cheer on an attack of an effigy of one's opposition by, for example, defacing or destroying symbols meaningful to the opposition, which has the added benefit of riling up the opposition as well. These are things that people on your side are doing.

Did it ever occur to you that M&K see Dawkins, Harris, Myers, and so on as stirring up hatred, and they accordingly use metaphors of violence to express this stirring of hatred?

Matti K. said...

"Did it ever occur to you that M&K see Dawkins, Harris, Myers, and so on as stirring up hatred, and they accordingly use metaphors of violence to express this stirring of hatred?"

Yes, they are fighting very aggressively for peace. :-)

http://blog.beliefnet.com/scienceandthesacred/2009/07/a-call-for-peace-in-the-sciencefaith-battle.html

Of course, these "calls for peace" have nothing to do with the promotion of their book.

Ophelia Benson said...

As Tacitus so wittily said, they made a wilderness and called it peace.

J. J. Ramsey said...

A fuller translated quote from Tacitus is this:

"Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace."

So it's not okay for M&K to use metaphors of violence, but it's okay for you to use a quote that alludes to particularly savage violence.

OB said...

Oh for fuck's sake, J J Ramsey - are you desperate, or what? The Tacitus tag is famous and the passage as a whole isn't - I'm more familiar with the tag than I am with the whole passage. I even know the Latin for the tag which I certainly don't for the whole passage - so I don't take the tag to be equivalent to saying Jerry Coyne assaulted the NCSE.

Jesus - do you spend all your waking hours looking things up in an effort to say 'tu quoque' to the evil atheists? What a bizarro hobby.

J. J. Ramsey said...

OB: "The Tacitus tag is famous and the passage as a whole isn't"

So are you suggesting that what you meant by the tag isn't what the tag means in context?

OB: "Jesus -- do you spend all your waking hours looking things up in an effort to say 'tu quoque' to the evil atheists?"

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, and you reminded me of a quote from Stephen Colbert: "You see, you don't need the right facts when you have the right inflection." Ok, since you are writing not speaking, it isn't inflection, exactly, but it is an adept bit of innuendo. Nice rhetorical flourish there. Also, it's a nice way to make me look bad for (gasp!) actually seeking out the context of the quote to verify what it means.

Furthermore, what I'm doing is not so much a tu quoque as it is pointing out a double standard. Myers' "brass knuckles" comment is at the very least tolerated, while M&K's far less colorful idiomatic use of "attack," etc., is somehow beyond the pale.

Anonymous said...

The Darwinian implications are that if you have a group of n people where k aren't idiots and k is much less than n, and if each individual in the n-k group has on average m1 offspring while each individual in the k group has m2 offspring, and m2 is less than m1, and if there is a very low probability that if your parents were idiots, you aren't going to be one too, then in the end the population will end up being almost entirely dominated by the idiots.

The flaw in that argument is treating ignorance (literal meaning) as if it were a genetic trait. Knowledge freely passes through inheritance lines and so is not constrained by genetics. (My own parents were devout fundamentalists)

J. J. Ramsey said...

Ms. Benson, I took a look at your latest rant on M&K. You quote M&K saying,

"The New Atheism has become a counterproductive movement, dividing us when we ought to be united...Atheism is a philosophy that goes beyond mere science--a philosophy that its adherents have every right to hold, but that will never serve as a common ground that we can all stand upon."

and then follow it with, "Note the fascism ..." You then go on to write sarcastically of "the wonderful Gleichschaltung to come," where "Gleichschaltung" is "a Nazi term for the process by which the Nazi regime successively established a system of totalitarian control over the individual, and tight coordination over all aspects of society and commerce."

Let me get this straight. M&K using "attack" and "assault" idiomatically to refer to non-violent conflict, not okay. Likening the actions of M&K to those of the Nazi regime, which is known for its horrific violence, is just peachy.

Georgi Marinov said...

The flaw in that argument is treating ignorance (literal meaning) as if it were a genetic trait. Knowledge freely passes through inheritance lines and so is not constrained by genetics. (My own parents were devout fundamentalists)

I never said it is a genetic trait; it isn't. But it takes a lot to educate a child, and if your parents are fundies, you are most likely to be brainwashed too. So it ends up being propagates as if it was a genetic trait most of the time

In fact this is what I wrote in the same post:'

if there is a very low probability that if your parents were idiots, you aren't going to be one too,

kynefski said...

Laughing, as any human who understands our condition would.

Brian K. said...

Oh, Ramsey, give it a rest, or get a life, or something. Your priggish concern trolling is really tiresome.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Brian K.: "Your priggish concern trolling is really tiresome."

Okay, pointing out over-the-top and hypocritical Nazi references is now concern trolling. Understood.