John Shook “clarifies”

September 29, 2010 • 4:46 pm

Over at his own CfI blog,  “It’s only natural,” John Shook, Director of Education and senior research fellow at the Center for Inquiry,  reacts to the new poll showing that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than many believers–and, by inference, deals with the brouhaha about his HuffPo article on the abysmal theological ignorance of atheists.  Actually, he doesn’t deal with that: he simply tells us that we really must understand theology and then pats atheists on the back for having done so (his piece is called “Atheist pride in understanding religion“).  It’s pretty lame, and doesn’t address the controversy aroused by his misguided remarks.

Atheists who have some comprehension of religion and how its ideological system works should rightfully be proud, as proud as atheists satisfied with knowing naturalism alone. And all atheists should be encouraged to put their knowledge to good use. Those atheists who want to publicly engage believers in civil discourse will admirably support the rational and naturalistic worldview, and probably open up more cracks of doubt in believers. There is no reason at all to just assume, as a few atheists do, that no intellectual engagement with religion is possible or worthwhile. As I repeatedly urge, atheists do have the superior worldview and our intellectual leadership from Richard Dawkins to Daniel Dennett and many more, too numerous to name, should be our role models. Recommending some familiarity with religious thinking is no treacherous betrayal, but wise counsel.

Atheists capable of guiding public discourse about religion, and capable of showing religious people a dignified and smart way to abandon religion’s delusions, are heroic figures in these dangerous times. We must use every strategy possible to confront religion. From the sparks of slashing debate to the smiles of pointed blasphemy, atheists can do it with our wits.

Okay, fine and noble sentiments.  But click the link supporting his claim that “no intellectual engagement with religion is possible.”  It doesn’t link, as you might expect, to any atheists who made that claim, but to his original HuffPo article. And that article, while flinging out strong accusations of theological ignorance, doesn’t name any perpetrators.

And he ascribes “intellectual leadership” to Richard Dawkins?  I would have thought that Dawkins was one of the theologically benighted who inspired Shook’s original post: one of the “know-nothings” who is “proud of their ignorance.”  After all, Shook said this: “To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person.”  Who, exactly, are these “loudest atheists”?  Who is louder than Dawkins–or Hitchens?  Dawkins is, of course, the atheist most often accused of not knowing “sophisticated” theology.

I have a feeling that Shook (like Phil Plait in his “don’t be a dick” talk) won’t be forthcoming with examples of prominent atheists who are know-nothings.  I read his new article as a retraction, but not really a retraction.  Mistakes were made, but not by Dr. Shook.

I challenge Shook to name names and give examples–and not examples of a few blog commenters who don’t know theology.  Until he does so, I have little respect for the man.

132 thoughts on “John Shook “clarifies”

  1. Even a self-described “conservative Jew” in the Anthro dept. at the college where I teach part-time, and regular sparring partner of mine when it comes to theology, admitted that the survey results showed a clear reality about atheism.

    The older quote by Shook you added to your original post, combined with his insistence that he’s “one of us” in this latest is somewhat encouraging. But yeah the failure to produce real examples of “ignorance” or “being a dick” is still glaring.

    I posted the don’t-be-a-dick thing on my Facebook at one point and some fellow atheists commented that they had seen atheists get pretty nasty in the comments on certain blogs but nobody has come forth with a specific quote attributable to Dawkins, Dennett, or Harris.

    I also posted the Hitchens-Berlinski debate and emphasized the closing remark by Hitch on faith being a “servile weakness,” etc. A believer friend of mine took major issue with that line, we exchanged a couple of posts, and then he went silent. Not sure if we’re still friends…

  2. I still think that the controversy around his previous remarks are a bit of a storm in a teacup.

    If I was an outsider looking in, I would view all of this as an overreaction.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pick this stuff to pieces – we should, and I’m glad you’re doing such a good job of it.

    But perspective and context don’t hurt either.

    That aside: I think you’re damn right.

    Unless Shook was playing silly buggers, I think he’s fallen victim to something of an echo chamber effect.

    Many, many, many religious critics of gnu atheism claim that we’re ignorant of theology. And we certainly are quick to dismiss theology, and we tend to be quite snarky about the topic. So on an emotional level, it must certainly feel like we gnu atheists don’t know much about theology at all. If that view gets reflected back at someone from enough sources, it starts to look like an observed fact about the gnu atheists. Belief then shapes perception.

    Nevermind whether or not we actually do, or whether our arguments for dismissing theology are sound – the decision’s already been made. >.<

    So no – I don't think John will be able to name many names. I'll be very, very surprized if he does.

    Also, considering the number of out-of-context sound-bites around of Richard Dawkins dismissing theology in what sounds like (or reads like) a one-sentence justification – who else where the readers supposed to think he meant?

    Blergh. Sloppy. Another step down.

    1. I wouldn’t say we’ve been quick to dismiss theology. We’re accused of giving short shrift to the latest-and-greatest; most of us are hyper-aware of the “best” of the previous 15 centuries worth.

      1. Sorry – clarification:

        Believer: *big smile* “Ahh – but you haven’t considered the Kalaam Cosmological Argument!
        Atheist: *twitch*
        Atheist: “You realize that argument has been rebutted, like, a million times already, right?”
        Believer: “H-uh.”
        Believer (thinking): These atheists sure are quick to dismiss theology – they can’t know much about it, if that’s how they react

        So yes, we’re hyper-aware. Which is why when we’re presented with the same argument for the umpteenth time, it takes almost inhuman patience for many of us to not just slap it back with a two-sentence rebuttal.

        Another example:

        Believer: “Oh, but theologian XYZ thinks that-”
        Atheist: “Look, theology works by assuming God exists at the start – so you can’t use theology to prove God exists. It’s a fallacy.”
        Believer: “Fallacy? What’s that?”
        Atheist: “Urgh, you have no idea about logical argument, do you?”
        Believer: “What? Yes I do! The Bible says that only the fool says in his heart that-”
        Atheist: “Yeah, that’s a fail. This conversation is over. Dismissed.”

        In that sense we can be quick to dismiss theology – and understandably so.

        Which isn’t a problem of itself. I’m very sure we can all, on request, offer more expansive analysis of theology and the rebuttals thereof. However – this takes time and energy, and to do that every damn time someone raises the same tired argument in the certain knowledge that the argument will just be raised again in another five fucking minutes can be… frustrating. Understandably so.

        So the quick rejection isn’t a problem in itself – it’s justified. But it does shape perception in unfortunate ways.

  3. I hope Pew does another study, but instead of general religious knowledge, this one could be specifically about theology. Let’s just see who the real “know nothings” are. Why do I have a feeling the average atheist knows more about the theology of Thomas Aquinas than the average Catholic in the pew?

    1. Believer: “Why did you abandon Jesus?”
      Me: “Well – it’s arguable whether or not I ever really believed in the first place. Anyway, there’s a bunch of reasons. For a start, the metaphysics are just plain wacky.”
      Believer: “Oh, but you can’t have considered theology?”
      Me: “Actually, I quite liked Augustine – he was dark and interesting. But Calvin and Thomas Aquinas are just nutty, logical fallacies all over the place.”
      Believer: *blink*
      Me: “Calvin? Augustine? Thomas Aquinas? Ring any bells?”
      Believer: “Look, enough about that. Did you consider this part of the Bible where it says that the fool says in his heart-”
      Me: “So you’re saying I’m a fool?”
      Believer: “I’m just telling you what the *Bible* says about-”
      Me: “I’ve read the Bible already. John and Luke copied Mark, and then Matthew copied them and added a bunch of crazy stuff about the dead rising from graves and wandering around Jerusalem.”
      Believer: “What? He certainly didn’t!”
      Me: “He does – actually read it, it’s freaking weird. But don’t lecture me on the Bible.”
      Believer: “Well, okay, you’re closed off to that too. But when you look at a tree, can’t you see that it’s been designed by a higher power for the delight of man?”
      Me: “Look, until you start acknowledging that I’ve been knocking back your arguments, I’m just going to stare into space and ignore you.”
      Believer: “Well, if you’re that closed minded, I’ll pray for you.”
      Me: *stares into middle distance*

      1. I have the same discussion.

        To be a bit pedantic, it was Matthew and Luke that copied Mark and another unknown source. Matthew did add wackiness though. John is its own thing and really wacky. John was the last one written and some 30 to 40 years after Mark, which was written 30+ years after the incidents it talks about.

        1. Really? Damn. I’ve forgotten my gospel lessons.

          I knew that two of them were written from Mark, and the other one was its own thing. I just always thought that Matthew stood out like a sore thumb, it has the most zombies. I must have had a memory error or something, my lessons were over a decade ago after all.

          Don’t mind the pedantry – I’m a pedant too, and appreciate the quality in others. Thanks. ^_^

  4. Yeah, I feelmso much better now.
    Dr Shook is suffering from an acute case of foot in the mouth syndrome.
    He expects it to go away even without an apology.

  5. Shook is (understandably) being bludgeoned in the comments section of that post–and, notably, he has responded. He still names no “bad” names and seems to have entirely forgotten what he actually wrote in the HuffPo piece, but he’s there.

    I’d quote and link his comment here, but my “smart” (heh) phone won’t let me. I encourage all to read it.

    1. Certainly not as quick as your accusation of glibness. Jerry specifically said that Shook has sunk in his estimation because he threw a couple of wild insults in the general direction of Gnu Atheists—and then tried to weasel out by saying, ‘Present company excluded.’ As I said in a comment on the CfI blog, that’s underhand and lazy. As such, it is certainly undeserving of any respect.

      I suppose Jerry could have made it clearer that he isn’t disrespecting Shook as a human being so much as the behaviour he is displaying. But as I said over at Butterflies & Wheels:

      [I]n most cases there is the clear implication that Person A is stupid for doing/saying/believing a specific thing, quite analogously to the Forrest Gump principle of ‘stupid is as stupid does’.

      Let’s try and honour the explicit intent of the author (which in this case is pretty unmistakable), and not try to make this into something personal where one can then hide behind allegedly hurt feelings and/or faux accusations of ad hominem.

    2. Further, what’s the difference whether Jerry or anyone else knows Shook personally? It’s neither here nor there. Shook has written a series pieces that make certain arguments, and people are responding, often comprehensively, to the substance of those arguments. It’s the opposite of glib.

    3. Please tell me you’re not suggesting that we cannot criticize an author based on his own public writings unless we also know him personally? And presumably, then only if we know him to be a “bad” person?

      Yeesh. First Melody from CFI assuring us all how swell Shook and Mooney are, and now you.

      We’ll need a new name for it: the reverse ad hom fallacy?

      Shook wrote an article that was at best poorly thought out and unclearly written, and at worst a deliberate attempt to smear his fellow atheists to pump up his book sales. I don’t know which. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s the former.

      But either way, criticizing the man’s published article is not “glib” or otherwise improper. It’s kind of how public debate works.

    4. You don’t know Jerry and yet you claim he’s showing a lack of respect for John Shook. Which, of course is a hypocritical position as it’s explicitly engaging in an offensive behavior in which Jerry is purported to be engaging.

      Which, by the way, from my remembrance, Jerry isn’t showing any lack of respect for Shook the human. Rather, he’s showing a lack of respect for Shook’s ill-conceived, fact-free, atheist-bashing load of horse-manure character assassination by implication argument that Dr. Shook HAS FREELY, AND OF HIS OWN CHOICE, PUT IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE FOR DEBATE.

      Seriously, get over it. You say something stupid in a public forum and people rip your ideas apart… That’s not a lack of respect for the human, it’s a lack of respect for the horse-shit you’re peddling.

      The only “sin” is Jerry deconstructing it. Which is fair game seeing as it was put out there in a public forum. Further, Jerry’s direct answer is far nicer than Shook’s Character-Assassination-by-Implication piece. Or it’s non-apology follow-up.

    5. You know, I didn’t know John Shook existed before this incident and I really don’t have a high opinion of him now that I am aware of his existence. I think he’s a bit of a prat and the kind of person who’s obviously more than happy to betray principal in order to flog a book*.

      But according to the various defenders of his who have appeared on this blog (and seem to know him personally), I clearly have too high an opinion of the man.

      They all seem quite eager to portray John Shook the sock-sucking moron; a window licking cretin incapable of expressing his intended meaning clearly in writing.

      I hope that if I ever find myself in a similar situation that my friends would at least offer the more honourable excuse that I had a pressing deadline and was incredibly drunk.

      *Reminds me quite a lot of another individual at CiF.

    6. I think your accusations of glibness are more fitting of the one you are defending.

      It was John who slandered prominent new atheists” and their supporters, remember?

      Perhaps John should model how he thinks “new atheists” should have responded to his criticism when they return the favor.

  6. Jerry,

    I often find myself thinking during my U.S. History class about the views that historians have towards religion. And I wonder if historians may be one of the very few professions that beat out scientists in general (chemists, biologists, astronomers, etc) in their collective disbelief in god.

    At any rate, the tools that historians rigorously use in determining what is true and historically accurate, should be even more damning to religious historical claims than other professions, i would think….

    do you have any info or opinions on this question? (I apologize for getting slightly off topic)

    Of course, I’d be glad to hear from anyone else.

    1. I’ve never seen a full survey of historians but there has been a study showing that students who major in the social sciences are more likely to become less religious during college.

      1. Zing! (Ignorant, know-nothing chemists*! Feh.)

        *Clearly, by “Ignorant, know-nothing chemists,” I don’t mean all chemists or their eloquent leadership, whom I greatly admire. The small, vocal, strident group of dogmatic chemists to whom I refer are defined in a later paragraph.
        I apologize that you misread my comments.

    2. Don’t forget about neuroloscience. While many religious people are still upset over evolution, neuroscience has been steadily chipping away at the notion that souls might exist.

      1. Good point, from what I’ve seen and to the extent that I can understand it, it seems to me that biology has been providing the covering fire whilst neuroscience carries out the stealthy outflanking move.

  7. But click the link supporting his claim that “no intellectual engagement with religion is possible.” It doesn’t link, as you might expect, to any atheists who made that claim, but to his original HuffPo article.

    I noticed that immediately. Pretty telling.

    1. At first it surprised me that he provided a link at all to examples of gnu atheists behaving badly, because so few ever do.

      Then I find that the link is a complete facade. That’s worse than not linking, it’s preying on our laziness!

  8. As much as the above comments are accurate, I would like to point out that, regardless of anything else, Shook is doing something that the religious have a very difficult time doing: Revising his stance in the face of evidence.

    If you feel you need an apology from him for his earlier statements, fine. I do not. The revision of his stance is good enough for me.

        1. Clarification: what I mean is that

          (1) it’s good that he now says he doesn’t think that about the famous New Atheists. It really is, but

          (2) he is denying that he ever said what he clearly did say. (See my comment #15, at 6:40 PM, below.)

          1. Also a good point!

            I thought ‘credit where credit was due’ was obviously grudging the point. I didn’t intend it to come over as a glowing reference (he said, pulling a Shook).


            Okay – you’re exactly right.

            He’s revised his position (good) but not acknowledged that he’s revised his position (bad).

            Sorry, I should have been clearer. My bad.

            (That wasn’t so hard now, was it?)

            1. Not exactly. He has not only not acknowledged that he’s revised his position but he claims that he HAS NOT revised it! To wit:

              Since some other popular bloggers won’t carefully read what I’ve been saying, instead enjoying tactics approaching slander, I’m happy to keep re-saying what I’ve always been saying.

            2. Oh – so we’re wreeding Shook rong? Has he suggested any other literature to enlighten us (aside from his nonsense in the HuffPoo).

            3. Bah! Slapped by Jerry and Mad Scientist – ouch!

              Shook’s first article:
              1) Shook implied Dawkins and his followers were theologically ignorant
              2) Shook implied that many atheists are ignorant know-nothings.

              Shook’s second article:
              1) Shook directly credited Dawkins (albeit in a sucking-up kind of way) positively.
              2) Shook responded to the new study showing atheists were, on average, better informed than believers when it came to religion.

              This is a grudging, measly, and limited shift of position given the rest of his article(s). But even a negligible shift is still a shift. It’s so small I missed it until Rojer3 pointed it out. But again – credit where credit’s due. A small shift in position was made.

              That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still serious problems with Shook’s not-pology. And that doesn’t mean that the problems don’t outweigh those few measly adjustments in the right direction. They do – by a long shot.

              I don’t need to assert that Shook’s latest two articles are entirely bad in order to assert that they are very bad.

              By the way: Shook’s latest two articles are very bad.

              I’m just striving to notice any good things that contradict my otherwise negative opinion of the last two articles. Perhaps I’m striving too hard. But hey, I’m trying to be as generous as I can manage and I still think the latest article is a steaming faex. What does that tell you?

            4. I think that I’ll revise my own position.

              Jerry’s comment @ 6:56 shows that Shook’s falling prey to a fairly common psychological crutch in changing stance while not admitting wrongdoing. It’s pretty common under stress and harsh criticism, and while regrettable, I’m not so sure that we should censure too harshly him because of it. As I’m sure we all have, I’ve stood in Shook’s shoes before. It’s not fun and it takes a particular strength of character that’s unusual enough that we can’t reasonably expect it from everyone. I’m certainly not successful in navigating well-deserved derision all the time. Call me wishy-washy, but I’ve found that the ability to empathize with those you vehemently disagree with is important.

              (and here’s my change in position) But let me add that after a bit more reflection, I find exactly the opposite reaction, that of well deserved criticism, just as reasonable.

              I don’t think I’ll be casting too many aspersions Shook’s way, but I’m perfectly comfortable with people who feel it’s necessary.

            5. Hmm… Just did a search online, and I think I’ve been misled by Robert Silverburg.

              In ‘Up the Line’ one of Silverburg’s characters refers to himself as “a faex” which is explained to be the singular of feces.

              But looking online, I can find no reference to the word. Damn. And there I thought I was being all clever and faex.

            6. As I’m sure we all have, I’ve stood in Shook’s shoes before. It’s not fun and it takes a particular strength of character that’s unusual enough that we can’t reasonably expect it from everyone

              I used to do that. But I out grew it. I’ve trained my children out of it. My wife had to be coaxed out of it.

              Losing face lasts a short time. Not fixing the problem and pretending it doesn’t exist, while it keeps repeating over-and-over-and-over again… That lasts for years…

              So I preach — apologize and move on. Or admit your error and move on. Possibly both.

              It’s easy once you learn how. And it saves so much future drama…

            7. Not exactly. He has not only not acknowledged that he’s revised his position but he claims that he HAS NOT revised it!

              Exactly!! Y’all claiming he’s revised anything have a very strange definition of “revise.” Jerry nailed it the first time: “mistakes were made, but not by me.”

              Moses ZD @ 9:10PM–hear, hear. One has to wonder, though, if coming out with a true “revision” would effectively kill his book? Too bad he didn’t think about the dangers of making blanket, unsupported allegations BEFORE he wrote it…

  9. As I said at perhaps too much length in the earlier thread (and on Shook’s blog), it’s just not credible.

    Shook talked specifically of followers of prominent atheist leaders who are contemptuous of religon and theology, and their “ignorant” “know-nothing” followers who “cheer them on.”

    There simply aren’t many prominent atheist leaders, especially by the standards of HuffPo’s audience. The only people he could credibly be referring to are Dawkins and perhaps the very most famous New Atheists.

    Now he says it’s not them. (And they’re heroes.)

    If so, that leaves the empty set; he can’t have been referring to anybody who actually exists.


    1. Since I’m not about to go back to the polemic at HuffPo, if he’s not excused by Shook, I would hazard to guess PZ Myers. He seems to be a likely target. Maybe a few others.

      But PZ would be my primary choice as he really blasts on religion and it’s evil excesses and has one of the widest read individual blogs on the Internet.

  10. Jerry, didja read my series of posts a couple of days ago on the original Shook piece? I agree that the piece is attacking people like Dawkins and the other Gnu atheist authors. See also the bit about how low-quality the atheist books are. Even if (which is most unlikely) that is not who he meant, you’re totally correct that he chose language which would convey they meaning to the ordinary educated reader. At the very least he could clarify who he really meant – name names, or at least name categories of people.

    Incidentally, while it’s true that atheists scored, on average, 21.9/32 for those Pew questions, that’s still not great. The questions were incredibly easy with only one or two exceptions. I scored 32/32 when I went through them, and I’d expect any educated person to get at least about 27 or 28. But even people who’d done some kind of college-level course in religion averaged much lower. Even a perfect score could be gained with only a superficial knowledge of what the debates are all about.

    Most importantly, though, the average knowledge possessed by believers was dreadful – proof that most of them aren’t basing their belief on any real understanding of the issues but simply on having been socialised into one religion or another.

    1. Yes, Dr. B., I did read those posts in between peregrinations. And I saw those questions, too–they’re really easy!

      So it looks as if even believers don’t have the kind of knowledge that should serve as the foundation of their belief. I wonder if Dr. Shook will now write a column telling people that they should stop believing in God until they’ve attained at least a minimal awareness of theology. I want to see a column on “know-nothing believers”!

      1. If we get such a column, it sure as hell won’t be on HuffPo.

        I find such double standards particularly annoying. It’s like when Reza Aslan tells Sam Harris that his critiques of Islam ring hollow because Sam is not a scholar of Islamic Studies. I don’t see Aslan making that point about apologists for Islam; anyone who wishes to speak in platitudes about how it’s a “religion of peace” can apparently do so with impunity, no PhD required.

  11. Here’s a Gnu atheist on who knows religion best:

    The Koran! well, come put me to the test—
    Lovely old book in hideous error drest—
     Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
    The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

    And do you think that unto such as you,
    A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
     God gave the secret, and denied it me?—
    Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.
    —Omar Khayyám, Rubaiyat (1048–1123)

    1. And not forgetting:

      “Myself when young did eagerly frequent
      Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
      About it and about; but evermore
      Came out by the same Door as in I went.”

  12. Shook’s an idiot. He may as well have saved some words and simply written “when I wrote ‘ignorant’ it should have been obvious to everyone that it meant ‘well informed’.”

    Perhaps Shook imagines that most of the godless were simply born that way? Perhaps he can’t imagine that most of the godless were born into religious families, had a good look at religion, and decided that it was all a load of crap. I do not find it the least bit unusual that godless people would tend to know more about specific religions or even religions in general than the narrow-minded religious folks who poo-poo all other religions without knowing much about their own superstition, much less that of others.

    1. Perhaps Shook imagines that most of the godless were simply born that way?

      Well, actually, everyone was. But for most it didn’t last long…

      (Yes, your meaning was crystal clear; I just couldn’t resist.)

    1. YOu don’t have to go to the CSM. The Pew Foundation will let you take the quiz.

      I scored 100%…again, nothing to brag about, since it’s more about religious trivia than religious knowledge.

      1. I got 100% too! I iz sofistikated! Well, actually, I missed the Constitution question, but it’s WRONG. The Constitution itself says nothing about freedom of religion: that’s in the BILL OF RIGHTS, which are the first ten amendments to the Constitution. So I said “it’s not in the Constitution,” and I consider that the right answer.

        1. Well, Constitutional scholars will disagree with you because the Bill of Rights was the condition upon which the Constitution was ratified.

          They consider the First 10 to be part-and-parcel (geez, twice I’ve used that phrase this week) with the rest of the organizational document.

          So, it’s a little bit of a semantic fine point.

          However, I think those two questions in the survey point out the flaws in the survey. Pew calls it a survey on “religious knowledge”. The questions about the Bill of Rights isn’t about religious knowledge, they’re about Constitutional Law.

          Different. That Pew can’t tell the difference is telling.

          1. You didn’t read the description of the survey.

            Those were control questions, to account for different levels of general knowledge.

            They weren’t there because the Pew folks are too stupid to know the difference, but because they’re smart enough to know what kind of data you need in order to do a factor analysis.

            Please, folks, if you’re going to criticize the survey, don’t do it from the hip.

            1. Which questions are you guys talking about? The questions on such things as whether teachers can lead a class in prayer or teach the Bible as literature were among the 32 questions “on religion” (which is interpreted quite broadly in the report).

              There were certainly some general knowledge questions that were not among the 32, but those were not among them.

              The whole report is available online if you want to see all the specifics.

            2. I think I was confused about which question was under discussion here. (I was confusing it with an argument on a different blog.)

              My apologies.

              If that’s right, I suspect the question in question is part of the set of “religous knowledge” questions, but I would defend its inclusion.

              Many U.S. Christians think that their religion is under attack by secular government in ways that it actually isn’t. That’s part of their self-righteous religious mindset and helps power their political agenda.

              Pointing that up is worth doing. Such motivating ideas are an important aspect of what makes religion work.

        2. The Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) is an inherent part of the Constitution. It is not separate in any meaningful way. Just like Chapter 2 of your book is not separate from your book in any meaningful way.

          1. Yeah, Jerry, you need to do a course in advanced American constitutional law to add to the informal course in Christian and Muslim theology that you’ve been putting yourself through of late. Not to mention your new interest in analytic philosophy of religion. 😉

        3. U.S. Constitution, Article V:

          The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution….

          So, sorry: amendments are part of the Constitution.

          (Did you know the late David Currie? He taught me Constitutional Law at U of C Law.)

          1. Yes.

            The “Bill of Rights” is not a separate document from the Constitution. It’s the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. (Hence part of the amended Constitution.)

            1. Umm. . three days ago I went to the Archives in D. C. and saw these documents. The Constitution itself (labelled “The Constitution”) is displayed in the center of the Rotunda, while the Bill of Rights, labelled “Bill of Rights,” is in a separate alcove to the right. They certainly are separate documents, written and introduced several years apart.

            2. I think there is an equivocation here, depending on whether one is talking about the physical documents or the legal framework they embody. As bits of paper the “Constitution” is separate from the “Bill of Rights”, but as part of the legal framework of the US, the Constitution is made up of the words in that original document plus the words in the later amendments — they are all part of the legal “Constitution”.

        4. OK, smart alecks…I had to go ALL the way back to #12 (why does the countdown go backwards?) to copy the Constitution question:

          12. Which of the following statements best describes what the U.S. Constitution (including amendments) says about religion?

          See anything relevant there, huh? Huh? (Must admit I thought the same thing Jerry thought, then reread the question and answered (needless to say, correctly–:) ) reassured. Don’t all you profs tell your students to be sure to read the questions carefully? LOL

          I’m thinking Jerry & I are both used to the gotcha kind of dirty quizing, wherein the question deviser purposely tries to trick testees (hey, it’s OK in print!) by semantic games…(Greg Laden does this a lot, actually.)

          Furthermore (tho I got all these right), one could argue that the only answers to the questions phrased “Would you tell me if…” [e.g., would you tell me if the dalai lama is ___ ] are yes, no, or perhaps. (I might tell you; then again, I might not…)

          Embarrassing disclosure–much as I’d love to lie, I only scored 29. I like to think it was a brainfart on the nirvana question…I red-facedly admit that I drew a blank on the Great Awakening names (except for being able to rule one out quite easily)…but probably my worst miss was the answer to

          21. Which of these religious groups traditionally teaches that salvation comes through faith alone?

          I guess I’ve heard too often that ya gotta accept Jesus to be saved, and “through faith alone” just doesn’t say the same thing to me…

          slinks off…

          1. Don’t Calvinists insist instead that you’re only saved by grace, and there’s nothing you can do since it’s all in God’s hands?

            I don’t know. The more I delve into theology the more confused I get. Try “Monophysite” versus “Nestorian”. You can pry my Albigensian heresy from my cold dead hands only after you rip Pelagianism from my heart. Or, you know, never mind.

            1. Don’t Calvinists insist instead that you’re only saved by grace, and there’s nothing you can do since it’s all in God’s hands?

              Hey, yeah. I’ve always heard that, too!

              Off to Google your 2nd graf…

            2. Calvinists teach that you are saved by faith alone, but you only have faith through the grace of God—you are predestined to get God’s grace and thus have faith and be part of (“the elect”).

              Or, of course, you’re predestined not to get God’s grace, hence not have faith, and be tortured forever.

              It’s not just Calvin though.

              Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, said the same thing. (I guess it from him, but obsessed about it more and got his name attached to it.)

              I suspect it’s not just Calvinist (e.g. Presbyterian) dogma, but Lutheran as well.

              That’s a bit of religious significa that I’m sure few American Christians are aware of, including millions Christians in churches that officially deny free will of the sort almost all Christians believe in.

              IIRC correctly, the Catholic Church, a few years back, conceded some ground and agreed with the Lutherans on something related to this.

              As I recall, they conceded that you’re not saved by works, but solely through the grace of God.

              Unfortunately, the stuff I googled up was so obfuscated that I couldn’t tell what they were really agreeing to, or whether it was just wordplay.

      2. I only did a 10-question version of the test, but it seemed more like an early high-school level general-knowledge quiz than a theology exam.

        I don’t think it’s evidence that atheists know theology, if only because I’m almost entirely ignorant of theology and I still got 9/10.

        What it does show is that believers have a disappointing lack of general knowledge.

    1. Well, now we have a sample size of one. Maybe Phil can use him in his next speech so we will have an idea of what the heck he’s talking about.

  13. Lets try yo be constructive: maybe if we search all together we can find that offensive know-nothing beast. Post a link here in the coments the most ofensive video or blog post you can find from a well known Gnu Atheitst!

        1. I’m pretty sure Hitchens would get a 100% on the pew survey.

          Of course one doesn’t need to be schooled in theology to find belief in invisible magical beings to be silly and worthy of derision rather than respect.

  14. I have just sullied my brain reading John Shook’s two posts which were apparently, in his mind, apologies and clarifications, and all I got was a bad case of nausea.

    Let me see if I can spare everyone else the same agony.

    Shorter John Shook: “UR NOT REEDIN ME RITE SO ITS UR FAULT” and “Gee, y’know, I’d love to name names, but I couldn’t possibly embarrass anyone like that!”

    All he’s managed to tell me is he’s a crap writer with no evidence for his premise. The fact he goes on and on about the “right” way to do atheism is the rotten cherry on a moldy sundae.

    No more John Shook for me.

    1. I agree.

      I would have thought so much more of him if he would have admitted that he had an implicit bias against atheists that he was unaware of and in his zeal to sell books, he confirmed that bias (similar to what Mooney had done).

      He could be lesson to others, and point out that he said things about atheists that he would never say about those actually identified as the most theologically ignorant (Black Catholics and Hispanic Catholics), and that it was enlightening for him to realize it, and he wonders how many other atheists (faitheists) were inadvertently spreading bigotry as he did.

      And a sincere apology would go a long way, as well– instead of a not pology about how he was misunderstood, because of “popular bloggers… “enjoying tactics approaching slander”.

      Just because one is a member of a group, doesn’t mean that you can’t have inherited a cultural prejudice about that group. I think this may be true of a lot of atheists, and John could aid in raising consciousness on the issue if he wasn’t so sure that bias could not apply to him. He could learn a bit about “belief in belief” from Dan Dennett whom he uses as a good example of one of the new atheists he never meant to disparage.

  15. I thought about making a comment on CFI, but I didn’t want to waste my time. He says a reputation, once lost, may be lost forever. Shoulda’ thought about that before you started slamming those atheists, right Shookie-boy? What about the reputation of those “unnamed” atheists? Since there are only a few that come to the popular crowd’s mind…what about them?

    I agree that at least his notpology needs to go to the HuffPo site, but I doubt it will. It won’t help him sell books, which was the whole point of his “article” – all it was was a commercial. And talking smack is part of the game…too bad we don’t feel like playing. (Actually had someone comment on the CFI post I had linked to in Jerry’s original post and asked me “what book?” – I thought about responding, but if you can’t see the big link in his article to his book…what can I do?)

    As for Shook’s reputation…as far as I’m concerned he’s 7-up…never had it, never will. Until he put this screed up, he wasn’t on my radar, and I can’t see paying any more attention to him (until he does something stupid again). And if this is the way he promotes his book, I don’t think I’ll even waste the bandwidth to download the kindle sample (assuming there is one).

  16. I also find it amusing (not) that his line about slander: “I never intended to repeat such slander against the New Atheism.” is telling to me. First, he says nothing about slandering people, just some nebulous “New Atheism”. His HuffPo sales pitch didn’t mention New Atheism from what I remember seeing, but mentioned atheists, particularly Gnu Atheists, I gather. Odd how that works.

    Second, if he never intended to repeat such slander…then why did he? Seriously, are you that stupid that you can hear slander, think “that’s bad and I’ll never repeat it, but I think I’ll repeat it in my next post…oops!” Really? Or were you just ignorant of the slander first, meaning you are pretty ignorant about the Gnu Atheists and this New Atheism movement? Stupid or ignorant…is there a third?

    1. I wonder if anyone actually thought atheists had a reputation for being “ignorant know nothings” before John mentioned it. On my radar, John started the slander– he didn’t just repeat it.

      1. It may not be a well known phrase, but there are many millions of Christians in the U.S. who assume that if you don’t agree with them, it’s because you haven’t heard the Good News, or the wonderful arguments that convince them, or the wonderful arguments their sects’ preachers theologians must have, just in case they meet a hard case.

        Think about all the Christians who pop up in atheist forums with the same dozen arguments unbelievably tired arguments we’ve all heard a zillion times over the last thousand years or two.

        They seriously do not know that we know what they know, and still have good reason to disagree.

        (Either that, or they think we’re just being contrary and wilfully refusing to see the strength of the evidence/arguments. Same underlying problem–they don’t understand that we do understand the issues, and have better reasons on our side.)

        If people did understand that atheists do generally have a pretty good understanding of the issues, evidence and arguments, they wouldn’t be so shocked or appalled that somebody they meet is atheist, and there wouldn’t be an atheist closet.

        (Oh, and they’d all be atheists too.)

        Christians tend to think of non-Christians as benighted. They always have, and it’s the traditional Christian way of framing things, explicitly or implicitly.

        (And to be fair, that’s sorta the way any ingroup that believes something tends to view any group that doesn’t. Everybody tends to think their views are justified, and that people who disagree just don’t get it for some reason or other.)

        I think that goes double for vocal atheists, in typical Christians’ view. They’re not only wrong, hence evidently ignorant, but loudly wrong as can be, hence uppity and saliently ignorant

        For a whole lot of religious people, what John Shook wrote would would confirm their biases.

        They’d assume that the ignorant atheists he talks about are wrong because they’re ignorant, and than John himself is wrong, despite being less ignorant, for some other peculiar reasons.

        They’d take ignorant atheists being wrong as the trend, and allegedly non-ignorant atheists like John as oddball outliers.

  17. Frankly, knowing a lot about theology is functionally equivalent to knowing all the spells in Harry Potter. You might ace a quiz but know diddly squat about reality.

  18. This whole affair is decidedly strange. The original piece itself was deeply flawed, awkwardly written, and poorly reasoned. His defense(s), like the original piece, contained contradictions and unsupported assertions. And his attempt at clarification in his “Reputations and Harsh Words” post seemed stubborn and a bit evasive. To be fair, it did include an apology – which I take to be genuine (despite this whole kerfuffle, it seems unlikely that he intentionally set out to malign atheism) – but it is diminished by his odd contention that he defined his “intended target” in mysterious “later paragraph” (on The Grassy Knoll?) and his recapitulation of his original arguments and their implications of atheists’ failings.
    Considering the sheer volume of negative responses his piece engendered and the number of well-justified criticisms leveled at him, it’s certainly understandable that he might feel cornered and dig in his heels – particularly if he felt that his original intent was to buttress atheism (and atheists) against attack from apologists.
    What’s harder to understand, though, is how intransigent he appears by continuing to repeat the same unsupported arguments but only in a slightly modulated form. In a way, it is reminiscent of Jan “We Have Did” Brewer’s debate meltdown and her subsequent deer-in-the-headlights encounter with the media.
    I have to give Shook credit for (finally) offering an apology, even if only for his “harsh words.” Ultimately, though, his apology, linked as it is to his recapitulation of arguments that were dubious in the first place, seems more than a little reluctant.

  19. Well 32 out of 32 for me too (although I had to guess at the ‘Great Awakening’ question since I’m not American and none too expert on US history).
    I agree with the others who said that 21 correct is nothing to brag about (by the way, did I mention that I got 32 out of 32? 😉 Still its surprising that some people got only a third or a quarter correct. Presumably these were the sort of people who got confused when answering when they didn’t see an option for “lies from Satan” referring to other peoples religion.
    As for All Shook up’s piece. Uh-hu.
    The best explanation I’ve seen is that it was all a spell-checker error (Isn’t it annoying how microsoft Word always changes “know-everything” to “know-nothing”.)

  20. The blog post itself is fine enough on its own, but indeed, it seems to directly contradict what he said his HuffPo article. His response to the comments who point this out is just weird, however. He only reiterates the position from his latest blog post, without acknowledging that his HuffPo article sounded quite different.

    To be fair, though, Shook does have a point when he’s saying that he didn’t change his point of view since the article without acknowledging it. In the previous thread I and some other people had already found some other writings of Shook, where he does indeed say similar things as in his latest blog post. For instance, I found him recommending Dawkins and Dennet as good sources of “atheology”.

    However, that still doesn’t explain why his HuffPo article was so different in tone and (apparent) content from his other writing. Did an editor make so many changes that it changed the context of his words? If so, no shame in disclosing this. Did he pander to an audience generally hostile to atheists? If so, own up to it. Or did he just misjudge the way it would be read? If so, own up to it too.

    The only thing he should not do, is pretend that the HuffPo article was completely in line with everything he’s ever stood for. But this appears to be exactly what he’s doing.

    The other thing that he (and other CFI members) should stop doing is telling us that we should have known what he meant in the HuffPo article. After all, we should have known who Shook was, or what he had written elsewhere, right? But that’s just silly. For many people who read that HuffPo article (including me), that was the first time they ever heard of “John Shook”. You just should be able to take that into account, and simply not write articles that can be interpreted wildly differenly, depending on whether you are familiar with the author or not.

  21. Obviously, this man speaks with forked tongue! If it weren’t for the link back to his HuffPo article, one might even think that Shook was doing damage control. So, why that particular link? Perhaps it’s a deliberate attempt to mislead. When he wrote that article he was not suggesting (this is what we are to suppose) that the leaders of the new atheist movement are yahoos, but that there are a few yahoos around, and that was all he mean to say. That is pretty evidently misleading. If, in fact, he is now affirming the central characters in the new atheist revolution — viz., Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens — then what on earth was the HuffPo article really about? Come one Shook. Admit it. You made a very bad mistake. We all do it from time to time. But it’s best to come clean about it, rather than trying to pretend you didn’t make a mistake after all.

  22. Shook has written a new piece today but just manages to dig a deeper hole. He’s still not naming names but is resorting to the “some of my best friends are Richard Dawkins” line of reasoning. Apparently he talked to Dawkins the other day and told him exactly who he meant as the know-nothings but it wouldn’t be nice of him to name names for us. Todays piece also made it seem like he was only writing about what OTHER people say about some of the new atheists, not what he thinks. If so he’s got a rather strange way of phrasing things since his original huffpo piece didnt read like that at all.

  23. Just put in my thoughts for Shook on his site:

    Basically: If he didn’t see what his post would do, he really shouldn’t be talking in public anymore.

    And if he did he is both dishonest and destructive of course, and should really be shunned (and sacked)

    1. “If he didn’t see what his post would do, he really shouldn’t be talking in public anymore.

      And if he did he is both dishonest and destructive”

      Precisely. And that’s what worries me more than the original article, because it suggests further damage he might do. We have very few professional spokespersons — they must be chosen with great care. They must have great emotional intelligence, and humility.

      I just wrote on his blog of the pointlessness of apologizing for a HuffPo article anywhere but at HuffPo.

      (And yes, Happy Blasphemy Day! In honoring it, To honor it, I read about the “Jefferson Bible” and was blown away this morning when I discovered art photographs of the ACTUAL cut-up pages from the Bibles used by Thomas Jefferson to remove references to supernaturalism. *goosebumps*)

  24. It was embarrassing how poorly the public did on that quiz. The questions were certainly not about theology. They were about the central individuals, ideas, books, celebrations of the major world religions along with questions about religion in the public sphere. 21/32, the average score for atheists, is lower than I would have anticipated.

  25. Well the good news is that a strong signal has been sent that the gnu atheists are strongly supported, that greater public solidarity is needed and expected among movement leaders, and that internal differences should not be posted as commentary in major media.

    Hopefully the word is getting around.

  26. Oh well. Clearly the trouble is just that Shook is an abysmally bad writer – which (again) makes him an odd choice for his particular job. Anyway the upshot now is that various CFI people are twisting themselves into ever-tighter pretzels in their effort to defend him. One is Michael De Dora, who is another tragically clumsy writer. Maybe CFI just needs to stop hiring people who can’t write.

  27. This just in from CFI:

    Subject: CFI Seeks Communications Director
    From: “Barry Karr”
    Date: Thu, September 30, 2010 4:41 pm

    Center for Inquiry eNews

    The Center for Inquiry, a national nonprofit organization located in
    Amherst, NY, seeks a full-time communications director to handle press
    relations and publicity.Experience in public relations and/or
    journalism is required. Applicants must be familiar with the
    organization’s mission and demonstrate a commitment to humanism
    and skepticism. The opening is immediate. Salary will be based on
    experience. If you are interested or know someone you think is
    qualified please encourage them to apply.

    Interested applicants should send a CV and one writing sample by
    October 15 to Barry Karr at the Center for Inquiry,

    1. This seems like a positive step. Hopefully they hire someone who has a solid public relations background and will approach the job from the practical angle of how the CFI is presenting itself. I’m not sure how important the “commitment to humanism and skepticism” is for this kind of job; obviously you don’t want someone who’s uncomfortable with the CFI’s agenda or who will publicly contradict it, but I’d rather see the CFI hire a pro who really doesn’t give a damn about skepticism than a “professional skeptic.”

      1. I suspect it’s been a long time in coming, myself.

        I doubt this little storm-in-a-teacup has had much to do with it. It’s just the symptom of a need that’s been long-established, in my view.

  28. Unfortunately, Shook is like every accomodationist out there, he wants the religious kids to play with him so he defends them at every turn, even when they’re demonstrably wrong.

    However, there is such a thing as standing up for truth and fact, even if it is an unpopular truth and fact.

    My take on the subject:

    How important can a Center for Inquiry be if it’s terrified to take on the important questions, just because they’re politically difficult?

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