It may go down as one of the shortest-lived peace accords on record

The following article recently appeared on the Washington Post’s website: Richard Dawkins: Atheism’s asset or liability?

We learn some of the context behind in the latest flare-up in The Atheist Wars, namely, the fights have been so mean and vicious that the leaders of the two sects tried to hash out an “agreement.”

It may go down as one of the shortest-lived peace accords on record.

Late last month, two heavy-hitters within organized atheism, activist Ophelia Benson and scientist Richard Dawkins, reached a detente of sorts about online debate and posted it on their separate websites.

“Disagreement is inevitable, but bullying and harassment are not,” the statement reads. “ If we want secularism and atheism to gain respect, we have to be able to disagree with each other without trying to destroy each other.”
Before the virtual ink was dry, Dawkins had stepped in it again.

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse,” Dawkins said on Twitter, where he has almost 1 million followers. “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.” Another tweet applied the same logic to “mild date rape” and “violent date rape,” and still another compared “mild pedophilia” and “violent pedophilia.”

Gotta love that atheist sense of morality.

The article has quotes from various atheists:

But the unfortunate reality is that newspapers and other big media outlets have been making him into the major face of organized atheism — and it’s creating an image of us that turns a lot of people off.”

On the other hand, Dawkins seems to embody everything that people dislike about atheists: He is smug, condescending and emits an unpleasant disdainfulness. He doesn’t ever seem to acknowledge the good aspects of religion, only the bad. In that sense, I think he doesn’t help atheism in the PR department.

In his two or three recent Twitter combats, the most striking thing is he does not listen to anyone except his fans, no matter how reasonably things are put

“I’m a fan of Richard Dawkins. I know he means well. But damn, it’s annoying having to defend him. More importantly, I shouldn’t have to!”

Anyway, the reason I keep bringing these Atheist Wars to you attention is because they contain two important lessons:

1. It is interesting to note that atheists become annoyed and offended when Dawkins “does not listen to anyone except his fans, no matter how reasonably things are put,” yet this is the very same trait that most atheists display when dealing with religious people. Atheists think it is okay to mock and attack religious people, but when the same approach is used against another sect of atheists, suddenly we have a problem. Such primitive tribalism.

2. Atheists posture as if they champion reason, evidence, and science. But if that was true, why do the Atheist Wars even exist? Why can’t all these people, who are supposedly committed to reason, evidence, and science use reason, evidence, and science to arrive at a peaceful consensus. They have had years to do this, yet the Atheist Wars continue. All I see are two sects of atheists using reason, evidence, and science to suport their own side and attack the other side.

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14 Responses to It may go down as one of the shortest-lived peace accords on record

  1. TFBW says:

    Atheists think it is okay to mock and attack religious people, but when the same approach is used against another sect of atheists, suddenly we have a problem. Such primitive tribalism.

    Spot on.

    All I see are two sects of atheists using reason, evidence, and science to suport their own side and attack the other side.

    I don’t. I see two sects of atheists engaged in a huffy verbal brawl, each taking great offence at the other’s remarks, while it’s not even clear that there is a concrete proposition in dispute. You can’t use reason without something to reason about. It’s a schism based on personalities rather than ideologies: all style and no substance.

    Ah, for the day when we can finally abolish religion, and live in peace, love, and harmony like these guys. Seriously, at the rate they’re going, they will overtake the Church in terms of net doctrinal division and in-fighting by the middle of this century — the Church’s two thousand year head start notwithstanding.

  2. Martin Tuelay says:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/08/10/richard-dawkins-is-still-an-asset-to-the-atheist-movement/

    Don’t let the title fool ya – even Atheists are tired of apologizing for Dawk’s 140 word meltdowns.

    Sooooo…. If the best you can do is give twice-weekly updates on an internet handicap, maybe it’s time to start a new project?

    @TFBW you see ‘2 sects of Atheists…’ While we see over 40,000 sects that disagree on how God should be interpreted.
    Seriously. When there is only one God left, with one sect, and all followers agree on what God said, get back to me. Until then, it’s 40,000 voices telling all the others they are wrong, with short asides to tell Atheists how evil they are.

  3. Michael says:

    Don’t let the title fool ya – even Atheists are tired of apologizing for Dawk’s 140 word meltdowns.

    LOL. It looks like Dawkins chewed out the “Friendly” atheist on some private email list and now the “friendly” atheist is trying to do some damage control.

    Sooooo…. If the best you can do is give twice-weekly updates on an internet handicap, maybe it’s time to start a new project?

    Yes, I know – it distresses you when some of us critical thinkers notice the behavior and thinking of the New Atheists.

  4. Martin Tuelay says:

    If I’m so distressed, why do I come here and read every post, yet I’ve made one comment in 3-4 months? I come here to laugh at your kicking a dead Dawkins. Patheos only posts on his stupid shit every couple weeks – you got the on follow and hover over your ipad waiting for a buzz alert. I dumped twitter over a year ago so I depend on you for Dawk tweets. I love watching any person lose their marbles, especially in this virtually-updated world.
    You won’t believe me when I say that reading Dawkins forced me to rethink many aspects of my life, including me to dive into the discussion of morality. Because of him I started reading a lot more, and a lot more on the history of culture and man. I’m am much less of a ‘lazy Atheist’ now, thanks to Dawk.
    But damn he says some stupid-ass shit these days.

  5. Michael says:

    I don’t. I see two sects of atheists engaged in a huffy verbal brawl, each taking great offence at the other’s remarks, while it’s not even clear that there is a concrete proposition in dispute. You can’t use reason without something to reason about. It’s a schism based on personalities rather than ideologies: all style and no substance.

    I think there is ideology involved. Dawkins represents the hedonistic wing of the atheist movement, translating no God into free sex. Recall that Dawkins wrote an article arguing that wives need to get over their primitive feelings of jealousy if their husbands have an affair. The other side represents the hyper-feminist morality that is entrenched at universities.

  6. Martin Tuelay says:

    At the risk of sounding like I’m giving you a straight line of BS:
    My mother was a feminist who ran for a state seat on the ERA platform in the mid70s; I’m also a confirmed Hedonist (my unpublished ‘The Bards of Hedonism is a cell comic strip about life in Vegas for 3 young guys…digress) who took a vow of celibacy in 2003.

    Overall point: Atheists, as a group, thrive on our diversity, because once you say ‘no to God’, everything else is up to you.

  7. ccmnxc says:

    It’s remarkable then how few vocal atheists seem to accept that diversity and would rather fall right into line with Cult of Gnu figureheads like Dawkins, Meyers, and Coyne. If they have so much of this freedom available to them, and they reject it in spades, do I get to start calling them brainwashed or bastions of groupthink in the same way they do to theists?

  8. sevav says:

    I never thought the day would come when I’d find myself defending an ignoramus like Dawkins in any context, but all he was saying essentially was that some crimes are worse than other crimes. There is nothing incorrect about that claim. Moreover, it is essential to any sane legal system, in that the “punishment must fit the crime” in such a system, which presupposes a spectrum of severity.

    There are a lot of things to criticize Dawkins for, but this isn’t one of them.

  9. Kevin says:

    I think the point of the “2 sects” wasn’t so much to hilight a division so much as to point out that if atheists like Dawkins can’t use reason and evidence to form a consensus on this, then why should anyone take their word that using reason and evidence leads to rejecting belief in God? It seems to me, and rational people everywhere, that they simply have an opinion and think so highly of themselves that they confuse their opinion with objective fact.

    I know some good atheists. They have opinions I disagree with obviously, but they also understand that people can disagree with them without being mentally deficient. It’s these atheists like Dawkins and Harris and Myers and Boghossian, who love to throw around words like delusional, irrational, unreasonable, “faith monsters”, and nonsense like that, while describing themselves as “people of reason”, that we find to be so hilarious and pathetic.

  10. Martin Tuelay says:

    The ‘division’ you refer to is necessary – it shows that Atheists _don’t_ simply follow one leader (or a few). When Atheists disagree, we hash it out or agree to disagree. But when those within a Church disagree, a group splits and forms a new sect.
    I’m not aware of 2 sects ever realigning, but the original RCC has split over 41,000 times in 2,000 years. Disagree? Split and reform. There is only _one_ form of Atheism with one (non) belief. There are 3 major forms of Montheism, with 5 major Holy texts (splitting OT and NT, and the Christian Bilble alone has 12-15 major accepted English interpretations), countles sects and variations…. I’m not saying your God and how you worship Him and on what day(s) is wrong, I can just accept that you are right or that your judgment of me has any weight.

  11. Kevin says:

    Atheism Plus anyone? I’m not at all defending how Christians can’t seem to coexist with people who disagree on the meaning of Scripture. I had a study group break up over the meaning of a single verse. My point is that all evidence seems to indicate atheists as a group are not any better at using reason to form beliefs than theists, because otherwise they would agree on virtually everything and not simply be united by not believing in God. And if they can “agree to disagree” on issues other than religion, they should be able to do the same with religious people. And if they acknowledge that reasonable minds can differ on topics other than religion, then there is no rational reason to not extend that acknowledgement to religion as well.

  12. TFBW says:

    @Martin Tuelay:

    When there is only one God left, with one sect, and all followers agree on what God said, get back to me.

    Why? Because that agreed position will be true? I doubt you believe that, and I wouldn’t respect you if you did. Does your ongoing harping about the number of different religious beliefs that exist in the world actually have any bearing on anything, or is it simply inane, childish jeering? Rhetorical question, that: I have enough evidence to answer it for myself.

    @Michael:

    I think there is ideology involved.

    And I’m certain that you’re right about that, but you have to infer it by reading between the lines. To put it another way, can you say what, exactly, Dawkins has said that everyone is disagreeing with? I can’t. One must appeal to the manner or context in which it was said, rather than the actual propositional content.

    As such, it’s not a difference over a point of doctrine, but rather a rhetorical attack across implied ideological lines, lightly shrouded in a smokescreen of logic and reason. Dawkins presents an uncontroversial principle — that, “X is bad, Y is worse,” does not constitute an endorsement of “X” — then deliberately illustrates it with examples which certain people will find offensive, making it abundantly clear that he deems the people so offended to be irrational and worthy of contempt. This is treatment he usually reserves for theists, to much approval from his fellow New Atheists.

    The ideological line across which this shot is fired is fairly clear. A target of the shot defends her objection like so:

    See, I could do this all day, using only examples that are much clearer than invoking touchy issues that are touchy precisely because a lot of people actually deny—and spend a whole of time and effort denying—that the bad things are actually all that bad. Indeed, it’s particularly weird to pull on date rape in an environment where a prominent Washington Post columnist is on the record pulling exactly this trick of implying that date rape shouldn’t “count” as rape because it’s supposedly not as bad as “real” rape. We live in a world where the terms “rape-rape” and “legitimate rape” have actually been used to suggest that only the worst of the worst rapes should even be considered criminal offenses at all.

    Dawkins counters like so:

    I was trying to say something about logical thinking, but that logical point doesn’t raise it’s silly head in neutral cases like X and Y and in cases like giving somebody a slap around the face as distinct from breaking their nose. It doesn’t raise its head with that. It does raise its head when you’re talking about rape and pedophilia and possibly nothing else. Therefore, I wanted to make the point that we are rationalists, we are humanists, we are skeptics, we are atheists. Why have we allowed these two topics of rape and pedophilia to deprive us of our normal logical reasoning?

    Ophelia Benson responds:

    We haven’t. Everybody gets the trivial point that “not as bad as” is not the same as “good.” Everybody. We get it. What we don’t get is what the point was of using rape and pedophilia to “provoke” people. The answer to that is not a matter of logic.

    I agree entirely that it’s not a matter of logic. Dawkins is not a master of logic (despite his frequent suggestion that it’s second nature to him) but a master of rhetoric. In this case, he has deliberately made an uncontroversial general claim as offensive as possible, and implied that any feelings of offence that one might experience in response to it are indicative of an inability to think rationally. He’s been using dirty rhetorical tricks like this for decades against theism. I can only hope that the atheists who have been targeted by this will recognise it as the same tactic he employs when he accuses religion of being socially above criticism.

    It’s a vain hope, I think: the general reaction seems to be one of, “he used to make so much sense, but he’s past it now.” In reality, the only thing that’s changed is his choice of targets.

  13. The Deuce says:

    Mike:

    I think there is ideology involved. Dawkins represents the hedonistic wing of the atheist movement, translating no God into free sex.

    Actually, that’s both wings of the atheist movement. Notice the feminatheists constant railing against the supposed evils of “slut-shaming.” It’s all a bunch of skanks trying to justify their sexual license and insisting that the consequences are unfair. The disagreement revolves around the fact that sexual license with no consequences for women conflicts with sexual license with no consequences for men – at least for a man like Dawkins who can parlay his social prestige, rhetorical adeptness, and leadership role (at least within the narrow confines of his movement) to attract women and get laid.

    A pudgy, squirrelly, dweeby, socially awkward guy like PZ Myers is at the bottom of the sexual hierarchy, and as such he’s incapable of benefiting from the hedonistic male lifestyle like Dawkins is, so his best bet for getting attention and validation from women is to kiss the asses of the feminists in the movement.

  14. Rabbit says:

    “I never thought the day would come when I’d find myself defending an ignoramus like Dawkins in any context, but all he was saying essentially was that some crimes are worse than other crimes. There is nothing incorrect about that claim. Moreover, it is essential to any sane legal system, in that the “punishment must fit the crime” in such a system, which presupposes a spectrum of severity.

    There are a lot of things to criticize Dawkins for, but this isn’t one of them.”

    I agree that some crimes are more severe than others, yet I don’t think this is the case in the examples he has given.

    While I haven’t experienced rape, in my mind, it would have been more traumatizing to be raped by my boyfriend, someone I trusted dearly, back when we were dating more so than being raped by a total stranger at knife point. Both would be horrible, for sure, but the first scenario would leave a lasting feeling of betrayal by a loved one. So, for me personally, date rape would be worse, but it may not be for everyone.

    Despite claiming he is all about logic and reason, Dawkins has zero evidence that one of the above forms of rape is “worse” than the other or more traumatizing to the victim. He simply feels that the stranger rape at knife point would be worse for him, and therefore believes everyone else should feel the same. This is not logical thinking. He’s also basically telling date rape victims that their rape “wasn’t as bad” as someone raped by a stranger with a knife, and if the date rape victim believes otherwise, they’re “illogical” and “need to learn how to think.” This is both an absurd and cold comment to make to people who have experienced such an event.

    If he wanted to illustrate that some crimes are worse than other, surely a much better example would be something like having your purse stolen vs. being flayed alive, rather than using subjective rape scenarios.

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