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

Monday, June 28, 2010

Death of a blog

The You're Not Helping blog used to be here. The anonymous coward who ran it has evidently removed it, or at least stopped it and put it behind a wall, or something, after admitting that he is one person (not several as claimed), entirely male (not a mix of male and female as claimed), and based in a different place from where he claimed. He also admits that a number of the frequent commenters there, among his cheer squad, were sockpuppets. How embarrassing.

The blog I'm talking about started out looking like it might be, well, helping. It proposed to be a balanced, fair, civil, analytical commentary on the on-going accommodationism debates as they unfolded. It would, we were assured, criticise both sides where merited. At first, it looked as if it might operate like that. There was definitely a legitimate place for such a blog.

But over time it degenerated into vendettas against individuals, unmerited accusations of dishonesty, crazy theories about the wrongs committed by "New Atheists", misrepresentations of views and arguments, and a tone of near-hysterical hostility towards various individuals (most notably, but not solely, Ophelia Benson).

Well, it's gone.

One lesson to draw is about anonymous cowardice. Now, I totally understand that many people need to use pseudonyms so they can express or explore unpopular ideas, or frequent odd nooks and crannies of the internet, or engage in a certain amount of robust interaction with others - none of which might look good to straightlaced current or potential employers (or family members, potential lovers, or whatever). That's fine. Anonymity and pseudonymity have their place. In an oppressive society, they may be very needed - though not so much if you live in Australia or the US or some other Western liberal democracy.

Anyway, anonymity can have its legitimate uses. On balance, it's a reasonable precaution for most people in many situations on the net. But it can also be abused. If you use it to defame real, identifiable people who do not possess vast political power but do have real reputations, families, employers, etc., to worry about, then be careful you're not abusing the privilege of going invisible here on the interwebz. Even if you chose anonymity for a legitimate reason, you may be tempted to abuse it. That may not even be for your own good.

Some of us, like me, don't like using defamation law on principle (though there are limits .. since I think using defamation law is justified in some situations). But even if you're confident that you can exclude defamation law as a factor in what you say, there comes a point where you are simply abusing your anonymity to act like an arsehole. You don't get to use it to harm good, honest people in a way that you'd never do if you had to stand behind your words and take responsibility for them with your real identity.

I can't respect the use of anonymity for that purpose, and I'm glad to see the end of this dishonest blog. Oh, and so much for the moral superiority of accommodationists.

55 comments:

Rupert said...

It says you need to register or log-in. I tried to register using three different usernames (and they weren't 'ordinary') but each time it claimed that that username was taken.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Defamation law, as I discovered is actually quite hard to implement. The best most people can hope for is a threat but it is a hugely expensive business to move on from there.

Russell Blackford said...

Oh, there's no doubt that taking any litigation is a pain in the arse. Also, it's seldom in your best interests. Apart from my support for free speech, those are good reasons not to sue anyone for defamation.

One reason (I'm not saying it's the main one) why I don't now work as a lawyer is that (1) the most interesting work is in litigation, but (2) in most cases, litigation is not actually in your client's interests. Many clients litigate out of anger, are very keen even when the downside (the costs and risks) is explained, but then become eager to settle when they finally come to understand the situation.

Still, there are cases where litigation, even for defamation, is the only real option. I'm not saying this happened with the You're Not Helping blog; I'm just speaking generally.

Wowbagger said...

Russell said: 'Oh, and so much for the moral superiority of accommodationists.'

For any accomodationists out there: expect to be seeing a lot of comments like this in the near future.

A number of you - who weren't (at least as far as we know) sock-puppets - happily showed up to praise and fawn over YNH as a bastion of honest opinion and its bravery for confronting bloggers like Ophelia, PZ, Jerry Coyne and Greg Laden and doing such a good job of skewering them and 'telling it like it is'.

I don't believe I've ever tasted irony as delicious as this.

Robert N Stephenson said...

I even deplore gloating these days - very undignified, regardless of the subject

Russell Blackford said...

I quite like it myself. :)

DM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DM said...

accommodation?

you fuckers are going to be EXECUTED...

Wowbagger said...

I don't gloat very often - though I will admit to a certain sense of satisfaction every now and then - but this debacle highlights just how empty the accomodationist rhetoric is.

That certain odious people fell for it - and fell hard - is a bonus.

Brian said...

Jeez, I posted a few links to You're not helping to try and give some balance to the debate. I've just caught up on what was going on. Pretty nasty crap.

John Pieret said...

... so much for the moral superiority of accommodationists.

Ah, you can determine the moral qualities of all "accomodationists" and/or "accommodationism" in general from one example? Can we determine the moral qualities of all atheists and/or atheism in general from one example?

Bruce Gorton said...

And that is why I blog objectionably in my own name.

Well, that and it appeals to my sense of humour.

John

YNH was highly praised for a while and operated as a sort of accomodationist version of Phryngula.

The trouble is when your basic schtick is an appeal to a fallacy (The Golden Mean) it begins to become hard to define where you are standing against all of those extremists.

I mean, being in the middle in a lot of debates can often be the best way to ensure that you are always at least half wrong.

Russell Blackford said...

Hit a nerve did I, John?

Jean K. said...

I think there are actually times when a person can only speak out effectively on the condition of being anonymous. That might be what YNH was thinking, so I don't object to his anonymity per se. It's all the dishonest stuff he was up to--the sock puppetry etc--that's not fine.

Blake Stacey said...

One "accommodationist" being a jerk who lives in a bubble of delusion? No, that probably doesn't prove anything. Said accommodationist being praised by others for being an exemplar of good conduct? I don't know what that proves, but it's funny as hell.

Russell Blackford said...

lol, Blake. But, yes, the never-ending holier-than-thou attitude from these people just annoys me. I'm not referring specifically to John, whose blog I seldom read (alas). But so many of them ...

Zachary Voch said...

Russell: "Hit a nerve did I, John?"


I think you hit a BOOM HEADSHOT!!!

Ah, I love the internet.

The complete documentation of the incident is here. The moral of the story is a common one: don't listen to people on the basis of agreement; reason should apply to all positions and claims.

Ophelia Benson said...

Jean, what you said is exactly what Russell said, so why did you bother to say it as if it were a correction?

Ophelia Benson said...

If you use it to defame real, identifiable people who do not possess vast political power but do have real reputations, families, employers, etc., to worry about, then be careful you're not abusing the privilege of going invisible here on the interwebz.

To cite just one example of the blog in question doing that, one of its most recent posts - one out of a steady stream of posts about how terrible I am - called me a liar six times, because it disagreed with my view of a Deepak Chopra et al. prayer-and-woo initiative.

Jean Kazez said...

Ophelia, I don't think I said what Russell said. I said the guy's dishonesty was his problem, not his anonymity, whereas Russell does see the anonymity as problematic.

Zachary Voch said...

Jean, see this from the OP:


Anyway, anonymity can have its legitimate uses. On balance, it's a reasonable precaution for most people in many situations on the net. But it can also be abused. If you use it to defame real, identifiable people who do not possess vast political power but do have real reputations, families, employers, etc., to worry about, then be careful you're not abusing the privilege of going invisible here on the interwebz. Even if you chose anonymity for a legitimate reason, you may be tempted to abuse it. That may not even be for your own good.


I think you and Russell are in agreement. I'm expanding what Ophelia has already requoted, but unless you list some identifiable difference, the confusion might be understandable.

Russell's post did not criticize anonymity in general, and he specifically noted this.

What I interpret from his post, and with what I agree, is that anonymity can be abused, and anonymity comes with special ethical responsibilities.

For example, I am posting under a fake name for various reasons. If I use "Zach Voch" as a sort of disguise from which to launch personal assaults on others, I feel that I would be ethically in the wrong. I actually have several different pseudonyms, but as a rule for myself, I never use multiple pseudonyms on a given site or even related topical sites. But, whenever I criticize people in my community for pseudoscience or other abuses, I do so under my real name. It gives incentive to caution, and also, if I feel strongly enough that I must address the person in addition to the argument, I should be there to receive the return salvo.

So, I'm pseudonymous, but I also recognize that it brings additional, not fewer, responsibilities. Anonymity can be protective or a weapon.

Jean Kazez said...

Russell is trying to find a moral to the story, and he thinks its about the danger of anonymity. I don't agree with that. For one, I think anonymity is just one of many disinhibiting things. Having tenure is disinhibiting. Liking to be seen as outrageous is disinhibiting. Having lots of allies is disinhibiting. I wouldn't pick on anonymity as a serious problem, considering all the other things that have the same effect. Furthermore, this guy's antics are too bizarre to be traced to his anonymity. I think when he sits down to talk about it with his therapist (he should!), they're not going to spend much time talking about his anonymity. 90% of people on the internet are anonymous. It doesn't make people do really weird things most of the time.

Ophelia Benson said...

Jean, so you missed the part where Russell said "One lesson to draw is about anonymous cowardice"?

Yes, other things are disinhibiting, including the ones you (pointedly) cited, but anonymity is especially so. Even if I wanted to talk the kind of spit-flecked trash that YNH did, I wouldn't do it if I were using my own name. Allies and the rest of it would disinhibit me some but anonymity would disinhibit me more.

Jean Kazez said...

I have no idea idea why you think I missed that part. Of course I read it. That's what I'm commenting on! If you're going to find "one lesson" here I don't think it ought to be about anonymity, for all the reasons I've given.

Ophelia Benson said...

I thought you had missed it because "Russell is trying to find a moral to the story" implies the moral to the story; the only moral; a moral to the exclusion of others; while Russell's "one point" implies "one among others."

But, whatever; strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

Oedipus said...

Hi Russell, I've been here many times but never left a comment until now.

I saw a reference to the response you left at the YNH page when the confession was posted, but I don't remember seeing it. Do you happen to have a copy of it?

By the way if anyone saved the YNH confession page with comments, please send it to me! I archived the whole site (now posted at my blog) before posting the final evidence, and I saved the confession when it first appeared, but I neglected to make saves of the comments as they came rolling in.

Russell Blackford said...

Sorry, Oedipus. My comment there was lost when he shut down the site very soon thereafter.

Spencer Troxell said...

I'm unsure about the justifications for anonymity. They're easily rationalized, sure, but what point is free speech (the YNH author is an American) if you can't speak freely and honestly.

I work in a field that could easily justify my expulsion for unpopular commentary, yet I decide to speak as who I am. I have no respect for people who want to loudly proclaim their beliefs, yet are unwilling to sign for them on the dotted line. I have even less respect for people who want to create an illusion of consensus through fraud to bolster those beliefs with.

Embarrassing.

Oedipus said...

Very soon thereafter? This person said, "Russell Blackford brings the smackdown. Ouch." Perhaps that turned out to be truer than he thought!

J. J. Ramsey said...

"I have no respect for people who want to loudly proclaim their beliefs, yet are unwilling to sign for them on the dotted line."

So you have no respect for the author of the blog Respectful Insolence, one of the go-to blogs for information on medical quackery and anti-vaxxers? Seriously, though, leaning on the anonymity issue is not a very good idea.

Spencer Troxell said...

I agree with this statement:

"Anonymity and pseudonymity have their place. In an oppressive society, they may be very needed - though not so much if you live in Australia or the US or some other Western liberal democracy."

I see you're a fellow Ohioan, J.J. Good to meet you.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Yeah, though, I'm interning in Maryland for the summer.

As far as anonymity is concerned, I've seen enough good anonymous blogging to not be judgmental about it.

Spencer Troxell said...

I think there's a difference between assuming false identities in the way rappers assume them, and in the way the author of the YNH blog and hordes of anonymous blog-trolls do.

I would guess that Orac is anonymous in much the same way that Jay-Z or Fifty Cent is. A cool handle and an identity to hide behind for any number of questionable reasons are different things.

To me, this freedom of speech thing is important. We can all voice as many uncontroversial beliefs as we care to, but when it comes to voicing our less popular opinions, that's when our ideas about free speech really come into play.

We have to exercise our ideals if we want to keep them.

Robert N Stephenson said...

I have never been one for anonymity and have always posted under my real name. This has been costly at times as I can then be easily found and physically threatened. It has happened - but I, if I am honest with myself, must stand behind what I say, be it right or wrong.

The anonymity approach would mean I would have to take my lumps when they were deserved. I don't take praise easily though, as that is not what I am about.

The blog failed in its objective, which was to discredit persons for their views. That is how I saw it anyway.

Now, if I were to sum up Atheists and anti-positions based on what I have encountered on the interweb I think it would be grossly unfair. I also think to also sum up the religious or pro camps based on the interactions of that site would also be unfair.

It was someone's big mistake - move on.

Again I have to ask... why does the Atheist even care? Even from my Atheist days I couldn't have cared less what religion did, I didn't believce so I did involve myself in anything I didn't believe in

J. J. Ramsey said...

"I would guess that Orac is anonymous in much the same way that Jay-Z or Fifty Cent is. A cool handle and an identity to hide behind for any number of questionable reasons are different things."

Except that you can find the real names of Jay-Z and 50 Cent on Wikipedia. Orac, Isis, and revere (of the now-ended "Effect Measure") blog don't reveal their names to the public. Nor do they show their faces. So, no, their names aren't just cool handles. They're pseudonyms.

Zachary Voch said...

RNS: "It was someone's big mistake - move on."

It sort of just happened, you know. It also wasn't the mistake of an individual. IMO, the complicity and willingness to swallow YNH by those who found it convenient is the big issue. Oedipus appears to have been an example of what everybody should have done when seeing this blog, even though he started out with an initially positive impression. More than sockpuppets gave support to a blog devoted to smear and lies when the slightest bit of research should have made it obvious. That's what motivated my "moral of the story" comment earlier.

RNS: "Again I have to ask... why does the Atheist even care? Even from my Atheist days I couldn't have cared less what religion did, I didn't believce so I did involve myself in anything I didn't believe in"

If you haven't found answers to this question, you haven't been seriously looking. I'll ask you instead: what does Dawkins give as his motivation? What does Hitchens give as his own? How about Grayling and Blackford? You've but to look up a prominent atheist to find your answer.

For myself, it is the role of religion in the political sphere and the effects on science. I feel that this is the most common answer.

It's not just "dislike because we don't believe in it." You'll notice that the treatment of deism, highly depersonalized theisms, and Spinozan pantheisms is quite different than that of more doctrinal, traditional Abrahamic religion. Eastern religions get a more passing treatment as they are less immediately relevant to the motives and our day to day life (in the English speaking world of the prominent atheists), but occasionally the Indian God-men and extremist Hinduism come in to discussion.

Zachary Voch said...

I'll have to agree with Ramsey on the anonymity question, particularly as relevant to Orac.

He does blog under his real name elsewhere, though, and his identity is known to the crank community he attacks. So, I wouldn't call him hidden except to the uninterested. But yes, he has stated that he employs a pseudonym for protective reasons.

But yeah, we should be hasty to denounce pseudonymity generally.

Zachary Voch said...

*Correction: Shouldn't be hasty

J. J. Ramsey said...

"IMO, the complicity and willingness to swallow YNH by those who found it convenient is the big issue."

The problem is that YNH was right much of the time -- which actually makes its dishonesty all the more galling, since it was so unnecessary. They were right to point out issues with tone, inconsistent standards, etc., and that's part of how it grabbed attention in the first place.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Hi Zachary, I do know why people attack religion, I did so quite vehemently but even as I matured in the Atheistic belief system I once supported I began to understand that religion, at least in my country, was having less and less of an effect on politics and science.

While the accomodationist discussion is all over the shop today, Christians were changing views about this nearly 40 years ago with the adoption of evolutionary science - not because they were told to but because scientist of Christian faith steered things along.

These days I wonder if all the anger expressed is worth it? Now you mention Dawkins - who I have no time for - he has a huge following in the Christian faith believe it or not, so in a way he has opened up the way for Christians to explore the world in a fuller fashion away from some restrictive doctrinal regimes.

These days, as Christian, I feel a certain completeness that isn't really definable (feelings rarely are). I didn't have this as an Atheist. Now I know some people have this feeling and some don't - like all things it is solely dependent on the individual.

So, yes, I do ask -

Perhaps in later Atheist life I was at peace with who I was and what I believed - I didn't have to fight.

I say the same in my new life by the way.

Zachary Voch said...

RNS... ok? Here's from your earlier post:

"Again I have to ask... why does the Atheist even care? Even from my Atheist days I couldn't have cared less what religion did, I didn't believce so I did involve myself in anything I didn't believe in"

And here's from your response:

"Hi Zachary, I do know why people attack religion, I did so quite vehemently but even as I matured in the Atheistic belief system I once supported I began to understand that religion, at least in my country, was having less and less of an effect on politics and science."

So now, what gives with this inconsistency?

The other parts of your post are agreeable, just to note. To add one thing, theistic support for evolution goes back to pre-Darwin and immediately post-Darwin works as well. Textual criticism has always been more contentious.

Zachary Voch said...

(I ask because you seem to be implying, and please correct me if I'm wrong, that a "matured" atheist has no obvious reason to complain about religion.)

Robert N Stephenson said...

Sorry, I didn't mean it to sound that way Zachary. There will always be complaints about positions, be they religious or political.

My point I suppose, is that knowing what needs to be done in way of thought and education, why go out of your way to then attack religion - sorry complain about it is way too soft I think.

To win over people you give them food, water and shelter. Arguments they can get anywhere.

One of the greatest strengths of Christianity and Islam is its ability to feed, water and shelter people in times of great need.

So, while it is fine to call them every name and discredit their beliefs by all means possible, those who are being looked after will indeed ignore your words, regardless of how rational you make them.

So that is probably the reason behind my question. If bringing down a single Christian entity also destroys the feeding program for a 100 000 people - what good has been done, what purpose has been served here.

These are the issues I deal with - the rhetorical stuff not so interesting

Robert N Stephenson said...

I wrote a reasonable reply, but things went awry. I don't repeat myself too often and feel even after this there is no point.

Think of this as my position when it comes to any argument concerning religion.

Let us say you manage to destroy a Christian entity (group) because you turn everyone away from the faith they have known. It would be considered a victory.

But, what if that very group was also responsible for the feeding and sheltering of thousands of people in a poor nation (this is what these groups do) and the action has stopped such a thing now occurring. What good has been served, was using science to RAM home your position worth the eventual cost?

naturally I expect there is worth in doing such a thing, but I cannot support or accept anything that will eventually cause harm or even death to someone else, regardless of what they believe.

I know this is more a philosophical stance but it is mine in the end.

I don't think Atheist would deliberately harm anyone and that is not my suggestion it is just I don't think it is necessary to ague points of meaning anymore but more the showing through action may speak louder.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Sorry Russell, posting problems here and repetition in places - 2 should be removed for cleanliness

John Pieret said...

Hit a nerve did I, John?

Hardly ... unless you you think I could hit a nerve by asking if I could determine the moral qualities of all atheists and/or atheism by the example of Josef Stalin. The only emotion I feel is a sadness that someone I generally admire could fall prey to such shallow thinking.

Zachary Voch said...

@RNS

"Sorry, I didn't mean it to sound that way Zachary. There will always be complaints about positions, be they religious or political."

Ok, thanks for letting me know.

"My point I suppose, is that knowing what needs to be done in way of thought and education, why go out of your way to then attack religion - sorry complain about it is way too soft I think."

The answer is the same. If a given form of religion is at the ideological root of certain issues, then the perceived need for `attack' correspondingly increases with the perceived importance of the issue.

"To win over people you give them food, water and shelter. Arguments they can get anywhere."

That's not necessarily true. And when it's true, it isn't necessarily a good thing. Scientology does the same thing. If the intent is in giving aid (a humanistic concern) as opposed to proselytizing, I have no problem with a religious charity. But there are plenty of secular charities as well who do wonderful work. I'm not too keen on an atheistic proselytizing charity beyond the "if they are interested, we'll let them know" approach. With many evangelical charities, proselytism is the main goal; charitableness in the humanistic sense is secondary, and that to me can be objectionable advantage-taking.

"So, while it is fine to call them every name and discredit their beliefs by all means possible, those who are being looked after will indeed ignore your words, regardless of how rational you make them."

Who does that? All means possible? With name-calling, I can think of examples, but those are hardly representative of atheists and those examples have been vastly overblown. I'm sorry, but it's been my experience that rational argument, decent tone or not, does very little to convert most. Again, in my experience, religious faith is (usually) supported for reasons quite independent of things like rational tenability, and tone is a very, very side issue at best.

But again, I'm not so worried about manufacturing atheists as I am about promoting reason, skepticism, and science. For issues of politically or religiously motivated denialism, trust me, the Mooney approach isn't helpful. (Orac's recent post is instructive, and he's hardly a fan of the New Atheist crowd).

"So that is probably the reason behind my question. If bringing down a single Christian entity also destroys the feeding program for a 100 000 people - what good has been done, what purpose has been served here."

Who wants to do that? Who tries to do that? How is this the issue? That's what I'm curious about. You've moved from "why do atheists bother questioning religion?" to something a little more sinister... "why are atheists out to destroy charities?"

No, even the New Atheists will support charities and organizations that have taken a religious approach that they've criticized... take the NCSE for example. Accommodationist or not, Myers and others have continued to advocate donating to them.

And please, I am curious about that earlier contradiction I pointed out. I take you seriously when you say that my suggestion wasn't implied, but I still feel a touch uneasy about what motivated this shift.

Robert N Stephenson said...

I sometimes just write what I am thinking at the time - so there will also be shifts in thought, sometimes rapid and quite often illogical. It is just how I think, it can be off putting sometimes, even to me.

I often put up suppositions for question. Often the supposition is taken as some kind of fact. Sorry if that gets confusing but I am interested in reactions as well as just talk.

Sadly you are right about a number of faith based charities also creating conditions to suit their teachings, but these conditions are not a prevalent as they once were and most Christian charities work under the same guidelines as every other NGO.

Scientology is weird fish and Mormonism even weirder. The odd thing is that every religion on the planet would agree with the Atheist on these two organizations. Many of their charity works are actually banned in some countries, no matter how much money they want to throw.

Now I'm not sure if I changed my position, I also don't think Christians have anything to gain by being negative to Atheists; it's no like they will change beliefs anymore than a Atheist will become a Christian (I am an exception I feel) --

As I see Atheism it is an individualistic belief not incorporated into any general or greater belief system. Well that is how I was, things do change.

Many problems arise when you put two red bricks together and somehow expect one of those bricks to suddenly become play doe. It is the unrealistic nature of all this arguing that troubles me. The Atheist is cemented in what it believes and the religious folks have what they believe, neither side will surrender their brick - faced with that you do wonder why continue.

Zachary Voch said...

"I sometimes just write what I am thinking at the time - so there will also be shifts in thought, sometimes rapid and quite often illogical. It is just how I think, it can be off putting sometimes, even to me.

I often put up suppositions for question. Often the supposition is taken as some kind of fact. Sorry if that gets confusing but I am interested in reactions as well as just talk."

That's a very self-critical and honest thing to say. I'm glad you've said this, as to be honest, I have been put off by some of your comments here before. In the future, I'll be sure to consider this before assuming that you're presenting any given statement as a conclusion.

"Sadly you are right about a number of faith based charities also creating conditions to suit their teachings, but these conditions are not a prevalent as they once were and most Christian charities work under the same guidelines as every other NGO."

This is very true. Many religious charities have proven themselves to place charity at the top of their priorities, and so, the question for atheists is the same as it is for all those who are interested in charity: which ones are they and how can we help?

"Scientology is weird fish and Mormonism even weirder. The odd thing is that every religion on the planet would agree with the Atheist on these two organizations. Many of their charity works are actually banned in some countries, no matter how much money they want to throw.

Now I'm not sure if I changed my position, I also don't think Christians have anything to gain by being negative to Atheists; it's no like they will change beliefs anymore than a Atheist will become a Christian (I am an exception I feel) --"

On the first part, this is true, mostly because Scientology is notorious for abuse of tax law than anything. That's one of their explicit (or otherwise quite obvious) reasons for charitable action. The Mormon Church has made it quite clear that they have no respect for keeping their interests separate from politics, so there's a whole other story there. But it is true that more mainline Protestants and Catholics have been critical of Mormonism and Scientology.

I think we agree, and most would find it uncontroversial, that there's no reason for unpleasantness for the sake of unpleasantness. New Atheists have caught the most flak over this, but this is a "across the board" sort of problem. And satire and ridicule have a place, I think, though I feel it has been overdone or made too personal as opposed to against ideas in many instances.

Zachary Voch said...

(cont.)

"As I see Atheism it is an individualistic belief not incorporated into any general or greater belief system. Well that is how I was, things do change."

Well, that's the thing about atheism. What does it even mean? Once a theistic God has been defined.... "not that." So, from the definition, we can't draw any conclusions about the actual beliefs of any atheist. This is why many atheists object to the term; it's only useful as denoting deviation from the majority. This is why many prefer "humanist" or "naturalist" or just "skeptic."

And yes, there's a lot of individuality and disagreement, which is great, but there are commonalities worth uniting over.

"Many problems arise when you put two red bricks together and somehow expect one of those bricks to suddenly become play doe. It is the unrealistic nature of all this arguing that troubles me. The Atheist is cemented in what it believes and the religious folks have what they believe, neither side will surrender their brick - faced with that you do wonder why continue."

I disagree. There are many cases of conversion/deconversion, yourself and myself included. Many of those have claimed influence from the New Atheists. Have you seen the Dennett/Lascola article on priests who don't believe? I remember one of the interviewees remarking about the influence of god is not Great. There's also the Convert's Corner at the RDF site. It also allows for those who remain unconvinced to be aware of the concerns and motivations of atheists and secularists, something which you noted that many Christians have done. So, deconversion is not the only goal (indeed, not the main goal IMO), and further, there are successes in that direction in addition to successes in outreach and organization.

I think that atheists remain a diverse and frequently disagreeing group, but this is true of Christians and other broad groups as well.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Over the years, 20 or so now, I have used scientific investigation into the world to first reconsider my Christian conversion and later, or of late, to help explain why things are as they are.

This isn't saying science is a bastion of religion, or reverse but that even with my faith I have no problems with all facets of scientific discovery. In some instances I see anthropological and archeological sciences working hand in hand with religion, but if you understand what these sciences do then it is quite natural there is a connection -- historically and anthropogically. It has been great archeological work that has helped create the new developments in Christian thinking, a broadening.

Naturally when you examine physics and chemistry there is no direct connection other than to say many of the early developments and techniques were set in play by people from religious backgrounds. Newton with his work on light for instance. Yes, he was actually trying to see God, but in his search he discovered other things, more important things that we have developed and refined today.

So, is science and religion compatible? Hell if I know. I am a Christian and I use science, so it is compatible for me, but is it for everyone?

I suppose a lot of this really does depend on the individual in the end. We can make up all sort of arguments and counter argument till the cows come home, but when push comes to shove, it really is up to you to believe in something.

Zachary Voch said...

"This isn't saying science is a bastion of religion, or reverse but that even with my faith I have no problems with all facets of scientific discovery. In some instances I see anthropological and archeological sciences working hand in hand with religion, but if you understand what these sciences do then it is quite natural there is a connection -- historically and anthropogically. It has been great archeological work that has helped create the new developments in Christian thinking, a broadening."

Yes, this goes back what I brought up earlier: the contention over textual criticism but also the `liberal' theologians who have taken a wider view of their faith due to archaeological concerns. If believers are willing to modify doctrine in accordance with evidence, then there isn't much of a problem. The non-accommodationist stance is that we can't expect a very large number of believers to do so until there is a fundamental shift in the nature of popular Christianity, particularly in America. The worrying trend is that even as the scientific consensus has grown deeper and broader, fundamentalism and literalism have enjoyed a resurgence, at least in public influence. There has also been a trend of "reverting" to more conservative denominations from more liberal ones.

"Naturally when you examine physics and chemistry there is no direct connection other than to say many of the early developments and techniques were set in play by people from religious backgrounds. Newton with his work on light for instance. Yes, he was actually trying to see God, but in his search he discovered other things, more important things that we have developed and refined today."

Yes, this first point is not controversial. Of course, it's also notable that Newton (more against established religion in this regard) was most concerned with alchemy. And current outlooks among scientists have shifted considerably with time. Certainly, in Newton's day, I would have been closer to Paine's quakerism or a form of Deism than anything. The state of the evidence and our knowledge about nature then was quite different.

"So, is science and religion compatible? Hell if I know. I am a Christian and I use science, so it is compatible for me, but is it for everyone?

I suppose a lot of this really does depend on the individual in the end. We can make up all sort of arguments and counter argument till the cows come home, but when push comes to shove, it really is up to you to believe in something."

All non-accommodationists I've read have assented to something similar to this: pantheisms, deisms, and some liberal forms of theism are entirely compatible with science and there are no necessary difficulties resulting from their mixture. So, when we say "religion and science are incompatible," what is meant is that most religion by popularity is inconsistent with science, and further, that much of what is popular in Christian theology is seriously affected by acceptance of modern science. The recent Adam and Eve debacle at BioLogos is an example of this. The implications for certain answers to the argument from evil is another example. (Evolution encounters resistance as it undermines common design arguments).

So yes, we have to ask "what religion" first before we make any broad statements about compatibility. This point has been missed by many critics of the New Atheists.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Yes, Adam and Eve indeed.

The story anthropologically predates the one God concept - or is thought to pre-date the concept. It is a story that combines parts of the Illiad which in itself was part of another story. The whole shebang, more or less isn't about one singular even as depicted in the bible or other religious books or writings. It is believed to cover a period of several thousand years - this was way, way before written languages.

Anthropology and archeology have been able to connect a lot of dots to explain just how the story came about and that the whole old testament view is really a collection of know legends and tales - well genesis is anyway. I remember watching a doco on the discovery of the place that could have represented the Eden mentioned in a number of stories. It is a small island near Iraq and in a dig a township was unearthed amongst fruit trees and date palms. Research discovered the people who lived here were much healthier, they were definitely taller and lived well because of the abundance and variation of crops and fruits. Compared to surrounding territories the place was more livable or perhaps a paradise in comparison to other areas.

But that is not the weird thing discovered about this location, not even the discovery of apple trees and seeds was out of kilter. One of the archeologist dropped the lid of one off the hundreds of earns they unearthed and it broke. Coiled in the lid was a snake - Xrays found more in other lids. So, even though they made no comment on the reason, it was quietly suggested that the snake in Adam and Eve may have actually been simply the representation of another, even older belief system.

Note, no written records were found at this site - it was just too old.

I also note that the great flood in the bible is quite possible to word of mouth record for the great flood that wiped out the Ur humans - who, for some reason, built a pyramid identical to Cheops but upside down and sunk into the Earth. Nature science is trying to answer some of these strange questions. Religion is helpful because it actually has ancient legends that despite some oddities themselves do hold small clues to what might have happened.

Well, that was a ramble. Sorry. But I do love ancient history, it can be quite weird sometimes and that can be a lot of fun

Spencer Troxell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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