Moar on gnus being gnice

From a new post by Brother Blackford:

What we do say is that it’s hopelessly misleading to go around saying “Science and religion are compatible.” It would be more true to say that science tends to undermine all or most traditional forms of religion, making them less plausible, putting pressure on the religious to thin out their supernaturalist, providentialist views of the world, and so on. The result is that much in the way of actual religion really is threatened by the advance of science. Claiming otherwise is, we say, likely to be disingenuous (or, to be fair, simply mistaken).

We then have a great deal to say about the various ways in which science does this. In particular, we tend to criticise ideas such as NOMA, which seem to us to be full of problems. For example, NOMA gives a characterisation of religion that is totally untrue to the historical experience of the phenomenon.

None of this is about acting in ways that are uncivil.

The idea that in-your-face mockery is an inherent and inevitable part of Gnu Atheism comes, pure and simple, from accommodationists who—desperately avoiding arguments about substance—concentrate on tone.  It’s all about framing, and it’s been somewhat successful.

An alarm bell should go off when you see fellow atheists chastising us for being “dicks.”  As often as not, those very critics behave in exactly the way they deplore. That, after all, is the lesson of the Tom Johnson affair.


  1. Posted February 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    “Claiming otherwise is, we say, likely to be disingenuous (or, to be fair, simply mistaken).”

    Russell is being characteristically mild. I would put it more strongly. It’s a bad idea to promote science, which is about truth, with untruths about compatibility.

  2. J.J.E.
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    And the thing about the “dick” discourse (dickourse?) is that the originator clearly engages in conduct no less confrontational than the “usual suspects” accused of dickishness. That alone demonstrates that the tone/framer argument has gotten lodged even in the brains of people who don’t coddle religion on a regular basis.

    Of course, since Phil never really pointed to the actual dicks, we can’t even evaluate the claim, which is sadly another common tactic of the tone/framer argument. It is frustrating, because Phil isn’t typically the tone/framer type.

    • MoonShark
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      This is pretty much what I was going to say. Though in Plait’s credit, he’s awfully consistent about avoiding ad-hominems and giving his targets every benefit of the doubt. But I still disagree with him thoroughly on the “don’t be a dick” issue. Being perpetually polite isn’t my style, and often means a lot of effort completely wasted on true morons and jackasses (O’Reilly being a great example).

      To be pedantic, as ERV drunkenly (but coherently!) explains further down, Wil Wheaton is probably the the Trope Maker, but Plait is a Trope Codifier.

      (see here)

  3. Posted February 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Blackford is a philosopher, and, as such, he tends to swim neatly through the nets, as it were.

    But I say baloney. (Or, rather, horse shit.)

    There is no life for a morality that is *beyond human experience.* This is Harris’ point.

    One has to bring morality down to the human mind. Science can be fully equipped to deal with such questions.

    That there are subjectivities and impoderances is irrelevant, sadly, and . . . not so sadly.


    • sasqwatch
      Posted February 2, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

      wouldn’t that be… baloGnee ? 😉

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Philosophy tends to align with religion, from which it is a bastard offspring.
      (Which it replaced utterly)
      Science is the bastard offspring of philosophy.
      (Which it replaced utterly)

      Both religion and philosophy still exist:- to the detriment of science.

      Sadly, there are both acolytes of redundant religion, and firm acolytes of pleonastic philosophy.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted February 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the winsome win-win!

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted February 5, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink

          An ally to the alleged allure of alliteration?

  4. Kudu
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    I dont apologize for being direct with christians, and even mocking their stupid beliefs. If they are right, the time will come when I am burning in hell for eternity while they are experiencing eternal bliss. If they really believe that is what the future holds, one would think they wouldnt have to be such absolute cry babies about having people like me make fun of them.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted February 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Well said!

  5. Posted February 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    This has gone on long enough. Drunk snow storm confession time:
    I didnt follow the ‘dont be a dick’ drama at all. At all.

    I prefer other astronomy blogs. I follow the gamer community, thus I was familiar with Wil Wheatons 2007 PAX speech. I wasnt interested.

    It wasnt until much, much later I realized that Phil had never heard his ‘friend’ Wils speech, nor asked him why his catch phrase was ‘dont be a dick!’ Apparently he just tangentially knew that phrase united gamers, thus he concluded it would also unite atheists. Or he just thought it was funny. Or something.

    1. Steal ‘Commandeer’ Wil Wheatons catchphrase.
    2. ???
    3. PROFIT!!!

    It was this post that betrayed him. Wils speech was all about not using your anon status to be a dick, when you are normally a nice person irl (most gamers are nice irl, ie, PAX). If you were playing TMNT at the arcade with three other people, you wouldnt be a dick, so why you gotta be a dick online? Just because youre anon and you can? Tom Johnson was ‘dont be a dick’ personified, someone who used their anon for evil. Phil didnt get it or give a rats ass.

    He had no idea what the phrase meant or where it came from or the context behind it.

    Thus Phil sank to the bottom of my respect bucket. Poseur, and even worse, a bad ‘friend’.

    But I suppose as long as he isnt ‘angry’, hes a good spokesperson and bridge builder or something.

    [/drunk confession]

    Google “Dont be a dick”. Top hits are Phil, not Wil. Bitch stole Wils catchphrase.

    • AJ
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      Yeah, but Fark loves Wil more.

    • SLC
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      Of course, the leading non-dick, Chris Mooney, thinks nothing of being a dick when he confronts global warming denier frauds like Marc Morano or George Will.

      • Sajanas
        Posted February 3, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

        And Phil Platt is certainly aggressive when it comes to vaccination deniers, astrology nuts, and moon landing hoaxers. There are simply people that hold stupid views, and while you can be genial to them, don’t think for a second they won’t consider you ‘a dick’ for opposing their viewpoint.
        I remember having friends who were thinking of leaving college (and did) and thought I was being a dick because I told them it was a stupid idea. I was merely trying to prevent them from making a mistake, and I hope they understand that.

  6. Posted February 2, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Flanders and Swann beat you to “gnice”:


    There’s gnothing gnu under the sun.

  7. Screechy Monkey
    Posted February 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Face it, Jerry, you’re No True Gnu.

    What I love is how Rosenau tries to claim victory when what you’ve really done it prove him wrong:

    “You guys shouldn’t be so outspoken about atheism, and you shouldn’t say that religion and science are incompatible.”
    “Why not?”
    “Because it’s rude.”
    “Not at all. I agree with you that we shouldn’t be rude (at least, not until someone has shown they deserve it). But it’s perfectly possible to speak to religious people civilly and politely without backing down or disguising my views.”
    “No, it’s not.”
    “Look, I just did it.”
    “Aha! You were nice and not rude! So you agree with me after all!”
    “But I was never against niceness or for rudeness.”

    • AJ
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 1:50 am | Permalink

      I think it’s pretty clear that the Tom Johnson story firmly lodged itself in the accommodationist psyche as a spiritual truth, to be adhered to despite the lack of any factual basis (or more likely because of that lack – it’s like a parable for them, defining their opposition).

      • Screechy Monkey
        Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        Clearly, accomodationists are dividing between the fundamentalist, literal Johnsonites, and the modern liberal Johnsonites who see it as a deeply meaningful metaphor.

        DEEP RIFTS in the accomodationist movement!

  8. Posted February 2, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    I am as honest and forthcoming as any of the Gnu Atheists. An issue that I struggle with is altering my remarks and/or delivery so that I will have the greatest success in achieving a desired outcome. The scientist in me knows the realities of communicating certain messages to certain populations. So, do I want to educate, inform, convince, change minds, shock, “share my real self”, create the slightest bit of doubt in lifelong sacred beliefs???

    UGH! Often times I just decide to leave the bridge-building to others.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      The difference between:
      1) Short-term fabricated minor potential gnice lying fraudulent ‘political’ gains
      2) Long-term educational truth-seeking honest hard-hitting reality-based long-term gains.

      You choose?

  9. Matt Penfold
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    I see now that Rosenau has taken to outright lying.

    He claims that Jerry was the person who created the buzzkill Jerry used in a previous post. Several commentators have pointed out that Jerry was not the creator of that work but Rosenau has not bothered to correct his error. One can only conclude he is happy letting that falsehood stand.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 4:43 am | Permalink

      I haven’t seen that claim, but Josh is wrong. The buzzkill was, as I said, created by a reader and sent to me. Perhaps he thinks I’m lying, but he would be wrong.

    • Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      That’s not new! He’s told one or two whoppers about me in the past, and then refused to withdraw them.

  10. Tim Harris
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    I don’t know about dicks, but the uninitiated seeing the gnu atheist logo might infer, wrongly of course, that gnu atheists are gnarseholes (or gnassholes).

    • Posted February 3, 2011 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      Everyone has one, but gnus wear theirs with pride.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted February 3, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        Are there any creatures that have two arse-holes/cloacæ?
        I cannot think of a an example, if one exempts politicians.

        • Posted February 3, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink


          I don’t know about two arse-holes, but my kingsnake has two penises. One for each side!

          Technically, (well actually) they are hemi-penes (I think that’s the correct spelling.)

          It’s close, I suppose?


        • Yoodow
          Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          Married women have two.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      A symbol “one cow – gnu too“.

  11. Kevin
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    So, here’s the thing…Josh, when I’m talking to YOU, I’m going to be direct and forceful in my language. Otherwise, you might misconstrue what I say.

    When I’m over at YouTube, I have 500 characters to make my point. Direct language often appears to be aggressive. Sometimes it is. Sometimes, the truth offends, no matter how mildly you couch it.

    When I’m talking to my Baptist friends over a diet Coke, I’m more likely to be circumspect. I will gently correct blatant scientific errors they make. But I won’t be nasty about it — they’re my friends, after all.

    And yes, I do have theist friends. In fact (no kidding, true story), I was just out to dinner with a group that included a Methodist minister and a Presbyterian minister. The Presbyterian is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I get annoyed when he blathers on about “brothers in prayer”, but I don’t confront him about it. It would be pointless. None of them confront me about science (they know what I do and my position on the major ‘truth claims’ of religion), so we let sleeping dogs lie in the interests of comity.

    Different circumstances. Different approaches. Some of which might even be silence.

    But here I’m as Gnu as they come.

    Get it?

  12. Posted February 3, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Dare I hope that those of us who refer to gnus in any context can sing at least the chorus of Flanders and Swann’s “Gnu Song.” Which begins, “I’m a gnu, spelled g-n-u. The gnicest work of gnature in the zoo…”

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