Secular Humanism conference live-streamed

October 8, 2010 • 9:55 am

The 30th Anniversary Free Inquiry conference in Los Angeles is sold out, but no worries, mate: much of the good stuff will be live-streamed here.

The fun starts today with The Big Smackdown (“Science and religion: confrontation or accommodation?”) from 2-5 p.m (PDT), featuring P. Z. Myers, Chris Mooney, Eugenie Scott, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Victor Stenger.

Another smackdown occurs Saturday, 7:30-9:30 pm (PDT): Sam Harris and Robert Wright fight to the death (“Where should seculars stand today and tomorrow on questions of religion and belief?”).

Big fun!!!

177 thoughts on “Secular Humanism conference live-streamed

    1. I’m sure everyone already has their partisan score-card filled out. When we see the tapes, we’ll all believe the person we want to win will have, in fact, won. Which is why, in short, I find these things meaningless.

      Especially as there is no actual way to prove either side is entirely, or even mostly, right. There are times to be a dick, there are times to not.

      PZ and Mooney have both stepped, many times, on the wrong side of that line. Each has his ethical, intellectual and rhetorical blind-spots, as do we all. For example, both are very partisan-tribal. We can deny it of our favorite, but it’s true, the evidence is entirely there.

      Just like the evidence that Obama was going to be a corporatist-sell-out was there. It’s been his history since his days in the Illinois legislature. So, to me, it’s not come as a surprise, despite the denialism of the Obama-bots.

      1. I admit to being partisan-tribal, and to the fact that there are obvious (at least potential) problems with that.

        Ironically, the backlash only makes me more so. People like Mooney foster the very tribalism they profess to want to criticize or discourage.

        1. I’m also partisan-tribal I found the other sides argument stupid when I was ten, the only way I can go back to seeing both sides as it where is only if I have a fucking lobotomy.

          1. I was 8, and a Catholic altar boy, when I became completely convinced that Christianity was all made up – and really stupid. I don’t think any of the priests or nuns at my Catholic school believed a word of it either. I wouldn’t give the benefit of doubt to a street corner raver crying that 6-headed monkeys were taking over the world –why give the benefit of doubt to demonstrably crazy Christians?

        2. The complaints about stridency always seem to be directed one way by the Mooneys of the world, and the accomodating all the other way…

      2. The science-advocating community is dominated by people who view debate the way they view alcohol. It is emotionally attractive, it can be fun, it can come in flavorful packages, it turns up in many social environments, but it degrades problem-solving ability.

        1. Though scientist and rational people probably do love debating, the process of a debate also favours the religious because they can indulged in Gish gallop type tactics.

        2. And hey guess what, drinking contests and debates are alike in another way: the winner of a drinking contest is no more correct than the winner of a debate.

          These things are for fun and for the entertainment of the audience; you should no more expect a debate to solve problems than you should expect a football game to determine factual accuracy.

      3. There certainly is a way to prove one side ‘mostly right’, it’s called science and it’s done every day all around the world. Religion has had thousands of years to say something interesting or useful and has failed, which is why the more educated you are the less you believe in the supernatural.

    2. Pete Moulton
      October 8, 2010 at 10:08 am:

      “I wonder how much of Chris Mooney will be left after PZ gets done with him.”

      In every PZ-containing audio or video encounter I have heard or seen, PZ has been the opposite of aggressive. Furthermore – the rhetoric he knows well is all about furthering discussion, and not about winning debates. He has won past debates principally because he faced opponents who had thoroughly ridiculous positions. Mooney holds a number of wrong-headed positions, but as should be clear by now, much of the science-advocating community has much invested in those positions. (They’re engaging the sunk cost fallacy.) Mooney has also engaged in dishonest misrepresentation of PZ, but I do not think it is easy to illustrate that in a panel or debate like forum. (But if PZ can do it, it might turn Hecht and Scott against Mooney.) Mooney is in several ways a better debater than PZ. Stenger will almost certainly side with PZ on most things, and he is a better debater than PZ, but not really as good as Mooney. I see Eugenie Scott as more likely to side with Mooney on most things. She too is a better debater than PZ, and not having engaged in the same degree of past misrepresentation, she does not have the vulnerabilities Mooney does. Jennifer Michael Hecht I have never seen nor heard in a debate, so I don’t know what her skills there are, but her writing and interviews lead me to suspect her debating skills are similar to PZ’s; I suspect lots of discussion skills which are vaguely related, but no skills well-adapted to debate. I think she will try to avoid taking sides, and try to turn it in a discussion, but if someone can convince her to take sides, she will probably end up on Mooney’s side.
      Should the panel devolve into a debate (it is framed to become a debate, but although Mooney has often been aggressive in debates and discussions, he has so far been avoiding debating PZ ), PZ will not have the advantage. On the other hand, if it ends up more like a discussion than a debate, many people will find themselves questioning Mooney’s past portrayals of PZ.
      (Crossposted on pharyngula.)

      1. Based on the first round of 25 minutes each, which is now complete, Mooney is in last place. Victor was good, but I rank them:

        Victor and PZ


        1. I overestimated how well Mooney would perform, and I underestimated how aggressive PZ would be. I think your ranking of Mooney is strongly affected by the poverty of his positions.

        2. I disagree with you about Eugenie being the best in any round. I think she is a highly intelligent woman, but does great disservice to the breadth that the sciences can cover. Her stance seemed more of a person with an agenda, which imo is convince religitards to not fight evolution, even if it’s for a very unhealthy reason.

          Pz was good, but I think victor was slightly better.

          moony pissed me the fuck off. he came off as the labrador retriever of the group.

          1. Eugenie Scott came there as head of NCSE, and she does have an agenda. She has to walk the line between working with the religious and the atheists. This is why she stressed that the NCSE is not an atheist organisation. She is restricted by her job, Mooney, Myers and Stenger are not.

            I think she did fine, she needs to be an accomodationist, and I can understand that, her organisation needs to be. The rest of us don’t and can be themselves (or should be able to).

            1. I know about that she is the head of the NSCE, but at the same time her stance on issues seems more to be about just get the shit done, than get to the root of the issue. Also does not mean that outside of whatever given task she can’t actually acknowledge that.

              I understand she has to play politician, but her methods seem to merely postpone a problem than actually solve it. yes, I understand that sometimes that is the best that can be hoped.

  1. The “Big Smackdown” sounds too good to miss. With everything that has been happening lately, it might get heated.

  2. Can’t wait!

    Maybe don’t expect a smackdown though. PZ told me it won’t be like that, because Mooney won’t engage; he never does.

    But let’s hope PZ was just being pessimistic. If Mooney won’t engage, surely he can be smacked down for not engaging. That’s the frustrating thing about trying to get him to engage via comments on his blog; he’s not standing there looking mulish and obstinate.

    1. In addition to Mooney’s intent to evade engagement, PZ has a history of steering audio, in-person, and video encounters toward discussion.

  3. Wow I really am a Geek to be staying in on a Friday night to listen to this. But I’m proud of that.

    I’ve heard Vic Stenger before at a conference where DJ Grothe was the moderator (can’t fond the link right now). He was great representative of the Gnu’s. Vic and PZ will make a good tag-team too. What would their wrestling name be I wonder?

  4. To me it’s kind of a false dichotomy.

    I don’t think confrontation is the right word. And I don’t think accommodation works either.

    It’s simply about whenever scientific method is applicable (which is a lot!) there is no reason to give any credence to fairly-tale approaches/theories.

    That is all there is to it. The rest is psychology, sociology and politics.

  5. Here are the key spots on my Accomodation Debate Bingo Card:

    1) Mooney and Scott will trot out their usual talking point about how some good scientists are religious, therefore religion and science are “compatible.” The next half hour or so will be spent flushing out the distinction between two ideas being compatible and one person being able to hold two ideas simultaneously.

    2) Team Accomodationism will point out that Ken Miller played an important role in the Dover trial, therefore we should not alienate such valuable allies. Myers and Stenger will agree that Miller is an ally, but question whether he’s such a fragile ally that disagreeing with him will make him run away from the fight with creationists.

    The bulk of the argument on tactics will feature the two sides passing each other like ships in the night.

    Scott and Mooney will say that:
    (3) you get more flies with honey than vinegar,
    (4) nobody’s ever convinced by mockery and ridicule, and
    (5) being gratuitously rude to people is wrong and unhelpful.

    Myers and Stenger will insist that
    (6) they don’t favor being gratuitously rude, but that some believers will denounce as rude pretty much any disagreement with or resistance to their beliefs, so to try to avoid offense is to concede the game at the outset, and
    (7) that mockery and ridicule have a role to play.

    (8) The moderator will try hard to broker agreement that “debate is good, but rudeness is bad,” which will largely founder because nobody’s explained what “rude” means in this context. There will be very few specifics given.

    (9) Mooney, if pressed hard enough, will trot out Crackergate.

    (10) PZ will spend ten minutes explaining the context.

    (11) If he’s really feeling frisky, Mooney will have a few truly, indisputably rude comments from Pharyngula (ooh, pick me! pick me!) that he will cite as evidence.

    Despite my confidence in my powers of precognition, I might check it out anyway just to hear what Stenger has to say, since I’m not terribly familiar with his views.

    1. If he’s really feeling frisky, Mooney will have a few truly, indisputably rude comments from Pharyngula (ooh, pick me! pick me!) that he will cite as evidence.

      The point is that, whether or not the Gnu Atheists were mean to religious individuals at a conference and openly mocked them to their faces, they possibly might have (which is just as bad), and anyways Tom Johnson has suffered more than anyone else in this whole affair, feels really terrible about it, and has learned his lesson.

      1. I’m still waiting for Mooney to apologize to the Gnu Atheists about using the Tom Johnson affair to misrepresent our position. I’m also waiting for my Nigerian friend to give me $10 million.

        1. Huh – I’m still waiting for Mooney to apologize to me for letting TB repeatedly call me a liar on Mooney’s blog; for encouraging the pseudonymous fabulist “Tom Johnson” who went on to create a Wholly Sock Puppet blog and used it to call me a useless putrid twat, among other things; for pretending he was apologizing to “everyone” who was harmed by “Tom Johnson” when he wasn’t apologizing to me; and a few other items; but I am being scrupulously careful not to hold my breath.

          1. Chris is a busy man, he doesn’t have time to go back and check things people say for veracity.

            Did he actually apologise for anything?

    2. Has Mooney heard of this dude named Thomas Jefferson?
      “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”
      Note not just the quote but the context. I am sure PZ and Stenger need no help from but still I hope they throw this at Mooney.

    3. Screechy Monkey
      October 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm:

      I might check it out anyway just to hear what Stenger has to say, since I’m not terribly familiar with his views.

      Stenger has written a few books on physics, and, more recently, a few books which show that while theologians and apologists are fond of constructing gods which science cannot address, rank-and-file believers insist on believing in gods which have many attributes which can and should be addressed by science, and for which there is copious quality evidence against, and no evidence for.
      Some interviews:
      (All of these POI interviews were conducted by D. J. Grothe .)

      Stenger has also written at least two good columns on Huffpo, but the thought of linking there makes me sick.

      (I had previously posted this comment with 2 more links, and it seemed to appear, but after I came back a few hours later I saw that it was gone. So I’m trying to again with fewer links.


  6. Funny how, as I look at the line-up, the most mild-mannered and calm-tone-of-voice people there are the fire-breathing, “mean-spirited” gnu atheists! Sam, Vic, and Eugenie are literally three of the most serene people I can think of. P.Z. is “fire-breathing” in print, but in-person the man comes across more like a soft-spoken guidance counselor. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen or heard of any of those four people even raising his/her voice.

    Contrast with Bob Wright, who’s written downright ad hominem stuff about new atheists, and who can reliably be seen on getting quite angry about something or other. If he’s in a diavalog with someone with whom he disagrees, he often gets visibly angry, raising his annoying, high-pitched voice a whole octave so that he’s screaming at the person—he did it to Hitchens, and to Eliezer Yudkowsky—yet he doesn’t have a reputation for being “angry.” Makes you wonder: what would an accommodationist have to do to get a reputation as “angry”?

    1. Half the fun of watching diavlogs between Wright and Mickey Kaus is seeing Kaus infuriate Wright until he does exactly that high-pitched screaming (dare I say, “screeching”?). And Kaus is an expert in pushing Wright’s buttons.

      In Wright’s defense, I don’t think he really intends to be so domineering, and I think he really does enjoy those debates. But these foibles of his are more than a little ironic for a guy who prides himself on promoting understanding and agreement, and who plugs as a place for more calm and serious discussion than the “Crossfire” model.

  7. Accomodationist bingo!
    8 points for a full house!
    1. Some scientists are religious
    2. Methodological Naturalism, not philosophical naturalism
    3. NOMA
    4. Won’t convince anyone by insulting them
    5. Crackergate
    6. Ken Miller at Dover
    7. Religious people will choose their faith over scientific facts
    8. Fundamentalist atheists

  8. Someone over at Larry Moran’s blog suggested a photo op with Chris Mooney and a person wearing a “Tom Johnson” name badge.

  9. Sigmund nailed it. Hearing Mooney speak makes me want to puke because his conciliatory posture towards religion smacks of lying and no religious person believes what he’s saying.

    He does indeed betray both faith and atheism equally.

  10. Mooney starts off saying that whatever strategy we choose for promoting rationalism etc., we should avoid fighting amongst ourselves.


    1. Seriously?

      Ah, but the Gnu Atheists aren’t “ourselves” – we are the black sheep, the red-headed stepchild, the bad kid sent to his room so he won’t be in the family picture. He means “people who believe the same as I do” – or else he is a hypocrite. Hmm…

    1. I agree that he’s fairly “persuasive,” but I think he’s ignoring crucial evidence that shows his seemingly reasonable inferences aren’t valid.

      If it was as simple as he makes it out to be, nobody’d ever change their minds about anything important to them. But they do, sometimes with big shifts in a generation or so. (E.g. change in views on Gay Rights in the last 2 or 3 decades, despite that being all about religiously-grounded moral values—and mainly after the gay rights movement stopped being so nice and accommodating.

      As always, he’s ignoring the importance of Overton Window effects. No matter how many times people make that argument to him, he acts as though there are no counterexamples to his generalizations and no real counterarguments to his “commonsense” approach.

      Sure, he has evidence that his approach ought to work.

      We have evidence that it’s not in fact what does work, when the rubber meets the road.

      I’d say the latter trumps the former.

      If he’s going to cite evidence, it shouldn’t be from suggestive little artificial psych studies. It should be from the rubber actually meeting the road—e.g., the history of secularization in Sweden, the history of the religious right and the gay rights movement in the US, etc.

      1. Overton – The Republican Noise Machine has been confrontational for 40 years and certainly moved the discussion. Democrats trying to compromise are now to the right of Goldwaterr in the 60s on some issues.

  11. Mooney’s talk was all “kumbaya” stuff and I found his solution—that we all concentrate on spirituality rather than religion per se—totally unpersuasive. How will that turn the faithful towards evolution? Because they see that we’re human after all? That is foolish.

    And P. Z. has started: “Whenever I hear people talking about spirituality, it makes me want to puke.” LOL!

  12. mooney sounds like a pansy. He has a few good points, but it sounds like he’s trying to masturbate relitards into coopperation. Takes a bit of understanding and kindness and a bit of stfu and listen. PZ is making some damn nice points.

  13. I’m biased, of course, but I think that P.Z., pitching his talk on the theme of truth, did a great job. He’s getting better and better as a speaker, and is becoming quite the firebrand!

  14. PZ pwned Mooney. After all, why do we have to be responsible for everyone’s psychological deficits? Adults shouldn’t have to spend their lives holding the hands of other adults.

    Tell Mooney it’s “tough love.”

    1. I don’t think PZ pwned Mooney. He’s right about principles but he didn’t address Mooney’s strategic arguments.

      Many people are likely to write PZ off as an idealist, and uncomfortably agree with Mooney on strategy.

      PZ didn’t make the case that standing on principle can be a more effective political strategy than playing to the center, in the longer run. (E.g., the religious right and the vilification of “liberals”.)

      1. We all know Mooneytits is the master of strategery.

        Why, when he visited Oklahoma, he marched right up to James Inhofes office and got him to accept climate change.

        Visited Coburn and persuaded him not to use his religious ideals on abortion and birth control to hold up life-saving HIV/AIDS funding.

        He even got Sally Kern to accept evolution!

        Oh, wait, no– he talked to a small group of journalism students and ran the fuck away.

        Mooneytits is hot air. Nothing more.

        1. Mooneytits is hot air. Nothing more.

          Oh come on, Abbie, that’s obviously not right.

          How can you have a steaming pile of hot air?

  15. I think PZ did a nice job, but I really hope refutes Mooney’s simplistic arguments about political strategy.

    The intuition that you catch more flies with honey is appealing, but demonstrably frequently wrong when it comes to large scale & long term politics.How

    How sweet are Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck? The religious right didn’t become so powerful by all being nice and moderate.

    Who do you think knows more about effective political strategy—Nisbet and Mooney or Rove and Overton?

        1. Evidently bull shit is often quite effective.

          (I guess Mooney knows something about communication after all.)

          1. Dude – I am so stealing that (with attribution if appropriate – it might not work on a button)…Hmm, Cafe Press?

            If you make a shirt with that (it’s your idea after all), I’d buy it.

            1. This is not a new saying…google “personal relationship with reality”. It has been around since at least 1995, but become more popular in the last 3 to 5 years. T-shirts are available.

  16. I think she’s short changing science. Understanding human behavior is a science in itself. She seems to think that science is basically telescopes and test tubes. Also, Imo, a jesusphile scientist is intellectually dishonest.

    Religious claims are testable (potentially). Her statement about old earth creationist is such a thing. The person making that claim should be required to provide evidence.

    I am rather disappointed with Scott.

    1. Yeah, Genie always makes it sound like science can’t study human phenomena such as minds, emotions, morals, religion itself, etc.

      We have good scientific reasons for disbelieving in substance dualism and supernaturalism, and for disbelieving human minds have any real “spiritual” insight or that Divine Revelations actually occur.

      We have good reasons for thinking that religion is a confluence of brainfarts—failure modes of our more-or-less rational minds’ heuristics.

      But of course, Genie has to make it sound like science doesn’t study anything like that, in order to defend the bullshit idea that science and religion are about different things.

      On a related note I thought it was good that called her on the idea that a lot of Christians believe in evolution.

      As Vic said, almost none believe in unguided natural selection.

      Almost all of them believe in guided evolution, i.e., intelligent design.

      I’d have rudely twisted the knife and pointed out that NCSE and its ilk have clearly failed to teach almost any Christians how and why evolution actually works—they’re selling a poor substitute for real evolution.

      And that’s while chucking cognitive science under the bus to protect evolution.

      1. scott and a few others seem to be saying wtf if they really believe? they let us get our work done.

        Accommodationist are allowing people to adjust facts to their fantasy, whereas gnu atheist(used to hearing gnu relating to computer stuff), request people to at least acknowledge reality.

        I agree, Victor owned.

        How far should scientist and atheist bend to contort fact to allow fantasy room for survival?

  17. My plant doesn’t own the soil, true, but I’m just trying to get all those nasty weeds out of the garden Eugenie.

  18. Stenger elucidates how accommodationism leads to an avalanche of junk thought — erroneous thinking that’s not just limited to the particular monotheism of the “user.”

  19. Stenger speaking last turned out to work well. He has a way of zooming out and putting things into context. The “sucking up to theists” line was great.

  20. Oh good, Vic did at least wave in the direction of Overton Window issues and the historical evidence. I wish he’d actually explained the idea briefly and pointed out that it contradicts Mooney’s politically naive arguments.

    1. Mooney fascinates me. I really think he knows his arguments are weak. It’s almost like, he got started down this road, a while back, of defending a certain viewpoint, not thinking it would be a big deal—and then things just snowballed. Now his very name is synonymous with that viewpoint, so rather than backslide, he just defends the viewpoint as best he can. It’s like a lawyer who knows he has a weak case. That’s the best theory I can come up with because, in all honesty, Mooney seems to be a super-bright and very savvy person—and I just can’t imagine how someone that bright and savvy can actually believe the shit he says he believes. Does. Not. Compute.

      1. I resisted the idea for a long time, but it’s pretty obvious Mooney is just dishonest.

        He takes framing way too far—not just emphasizing his position’s strengths, but being quite intentionally deceptive about its weaknesses.

        E.g., rather than addressing the main arguments against his position, he pretends that such arguments don’t even exist, and feigns mystification as to how anybody could fail to agree with his commonsense point. Then he makes it clear by misrepresentation and innuendo that it’s because they’re hardheaded, unrealistic assholes, not because they actually have some evidence and arguments that lead them to disagree with him.

        He’s been avoiding even mentioning Overton Window arguments for years now.

        My one objection to PZ’s performance, which I thought was excellent overall, is that he’s playing into Mooney’s hands in that respect—Mooney can portray him as an ideologue tilting at windmills, when in fact there are good strategic reasons not to pull your punches.

    2. Mooney fascinates me. I really think he knows his arguments are weak. It’s almost like, he got started down this road, a while back, of defending a certain viewpoint, not thinking it would be a big deal—and then things just snowballed. Now his very name is synonymous with that viewpoint, so rather than backslide, he just defends the viewpoint as best he can. It’s like a lawyer who knows he has a weak case. That’s the best theory I can come up with because, in all honesty, Mooney seems to be a super-bright and very savvy person—and I just can’t imagine how someone that bright and savvy can actually believe the shit he says he believes. Does. Not. Compute.

      1. I agree with you. I don’t think Mooney is a dumb guy. But he is timid and just doesn’t want to be confrontational. Plus, as he increasingly gets funded by organizations like the Templeton, he is going to sag under this burden even more and we are just going to see more of this attitude. Sad (and annoying of course)

  21. I am glad to hear there is an audio recording, I wish they would just post this on youtube or something. Can be very helpful to see what the speakers appearance, gestures, and etcetera.

  22. Mooney says he hasn’t heard anything to convince him that it’s going to work.

    PZ says well is it working for us, here? What I find troubling is the brief shrift given to the truth. We have to work with Christians, but can we say that Jesus thing, it’s not right?

    Sigh. Now Genie is saying we have to appreciate the limits of science.

    1. Ah, you’re a starry-eyed idealistic Gnu Atheist who thinks we should stand up for the truth, period.

      I’m a hard-nosed, pragmatic Gnu Atheist, who thinks that standing up for the truth can actually be more politically effective than incrementally giving away the store.

      1. Bad Cop – Good Cop. Stake out a position that is radical and let the opposition compromise with some else that’s just a bit closer to them than you. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    2. How isn’t a god creating/starting evolution NOT intelligent design? It may not be the most popular version, but it is a supposedly intelligent entity creating something.

      Just shows atheism doesn’t automatically == intelligent.

      1. “Intelligent Design” is usually interpreted as a proper noun phrase, that refers to a particular idea.

        Not all things that involve intelligent design are Intelligent Design (TM).

        It’s a valid distinction, but it’s also valid to point out that most versions of “theistic evolution” are peculiar versions of “intelligent design.”

        1. Word, and that is why I was urked by the dismissal in the video.

          Hecht and Moony seemed to miss that it was a valid point. Stenger seems like a very talented person.

          1. When he did his book tour thing for his book on science disproving god (ack! Forgot the title! and I have a signed book) – I did hear his speech twice (once at the book store, then at CFI Austin). Very interesting, and I have a few of his debates with creationists on mp3, which are also interesting to listen to. I like him.

  23. Here we go. First comment in the discussion part is Mooney saying he doesn’t hear the non-accommodationists explaining how “it will work.”

    And I think PZ fumbled that. He should have come back with Overton arguments, not just saying that we should try it and see if it works better than accommodationists. That was weak.

    Mooney is weak there, and should get thoroughly skewered, including ridicule of his simplistic strategic arguments, which obviously can’t explain the major political shifts in the last several decades.

  24. Mooney to PZ: “This is not helpful.”

    PZ Is Not Helping.

    Mooney knows all about that. More than he’ll ever admit, I’ll wager.

  25. Mooney’s argument seems to be, if you agree with Francis Collins on 99% of things, then the last 1% is totally off limits. Don’t bring it up, or you’re hurting the cause.

    Mooney asks PZ why he calls Collins a clow. PZ: “Have you read his BOOK?”

  26. Jackass. First he was all “how dare you, you can’t say that, this is what I’m talking about, shock horror.” Then PZ said we can say that any time we want to.
    So Mooney said sure you can but.


    1. I’ve heard as much. Considering as much shit as my old man went through in his youth, as with the ass kicking Caucasians would give out to blacks or whatever were often damn brutal. So I’d hope she had some backup.

      As far as that chris guy, scientist and others can say, you know I agree with you about *foo*, but your *bar* belief is absolute bullshit.

      1. Has anybody tried to find the article in the New Yorker Genie mentioned? I can’t and I’d like to read it.

  27. Aaargh.

    Chris thinks that the broader fight is not worth fighting, and then says something about stem cell research.

    Would many people oppose embryonic stem cell research if they weren’t vitalists or dualists, who think something magical happens at conception that makes an embryo interestingly a person.

    Does he think that’s ever going to change unless we trash dualism?

    1. The reason why that gets an “Arrrgh” from me too is because Mooney can literally give that response to anything that isn’t totally deferential to religion and/or people like Collins.

      Remind me how being reliably deferential to nonsense is “helping.”

      1. I honestly think Mooney doesn’t understand having principles. He’s a political thinker, and to them, principles are something that idiots have that can be manipulated into going whatever direction you want, provided you frame it right.

  28. Wow, Mooney actually touched on an interesting issue, very briefly.

    He asked whether, if you want to eventually eradicate religion, you should go for the jugular (my words) or start smaller.

    That’s actually a crucial strategic issue that’s almost never seriously discussed.

    How do major, widespread shifts of belief actually happen? Does it happen by attacking the fundamentals, or by eroding the specifics until the fundamentals don’t seem sensible anymore.

    I think the answer to that is interestingly complicated, and quite variable, and worth talking about.

    Not that Mooney actually will.

    1. LONDO: I think I will stick my head in the station’s fusion reactor. It would be quicker. And I suspect, after a while I might even come to enjoy it. But this… this… this… this is like being nibbled to death by… what are those ridiculous Earth creatures called? Feathers? Long bill? Webbed feet? Goes “quack”?

      VIR: Cats?

      LONDO: Cats. I’m being nibbled to death by cats.

  29. Mooney’s idea of having an ally is being a toady. It’s not a symmetric relationship.

    I always thought that being “allies” was usually a more symmetrical relationship.

    Allies don’t have to agree on everything, just on something.

    1. Paul W.
      October 8, 2010 at 5:54 pm

      Mooney’s idea of having an ally is being a toady. It’s not a symmetric relationship.

      Of course. He has worked in Washington D.C. (Not to say that attitude is helpful in that area, but it does seem to be endemic.)

    1. Of course Eugenie says something along the line of allowing people to twist facts to their liking. Very sickening.

    2. Yeah, and what Chris says gets really close to acknowledging the existence of Overton Windows.

      For that audience, Christian evolutionists are outside the window.

      Oh, now Genie is skirting around the same issue, too.

      But of course they’re both assuming the right strategy is incremental change from the center, rather than pulling the window toward your end.

      PZ says something consistent with the latter, but not clearly that.

    1. Not only, that, he’s frequently whined about the decline of the mainstream professional media and how people seek out media that confirm their biases.

      He’s right that that’s a problem, but it’s also got upsides.

      In particular, it amplifies Overton Window effects, because in general you have a self-selected audience that is more than randomly susceptible to your arguments—and the people who’d freak and react against you are mostly not your audience. They’re somewhere else, consuming something else.

      Atwater and Rove’s terrifying success as political strategists should have taught us something: fears of backlash are often excessive, precisely because audiences self-select messages that they expose themselves to.

      I’m no expert on these things, but it seems to me that Mooney is getting the biggest effects of media fragmentation, self-selection, and confirmation bias exactly backwards.

      What all those things amount to is that extremism often works and excessive moderation typically fails.

      Overton was mostly right in the 1970’s and 1980’s—shifting the window of popular opinion is more important in the long run than backlash.

      What he said is even more true now, in the age of the internet, because people have the technology to amplify their confirmation biases.

      1. One of the toughest parts of being human is to accept that we may be faulty.

        Imo what you mentioned about mainstream media is even more reason to not just let shit slide.

        To not allow people to slide into their little cubby hole watching their telescreen with glenn beck and bill oreilly, or us be forced to contrive methods to twist facts to their liking.

        1. mistereveready
          October 8, 2010 at 6:36 pm:

          One of the toughest parts of being human is to accept that we may be faulty.

          Not good enough. If you find yourself inserting qualifiers, like “may be”, you have not really began to accept the problem. We are faulty, no “may” about it. Our faults are extensive.

  30. Good point by PZ: People should accept evolution for the proper reasons—not because some authority figure said “it’s OK to believe evolution.”

    1. Yes, and that the whole “listen to what the Mormon honcho/pope says you can believe” just perpetuates the idea of hierarchy as opposed to independent thinking. Wull yah.

  31. OK, Richard Carrier pointing out the difference in goals. (Defening the teaching of evolution vs. antireligion.)

    Somebody should have responded that way to Mooney, and made a Jerry-style argument that in the long run, major progress on evolution acceptance requires undermining religion, which is the major source of resistance.

      1. I may have missed something. (‘m multitasking, sorry.) I didn’t hear it clearly and properly stressed, but it may have been.

        I’ll have to listen to the replay.

    1. The only reasons evolution or any scientific fact has to undermine religion is because of the incompatible methods of each.

      Faith is based on feelings & authority. Skepticism can be okay as long as doublethink is used and the questioners know when to stop asking.

      The scientific is anti authority, anti-emotional. Double thinking is an almost sure sign that whatever is being discussed has issues and is likely false.

      I might take some flak for this, but, I have no problem really if some one has a hunch that gods or spirits exist, but accept that no evidence supports it. I do have an issue when people think they know what those spirits/gods want, erect rules upon how people should live, and think something is real just because they feel that it is so.

      Oddly enough though, most people I meet seem to meet Dennetts assessment of religion and gods. They believe in belief, but not necessarily the entity itself. Basically acquiring their god from a desire.

      1. I think you’re meeting a nonrepresentative sample of people.

        As I understand it, most people (in the U.S.) don’t just believe in belief, they believe in central tenets of orthodox religion—e.g. dualism, something like Divine Command Theory, Free Will, and Jesus somehow mattering to their salvation—-although they may only “believe in belief” about comparatively peripheral specifics.)

        The problem of “belief in belief” is that the better-informed minority that (only) believes in belief doesn’t tell them they’re fucking naive, and shift the Overton Window away from naive straightforward belief. Instead, they reassure less sophisticated people that believing is okay, even admirable, so that the existing distribution of popular opinion is reinforced by what amounts to smug complacency validated by dishonest authority.

        1. The reason I mentioned belief in belief, is due to me observing how easily people craft “their god” into whatever form they wish and the lack of knowledge those I’ve met had about their own religion.

          No matter how much I questioned, it always ended with “It makes me feel good, so why care if it is true?” & ” I just want to.”

          I wasn’t speaking of anyone particularly sophisticated. Those imo are worse. They remind me of that zen reference about a full cup. They will concoct some of the strangest shit possible in a very complicated way and think that what they are doing is intelligent.

          I agree with you, too many people are enablers. Making delusion/stupidity look stylish. Coming from new orleans, I’ve seen many forms of that >_>.

          The problem isn’t dishonest authority, it’s the concept of authority. That some asshole or doctrine has the ability to make something true.

          What I am getting from your post is that believing in belief is just as harmful as the nutter who suckles at the teat of a bearded sky daddy. To which I say, I bloody agree. 🙂

  32. Well that was fun. Thanks Jerry! Thanks for the beer and chips, sorry about the mess, we’ll come back and clean it up tomorrow, maybe, or next week sometime, probably.

  33. Damn! I missed part of the live event… I wonder when they’ll have it up for us to watch a recording?

    (Is there any beer left?)

      1. Yes, I’ve watched The Atheist Experience right after broadcast, so I’m hoping they’ll do the same here.

        I noticed a conversation in the chat room between Jeff Wagg from JREF (accomodationist)and Jeff Dee from The Atheist Experience– the sideline debates were lively and I was wishing for the chance to jump in, but I had that damn real life thing to contend with.

  34. I did not see the debate, but have read the commentary on it here.

    One aspect I have noticed repeatedly with Mooney and other accommodationists is their limiting the significance of the impact of religion to just its impact on science. It is as if increasing the statistic of the percentage of people who accept evolution is the most, or even only, important objective.

    I see that as just one front on the culture war, and frankly, one of lesser significance. Religion impacts, negatively, our lives, our cultures, and our world in numerous other ways. Religion commonly affects a society’s views on science, politics, law, foreign policy, civil rights, sexuality, ethics, history, etc., etc., etc. ***It is not just evolution.*** Even if more theists accepted evolution because they found a way to compartmentalize it with their religion, their religion will still negatively influence them on a wide variety of other issues. I do wish this was pointed out to them.


    1. Excellent point, Brian. How does one begin to effectively tackle these various human rights violations *without* addressing the religious or cultural tenets that underlie their practice and societal tolerance thereof? There are religious elephants tramping about many rooms–not just the science parlor.

      1. jenBPhillips
        October 8, 2010 at 9:33 pm:

        Excellent point, Brian. How does one begin to effectively tackle these various human rights violations *without* addressing the religious or cultural tenets that underlie their practice and societal tolerance thereof?

        That’s easy. First, you argue that these various human rights violations are in fact explained by other causes, such as avarice, class struggles, politics, or conflict over scarce resources, such as arable land or oil. Then explanations which point to religious causes become the projections of Naughty Militant Atheists, who are looking to defame religion. (And if you are Chris Hedges, you then proceed to argue that since religion is a key ethnic property, those who are defaming religion are engaging in racist behavior.)
        In the real world, human misbehaviors have multiple contributing factors, and often it isn’t clear which ones predominate. But in some cases, such as Mormon and catholic opposition to gay marriage, and to women’s rights, religion is clearly the dominant contributor. And even in complicated cases, such as the conflict in Palestine, it should be clear religion plays a substantial role.

  35. My comment was more of a glaze over the concept that we can make mistakes, but worded poorly. Most notably because I try to avoid using absolutes. Gives plenty of wiggle room.

    So, I have meandered down the path of contemplating human short comings and enacting a few, so I appreciate your critique about that.

  36. I haven’t seen anything posted yet about this so I will jump in. Toward the end of the discussion, during the questions from the audience, some guy stood up and asked something akin to this: “If you could get rid of either the religion of your philosophical enemies, or their politics, which would you chose?” Not a single one of the panelists had anything constructive to say. The answer seems obvious to me: Get rid of religion! The right wing loonies take much of their politics from their religion, but they don’t take their religion from their politics. Why didn’t someone say that?

    1. I think Mooney answered. The others seemed to be in agreement that religion and politics are too intertwined(same thing practically) to answer the question reliably.

      Both have agendas and sets of rules based on beliefs. Both can become fanatical as well.

  37. I don’t have to be confrontational but thank you for assuming I couldn’t be honest without being confrontational. You are assuming the person I am (confronting or not confronting) only realizes the truth through confrontation. I’ve not seen atheist being ANYTHING publicly. We are so new of a “thang”… that all of these celebrity atheist are fighting for a hunk of the book selling, blog hit market. Quit the left/right bullshit and admit you can be honest without being confrontational vice versa etc… and so on and.

    Oh, but I’m a huge fan of all of those mentioned; I’m sure.

    1. What you fail to understand is that for many believers, even the simple act of questioning any aspect about the validity of their beliefs is confrontational. And asking for evidence, well, horror of horrors, that is just like flying literal jets into their towers of faith, making us apparently as bad or worse than actual terrorists, according to some at least.

      Though ironically, recently at least, many of the attacks against us Gnu, well quite gnold in my case, atheists is coming from fellow atheists. And, surprisingly, we aren’t prepared to just lie back and think of England while they defame us. Though of course, in the eyes of these fellow atheists as well as those ‘moderate’ believers they wish to suck up to, this valid defence by us only makes us even more militant.

  38. Is anyone listening to Robert Wright now? Did he just state that criticism by new atheists of islam will lead to more suicide bombings? Wow! He used an example of an article on as something that is misleading and dangerously poking the bear.

    I can barely listen to Wright when he speaks…good thing the calming Sam Harris is now up.

  39. I see Richard and PZ in the front row, so we should get some good feedback. Quite an audience. I also see Kurtz, Dowd, Stiefel and several others.

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