Militant atheist doesn’t like being called militant.

Bryan Appleyard recently reviewed Anthony Grayling’s new anti-religious book and since his review was not entirely composed of cheerleading, Gnu activist Jerry Coyne comes to Grayling’s rescue. Coyne quotes Appleyard:

There is also an irritating and highly self-serving argument that appears in various forms throughout the book. This seems to be an attempt to delegitimise all religious discourse. “Atheism,” Grayling writes, “is to theism as not stamp-collecting is to stamp-collecting.” In other words, not to be a stamp collector “denotes only the open-ended and negative state of not collecting stamps”. Equally, not being a theist is not a positive condition; it merely says this person “does not even begin to enter the domain of discourse in which these beliefs have their life and content”. The word “atheist”, therefore, is misleading; the phrase “militant atheist” doubly so.

This is silly. First, “militant atheist” is a phrase that Grayling justifies by his talk of comrades and causes. If he really believes this argument, he shouldn’t have written this book. Second, this is a transparent ruse to get the four (or five) horsemen off the charge that they write about religion while knowing nothing of theology. If religion is treated as a child-like superstition – like the belief in fairies – then there is no need to understand it in detail and, of course, this particular superstition is also dangerous and should therefore be exposed as well as refuted, if not in detail.

Coyne then replies:

I am not sure what Appleyard is banging on about here. “Militant” has nothing to do with dismissing the truth claims of religion or pointing out its dangers; it’s an adjective used by people like Appleyard to dismiss New Atheism without addressing its claims. (See Grayling’s previous dismissal of that adjective.) The only “militant” atheists I know are ones who try to promote their views with undue hostility or even violence—i.e., almost nobody. How come we never hear the terms “militant Labour party member” or “militant Democrat”? Political views are, after all, often held with as much tenacity as religious ones. “Militant” is reserved for “atheists” because religion is supposed to be treated differently from other views: off limits to criticism. And that’s what Grayling—and many of us—wants to dispel.

If you pay close attention to the arguments, Appleyard is not really responding to what Grayling wrote and Coyne is not really responding to what Appleyard wrote. It’s weird. Anyway, notice how Coyne’s brain perceives the world. In his brain, Coyne and his allies are merely dismissing the truth claims of religion or pointing out its dangers and for offering up such reasonable criticisms, they are being victimized by being labeled militant. And course the New Atheists cannot be militant, because they are not violent.

Now, let’s turn to reality.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes the word ‘militant.’

The English word militant is both an adjective and a noun, and is usually used to mean vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of a cause, as in ‘militant reformers’.

[….]

However, the current meaning of militant does not usually refer to a registered soldier: it can be anyone who subscribes to the idea of using vigorous, sometimes extreme, activity to achieve an objective, usually political. For example, a “militant [political] activist” would be expected to be more confrontational and aggressive than an activist not described as militant.

[….]

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, defines militant as “Having a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines militant as “aggressively active (as in a cause)”. It says that the word militant might be typically be used in phrases such as ‘militant conservationists’ or ‘a militant attitude’.

An example of the adjective usages is demonstrated when The New York Times ran an article titled Militant Environmentalists Planning Summer Protests to Save Redwoods describing a group that believes in “confrontational demonstrations” and “nonviolent tactics” to get across their message of preserving the environment. Another usage example includes ‘a militant political activist’, drawing attention to behaviours typical of those engaged in intensive political activism. The political protests headed by the Reverend Al Sharpton have been described as militant in nature in The Washington Post.

So as we can see, the term militant is not reserved for atheists and is not restricted to those who commit violence. The reason many theists, agnostics, and atheists refer to the New Atheists as militant atheists is because reason and evidence tell us that New Atheists are militant atheists. The evidence clearly shows that Coyne, Dawkins, and all their followers, are part of a movement that has a cause – to rid the world of religion. And the evidence clearly shows that to carry out their cause, the New Atheists leaders and their followers are combative, extreme, confrontational, and aggressive. Thus, reason tells us that these New Atheist activists are militant.

So Dr. Coyne is just plain wrong. No one is using the adjective militant as a way protecting religion from criticism. No one is insisting that the truth claims of religion cannot be challenged. The reality here is that Coyne and his followers are vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of their cause. It simply means that Coyne and his followers have a combative character and are aggressive, especially in the service of their cause.

It is therefore ironic that a group of people who preach about the importance of reason and evidence would insist that we deny reason and evidence and not notice their militancy.

Furthermore, it is important, for the purposes of clarity, to accurately define people like Coyne as militant as there are many atheists who do not share his cause and/or his tactics. As such, it would be a mistake to stereotype all atheists as being New Atheists/militant atheists. Thus, when we criticize someone like Coyne and his followers, by accurately labeling them as militant atheists, we are helping to insure that readers don’t make the mistake of thinking we are talking about all atheists.

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25 Responses to Militant atheist doesn’t like being called militant.

  1. Sparks says:

    Myers is a warthog, whereas Coyne is a slippery weasel.

  2. Jane Ankh says:

    Since that definition of ‘militant’ would apply to Martin Luther King, it would seem that a shaming-by-terminology effort is forlorn. One of the common criticisms leveled against Dr. King was that he was too militant — “Why so pushy?” “Why right now?” “Why make so much noise?”. Naturally, the establishment preferred quiet blacks who kept to themselves and didn’t make waves.

    So being an activist does not carry a negative connotation in itself. Only those who oppose the activist’s cause attempt to negatively characterize the activist as militant, which is basically shorthand for “excessively activist”. But obviously that’s an opinion sprinkled on top — it’s only excessive to those who would rather that the activist keep quiet. To Dr. King, his activism was not excessive but necessary.

  3. TFBW says:

    Y’know how there’s a lot of books written about atheism, or by atheists like Dawkins railing against religion in general, and how they have conferences and “reason rallies” and whatnot? Has anyone ever seen a mob of a-philatelists engaging in similar behaviour? I’m an a-philatelist myself, and the only time I ever think about a-philately is when some atheist rants about how his atheism is just like my a-philately. I’ve never read a book on a-philately (I doubt that any exist), never sought out any a-philately websites (who knows — maybe there is such a thing), and I don’t have an aneurysm when the one philatelist that I do know talks to me about stamps — indeed, I feign polite interest, because it’s not like I’m a militant a-philatelist, and it’s not like there’s an a-philately community watching my every move and monitoring me for stampless ideological purity.

    It seems to me that there are some significant (and fairly obvious) differences between atheists and a-philatelists.

    Anyhow, I thought militant atheism had received appropriate papal approval.

  4. Michael says:

    Jane,

    Your opinion is noted. But are you acknowledging that Coyne and his New Atheist allies and followers are activists?

  5. Jane Ankh says:

    If blogging and the occasional lecture constitute activism then of course Coyne is an activist. However that designation in itself does not carry negative implications except to those who oppose Coyne’s position. To them, activism suddenly becomes an inherently bad thing, and the more active activists become ‘militant’.

    If you don’t explain what you are opposing about Coyne’s position then your strategy to call him ‘militant’ gives the appearance of being a ploy to avoid talking about the substance of his position. What is actually wrong — seemingly gravely, morally wrong to you — with advocating his point of view? Suppose you were reading criticisms that Martin Luther King was too vocal — wouldn’t you think, “Well, what’s wrong with being vocal?”

  6. Michael says:

    If blogging and the occasional lecture constitute activism then of course Coyne is an activist. However that designation in itself does not carry negative implications except to those who oppose Coyne’s position. To them, activism suddenly becomes an inherently bad thing, and the more active activists become ‘militant’.

    Er, no, the reason many theists, agnostics, and atheists refer to the New Atheists as militant atheists is because reason and evidence tell us that New Atheists are militant atheists. The evidence clearly shows that Coyne, Dawkins, and all their followers, are part of a movement that has a cause – to rid the world of religion. And the evidence clearly shows that to carry out their cause, the New Atheists leaders and their followers are combative, extreme, confrontational, and aggressive. Thus, reason tells us that these New Atheist activists are militant. You may have your own private, personal definition of ‘militant,’ but the rest of us use the one that is most commonly used.

    As for Coyne being an activist, it simply means he does not come to this issue with an open and fair-mind. He does not come to this issue as a thinker or a scholar. He comes to this issue as an apologist and an activist, meaning he has an agenda and thus his position and apologetics must fit the Cause.

    If you don’t explain what you are opposing about Coyne’s position then your strategy to call him ‘militant’ gives the appearance of being a ploy to avoid talking about the substance of his position.

    Nonsense. I call him ‘militant’ because of reason and evidence, and because of deference to atheists who are not part of his extremist agenda. This was explained in the OP and you have not refuted one word of it.

    Second, what in the world makes you think he has any “substance” to his position? He hates religion. We get it. But what substance? For example, here is one of his positions:

    Somehow—and this will never happen, of course—it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with religious belief.

    Are you agreeing that it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with religious belief?

    What is actually wrong — seemingly gravely, morally wrong to you — with advocating his point of view?

    You are arguing against a straw man, Jane. For can you find where I said there was something gravely, morally wrong with Coyne advocating his point of view? Nope. So where did this notion come from? I think you are projecting. That is, you seem to think there is something gravely, morally wrong with me advocating my point of view.

    Suppose you were reading criticisms that Martin Luther King was too vocal — wouldn’t you think, “Well, what’s wrong with being vocal?”

    Hmm. Are you a Gnu atheist, Jane? I wonder not only because you defend Coyne’s militancy, but you actually liken Jerry Coyne to Martin Luther King. Do you realize how that looks to people who are not part of your Cause?

  7. Jane Ankh says:

    I do not know why you are being hostile towards me, or what you aim to accomplish by that. Your position is not at all clear. Could you please state what it is? I can tell that you don’t like certain people, but you haven’t explained why. Even conceding that Coyne is ‘militant’ doesn’t communicate why that is a bad thing. Indeed it can be good, and the only reason I mentioned MLK is to drive that point across.

    I googled that Coyne quote and found the source (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/child-abuse-2/). The quote was written directly below a picture of a young child holding a sign that says, “Behead all those who insult the prophet.” I do believe that infecting children with such violence and hate should be a crime, and constitutes child abuse. Obviously I wouldn’t agree with the quote when it is lifted out of context, as you have done.

  8. Michael says:

    I do not know why you are being hostile towards me, or what you aim to accomplish by that.

    Huh? Perhaps you can quote where I am supposedly being hostile toward you.

    Your position is not at all clear. Could you please state what it is?

    Read the OP – my position is that it is perfectly reasonable to describe Coyne and his allies/followers as militant. What’s more, since not all atheists subscribe to his agenda or tactics, we need a way to distinguish such atheists from the New Atheists so as not to stereotype. Adjectives such as “militant” and “fundamentalist” are quite useful here.

    I can tell that you don’t like certain people, but you haven’t explained why.

    You mistake your subjective impressions for “telling” something about me.

    Even conceding that Coyne is ‘militant’ doesn’t communicate why that is a bad thing.

    Never said it had to be a bad thing, now did I?

    Indeed it can be good, and the only reason I mentioned MLK is to drive that point across.

    Then you did a poor job of making that point. You came across as arguing it was bad to label Coyne and his allies as militant because then we’d have to do the same with MLK. Okay, so I’m glad you agree there is nothing wrong with describing Coyne et al. as militant.

    I googled that Coyne quote and found the source (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/child-abuse-2/). The quote was written directly below a picture of a young child holding a sign that says, “Behead all those who insult the prophet.” I do believe that infecting children with such violence and hate should be a crime, and constitutes child abuse. Obviously I wouldn’t agree with the quote when it is lifted out of context, as you have done.

    I don’t think the “out of context” excuse works. The quote comes with no qualifications. Coyne did not write, “it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with such religious belief” or “it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with hateful and violent religious belief.” So given he is an intelligent man who is very good, and very practiced, with choosing and using words, I will take his claim at face value – he thinks it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with religious belief.

  9. Jane Ankh says:

    I said that ‘militant’ ‘can be good’, but I was referring to the fact that it indicates the weakness of the group using the term (“ploy to avoid talking about the substance”). In the context of nonviolent protest, if your opponent calls you ‘militant’ then that means you are winning. It means the opposition lacks a substantive rebuttal, falling back to guilt by word association. MLK was regarded as an extreme figure by many — especially the FBI — and labeled accordingly.

    “Even conceding…” indicated a hypothetical there. That is, independent of whether or not I agree, even granting your point does not take us anywhere. The effect is not essentially different than announcing that Coyne will henceforth be called a chucklehead. It’s not a name that people would ascribe to themselves, and in using it you only succeed in demonstrating your own prejudice.

    The term ‘militant’ has almost universally negative connotations. There must be some reason that you really want to use that term as opposed to a more neutral term like ‘activist’ or ‘outspoken’. Indeed that reason still remains unclear. What justifies using a negative term, in your mind? If the answer boils down to “he’s not on my side” then that’s no justification at all.

  10. Michael says:

    I said that ‘militant’ ‘can be good’, but I was referring to the fact that it indicates the weakness of the group using the term (“ploy to avoid talking about the substance”).

    That “fact” exists in your mind. I’ll use the term because I value reason and evidence. Let me provide some real facts.

    FACT: According to Wikipedia, “The English word militant is both an adjective and a noun, and is usually used to mean vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of a cause, as in ‘militant reformers’” and “the current meaning of militant does not usually refer to a registered soldier: it can be anyone who subscribes to the idea of using vigorous, sometimes extreme, activity to achieve an objective, usually political. For example, a “militant [political] activist” would be expected to be more confrontational and aggressive than an activist not described as militant.”

    FACT: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, defines militant as “Having a combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause”.

    FACT: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines militant as “aggressively active (as in a cause)”.

    Unless you want to make the case that Wikipedia and these dictionaries are wrong, the only question that remains is whether or not the Gnu atheists fit these descriptions. I think it obvious that they do. And so do many others, including agnostics and atheists. So it’s not a “ploy” or sign of weakness, Jane. While it may comfort you to spin things like this, the fact remains it’s just good reason.

    In the context of nonviolent protest, if your opponent calls you ‘militant’ then that means you are winning.

    So you think. In reality, it means your opponent has noted your extremist, aggressive posturing in service of your Cause.

    It means the opposition lacks a substantive rebuttal, falling back to guilt by word association. MLK was regarded as an extreme figure by many — especially the FBI — and labeled accordingly.

    Your defense mechanism are impressive. But you need to consider the possibility that people might label you militant because…..you are militant. Your over-analysis is simply not needed.

    “Even conceding…” indicated a hypothetical there. That is, independent of whether or not I agree, even granting your point does not take us anywhere.

    I think it does. For example, a militant activist has a closed mind, as the militant activist is so convinced he/she is right that militancy is called for. This closed-mind has implications.

    The effect is not essentially different than announcing that Coyne will henceforth be called a chucklehead. It’s not a name that people would ascribe to themselves, and in using it you only succeed in demonstrating your own prejudice.

    LOL. My, you really, really don’t like it when people notice the militancy of Gnu atheism. It’s not prejudice to notice that Gnu atheists are aggressive, extreme, and combative. It’s not prejudice to notice they come to the table with an agenda.

    The term ‘militant’ has almost universally negative connotations. There must be some reason that you really want to use that term as opposed to a more neutral term like ‘activist’ or ‘outspoken’. Indeed that reason still remains unclear.

    Jane, I have 259 blog entries on this cite. How many use the term “militant?” Six. That’s about 2%. How does that square with your complaint? I’m using the term here because I am responding to Coyne’s misguided attempt to insist there is something wrong with using the term. As I have shown, he is wrong. As for using a more neutral term like “activist,” that is precisely the term I do use the most.

    What justifies using a negative term, in your mind? If the answer boils down to “he’s not on my side” then that’s no justification at all.

    That’s an easy question. What justifies using that term in my mind? It’s much easier to type “militant” than it is to type “aggressive, extreme, and combative.”

  11. Another Steve says:

    “Atheism,” Grayling writes, “is to theism as not stamp-collecting is to stamp-collecting.”

    This is silly.

    Grayling himself has published a book, “Life, Sex, and Ideas: the Good Life without God.”

    Has anybody written a book about the good life without stamp collecting?

  12. Jane Ankh says:

    Wait, this is circular. I asked what justifies using a negative term. In response you provided a list of negative terms. So the question remains, what justifies using a negative term? What’s an example of Coyne acting “aggressive, extreme, and combative”? You’ll have to do a little better than to pluck his reaction to a small child holding a sign that says, “Behead all those who insult the prophet.”

    As explained before there is a second prong here, which is that name-calling does not actually serve your Cause even if we grant that the term is accurately applied. Was MLK an aggressive, extreme, and combative? He certainly was, according to his enemies. Being outspoken does not imply being wrong, obviously. You have to explain why Coyne is wrong rather than resort to name-calling, *even if* you think you can justify the name-calling.

  13. Michael says:

    What justifies using a negative term? Accuracy. In my opinion, the term ‘militant’ accurately describes New Atheists. And I am not alone on this. In fact, the only ones who seem to think Gnu Atheists are not militant are the Gnu Atheists themselves (except for Dawkins, who has embraced the term). You need to deal with the fact that there is a consensus among theists, agnostics, and atheists that the Gnu Atheists are militant. Or are you under some weird impression that we all have some obligation to use only positive terms to describe New Atheists?

    What’s an example of Coyne acting “aggressive, extreme, and combative”? You’ll have to do a little better than to pluck his reaction to a small child holding a sign that says, “Behead all those who insult the prophet.”

    There are several examples. But I see no reason to avoid the example I raised. You claim it is somehow invalid because it’s “out of context,” but you have provided no evidence to indicate you are correct. None. Coyne has also written, “Our writings and actions are sincere attempts to rid the world of one of its greatest evils: religion” and “What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity?” It makes perfect sense that someone who thinks religion is one of the world’s “greatest evils” and wants “the eradication of evangelical Christianity” would also write, “it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with religious belief.” It fits the overall context.

    Let me give you some contrast. If I were to see a picture of a Gnu atheist protest where some atheist child was holding a sign saying, “Send Christers Back to the Gulag,” my response would not be to write, “it should be illegal to indoctrinate children with anti-religious bigotry.” Neither do I think atheism is one of the world’s greatest evils, nor am I on some crusade to see atheism eradicated.

    As explained before there is a second prong here, which is that name-calling does not actually serve your Cause even if we grant that the term is accurately applied.

    You have it backwards. I’m not the one with a Cause nor am I name-calling. But yes, when Coyne ridicules other atheists as faithesists, or calls them “accomodationists,” it is hurting his Cause.

    Was MLK an aggressive, extreme, and combative? He certainly was, according to his enemies. Being outspoken does not imply being wrong, obviously. You have to explain why Coyne is wrong rather than resort to name-calling, *even if* you think you can justify the name-calling.

    It does not matter how many ways you can try to reformulate your Gnu-As-Victim argument, as it does not work on those of us who value critical thinking. It is not name-calling to notice the militancy of Gnu Atheists.

    As for Coyne being wrong, I have shown this in several of my earlier blog entries. However, since his misguided notions are not the basis for perceiving him as militant, that’s another topic. Anyway, don’t get sidetracked with Coyne. He is the example here simply because I was responding to his essay. Militancy is a trait shared by all Gnu atheists.

  14. Jane Ankh says:

    If it is a “fact that there is a consensus among theists, agnostics, and atheists that the Gnu Atheists are militant”, then you should haven’t trouble backing up this fact. I haven’t seen any evidence for such a consensus among agnostics and atheists. I look forward to your answer, because if the claim is true then I would learn something new.

    I was initially surprised by the “eradication” quote, much like my initial surprise from the previous quote. But like the previous quote, my surprise dissolved upon looking up the source (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/the-aaas-sells-out-to-christians/). There is a star (*) next to that quote along with the words in bold: “See footnote”. And the footnote says

    For the many people who have misinterpreted (willfully of otherwise) what I meant by the “eradication of evangelical Christianity”, it is this: I hope for the eventual disappearance of this faith, not by banning it or persecuting or killing its adherents, but through reasoned argument that changes minds (or affects minds not made up) over time. Anyone who has followed this website will understand that.

  15. Michael says:

    If it is a “fact that there is a consensus among theists, agnostics, and atheists that the Gnu Atheists are militant”, then you should haven’t trouble backing up this fact. I haven’t seen any evidence for such a consensus among agnostics and atheists. I look forward to your answer, because if the claim is true then I would learn something new.

    What I am trying to say here is that it is not just theists who perceive New Atheists to be militant. So start with the evidence that is in front of you. Was Coyne responding to a Christian fundamentalist? No. Was he responding to someone from BioLogos? No. Was he responding to some liberal theologian? No. He was responding to Bryan Appleyard, an agnostic.

    I was initially surprised by the “eradication” quote, much like my initial surprise from the previous quote. But like the previous quote, my surprise dissolved upon looking up the source (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/the-aaas-sells-out-to-christians/). There is a star (*) next to that quote along with the words in bold: “See footnote”. And the footnote says
    For the many people who have misinterpreted (willfully of otherwise) what I meant by the “eradication of evangelical Christianity”, it is this: I hope for the eventual disappearance of this faith, not by banning it or persecuting or killing its adherents, but through reasoned argument that changes minds (or affects minds not made up) over time. Anyone who has followed this website will understand that.

    And that footnote was added later on after another atheist, Nick Matzke, called Coyne out on this. Matzke wrote:

    You want to know why gnus get a bad rap? The use of the word “eradication” anywhere near religion is one such reason. Eradication = intolerance. Intolerance = unamerican and illiberal.

    Scapegoating entire populations for the crimes of a few is another such reason.
    The reason gnus don’t get much respect at places like the AAAS meeting is that there is a difference between constructive academic discussion in the service of the quest for greater understanding, and emotional demagoguery. The gnus all too often are on the wrong side of that line.

    Coyne’s response is his typical misdirection-by-strawman tactic. No one, including Matzke, ever thought Coyne was supporting genocide, so his clarification is irrelevant. No, as Matzke said, the use of the word “eradication” anywhere near religion clearly signals intolerance. And it is intolerance that helps to fuel the militancy and define the Gnu Atheists. Sorry Jane, but Coyne chose the extreme word “eradication” and he does not say he made some mistake in using that word.

    Besides, you seemed to miss that the disclaimer was clearly some ad hoc face-saving maneuver. How can we tell? Because he contradicts himself. Read again his sentence:

    “What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity?”

    Now how can you have “reasoned argument that changes minds” when he just dismissed “respectful dialog.” That he favors eradication over respectful dialog contradicts his claimed commitment to “reasoned argument that changes minds.”

    Look, he is not interested in respectful dialog with evangelical Christians. He is interested in the eradication of evangelical Christianity. After all, he thinks religion is one the greatest evils in the world and he wishes it was illegal to give a child a religious upbringing. Why are you trying to defend such militancy? Does it have something to do with your unwillingness to tell us whether you are a Gnu atheist?

  16. Crude says:

    I love the part where Coyne says that ‘anyone who follows his website’ will realize he’s all about the reasoned argument that changes minds. If you actually follow his website, it’s just one long, continuous tirade that is very, very light on reasoned argument – what’s left over is a swirl of mockery and banning people who argue with him. In fact, I’m pretty sure Coyne explicitly has a policy banning “creationists” – you know, the very people whose minds he wants to change with reasoned argument.

    The Cult of Gnu is militant. It’s obvious not just to other Gnus, but to Gnus themselves. The only time they want to shake the label is if they think it’s being used in a negative way. Otherwise they pride themselves on just how militant they are.

  17. Michael says:

    Jane, here is yet another agnostic who views the Gnu atheists as militant:

    The science-religion front is the site of ongoing conflict. On the one side are the militant atheists like Oxford-based biologist Richard Dawkins, who want simply to remove religion from the face of the earth.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-ruse/can-a-darwinian-be-a-chri_b_618758.html

  18. Michael says:

    The Cult of Gnu is militant. It’s obvious not just to other Gnus, but to Gnus themselves. The only time they want to shake the label is if they think it’s being used in a negative way. Otherwise they pride themselves on just how militant they are.

    Spot on analysis. In fact, TFBW has provided a link that Jane has ignored. About five minutes into his speech, Dawkins proudly proclaims, “What I want to urge upon you is militant atheism.” It must be “out of context.” 😉

  19. Jane Ankh says:

    You said it was a fact that the consensus of agnostics and atheists is that the Gnu Atheists are militant. If that is indeed a fact then it should verifiable. I asked for the evidence, but none was forthcoming. Are you now withdrawing this claim?

    I am just trying to figure out what supports your conclusions. You clearly believe your conclusions, but you haven’t shown why someone else should. You proffered a quote which appears directly below a picture of a child holding a sign that says, “Behead all those who insult the prophet.” You gave another quote, but it had a footnote attached which was decidedly un-militant. I am still left wondering how you support your conclusions. In this last case, are you saying that we should disregard the footnote and draw our own interpretation about what Coyne meant, despite that the footnote explains what he meant? Are you suggesting that Coyne wants to murder Christians? You’ll have to spell out what you are implying here, because I really don’t know it is.

  20. Michael says:

    You said it was a fact that the consensus of agnostics and atheists is that the Gnu Atheists are militant. If that is indeed a fact then it should verifiable. I asked for the evidence, but none was forthcoming. Are you now withdrawing this claim?

    What I wrote last night was this:

    “In my opinion, the term ‘militant’ accurately describes New Atheists. And I am not alone on this. In fact, the only ones who seem to think Gnu Atheists are not militant are the Gnu Atheists themselves (except for Dawkins, who has embraced the term). You need to deal with the fact that there is a consensus among theists, agnostics, and atheists that the Gnu Atheists are militant.”

    Now, I am not talking about some grand meeting of theists, agnostics, and atheists where they all get together and reach an agreement and publicly pronounce that “Gnu atheists are militant!” As I just clarified, “What I am trying to say here is that it is not just theists who perceive New Atheists to be militant.”

    So, for the purposes of clarity, let me reword my statement from last night –

    In my opinion, the term ‘militant’ accurately describes New Atheists. And I am not alone on this. In fact, the only ones who seem to think Gnu Atheists are not militant are the Gnu Atheists themselves (except for Dawkins, who has embraced the term). You need to deal with the fact that it’s not just theists who think the Gnu Atheists are militant.

    Are you going to ignore the evidence that I am right?

    I am just trying to figure out what supports your conclusions. You clearly believe your conclusions, but you haven’t shown why someone else should.

    I’m not insisting that you, or anyone else, refer to the Gnu’s as militant. I’m simply noting that it is perfectly rational for many of us to note that the Gnu’s are militant. You seem to have some problem with the term yet you have not shown there is anything wrong with using it in this case.

    You proffered a quote which appears directly below a picture of a child holding a sign that says, “Behead all those who insult the prophet.”

    The picture probably caused an emotional reaction that in turn caused Coyne to drop his guard and express his authoritarian tendencies when it comes to “one of the world’s greatest evils.”

    You gave another quote, but it had a footnote attached which was decidedly un-militant. I am still left wondering how you support your conclusions. In this last case, are you saying that we should disregard the footnote and draw our own interpretation about what Coyne meant, despite that the footnote explains what he meant? Are you suggesting that Coyne wants to murder Christians? You’ll have to spell out what you are implying here, because I really don’t know it is.

    Why do Gnu’s consistently seek refuge in straw men? No one has ever suggested that Coyne wants to murder Christians. Pay attention:

    Coyne’s response is his typical misdirection-by-strawman tactic. No one, including Matzke, ever thought Coyne was supporting genocide, so his clarification is irrelevant. No, as Matzke said, the use of the word “eradication” anywhere near religion clearly signals intolerance. And it is intolerance that helps to fuel the militancy and define the Gnu Atheists.

    Besides, you seemed to miss that the disclaimer was clearly some ad hoc face-saving maneuver. How can we tell? Because he contradicts himself. Read again his sentence:

    “What about the many of us who feel that the best thing for science—and humanity as a whole—is not respectful dialogue with evangelical Christians, but the eradication of evangelical Christianity?”

    Now how can you have “reasoned argument that changes minds” when he just dismissed “respectful dialog?” That he favors eradication over respectful dialog contradicts his claimed commitment to “reasoned argument that changes minds.”

    Jane, are you a Gnu atheist?

  21. Reddal says:

    I’m not certain how much clearer the justification for the “militant” label attached to New Atheism can be. One NEED NOT BE VIOLENT OR GENOCIDAL to be “militant” in support of a cause, only aggressive and perhaps uncompromising in achieving one’s goals, and a critical examination of New Atheism’s arguments and the tactics of its most vocal proponents support the description of new Atheism as such. I’m sorry, Jane, if you cannot separate the negative emotional implications of the word “militant” from the definitions sourced by Michael above, and are thus reluctant to accept the label, but given the reasoned explanation provided you cannot simply dismiss the “militant” label as mere emotional rhetoric by theists upset with New Atheism.

  22. Michael says:

    Jane,

    Since I will be going back to being busy, let me summarize my observations. While you may want/need to believe there is some sinister, irrational cause behind the use of the word ‘militant’ to describe New Atheists, I have relied on reason to show otherwise.

    First, the definition that I and others use (where others include atheists and agnostics) is simply the mainstream definition that has been cited in the blog entry. It is perfectly appropriate, both ethically and rationally, to use words in the way that most people use the word.

    Since you have not made the case that Wikipedia, these dictionaries, and the majority of people are wrong, the only question that remains is whether or not the Gnu atheists fit these descriptions. I think it obvious that they do. Gnu atheists are extreme, combative, and aggressive activists when it comes to their Cause. They view religion as one of the world’s greatest evils and have rallied around The Cause to rid the world of religion. Their position is so extreme that they shun atheists who do not subscribe to their culture war. Their primary tactics are propaganda, mocking and ridicule, and spreading anti-religious memes.

    Now, if you don’t want to refer to the Gnu atheists as militant, that is your right. Where you err is in thinking that no one else should refer to them as militant. For I have shown that the use of that term is supported by reason and evidence. It is perfectly rational to notice the militancy of Gnu atheists.

    It’s clear to me you don’t like this because you are afraid of the negative connotations that come with militancy. But none of your arguments ever get beyond your own personal dislike. Instead, they are all nothing more than attempts to shame me or embarrass me for using that term. Let’s have a look.

    First, you try to make the connection between people who use the term ‘militant’ and racists:

    One of the common criticisms leveled against Dr. King was that he was too militant — “Why so pushy?” “Why right now?” “Why make so much noise?”. Naturally, the establishment preferred quiet blacks who kept to themselves and didn’t make waves.

    Then you try to make it look like the use of the term “militant” is just a way to avoid the Gnu atheist’s Powerful Arguments:

    If you don’t explain what you are opposing about Coyne’s position then your strategy to call him ‘militant’ gives the appearance of being a ploy to avoid talking about the substance of his position.

    Then you try to posture as some type of victim while engaging in character assassination against me:

    I do not know why you are being hostile towards me, or what you aim to accomplish by that. …I can tell that you don’t like certain people, but you haven’t explained why. Even conceding that Coyne is ‘militant’ doesn’t communicate why that is a bad thing.

    When none of that works, you try to discourage the use of the term by implying it signals my own desperation:

    I said that ‘militant’ ‘can be good’, but I was referring to the fact that it indicates the weakness of the group using the term (“ploy to avoid talking about the substance”). In the context of nonviolent protest, if your opponent calls you ‘militant’ then that means you are winning. It means the opposition lacks a substantive rebuttal, falling back to guilt by word association.

    Then you posture as if no justification has ever been given for using the term:

    The term ‘militant’ has almost universally negative connotations. There must be some reason that you really want to use that term as opposed to a more neutral term like ‘activist’ or ‘outspoken’. Indeed that reason still remains unclear. What justifies using a negative term, in your mind?

    Finally, you try to discourage the use of the term by spinning it as “name-calling”:

    As explained before there is a second prong here, which is that name-calling does not actually serve your Cause even if we grant that the term is accurately applied. …You have to explain why Coyne is wrong rather than resort to name-calling, *even if* you think you can justify the name-calling.

    So as everyone can see, nowhere do you show the standard definitions to be wrong and nowhere do you show that it is irrational to apply the term “militant” to the Gnus. You have not been able to make the argument, “There is no way Coyne or Dawkins or Myers could be considered militant because……” Thus, you have failed to discredit my position. Instead, your entire approach has been psychological warfare – trying to discourage others from uttering the term by likening them to racists, name-callers, and desperate people who are afraid of the Poweful Gnu Arguments. You posture as if no justification has been given and as if you and the Gnus are being victimized. So while my position has been rooted in reason and evidence, you have sidestepped the substance of my position and have been engaged in hand-waving and psychobabble.

  23. TFBW says:

    Re Coyne’s sort-of-backpeadal on “eradication”: it’s one of those generally human responses, when one is accused of being X, and one happens to dislike (or one professes to dislike) X, that one defends oneself with, “oh, no, I’m not Y,” where Y is a more extreme species of X. Coyne thinks he’s not militant because he can think of plenty of examples of militancy more extreme than his own. Jane Ankh seems to follow a similar pattern of reasoning: militancy is that which is militant relative to the behaviour of the people one respects.

  24. Jane Ankh says:

    Jane, are you a Gnu atheist?

    Be assured that I have noticed your efforts to shift the discussion towards me, and I’ve been charitably ignoring them until now. Attacking the person is a well-worn tactic, but before now I haven’t seen it employed as the sine qua non of an entire blog. You narrowly focus upon personal attacks and upon deciphering the thought states of your opponents, while arguments of any relevance are nearly entirely absent.

    In this light I’ve been trying to get you to focus on the facts — to tell me the facts from which you have drawn your conclusions. This has resulted in you giving a false statement — that it is a fact that there is a consensus among agnostics and atheists that Gnu atheists are militant — along with quote-mined quotes accompanied by attempted justifications for quote-mining.

    Perhaps you don’t realize how easy it is to play the quote-mining game, no matter what side you are on. Let’s take the example of your false statement:

    “You need to deal with the fact that there is a consensus among theists, agnostics, and atheists that the Gnu Atheists are militant.”

    I repeatedly asked for proof of this “fact” — facts are facts, right? However you gave none and avoided directly admitting making a mistake. Instead, you “reword” the quote “for the purposes of clarity”. But why can’t I parade around your false claim and ignore your rewording? I announce that you are a liar, and as proof I just produce the quote. I can point to your quote and say,

    “The quote comes with no qualifications. Given that Michael is an intelligent man who is very good, and very practiced, with choosing and using words, I will take his claim at face value — he thinks it is a fact that there is a consensus among agnostics and atheists that Gnu Atheists are militant, or otherwise he is simply lying.”

    You want me to accept the clarification you gave for your quote, but you reject Coyne’s own clarification of his quote. So not only do personal attacks accomplish nothing, and not only does quote-mining accomplish nothing, the cunning hypocrisy behind the attacks make them worse than nothing.

  25. Michael says:

    Be assured that I have noticed your growing, stalker-like obsession with me, and I’ve been charitably ignoring it until now. Attacking the person is a well-worn tactic and is the sine qua non of all of your comments. And by “your comments,” I’m not just to referring to those of Jane Ankh, but also the three other socket puppets you have used on this blog. Your objective, it would seem, is to try to use multiple personas to convince other readers here that I am an evil person. That would explain why every time I raised a substantive argument, you and your socks are not interested.

    I would remind you once again that the use of the term ‘militant’ is not some personal attack. Those of us who know how to reason understand this. I have shown it is perfectly appropriate, both rationally and ethically, to use the term when describing New Atheists. And you have failed to show otherwise.

    So you have sought to turn me into the topic, desperately trying to spin things as if I am “quoting-mining” and guilty of hypocrisy.

    Nonsense.

    You seek refuge in the “quote-mining” accusation simply because you think we are all supposed to read Coyne’s mind to see clearly that he only wants to make it illegal for Muslims to give their children a religious upbringing. Unlike you, I am not willing to put those words in his mouth. As for your misguided complaints about hypocrisy, they are rooted in your weird notion that I reject Coyne’s footnote. I do not reject it, as I am happy to believe that Coyne does not want to see genocide committed against Christians.

    I’m sorry Jane, but your militancy and stalker-like obsession have clouded your ability to reason and perceive evidence. When someone writes that religion is evil, needs to be eradicated, and they want it to be illegal to raise children with religion, that is militancy. And according to Coyne’s definitions, this is something that science has shown.

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