“If this doesn’t give religion a bad name, nothing will.”

August 14, 2009 • 1:57 pm

by Greg Mayer

In the spring of 1979, the Shiite revolution in Iran was in full swing. The Shah had fled, Ayatollah Khomeini had returned, and summary executions had begun.

Often the only notice that a person is on trial is the announcement on the morning radio news that he has been executed. The front pages of the afternoon Persian-language newspapers are filled with grisly pictures of the bodies. (New York Times, April 11, 1979)

The full extent to which Iran would become a theocracy was still not entirely clear. On February 4th, the New York Times‘ R.W. Apple had asked “Will Khomeini turn Iran’s clock back 1,300 years”, and the short answer turned out to be “yes”.

I was an undergraduate in the department of Ecology and Evolution at the State University of New York at Stony Brook at the time, and often had lunch with a group of faculty and grad students in a cafeteria across the street from the biology building. At one of these lunches, during a discussion of events in Iran, a young assistant professor commented, “If this doesn’t give religion a bad name, nothing will.”  And for a long time, I thought nothing would. The following year marked the ascent of Ronald Reagan, and the beginning of  the agonizing descent of the Republican party from being the party of Lincoln to the party of Limbaugh, Beck, Robertson, Inhofe, and the Family.

I recalled this lunch time comment while thinking about Razib’s post on the greater acceptance of evolution among younger cohorts of Americans. I also recalled that the percentage of religiously unaffiliated had gone up noticeably from 1990 to 2008, and that another survey found the percentage was higher among young people. What could have happened so that younger people, growing up in the 90s and 00s, would be less religious? And then it occurred to me: 9/11.  Something finally happened which gave religion a bad name.  This was forcefully expressed at the time (here, here, and here) by Richard Dawkins.

Now, there may well be other or better explanations for these survey results (indeed, several alternatives have been proposed regarding acceptance of evolution in comments here at WEIT and GNXP, which alternatives might be tested with GSS data); and, clearly, religious believers can accept evolution (witness the young Catholic poll results).   But 9/11, while not giving religion a bad enough name for most people to give it up, may have led people to question on what grounds religious claims are to be evaluated, and what entitles them to respect.

UPDATE. Razib has done exactly what I had hoped: he’s tested my suggestion by looking at survey data [updated link to Razib’s new blog host] (26 surveys from 1973 to 2008). While not a decisive refutation of my suggestion, there’s not much support for it. Secularization increases from 1993 to 2008. The biggest increases occur from 1991 to 1998, with something of a plateau from 1998 to 2004, then there’s another bit of a jump from 2004 to 2006. It might be safest just to say that it increased from ’93 to ’08, and not try to interpret what may well be random variation around that rise. I would say the evidence for a lagged post 9/11 jump is modest at best, and most of the increase occurred pre -2001, so 9/11 is at most a lesser contributing factor.

94 thoughts on ““If this doesn’t give religion a bad name, nothing will.”

  1. Great article and I hadn’t thought about 9/11 having an effect on the polling. I do have to agree with R. Dawkins that religion is not a benign influence on society, especially when it becomes radicalzed. We could probably add the Atlanta Olympics bombing, The Murrah bombing and the Branch Davidians of having an effect as well.

  2. Also, the effect mass media has had. The internet in particular, but also the 24 hr news cycle. There is so much information out there and it became readily available for more and more people through the ’90s and the ’00s saw it grow even more. Personal hand-held devices and laptops became ubiquitous. Blogs, youtube, more sophisticated interent news sites… etc.

    Had to have had a pretty powerful effect as well, I believe.

    1. mk–

      Oh yeah. I got intarwebs in 1995, and promptly found all the Star Trek fansites. At some point I found atheist websites, too. Oh, and then there was Usenet.

      It’s funny how much you can learn, just by lurking.

      I’m not big on the “intarwebs change everything!” meme, but it is quite true that it’s easier to steal “offensive” books out of a library than censor the whole goddamn world. Especially if you aren’t the (Chinese) government.

  3. I don’t know – I tend to think that we’re just on the off-swing of yet another “Great Awakening” cycle in US history. From the 70s, the Y2K stuff has been pushing a lot of folks into an “end of the world is coming” mindset, and Christianity especially is a really good religion for exploiting an “end of the world” mindset. When the end of the world didn’t happen, people started drifting away again.

    1. Jer,

      I was under the impression that the surge in popularity in religion among the Boomers (as opposed to the prior cohort, who were highly skeptical of all kinds of woo, including organized religion) had a lot to do with the widespread abuse of hallucinogenic substances. The “Jesus freaks” of the 1970’s were self-admitted former druggies, for example, while many new adherents to Eastern philosophies rambled on and on about the special kinds of knowing only accessible through the use of mind-altering substances.

      Use of LSD and even pot really dropped off hard after the 70’s. I would assume mushrooms and other hallucinogens probably dropped as well. It wasn’t a part of the culture any more. Less brain damage –> less credence to religious thought.

      Oder?

  4. I hope that such a lame confusion of Islamic radicalism with all of religion isn’t the cause of decreased religiosity in America. Sheesh, it would make more sense to look at Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, and thus to conclude that atheism is wrong, based on the fact that these men had far more support of the atheists in their society than Islamic radicals had support from Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, and Buddhists.

    There are much better reasons not to believe in god/religion than Al Qaeda, such as social, scientific, and mental freedom. I won’t deny that old notions like “it’s better to have any kind of religion” have been discarded due to what many religionists have done, but I doubt that they’re a huge factor in religious decline.

    The fall of communism, which often was discussed in terms of religion vs. atheism, and freedom of religion vs. lack thereof, almost certainly has had an impact, I’d argue (the evidence is sparse either way, I know) probably the greatest one in decreasing religiosity. We’re no longer opposing atheists who didn’t allow “American freedoms,” so Americanism isn’t tied nearly as strongly to religiosity. Godless commies aren’t coming to get us, and scaring people toward religion and/or lip service to religion.

    Religion has decreasing relevance in society now, as social mores contradict much of traditional religious teachings. That no doubt also has a considerable impact.

    If I were a fairly naive Christian observing 9-11, I think I’d mostly conclude that the perpetrators had the “wrong religion.” Indeed, Islam seems to be far more likely today to provoke its followers to violence than either Judaism or Christianity, hence I can’t see why members of those religions should generalize Islamic radical attacks to “all religion.”

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

    1. Glen:

      Not to nit pick it seems to me that people can be convinced by a wide variety of things. There might be any number of better arguments not to believe, but that doesn’t mean that religious evils aren’t a sufficient reason for many to give up clinging to religious beliefs.

      1. That’s why I allowed that it may have been a factor (although there was nothing new about violence from Islamic radicals by 9-11):

        I won’t deny that old notions like “it’s better to have any kind of religion” have been discarded due to what many religionists have done, but I doubt that they’re a huge factor in religious decline.

        Glen Davidson
        http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

    2. Glen good point, not many of the younger generation saw the building of bomb shelters when those anti-capitalist atheist communists got the bomb. The dissolving of Soviet Empire changed the perceived threats of who were the enemies at home.

  5. “Indeed, Islam seems to be far more likely today to provoke its followers to violence than either Judaism or Christianity”

    Which we know because neither America nor Israel has launched bloody, unprovoked wars against other countries.

  6. It is interesting that in Razib’s post, the 46-50 group had less belief in god/ more belief in human beings developed from animals or earlier species than the 31-45 group.

  7. mk@2 – Also, the effect mass media has had. The internet in particular, but also the 24 hr news cycle. There is so much information out there and it became readily available for more and more people through the ’90s and the ’00s saw it grow even more. Personal hand-held devices and laptops became ubiquitous. Blogs, youtube, more sophisticated interent news sites… etc.

    Had to have had a pretty powerful effect as well, I believe.

    Yes, I would have to say that media and availability of information play a huge role, as they did during the civil rights era. Somehow, `beating’ from a wire service with a photo of the aftermath doesn’t have the same effect as a video of a beating. Similarly, I think `religious fanatic’ and `religious violence’ are more powerful negative associations when you add the video.

    The mixture of the sheer volume and availability of media combined with several (recent-ish) scandals, such as the steady stream of Catholic molestation cases, have done a lot to leave an ugly, permanent stamp on the public conscious.

    There are also those things more or less `understood’, but not necessarily common conversation, that play a role, such as hypocrisy in churches and conservative circles. Not the Haggard brand of wildly famous hypocrisy (though that has an effect), but the daily moral failings of congregations, kept permanent in print and video. From the news to blog posts and social networking sites, the small-time community crowd of hypocrites seems to compose the entire crowd in a lot of places, which serves to alienate many believers (particularly the younger crowd).

    In America, I would say that the most successful enemies of the faith have been the religious right. The religious right of the past few decades is different than the previous versions in several ways, mostly in the way the leaders of the right have homogenized the political makeup of the public face of Christianity.

    The following year marked the ascent of Ronald Reagan, and the beginning of the agonizing descent of the Republican party from being the party of Lincoln to the party of Limbaugh, Beck, Robertson, Inhofe, and the Family.

    I would say that these developments have done more to hurt religiosity than 9/11 ever did. 9/11 did a lot, certainly, but mostly as a new installment in a centuries-long series of fanatically motivated atrocities. Mixed with media and widespread information, it certainly has had more effect than other less documented religious atrocities, even those that make 9/11 pale in comparison. But, I think that Robertson, along with his corrupt and hateful peers, has done more to hurt religion in the West than Al-Qaeda.

    The homogenized political face of the christian right does not match reality. The groups composing the right and the most influential christian groups in America differ on certain theological matters, tending to hate each other even more than the nefarious evolutionist. Nobody likes a heretic, especially among fundamentalists. I’m sure most readers of this blog are probably aware of this, but believers, even the literalists, tend to disagree strongly somewhere in the details. It’s the same sort of in-fighting that depoliticized the fundamentalists after the Scopes trial. The religious right is just the repoliticization, largely out of the personal ambitions of religious leaders, of these dissociated groups.

    I see another post-Scopes era coming for the religious right in America, in which the divided and highly independent makeup of the right returns to business as usual. To put it shortly, the political failures of the right will result in the appearance of the old fractures, and as a result, these groups will steadily depoliticize until the next revival. However, unlike such previous phases of the cycle, we have a very large collection of what these movements look like and enduring print for their outrageous claims and flagrant bigotry.

    9/11 may have hurt religion’s overall image, but none have done it more effectively than the religious right.

  8. The summary executions had “begun”? Hadn’t they been going on for the prior 26 years under the more secular Shah? You know, Iran had a democratically elected government in 1953 until Mossadegh was deposed by a CIA organized coup. The CIA created the secret police of the Shah, called SAVAK, who slaughtered the Iranian people. In a stunning display of peaceful protest the Iranian people deposed the Shah in 1979 non violently.

    It’s unfortunate that the Ayatollah’s were the result, but I don’t think you can really argue that 1979 was a turn for the worse for the Iranian people.

    And I think we need to recognize 9/11 for what it was. OBL’s motivation is U.S. foreign policy. Sure, he derives support from his understanding of Islam, like people derive support for their worldviews from whatever causes they may believe in. His motivations for fighting he’s clearly spelled out. Mad that the U.S. supports Israel. Mad that the U.S. starved 1.5 million kids in Iraq through sanctions. Mad that the U.S. installs dictators in Muslim countries. Mad that those dictator puppets kill Muslim people. Mad that the U.S. has military bases in his country. His objection is U.S. foreign policy. He’s not just an insane Qur’an thumper.

    He’s a criminal. His violence is wrong. But I think it’s important to recognize what his primary motivations are. It’s not Islam. So he may reflect poorly on Islam, but not to the extent that is often implied. Islam is not the primary motivation for his violence.

    1. But I think it’s important to recognize what his primary motivations are. It’s not Islam. So he may reflect poorly on Islam, but not to the extent that is often implied. Islam is not the primary motivation for his violence.

      I believe you’re right that his motivation is not Islam. It’s cultural and moral absolutism. Every time family members decry moral relativism, I remind them that moral absolutism drove people to fly airplanes into buildings.

      Of course they don’t get it. Those other people aren’t “moral,” because they read the wrong book.

      1. BaldApe, your other sentences contradict your first sentence. The absolutism you speak about comes from religion, so therefore bin Laden’s motivation is Islamic.

      2. Even a relativist can become enraged at a foreign army occupying their country, starving their kids, imposing murderous dictators on them, and starting wars for the control of your resources.

      3. newenglandbob,

        The things that bin Laden holds to be absolute do come from his understanding of Islam, but that absolutism is not specific to Islam. I’m sure there are people in most, if not all, cultures who think that their way is the only way, and that all others should die. That is the dangerous way of thinking.

    2. You are right about bin Laden’s motivation. But he also wants to establish a caliphate in the Mideast. A review of his earlier life shows clearly that religion played a large part in making him what he is.

      1. I’m not denying that his religion is important to him and shapes him. I’m saying that what makes him act in a wicked manner is simply injustices perpetuated against Islamic people. What is done to people in the Middle East by the U.S. government would make people fighting mad no matter what religion they were.

  9. but I don’t think you can really argue that 1979 was a turn for the worse for the Iranian people.

    yes you can. i’ve seem body-totals of what SAVAK did over decades vs. what happened in the first 5 years of the revolution. no comparison. the shah was an authoritarian, not totalarian, ruler. more franco than stalin or saddam. the islamic republic is not totalitarian either, but arguably the revolutionary guards have more total control of the public space than any of the shah’s organs of power, so it is more efficiently authoritarian. additionally, the social disruption of a revolution is naturally going to result in a spike of fatalities as the winners destroy losers, and the winners start beating each other up (which is what happened).

    1. It’s tough to know how many SAVAK killed. Seems when enemies of the U.S. government are dying we’re not too careful about the death tolls. I understand that we don’t even the total number of Vietnamese killed to the plus or minus one million, whereas we know exactly how many Americans were killed in that war. If you have good sources though I’d be interested to know.

    2. Have you asked any Iranians? I know an Iranian, it’s 2009 and he still tells “Shah” jokes. I’m sleepy so I would flub them but suffice to say they usually have a punchline along the lines of the Shah killing himself would be the most humanitarian act in history.

      And this guy (telling the Shah jokes) hates the current government. In fact, last year, he said if Ahmedinejad were to win, then you’d know the election was rigged.

      Also, during the current unrest, some Iranian woman was interviewed by NPR and stated that the outcome of the 1979 revolution was a disaster. However, I did not once hear her say, “We should have kept the Shah.”

  10. Jon@ 10 – And I think we need to recognize 9/11 for what it was. OBL’s motivation is U.S. foreign policy. Sure, he derives support from his understanding of Islam, like people derive support for their worldviews from whatever causes they may believe in. His motivations for fighting he’s clearly spelled out. Mad that the U.S. supports Israel. Mad that the U.S. starved 1.5 million kids in Iraq through sanctions. Mad that the U.S. installs dictators in Muslim countries. Mad that those dictator puppets kill Muslim people. Mad that the U.S. has military bases in his country. His objection is U.S. foreign policy. He’s not just an insane Qur’an thumper.

    He’s a criminal. His violence is wrong. But I think it’s important to recognize what his primary motivations are. It’s not Islam. So he may reflect poorly on Islam, but not to the extent that is often implied. Islam is not the primary motivation for his violence.

    It was primarily American foreign policy in the sense that we occupied Arabian soil, the objection to which was centered in his wacky version of Islam (for the reasons discussed below) and the violence and support for which generated by Islamic theology. Yes, international terrorism has certainly bolstered its ranks and benefited heavily from US foreign policy, and much of that benefit was even deliberate on our part. But, villian though the Shah was, responsible though we may be for the coup, he does not quite match the Revolutionary Guard.

    Now, as for OBL’s motivation, you might have noticed that his final goal is not just the expulsion of the United States and the destruction of Israel, but the subjugation of the entire region into a Caliphate. He wants to reestablish an Islamic empire. Hence, why many Palestinians, even those who receive the worst end of US/Israel foreign policy, are not so fond of Osama, as they want independence.

    We would be correct to blame much of the violence on our foreign policy, but we certainly cannot evade the doctrines of Islam as the centerpiece. Otherwise, we could expect the reactions to be centered around nationalism or socialism, as has occurred in South America and elsewhere, but Islam is the generator of the enduring international conflict, the justification for Jihad, and the center of OBL’s motivations, far beyond that of a reaction to US policy.

    The terrorist groups in Palestine and elsewhere are explicable as reactions to Israel and US actions, as was the Iranian revolution to US intervention, and similarly down the list. But, in order to say that “I think it’s important to recognize what his primary motivations are. It’s not Islam”, you have to ignore quite a few details, for Bin Laden and many others. You forget about a vast amount of violence in the region previous to or largely separate from our involvement, particularly in India and Indonesia. You forget about the most common target of the Jihadist… members of other sects.

    Should we pay more attention and stop fucking up all over the place? Of course. All of our actions since the `War on Terror’ have increased terror, predictably and as predicted. But I would be hesitant to say that Islam is in any way secondary to the process, a banner rallied to and little more. No, Islam is central and necessary to those like OBL and others, and we can expect the Bin Laden types to run around regardless of how nice we are to the Middle East.

    1. It’s not like I’m a fan of OBL and it’s not like I think he isn’t mistaken in his religious views. He may want a variety of things I don’t approve of, but what I’m saying is what motivates his violence is U.S. foreign policy.

      Which doctrines of Islam provide the centerpiece for violence? I find no justification for that claim in the Qur’an. Show me this from the Qur’an. I honestly believe this is one of those things people take for granted because it is repeated so often, but if you look into it more closely you can’t justify it.

      In fact I argued on the radio with a right wing Christian war monger type and you can hear that call at the link below if you are so inclined.

      http://bigwhiteogre.blogspot.com/2009/06/fascinating-discussion-on-dutko-show.html

      1. Comments (negative, of course) on Bin Laden’s Quranic (and other proof-text material) are available here:

        http://web.utk.edu/~warda/bin_ladin_and_quran.htm

        Most sects of Islam disagree, of course, as Al-Qaedas theology is hardly representative of the Muslim world, something evident from his criticism of the Saud family and other Muslims (only the recently toppled Afghan regime met his criteria). The author of the material in the above link concludes with the following:

        Bin Ladin’s reasoning depends upon two techniques: (1) taking parts of Qur’anic verses out of context and (2) defining the enemy and the enemy’s supporters, actions, and property in such a way as to include them in the category that deserves the very worst of punishments. Contrary to my expectations, he does not rely upon the concept of abrogation of some Qur’anic verses by others. He accepts Faraj’s and Ibn Taymiyyah’s assertion that jihad is more important than anything except belief in God, and that allows him to define away what most Muslim legal scholars consider to be war crimes, such as the killing of noncombatants.

        When we say that “Islam” justifies an act, we fall into an immediate inaccurate generalization, rather like equating apophatic Christian theology and literalism. Obviously, Osama’s theology is a bit different from that of the Saud family or the Ayatollahs, and yes, in his theology, his acts are obviously justified.

        But no, it would be inaccurate to describe Osama as motivated by US foreign policy, nor terrorism in general. Does US foreign policy serve to expand the influence and membership of such groups? Of course, but their motivations reflect sectarianism just as much, and more so, than anti-imperialism. Again, the primary targets of jihadists are other sects. Historically, it would be more accurate to describe the situation in the Middle East as a civil war that we’ve stepped into and exacerbated rather than created.

        Also, why is the conflict in the Middle East (up to and including reactions to our presence) consistently international as opposed to generating nationalist movements, as is the tendency in other countries adversely affected by our foreign policy?

        The claim you made can be evaluated quite independently of the scholarly quality of the Jihadist interpretation of Islam, as the unifying motivations for the conflict, particularly on the international scale, hinge on religion. Sectarian violence, the same motivator for the majority of the attacks, has a historical record stretching back centuries before our policy existed to start it. This latest conflict is but another round in a long history of conflict there. Before the Iraq war, it was predicted that sectarian violence would be a major problem (one of the effects of the sanctions was to increase the religiosity of the Iraqi public).

        Without the religion factor, we could expect nationalist movements and resistance, but with it, we join into centuries of conflict. I think it is the case that the sheer scale of the conflict has been generated by US-Israeli policy, but to say that the motivations do not center on religion is to ignore where we’re fighting. Further, I find it rather odd that resistance groups unmotivated by religious beliefs would be so busy killing each other over theological differences more frequently than the imperialists.

        There is a common mixture between our positions in one area, that is, one of the great effects of US intervention is the impoverishment of the population, which correlates strongly with increased religiosity. As with the aforementioned case in Iraq, the same phenomenon occurred in Iran. US foreign policy contributes substantially to the religiously-motivated violence in that nifty way, in that through our actions, we increase sectarian violence simultaneously with violence against our presence.

        Exacerbated and greatly increased by our actions? Yes, of course. But you can not ignore the religious beliefs of the region when explaining almost anything in the Middle East, much less radical Islamism, up to and including Bin Laden. Religiously-motivated violence in the Middle East did not begin with the US, nor would it end of we were to completely vacate the region. The Islamists would do as they have always done, go back to focusing almost exclusively on heretics and other sects, instead of the current situation where they fall just short of that description.

  11. “Something finally happened which gave religion a bad name. ”

    I would disagree with that; after all it’s Satan’s religion which was responsible for 9/11, not the One True religion. (Hey, just ask any fundamentalist.)

    I don’t see much point in trying to guess any one factor which might have contributed to a lower score for religion. Even before the invention of christianity philosophers had pointed out that an education in reasoning resulted in people being less religious. Augustine denounced all education (except for catholic indoctrination, which he called education) because a real education led people away from god. I think the best we can do is teach people how to think and point out why bible stories, Smith’s “Golden Tablets” and so on are merely myths.

  12. Comments (negative, of course) on Bin Laden’s Quranic (and other proof-text material) are available here:

    http://web.utk.edu/~warda/bin_ladin_and_quran.htm

    Most sects of Islam disagree, of course, as Al-Qaedas theology is hardly representative of the Muslim world, something evident from his criticism of the Saud family and other Muslims (only the recently toppled Afghan regime met his criteria). The author of the material in the above link concludes with the following:

    Bin Ladin’s reasoning depends upon two techniques: (1) taking parts of Qur’anic verses out of context and (2) defining the enemy and the enemy’s supporters, actions, and property in such a way as to include them in the category that deserves the very worst of punishments. Contrary to my expectations, he does not rely upon the concept of abrogation of some Qur’anic verses by others. He accepts Faraj’s and Ibn Taymiyyah’s assertion that jihad is more important than anything except belief in God, and that allows him to define away what most Muslim legal scholars consider to be war crimes, such as the killing of noncombatants.

    When we say that “Islam” justifies an act, we fall into an immediate inaccurate generalization, rather like equating apophatic Christian theology and literalism. Obviously, Osama’s theology is a bit different from that of the Saud family or the Ayatollahs, and yes, in his theology, his acts are obviously justified.

    But no, it would be inaccurate to describe Osama as motivated by US foreign policy, nor terrorism in general. Does US foreign policy serve to expand the influence and membership of such groups? Of course, but their motivations reflect sectarianism just as much, and more so, than anti-imperialism. Again, the primary targets of jihadists are other sects. Historically, it would be more accurate to describe the situation in the Middle East as a civil war that we’ve stepped into and exacerbated rather than created.

    Also, why is the conflict in the Middle East (up to and including reactions to our presence) consistently international as opposed to generating nationalist movements, as is the tendency in other countries adversely affected by our foreign policy?

    The claim you made can be evaluated quite independently of the scholarly quality of the Jihadist interpretation of Islam, as the unifying motivations for the conflict, particularly on the international scale, hinge on religion. Sectarian violence, the same motivator for the majority of the attacks, has a historical record stretching back centuries before our policy existed to start it. This latest conflict is but another round in a long history of conflict there. Before the Iraq war, it was predicted that sectarian violence would be a major problem (one of the effects of the sanctions was to increase the religiosity of the Iraqi public).

    Without the religion factor, we could expect nationalist movements and resistance, but with it, we join into centuries of conflict. I think it is the case that the sheer scale of the conflict has been generated by US-Israeli policy, but to say that the motivations do not center on religion is to ignore where we’re fighting. Further, I find it rather odd that resistance groups unmotivated by religious beliefs would be so busy killing each other over theological differences more frequently than the imperialists.

    There is a common mixture between our positions in one area, that is, one of the great effects of US intervention is the impoverishment of the population, which correlates strongly with increased religiosity. As with the aforementioned case in Iraq, the same phenomenon occurred in Iran. US foreign policy contributes substantially to the religiously-motivated violence in that nifty way, in that through our actions, we increase sectarian violence simultaneously with violence against our presence.

    Exacerbated and greatly increased by our actions? Yes, of course. But you can not ignore the religious beliefs of the region when explaining almost anything in the Middle East, much less radical Islamism, up to and including Bin Laden. Religiously-motivated violence in the Middle East did not begin with the US, nor would it end of we were to completely vacate the region. The Islamists would do as they have always done, go back to focusing almost exclusively on heretics and other sects, instead of the current situation where they fall just short of that description.
    BTW I love your blog!

    1. Certainly. The promises of rewards to “martyrs,” the righteousness of jihad, and just the dehumanizing patriarchal system all conspire to promote Islamic violence.

      I’m no apologist for Israel at all, and I do recognize the legitimacy of anti-US and anti-Israel sentiment among the arab world (but why the Muslim world at large? Religion is the reason), but those who think that Islam doesn’t supply plenty of justification and even reward for violent acts–and that these appeal particularly to the young and disenfranchised (Islamic society is even worse than ours at disenfranchising people)–is both ignorant and wrong.

      Glen Davidson
      http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  13. Zachary, you say sectarianism is OBL’s primary motivation for his violence, not our foreign policy. But OBL’s words are the opposite. Read transcripts of his videos. Read the link you provided. Here’s a quote:

    “Clearly after Belief (Imaan) there is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land. No other priority, except Belief, could be considered before it.”

    Up and down the link you provided OBL calls for war against foreign invaders and their puppet governments in Muslim lands. Yet you say he’s really more interested in sectarian violence, so the problem is more Islam generally, not U.S. foreign policy. Why believe what you say? You offer no evidence in support of this claim. The only evidence you offer refutes your own claim. Did you read the link you provided?

    1. Zachary, you say sectarianism is OBL’s primary motivation for his violence, not our foreign policy.

      No, I did not, as I’ve said repeatedly that he’s reacting primarily to our occupation of holy land. I said that religion is clearly a primary and central motivator and that the overwhelming sectarian violence is the evidence, and not just for OBL.

      Yet you say he’s really more interested in sectarian violence, so the problem is more Islam generally, not U.S. foreign policy. Why believe what you say? You offer no evidence in support of this claim. The only evidence you offer refutes your own claim. Did you read the link you provided?

      OBL more interested in sectarian violence more than repelling foreign powers? No, though that’s certainly part of his program. I did read the link I provided, which I gave to counter what you said about the lack of Islamic justification OBL provides. I brought that forward to show that yes, he does have a theological basis and campaign, though his views are certainly not representative of the Muslim world.

      And yes, there is a problem in general with the state of the Islamic world, but when did I ever say that US foreign policy is not a problem? I’ve said again and again that US foreign policy has exacerbated the situation and bred conflicts of its own. As I said before, sectarian violence in the region precedes our involvement.

      Also, note that the reasons OBL wants us expelled are also theological, not just due to our negative influence. And again, you ignore his intents for the region are sectarian in nature. If you care to read the link again, you’ll notice that many of his problems are with other Muslim countries, not just the United States. The only state that met his standards was pre-2001 Afghanistan. Not Pakistan, not Iran, not the Sudan, not Saudi Arabia, etc.

      And yes, I did read the link I provided. Would you mind reading my posts carefully before responding?

      Also, you might want to look up who Islamic militants have been targeting before Israel and before the US. To say that US foreign policy hasn’t greatly increased terror is foolish, but to claim monocausality is also foolish.

      1. Zachary, you had said:

        “But no, it would be inaccurate to describe Osama as motivated by US foreign policy, nor terrorism in general. Does US foreign policy serve to expand the influence and membership of such groups? Of course, but their motivations reflect sectarianism just as much, and more so, than anti-imperialism. Again, the primary targets of jihadists are other sects. Historically, it would be more accurate to describe the situation in the Middle East as a civil war that we’ve stepped into and exacerbated rather than created.”

        I take this to mean that our foreign policy is not the primary driver. Sectarianism is more the issue, and that is merely exacerbated by U.S. foreign policy, not instigated by it. I disagree with that, but maybe I’m misunderstanding you.

        As far as your article, I don’t doubt that OBL finds justification for his violence in his own, out of context interpretations of the Qur’an. I said that in my first post. If we were being starved and had dictators imposed on us by China we’d justify our violent reaction with our worldview. Any worldview would cause this response, so I see no reason to consider this an exceptionally bad reflection of Islam.

        I can’t blame the Bible for people misunderstanding it and drawing false, violent conclusions. Likewise I don’t blame the Qur’an for OBL. If he were a Buddhist or an atheist he’d find justification for his violence. His violence is explained by the grievances he has, some of which are legitimate. But not all.

  14. “If this doesn’t give religion a bad name, nothing will.”

    This very sentence is an example of the kinds of imprecise and unnuanced “logic” that gives confidence atheists (or New Atheists) a bad name, and a reputation for broad-swiping bigotry towards religion in general. Think of applying the logic of this sentence’s construction to other things:

    “If the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima doesn’t give planes a bad name, nothing will.”

    “If the destruction of the rainforest by humans doesn’t give mammals a bad name, nothing will.”

    “If OJ Simpson doesn’t tell white women to stay away from black men, nothing will.”

    And now the confidence atheist version again:

    “If 9/11 doesn’t give religion a bad name, nothing will.”

    Further, if you apply the logic to atheism, then you’ve just legitimized the linking of atheism to the Soviet showtrials and gulags. As in Iran, where you can’t rise in the ranks of government without being a Muslim, so in the Soviet Union you could not rise in the ranks of the party or the government without being an atheist. The Soviet government, run by atheists, held show trials and ran a huge gulag system for its opponents, therefore, “if this doesn’t give atheism a bad name, nothing will.”

    The logical parallel is exactly the same. Either you decouple broad generalization like religion or atheism from specific contingent and historic instances, and insist on precision and nuance, or you confess that the logic applies equally to the Soviet Union. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    —Santi

    1. As usual, Santi does not understand analogies whatsoever. His foolish comparisons are not even worth the electrons that display them.

      How does 9/11 and religion equate at all to Hiroshima and planes? Pure nonsense. It doesn’t

      His other analogies are even more ignorant and irrelevant.

      Like I said in another thread, his words expose him as a clown and a troll.

    2. Wow, what a dazzling display of “logic” there! I didn’t know you could refute a statement by just changing the words until you create a false statement! Let me play:

      “Grass is green” is an idiotic statement, because just imagine if we applied the same construction in other contexts: “love is purple,” “economics is orange.” Therefore, grass is not green, and “New Atheists” are big meany stupid bigots. QED.

    3. Dumb example

      >> “If the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima doesn’t give planes a bad name, nothing will.”

      No, but it gave the atom bomb a bad name.

      >> “If the destruction of the rainforest by humans doesn’t give mammals a bad name, nothing will.”

      Why the bogus generalization to mammals? You can find quite a few ELF types who despise humans precisely for destroyed rainforests. There are people right now arguing for mass sterilization of humans to stop the alleged environmental disaster we wreak wherever we go.

      >> “If OJ Simpson doesn’t tell white women to stay away from black men, nothing will.”

      So you’re trying to argue some racists *weren’t* getting their jollies over the OJ trial?

      >> And now the confidence atheist version again:

      “If 9/11 doesn’t give religion a bad name, nothing will.”

      It certainly gave Islam a black eye!

      At any rate, the original reference was to the Ayatollah, so reading comprehension fail on your part. I think the Iranian revolution did convince a lot of Americans that theocracy was a lot nastier in reality than it was in pretend and may have stiffened the resistance to Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, et al. Easy to forget in our post-Brights-movement world, but there used to be a coalition between liberal religionists and the unreligious against the religious right, precisely because of their theocratical leanings.

  15. “The following year marked the ascent of Ronald Reagan, and the beginning of the agonizing descent of the Republican party from being the party of Lincoln to the party of Limbaugh, Beck, Robertson, Inhofe, and the Family.”

    The beginning?! So the Republican party was still the party of Lincoln when it was the party of Harding, Coolidge, Nixon? I might agree that the ascent of Reagan marked an acceleration of the descent, but not the beginning of it.

  16. “What could have happened so that younger people, growing up in the 90s and 00s, would be less religious? And then it occurred to me: 9/11. Something finally happened which gave religion a bad name.”

    Alternative, or supplementary, hypothesis: Bush, or Bush plus the relentless yammering about and privileging of religion in public discourse. Younger People grew up on that, and are perhaps sick of it – the ones that are, that is.

    1. I agree that 9/11 gave religion a bad name in the minds of a lot of people, but this is because a lot of people use broad categories like “religion” without qualification or precision. New Atheists—or confidence atheists—take advantage of mass intellectual impatience and generally sloppy thinking to score points against religion qua religion as an “evil.”

      To a thoughtful and fair minded person, religion is simply too large a category for holding the blanket designation of something that should have “a bad name.”

      —Santi

      1. Notice the way that Santi implies that everyone who disagrees with him is not a thoughtful or fair minded person. Yet it’s the “New Atheists” who are supposedly uncivil and intolerant of dissenting arguments.

      2. Screechy Monkey,

        Oh, I see. Pointing out a confidence atheist’s overgeneralization as “unthoughtful” and “unfair” and ultimately lacking in civility is itself uncivil of me! Not only that, but by pointing out bad reasoning I am “intolerant of dissenting arguments.”

        I’m happy to hear your arguments, but I don’t have to agree with them. Not agreeing with you does not constitute “intolerance.” When you say something prejudicial towards all religious people by making too large a generalization, and I call you on it, that is not incivility. What you obviously want is no criticism, and are at the ready to engage in ad hominem to obscure the criticism that comes your way.

        —Santi

      3. “Not agreeing with you does not constitute “intolerance.” When you say something prejudicial towards all religious people by making too large a generalization, and I call you on it, that is not incivility. What you obviously want is no criticism, and are at the ready to engage in ad hominem to obscure the criticism that comes your way.”

        No. What I want is for you to apply the same standards to “New Atheists” that you do for yourself. Specifically, stop making overgeneralizations about “New Atheists,” and stop equating all criticism with incivility.

        And where did I commit an “ad hominem”? I simply criticized your double standard.

        Even if you’re using the bastardized internet version of “ad hominem” (which confuses the ad hominem fallacy with insult), I didn’t insult you. You were the one who implied that those who disagree with you are not thoughtful or fair minded.

      4. Yes, there is Santi with his generalizing nonsense statements taking the discussion down a path of irrelevancy once again.

  17. Ophelia:

    Since you speak of parties, when did the atheist party of such luminaries as Shelly, Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, and Richard Rorty turn into the party of PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, and Jerry Coyne?

    To my mind, this is as big a come down as the Republican Party’s free fall from Lincoln to Limbaugh.

    What happened?!

    —Santi

    1. I don’t know, those guys seem a lot like those mean New Atheists.

      Shelley; “Here I swear, and as I break my oath may … eternity blast me, here I swear that never will I forgive Christianity! It is the only point on which I allow myself to encourage revenge….”

      Nietzsche: “The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.”

      Camus: “For the existentials, negation is their God. To be precise, that god is maintained only through the negation of human reason.”

      Rorty: ““We are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”

      Sartre is even worse than a “New Atheist,” he’s almost the Christian caricature of an atheist: “Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist” and “If I became a philosopher, if I have so keenly sought this fame for which I’m still waiting, it’s all been to seduce women basically”

      You didn’t mention him, but I’ll throw in Betrand Russell as a bonus: “Religion is based … mainly upon fear … fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand . . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.”

      My point? Don’t kid yourself. If any of the “Good Old Atheists” you’re pining for was publishing books or writing a blog today, the Faitheists would be excoriating him the same way they do Dawkins, Myers, Coyne, et al.

    2. I didn’t speak of “parties,” I said something about a particular party, to wit, the US Republican party. There is no atheist “party.” So nothing “happened” – Shelley isn’t Rorty and Rorty isn’t Coyne – big woop.

    3. Once again irrelevancies from Santi trying to distract the serious discussion. Let us adults talk for a change troll.

  18. Screechy Monkey:

    When I was in my 20s I probably felt like that towards Christianity. Sometimes I suppose I can feel that way still. I get impatient with fundamentalism. I’m annoyed with a couple of fundamentalists on my local city council. I’ve gone and talked to them and tried to have a civil dialogue. It’s very difficult. But I’ve mellowed. I don’t begrudge Shelley’s anger, and I certainly understand it. I think it’s important to express it if you feel it. I think people should say what they think. I like people who are direct and honest.

    What I like about Nietzsche is his very consistent confrontation with nihilism and the full absorbtion of what it means to be an atheist. He would, were he alive, I am certain hold New Atheists in total contempt for being syncretists (mixing Christian ethics and utilitarianism with a barely digested atheism and calling it “humanism”). The New Atheist is the walking, talking, breathing character that Nietzsche called “the last man.” And he did not mean the designation to be a compliment.

    As for Camus, he was not a “confidence atheist.” He was just a sensible, down to earth non-believer, reluctant to express epistemic certitude where it was not warranted. Camus was an atheist, in short, with intellectual integrity. Here’s Camus, for example, speaking to a gathering of Dominican Friars in 1948:

    “I wish to declare also that, not feeling that I possess any absolute truth or any message, I shall never start from the supposition that Christian truth is illusory, but merely from the fact that I could not accept it.”

    As for Rorty, he is talking about a very, very specific group—fundamentalists. I think he is right to fight fundamentalists tooth and nail. I think that fundamentalism is a real threat to freedom and democracy. I can see why Rorty would talk this way and offer push back. It’s not his style otherwise, but I admire him for his courage here. What I don’t admire in the New Atheists are the overgeneralizations (“Religion poisons everything”), the impatience with nuance, and the smug certitude of their correctness. Rorty wasn’t like this in a general way. His rhetoric is directed very precisely here. I have no quarrel with taking down a noxious target.

    As for Sartre, I love Sartre, and the quotes are honest that you offered. God, thank you for an honest atheist in Sartre!

    As for Russell, I feel like Russell was a lot like Ronald Reagan: He could tell you to fuck off with a smile and a grin and you didn’t realize that he had just handed you your cajones in a paper bag. Russell knew how to deploy humor that could generally get you laughing at yourself or acknowledging faults in yourself. He somehow put us all together in the same boat of temptations, so Russell’s rhetoric rarely feels as us v. them as contemporary angry “confidence atheists.” It doesn’t feel like mocking. As for the quote you offer, I would note his qualifier: “mainly.” But I also note that he takes the qualifier away at the end of the quote.
    So I concede that Russell could bite. As for his observation that cruelty and fear goes together, I would simply ask: Why is there so much blatant cruelty among atheist threads?

    Rorty said that to a liberal, cruelty is the worst thing a person can do. Why is there so much personal attack and aggression towards people who disagree with the New Atheists. Why the demeaning? Russell, in your very quote, said cruelty, fear, and religion go together. Is the New Atheism taking on traits akin to zealous religion?

    —Santi

    1. “I don’t begrudge Shelley’s anger, and I certainly understand it. I think it’s important to express it if you feel it. I think people should say what they think. I like people who are direct and honest.”

      “Rorty said that to a liberal, cruelty is the worst thing a person can do. Why is there so much personal attack and aggression towards people who disagree with the New Atheists.”

      Make up your mind.

    2. “God, thank you for an honest atheist in Sartre!”

      It seems to me that you are implicitly claiming that all atheists think like Sartre does, but that the rest of us are lying about it. Is that in fact your view?

      1. Screechy:

        I’m saying that Sartre wasn’t full of shit. I’m not implying that you are. You might be, for all I know. I don’t know.

        Are you?

        —Santi

      2. Evasion noted.

        Odd, for someone who claims “I think people should say what they think. I like people who are direct and honest.”

  19. Ophelia:

    I think it would be cruel to ask a person like Shelley not to express his rage. It’s a form of cruelty to ask people to eat their anger. When I was a teenager and let my fundamentalist religious beliefs go you would have heard me tell anyone who told me to eat my anger to fuck off.

    But there’s a point where blind rage turns to sighted rage, and then a willingness to make distinctions, and then to target your rage on the right objects, and then to try to understand your rage and your objects of rage, and make your way to compassion and understanding (for yourself and for those others who were formerly your objects of rage).

    Perhaps when I talk about moderation and making distinctions today it’s as someone who has burned through my anger. If there are people in their teens and 20s on these threads, and their rage at wasted years hurting themselves with religion is still raw with them, obviously what I say is going to piss them off, and they’re going to want to erect their hate on me.

    It’s an old, old story. The older guy says chill at your targets of rage, the younger people scoff and play out the role of Oedipus. The end is always the same—a plucking out of the eyes at the ultimate truths revealed, and a stage strewn with corpses.

    But here’s my issue. I think that old guys (like Coyne, Myers, and Dawkins) have very little excuse for their rage, especially very comfy old guys. They’ve had time to bring their rage down, integrate it, and to make distinctions, and yet they continue to pose as fat Byrons fighting their childhood devils.

    When I pick a rhetorical fight here about strategy towards religion, it’s towards those older men who have read their history and Freud, know that psychological projection and demonization is disasterous for humanity, and yet they keep fueling it with jut-jawed self righteousness, mockery of opponents, and impatience with distinctions and nuance.

    In older men, it’s demagogic. I’m only contradicting myself if you refuse to acknowledge distinctions between the passionate young and (what should be) maturer and calmer older people in positions of responsibility.

    An atheist like Gould I admired. He made distinctions. He took his public responsibilities to make distinctions seriously, and he called people out when they demonized others or turned science into scientism. Oh, and he acted like a grown up.

    —Santi

  20. “I’m only contradicting myself if you refuse to acknowledge distinctions between the passionate young and (what should be) maturer and calmer older people in positions of responsibility.”

    Nonsense. You said what you said. That was:

    “I think people should say what they think. I like people who are direct and honest.”

    You didn’t say “I think young people should say what they think. I like young people who are direct and honest.” You said what you did say.

    The way you describe the people you dislike, of course, is sheer nonsense – that’s demagogic, if you like. It’s typical of the anti-atheist backlash, that kind of selective hyperbole and vituperation. Very undignified – are you an “old guy”? Much too old to stoop so low, I’m sure.

  21. When I pick a rhetorical fight here about strategy towards religion, it’s towards those older men who have read their history and Freud, know that psychological projection and demonization is disasterous for humanity, and yet they keep fueling it

    Um, I suspect the pathological ‘science’ of Freud won’t find much traction among scientist or skeptic atheists. And that is what I seem to observe.

    What are often mentioned is the hypothesis of the Overton window, and of course the history of suffragettes and gays successfully pushing it.

    An atheist like Gould I admired. He made distinctions. He took his public responsibilities to make distinctions seriously, and he called people out when they demonized others or turned science into scientism. Oh, and he acted like a grown up.

    To support the claim, that atheists or especially scientists would turn such a valuable support as science into philosophy, by the fallacy of appeal to authority dis-empowers philosophy.

    And to support the claim by the authority of the author of the philosophical argument of NOMA _on science_ dis-empowers the authority, and makes the argument laughable.

    What is your evidence that any of those you mentioned doesn’t act grown up? It isn’t evident to me.

    1. Torborjn:

      Acting grown up? Two quick examples:

      I hardly think that name calling is a grown up gesture, but Coyne now coins as “faitheist” his accomodationist opponents. It’s not a designation I would give to myself, and I find it juvenile to have it directed towards me. But Coyne set the juvenile tone on this, and it’s just one more bit of static for people to have to try to talk civilly through.

      I also don’t think that PZ Myers destruction last summer of a Catholic wafer on the Internet characterized adult (or even particularly sane or humane) behavior.

      —Santi

      1. Screechy Monkey:

        I’m trying to distinguish a low-key doubting atheist or agnostic from a confident atheist. Really I think that “faitheist” is the best name for the confidence atheist because it takes a lot of faith to be a confident atheist, but Coyne wants the designation “faitheist” to refer to people like me, so I’m trying to respect that at his own site (even though I reject the term for myself). I do, however, regard it as ironic to put on someone like me the term “faitheist” (who has zip confidence about the ultimate nature of the universe at all).

        Anyway, I thought designating someone a “confidence atheist” is as accurate as I can get for one who expresses rhetorical confidence and high certituded in their atheist opinions (both concerning the non-existence of mind prior to matter or independent of matter and with regard to religion).

        I think that (for example) Coyne and Camus are different types of atheists, and the issue of “confidence” seems decisive. If you have an alternative, suggest it.

        —Santi

      2. Santi is right, he is NOT a faitheist. He is a theist and a supernaturalist who believes in the woo of mind over matter. I expect next he will believe in the non-germ theory of chiropractic and aromatherapy and Homeopathy.

      3. Your definition of “one who expresses rhetorical confidence and high certituded in their atheist opinions” is bizarre.

        First, there’s a perfectly good term for atheists who claim to be certain of the non-existence of gods: “strong atheist.” And that doesn’t apply to the people you’re trying to label.

        So it seems your definition only applies to those who express opinions boldly, instead of mincingly and apologetically. In which case, I think the word you’re looking for is “uppity.”

        Or perhaps you could explain why Chris Mooney — who is both an atheist and who states opinions with “rhetorical certainty,” doesn’t get your label of “confidence atheist.”

        You seem pretty sure of the opinions you express here — does that make you a “confidence faitheist”?

        And are we supposed to believe it’s just a coincidence that “confidence atheist” sounds a lot like “confidence man”?

  22. Ophelia:

    It clearly bothers you that I say, on the one hand, that I like directness in speech, but then I criticize that directness in Coyne, Myers, and Dawkins. You see this as a gross contradiction. I see it as keeping my eyes open, and not letting the “spell” of directness—however rhetorically pleasurable and admirable in its honesty—blind me to the fact that it carries with it real world consequences that should be thought about, and should give one pause.

    The very strengths of Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne (their “confidence atheism,” their directness, their gifts for the delicious turn of the rhetorical knife) are also precisely their weaknesses.

    Why also weaknesses? Because once you choose as your way of being in the world “confidence anything” (confidence atheist, confidence theist, confidence Republican, confidence leftist) you become like Yeats’s falcon in his great poem, “The Second Coming.” Your falcon-flying rhetoric begins to take your life over, and the falcon can no longer find the falconer’s hand, and the center ceases to hold. Nuance and making cautioning and qualifying distinctions start to become signs of weakness. Civil dialogue and engagement with opponents slowly but surely gets displaced by a fierce moral earnestness that barely listens to others, and is marked by impatience and mockery.

    When you become a purveyor of confidence and directness you can definitely build an audience, but it has a “deal with the devil” quality to it, for you are accutely aware that if your rhetoric should ease into too many qualifiers, or you start making nice with your enemies, your audience will dry up. You will be like Kafka’s Hunger Artist with nobody coming around your cage anymore.

    And so you’ve got to say it more directly and more confidently with each new round, and act more theatrically. And it becomes a theater where the audience whispers to one another, “How’s the atheist Hunger Artist going to top his last rhetorical flourish or stunt? Boy, he’s really out there, isn’t he? He’s full of passionate intensity. I wish I were that brave.”

    It’s precisely this dynamic that led PZ Myers to destroy a Catholic wafer on the Internet last year.

    —Santi

    1. No it doesn’t “bother” me – this is a discussion, not a relationship. It’s just a contradiction (as you admit), that’s all.

      Mention of The Notorious Wafer is worth less than nothing when stripped of its context.

      Your commments are too long – that gives them an air of self-importance which is unlikely to persuade your adversaries.

      1. Ophelia:

        I’m under no illusion that my “adversaries” (as you call them) can be won over to anything. Confidence atheists are as committed to their beliefs as Rush Limbaugh is to his, and are similarly enclosed in a bubble of rectitude and an arsenal of circular reasoning. My “adversaries” are perfectly safe from me.

        It’s the fair minded and less committed who, I think, will sometimes find merit in what I might say around here.

        —Santi

      2. Ophelia:

        Oh, stale bread! So many rules, rules, rules! Commandments for “coughing into ink” (Yeats again).

        Argument is more than brief claims accompanied by brief supports at Twitter length. Argument is the moist persona, syntactical rhythms, word choice, appeals to poetry, and, yes, performance. As Michael Shermer has said, we are, all of us, living on the proscenium between the final curtain and the audience.

        —Santi

    2. The very strengths of Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne (their “confidence atheism,” their directness, their gifts for the delicious turn of the rhetorical knife) are also precisely their weaknesses.

      Now that is an ignorant statement that only Republicans and liars use.

      You statements in the following paragraph are wrong and laughable.

      The biggest laugh is Santi trying to talk about civil discussion. With his libelous and defamatory comments, extremely bad premises and logic that is backwards and straight out of “1984”, not to forget about his disgusting habit of attributing words and deeds and thoughts to others that only come from his delusional twisted mind and not from the actual people, he has the nerve to talk about civil discourse.

  23. Ophelia:

    Really, we’re having an old debate: Are those who council calm in argument in some sense complicitous in evil? Whence passion in debate? William Buckley (counseling calm) and Noam Chomsky (affirming passion) discuss the Vietnam War in the clip I link below. I can’t help but hear contemporary resonances in our contemporary debates over religion, politics, and culture. Cool reason v. passionate certitude. It’s an old debate:

    youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEIrZO069Kg&eurl

    —Santi

  24. Santi said:

    Argument is the moist persona, syntactical rhythms, word choice, appeals to poetry, and, yes, performance.

    No, Santi, those are the tactics of someone who does not have a real argument. That is why you obfuscate and throw out a meaningless word salad of diarrheal spew so often. Arguments are not won by the pound.

    As Michael Shermer has said, we are, all of us, living on the proscenium between the final curtain and the audience.

    Michael Shermer says a lot of silly things. He is a faitheist.

    1. Really. Argument is not an art form or a branch of literature. If you want to write poetry, write poetry (though not here, I hope – have some compassion for our host), but don’t delude yourself that that’s arguing.

      In truth, I would also urge you not to delude yourself that your writing style is impressive or otherwise of value. Sir Thomas Browne you’re not, and anyway a baroque style is very hard to do well. You obviously fancy yourself as an erudite spinner of spells, but frankly, the effect doesn’t come off.

      1. Ophelia:

        From my vantage, it is better to have tried to fly, than not to have attempted flight at all. To your mind I’m a deluded Don Quixote, but Quixote was happy and alive.

        You see argumentation in terms of Locke, I see it in terms of Vico. You think I’ve got argumentation and literature confused; I think you’re missing the music of argument.

        Perhaps (as an atheist) you prefer your arguments like you prefer your matter: dead, determinate, predictable. Like a cool tomb, your arguments must efficiently and neatly account for everything, all bones white and in their proper places. Perhaps the “ontology of death” (Tillich’s phrase) has to go all the way down for you. You don’t even want your language charmed. It must be an equation, a stitched mouth. Perhaps you distrust anything vital.

        —Santi

      2. Perhaps (as an atheist) you prefer your arguments like

        Once again for the ignorant theistic, supernatural woo believer Santi:

        Atheism is the lack of belief in any gods.
        Atheism is the lack of belief in any gods.
        Atheism is the lack of belief in any gods.

        Don Quixote is fiction, you ignorant troll. That is one of your many problems. You do not know the difference.

        Santi, your arguments are slimy green jello where no one can pin anything to the wall because your thoughts are incoherent and your analogies are specious nonsense and you project your delusion upon others and attribute malicious lies to others in direct contradiction to what they say.

        Santi, you think discussion is a game where you win by bringing up irrelevant nonsense. You display gross mental deficiencies here and, as always, you divert the thread from any meaningful discourse.

  25. Rather than 9/11, let me–as a relatively young person–give my own reasons for being skeptical of organized religion.

    I was born in 1979. I have vivid memories of the downfall of PTL and Jimmy Swaggart. Although they were protestant and I was Catholic, their downfalls made me skeptical of organized religion from a young age.

    I was also raised to have a certain disrespect for Church authority by my feminist mother (she went to high school in the 1970’s) because the RCC refused to ordain women.

    Nevertheless, I was very religious and studied religion and physics a lot, which of course led to me becoming an atheist. Stumbling across 19th century German bible criticism was a major turning point, but it was finding out the extent of Mother Theresa’s venality that prompted me to actually leave the church. (I had kept going out of inertia even though I privately acknowledged I had no faith.)

    So, I don’t know how old the people surveyed in the 1990’s were, but I do know that those scandals I mentioned above had a profound effect on my developing mind. Seeing a preacherman not only disgraced but carted away in handcuffs was very powerful. Bakker’s fancy cars and lavish house also made me wonder…

    One other thing: in the 2000’s, one of the actual criticisms I have repeatedly heard from young people (those a decade younger than myself) as to why they left xtianity is that they disagreed with the program of hatred of gays. Gay-baiting has been around for a while but picked up big-time in the 1990’s. The only time I can recall 9/11 coming up was Sam Harris. (I think it did deal a blow to Western Islam apologists.)

    If my intuition about events when a person is 8 or 9 making an impact when they’re 16 or 17 is true, then there may be some teenagers now who are leaving religion b/c of 9/11.

  26. Screechy Monkey:

    In response to my use of the phrase “confidence atheist”, you say:

    “[T]here’s a perfectly good term for atheists who claim to be certain of the non-existence of gods: “strong atheist.” And that doesn’t apply to the people you’re trying to label. So it seems your definition only applies to those who express opinions boldly, instead of mincingly and apologetically.”

    Okay, so you don’t want people to beat around the bush, and you don’t want people apologizing for what they say. I agree with that. So why do you have a problem with me? I don’t beat around the bush. You know exactly where I’m coming from. And I don’t apologize for my strong agnosticism.

    But you’ve just conceded that you think that “strong atheism” is NOT the position of most people here. How then is it coherent to, in fact, doubt your position (that God doesn’t exist) even as you behave rhetorically, and without mincing or apology, as if you are certain that God doesn’t exist and religious people are full of shit?

    I can see why I wouldn’t mince or engage in apology. I’m a strong agnostic. I’m convinced that both atheists and theists are dicking with themselves. I don’t think atheists or theists no shit about what’s really going on, and if one side happens to be right, it’s not because they’re thinking more clearly than the other side. It’s because they’re lucky. Indeed, I think that whichever side, in the end, is right, it will be for reasons neither side is offering right now! Think about that! We know so little about the universe just 350 intsy years after Newton, that the room for surprise is huge. Even monsterous and terrifying. That’s me as a strong agnostic speaking.

    But if (as you say) you and others here reject strong atheism, and believe that, in fact, atheism may well be false, and God might well exist, then why not be careful to bring your rhetoric in accord with your actual position, and set qualifiers on your assertions, and insist on nuances and distinctions and basic fairness for theism, since (as you say above) you are not a strong atheist, and you are not “certain of the non-existence of gods”, and you are convinced others around here share your views?

    If you were a strong atheist I would attack you for the stupidity of your position, but if you’re a weak atheist, but are using strong atheist rhetorical tactics, then I would say, “Your words aren’t matching your actual beliefs, or your words are revealing yourself to be a stronger atheist than you consciously wish to affirm for yourself.”

    Which is it?

    Is there the “strong atheist” (both convinced and direct in rhetoric), the “confidence atheist” (not convinced, but nevertheless direct in rhetoric), and the agnostic (counciling ongoing dialogue, but convinced both strong atheists and strong theists are smug epistemic overreachers)?

    —Santi

    1. And I don’t apologize for my strong agnosticism.

      That, as usual from you, Santi is not the truth. Since you believe in the supernatural “mind over matter” delusion, you are a theist or a ‘new-age’ proponent. You are not even close to being agnostic.

      But you’ve just conceded that you think that “strong atheism” is NOT the position of most people here. How then is it coherent to, in fact, doubt your position (that God doesn’t exist) even as you behave rhetorically, and without mincing or apology, as if you are certain that God doesn’t exist and religious people are full of shit?

      Wow, a paragraph of completely DISHONEST pseudo-logic that starts with a attribution that the person did not make through twisted logic to another non-assertion to end in an ad hominem lie.

      Santi, you are the only one here ‘dicking with themselves’ due to your diarrhea spew that satisfies only your mental masturbation.

      The rest of Santi’s tirade has nothing to do with what Screechy Monkey actually commented and is just another way that Santi derails the thread for his malicious purposes which includes his supernatural beliefs.

      I continue to suggest that this lying, distorting, obfuscating thread derailing troll be permanently banned. He has no value here, or as far as I can see, in life.

    2. What a bunch of nonsense.

      First, as to “So why do you have a problem with me? I don’t beat around the bush.” Bullshit. Scroll up a bit, and look at how you imply that we’re all liars, but when confronted with it, act all coy because you don’t have the balls to own up to the insults you fling.

      Second, it’s complete nonsense to suggest that one is obligated to be mincing and apologetic simply because one can’t be 100% certain of something.

      We don’t know with absolute 100% certainty that cigarette smoking causes cancer. It could be that all of the studies that have been done produced false positives through a series of extraordinarily unlikely outcomes. (Or, if you prefer, that some god is deceiving us into thinking that cigarette smoking causes cancer.)

      But I suspect that even you don’t demand that the Surgeon-General change the warning on cigarette packages to “cigarette smoking might cause cancer. I mean, we sort of think so, but nobody can say for sure. You’re certainly entitled to a contrary opinion, for which we shall have the greatest respect.”

      We don’t do that, because based on the available evidence it is overwhelmingly likely that smoking causes cancer. And the trivial fact that we can’t be certain of practically anything doesn’t make it rational to reject the available evidence, or to make it necessary to preface every statement with, “well, we can’t know this for absolute certainty.”

      Indeed, your own posts don’t show any such qualifiers, in any context other than the existence of god. You want to carve out an exception for that: only statements about gods must be prefaced with apologies and gosh-we-can’t-really-know disclaimers.

      It’s that kind of special treatment for religious claims that I object to, and that I think most so-called “New Atheists” object to.

  27. Screechy Monkey:

    You said: “But I suspect that even you don’t demand that the Surgeon-General change the warning on cigarette packages to ‘cigarette smoking might cause cancer. I mean, we sort of think so, but nobody can say for sure. You’re certainly entitled to a contrary opinion, for which we shall have the greatest respect.'”

    Maybe this is where the fault-line between us lies. I completely agree with you that smoking causes cancer, and that no reasonable person would qualify the statement in the parody-fashion that you supply above.

    There are things that we can reasonably use the factive verb “know” concerning. Cigarette smoking causes cancer is one of them.

    But here’s where you and I differ. Atheism comes nowhere near the level of epistemic certainty that you ascribe to cigarette smoking and cancer. We know everything about a pack of cigarettes and their interactions with lungs. We know the content of cigarettes, we know how lungs work, we have test results and correlations.

    But when it comes to, say, how (if atheism is true) matter could come into existence in the first place, from nothing, we don’t even have a reasonable guess. Or if we ask, where did the laws of physics that make matter function come from, we again have no clue. And if we say, well, how did matter generate the information in the first cell, again we don’t know. And if we ask, how does matter make mind, again we are clueless.

    Given the poverty of our current state of knowledge, it is not unreasonable to keep in play the possibility that mind precedes matter in the universe, and that mind and the first cell cannot be reduced to matter.

    Feel free to believe in atheism as deeply as cigarettes cause cancer. That, to my mind, is a “strong atheist” position. But to me, that’s also a wildly premature epistemic leap. Cigarettes and the mystery of mind from matter (or matter from mind) are not even in the same fucking ballpark (to echo Marcelus Wallace, in Pulp Fiction, on the difference in meaning between foot massages and paying a visit to the “holy of holies”).

    —Santi

    1. Atheism comes nowhere near the level of epistemic certainty that you ascribe to cigarette smoking and cancer.

      The troll Santi still does not understand the word atheism. We must tell it to his yet again:

      Atheism is lack of belief in gods.
      Atheism is lack of belief in gods.
      Atheism is lack of belief in gods.

      Nothing else. Not even a hint of the nonsense that the troll Santa attributes to it.

      …play the possibility that mind precedes matter in the universe…

      Yet again, the ignorant troll, Santi vomits forth his supernatural, theistic bullshit mind/matter crap.

      Here is is again for the 2 second of attention span for the ignorant, theist troll santi:

      Atheism is lack of belief in gods.
      Atheism is lack of belief in gods.
      Atheism is lack of belief in gods.

      Now this gem of a paragraph:

      Feel free to believe in atheism as deeply as cigarettes cause cancer. That, to my mind, is a “strong atheist” position. But to me, that’s also a wildly premature epistemic leap. Cigarettes and the mystery of mind from matter (or matter from mind) are not even in the same fucking ballpark (to echo Marcelus Wallace, in Pulp Fiction, on the difference in meaning between foot massages and paying a visit to the “holy of holies”).

      is a paragraph that wins as one of the most stupid statements of 2009! The ignorance and delusion and lies and irrelevant analogies are mind boggling.

      I nominate Santi as the biggest clown, liar, obfuscatory troll and overall worst debater in the free world!

  28. How about the popularization of the internet as a cause? The first search engines started up around 1993.

  29. Theory of evolution claims that all life evolved from the ocean. That means EVERYTHING ON EARTH ALIVE. This means, fish, even whales the size of the blue whale, a city block, all the billions of life forms of insects, fish, plants, flowers, trees, predators, birds, microbes, coral, monkeys and man ALL came from the ocean. Right?
    When it all boils down to it, theory of evolution claims an ocean of saltwater created ALL THAT. Woe, that’s one SMART ocean! I’m going to have to bottle it up and start selling it because it MAKES LIFE! of BILLIONS OF VARIETIES. Of course, given enough time, anything can come up out of the mud puddle! Even a man. Not only that, but a whale came out of the very same mud puddle as man! And every tree and every plant and every insect all with totally unique DNA, that if composed one strand of the information in it would fill books that would reach to the moon. That took man 9 years to figure out. ALL came from a swamp?
    Man that’s some SMART water to have created every type of form of life on earth. When yet, man can’t find not one life form on any other planet and here on Earth, there are TRILLIONS! And is why man AND earth are considered special in the scriptures. I’d any day have God as my ancestor than an ape. But you’re more than welcome to believe yours was an ape.
    Water can’t create every form of life on Earth. Intelligent design has to have an intelligent designER. To believe WE evolved…is to also believe a CAR can evolve from scap metal. A computer, a sky scraper, a house and every robotic piece of equipment ALL, over time, waiting long enough…can put itself together to form an object of intelligent mechanics. Man being FAR more complex…takes A GOD to create Him. As does all life. Salt water guys can’t construct all the trillions of life forms on earth. That takes intelligence. Doesn’t it? No? Then I challenge you to your own debate. Try to create an ant. I’ll give you a lab and a life time, and I bet you can’t do it. Just an ant. Just a tiny ant. Unless you have an original. Made by God Himself. Whose to say that God didn’t design a meat eating plant too. Only those who believe that water created all life on earth. Now THAT is definately unbelievable. Apparently some have not been following the archeological digs in israel that are matching scriptures and they are using scriptures to find what they are finding. Tomb of Herod, Temples of Soloman, Remains of Sodom, remains of Noah’s Ark, etc.
    C’mon guys, do you REALLY think that WATER and SALT alone created ALL the forms of LIFE on Earth? REALLY? Cause that’s exactly what you are believing if you believe in evolutionary theory.

    1. Sigh, another ignorant person has spoken. Why do these theistic retards think that they can spout their dogma here and not be laughed at by those who use logic, evidence, critical thinking and the scientific method?

  30. Shinja44:

    Ah, Shinja, you said it in oversimplistic terms, but you nevertheless ask a damn good rhetorical question. How could blind matter ever have come to have the informational properties of life, and the characteristics of mind? It’s not unreasonable to posit that some mind prior to matter gave matter the properties that could bring about such bizaare things, or that mind and life cannot be reduced to matter.

    As one philosopher has so bluntly put it: “How does meat dream?”

    —Santi

    1. It’s not unreasonable to posit that some mind prior to matter gave matter the properties that could bring about…

      Yes, it is unreasonable.

      Without any evidence and without any hint of it whatsoever, it becomes a delusional speculation.

      As rational people so bluntly put it: “Fictional nonsense interpreted falsely into reality is a sign of a mental disease”.

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