UPDATE: R. Joseph Hoffman has responded to me on his blog, proving something else: Despite his desperate attempts to be humorous, he’s not funny in the least. Here’s his withering comment on my first book, which he forgot to mention when he claimed that (in contrast to himself) I’d written only a single book:
[Jerry] reminds me that he has written two books. One of which, Speciation, “has become the standard text on modern views about the origin of species.” Damn, I wish I’d written that.
Move over, Oscar Wilde: there’s a new wit in town!
I’m sorry if this seems pompous and incoherent. Accommodationists are a little like theologians that way, I guess. I sometimes find it hard to finish my thoughts in a jealous rage.
I will try to do better in 2012. I plan to study the blog sites of all the headlights and sidelights and use them as models of how it’s done. Whatever it is.
I don’t have the heart—or the need—to further criticize Hoffmann, since he parodies himself so effectively.
Let me first note that although this is an award, it is not an honor. Consider it like the “Razzies” given out for the worst performance in a movie. R. Joseph Hoffmann get the 2011 Mooney for several reasons:
- Extreme pomposity
- Obvious jealousy of the writings of other atheists, most particularly the New Atheists
And, most important:
- Willingness, as an avowed atheist, to spend all his time going after other atheists instead of religion. He is the New Atheist Nanny.
Like the Nobels, I give the Mooney Award for a particularly odious piece of accommodationism rather than a whole body of work. If I must choose one for Hoffman, let it be the one he’s just published at The New Oxonian (oy, what a blog name): “Made in America: Remembering the new atheism (2006-2011).” And so, for R. Joseph Hoffman:
This year’s prize goes to Hoffmann’s largely incoherent rant about how ineffectual and stupid all the New Atheists are. He doesn’t spare a one, save Christopher Hitchens. Here’s his evaluation of me:
Jerry Coyne. Coyne is a biology professor at Chicago. His only book, Why Evolution is True (2009), is his contribution to the anti-intelligent design debate and carries endorsements from Dawkins, Sam Harris, Stephen Pinker and others in the atheist-neo-Darwinist klatch. Dawkins reviewed the book for Atheist News in 2009. Hardly anyone would fault Coyne for his attempts to combat the anti-evolution fever that grips the establishment that is failed American science education. I for one think Jerry Coyne has struck a blow for rationality and common sense by writing this lucid book. It’s a shame therefore that Coyne buys into the Dawkins incompatibility model that makes religion the sworn enemy of science and science the salvation of the race. It is frankly embarassing [sic], after two hundred years of the scientific study of religion, to hear a scientist saying things like this:
In the end, science is no more compatible with religion than with other superstitions, such as leprechauns. Yet we don’t talk about reconciling science with leprechauns. We worry about religion simply because it’s the most venerable superstition — and the most politically and financially powerful.
Just a flash: While leprauchauns [sic] didn’t copy the books that were turned into the books that led to the science Dr Coyne eventually studied, monks and rabbis did. Why does the perfectly reasonable opposition to religious craziness have to descend to this caricaturing of the history of religion? And some information: the University of Chicago Divinity School, one of the most venerable in the nation–after which the Chicago School of Religionswissenschaft got its name (and turned Europeans green with envy at its methods)–one notably lacking in Irish elves–is located at 1025 E. 58th Street. Any number of evolution-accepting scholars–including Martin Riesebrodt would be happy to have a chat and set you straight. Of course, if you really believe that a degree in biology trumps every other discipline, then why bother?
Let me first note that, after taking Eric MacDonald to task for misspelling “foreword,” Hoffmann himself misspells both “embarrassing” and “leprechauns” in his own post! Glass houses, R. Joseph. . .
Oh, and R. Joseph, I have written TWO books: the other, co-written with H. Allen Orr, is Speciation, which has now become the standard text on modern views about the origin of species. You could have found that simply by going to Wikipedia. (I am trying hard here not to call you names.)
Here Hoffman completely misses the point. The point isn’t whether leprechauns have become an object of religious veneration, complete with scripture. After all, so have the science fiction fantasies of L. Ron Hubbard and the completely bogus story of Joseph Smith and the golden plates. The point is that there is no more evidence for God than there is for leprechauns. New Atheism, if it is about anything, is about the evidence to warrant our beliefs. You don’t have to read Duns Scotus or Eriugena to find out that they have no more evidence for God than a superstitious Irishman does for little green men.
As for my connections with the Divinity School here, perhaps Hoffmann doesn’t know that I spent hours over there talking to several theologians and Biblical scholars (certainly more hours than any Div School prof has spent in my department [i.e., zero]), especially when I was reading Robert Wright’s book on God. I count Rick Rosengarten, the former dean of the Div Schook, as a friend, though we disagree on many issues. Hoffmann simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
But I’m not dissing Hoffmann just because he’s thick about me. He’s thick about everyone: he dismisses the venerable Eric MacDonald as “just another horn in the bagpipe blown by Coyne and [P. Z.] Myers, as well as for his ignorance of theology (can you imagine?), and waves away P. Z. himself, adding that,”to his credit, Myers has published no book of popular or scientific merit though if his rep holds up as the sun goes down on new atheism he does have a collection of his favourite anecdotes and outrages coming out in 2012.” To his credit????
Needless to say, Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris also get it in the neck.
Greta Christina, who’s written some great pieces on atheism (I particularly like her “Atheists and anger” piece), is simply dismissed because “she sees everything as a weird sexual joke.” (Has he read her?). Jason Rosenhouse, one of the most thoughtful young atheist bloggers, is criticized because he “essentially does book reviews of things that cross his path and passes judgment on what he doesn’t like, usually anything that rises an inch beyond cultural Judaism.” That’s a low blow, and is completely unfair. Jason comments on books, on other blog posts, and lays out his own thoughts on important atheist issues like scientism and morality. He also writes about chess and mathematics. Hoffmann, in contrast, merely whines about New Atheism.
In the end, Hoffmann discredits himself because he tries to gratuitously discredit every New Atheist except Hitchens, and on completely ludicrious grounds. And in the background you can hear this constant refrain in Hoffman’s brain: “Me! Me! Why don’t they pay attention to ME? I have read Duns Scotus and yet I am not popular and have written no popular books. Something is wrong in the atheist community.”
I notice that P.Z. has also taken on Hoffmann, and Eric MacDonald has a two-part response: a thoughtful dissection of Hoffmann’s nonsense, and then a response to a stupid, snarky comment that Hoffmann left on the first post. And this is about as mad as Eric can get; he’s completely on the mark here:
As for being a horn (or, more correctly, a drone) in the bagpipe played by Myers and Coyne, I think for myself, thank you, Dr. Hoffmann, and when you have put 2 + 2 together and recognise that the issues we are concerned with are not simply what PhD candidates are qualified to discuss, but what, as men and women, we feel constrained to discuss, and endeavour to understand, then perhaps you will recognise why I feel so embarrassed for you, and for the pitiful criticisms you try to make. It won’t do simply to snipe at us. You must respond to what we say, and if you do not have the time to do that, then you should just get out of our way, because your criticisms invariably miss their mark, and we have places yet to go.
R. Joseph: does it bother you that nobody takes you seriously? Have you ever pondered the reasons why?
With atheists like Hoffmann, who needs religious opponents? The man richly deserves the Mooney Award for 2011.
136 thoughts on “Winner of the Mooney Award for Accommodationist of the Year: R. Joseph Hoffman”
Apart from trolling atheists with blogs, has Hoffmann done anything to warrant all this notice? I’d never heard of him except for readable people linking to his posts, and reading said posts I can see no reason I would have heard of him otherwise.
Any idiot can write a blog, and it appears one has. Just because someone pays you attention doesn’t mean paying them attention back is a useful idea.
I can’t recall whether I have ever met Hoffman, but this level of bile is, to say the least, compatible with a big fat gob of jealousy. Just to set the record straight, I reviewed WEIT not in Atheist News as stated by Hoffman, but in a rather more venerable organ, namely the Times Literary Supplement, link here:-
On the subject of setting the record straight…last I checked, Jerry’s written at least one other book than WEIT. There’s Speciation (with Orr) if nothing else. And lots of op-eds in national newspapers, and more I’m sure I’m not aware of offhand.
Which Jerry did mention…
Yes, but not for another ~20 minutes until after I posted…see his reply below to Eric.
Ah… I added the comment below after reading others’ comments but not Jerry’s before refreshing the page & seeing your reply … honest!
… or was that a later edit?
Another Marshall McLuhan moment!
“If that didn’t stick, sane voices were denounced as jealous voices, as though reputable scholars wished they had written historical and philosophical travesty under their own names.”
He sort of had the jealously angle covered already, Dick.
Incidentally, talking of sloppiness in spelling and so on, the word in the title of his piece is ‘Re-made’ not ‘Made’.
“While leprauchauns [sic] didn’t copy the books that were turned into the books that led to the science Dr Coyne eventually studied, monks and rabbis did.” Does he thinks book-learning with Aristotle as the fount was the foundation of modern biology? Aristotle was indeed a great man, he did make important contributions to what became science, but the slavish regard for everything he said – that is Aristotle said this therefore it must be so despite observation to the contrary, held back the development of new knowledge, and reflects the equally slavish regard for the Bible being the fount of all knowledge that still plagues us today.
Also, did you pull him up on saying you had written only one book?
No, he doesn’t but he should, since Jerry has written (or co-written) other books — in particular, the standard work (as I understand these things) on speciation with Orr, entitled, helpfully, Speciation, as well as a couple others. Why does Hoffmann make such a point about writing or having written books anyway? Is having written a book a prerequisite to having something to say? The man can be irritating, to be sure.
I fixed that, thanks. I like that photo of you—you look a bit like John Cleese!
I thought more a young Anthony Hopkins.
Tales of Hoffmann?
He sure am a smart one!
I didn’t think there was anything ungrammatical about that – the “establishment”, i.e, the “failed American science education” (“failed” as adjective rather than as verb).
The point Hoffman made about leprechauns is silly. No, leprechauns didn’t help pass on the science of earlier ages, but then again, neither did God. It was the people who believed in God who did that. But if, instead, it had been the people who believed in leprechauns, would this then render the belief in leprechauns any less ridiculous?
I bet my comment over there never sees the light of day
“I think we should stop using the description “new atheists” and instead call them “honest atheists”. I am a fan of all those you call “new atheists” and am grateful that someone(s) has the balls to point out the obvious, not only is the king not wearing any clothes, he’s a bit hideous to behold in the nude.
And no matter how much perfume you sprinkle on a dog turd (“sophisticated theology”) it’s still a piece of dog shit when you bite into it (religion). “
Before being made aware of R. Joseph’s penchant for only publishing replies which embellish him (including a few weak criticisms to which he responds, but never substantive criticisms), I had tried a few responses a month or so ago, which did not appear. So this time I decided to experiment with two ridiculous, almost precisely opposite silly responses. They both appeared it seems.
The second one got a response from R. Joseph’s lapdog Steph (I don’t think he is quite stupid enough for Steph to actually be him),
and so I responded to her, confessing my sins.
Here they are; the last may never appear there.
January 2, 2012 at 9:59 pm
That was an absolutely extraordinarily well-written, witty and informative blog, nearly causing me a heart attack due to my delight with the perfect truths being expressed in a way whose elegance can only be compared to Shakespeare, Milton and Tolstoy (in the original, of course).
January 3, 2012 at 3:38 pm
That was an absolutely extraordinarily badly-written, boring and useless blog, nearly causing me a heart attack due to my chagrin at the inane nonsense being expressed inarticulately.
January 3, 2012 at 4:14 pm
Probably wasn’t necessary to post your comment then – has the priest been called? Or have you been grossly exaggerating? I hope not.
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
January 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm
Just a little experiment—all 3 peter persons are 1, but no grave mystery there, just trying to see a little more about how R.’s self-embellishment decisions on publishing responses or not actually works. I guess the present one is peter the wholly spirit, and actually saying what he thinks this time.
Yeah. He seems to have no interest in reasoned discussion. I asked him a polite question in a comment but that never got published. Then again, the question was regarding what exactly he meant by saying that atheism became a little idea when minorities got involved. Perhaps the reason that it was censored is that the true answer to that question would have destroyed whatever credibility he has left.
all your comments are published and christopher has been responded to. Peter was being stupid obviously and his easy target was responded to seeing it implied he might be dead I suppose. He was asking for it you could say.
Mine weren’t. Hoffman does seem pretty selective about the criticism he’s willing to respond to.
Hoffmann loves to play games with comments – posting them and then taking them down; not posting them, waiting until someone complains and then posting them to make the person seem petty; posting them, letting Steph inanely reply, and then blocking replies to Steph. He also changes posts in response to comments without any indication that he has done so. Reply to his posts at your own risk – he will try to make you look foolish if you criticize him.
Just Hoffmann playing games? And steph? And only on Hoffmann’s blog?
Did I imply he was the only one? I was only stating what could happen if you post on his blog – nothing more. If you have complaints about other sites – please inform us.
@ Michael Fugate
You are certainly right about Hoffman and comments. There were a number of comments 2 days ago, yesterday most of them were gone yet I had a few comments back and forth with Hoffman that were printed, then today most of the first comments were back and mine were gone. I won’t be back, it’s too confusing.
WHY would anyone stick around a site when they’re treated like that?! I bailed on Laden as soon as I realized he played such infantile tricks. Hmmm, he had a Steph, too…
Michael Fugate wrote:
“Did I imply he was the only one? I was only stating what could happen if you post on his blog – nothing more. If you have complaints about other sites – please inform us.”
I’m not complaining…
The internet being what it is people can post any which way that tickles their fancy 😉
I’ve just been thinking about the word game ‘mary’ is playing on this site. I’ve posted a comment that awaits moderation – perhaps due to a few links within the post.
There were a few more exchanges with Steph (AKA R. Joseph for all I know), the last of which he scrubbed as per usual, perhaps because it was a bit close to the bone in analysis of his dishonest dealing with readers’ responses. So I sent along a final response as follows:
“The previous post was for R. Joseph to read, so achieved its purpose, despite its non-publication. When in Oxford, I lived up Headingly Hill for a time, and the traffic down the hill was rather frightening for cyclists. That sort of attempted intellectual intimidation won’t have the slightest effect on me. Academic charlatanism seems to exist in about equal measure from wherever the degree came, and you are certainly doing your bit. I hope my little amusement here has alerted a few more people about your intellectual dishonesty in dealing with submissions to your blog, at least a few who read Coyne’s blog, to get this last riposte. At any rate, you (or both you and Steph, which set might consist of a singleton) now have the words ‘lapdog’ and ‘sycophant’ added to your vocabulary. “
I’d like to say that I don’t know who Hoffman is, but like David, I have followed links to his blog. His arguments are age-worn, weak and below contempt. I suppose if he’s just seeking attention, it has worked to a point. He has gotten some big guns to respond to his drivel, but frankly, why someone would want to be known for these views is more than I can fathom. I’d be too embarrassed.
BTW, only the modern 20th Century Reformed branch of Leprechaunology believes that Leprechauns wear green. We true believers know that they’ve always worn red, only fairies wear green. Calling them “little green men” is blasphemous.
Maybe Hoffmann needs to visit one of those Divinity Schools to get up on sophisticated leprechaunology?
I thought they were little blue men…
Oh no, that’s the Wee Free Men. Sorry.
PS. Brownies do actually wear brown, no?
Here is yet another comment on “While leprauchauns [sic] didn’t copy the books that were turned into the books that led to the science Dr Coyne eventually studied, monks and rabbis did”:
The monks and rabbis copied from manuscripts the books that eventually became the primary texts for what Hoffmann calls “the academic study of religion.” The early monks and rabbis copied by hand and made mistakes (errata).
As we have seen, there are spelling, grammar and factual errors in people’s posts and comments on websites. Imagine the number of errors to be found in these primary texts in a time when it was difficult to check facts and spelling was not standard.
Also, they were less than careful with the historical values. If they were out of material, they could turn a unique science text into yet another copy of the same religious text:
“A number of ancient works have survived only as palimpsests. Vellum manuscripts were over-written on purpose mostly due to the dearth or cost of the material. In the case of Greek manuscripts, the consumption of old codices for the sake of the material was so great that a synodal decree of the year 691 forbade the destruction of manuscripts of the Scriptures or the church fathers, except for imperfect or injured volumes. Such a decree put added pressure on retrieving the vellum on which secular manuscripts were written. The decline of the vellum trade with the introduction of paper exacerbated the scarcity, increasing pressure to reuse material. […]
Vast destruction of the broad quartos of the early centuries of our era took place in the period which followed the fall of the Roman Empire, but palimpsests were also created as new texts were required during the Carolingian renaissance. The most valuable Latin palimpsests are found in the codices which were remade from the early large folios in the 7th to the 9th centuries. It has been noticed that no entire work is generally found in any instance in the original text of a palimpsest, but that portions of many works have been taken to make up a single volume. An exception is the Archimedes palimpsest (see below). On the whole, Early Medieval scribes were indiscriminate in supplying themselves with material from any old volumes that happened to be at hand.” [My bold.]
I can’t find an estimate on the number of palimpsests used to the total number, but it seems most secular texts were destroyed, see the bold section above.
It should also be noted that the monks were not reading the ancient Greek and Latin manuscripts out of curiosity or anything nearly so ennobling. They were practicing their penmanship. Hence the palimpsests: the physical act of copying was what was important, not the text being copied. They didn’t go out of their way to preserve rare, ancient, interesting, or scientific manuscripts — these were the most likely to be scraped and copied over. 15th century secular humanists traveled from abbey to abbey collecting the rarer texts to prevent them from getting scraped out of history.
Hoffman is not only a dick, he’s delusional:
Yeah, “hardly anyone”. Just 40% of Americans… that’s “hardly anyone!”
I think this kind of blindness explains a lot about the “New Atheist Nannies”. I suppose it’s true that if we lived in a mostly secular world, where “hardly anyone” would criticize Jerry for fighting creationism, where nobody took religious dogma all that seriously, where religious incursions into politics were essentially non-existent… if we lived in that world, than yeah, the invective of the gnus would probably be redundant at best, and unnecessarily grating at worst.
News flash: We don’t live in that world. Not that Hoffman seems to have noticed.
That’s perhaps generous, given it probably doesn’t count the ID contingent.
Comparing the standard Gallup Poll 2002 national values to the 2002 Cleveland Plain Dealer Ohio values, I suspect that the then 45%= 30% Young-Earth + 15% Old-Earth; and that thus, the additional ~15% of Intelligent Design supporters would also mostly tend to fault him — not even including those technically in the Theistic Evolution camp like Plantinga who might lean ID enough to have issues with Coyne’s vigor.
Of course, evolution support has increased some at the expense of the creationist contingent in the last decade (as the difference in numbers highlights), so it might not be a full 55%. Still, might well be a hair-thin majority.
Hoffmann also included me among the “sidelights” with Eric and Greta and Jason.
I too did a post yesterday.
Hoffman wrote about Ophelia:
“Ophelia Benson, host of Butterflies and Wheels, has turned her once-interesting website (I used to contribute regularly) into a chat room for neo-atheist spleen. I still regard her as a fair-broker who needs to rise above the temptation to turn the whole kit and kaboodle over to the grousers who loiter around her kitchen table. I mean campfire.”
If I could get past the petty, crabby incivility of Hoffman’s essay–to say nothing of its incivility, (and I can’t) I would still be gobsmacked by the evident immaturity in Hoffman’s use of people’s pictures.
Hoffman is . . . . small.
Thank god he didn’t use one of mine! 😀
But seriously; yes, the use of pictures was contemptible.
I was not familiar with Hoffman but I am now. He regurgitates what he unable to digest and having now picked through his mess, I find nothing new or nutritious in it. Generally, I encourage dissension among Christians struggling with evolution, but find dissension among atheists unfortunate. Hoffman is a man struggling to find his niche in the science Vs. faith controversy. Sadly, he stands alone waiting for someone to notice him.
Ouch, that is a devastating personal attack, against someone who probably deserves it, but aren’t we supposed to be a little bit better than that?
What is it about the internet, where introverts and geeks turn on each other like polar bears!
We note your condescending concern trolling and we dismiss it along with Hoffmann’s.
But the important thing is that you’ve found a way to feel superior to everyone, right?
Link to xkcd cartoon goes here!
(but this time clicking the box)
You were bound to forget…
“Embarrassing Leprechauns” is the name of my Dropkick Murphys cover band.
“Avowed atheist”? I am skeptical you have evidence of his avowing atheism. Professor Hoffmann has called himself an “unbeliever”. He no longer believes. This does not equate with atheism. Why are you claiming his “avowed atheism” like others are claiming he is an “atheist scholar of Christianity”. Odd that people impose labels on others without evidence. Is main your objective as an “atheist”, to “go after” religion? I wonder what your definition of “religion” is.
Ah…so since R is being deliberately obtuse, and we make a logical inference based on what we expect he’s referring to based on the overall topic at hand, this is supposedly a damnation of … what, exactly?
His inability to write clearly enough to be understood? Of his unwillingness to do so?
It’s an either/or question. Feel free to ask him and get back to us.
It isn’t obtuse, and your inference isn’t logical. The ‘god’ question is your topic at hand, not his. He has many ideas on many topics as is illustrated in his writing. If there is any damnation perhaps you deserve it, for being unwilling to think more broadly than your own narrow focus on “going after” religion.
Any unbeliever is an atheist, in the broader (“weak”) sense of the word, which is the one most widely used in the atheist community and on this website. He may not wish to self identify as such and he may reject the label – which he’s quite entitled to – so, he may not be an avowed atheist, but neither he nor you can change the meaning of the word, so he is not not an atheist nonetheless.
An atheist denies the idea of god. An unbeliever no longer believes some things previously believed – ie perhaps beliefs such as bodily resurrection, afterlife, heaven and hell, and even doctrinal things like transubstantiation. These things are anachronistic. However an unbeliever is not rejecting the idea of god and only does so when the unbeliever ‘avows’ to be an ‘atheist’ or says they are an unbeliever who denies the idea of god.
I think this is muddled thinking. I’m an atheist. I don’t “deny the idea of god”. This (bad) idea has been muddling our brains for many thousands of years. The bad idea exists. I don’t deny it. I just recognize it for what it is, a very bad idea.
If you want to use the word “unbeliever” to mean something other than “not a believer in deities”, then there is nobody who can prevent you from doing so. (Maybe you are talking in people who no longer believe in dragons that live in my basement?) But you are manufacturing a distinction where none really exists.
an unbeliever is not rejecting the idea of god and only does so when the unbeliever ‘avows’ to be an ‘atheist’
If you’re going to make up your own definitions you should write your own dictionary. Current dictionaries define “unbeliever” as, “a person who does not believe esp. in religious matters.” They say nothing about what the person once believed, or avows, or denies. You’re just making all that up.
Atheism. It’s about god. Theos. Get it? Books written about it, articles googlable. Have a go. He wrote “I do not deny the existence of God.” Get over it. The fact is Coyne wrote that he is an “avowed atheist”. I pointed out his error. You’re getting hilariously defensive about it. Believe what you like. Narrow views of language and logic like fundamentalists.
Narrow views of language and logic like fundamentalists.
That’s one way to do it. If you don’t like a definition, just call it a narrow view and make up your own.
Dictionaries vary – Oxford is lack of belief, others have ‘denial’. The point is Hoffmann has not suggested this. Read the essay I linked to, which has – coincidentally – been reposted last night, on The New Oxonian.
He writes: “I don’t deny or affirm the existence of God, any god… I am not an atheist… God and religion are two different things … atheists err when they say “Religion gave us God.”
NB: to save you the trouble, an Oxonian is someone who lived or studied in Oxford and Hoffmann lived and taught in Oxford, and like Dawkins (the real one, not the pretender above who doesn’t know someone called Hoffman), earned an Oxford doctorate. Hence The New Oxonian. A click on his vita brevis or even googling wikipedia, will confirm this.
Ant Allan wrote, in response to ‘mary’:
“Who are you “mary” and why are you such a passionate apologist for R?”
The only person I’m aware of that is so passionate an apologist for Hoffmann is Stephanie Fisher. Steph is also passionate about not being identified as an atheist:
Atheist Hijacking of Humanism
May 3rd, 2011
I don’t identify as ‘atheist’ because of the baggage
I’ve never considered myself in any way an atheist although I’ve never believed. I don’t find it necessary to paint myself with a negative to contradict something I never believed anyway.
I am not an atheist and if I was I wouldn’t identify as such. The term today implies drastic hostility to religious people and religion which I don’t share….. But I have never believed so have no need to define a non belief.
One of the comments on that post, from James Croft, remarked:
“In your posts here and elsewhere you seem to have a real animus against the term “atheism”.
Step’s post, Atheist Hijacking of Humanism, went up on May 3, 2011, a few days after her guest post on Hoffmann’s blog, The Atheist Captivity of Humanism. The guest post was taken down after a few days – along with it’s comments. A few of which were mine – my first telling steph that she had written utter nonsense. Eric Macdonald put up his own blog post in response to steph. The Irrationality of Atheist Opposition to Atheism. http://choiceindying.com/2011/04/28/youre-doing-it-wrong/
(The two posts are not identical – I don’t have a copy of steph’s guest post on Hoffmann’s blog – sometimes Hoffmann takes one by surprise…..)
As to mary’s repeated comments re Hoffmann not self-identifying as an atheist but preferring ‘unbeliever’, consider Hoffmann’s own words in this blog post:
I’m especially worried about the war between implicit atheists–those who identify as unbelievers or agnostics, but draw no particular satisfaction from doing so–and explicit or new atheists who like their A’s red, their heroes scarlet, and their language blue.
So, there you have it, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. An unbeliever, according to Hoffmann, falls under his category of “implicit atheists”.
If Hoffmann has taken exception to Jerry Coyne’s reference of ‘avowed atheist’, he has had ample time in which to ask that this be corrected. That ‘mary’ has taken issue over this matter indicates another agenda going on here. If Hoffmann places himself, as an unbeliever, within his own implicit atheist category, then what ‘mary’ is doing here is playing not Hoffmann word game but steph’s word game. It is steph who, as James Croft noted: “….(has) a real animus against the term “atheism”.
This seems to be common, even among strong critics of religion. It seems to underlie, for example, Amelie’s aversion to being labeled an atheist.
I think we muddy the waters if we don’t distinguish between atheism as a simple descriptor of someone’s lack of belief and atheism – or more specifically new or gnu atheism – as a social movement or, at least, community of people with some commonality in the basis of their lack of belief (lack of evidence for, incoherence of the concept of, … any god) and in there attitude toward religion (that it’s not a force for good).
We seem to turn “implicit atheists” off when we (appear to) presume to speak for all atheists (in the broadest sense). I’d suggest that the majority of these people are apathetic or apgnostic atheists (they simply don’t care whether or not there are any gods), that most of those have a laissez-faire attitude towards mainstream religion (a passive stance, different from active accommodationism), and that they may actually embrace other kinds of woo (i.e., they don’t have a naturalistic worldview).
A slightly different tack might encourage some of the more thoughtful and rational implicit atheists to out themselves, to the benefit of the community, rather than to put up barriers against us.
That’s not unreasonable. I think there are many explicit atheists – notably Grayling, IIRC – who don’t deny their atheism but nevertheless prefer to self-identify as (philosophical) naturalists or some other affirmative worldview. I’d put myself in that camp: My atheism is just an ineluctable consequence of that.
*their attitude :-/
Maryhelena, I’m Mary without Helena or a middle name. Good for Step – maybe she changed her mind. People do. Look at Antony Flew. Even JD Crossan seems to be going religious in his latest public presentations. The only people who seem incapable of changing their minds or being honest about it when they have, are fundamentalists, except the ones who just flip out massively to the other side. But there is a big difference between an implicit, and a soft shell atheist, and an unbeliever, all written about at different times, and an avowed atheist. And he has been Christian in the past. The link you pasted is old, and ideas develop. Why would he bother to niggle about everything when he gets so much he could niggle about? He’s got bigger fish to fry and mischaracterisations continue regardless. He blogs critique. I know he’s a scholar of church history, patristics and classical philology, and he’s teaching linguistics. He’s a historian. But he gets nailed as a scholar of Christianity, of religions, a religious scholar and an atheist scholar and a scholar of New Testament. Why bother writing to bloggers every single time?
Mary’s style is too articulate for the lady Fisher.
My guess is that this “Mary” is none other than Hoffmann himself. I seem to recognize his style of arguing. He also knows Hoffmann’s thinking too intimately.
My guess is a good one.
an Oxonian is someone who lived or studied in Oxford and Hoffmann lived and taught in Oxford
Why would I care? Why would anyone care?
And we were talking about your made-up definition for the word “unbeliever.” Why did you change the word to atheism?
Coyne used ‘atheism’. Hoffmann describes ‘unbeliever’ in his essay which nobody seem able to understand. It is an essay in which he declares “I am not an atheist” and names “What an Unbeliever Believes”. Can you work that out?
Describing what an Oxonian is because there seems to be alot of confusion about the term and use of it to name the blog, from new atheists, including MacDonald and co, and on these comment threads. Nobody seems capable of checking the link on his blog to his vita brevis which would clear the confusion. As this is about the only thread regarding the current issue which hasn’t mention The New Oxonian, I thought it might prevent further questions if I clarified what it meant. Of course you’re not interested, and I wouldn’t expect you to be. I wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d picked on the word if it wasn’t clarified first though, as others have.
Who are you “mary” and why are you such a passionate apologist for R? Do I smell a sockpuppet?
I don’t think there’s any confusion on atheist blogs about the meaning of “Oxonian” or why R. uses it… only that it’s ridiculously pretentious. (Btw, you are incredibly presumptuous in implying that the Dawkins who commented above is an imposter. Dawkins comments here from time to time and is the genuine article.)
Ben and I, among others, have pointed out that the broader meaning of atheist is the one commonly used within the (gnu) atheist community. And such usage goes back to 19th-century freethinkers – it’s by no means faddish. By this meaning, unless R. actually believes in any god or gods, which, as an “unbeliever,” he does not, he can no more legitimately say, “I am not an atheist,” than an unmarried man, “I am not a bachelor.”
You keep referencing this Olympian essay which will explain everything. Believe me, after slogging through Hoffman’s turgid blog post, there is no chance I would endure a full-blown essay by him.
The fact is, you introduced the term “unbeliever” here, and when asked to clarify, you simply invented your own definition. You said, “an unbeliever is not rejecting the idea of god and only does so when the unbeliever ‘avows’ to be an ‘atheist’ or says they are an unbeliever who denies the idea of god.”
You may want this to be the definition of unbeliever, but it can be found in no dictionary or anywhere else. You’re just making it up. What Hoffman calls himself in this mysterious essay has no bearing on anything.
Professor Hoffmann has called himself an “unbeliever”. He no longer believes. This does not equate with atheism.
Since an atheist also does not believe in a god, in fact, that’s about all that’s required to be classified as an atheist, I don’t understand the difference. Perhaps you could explain how an “unbeliever” differs from an atheist?
To unbelieve what you once believed is not the same thing as closing your mind and saying I am an atheist or saying anything about any ideas of god.
It sounds a bit like the Sex Pistols I am an anarchist. I am the antichrist.
Unbelieving and atheism are different ideas. One has no convictions and the other does.
To unbelieve what you once believed is not the same thing as closing your mind and saying I am an atheist or saying anything about any ideas of god.
I’m sorry, I’m trying to understand, but this confuses me more. You’re saying, to “unbelieve” is not the same as “not” believing. Does that mean he used to believe something but now believes something different? If so, what is it he now believes?
Unbelieving and atheism are different ideas. One has no convictions and the other does.
Which is which?
I don’t believe you got the definition right.
If R. no longer believe in God, would this not make him an atheist? How are you defining “atheism?”
Some people have never been theists and don’t choose to identify as a-theist. Some people lose beliefs they had and don’t choose to close the theological questions and identify as atheists. The term has implications they don’t identify with. Some people therefore deliberately avoid the label and do not ‘avow’ atheism, that is, a conviction that there is no ‘God’. ‘Atheist’ can be interpreted differently and does not have a simpe definition. ‘God’ does not necessarily have a simple definition. He writes “I don’t deny or affirm the existence of God, any god. There have been so many…” http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/what-an-unbeliever-believes-a-prelude-to-winter-in-a-secular-season/
I read the essay. As you say, R does not choose to identify as an atheist, and says so. Sometimes, however, he seems to choose otherwise. I think though that R would be considered an atheist under most standard definitions and meanings of the term.
So I suppose we could say that he is not a “self-avowed” atheist … but he is an atheist. Very well. That is as clear as mud. Or, perhaps, it is “nuanced.”
Nothing is that simple however much you believe it is. “I do not deny…” It’s sweet that you want to claim him for your team but he does not identify as an atheist. He doesn’t use the title. You impose it on him. Oversimplification, compromising ideas, dismissing theological questions and limiting the term ‘god’. So what doesn’t he believe? Your ‘God’?
Some people call a tail a leg, but that doesn’t make it not a tail.
They’d be silly people then. An atheist denies the idea of god. However an unbeliever is not rejecting the idea of god and only does so when the unbeliever ‘avows’ to be an ‘atheist’ or says they are an unbeliever who denies the idea of god. An unbeliever no longer believes some things previously believed – ie perhaps beliefs such as bodily resurrection, afterlife, heaven and hell, and even doctrinal things like transubstantiation. These things are anachronistic. But if an unbeliever says they don’t deny or affirm the idea of god you can’t claim they deny the idea of god and call them an atheist. You can I suppose but then you’d be as silly as a person calling a tail a leg.
What’s with all this “avows” stuff? Lack of belief in gods has nothing to do with “avowing” anything. Non-belief in invisible pink unicorns is non-blief in invisible pink unicorns. No “avowing” is required to be an invisible-pink-unicorn atheist.
Coyne calls him an ‘avowed’ atheist, despite Professor Hoffmann writing ‘I don’t deny or affirm the existence of God. He hasn’t identified as not believing in God and has never identified as an ‘atheist’ or an ‘atheist scholar’. An atheist denies the existence and Professor Hoffmann has does not deny it.
That’s your definition, and it’s far from standard.
The New Oxford American that ships with Mac OS X defines the term, in its entirety, as, “a person who does not believe in the existence of God or gods.” That particular definition also “just happens” to be the one most popular amongst those who self-identify as atheists.
This is silly. It is quite irrelevant how “some people” choose to identify themselves. I don’t choose to identify myself as a 61 year old. It doesn’t matter. I am one.
Exactly. Many creationists reject the idea that humans are apes, but simply saying so isn’t sufficient to change their phylogeny. Trying to say that while someone doesn’t believe in a god but isn’t an atheist because they didn’t actively reject the idea is nothing but word games with no actual substance.
Some people have never been theists and don’t choose to identify as a-theist. Some people lose beliefs they had and don’t choose to close the theological questions and identify as atheists. The term has implications they don’t identify with. Some people therefore deliberately avoid the label and do not ‘avow’ atheism, that is, a conviction that there is no ‘God’. ‘Atheist’ can be interpreted differently and does not have a simple definition. ‘God’ does not necessarily have a simple definition. He writes: “I don’t deny or affirm the existence of God, any god. There have been so many…” http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/what-an-unbeliever-believes-a-prelude-to-winter-in-a-secular-season/
Your explanations make Hoffman seem almost clear. Although you seem to have strong feelings about atheism you won’t explain what you think atheism is, beyond saying it has “implications,” though what it implies you don’t say; you won’t even attempt to explain how an “unbeliever” is different from someone who doesn’t believe; in fact, the only thing you explain is that you don’t like atheists because they are “closing their minds” and all they think about is “going after religion.”
That’s a blindingly obvious false quotation and misrepresentation. Did you read the essay?
Don’t blame other people for your incapacity to communicate clearly.
Awwww. They don’t have the capacity to understand the essay. “I don’t deny the existence of God … I am not an atheist”.
@Mary, because an atheist isn’t someone who denies the existence of god.
I think mary is saying that an “unbeliever” is an atheist in the closet… a person who is indistinguishable from an atheist by definition (neither believes in deities) but thinks atheists are icky. You know… strident… shrill… not people one would want to be seen with.
There are many such people. They are not being honest with themselves.
The christian has Its “going after” atheism codified in law, I suppose a fine person concerned with fairness such as yourself would want to clear that up first?
Also, the christian has demanded that Its god demean atheists in Its handy book, what have you done to fix That bit of fire starter?
Prof. Coyne, are you not insulting the honorable profession of ‘Nanny’ by implying that most nannies are somehow similar to R. Joseph Hoffman in their intellectual leanings?
Richard Carrier had some pretty choice remarks about Hoffman’s professional performance here:
Oh, that’s champagne comedy. No, it’s microbrewery pale ale comedy (a much more fitting brew for a Gnu Atheist).
And if his institution is like mine, RJ will get credit in the eyes of those steeped in Administratium as an editor, but those who wrote any of those chapters won’t get any consideration for their primary authorship.
I left Hoffman an honest question in the comments to his article: it has been waiting moderation for a while now, but that could be standard for a first post. I am still curious as to how (and now whether) he will answer.
Here it is:
I don’t know whether your comment will escape moderation, Sastra. Even if Hoffman had the courage to post any who were in disagreement with him, his gatekeeper, Steph, wouldn’t allow them to be posted either.
No, there were plenty of negative comments. Mine, at any rate, is rather ambiguous, and is a question.
As for Steph, I doubt R. follows her lead. From what little I’ve seen of her, she seems slightly mad (my apologies to the slightly mad.)
I am generous and use a large scale.
It’s like a gossip column for malicious old vixens round a campfire.
That’s a very good assessment of Hoffman’s comment section.
Apparently R Hoffman has removed my comment from moderation — and from the website. He’s apparently not going to answer.
Which is a shame. I wanted to see if and how he would argue against an explicit version of accomodationism. Would he shift to the gnu atheists, and if so in what way? Or was I mistaken and he really is against all the elements in his characterization?
Now I will never know. I wonder what, if anything, set him off.
Although, judging from his writing, Hoffmann is indeed a pompous ass (although one cannot be sure whether with or without sweaty dewflaps), it seems that you are a bit inconsistent in asking him,
I very much suppose that you would scoff at Hoffmann should his rejoinder be something along the lines of, “I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me.” ;>
Does anyone else wonder if maybe Templeton has offered up some extra-big sacks of cash to lickspittle faitheist bloggers prepared to write anti-gnu posts?
Let’s see … Hoffman claims that some long gone people who were priests and rabbis wrote science texts therefore religion is A-OK. This Hoffman – he’s still in diapers and wets the bed, yes?
That’s not entirely true. If his comment section is anything to go by, he’s attracted several pompous pseudo-intellectual faith-heads, who fawn over everything he says.
Hmm… R. Joseph: does it bother you that nobody worth taking seriously takes you seriously?
He’s serial. He’s super serial.
Does anyone think it’s ironic that a man who was the chair of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion at CFI is complaining that the scientific study of religion is not valid?
That would be ironic if it were actually true.
Alas, it isn’t.
I think that’s it for Hoffmann. To dismiss an important work of scientific education like that shows just how divorced he is from anything that actually matters.
On the other hand, he probably really does wish he’d written it. Careful R., your jealousy is really showing.
Hoffmann: “I will try to do better in 2012. I plan to study the blog sites of all the headlights and sidelights and use them as models of how it’s done. Whatever it is.”
If the New Atheists want to deny Hoffmann his somewhat bizarre glee in getting a rise out of ridiculing them, a suggestion: In manning the barricades against the encroachment of theology into our social/political environment, make a small but highly significant change of terminology. When tempted to write the word *religion*, instead write the word theology. It is the New Atheist use of the word *religion* that is giving Joseph Hoffmann the opportunity to ridicule them.
Religion and theology are not synonymous or interchangeable terms. A distinction needs to be upheld if the ‘attack’ by the New Atheists is to reach it’s correct target.
Scott Atran: In Gods We Trust; The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion: “…..religion is not doctrine, or institutions, or even faith. Religion ensues from the ordinary workings of the human mind as it deals with emotionally compelling problems of human existence, such as birth, death, unforeseen calamities, and love. In religion, these ‘facts of life’ are always inherent problems of society, caused by the very same intentional agents that are thought to constitute society.”
So, New Atheists, instead of using *religion* as a catch-all for all the irrelevant theological baggage – take aim where the real trouble is – theology. Be clear, be specific – don’t cloud the air, and thus give Hoffmann sustenance, with a misuse of the concept of*religion*.
Deny Hoffmann this technical point of contention and you leave him high and dry with his sophisticated theology. Whether one becomes an atheist by reading 101 books on sophisticated theology – or one becomes an atheist by walking out the front door and viewing the suffering in the world, is interesting but immaterial. It is not sophisticated theology, whatever that really is, that will take us forward to a more humane social/political environment. It is manning the barricades against it that can open a way forward.
Your suggestion misses the point of concern. Socially, the actual problem is religion. Sophisticated theology isn’t actually anyone’s motivating belief system, including that of the sophisticated theologists. Hoffmann is best regarded as of no significance; he only posts this rubbish to attract refutations.
Hardly, the point is Hoffmann is it not?
New Atheists can ignore him – which somehow seems to be a difficulty 😉
Or they can try and neutralize his attack. I’ve given a suggestion on how to do that. A suggestion that would leave Hoffmann without the means to continue his campaign of sniping at the heels of the New Atheists.
I think derision and ridicule is a more effective, and appropriate, response at this stage. Given Hoffmann’s blithering incompetence as documented by Carrier, I doubt he’ll form into any more of a threat, unless he gets into something lucrative like climate change denial.
Upping the agro re derision and ridicule won’t work with Hoffmann. Your dealing with a very clever man, great intellect 😉
Keep in mind that once the New Atheists aim at *religion* they are entering Hoffmann’s speciality. It’s going to take far more than derision and ridicule to neutralize Hoffmann’s anti-New Atheists campaign. Unfortunately, the New Atheists are on the back-foot re their lumping *religion* and theology into the same carry-all – and Hoffmann is in full swinging mode.
Keep in mind also that by failing to differentiate between *religion* and theology, the New Atheists are giving theology a safe haven. *Religion* will always trump any attempt to dislodge it. Sure, *religion* has an evolutionary potential to adapt to changes, or needs, in our environment. But take note of that word, evolutionary. In contrast, theology, being an entirely intellectual pursuit, is subject to revolutionary change. It is theology that can be brought down by intellectual ‘revolution’. *Religion* follows it’s own timetable for developments.
“Upping the agro re derision and ridicule won’t work with Hoffmann. Your dealing with a very clever man, great intellect ;-)”
This statement fails Hitchens’ Razor.
One of the greatest intellectuals the world has seen, after William Lane Craig of course.
And excellent use of the Hitchens Razor btw.
It’s ungrammatical also!
Sorry to disappoint but I’m not afraid of religion or Its gods.
Readers at Vox Day’s website have quoted Hoffmann approvingly re: the New Atheists. Of all fates, becoming a darling of Vox Day, I think, would be the pinnacle of poetic justice for a person like Hoffmann. Welcome to Hell, Joe.
Why did everyone go back to “New atheist”?
It isn’t terribly accurate, so what merit does it have over “Gnu”?
I have never been comfortable with being called new.
If it’s just for a change of pace, may I suggest Nu as in the Metal? I already wear cargo-pants!
We were “New Atheists” before we were “Gnu Atheists” or “gnu atheists” – at least in the minds and from the pens of our critics, such as R. Of course, “gnu” was our way of poking fun at the label, as there was nothing really new about the “New Atheists” – unless the movement started with Robert Ingersoll and other 19th-century freethinkers. But critics still use the erroneous “New”.
But you probably gnu all that…