A mushbrained attack on the Gnus

February 4, 2011 • 7:19 am

UPDATE: Rob Knop has found us and left a provocative comment below.  Readers may wish to address it!


The blog network Scientopia was started, as I recall, when people from ScienceBlogs wanted an alternative site free from administrative hassle.  I don’t look at their sites, but an alert reader called my attention to a post at a site called Galactic Interactions.  It’s run by one Rob Knop, an astrophysicist at Quest University in Canada who describes himself as a “Christian.”  The post is notable not because its author is a big presence on the internet, but because it’s an attack on atheism by a credentialled scientist: “Why I don’t like the term ‘Gnu atheism’.”

The piece is the usual tiresome tirade about the stridency of Gnus.  The words and arguments fall into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle:

However, most of those in the movement formerly known as “New Atheism” seem to share the following characteristics. They are atheists. They believe the world would be a better place if religion would go away, becoming nothing more than cultural history and cultural tradition. They think that any religion that claims to be anything other than just cultural tradition is incompatible with science and the scientific world view. They believe that if somebody aims to accept science and is intellectually honest and consistent, the success of modern science must necessarily lead that person to accept philosophical materialism. They use the word “reason” as a synonym for “application of scientific reasoning”, thereby making anybody who is religious by definition guilty of thinking without reason. . . .

. . . Beyond that, a subset of [the Gnus] are strident and combative. They think that any religion at all is a threat to science. They do not hesitate to call non-atheists idiots or childish. They will crap the comment threads of posts like this one with all sorts of (frankly) bigotry hiding under the clothing of assumed “reason”, citing the names of logical fallacies the way fundamentalists cite scripture. They will assert that they know the Truth and that therefore it’s perfectly justified for them to say frankly insulting things, and then say that others shouldn’t be offended by the Truth. They seem to think that non-fundamentalist theists are prevaricators who “pick and choose” from their religion, and thus are somehow misrepresenting their own religious beliefs. I generally think that this is because they’d prefer to argue against fundamentalists, for it’s extremely easy to show how fundamentalists are at odds with science. But, it’s very disheartening to see somebody who wants people to accept science then criticizing a theist for not being a fundamentalist. It is the behavior of this subset that leads me to the conclusion that “fundamentalist atheist” is the best term for this sort of atheist. Most atheists, thankfully, are not like this, but there is the subset that argues that their philosophy is the only philosophy that can be accepted by reasonable people who accept science— much as fundamentalist Christians argue that their philosophy is the only philosophy that can be accepted by people who are good and “saved”.

And while Knop spends most of his longish piece attacking a subset of Gnus, does he name any? Nope, he just names the victims of their attacks, linking to sites like The Intersection, Phil Plait’s blog, Josh Rosenau’s blog, and even the “science and religion” section of the National Center for Science Education’s website.  Once again we hear a strong critique of Gnu Atheists, listing our horrible traits and behaviors, but without the presence of a single example. Shades of Plait’s DBAD speech! Is it that Plait and Knop don’t have many examples—except, perhaps, from the comments section of Pharyngula? Or could they simply be protecting those Gnefarious Gnus by not naming them? At least when scientist-Gnus go after religious people or accommodationists, we name them and give examples.  After all, we’re wedded to data and evidence, not empty assertions.

Knop also asserts that we’re not halping:

In other words, I’m annoyed at the “gnu atheists” in the first place; not just because many are so blinded by their love for their own philosophy that they can’t see that it isn’t necessarily objective truth, and not just because many are frankly rude and insulting while thinking there must be something wrong with me if I find them rude and insulting. I’m annoyed at them also because they’re getting in the way of a cause I care about, mainstream acceptance of good science and scientific reasoning. There are a lot of religious people out there who have no problem with evolution or the Big Bang, and there are a lot more who wouldn’t have any problem with it if they really learned about it and learned how Christians like myself are still Christian while accepting all of science. Those people are people we should reach out to. Telling them that religion is idiotic, or intellectually dishonest, and that the real people who accept science must all be atheists, isn’t going to help.

The problem is that people like Knop are getting in the way of a cause that we care about: the inimical effects of religion.  I deplore the effects of creationists on diluting biology education in America.  But I deplore far more the effects of religion in making the world a worse place to live.  A kid in Alabama who doesn’t hear about human evolution is small potatoes next to a Muslim woman who gets her genitals mutilated, an African who gets AIDS because his priest wouldn’t let him use condoms, or an Afghan girl who, seeking an education, gets her face permanently mutilated with acid.  Some day people like Knop will realize that The Gnus Have Two Causes (that sounds like the title of a children’s book). Or rather, we have just one cause—the promotion of rationality—that has two facets. One is promoting science; the other is pushing back irrationality, whose most prominent incarnation is religion.

Besides the absence of data, Knop’s piece is notable for his LOLzy attack on the name “Gnu Atheists,” an attack derived solely from his misconception that the name came from the Gnu software project.   He sees a dark conspiracy here:

Put it together. You have this movement out there, the subset of atheists whose stated goal is to destroy religion and who assert that complete and intellectual consistent acceptance of science requires a rejection of religion. That is a movement that people who aren’t already atheists are likely to view with suspicion. Now, they’ve taken a name that seems to link them to something that is completely separate, open source and free software. It bugs me already for aesthetic that these guys have hijacked the term “Gnu”. But it can’t help but create a link in some folks’ minds between this crazy hippy dubious philosophy about sharing software you’ve written to attacks on religion. In sort, free software may now be perceived as having something to do with yet another cultural assault that, frankly, has nothing whatsoever to do with free software. “GNU public licence?

LOL!  What mushbrainery!  We are called “Gnu” atheists not because of the software connection, but because it’s a funny term showing that we don’t take the words “New Atheism” too seriously.  I believe Hamilton Jacobi, who coined the term, will vouch for this.  Knop would be better off if, as a scientist, he tied his critiques to real data.

252 thoughts on “A mushbrained attack on the Gnus

  1. I just left this comment there, don’t know if it will pass moderation:

    Why is citing logical fallacies a bad thing? Do you think one shouldn’t be *too* logical, shouldn’t examine arguments *too* closely?

    > “[…] how Christians like myself are still Christian while accepting all of science.”

    Why don’t you explain how you do it then. You must believe that Jesus was immaculately conceived, and that he rose from the dead, and that he’s going to show up on earth yet again. If that’s what you believe, how is it compatible with science? I’ll answer that – it’s not. The only way to do is to compartmentalize, to not hold such beliefs up to scientific scrutiny. I hear a lot of attempts to explain this away by people like Francis Collins – none of it is convincing, even to a non-scientist like me.

    1. My biggest question, from a physics/engineering point of view, is what propulsion system did Jesus use for his ascension? It’s pretty important, because the nearby angels said that he would use the same method to return (Acts 1:11), and we’ll need EPA approval for the emissions.

      That, and just were did Jesus go? Still hidden in the clouds? Not even in a stable orbit?

      1. Well, according to well accepted Christian science, he flew somewhere to sit on a throne next to his father who is also himself.

        1. …in a heaven that would be reachable by building a tall building.
          …and which has many rooms.

          I envision it sorta like a Days Inn with free HBO AND Showtime).

          1. It can’t be Christian without all that porn that they buy. Okay, I think the Mormons or Baptists top the porn-usage-in-hotels, but they’ll all be up there, right?

  2. I wonder what data in the real world would allow a believing scientist to distinguish a universe created by a single deity or a pantheon? What parts of other religions clash with data in the real world that makes them poor explanatory choices?

    By what means has Knop been able to determine which parts of the bible are to be regarded as metaphorical and which not? To what evidence does he appeal in answering any of these questions (for which he presumably has answers)? If every holy text on earth were to vanish, how would believers go about reconstituting religious knowledge? How much reason would be used-or needed-for this project?

    1. If every holy text on earth were to vanish, how would believers go about reconstituting religious knowledge? How much reason would be used-or needed-for this project?

      Excellent questions. We Gnus get it, but I’m not sure most religionlists would understand the implications. They pull things out of thin air and convince themselves they’ve stumbled across “objective truth” all the time.

  3. how Christians like myself are still Christian while accepting all of science

    All of science except that part about “no rising from the dead after three days”. But you know, close enough.

    1. Kidding aside, I am beginning to think that certain philosophical criticisms of us gnus are at least somewhat valid — that there are some things we could learn from listening to the critics.

      The problem is that it’s almost impossible to listen to the critics when, virtually without exception, they baselessly assert that the aggressiveness of the gnus is interfering with science education and outreach. That’s patently absurd, unsupported by data or even anecdote, and possibly even contradicted by data.

      As soon as a critic has me thinking (for example), “Hey, maybe he’s got a point about the citing of logical fallacies — are we always using these tools to point out legitimate problems in critical thinking, or do we sometimes use it to bludgeon people who are less familiar with the jargon?”, they turn around and say, “And that’s why I call them fuhndumentillistz!” or “I imagine they are driving people away from science even though there’s absolutely no evidence of that” or “I can haz undeserved respect now” or something equally vapid.

      I actually suspect Phil Plait might have been trying to get at some legitimate problems, but his failure to talk in specifics makes it impossible to tell. Most of these jokers, though… it’s the same old tired misunderstandings and empty assertions.

      1. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to listen to the critics when, virtually without exception, they baselessly assert that the aggressiveness of the gnus is interfering with science education and outreach.

        And doing so aggressively, I might add.

      2. And with respect to citing logical fallacies, maybe they are a bit overused. I have noticed that – in a cargo-cult kind of way – psuedo-skeptics (AGW deniers and creationists) have started throwing around those terms too.

        However, you shouldn’t complain about people pointing out logical fallacies, unless you can point out why they are wrong to do so. Otherwise, change your argument, or admit you’re wrong. It’s that simple.

        1. What’s to respond to when somebody hauls out the name of a logical fallacy without any justification as to why it’s *correct*? Why is the burden of proof on somebody to refute a hauled-out name of a logical fallacy when there was no justification in the first place as to why the logical fallacy was *right*?

          1. Some people may overuse or misapply accusations of logical fallacies. This cannot be viewed as an indictment of pointing out logical fallacies at all.

            To do so would constitute a type of syllogistic fallacy.


          2. Aren’t you accusing me of shifting the burden of proof now? 😉

            I’d think in a case where someone didn’t support their accusation sufficiently, simply pointing this out may be enough of a response.

            On the other hand, even an unsupported criticism might be right. Dismissing it out of hand may cause you to miss an opportunity to learn.

          3. I don’t think you know what the term “logical fallacy” means.

            Just today, I’ve dealt with a YouTuber who insisted that in order to believe in god, I first had to believe in god. I pointed out to him that it was a logical fallacy known as a “circular argument.”

            Would you have me approach him in a different way? Accept that he’s correct, even? What? Specifically, how would you deal with someone who uses muddle-headed thinking to try to convince YOU of the existence of aliens with anal probes?

      3. There’s a difference between critic and dick. That’s a point that Phil Plait tried to make, and that many of you seemed to either miss or get angry about.

        Saying “anybody who accepts this is an idiot” is not being a critic.

        Continuing to assert that religion is all bad and never did anything good in the weight of huge evidence to the contrary is not being a critic, it’s being at tiresome bore. And, no, I’m not saying that all religion is good, but when you’re goal is the destruction of something, you’re no longer in the process of constructive criticism that should be listened to, you’re in the process of destructive criticism.

        So, yeah, gnus just like the author of this blog are aggressive and insulting and generally not useful to the conservation. While you may think it more important to destroy religion than it is to support good science education, your tilting at that particular windmill is getting in the way of promoting good science education.

        1. A little projection maybe? It seems that people like you–i.e., the cognitive dissonants who can maintain belief in a magic sky fairy while making observations that undermine any such fantasy–think it more important to propagate religion than it is to support good science.

          Jerry and the majority of people who comment on this blog think that it’s more important to support good science than it is to coddle ancient myths and those who continue to cling to them.

        2. And your examples of Jerry being “aggressive and insulting and generally not useful to the conservation” are …?

          And your examples of your approach being “useful to the conversation” are?

        3. Hey Mr, you being a scientist, ever care for that little thing called evidence? Our tone is getting in the way of science education. Care to back that up with data? Do fewer people accept evolution since, to your dismay, atheists began to open their mouth?

          1. In fairness, correlation does not equal causation, post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that.

          2. Well, contracorrelation does disprove a (strong) causation.
            Acceptance of evolution is up since the gnu atheist term was introduced.

        4. Obviously you believe that your religion is a better description of how the universe works? How did you determine that and how would you defend this choice against those of other religious persuasion who would disagree with you? What would you point to in your reply? What data about the real world supports your contention that Christianity offers a better explanation for how the universe works? What data do you even use to decide amongst the thousands of Christian denominations?

        5. I once had a friend who was a druid as me point blank if I thought everything she believed in was crap (including astral projection and crystal magic).
          I said equally point blank, yes.

          Is that rude? Essentially when you say “I’m an atheist”, people react to you as if you just told them that everything they believe in is wrong. Frankly the only thing different about New Atheism is that its willing to elaborate a lot more on this basic argument. And really, I think even the comments on PZ’s site are much, much calmer and nicer than those on say, Wash Post’s On Faith site, where fundamentalist Christains, Jews, and Muslims call each other names with incoherent capitalization and bold fonts. If you go there and argue with people who can’t string a sentence together, and rant and rave and curse and damn you to hell, then you come back to a site like this and say “man, what idiots”, and get called a dick for it.

          1. Well, when some people find our very existence to be offensive (look up a recent Florida city council meeting – a Dogma Free America minicast has the whole audio as an example), anything we say or do will cause offense. We can be dicks just by existing.

        6. Saying “anybody who accepts this is an idiot” is not being a critic.

          Yet there are times when that’s the only suitable way to respond.

          Young children who can’t wait to see what Santa brought them are cute.

          A teenager who dresses up as Santa and brings toys to kids in shelters is most admirable.

          If that same teenager also believes that Santa really is an elf who lives at the North Pole and flies his reindeer ’round the world once a year, then he’s an idiot.

          The problem with Christianity is that it’s as idiotic to pretend it’s anything other than a myth as it is to think that ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is actual history.

          Even at a cursory glance, it’s trivially obvious that the Bible is pure fiction. It opens with a story about a magic garden with talking animals and an angry giant, fer chrissakes! And a bit later we have a talking plant (on fire, no less!) that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero. And, at the end, we have an utterly bizarre zombie slasher porn fantasy, complete with the zombie king ordering one of his thralls to fondle his intestines through his gaping chest wound.

          All this is recorded in an anthology of works authored long after the events are said to have taken place. And even a cursory examination of the actual contemporary documentary and archaeological records reveals not even a hint of any of it. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, the Roman Satirists — all those and scores more didn’t notice a thing.

          So, yeah. If you’re a Christian, you’re an idiot.

          You’re an idiot for falling for such obvious nonsense in the first place, though you can be forgiven somewhat for that failing because of the effects of brainwashing in children.

          But, more importantly, you’re also an idiot for failing to do even the most trivial and obvious of due diligence before falling for the scam. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, no? And here we have the most extraordinary claims of all…and it’s the lack of evidence that you find most compelling.

          After all, that’s the whole point of faith: acceptance of Truths despite (or even because of) lack of objective evidence.

          When it comes right down to it, no two human endeavors could possibly be more antithetical to each other than science and religion. Science thrives on recursive questioning and testing of observations; faith, the bedrock of religion, is the blind, unquestioning acceptance of revealed Truth.

          Physicist, heal thyself.



          1. You are my favourite commenter here Ben. You get to core of the issue and do it very amusingly too. I always look for your comments.

          2. Depends on who and what you are trying to help, assuming you are trying to help and not just insulting someone who is, in fact, an idiot. Idiots exist, we’ve all met them, and we’ve all been idiots at times.

        7. So in other words, you don’t actually have any arguments supporting your standpoint, you simply don’t feel the arguments against it are being polite to you?

          Saying “anybody who accepts this is an idiot”… [citation needed]

          Continuing to assert that religion is all bad and never did anything good… [citation needed]

          While you may think it more important to destroy religion than it is to support good science education, your tilting at that particular windmill is getting in the way of promoting good science education. [citation needed]

          You see, assertions don’t really make good arguments. Let’s break it down a bit, shall we?

          “Anyone who follows religion is an idiot.” I can’t say the last time I actually saw this argument, but it certainly isn’t a common one. There is no evidence for religion being factual, or explanatory for the world we experience every day. Is that specific enough for you? Would you like to address that real statement?

          “Religion never did any good.” Actually the good that religion does is questionable – can you show that it’s due to religion and not, for instance, human traits like empathy? That’s what I believe you scientists call “testing.” But tell me something else, just out of curiosity: If the bad traits of something outweigh the good, should you be selective in noticing only the good traits? Do you think that Toxic Shock Syndrome was a bad reason to stop the obvious beneficial effects of containing menstrual bleeding?

          “You’re not promoting science.” Your reading comprehension of this blog is phenomenally poor. Oh, wait! Was this another example of cherry-picking your data? Oh, I get it now!

          You see, you’re not being terribly convincing when you cannot make your case without gratuitous displays of bias. Sorry, but some of us like to see those rational arguments you find distasteful. Do you really feel that you’re even capable of judging what constitutes good promotion of science with the blatant hypocrisy you displayed here? Are you going to be the last one to recognize that, in decrying the Gnu Atheists’ supposed characterization of all religious folk as fundies, you didn’t use one argument that wasn’t a straw man? (Yes, I pointed out a fallacy – you really should learn what the hell they are, it would make your arguments less ridiculous.) Are you even capable of recognizing that your post here was strident and militant, insulting and condescending? I’m sorry, I thought that was what you detested. And the promotion of good science would, to my mind at least, actually deal with evidence, objectivity, and a conclusion following a chain or reasoning.

          But we should thank you I suppose, since you just did our job for us 😉

          1. Matt from The Atheist Experience has a standing challenge for someone to provide one real, concrete thing that religion can do that a secular thing cannot do. So far, no winners. The “religion does good” meme relies on counting human altruism and empathy as a religious thing, not a general part of humanity. Any experiment to show that runs into problems since we are discussing motivations, and indoctrination is very useful in hiding that. I think studies have been done showing that such altruism is universal among religious and non, but I don’t have that at my fingertips at this time.

        8. Saying “anybody who accepts this is an idiot” is not being a critic.

          Continuing to assert that religion is all bad and never did anything good in the weight of huge evidence to the contrary is not being a critic, it’s being at tiresome bore.

          Please name names here, because I can think of no source for these ideas besides essentially anonymous comments. I’ve never seen Coyne say these things, nor PZ Myers, and certainly none of the four horsemen.

          There are anonymous assholes on the internet supporting every position imaginable. This is not an argument against gnu atheism.

          Please please please provide references of this behavior, because afaict it never happens.

        9. “Continuing to assert that religion is all bad and never did anything good in the weight of huge evidence to the contrary is not being a critic, it’s being at tiresome bore.”

          Even if it’s true?

          “And, no, I’m not saying that all religion is good, but when you’re goal is the destruction of something, you’re no longer in the process of constructive criticism that should be listened to, you’re in the process of destructive criticism.”

          Why shouldn’t destructive criticism be listened to?

          1. So we’re constantly told, but I’ve yet to see any solid evidence that religion is the cause of more good being done.

          2. i’m not sure what you mean by “more good being done”. Do you mean that there is little evidence that the good of religion outweighs the bad? I agree with that.

            Knop isn’t talking about that. He’s complaining about (unnamed) Dicks who say that religion never did anything good at all. Truthspeaker almost implies that this is his own belief.

          3. It’s unclear if the “good” done by religion is actually a product of religion or whether religion merely capitalizes on people’s innate goodness and takes credit for it. So, yeah. Whether religion is responsible for any good in the world is still an unsettled question, and Knopp is wrong to assume it is.

          4. It’s unclear if the “good” done by religion is actually a product of religion or whether religion merely capitalizes on people’s innate goodness and takes credit for it.

            Also, when a religious person does something then it’s trumpeted up and down the streets far and wide and secularists are ignored or worse, if they have a lot of influence in their time, then history buries them.

            Frankly I’d be a lot more impressed if the people bleating these tiresome old canards would take the time to back it up with any sort of rigour. That means comparing two societies with very different religiosity levels. It does NOT mean trying to remember some key historical figures and measuring their religiosity. (I’d point out the ways this would fail but I wouldn’t want to offend out guest, I know how much he hates fallacies.)

          5. Yet it is the christians that typically reject programs that are designed to help without any religious strings attached. Christian organizations don’t work for free, they expect and so far receive financial aid from government.

            It isn’t uncommon for people to help without fearing any sky creature or receiving any support from government. Christians have a tendency to oversell their occasionally not harmful acts as being caused by one or another of their gods. I suspect that christians could actually be good without gods too.

        10. There’s a difference between critic and dick. That’s a point that Phil Plait tried to make, and that many of you seemed to either miss or get angry about.

          And in what category would you place this sentence? What if it was written by a Gnu Atheist about Christians?

        11. Interesting how often something of the form “continuing to assert that religion is all bad and never did anything good” is said and how seldom, if ever, the person saying it points to someone actually making that claim.

          1. Or points to any good that ‘religion’ has actually done. Of course as an abstraction relgion can’t do anything, only people acting in the name of religion. How many of them would have done the good they do anyway and how many are merely trying to curry favour with invisible sky fairys we’ll probably ne ver know.

        12. Rob, I’m curious as to why you didn’t link to specific examples in support of each of your claims/assertions? In the absence of specific and concrete evidence, your argument can be easily dismissed (this is also true of Plait’s DBAD speech). It’s obvious that this is an issue you feel strongly about, and I assume that you do not want your arguments to be dismissed. However, there’s no way to take them seriously, or to see them as anything but strawmen, unless you link to actual examples.

        13. But why should’t destructive criticism be listened to just as carefully as constructive criticism?

          Some things cannot be constructively criticised.

          “Yes, Mr. Ptolemy. Your model could be so much better if you only added just a few more epicycles.”

        14. “anybody who accepts this is an idiot”

          Well, for certain types of “this”, that is simply a factually accurate description of the situation.

        15. Saying “anybody who accepts this is an idiot” is not being a critic.

          Actually, I’m going to deviate a little bit here and agree with you there. If that was it – and that was all anyone ever said – then yeah, I’d agree with you.

          However – I don’t think that happens. At the very least, I don’t think it happens outside of youtube trolls and my fellow snarkers on Pharyngula.

          Speaking of Pharyngula, let’s use PZ.

          Yes, PZ calls out religious people for being idiots.

          But he doesn’t use the form you cited above. He uses a form that’s significantly different:

          “Anybody who accepts this is an idiot; here’s why.”

          I’m reminded in particular of a Christian radio interview involving PZ and a creationist.

          The creationist pointed out that there were no transitional whale fossils.

          PZ pointed out that that’s not true, and named a whole bunch of them and briefly summarized what we can learn about whale development. He then chided the creationist for being ignorant of the fossil record he was attempting to criticse.

          The moderator then smacked PZ on the wrist for using the term ‘ignorant’ – but in that situation, it fit perfectly. The creationist simply didn’t know about the fossil record, he was ignorant of it.

          So yes. If all someone does is say you’re so stupid, neener neener neener, then I’d agree that this isn’t a critique – at least, not a very good one.

          But if you can explain why something is stupid, then that explanation is the critique and the ‘this is stupid’ is just the conclusion.

          How – if you’d care to provide examples of prominent atheists who engage in the kind of childish name-calling you’re talking about without justification then by all means, do so.

          I’m confident you won’t be able to do so. I’m pretty sure that kind of name-calling doesn’t exist in any kind of prevalence at all.

          But hey – fuck it. Why not? Go ahead and give me evidence that I’m wrong and I’ll change my mind.

          I’ll be waiting.

          1. But hey – fuck it. Why not? Go ahead and give me evidence that I’m wrong and I’ll change my mind.

            I could give you evidence, sure. I’ve got it right here and I’m dying to post it but instead I’m going to write a long post attacking you for swearing, say nasty things about your upbringing and your inability to mix socially and imply all of this is a direct result of your aberrant religious views. Whew, I got tired out and oops, ran out of time to provide that evidence but it’s here, right here in front of me, I promise.

            It’s such a shame that you should have stooped to such a level in your otherwise long, erudite and seemingly persuasive argument because now everyone (well, everyone who agrees with me) will see that you’re some sort of defective and we can ignore everything you said.

            PS: I say I love you, but I’ll pray for you because I secretly believe that Got hates you and everything you stand for, you filthy heathen. God bless.

        16. Many commenters here are showing that Rob Knop has at least one valid point: Gnu atheist supporters in the comments are better at invective than at argueing.
          And vociferously advocating atheism is irrelevant to promoting good science.

          1. It’s hard to argue with someone who hasn’t presented an argument, and who has no intention of considering changing his mind. Why beat your head upon a rock?

          2. If there was an intelligent discussion with some back-and-forth rather than Knop’s drive-by snipes, people would probably show a lot more respect. Instead he makes a lot of vague claims and allusions without ever supporting them.

            If Knop was saying that this style of discussion is a problem, then he should look to himself first for insight into why this propagates.

        17. While you may think it more important to destroy religion than it is to support good science education, your tilting at that particular windmill is getting in the way of promoting good science education.

          False dichotomy much? Do you have any evidence whatsoever to support your claim?

        18. Rob –

          If you want to be taken seriously, you need to learn the difference between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’. You used them both in your response and only 50% of the time were you correct.

          1. After his petty grammar flame at me, I would be so happy if this was right.

            And it is.

            So I am.


      1. ‘All of science except that part about “no rising from the dead after three days”. But you know, close enough.’

        Except it was on the third day, not after 3 days. You loose. Xtianity is true! (poe)

          1. Plenty of time for the brain cells to turn to mush, unpreserved in a desert cave.

            Seriously, how people can actually swallow this is beyond belief.

            It has long been my contention that there is no such thing as “faith.” Only credulity in swallowing as fact tales that are obvious fiction.

            If there were one shred of a scintilla of a quark’s ass of evidence in favor of any of the “truth claims” of the bible, then “faith” would be considered a sin.

      2. He probably thinks we should learn to accept there isn’t any objective truth. Problem is, if everything’s subjective, why does he get to complain about our subjective truths, while we can’t complain about his?

        1. Furthermore, if there’s no objective truth, why are there universities? How the hell do we accomplish anything in this crazy, elusive, subjective mess of a universe?!

        2. The existence of different philosophies that are not themselves objective truth does not rule out the possibility that there is such a thing of objective truth.

          I never said, nor do I believe, that everything is subjective nor that there is no such thing as objective truth. However, the belief that *nothing* is real or meaningful other than what can be derived through naturalistic reasoning *is* a philosophy, not objective truth.

          Nuance, people.

          1. I see. In that case, is it a “philosophy” to think epileptic seizures are caused by brain discharges and not evil spirits, like Jesus thought? After all, you can find the discharges through naturalistic methods, not the spirits.
            Really, you are the one speaking of nuance.

          2. However, the belief that *nothing* is real or meaningful other than what can be derived through naturalistic reasoning *is* a philosophy, not objective truth.

            The problem is, a few thousand years of philosophy provided nothing that advanced us in any way. It wasn’t until we got away from subjective philosophy (and the nonsense concept of thinking that if it sounded good, it must be useful,) and started using materialistic tests to compare “philosophical” statements, that we started making huge advances in knowledge. That was the only way that we actually obtained any objectivity from philosophy in the first place.

            I don’t give a rat’s ass about “Truth” – it’s as abstract a concept as “art.” But show me the evidence, even if it’s disputable, and I think you’re actually accomplishing something other than blowing smoke.

          3. However, the belief that *nothing* is real or meaningful other than what can be derived through naturalistic reasoning *is* a philosophy, not objective truth.

            Who has ever claimed philosophical naturalism was an objective truth?

        1. I have no problem with atheists

          I thought the whole point was your problem with atheists. I’m confused, so you wrote your article why??

  4. But it can’t help but create a link in some folks’ minds between this crazy hippy dubious philosophy about sharing software you’ve written to attacks on religion.

    Since when is sharing a dubious philosophy? And that coming from a self-professed Christian!

    1. While most of what he says bugs the hell out of me, Knops’ attack on Gnu/Linux is just so silly that it casts further doubt on his thinking on this subject. While Richard Stallman can come off as a little nutty (I’ve seen him speak in person, and it ran the gamut from he’s awesome to he’s a nut and then back in just an hour), it’s clear that Open Source software is both incredibly important and very successful. Just look at Android’s success or any of the many open source software projects that are the backbone of the internet.

      That kind of sweeping attack on a subject Knops doesn’t seem to know much about speaks ill of his thought process.

      1. MAN ALIVE!

        Please read what I said. Where the hell did you get the idea that I was attacking open source? I’m a huge open source advocate.

        The quote that was pulled out was me representing (in a hyperboilized fashion) the mindset of somebody predisposed to be against both atheism and against free software coming against the term.

        You’re really reaching if you’re trying to tear me down by ascribing to me the beliefs in my cartoonish characterizations of those I’d disagree with!!!

        1. Why did you even bring up open source software ?

          I mean how the fuck did you get there ? Gnu atheism gets its name from a play on words between new and gnu. It has nothing to with GNU software. So why claim it does ?

          You are either lying or being incredibly ignorant. Either means you are being a dick, so I would ask you follow your own advice and shut the fuck up.

          1. I would consider it willful ignorance. After all, the play on words isn’t exactly new/gnu. The media used it extensively when the first President Bush raised taxes a couple of decades ago.

          2. Well willful ignorance is what religion is all about, that and give me your money of course!

        2. Yeah, your lack of knowledge of the gnu, an African wildebeest, and proceeding to go on a tangent about GNU software is a little funny. As a biology type, I’d only barely heard about GNU, so the connection was instantly to the gnu.

        3. Sorry Rob, looking back on it, I see that I misread what you wrote. I retract my criticism of that aspect of your post. What you wrote does not say what I mistakenly took it to.

          I still think it’s a very tangential point and distracts from the argument, but on re-reading I think you meant that some people who already (wrongly?) think of GNU/Open source stuff might associate their biases against GNU with their feelings about Gnu Atheists. I don’t think there’s much danger of that, but I see that I was very wrong to criticize you on this particular point the way I did. Apologies.


          1. I think you’re being too kind to Knop. If he could write worth a damn, he could have made it clear that the comment about OSS wasn’t his own opinion. Say, for example, by using quotation marks.

          2. It obviously could’ve been clearer, I agree.

            But I still misunderstood him and I want to be clear that I apologize for wrongly characterizing his remarks.

  5. All of science except that part about “no rising from the dead after three days”. But you know, close enough.

    Knopp explains that away by saying that since such miracles are rare events there is no incompatibility with science in proposing they do happen.

      1. I asked him why he privileged Christianity. He tried claiming he did not, but refused to explain how these miracles could happen so often if you allow every religion its fair share of miracles.

        Of course his failure to answer was a dickish move on his part. Which is kind of odd since he seems to so object to people being dicks. Maybe Jesus gives him special dispensation, or maybe he is just a stinking hypocrite.

        1. When you consider the amount of miracles claimed by all the religions of the world (esp research medieval Christianity, where Saints seemed to fly and heal people virtually every other day)…sheer probability might suggest that they are not rare events. However, how come these miracles have pretty much ended, or at the least gone down to miracle “cures” that had no evidence of being cures in the first place (and often lack evidence of there being anything to cure in the first place). I mean, look at the claims of miracles for that dead pope – John Paul whichever – the one they are fast tracking to a Saint as a PR move. What kind of crap do they accept? People think this is real?

        2. I do not for one minute believe that the catholic church accepts that Mohammed flew to heaven on a horse with the face of woman!! If you believe all religions’ miracles are true your mind will explode.

  6. Well, I wish all of you philosophical materialists posting here were Oscar Mayer wieners.

    Now YOU’VE all been frankly insulted. What’s it feel like, huh?

  7. Ambrose Bierce, in THE DEVIL’S DICTIONARY, published 100 years ago, in 1911, offers this definition:

    GNU, n. An animal of South Africa, which in its domesticate state resembles a horse, a buffalo, and a stag. In its wild condition it is something like a thunderbolt, and earthquake, and a cyclone.”

    1. That’s good.

      Knop and his ilk clearly see Gnu Atheism as something like a thunderbolt, an earthquake, and a cyclone!

  8. Do assholes like this Rob guy get suprised when they make false accusations and straw man attacks and then people get pissed at them? Or don’t they realize that the word “hope” is all but trademarked by religion, when they complain atheists have highjacked the word(?) “gnu”?

    1. I’m sure there are a lot of Christian and Muslim gnus in Africa that are pretty pissed we took their name. Perhaps we should have used the Golden Freethinking Lemur as a symbol instead.

  9. As an astrophysicist, I’ve met and talked with Rob Knop several times, and I used to read his blog. However, I eventually came to the conclusion that he’s a self-important tool with a persecution complex. In communicating with him, I discovered he couldn’t stop reminding people how he had worked on such an incredibly important project, yet he’s never gotten the personal accolades that he thought he deserved.

    His attitude toward Christianity is one I could probably respect (or at least tolerate), if he didn’t want to shout about it all the time. But he won’t shut up about it (and how badly he thinks he’s been treated as a religious scientist), any more than he will shut up about how ill-used he’s been by the academic community in general.

    Posted anonymously.

    1. This matches my impression of him from seeing his comments on blogs around the tubes.

      Don’t waste time on him. He thinks that his very existence is empirical evidence that science and religion are not in philosophical conflict. (He said as much in a comment on some blog once, I think Sean Carroll’s.)

        1. I got that, I was making a comparison to the way he thinks we Gnus act with the way “noobs” act when online playing video games. Sorry if it wasn’t clear – it was late.

  10. Rob:

    “You have this movement out there, the subset of atheists whose stated goal is to destroy religion”

    Quotes, please? The worst I’ve seen are wistful thoughts that, “wouldn’t it be nice if religion faded away?”

    Meanwhile, we will continue to call for evidence, call bullshit on bullshit, try to keep religion out of political power and out of public schools, fight the other pernicious effects of religion, and generally call for logic, reason, and evidence. If that’s “[trying] to destroy religion” then so be it.

    You will never convince a skeptic without evidence! Bring it on! By what evidence do you believe in the truth of the New Testament, the tenets of the Nicene Creed? (Assuming you accept standard Christian dogma.)

    Like the odious Dr. Phil says, “how’s that accomodationism working out for you?” The percentage of people who accept the fact of evolution by natural selection is the same in the US as it has been for the last 40 years or so. How’s that accomodationism working out?

    Since the advent of the Gnus, many more prominent people are proudly claiming the atheism in public. A much greater percentage of Americans now self identify (in private) as atheists. This is real progress.

    1. I’d like to destroy religion, but the only effective way to destroy it is to try to convince believers it’s not true. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

      1. We’ll save the most fragile believers for last: religious university professors! And our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…

    2. Well, Same Harris wrote an article “Why Science Must Destroy Religion.” But another one of those dastardly gnu’s. Daniel Dennett, has a far more conciliatory approach.

      1. Only in as much that Dennett seems to think that polices informed by The Enlightenment will naturally lead to religion decaying and then dying. I think Dennett would be just as happy as Harris to see the back of religion.

  11. Dr. Knop’s been around a while; he used to be at ScienceBlogs but kind of flamed out in a big pissing contest simultaneous with (iirc) losing a tenure bid.
    I think it’s safe to assume his cief target has the initials Paul Myers.

    1. Knopp has a history of flaming out both in his employment and in his blogging. He certainly did not last long at ScienceBlogs. No doubt he will claim persecution.

      1. I hope you don’t mean to support the incorrect version of history by putting in a response here…. You were there, you know that, yes, I got very irritated with you and had conflicts with you in the back channel, but ultimately that had nothing to do with why I left.

        Or do you not really care about history if the lies being told attack people you don’t like?

        1. I’ll be damned if I can figure out how PZ posting a single crack about his own first name can equal, in your mind, “support for the incorrect version of history by putting a response here”.

        2. No, I think PZ is pointing out you can be as big a dick as anyone, and hiding your weak arguments behind issues of “tone” are disingenuous and cowardly. Yes, sometimes during discussions tempers flare and epitaphs are hurled. Both sides do it. It’s expected in such emotionally-charged debates as this.

          Either you let the name calling go and focus on the issues, as we do, or you focus on the name calling because defending your religious position is too difficult. We see the whining of theists and accommodationists as stalling, and if it goes on long enough, as a tacit admission of defeat.

          Because the “which side has more dicks” discussion is ultimately irrelevant to which side is right.

    2. I know that the narrative as “Knop as whiner loser who ends up falling out with everybody he ever associates with” is a powerful one that folks here would like to echo, but I would like to insert one bit of correction here.

      I left scienceblogs because after starting at Linden Lab, I realized I was not keeping up with posting about astronomy and because my blog fell into a sort of stasis. I felt that it wasn’t reasonable to keep it there at scienceblogs if I wasn’t going to really maintain it. I didn’t leave because of any conflict. I didn’t leave in protest. (Others would later leave in protest over PZ or over Pepsigate, but neither of those were me.) I left just because I wasn’t keeping up my blogging. It was all very congenial and uneventful.

      1. Oh, goody, a whine and cheese party!

        Hang on, let me get my tiniest violin so I can play a sad tune.

        Cue snowfall … now!

        OK, Rob, from the top. Start with the log cabin and work your way into shoeless treks to school, uphill, both ways …

  12. I’m annoyed at them also because they’re getting in the way of a cause I care about, mainstream acceptance of good science and scientific reasoning.

    No, you are. Because “mainstream acceptance of good science and scientific reasoning” is an epistemic issue. It’s not about whether people “accept” the ToE or the Big Bang at some moment (to the extent to which many religious people who claim to fully do), but about the epistemic meaning and status of science. Science education isn’t just about teaching what is known but, more importantly, about teaching how to know – how to investigate and on what basis to accept or reject any proposition.

    You provide the favorable context for religious fanatics when you argue that some unfounded beliefs should be accepted because they allegedly aren’t harmful. If some unfounded claims are acceptable to maintain, any of them are, because there’s no rational-empirical basis on which to distinguish amongst them.

    And it’s immoral to believe without evidence generally. Ours is a moral cause.

    1. His position is also immoral in that he seems quite happy to ignore the harm religion does in pursuit of his aims.

      As Jerry points out, people are killed and subjected to physical and emotional abuse in the name of religion. Helping those people is more important that science eduction is parts of the US.

  13. It bugs me already for aesthetic that these guys have hijacked the term “Gnu”. But it can’t help but create a link in some folks’ minds between this crazy hippy dubious philosophy about sharing software you’ve written to attacks on religion.

    That’s kinda rich coming from someone who is publishing a blog that runs on a server that wouldn’t even be there as it is without those “crazy hippy ideas”, as he calls them. Reminds me of people who decry the scientific process on the internet, while using a device based on the scientific process that makes the whole thing possible in the first place.

    1. Well, I think my sarcasm detector has failed me horribly there, so I’ll better retract that statement and go back into hiding.

  14. Beyond that, a subset of them are incredibly strident and combative. They think that any religion at all is a threat to science. They do not hesitate to call non-atheists idiots or childish.

    That’s a pretty hyperbolic claim right there, even if the “subset” is taken to mean solely anonymous commenters on atheist blogs. I think vanishingly few gnu atheists really call all non-atheists idiots or childish.

    1. To say the religious are idiots is not fair, but childish is another matter. I personally say it and think it all the time. An adult who still believes in Santa is certainly childish. Same goes for believing in Jesus. It is part of assuming the full mantle of adulthood that we abandon our childish beliefs.

  15. In the end what is the different between saying ‘You are wrong in every one of your beliefs that make no sense and here’s why’ or saying ‘You are an idiot and here’s why’.

    The ‘Idiot’ comment is basically a few words shorter, and that is all.

    If you can’t rise above the word idiot, then I guess you aren’t interested in the reasons for someone calling you that either.

    1. No. Really really no. Wrong doesn’t equal stupid. We (everybody) have to be able to say “that’s wrong” without people hearing “you’re an idiot.” We also all have to be able to hear “that’s wrong” without hearing “you’re an idiot.”

      1. Wrong doesn’t equal stupid… unless it has been pointed out how something is wrong yet the position is still accepted by it’s proponent. I think “you’re an idiot” is more often used as a closer than an opener for precisely this reason.

        1. There is a difference between disagreement and correction.

          Philosophical materialists disagree that religion is compatible with science. They argue their disagreement. You may call that “pointing out”, but pointing out implies that it’s a simple matter where once somebody sees the other argument, they will naturally agree.

          The issue of science and religion and how people approach the role of religion in their life in the context of a scientific society is far more nuanced and far less cut-and-dried than arithmetic. Yet, you seem to argue that the two are completely analogous. Just as when shown an arithmetic mistake, somebody paying attention will see it as a mistake, you seem to think that once shown a philosophical materialist argument, somebody who is not stupid will accept that argument. Yet, patently, it’s not true. There are lots of smart people out there, some of whom are wholly embraced by the skeptical community (for instance Pamela Gay), who don’t accept that argument. At the very least, that should tip you off that the argument is deeper than a simple matter of pointing out a mistake, and that therefore it’s not reasonable to conclude that somebody is an idiot simply for not changing their mind after being exposed to your arguments.

          1. There are doctors who smoke. That doesn’t mean smoking is bad for you according to modern medicine. The only thing that tells me is that people don’t always put what they know in practice. That is all the “nuance” there is to it.

          2. How nuanced are “show me your evidence” and “is it true”?

            As for people not changing, many of us are very well of the insidious nature of the indoctrination that goes into making a believer, and the resistance to change that goes along with it. Many of us have gone through the deconversion process, sometimes taking years, sometimes losing friends and family. I seriously doubt that anyone expects someone to change immediately.

            However, when you come upon claims like this – billions of humans, and billions of billions of animals have died in history, and yet the claim is that one (sorta) human came back after being dead for roughly (depending on time calculations) three days. What are the probablilities of that? So small as to be impossible? But, the believer employs the cop-out card – “The Miracle”, something that happens but is basically immune to probability. They do this by positing something that they often claim is immune to investigation, even when it directly influences the detectable world. When asked for evidence for their claims, they retreat to personal feelings, mostly, since all other claims have fallen apart when investigated.

            Is there any wonder why people who believe in evidence find such claims ludicrous? Why when faced with such claims (and more, but this is too long already) that we get frustrated and insults come out? while it is true that insults have their uses, why aren’t we Gnus allowed to be human? We do have the same emotions as everyone else, and we do the same things as other humans do. Since, as I pointed out elsewhere, merely by existing we are offensive to some (and as studies have shown we are the most hated minority in the US), your idea is that we should coddle those bigots and accept meekly what they say? Is it?

          3. “…why aren’t we Gnus allowed to be human? We do have the same emotions as everyone else, and we do the same things as other humans do.”

            Your evidence?

          4. All I have is anecdotes. Damn, you found us out! Prepare for the Hypnotoad squishy humanling!

          5. Well, the mistakes theists make are basically like errors in arithmetic. There are basic, demonstrable errors in their lines of reasoning which are excused with a variety of weak rationales. I agree that the problem isn’t one of intelligence, but of irrationality. Religious people are prone to magical thinking and the logical fallacies you think we mention too often. Many intelligent people are religious, but never for intelligent reasons. And that’s the interesting phenomenon. Why do smart people fall for bad arguments? Clearly because they want to, because they derive some emotional comfort from extremely unlikely beliefs and wish to keep them against all indications that they are mistaken.

            So it is unfair to label all theists “idiots.” They are delusional and unable to view their irrational beliefs objectively, but this state appears unlinked to intelligence.

          6. I moved from Christianity to a more Daoist deism, then had to admit that I had no evidence and only believed because I wanted to believe, but I had to be honest and came out as an atheist. What I wanted/felt wasn’t as important as truth and evidence.

          7. Many theists are intelligent but I think it’s going to far to say that it’s not linked to intelligence. The more intelligent you are the less likely you are to believe nonsense.

          8. Psychological studies (and the efforts of magicians like James Randi) have shown that intelligent people often fall for illogical or irrational thinking as much (or more?) as those less intelligent. The reason seems to be the “I’m too smart to fall for scams” idea.

          9. How do you assume naturalism is true when you are doing science and not true when you aren’t? Either it is or it isn’t. It can’t be that when someone is doing science the gods decide to stop intervening, can it? If this is the case, then science is basically a sham.

          10. Exactly! As soon as it’s the religious side of the coin standards of evidence and argument are tossed out the window and things that would be dismissed in scientific debate suddenly seem reasonable in light of the low standards of theological debate.

        2. The two aren’t the same at all.

          “You’re wrong” is just an argument, a necessary part of productive discussions.

          “You’re an idiot” is a personal attack. It pretty much stops any productive discussion.

      2. Ophelia– surely, though, given what you are responding to, you can understand that the reason people like me hear “idiot” is because there are people out there saying “idiot”?

        1. So ten people say you’re mistaken and one says you’re an idot and “idiot” is all you hear?

          That doesn’t make sense– OH! Darn, forgot you were a christian writing about Gnu Atheists. Enter persecution complex, stage right.

        2. Rob – I can understand it up to a point, but I also think such people should do a better job of self-correcting, especially before making their thoughts public. One reason such people “hear idiot” is because there have been so many repetitions of the canard that all new atheists call all believers idiots at all times. In fact I think that reason plays a much bigger part in your “hearing idiot” than does the incidence of actual new atheists actually saying “idiot.”

          1. The fact is that the science blogosphere is overrun with the rude form of new atheists who jump all over anybody who strays from strict philosophical materialism. I just about can’t make a post about science and religion without a huge amount of aggressive crap in the comment thread. And, no, I’m not talking about my current post, which is confrontational, and as such I shouldn’t be surprised to be confronted. But when I have tried to say anything about how I personally deal with science and religion at the same time, there’s always quite a range of belittling and insulting going on in the comment thread– very similar to the sorts of things people are saying about me in *this* comment thread.

            So, there’s more to it than us non-antitheists getting all hysterical about the attacks. The attacks really are out there.

            The fact that the clergy letter project felt the need to address an attack from PZ Myers is indication that they’re being distracted from whom they really want to be fighting, i.e. anti-evolutionists.

          2. I’ve got some advice for you Ron, if your feelings are so tender: if you don’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
            As for someone “feeling the need to address an attack from us…” gush, they must be really made out of hard stuff, if some criticism from an admittedly small minority makes them feel so insecure.

          3. But that’s just comments on blog posts. “New Atheism” is generally taken to refer to more primary stuff – like books. I think it’s at the very least misleading to say “gnu atheism is shrillandstrident” if what you mean is comments on blog posts.

          4. What could you ever mean? It’s not like fanatical Christians have ever gone to atheist blogger websites and ranted about how they were going to hell, or GOATS ON FIRE, or anything like that. Clearly since this religious scientist got a few rude comments on his blog from “Gnu Atheists”, that must mean all “Gnu Atheists” are rude. It’s just simple extrapolation.

          5. they’re being distracted from whom they really want to be fighting, i.e. anti-evolutionists.


            I really, really, really want to say that’s idiotic but I’m suddenly afraid I’d be confirming some negative stereotype. Oops, I did it anyway 🙂

            Jerry and PZ have said many times that this is not whom they really want to be fighting. In fact, if I’m not mistaken Jerry says this in this very blog post. Lesse…

            I deplore the effects of creationists on diluting biology education in America. But I deplore far more the effects of religion in making the world a worse place to live.

            Yup, he did.

            Come on. You may not like much here but you gotta man up and admit that you’re wildly off base with that one.

          6. I haven’t seen a grammar flame in years, and such an abstruse one at that! That’s wonderful. I mean, not as nice as if you actually commented on the content especially when you got things so badly wrong but hey, if I slipped up because I was typing too fast then what’s the point in looking further, right?

          7. Ha, if you want real anger, you should post in a Warcraft forum about how to change the game. Atheist anger is nothing compared to that. Anonymity makes everyone a bit more harsh, but you can’t blame Dawkins and Hitchens and others for the comments on their website. Its a subset, and usually a subset of people who are normally quite well adjusted, but are made angry by, say, a Bishop demanding women die rather than get an abortion, or say, a Pope who covers up for child rapists, and the like.

          8. ophelia’s response above is correct. you can’t hold “new atheism” responsible for rude comments made on the internet. go to any news site and view the comments on any story and you will see asshole behavior coming from all sides of all arguments. Internets.

      3. Bingo. And equally improratantly, “you’re an idiot” is too often used as shorthand to mean “I can’t be bothered to tell you WHY you’re wrong… and in fact you might not be, for all I know.”

        1. P.S. Bingo to Ophelia, for clarity. And although I was wrong to let my fingers stumble all over the keyboard and type “imporaratant,” I do realize the actual word is “important.” Therefore one could reasonably conclude that I’m a clumsy typist, but not necessarily an idiot.

          1. Not clumsy, lazy. They can’t be bothered to think so they believe whatever they’re told first.

      4. This reminds me of a comment I saw on a blog about book reviews of all things. Here, the writer was saying some disparaging (but very funny) things about some Robert Jordan books and got some very heated comments, so many he added this FAQ:

        What gives you the right to be so rude? You realise that by criticising Jordan’s books you’re criticising these fans too? It is, clearly, a ticklish business telling people who ‘really really love these novels’ that I think the novels are crap. Here’s what I wrote a while ago in another place:

        So, let’s say, you read The Eyes of Argon and you love it; you’re gripped, thrilled, moved and inspired. Then you read a review that says ‘The Eyes of Argon is terribly bad stuff.’ Do you then

        (a) say to yourself: a different opinion to mine, how interesting, let a thousand flowers bloom and a thousand schools of thought contend, one feature of great art is that it provokes a diversity of responses. Or

        (b) say to yourself: the review, by calling this book crap, is saying that my taste in books is crap which is tantamount to calling me a big crappy crap-crap. Nobody calls me a big crap-crap and gets away with it. Where does this motherfucker get off calling people big crap-craps like this? Why can’t he keep his offensive opinions to himself?

        But of course it goes without saying that reviewers respond to the book they have read, not to the idea in their heads of the sort of people who like the book they have just read. Apart from me, I mean. Obviously when I review, I do so specifically to mock the value-systems and worth of people who read. People like you, sir. And you madam.

        It seems so obvious that when you criticize a book or an idea that you aren’t attacking the people who hold those ideas or their values. They may feel attacked but if any criticism evokes this response then how can any discussion begin?

        Of course we’re never told and the people accusing the Gnus of dickishness are themselves – almost by definition – acting like dicks one has to question whether this concern towards the feelings of others is actually just to protect their own battered beliefs.

        1. Um, the blockquote didn’t work. The quote ends at “People like you, sir. And you madam.” where my little editorial starts. Sorry ’bout any confusion.

        2. That’s why politics, religion, sports…anything someone is passionate about, is often taboo for discussion. If I criticize the bible for being muddled, contradictory, or nonsensical, many believers hear option B. I don’t think it is correct to coddle them and accept their option as true. They need to learn A. I’ll take an honest angry response over a PC-touchy feely “considerate” response. That is patronizing. Besides, being direct does not equal “dick” – and sometimes no matter what you say, or how you say it, they will go into Option B mode and think “dick” automatically. Often, we cannot win no matter what we do.

      5. Important point that needs to be repeated more often:

        Critical thinking and ‘cleverness’ (however we define that nebulous folk-psychology term) are not related.

        I get the impression that a lot of people are leery of critical thinking because they’ve internalized the notion that “I’m not clever” and they think critical thought is a clever-person’s thing.

        It’s not. Critical thinking is just down to training and practice.

        Very clever people can be atrocious critical thinkers. You don’t need to be the brightest kid in your class to get a handle on critical thinking.

        1. That’s right. Because rationality and critical thinking are not innate talents, in most cases, they are learned. Anyone can learn to be a clear thinker. I wish more people wanted to learn.

  16. You know Rob, there are those you ACTUALLY call others idiots for thinking differently (as opposed to that having been fabricated by you).
    Here is an example:
    “The fool says in his heart, there is no god”. (Psalm 14:1). If don’t like intolerance, why not start looking closer to home?

  17. “…that these guys have hijacked the term “Gnu”. But it can’t help but create a link in some folks’ minds between this crazy hippy dubious philosophy about sharing software you’ve written to attacks on religion”

    This is from a guy who is an astrophysicist in a real university? I’ll bet he is surrounded with computers running lots of that hippy-dippy free software and that his professional life is made immensely more easy as a result. Maybe if his convictions are real he should don the sack cloth an go reformat all those hard drive with Linux on them.

    1. It’s pretty extraordinary how often people have a failed scarcasm detector and post about it here. Did you actually READ my post? Including all the long bits about how I’m a big open source advocate, before the sarcasm you failed to recognize and cited?

      1. Hey Rob, you have plenty of rebuttals of your claims on this thread, care for a reply? Or is it “rude” not to handle you with kids’ gloves?

    2. As he said, he claims sarcasm, but I seriously wonder why? I am dimly aware of GNU, and I know that 95%+ of my friends and acquaintances have no idea of what that is, so the joke falls flat, unless he thinks we are talking to people concerned about Linux a lot. I just fail to see the connection.

      1. This is why I usually ignore such issues. They seem to fall flat no matter which way you turn it. But since it isn’t crucial to the larger discussion, there’s not real harm in pretending they didn’t say it. 😛

  18. I think fundamentally this is about embarrassment.

    A credentialed scientist who holds religious beliefs has to be, at some level, embarrassed of those beliefs. You cannot squeeze scientific competence into a brain without such a side-effect.

    So, unable to abandon those beliefs, for entirely emotional reasons, this person insists that everyone respect them, or at least the notion that there’s nothing wrong with holding them while practicing rationality professionally.

    Imagine if belief in Santa Claus were to persist in large numbers of adults, and, to avoid being embarrassed of the fact, these adults fostered a culture where it was considered unconscionably rude to point out that Santa Claus is fictional, or to make fun of people that still believed otherwise.

    Of course, if you substitute “God” for “Santa Claus”, that pretty much sums up the state of religious belief in this country.

    1. So, a university science professor is not getting enough respect for believing in miracles, a flying godman, and an angry sky deity who is going to torture forever the large portion of humanity who are a bit too skeptical? Poor guy!

  19. Just posted the following on “Galactic Interactions,” in a sub-thread involving Eric MacDonald’s critique of Rob’s post; we’ll see if it survives moderation (and it might):

    So I guess the term “mushbrained” isn’t insulting?

    To your argument, sure. (Later [Jerry] calls that argument “mushbrainery.”) But if you’re that concerned, perhaps you could try posting arguments that aren’t mushbrained?

    Shall we count the number of insulting adjectives you apply to your opponents themselves in this post?

    Back in the free marketplace of ideas in which you are so resentful to be placed, insulting arguments is not morally objectionable.

    And as for not useful to the conservation– his position is that religion needs to be defeated, not that we need to reach out to the religious and make them realize that they don’t have to abandon the most important parts of their beliefs in order to accept science.

    So by “not useful to the conservation” [did you notice Eric’s (sic)?] you actually mean that Gnus dare to have different aims than you do. They’re not “helpful” because they don’t share your idiosyncratic interest in preserving “the most important parts of [religious believers’] beliefs.”

    I considered calling that “begging the question,” but we all know how angry it makes you when your logical fallacies are named, so I won’t.

    attacking those who are fighting the good fight for acceptance of science is not helpful.

    “The good fight,” huh? So you’ve decided to simply take it as a given that accommodationists’ fight, as compared to other ways to promote science, is in fact a “good” one.

    Showing that your opponents are barbarians isn’t exactly difficult when you pretend that your own controversial ideas are self-evidently entirely praiseworthy and unassailable.

    Also, to be clear: I’m not panning atheism.

    Oh, heavens, no. You’ve made it quite clear that some of your best friends are Negroes, and you only despise the uppity ones who don’t know their place.

    If atheists would just recognize that they are required to be deferential to their betters and never, ever breathe an unkind word about your prized religious ideas—which is to say, if atheists would just shut up entirely about atheism—you wouldn’t have the slightest problem with us. That’s quite clear.

    Demanding that the evidence be listed in every blog post….

    When you make specific allegations of wrongdoing (e.g., “[t]hey do not hesitate to call non-atheists idiots or childish”), that would seem to be warranted, yes. Otherwise there is much reason to suspect that you’ve made the very ordinary privileged-person mistake of deciding that any dismissal of your inflated sense of entitlement is a personal attack on you.

    The fact that there is so much debate about the tactics of the “gnu atheists” should make it pretty clear that a lot of people find some of the tactics employed by some of that group aggressive and rude.

    They certainly do. Members of despised minorities who refuse to accept the silence and deference expected of them by an ignorant and privileged majority are frequently seen as “aggressive and rude” by that majority; that’s how privilege works. But the fact that much of society hates and demands the silence of atheists does not make that demand just, and it does not justify your collusion with it.

    Bigoted majorities are never going to be happy about minorities openly defying majority privilege. As a result, justice frequently requires doing things that the self-satisfied find “aggressive and rude,” because it ignores your expectations of deference.

    Too bad. We think religious ideas are bad ideas. Much as you’d like to prevent anyone from challenging, criticizing, or mocking those ideas, we’re going to keep doing it—not least because this is a free marketplace of ideas, and yours aren’t exempt just because millions of believers like yourself demand it.

    We’re here; we can explain why you’re wrong (and intend to keep doing so); perhaps you should get used to it.

    1. Our dearest Rob doesn’t seem to realize, it is his argument that is “mushbrained”, not his belief. No one called him mushbrained for what he believes in. But it seems he expects to be shielded from ridicule when he makes stupid statements on the basis of his faith. That is just unfair.
      As for being “aggressive” and “rude”-those are precisely the accusations made against the suffragists and abolitionists. I am glad they didn’t give up to protect some guys’ fragile egos.

    2. Rob did allow it through moderation, and (now that we’ve exchanged a few more comments in the thread) it appears to me that he’s not going to respond to my points by silencing them.

      As “Todd” pointed out over there, Rob is to be commended for at least hashing this out in the open (and participating in it) rather than burying or ignoring it all the way Mooney and Plait have.

      1. Digression:

        Plait fucking confuses me.

        I’ve read him trashing creationists, young-universe cosmologists, astrologers and even flat-earthers on his blog.

        So he’s either a) inconsistent, or b) I’m wrong about his original point.

        And I’m torn. I don’t like to think Plait is that inconsistent – but at the same time I don’t know how else to interpret his whole ‘don’t be a dick’ speech.


    3. This:

      “We’re here; we can explain why you’re wrong (and intend to keep doing so); perhaps you should get used to it.”

      Wins the thread.

      Next chance I get, that’s going on a protest sign 😀

  20. his misconception that the name came from the Gnu software project

    Hey, but kudos to Richard Stallman for the Bourne Again shell (bash).

    1. Actually, I can sympathize a little.

      I’ve been torn apart on these comment threads a few times myself. I think that’s a good thing, of course. But it’s good the way that exercise is good. It’s not what I’d call fun.

      It can be downright distressing if you’re not geared up for it.

      Note: I don’t mean to argue we should stop. I’m arguing that people should gear up for it. If you can’t stand the heat, keep the hell out of the kitchen.

      1. It is distressing, which is why I’m damn careful what I say. I make sure I say what I mean and that I don’t spout bullshit. This minimizes the liklihood of being torn a new one.

  21. Quest university has existed since 2007-I couldn’t find any faculty listing or any research published by the faculty.
    Universities come in three flavors in Canada-BA, MA and PH.D. The new ones start at BA. Quest is a very, very new one.

  22. Here’s an interesting thing. Comment #17 was by “Mirik.” It’s the only comment by “Mirik” on this thread. I’ve never seen the name before. Who is Mirik?

    But whaddya know…Mirik’s comment stands out enough to be picked up by…another random name, but this time one that has been around for about three weeks, energetically rebuking gnu atheists here there and everywhere (except on gnu atheist sites themselves…so that no gnu atheist will know what its IP address is?).


    Drive-by commenters are showing up personifying your characterization of gnus almost to the letter…

    The last few words are a hyperlink on Knop’s site, and they link to that comment by “Mirik.”

    I wonder who “Mirik” is……….

  23. OK OK! I confess!

    Look, I apologize all the ruckus I have created. It started as a bit of a joke some 10-15 years ago. I was young and a bit mean-spirited, heady with this whole internet thing, and thought Knop was a bit of a push over. So I started following him around on the ‘net, changing up my user name constantly with the message “I’m an atheist, and you’re an idiot!”.

    At first it was fun, but then it got tedious and boring. But I felt if I stopped, he might suddenly realize the game that was being played.

    I can see how my innocent little game has gone too far, and I really am sorry for all the false assumptions I have built up.

    I hope I can be forgiven…?

  24. So free software is a “crazy, dubious” philosophy?

    The irony is that the servers on which his content is hosted is probably running Linux and/or Apache, and being viewed with people running Firefox, and being found by people through Google servers running modified Linux kernels.

  25. 129 comments on, and one particular silence has now reached the point of being deafening.

    One of our host’s three main points was Rob Knop’s failure to identify any examples of the behaviour he is attacking. The request for examples has been repeated more than once in the comments.

    Rob Knop has now commented ten times in this thread – and STILL not a single example. I think we are entitled to draw our conclusions.

    1. Although he didn’t offer any clear examples, he has suggested that Coyne is “one of those” atheists he was referring to, and offered one example as the title of this post (mushbrain) as rude/similar to calling someone “idiot”.

      In the comments of Knop’s blog, in answer to a post from PZ, Knop suggested PZ is also “one of those” atheists he was referring to, although nothing was offered as an example.

      There was also a couple other commenter’s quotes offered up as “exhibit A”.

      Personally, I’m not sure the specific examples even matter. There is a meta issue that goes beyond individual examples. If any atheist doesn’t play “nice” (as they define it), it somehow destroys all good will offered to all atheists, at the same time turns all moderate theists away from science. But the reverse is never true. One vile-spewing theist has no reflection on theism and should be ignored by all parties.

      This has more to do with ingrained stereotypes (negative to atheists) and the innate desire to continue the long tradition of giving all religious ideas an absurd level of respect it doesn’t deserve.

  26. Before you return to howling about how everybody’s misunderstanding your Gnu/GNU nonsense, dear Rob: please do try to understand that when one person misunderstands you, it could be the fault of that person. When quite a few do it, you should entertain the possibility they’re misunderstanding you because you botched it. ‘Tis a harsh but true lesson all writers must learn.

    Additionally, if you could stop sniveling a moment and provide better evidence for your assertions than “B-bu-but people were mean to me on my blog!” that would be greatly appreciated.

    As a bonus exercise in introspection, you might like to consider the following possibility: perhaps the reason you believe everyone is saying “you’re an idiot!” when they’re merely criticizing religion is because such criticism makes you suspect you’re an idiot. Why might that be?

    Do carry on, then.

    1. Likewise, calling someone ignorant is not necessarily a bad thing. It exposes a lack of knowledge, and everyone is ignorant of some things. I am ignorant of a lot of things. The difference is, I’m trying to learn and erase the ignorance, I don’t just make shit up and pretend that it is true, and act on it, and force others to try to accept it as true. If you’re (the generic you, not pointing to anyone in particular) doing that, then “ignorant” is definitely an insult since you think you are not and don’t like being called on it.

  27. They seem to think that non-fundamentalist theists are prevaricators who “pick and choose” from their religion, and thus are somehow misrepresenting their own religious beliefs.

    No, no wait! If you’re an accommodationist you think these very same people are deeply confused about their professed faith and need a good learning! Hence the patronizing condescension hailing from the rank and file, such as NCSE.

  28. I’m kinda curious, do people like Dr. Knopp ever explain why they continue to believe?

    It seems to me that rather than attempting to burr the antlers (or is it horns) of the gnu atheist, their efforts might be better directed in detailing the arguments for holding both belief in religion and acceptance of science as a successful mode of enquiry.

    I’d like to hear their rationale (or rationalization).

  29. Accommodationist rants are not about reason but about morality. It’s about what atheists ought to say and do, not about what we are actually saying or doing.

    Apparently living in a world where individuals are free to openly criticise each other’s opinions is too harsh and detrimental to the well-being of cultural believers, who seem to believe only to take away the pain of the realpolitik nature of human interaction.

    But most of us ‘adults’ can actually both take criticism, even harsh criticism while still retaining a sense of fellow-feeling or fellowship among the intellectually honest.

    That is the culture of intellectual debate and reason that is so vital for our civilisation, and the culture that believers whether moderate or fundamentalist want to suppress.

    Apparently this same culture is ‘bad’ for society in their eyes, because society must be protected from thinking. Of course it’s bad for their society that seeks to avoid criticism, that’s the point. We don’t want that kind of society, hence why we criticise and mock it away.

    1. Basically, they want secular blasphemy laws to protect the feelings of the well-entrenched and powerful majority. Not sure if it is condescension or fear that motivates them.

        1. I think it’s callousness mixed with defeatism. If you can’t beat something, co-opt it. Try to twist it into your favor. But I think we can beat it. There have been many great religious upheavals throughout history, why not the reverse?

          1. There is of course the old truism about the surest method of not succeeding being to not try. Accomidationism is all about not trying.

  30. These seem to be the primary accommodationist categories:
    religious, accept evolution, criticize atheism > good
    religious, do not accept evolution, criticize atheism > bad
    nonreligious, accept evolution, criticize theism > bad
    nonreligious, accept evolution, do not criticize theism > good

    There are others – nonreligious, accept evolution, criticize atheism would seem to be popular.

  31. ScienceBlogs really is like a family.

    We send our ‘Rosemarys’ to different blog networks after their failed lobotomies.


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