Zuckerman, we hardly knew ye

February 15, 2011 • 11:18 am

UPDATEZuckerman now claims that his piece was “tongue in cheek” and we should have realized that it was.  While I accept his explanation, I’m not so sure we should have seen through it.  It differs from a Sokal-ian hoax in that it lacks any scientific assertions that are palpable nonsense. Rather, his statements are opinions that could have been taken from any accommodationist screed. Lighthearted, yes (see points 9 and 10); funny, not so much, even in retrospect.  This parody is much funnier.


Phil Zuckerman is a sociologist who wrote a book I liked very much: Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment. It’s an analysis of how two societies—those of Sweden and Denmark—function without religion, and how their citizens feel about faith.  More than anything, it showed that nations without religion are not only not dysfunctional, but can be even healthier than America. It’s the answer to the constant accommodationist refrain, “Religion will always be with us.”

I was thus quite chagrined to learn that Zuckerman has written a post—at HuffPo, of course—tearing apart Gnu Atheism and telling us that we’re all Doing It Rong. It’s called “The top mistakes atheists make“, and I bet you can guess many of them.  We’re all afflicted with scientism, we don’t mention the good parts of religion or the Bible, we spend too much time kvetching about god rather than improving the world, and so on ad nauseum.

Fortunately, I don’t have to waste my time critiquing this tripe, because Jason Rosenhouse has done a terrific job over at EvolutionBlog: “Nonsense from Zuckerman.”  Go read it.

I’m really sort of baffled at the vitriol that people like Zuckerman unleash at the Gnus.  Why are they always telling us how to behave?  After all, we don’t go around telling accommodationists how to behave—until, that is, they start whaling on us.

I can’t help but think that there’s some jealousy in all this.  Books by atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are best sellers, getting elebenty gazillion times the attention of books by accommodationists or faitheists. And P.Z.’s blog is the most popular in science, far outstripping the traffic going to websites run by accommodationists.  I’d like to hear readers’ theories about why Gnus are under so much attack from fellow atheists.

129 thoughts on “Zuckerman, we hardly knew ye

  1. “[W]hy Gnus are under so much attack from fellow atheists.”

    Simple. Fear. They’re afraid of the power wielded by those of “faith” and the possible (true or imagined) repercussions of being “too harsh” on the entrenched believers.

  2. they start whaling on us

    sorry, O(the same ol’ tedious)T:

    ‘whaling on’ or ‘wailing on’?

    Which is the chicken and which the eggcorn?

      1. bah.
        Merely asserted.
        Neither ‘whale on’ nor ‘wail on’ appears there. (though yeah ‘whale into’ is close)

        Teh tubez are undecided. (indeed, there are even advocates for ‘waling on’.)

  3. Perhaps some of the atheist accomodationists have an image of their dear old sweet believing Grandmas being confronted by Gnus who tell them that their religion is false and that they’ve wasted their years believing in nonsense.

    Then the Grandmas are left desperate, crying, and alone, much like if one pulled away their walkers, knocked them over, then ran away.

    It’s hard to sympathize with someone who causes grief to sweet old Granny.

    That’s my theory.

  4. My main answer is that like you I’m baffled; I really don’t know.

    My main guess at an explanation is that it’s a kind of ego-decoration. It’s a way of telling oneself and the world that one is gnicer, more reflective, more compassionate, wiser, more tolerant, more sophisticated, more thoughtful, more grown up, more able to comprehend the complexity of life and people and everything, than Those Other People the wretched degraded gnus.

    1. Ha, so the Jesus and Mo cartoon about agnostics applies (the one that ends ‘The important thing is that you found a way to feel superior to both.’)

  5. I’ve noticed this too. There seems to be a personality type that is based on avoiding clarity and conflict at all cost; even to the point where the actual facts are muddled. At least in the skeptic movement it seems to be very prevalent.

    To me it appears to be a mechanism to place oneself above the conversation by engaging in a metaconversation about tone rather than substance.

    1. I’ve noticed this too. There seems to be a personality type that is based on avoiding clarity and conflict at all cost; even to the point where the actual facts are muddled. At least in the skeptic movement it seems to be very prevalent.

      This, exactly. There is such a personality type, and you find it everywhere. I’ve encountered these people in politics (they’re called “Democrats”), professionally, and with regard to atheism. They are putative allies – they claim to agree with us, “but” – who spend an astonishing amount of time trying to obstruct people they claim to be in sympathy with.

      Much of the time, I find them more destructive to advancement than outright, honestly declared opponents.

      1. I meant to be replying to Somite, but it will do for both.

        The key thing is that it’s about the self. It’s a passive-aggressive form of self-flattery. Part of the thinking is that any old fool can criticize people she disagrees with; my enormous depth and subtlety is revealed by the fact that I reserve all my venom and hostility for people I basically agree with. Woo hoo, am I original or what!

        1. The safest course for a man is to posess good friends or ardent enemies, the former instruct him and the latter to lay bare his faults.

          Diogenes the Cynic

        2. “a passive-aggressive form of self-flattery”… Ladies and Gents, we have an official dictionary definition for accomodationism. Thanx Ophelia

          1. Agree! ophelia’s word is right to the target.
            I always wonder what make the accomos tick?
            A mild personality disorder!

  6. Oh good fun, can we frame them as extremely dubious evo-psych just-so-stories?

    For instance:

    The faithiest propensity to whine endlessly about gnus, may have its origin as a mating strategy used by our hunter gather ancestors, whereby less fit members of a group would wheedle their more successful competitors.

    The purpose of this was to undermine their confidence in precisely the behaviours responsible for their great success, so causing them to abandon them, and lower their reproductive fitness.

    Thus the cunning ancestors of the modern faithiests, without having to actually up their game, so to speak, where able to improve their own relative reproductive success.

    How’s that?

    1. Or alternatively, perhaps he ought to stick to writing about social phenomena, and leave the tongue-in-cheek commentary to comedians…

    2. PZuckerman comment quoted from the HuffPo thread:
      “My point number 10 was actually going to be that atheists don’t have a good enough sense of humor 🙂
      The article is tongue in cheek. If that isn’t clear, then it is either my fault as the author — or there are just a lot of atheists out there with some funky wiring…”

      The problem with social ‘scientist’ P. Zuckerman’s essay is that it isn’t funny. It doesn’t make sense as a “tongue in cheek” article. It seems to me to be a superior sneer aimed at new atheists.

      I think he is back peddling with his “tongue in cheek” post


  7. My hypothesis is that many accomodationists were formerly religious and have not emotionally let go of their faith. So when others attack religion they feel personally affronted. They may also identify strongly with religious family and friends.

    Also, they are curmudgeonly.

  8. I wonder if in part it connects with yesterdays troll – does secular equal neutral (taking no view), does it equal atheistic (NOT believing) or does it equal anti-theistic (being AGAINST religion)?

    From friends of mine – mostly atheists as I word use the term but who would possibly say agnostic – I find many who seem to think that I am as bad as religious people in my ‘belief’ & fervour to fight – pardon my language – the bollocks that religion comes out with. ‘Belief’ is not a word I would use for my athesim however – it is absence of belief but they are too dim to appreciate that. Maybe I am as bad as them… I think that maybe I pity religious people.

    1. Yeah, a lot of atheists and agnostics think religion is mostly harmless and even beneficial for many people (just not for themselves). They don’t understand why I “waste time” combating religion and its influence.

  9. Perhaps because they are more interested in getting science taken seriously than making atheists of theists. If you loudly insist science requires disposing of god, you are hardly going to get more folks opening up to understanding science. And, the other part is that it does sound strident to say out loud in America today “I am an atheist.” Recognizing that the statement is no more inflammatory than “I am a Christian,” or “I am a Sikh,” takes a moment of reflection. Then, when gnus take it one step farther and proclaim what they do believe it seems a huge challenge to others in a way giant billboards proclaiming “Jesus Saves” or ten commandments in a court house of Under God in our pledge of allegiance doesn’t. When critics understand the equivalencies they may tone down. But we all are atuned to the sensitivities of the dominant plurality.

    Plus, some gnus go out of their way to start an argument, if you are a minority and you refuse to be ignored, you are being rude.

    1. Plus, some gnus go out of their way to start an argument, if you are a minority and you refuse to be ignored, you are being rude.

      Like … who?

      1. Hitchens is the first to come to mind with his bold claim that Islam is an inherently violent religion, worse than others.
        And this prose from Dawkins, e.g., ‘The God of the Old Testament is . . . a
        petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty
        ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal,
        genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic,
        capriciously malevolent bully.’

        If that isn’t meant to stir it up it is a failure. But I think it is and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I believe in a the free exchange of ideas one needs to have a thick skin and an open mind. All this “be more polite” is part of the dominant agenda the same way as “you are trying to start a class war” is used by those waging that warfare to stop anyone fighting back. So, yeah, I think they try to start arguments, and I think it’s a good thing. I also think it makes other people uncomfortable.

        1. I don’t think he is trying to start arguments I think he is stating facts, all that stuff is in the christian handbook, if christians don’t believe it they would necessarily need to remove it else it will be used as justification for bad actions.

          They use those old testy phrases to justify murder and wars and other bad behavior, they use the new testy phrases to make you think they are docile. The christians that completely throw out the old testy have been very few in my experience.

    2. Yes, who? Most gnus would like to know when, and where as well. And if you can provide those, you might benefit from asking ‘why’ while you’re at it.

    3. Perhaps because they are more interested in getting science taken seriously than making atheists of theists.


      let’s say that’s true.

      explain how the two epistemologies are equivalent.

      they’re not, you say?

      oh, well then, how does one get someone who believes firmly in a discredited epistemology to accept one that actually works?

      accomodationists choose to ignore the real issue in favor of playing tactical games.

      They say:

      “Look! Over there! a person of authority that is claims to be both religious and a scientist!”

      what they DON’T want you to see is that person doesn’t use BOTH epistemologies to come to conclusions about how the world works. Why? because they are mutually incompatible. How do we know this? Because when people TRY to do it, like Miller, they end up with complete gibberish like “god operates through quantum fields”.

      Frankly if the war for science acceptance is really that close to being lost in the minds of the general public, so that we must abandon logic for political expediency by embracing rejected concepts like NOMA, then I say the fat lady has already left the building, and we are living in denial.

      I don’t really think that is the case though. I think the arguments CAN still have impact, and do, hence the popularity of the Gnu atheists to begin with.

      so, the only logical conclusion is the same that history has shown us time and again: it’s accommodation FAIL, no matter how you look at it.

  10. I agree with Charles. As much as it is a cliche, a parent doesn’t want to tell the child that there is no Santa. The parent wants the child to find out independently.

    Accomodationists fear bringing on the nihilism that Nietzsche warned about.

    1. Accomodationists fear bringing on the nihilism that Nietzsche warned about.

      you mean this Nietzsche?

      “All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.”

      Nietzsche would have told them their fears are baseless.

      but no accomodationist I’m aware of would understand, or likely have even READ Nietzsche anyway.

  11. I am finding that the most vocal opposition to my outspoken atheism come from friends who share my rejection of orthodox faith but cling to an intellectual arrogance fueled by post-modern deconstruction. They comfort themselves in a belief bordering on solipsism that external defined realities animated by ideas have no substance outside of their emotional assent. Therefore, any person talking about specific social consequences derived from specific ideologies or methodologies becomes a moralist imposing their will. It is pathetic. I’ve even had one well-educated person say that logic only operates in the confines of science but reality is about the subjective enjoyment of one’s truth choices. I think Colbert calls this “truthiness”. I expect the addiction to “truthiness” as a symbol of a flexible intellect will decline as these folks experiences run head-long into ideologies that will deny their intellectual freedom with hardened dogma.

    1. I find this as well. I’ve found the post-modernist variety of “faitheist” to have never had a religious upbringing. They seem to have not fully considered how destructive to civil society the faithheaded are en masse. It’s as if they cannot fathom people actually believing in the most boneheaded assertions of their faiths. It could be an unfounded belief that others are more-or-less like the self, when any anthropologist worth their salt can tell you otherwise (and provide examples).

      1. “I’ve found the post-modernist variety of “faitheist” to have never had a religious upbringing.”

        This is an interesting an important part of the misunderstandings certain fatheists may have. Having never themselves been victims (I use that term intentionally) of religious indoctrination, the affects this can have on personal mental health or the experience of being a believer, they simply cannot relate to those atheists who have had these experiences (and worse). Empathy is a wonderful emotion that we humans possess, but it is imperfect.

        Being male (yes, male, despite my moniker) I cannot accurately empathize with a women being pregnant or suffering through childbirth. As someone who suffers from dysthymic disorder (chronic “mild” depression) with recurrent major (severe) depression, there are many (most) who cannot empathize with me because they’ve never experienced it and therefore. can’t imagine it.

        The same would hold true for an atheist who was not raised with religion. They lack the personal experience that would enable them to empathize with those who were raised religious. It’s probably much easier for them to see the alleged “positive” side of religion.

        1. But, continuing the trend for personal declaration, I was never much of a believer, but feel most empathetic to the experiences of those who have written about their difficulties being immersed in dogma…as an outsider, I’ve always felt it was much easier to see the negative” side of religion.

  12. I really, really don’t understand what drives these gnu bashings. I’m totally baffled.
    IF we really spoil it all, so that in the end religion comes out stronger (like … ha), then why don’t they just ignore us??? Why do they keep pointing at us and why do they keep yelling?
    Just … ignore us, if were such gnidiots.
    Or … maybe they are really on our side, and want to attract as much attention to the gnu-side as possible by pointing fingers at us? (No, that sounds silly).
    And I really liked reading Zuckerman’s book. As a Dane it is kind of cute that the lack of religion in this society causes so much bafflement, but I think he made many very good points. So stop pointing and yelling already.

  13. Meh. Not much of an attack as attacks go. I don’t agree with very much that Zuckerman said (and like you, I liked his book a lot and so was disappointed in his column), but it hardly rises to the level of “attack.” More like uninformed opining, really.

    My two central complaints about what Zuckerman wrote are:

    It is true that science might not answer every question we can ask, but theism cannot, even in principle, provide answers of any kind. It certainly can’t explain whey there’s something rather than nothing (unless you except gods from the “something” column–but isn’t that atheism?). It shines no light on morality (see more at dilemma, Euthyphro). It can provide no personal meaning, except as parasitism on someone else’s sense of purpose. It is thoroughly, truly, monstrously bankrupt in almost every way (I admit it can be a source of traditions that lend shape to some people’s lives and provide a source of comfort and motivation…similar to Civil War reenactment, Comicon, or a Trekker convention).

    And two: I just have to wonder how much people who defend the Bible have actually read it. I have a degree in biblical studies from an evangelical college. I studies it a LOT, and was even involved in a project to translate part of the New Testament from Greek to gender-neutral English for a new publication of. And while, yes, there are a handful of passages of rather extraordinary lucidity, poetry, and wisdom (as even Richard Dawkins will quickly point out), taken on the whole, it is a simple matter to find idiocy, absurdity, cruelty and ignorance on nearly every page. I’m not saying we should have expected great literature from nomadic goat-herders, even if they did have centuries to edit the manuscripts into shape. But by any normal standard, the Bible is a middling work of literature. It gets its boost from the magical qualities ascribed to it, but in this it is Dumbo’s feather. If you don’t already believe there’s something amazing about it, all you see is a feather. And not an especially handsome example of plumage at that.

    I don’t mind constructive criticism, and I’m willing to take Zuckerman at his word that he’s just offering atheists “tips” for presenting ourselves better. I’m not above a few tips, and not everything he says totally misses the mark (though it was nearly that bad). I’ll think about what he has said in that column. But the thing I still find amazing is that with all of this critiquing of atheism, I still have not seen anything to suggest that theism has anything to offer. And those who point to the utterly human aspects of religion to prop up theism seem to miss the point worst of all. God brings nothing to the party. Until and unless someone can demonstrate otherwise, I’m not sure how polite it is even possible to be in saying so.

  14. The one problem I am aware of is the new atheists’ theorizing on the danger of Islam.

    It’s been a while since I read Scott Atran’s book called “Talking to the Enemy,” where he devotes a whole chapter to new atheists, criticizing, above all, Dawkins and Harris. From what I could tell, Atran is right: Dawkins and Harris got the science (that is, the science of psychology and anthropology) wrong.

    Would you be surprised if I told you that a mere one percent of madrasahs support jihad and the rest firmly oppose it? Did you know that none of the 9/11 terrorists nor the Madrid bombers attended madrasahs in their childhood (contrarily to what Dawkins might claim in “The God Delusion”)?

    1. What is the punishment for apostasy in Islam again?
      What is the fate of the pagan in Islam?

      If anything, I think New Atheism is more important with Islam, since even if you’re right about your points, the amount of people that believe the Koran, the Hadith, and the interpretations based on those, are the literal and unalterable word of God is terrible for the world as a whole, and especially for Muslims.

      1. The fact that the Arab nations appear primitive when compared to the west can be hardy blamed on their holy book. Indeed, the Bible contains similar moral bronze-age wisdom as the Koran, but you don’t see Christians stoning to death those who work on the Sabbath. The problem lies evidently somewhere else. If you want to know more, read Atran’s book.

        1. I realize that the Bible has some pretty regressive things in it. However, the Bible is translated into the native languages of various peoples in the world and still considered to be ‘the Bible’. The Koran is only the Koran in Arabic. The difference between Christianity and Islam begins and ends with this fact, that you can cherry pick the Bible. Can you really cherry pick the Koran? I don’t think that situation is going to change without people realizing that it is a human made book with its own set of errors and problems. And that will only happen when people are able to read it in their own language and analyze how it was made, and people have the freedom to do so without threat. And since the penalty for apostasy is death, why not let atheists get the ball rolling.

          1. You mean you can’t cherry pick from the Koran because it’s written in Arabic? I am not following your logic here, sorry.

            1. The Koran is only the literal word of God in Arabic, since it was dictated to Mohammad by Gabriel. So translating it results in it not being the same document. Of course, since there are (I think) more non-Arab speaking Muslims now, and the traditional learning of the Koran is to just memorize it at a young age while not learning what it means, it just leads to people that have a lot of respect for a document that they don’t understand, aren’t trained to understand, and don’t know anything about the context in which it was written.

              1. Sorry, I am not interested in armchair philosophizing. I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. Even if it were true that Muslims merely learn Koran the way we learn multiplication (they don’t), it still doesn’t imply that their “theological ignorance” results in a violent behaviour.

              2. as dictated to Mohammad by Gabriel. So translating it results in it not being the same document.

                the exact same argument can be made of ANY document translated from ANY language then.

                are you sure you want to go there?

              3. ” Even if it were true that Muslims merely learn Koran the way we learn multiplication (they don’t)…”

                Read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Infidel.” That is exactly how she and her fellow students learned the Koran – in Arabic and by rote, with not a hint of understanding of what they were “learning.”

                “Did you know that none of the 9/11 terrorists nor the Madrid bombers attended madrasahs in their childhood (contrarily to what Dawkins might claim in “The God Delusion”)?”

                Well did Dawkins claim this or did he not? That he “might claim” something doesn’t mean that he did.

                Further, assuming you are correct that these terrorists did not attend madrasahs, their actions were still the result of their bat-shit crazy religious beliefs.

              4. A devout Muslim Turkish friend — now about 70 — “reads” the Quran every day, but without understanding any of it. That’s pretty common for devout, non-Arabic Muslims (and most Muslims don’t speak Arabic).

              5. George, I’ve read several accounts from former Muslims, and have been told, repeatedly, by real Muslims giving out English translations of the Koran, that it was Not The Real Koran. Its not armchair anything. And I think its bad for people, since thinking about your religion is part of what makes people less inclined to fundamentalism. These attitudes result in people who revere a book that they don’t understand, and makes it easy to be manipulated by those who do. I don’t see how this is philosophical. It is no different than it was in Europe before the Reformation when the Bible was in Latin and no one could read it but the priests. Vesting divine authority in a group of learned men only helps those learned men control everyone else.

        2. It was either Harris or Hitchens who explained the problem thusly: Yes, both the Bible and the Koran contain horrible things. The problem with Islam is that the horrible things in the Koran inform the modern Islamic faith much more than the horrible things in the Bible inform modern Christian faith. Most Christians have distanced themselves from (or don’t even know about) the horrible shit in the Bible. Too many Muslims haven’t done the same.

          So it’s true that the holy writings per se are not the problem. The problem is, for example, that one third of British Muslim students say it’s acceptable to kill for Islam.

          I’m comfortable calling that “a danger” of Islam.

          1. Neither Hitchens nor Harris are experts on this issue. You better do some research before jumping on the Harris bandwagon.

            1. What a fantastic non-argument!

              “There are facts out there that would prove to you that I’m right. I’m not going to tell you what they are, or refute the facts you linked to about the disturbing trends among British Muslims, but they are out there. Just trust me!”

              Brilliant! I should craft all my arguments like that from now on – it’s so much easier than providing evidence!

              1. Well, not sure what else I could have answered to your reply.

                “The problem with Islam is that the horrible things in the Koran inform the modern Islamic faith much more than the horrible things in the Bible inform modern Christian faith.”

                Really? Now, that’s what I call an argument. 😉

              2. then, george, explain the data quoted in the last paragraph:

                “one third of British Muslim students say it’s acceptable to kill for Islam.”

                do you deny the accuracy of it?

                If not, what is your explanation for it?

              3. You seem to disagree with the premise that the Koran informs modern Islam more than the Bible informs Christianity, or you disagree that Islam is any more dangerous than any other major religion – I’m not sure which, since you haven’t been clear. You also haven’t supported your assertions with anything other than phantom arguments, of the “actually you’re wrong but I’m not going to support that with evidence” type. So that is what I find lacking in your replies – no evidence, and no statement of your actual beliefs.

              1. I suppose I just meant that expertise may or may not be relevant. Pointing out that Harris is not an expert kind of implies that, were he an expert, he’d be of a different opinion. Is that necessarily the case, though?

    2. Also, I am curious, what specific things did Harris and Dawkins get wrong in pyschology and anthropology?

      People spend a lot of time referring to refutations of their works, but I’ve yet to see any that are convincing if they exist at all.

        1. So you can’t even summarize it for me? I’ll be honest here, the same arguments that work against any religion apply against Islam. And I worry much more about political Islam than I do about random terrorist organizations. Al-Quaeda killed thousands, but Islamic rule in various countries disenfranchises millions of Muslsims and non-Muslims alike.

      1. Here’s the amazon link (http://www.amazon.com/Talking-Enemy-Brotherhood-Making-Terrorists/dp/0061344907/ref=pd_sim_b_2); from the reviews and descriptions, Atran seems to see part of the problem is their “sacred values” (publishers blurb), and from the reviews is apparently embarassed to be an atheist thanks to Dawkins and the rest’s ignorance of religion. He seems to be big on the evolutionary development of religion (evo-psychology? and sociobiology too), and one reviewer thinks he downplays the religious motivation and tries to upsell the accomadation of science and religion.

        I may try the free sample, but I’ll withhold judgement on the book, but it doesn’t look promising.

    3. A mere 1% of what madrassas, where? And how do you know? What’s your evidence? What survey or other research has found that?

      And what do you mean “what Dawkins might claim”? Does he claim? And if he does, what exactly is it that you’re claiming he claims? That in fact it’s 2%? Or what?

      1. I don’t have either Atran’s nor Dawkins’s books with me. From what I remember, Dawkins in The God Delusion criticizes the madrasahs for breeding terrorists, which, according to Atran, is simply not the case.

        Also, for those of you who recall the dispute at one of the Beyond Belief conferences between Atran and Harris, I strongly recommend you read Atran’s book—I am sure most of you have already read Harris’s books—to get a more detailed picture of what Atran was disagreeing with Harris about.

        1. Also, for those of you who recall the dispute at one of the Beyond Belief conferences between Atran and Harris, I strongly recommend you read Atran’s book

          such a fantastic work you can barely remember it!

          what an endorsement!

      2. Jihad is a basic principle of Islam (mentioned many times in the Quran and sometimes called the “six pillar” of Islam), and it would be a very lax Islamic school that didn’t teach it.

        I would think most would try to “spiritualise” it to be a spiritual struggle instead of actually making war on the unbelievers. However, it’s not hard to see how many teachers would just cut to the chase and teach its original meaning.

  15. I went to read it and came back to comment here that I thought he was a poe, but he beat me to it. I think the big problem is that the accomodationist diatribe is getting to the point where an absurd charicature of their arguments is in fact indistinguishable from their arguments.

    I think this means the gnus get to turn around and start sneering that mooney-ists are no better than fundamentalists now, right?

  16. The reasons an atheist like Mooney attacks gnus are different from the reasons of someone like David Berlinski (who identifies as “agnostic,” but whatever). They’re grinding very different axes, obviously, but one common trait—the thing I keep coming back to—is that it’s extremely self-serving to spew venom at gnus. Gnu atheists are one of those rare groups that, by publicly expressing intolerance and hatred toward them, a person (especially a fellow atheist) can actually get credit for being tolerant and enlightened! The more the Mooneys of the world say what a doo-doo head Richard Dawkins is, the more they get viewed as “one of the good ones.”

    Another thing I like to point out is that while it actually takes some modicum of courage to be an outspoken gnu atheist, it takes ZERO courage to be a Gnubasher—none. You can bash gnus with impunity, say pretty much anything about them (including comparisons to Hitler), without having to worry about being called-out as “intolerant” or “uncivil.” People who publicly bash gnus pay no price for doing so. But people who publicly criticize religion in the way gnus do often pay a considerable price.

    1. Mooney bashing Gnus on the internet has not gone swimingly for him. He’s resolved this by doubting whether science blogs can be beneficial to increased science acceptance in the general public.

      I take this to mean that his own message is not meeting with as much success on the internet as he’d hoped.

      1. I would say that his abject mendacity has not gone well, sure. His general anti-gnu/accommodationist stance, though, has inarguably contributed to his getting Templeton money and increased exposure, among other things.

    2. it’s extremely self-serving to spew venom at gnus

      I think that’s only a slight rewording of an ad for the the Templeton Foundation.


  17. Ok, I read the article after seeing your Update. Perhaps that colored my interpretation, because I did indeed read Zuckerman’s piece as satire — perhaps even a satire of accomodationism.

    Look at his points: he starts out with a heading which sounds as if he’s going to say something nice about religion, and then he manages to be every bit as nasty as the gnu atheists he’s pretending to criticize. He’s doing it on purpose. Bait ‘n switch.

    “Religion doesn’t answer anything, it’s man-made, there is no God, the Bible is full of crap, half the pious don’t even believe it themselves, and the only reason it spreads is through indoctrination. But there are a few redeeming features here and there. Kinda. So be nice like me and occasionally point them out when you can.”

    I laughed. Judging by this piece alone, I’d say that Zuckerman’s a gnu atheist with a rather subtle but wicked sword.

    3. Condemning the Bible as a wretched, silly book, rather than seeing it as a work full of good and insightful things as well.

    As well. The Bible IS a ‘wretched, silly book,” but Ecclesiastes is okay. The right hand giveth and the left hand taketh away. I say it’s definitely tongue-in-cheek.

    1. Poe’s law applies for faitheists, too.

      Actually, I didn’t see the article as satire at first, perhaps because I read Jerry and Jason’s reviews of it first.

  18. This is a good illustration of why Sarcasm is only so effective of a tool in writing. One sarcastic sentence, in italics is easy to catch. A sarcastic paragraph can look like something weirdly out of place. A whole sarcastic article? I think you need to be pretty over the top with it for it to work.

  19. If it’s tongue and cheek then we don’t need to take any of the arguments seriously–which is what I was planning on doing anyway–and can instead spend our time mocking the author for having to explain to us the proper way to interpret his writing.

  20. UPDATE: Zuckerman now claims that his piece was “tongue in cheek”

    I’m afraid I don’t find that as believable as you do, Jerry. It is either an astonishingly poorly written satire (I didn’t read it that way at all, and I’m pretty finely attuned to sarcasm and satire) or he’s backpedaling. Either way, he looks like a fool.

    1. Indeed. First of all, “tongue in cheek” doesn’t necessarily mean satire. He could have just meant to say that the piece was a “friendly jibe” – a set of serious criticisms delivered in a light tone. I believe people do use the phrase that way. Either way, I find it very hard to believe that these were not serious criticisms.

  21. Ah well. Swift was criticized by those who thought he was really advocating the eating of babies.

    Satire — toughest of all writing disciplines.

    But frankly, given where it appeared (the execrable HuffPo), I’m actually not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Well, he failed no matter what. Either at critical thinking or at satire. He can take his pick. Blaming the audience, however, is not an option.

  22. Oldtimer’s like those who have seniority in Corporations do not like new blood in the group with a new slant on basic procedures and who are armed with current developements which enlighten the knowledge of all. I lived in that environment fo 50 years and I don’t know if the word is jealousy or fear of job security but it seems a natural instinct. I learned to profit by the ideas of new blood and turn it to my advantage to hold my own. As they say in “horse country”, I’ll be 84 “in the spring” and welcome the Gnus and especially the next generation like the intelligent answers given to the children’s questions yesterday. If they are Gnus, let’s go!

  23. Why do they stay religious? They like it. They enjoy the traditions, the songs, the rituals, the community.He’s joking, right? Cultural Christians stay religious because they seek status in a culture that is overwhelmingly religious. They aren’t somehow “hurt” by frank atheism. They may even be helped. I can tell you, personally, honesty beats it all to hell.

  24. WTF? I really liked Zuckerman too. A couple of the journal articles available on his website are great reads. Bummer. Why don’t these guys actually HELP and continue going after fundamentalist wackaloons instead of US????????

  25. As far as his last item:
    9. Always making top ten lists. It is so “Old Testament.” Let’s start going with top nine lists instead…

    I recently learned that the Vikings greatly revered the number nine, celebrating ninth anniversaries etc. (A ninety-ninth was really huge.) Why? The author didn’t say (trouble with Vikings is that they’ve not left much of a written record). Anyway, I thought that was fascinating, and far more noteworthy than his item.

  26. To me part of the attacks can be explained simply by conformity. Unless you have a secure job or are secure in yourself enough, it doesn’t benefit you to go out of your way in being over the top attacking religion however well reasoned, so a back handed way to be conformist is to be overzelous and nitpicky in attacking gnu atheists, demonstrating you’re “tolerance” toward religion.

    Another possible explanation could be an actual misguided belief that we can work together with believers in common cause by not going out of our way in being too critical -a good example is the attempt by EO Wilson – The Creation – but how much evidence do we have that this does much good – huh!

  27. I didn’t find Zuckerman’s article to be clear satire at all(except the bit about having children). If he had written something like this on a blog it might have been clearer, but this appeared on the Huffington Post, which features “serious” articles saying the same thing nearly every week.

    If this was supposed to be satire he should have made it more obvious; this was actually a more intellectually satisfying critique of the New Atheists than Mooney’s usually crap (not saying much), so I think we can be excused for not recognizing it as a parody.

  28. Re: the updated “it was all a joke” explanation. Anyone want to bet that if there hadn’t been heat there would have been no joke? I don’t know him, although I have his book on my wish list, but it just seems like the “it was a joke” is a bit trite and over-used. Just about every high school kid says it when they get in trouble, so I have doubts anytime anyone says it. I’ll withhold judgement until I see where his future writing goes.

  29. Just quickly browsed the comments, so heartfelt apologies in advance if “my” theory has already been, er, advanced.

    It’s the parental thing. For example, my (young, ignorant… okay, stupid) boss at work has this malady in spades. He has young children at home, and his management style is some twisted mutation of the same parental control he attempts to exercise over his kids. It doesn’t matter whether you are telling him something that’s true, or even critically important to the matter at hand, or whether you’re a fifty-year-old with more years of experience than he has chin hairs. He’ll just shake his head, mutter something under his breath about “we need to get this done”, and then waddle off to confront the next “child”.

    Let me clarify what I’ve just said, if possible. We, the Gnu-atheists, are being told to “Go to our rooms” by people who have no real valid arguments, but have plenty of experience with raising and/or teaching children. In essence, we’re being “parentally controlled” merely for the sake of “peace and quiet”.

    Why should we listen to them? BECAUSE THEY TOLD US TO. SO HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?

    I haven’t taken great pains to be ultra-clear, but I know there is some element of “parenting” involved here. I’m willing to bet some of the more outspoken critics of Dawkins and Harris simply regard them as mis-behaving children; children to be scolded and sent to bed without supper.

    Dat’s my theory and I’m stickin’ with it.


  30. I think someone else might have pointed out that there is a difference between “a light hearted jibe” and satire. I read the piece as a real criticism of gnu atheism – but with a couple of jokes in the last two items of his list. I don’t think Zuckerman is claiming the piece is a Poe, I think he’s claiming the last two jokes protect him from criticism since that exposes his critics to charges of not having a sense of humor.

  31. “I’d like to hear readers’ theories about why Gnus are under so much attack from fellow atheists.”

    My theory is that ‘moderate’ atheists tend to see gnu atheists as feeding the popular stereotype of the angry intolerant atheist, and this aggravates them because that stereotype makes it harder for them to identify with atheism, since it doesn’t accord with their self-image as “moderates.”

    I suspect it’s also frustrating for ‘moderate’ atheists to find that so many of their intellectual allies tend to stereotype their views (as if “accommodationism” were someone a coherent single viewpoint) rather than making what they see as important distinctions between compromising on truth and deliberate perspective-taking.

    I’m not arguing or criticizing anyone here, I’m just trying to answer the question honestly from my own limited perspective for what it’s worth.

  32. Well I just read the Zuckerman piece for the first time, looking explicitly for the satire.
    If there is any intended irony or humor at all in the first 7 numbered points I couldn’t locate it.

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