Once Again, New Atheists Pretend to Know What They Don’t Know

Edwin Lyngar promotes a new book in a blog entry entitled “Christian right’s rage problem: how white fundamentalists are roiling America.” The book being promoted actually has the following title: To the Far Right Christian Hater … You Can Be a Good Speller or a Hater, But You Can’t Be Both: Official Hate Mail, Threats, and Criticism From the Archives of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.”

Yes, that is a real book title. 😉

The book was written by Bonnie Weinstein. Lyngar explains it as follows:

Married to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the author has collected and annotated a sampling of the hate mail the foundation has received over the past few years. This hate mail is not trolling or anonymous “Internet comments.” The letters are specific and threatening and most often include a return address or email. The Weinsteins’ home has been vandalized — many times — and the family has had to take serious and expensive security measures. It’s no joke. As I read the book, curled up on my couch, my wife kept asking if I was OK. My face was fixed in an expression of horror and disbelief as I read the rage, hate and cruelty cataloged on every page. Bonnie has uncovered a shocking reality: Self-professed Christians deny the fundamental humanity of other people they don’t even know.

Oh my. A book, from an activist organization, filled with hate mail from “Christians.” Lyngar informs us about this hate mail:

I will spare you, dear reader, actual excerpts from the book. Instead I will summarize almost every letter: The MRFF hates America, Weinstein is a dirty Jew who deserves to be raped / murdered / skull-fucked, some truly awful sexual filth directed at Bonnie, fuck-shit-fuck, cocksucker, and Jesus is Lord. Frankly, I’m downplaying it a lot. Bonnie adds commentary and worked with an artist to create some fun illustrations to give the book structure, and the letters get worse as toward the end of a book, reflecting real life.

As we might expect, atheist activist Jerry Coyne is helping to promote the book:

And they call atheists “strident” and “militant”! How many atheists have written hate mail en masse to religious figures like Joel Osteen, William Lane Craig, or even Pat Robertson? I venture to say that none of those people could compile a book like this one. There is no hater like a Christian.

I have a problem with all of this. As one who values critical and scientific thinking, I cannot get past the simple fact that there is no evidence all of this hate mail, or even most of this hate mail, came from people who would call themselves Christians. The only evidence to support this hypothesis is the wording of the letters themselves. In other words, the letters are supposed to sound like they came from raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians. Yet this sliver of evidence only exists if we have the willingness to take these letters at face value; we must accept on faith that the letters are legitimate. Yet there is an equally plausible alternative explanation – most of this hate mail comes from atheists trying to sound like raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians. In other words, street theater to help further their agenda by a) making atheists look like victims and b) reinforcing their negative stereotypes and portrayals of Christians.

Since the wording of the letters can be explained by real raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians or atheists pretending to be raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians, we need independent, supportive evidence.

Lyngar is clearly not much of a journalist, as he never asks for such supporting evidence, thus has none to offer. The very best he had was this:

This hate mail is not trolling or anonymous “Internet comments.” The letters are specific and threatening and most often include a return address or email.

That the letters are “specific and threatening” tells us nothing about their legitimacy, as hoaxsters can easily send “specific and threatening” letters. That most often include a return address or email again is meaningless. Lyngar does not tell us if any of these return addresses or emails are legitimate. A hoaxster can easily make up a fake email address or fake real-world address. A hoaxster can even put someone else’s real-world address on an envelope. So none of this counts as evidence.

Given there is no evidence that the majority of this hate mail is coming from people who consider themselves to be theists/religious, we should consider the equally plausible alternative explanation whereby most of the mail comes from a community of atheist trolls and activists.

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40 Responses to Once Again, New Atheists Pretend to Know What They Don’t Know

  1. You don’t seriously believe this conspiracy theory I think. Do you think WorldNetDaily is made up too? Obama is Muslim conspiracy people? Christian loons are a dime a dozen.

  2. GeoffSmith says:

    Christian loons exist, but so do non-Christian ones. Did you see Zeitgeist?

  3. TFBW says:

    What is the purpose of this book? Who is the target audience? Why would anyone collect together the nastiest examples of vile ranting that they have received, claiming to be from Christians? It’s clearly not targeted at the “far right” which it pretends to address. But who on earth would want a book full of abusive, unintelligent ranting which makes Christians look bad? What sort of warped personality wants to gorge himself on that kind of dross?

    I suppose it might serve as humour for some, but it’s a warped sense of humour that takes gleeful pleasure in seeing a particular demographic (real or not) worked up into an angry, ranting lather. Or is it chiefly just a propaganda tool — a presentation of one’s ideological opponents in the worst possible light, to bolster one’s sense of justification and righteousness at being opposed to them?

    Jerry Coyne says:

    How many atheists have written hate mail en masse to religious figures like Joel Osteen, William Lane Craig, or even Pat Robertson? I venture to say that none of those people could compile a book like this one.

    As Michael has suggested, it seems that a lot of those atheists would prefer to impersonate an angry Christian and write to Richard Dawkins or similar, where their rant will be displayed like a trophy in a collection. But Coyne thinks that atheists don’t vent at religious figures? Really? I suggest that any Christian organisation which takes a stance on an issue like creation, abortion, or homosexual marriage will find itself the target of some pretty ripe anti-theist ranting. Indeed, from what I’ve seen of it, I’m sure that some of it would make this book look tame in comparison. But try to find examples of such organisations exposing their hate mail at all — let alone compiling it into a book. There seems to be a conspicuous lack of examples.

    Coyne ventures to say that none of those people could compile a book like this one. I venture to say that none of those people would compile a book like it — or at least I certainly hope not — because that would be a really nasty, hateful thing to do.

  4. Michael says:

    No conspiracy theory, Nick. That’s just you relying on your precious straw-men again.

    As GeoffSmith noted, “Christian loons exist, but so do non-Christian ones.” And atheist hoaxsters also exist.

    In the meantime, why not deal with the argument I laid on the table: I have a problem with all of this. As one who values critical and scientific thinking, I cannot get past the simple fact that there is no evidence all of this hate mail, or even most of this hate mail, came from people who would call themselves Christians.

    Don’t you care about evidence, Nick?

  5. Sure there’s evidence: (a) a lot of mail, (b) claiming to be from Christians, (c) to an organization, MRFF, whose existence offends many of the cruder sort of Christians, (d) as documented by regular hyperbolic outrage against MRFF by right-wing Christian thought leaders and organizations like WorldNet Daily, who you apparently agree are not an atheist conspiracy, plus (e) writing and mailing physical letters takes a lot more effort than casual spoofs in the comments sections of blogs, which can be done almost instantaneously, and gets almost instant reactions, whereas mail just goes off into the blue and almost always results in no reaction, (f) sure, some of the hate mail could be spoofs, but all of it, or even a substantial portion? And, (g), when I worked at NCSE, we got similar hate mail fairly regularly, so it seems plausible to me, especially with an organization that is more in-your-face and involved with an institution that is emotionally fraught to a great many people, especially amongst the right (the military).

    Basically, your position is wildly implausible based on the all of the general evidence currently available, and demanding some kind of detailed investigation (how? go knocking of the doors of people who mailed them death threats?) before believing that the basic story is plausible is just unreasonable.

    Furthermore, even your commentators here are responding with “atheists do it too”, which is a reaction that accepts that some Christians are regularly doing such things.

    There are various other well-known examples of nutso freakouts from the religious right resulting in death threats, e.g. the Erik Pianka affair from 2006 (google Matzke Pianka). So, your skepticism is unreasonable here, and, actually, is an unskeptical position — almost certainly you are just trying to dodge the uncomfortable fact that there is a wing of the Christian population that pretty much reflects the complaints that the atheists have about Christians and religion. (Of course this is different than saying these complaints reasonably apply to all Christians or all religious people, which I would reject, and which many prominent atheists are insufficiently careful about, as they are fighting their own emotional/ideological battles.)

  6. Michael says:

    Nick,

    When it comes to the letters (real-world and email), there are three plausible explanations for their existence:

    1. They were written by real raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed people who think of themselves as Christians
    2. Atheists pretending to be raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians.
    3. Mentally disturbed individuals.

    Weinstein and Coyne come to us insisting that all letters are explained by #1 so they can then make a (conveniently) larger socio-political point.

    I am pointing out there is no evidence to support that contention and we could just as easily argue that #2 explains the existence of most of the letters.
    Or let me rephrase it. Most of the hate mail Weinstein has received means simply that Weinstein has been regularly Poe’d.

    Would you care to explain to the readers what it means for an atheist to be “Poe’d?”

  7. Luis says:

    There are plenty of religious and atheist nutjobs to go around. No need to invent them, or pose conspiracies about inventing them. Just the other day I found a religious kook making bold claims about a book he hasn’t even read — a book that hasn’t even been released yet. Possibly he was just a troll, but he appeared sincere.

  8. Billy Squibs says:

    Imagine that – somebody with an uninformed opinion. Clearly a nut.

    I will disagree with Michael and suggest it is reasonable to believe that the majority of the hate mail was sent by professing Christians (you shall know them by their fruits). I don’t suppose that Edwin Lygnar etc. would be inclined to grant that these Christians are clearly at odds with the precepts of their faith when they threaten rape, murder, skull-fucks and so on. (Indeed, I would be willing to bet that we would be discussing the Canaanites and what terrible chap God is before long.)

    Like TFBW I think that compiling hate mail into a book is in bad taste because at root it is difficult to not believe that there are some very crass motivations behind its publication. My assumption it that a book like this will appeal to only a small number of people who really do think that the religious are a rotten bunch and they will feel a little righteous indignation or insider thrill each time this is confirmed.

    Still, the professing Christians who sent these letters should really do a lot of self-examination and reflection.

  9. Kevin says:

    Oh I’m sure that Coyne, a scientific type who loves science and thinks scientifically, will accurately include in his promotion that the percentage of Christians sending this hate mail is statistically negligible, and is in no way indicative or representative of Christianity or Christians as a whole.

  10. Kevin says:

    On a serious note, every prominent figure and activist organization receives death threats. Christians and Christian organizations receive them. Atheists and atheistic organizations receive them. Conservatives, liberals, sports stars, Hollywood types, authors, TV personalities…they all receive death threats.

    But since these atheists have demonstrated time and again an unjustifiable and unhealthy confidence in their own cognitive powers, as well as an ironic inability to accurately perceive reality – or a willingness to deceive in order to promote their irrational, anti-religious agenda – I can only assume that they are writing this book because they feel they are special somehow, or that the Christian population is especially EEEEEEEEEVIIIILLL. Neither has any basis in fact.

  11. Michael says:

    Nick: Basically, your position is wildly implausible based on the all of the general evidence currently available,

    And what exactly is my position? Hmmmm. I have an idea. How about we both read what I wrote:

    I have a problem with all of this. As one who values critical and scientific thinking, I cannot get past the simple fact that there is no evidence all of this hate mail, or even most of this hate mail, came from people who would call themselves Christians….Since the wording of the letters can be explained by real raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians or atheists pretending to be raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians, we need independent, supportive evidence.

    Willing to walk the extra mile, I tried to explain it from a different angle:

    1. They were written by real raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed people who think of themselves as Christians
    2. Atheists pretending to be raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians.
    3. Mentally disturbed individuals.

    Weinstein and Coyne come to us insisting that all letters are explained by #1 so they can then make a (conveniently) larger socio-political point.
    I am pointing out there is no evidence to support that contention and we could just as easily argue that #2 explains the existence of most of the letters.
    Or let me rephrase it. Most of the hate mail Weinstein has received means simply that Weinstein has been regularly Poe’d.

    So exactly how does your “general evidence” render my position “wildly implausible?” Because it feels that way to you? By all means, take one piece of your evidence – “(b) claiming to be from Christians” – and show me how it demonstrates the wild implausibility of my position.
    As for evidence, a quick survey of your “general evidence” indicates you think data that are consistent with a belief are evidence for the truth of that belief. Am I reading you right or is there something more to it?

    and demanding some kind of detailed investigation (how? go knocking of the doors of people who mailed them death threats?) before believing that the basic story is plausible is just unreasonable.

    Huh? Asking for supportive evidence for claims that happen to coincide with your stereotypes is “just unreasonable.”

    Look, I’m not surprised you are bamboozled about the need for supportive evidence and ask, “how?” It’s rather obvious, Nick.
    First, let’s think like a scientist, shall we? Note the following claim:

    The letters are specific and threatening and most often include a return address or email.

    Given that you keep acting like all the mail is snail mail, let’s first ask what % of this hate mail is snail mail? 90%? or 10%?

    Second, with regard to the snail mail, what % of the return addresses are real world addresses?

    With regard to the emails, let’s have the IPs.

    Next, we should ask that given the anti-semitic and threatening nature of some of these letters, have the police ever been contacted?

    Gee, was that hard?

    almost certainly you are just trying to dodge the uncomfortable fact that there is a wing of the Christian population that pretty much reflects the complaints that the atheists have about Christians and religion.

    Ah yes, your stereotypes always did give you the sense of smug, and misguided, certainty.

    I’m not dodging – I’m highlighting a common theme of this blog. Did you forget the wise words of Dawkins?

    Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.

    So why is it okay for you, and other atheists, to engage in this “great cop-out” just when the issues at hand seem to fit your confirmation bias? I simply go along with Dawkins and ask for evidence and you lash out at me.

  12. Michael says:

    Billy: I will disagree with Michael and suggest it is reasonable to believe that the majority of the hate mail was sent by professing Christians (you shall know them by their fruits).

    But I don’t disagree with that. Yes, it is plausible and reasonable to believe that the majority of the hate mail was sent by professing Christians. Yet, it is also plausible and reasonable to believe that the majority of the hate mail was sent by atheist trolls (who like to Poe) and culture warriors. That’s why we need more evidence.

    Remember that according to atheist epistemology, something is only reasonable to believe if the evidence clearly justifies the belief.

  13. TFBW says:

    Nick, I’m a bit shocked by the slipshod state of your evidence. Aren’t you supposed to be somewhat skilled at evidence-based reasoning? Let’s review. First, Michael’s claim.

    … there is no evidence all of this hate mail, or even most of this hate mail, came from people who would call themselves Christians.

    Now, your supporting evidence, and my commentary.

    Sure there’s evidence: (a) a lot of mail,

    The raw quantity is not relevant. The question is what portion is genuine.

    (b) claiming to be from Christians,

    Not relevant: the question is whether the claim was an honest one, or a case of impersonation.

    (c) to an organization, MRFF, whose existence offends many of the cruder sort of Christians,

    Not relevant: you have said nothing about whether it also attracts Poes. At best, you have shown that some of the messages are likely to be genuine. If the organisation also happens to attract a great many Poes (e.g. because they know that this is the sort of organisation that will publish their work), then the majority of messages may still be fake. You have as yet presented no evidence to support any particular ratio of genuine messages: it could be 1%; it could be 99%.

    (d) as documented by regular hyperbolic outrage against MRFF by right-wing Christian thought leaders and organizations like WorldNet Daily, who you apparently agree are not an atheist conspiracy,

    Not relevant: the existence of “hyperbolic outrage” is not in question here. This gets us no closer to estimating a percentage of genuine messages, which is the first thing we need if we are to disprove Michael’s claim.

    plus (e) writing and mailing physical letters takes a lot more effort than casual spoofs in the comments sections of blogs, which can be done almost instantaneously, and gets almost instant reactions, whereas mail just goes off into the blue and almost always results in no reaction,

    Almost always, except on those odd occasions where the recipient decides to make a book out of it, that is. The vagueness and arguable inaccuracy of this remark aside, is it supposed to constitute evidence of a particular ratio? If so, I’m afraid you’ll have to show your working. Are you saying that Poes are lazy relative to outraged Christian rednecks? If so, do you have any evidence to back that claim? Can you quantify it? Do you know what portion of the messages were paper mail? Without details of that sort, this gets us no closer to estimating a percentage of genuine messages.

    (f) sure, some of the hate mail could be spoofs, but all of it, or even a substantial portion?

    Begging the question is not evidence, Nick.

    And, (g), when I worked at NCSE, we got similar hate mail fairly regularly, so it seems plausible to me, especially with an organization that is more in-your-face and involved with an institution that is emotionally fraught to a great many people, especially amongst the right (the military).

    There’s an awful lot of bad reasoning packed into this sentence. First, it’s a single personal anecdote, which is never a solid foundation for a statistically significant conclusion. Second, it’s an anecdote that doesn’t even have any hard figures: it’s just an assertion of subjective plausibility based on a general vibe. Third, you still have no idea what portion of that hate mail was genuine. Fourth, even if you believed (based on your gut feeling) that it was 100% genuine, and you happened to be absolutely right about that, there’s nothing to suggest that the conditions at the NCSE are indicative of the conditions at the MRFF. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but we’d want some evidence that they are before we let one stand proxy for the other.

    In short, this gets us no closer to estimating a percentage of genuine messages.

    In summary, your “evidence” consists entirely of irrelevant observations, hand-waving, question-begging, and assertions of subjective certainty. None of it is even vaguely scientific, and none of it comes remotely close to providing a reasonable estimate as to what portion of the messages are genuine. That being so, I am forced to one of two conclusions. The first possibility is that Michael was right, and “there is no evidence all of this hate mail, or even most of this hate mail, came from people who would call themselves Christians.” In this case, all you have actually done in your response is blow a lot of smoke in the hopes that nobody would notice the lack of actual substance.

    The alternative possibility is that Michael was wrong, and your response does in fact constitute evidence for the proposition in question. That being so, the substance of the evidence is basically an argument from personal incredulity: i.e. you find it really hard to swallow the idea that it’s not mostly real, based on your intuitive mental model of what the world is like. And if that’s what you consider to be evidence, then may I say you have staggeringly low standards in that area.

    So, tell me, were you bluffing, or do you stand by your evidence?

  14. Michael says:

    Almost always, except on those odd occasions where the recipient decides to make a book out of it, that is.

    Not just that. Weinstein’s group has long been happy to share it’s hate mail. They even have a youtube channel where an actress gives the letters a dramatic reading and Weinstein promotes it on his FB page. The MRFF is clearly a poe magnet.

  15. TFBW says:

    A good point. And if Edwin Lyngar is to be believed, publicising hate-mail is not a rare practice among atheist activist groups. From the Salon article:

    Many other secular, First Amendment and civil liberties groups have published examples of hate mail for years.

    He cites the Freedeom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) in particular. On closer investigation, I note that the MRFF has been publishing “Hate Mail Reports” for some time. The current PDF publication isn’t explicitly dated, but the PDF metadata dates it at 25-06-2014. Is the book a more polished version of this report? The introduction to the report contains a couple of interesting tidbits.

    Though some allowances must be made for the passion of the commenters and the web forum through which they submit their comments, many of these messages reveal a shocking lack of education in the English language.

    Apparently all 117 pages of this report are sourced from web-based postings rather than paper mail, for whatever that’s worth. More interesting, however, is the following remark. Most of it is just weasel words saying, “we are well aware that this stuff is not generally representative of our ideological opponents,” but the best part (which I’ve highlighted) is how they rationalise publishing it.

    As you read through the messages in this report, you will glimpse only a subset of our detractors. Not everyone who opposes our efforts is ignorant, violent, and hateful. Many are rational, intelligent people who simply misunderstand our efforts. Many more believe in a relaxed separation of church and state. However, as you will discover, a small subset of the opposition is preparing for a reign of terror in the name of Christianity. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is merely one of their intended victims. Every American is in danger of violent persecution.

    Ah, so that’s their angle in publishing a book like this. It’s not to promote a sense of smug superiority — shame on me for thinking that they might be so petty as that. No, it’s part of their “THE THEOCRACY IS COMING” hysteria campaign. Interesting. It raises the question in my mind, how many Poes out there are impersonating violent Christian rednecks just for giggles, and how many do it for reasons of strategic activism?

  16. Michael says:

    It raises the question in my mind, how many Poes out there are impersonating violent Christian rednecks just for giggles, and how many do it for reasons of strategic activism?

    Exactly!

  17. Dhay says:

    Two of the more obvious reasons why this book was written are: the book and its launch each serve as useful publicity to promote the MRFF and its aims; by vilifying the alleged bad-spelling haters opposed to the MRFF, it vilifies by association all opponents of the MRFF.

    That vilifying your opponents by association is a tactic that some use is nicely shown by Edwin Lyngar’s Salon article. Notionally, its purpose is to publicise the book, but from its emphases it looks like it is principally an attack upon the Christian Right in general, and especially upon presenter Todd Starnes, and is only indirectly about the book.

    The title starts, “Christian right’s rage problem: …” – which by its lack of nuance implies that the entirety of the Christian Right has a rage problem, not the presumably tiny minority who hate-mail the MRFF. Lyngar really doesn’t like the Christian Right, does he.

    The sub-title claims, ”Far-right Christians like Todd Starnes think their nation’s in danger. You won’t believe what they want to do next.” This is immediately followed and reinforced by a prominent photograph of Starnes, thereby hammering home Lyngar’s allegation of a connection between the illiterate hate mailers, and right and far-right Christians in general, and Starnes – who Lyngar evidently detests – in particular.

    From the sub-title and the prominent picture the obvious inference is that Lyngar is accusing Starnes of sending some of those illiterate hate mails himself – the hate-mailers are like Starnes, and Starnes is like the hate-mailers, it declares. It’s a character assassination.

    Near the end of the article Lyngar partly retracts the accusation – though he then immediately substitutes another accusation, one very nearly as bad: “Though you would never hear Starnes use vulgarity and hate speech, he (and many like him) [as “a frequent critic of the MRFF and Bonnie’s husband, Mikey, in particular”] is directly responsible for much of the pain and hate inflected [sic] on people like Bonnie.”

    Lyngar claims Barnes is not indirectly, but “directly responsible”, a precise categorical at odds with the sea of vague waffle it sticks out from, ie “many”, “like him”, “much of”, and “people like”.)

    The message is, the MRFF’s opponents should shut up, they are directly causing (“responsible for”) the hate-mail and poor Bonnie’s distress. Yeah, yeah.

    The title of the book under review, namely, “You Can Be a Good Speller or a Hater, But You Can’t Be Both: …”, is odd; perhaps the publisher chose it for the bad reason that it makes for an attention-catching contrast; as it stands, it makes the dubious claim that correct spelling and hatred are mutually exclusive.

    On the testimony of the book title, and contrary to Lyngar’s claim, the (apparently not a user of complex language, but) literate Starnes cannot possibly be a hater; whereas I note that Lyngar is a Bad Speller, as evidenced by his “inflected [sic] on”, so logically Lyngar can be a hater; Lyngar certainly hates the Christian Right in general, and Starnes in particular, and has sought to vilify them by association.

  18. Dhay says:

    Coyne > And they call atheists “strident” and “militant”! How many atheists have written hate mail en masse to religious figures like Joel Osteen, William Lane Craig, or even Pat Robertson?

    Atheists seem to reserve a lot of their vituperation for other atheists and, being rapidly banned from the blogs of the bloggers they attack, launch their attacks from the safety of a like-minded atheist blogger. See Michael’s recent blog post entitled, “Jerry Coyne’s Blog Attacks PZ Myers”, in which he quotes Coyne,

    “…there’s already an entire blog network devoted to drama, rage, and recrimination.”

    He also quotes PZ Myers’ response,

    I’ve read the comments on Coyne’s blog. He really doesn’t have to work at drama, rage, and recrimination — his commenters do a fine job of that already, with his tacit permission.”

    And Myers’ 24 November 2014 Pharyngula blog entitled, “Right-wing atheism dismantled”, delights that,

    “Glenn Greenwald has a great long piece tearing Sam Harris’s ideas apart. It was so satisfying to see my own opinions reflected with such clarity and reason — I have to agree with it all. Read it. It is a thing of beauty.”

    If you want an illustration of how appalling atheist mails can be when not leashed by moderation, take a look at atheist blogger Rebecca Watson’s “skepchick” December 27, 2011 blog post entitled, “Reddit Makes Me Hate Atheists”, detailing what happened when a 15-year old girl atheist posted in Reddit’s ‘r/atheism’ forum.
    http://skepchick.org/2011/12/reddit-makes-me-hate-atheists/

  19. Dhay says:

    Looks like journalist Glenn Greenwald has recently had illiterate hate-mails from the presumably New Atheist supporters of Sam Harris:

    “Harris himself then wrote about and posted our exchange on his blog, causing a couple dozen of his followers to send me emails. I also engaged in a discussion with a few Harris defenders on Facebook. What seemed to bother them most was the accusation in Hussain’s column that there is “racism” in Harris’ anti-Muslim advocacy. A few of Harris’ defenders were rage-filled and incoherent, but the bulk of them were cogent and reasoned, so I concluded that a more developed substantive response to Harris was warranted.”
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/03/sam-harris-muslim-animus

  20. Dhay says:

    And I see in the article linked above that one of the responses, from BuggBear, includes:

    “When I first dumped the whole supernatural crew 16 years ago, I discovered the Richard Dawkins forum – a Wild West frontier town sort of place, completely unmoderated. Expecting rational discussion, I was shocked to find the most outrageous, pig-ignorant bigotry directed at religion in general and Islam in particular. Many posters were as bad or worse than fundamentalist Christian gobshites, and the target, Islam, was often the same.

    The forum has gone now, replaced by a more curated and restrained website, but from what I read in other forums, those posters and their successors are alive and well.
    http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/22454304

    My emphases. Sounds like there’s plenty of hate-filled trolls around of an ostensibly atheist flavour.

    ‘Nuff said? Not quite – the main article is an excellent one, in which Glenn Greenwald takes Sam Harris to task for being a right-wing anti-Muslim bigot, and does so at great length and with many quotations and links in support of Greenwald’s opinion.

    I see in the 24 November 2014 Pharyngula blog, entitled, “Right-wing atheism dismantled”, that it’s PZ Myers’ opinion also: “Glenn Greenwald has a great long piece tearing Sam Harris’s ideas apart. It was so satisfying to see my own opinions reflected with such clarity and reason — I have to agree with it all. Read it. It is a thing of beauty.”

  21. Allallt says:

    To the premise you of your post: angry letters to atheists could easily be written by atheists to create a fictional victim narrative.
    Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens also claim to get these letters. The Atheist Experience used to get comments like the implied nature of the ones in the book from callers. You are assuming an en mass conspiracy to create and then make public abusive letters and phone calls. I don’t understand how that is a plausible assertion.

  22. Michael says:

    Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens also claim to get these letters.

    Cherry picking, eh? I suggest you read Kevin’s comment:

    On a serious note, every prominent figure and activist organization receives death threats. Christians and Christian organizations receive them. Atheists and atheistic organizations receive them. Conservatives, liberals, sports stars, Hollywood types, authors, TV personalities…they all receive death threats.

    And some of us have looked at Dawkin’s mail:

    I need evidence (make sure you read Dhay’s insightful analysis)

    You are assuming an en mass conspiracy to create and then make public abusive letters and phone calls. I don’t understand how that is a plausible assertion.

    I am not assuming any “en mass conspiracy.” That’s the same dumb assertion Nick Matzke and Luis made. Look, in the mind of Nick, Luis, and Allallt, there can only be two possible explanations:

    1. All the letters are genuine.
    2. There was a mass conspiracy to create and make public abusive letters.

    I understand that atheists need to posture against straw men to maintain their self-perception of intellectual superiority, but this is child think. Over here at the adult table, we recognize many other possibilities that exist between those two extremes.

    I tried to give Nick a glimpse of such possibilities by asking a simple question. But he ran away. So let me ask you the question:

    Would you care to explain to the readers what it means for an atheist to be “Poe’d?”

  23. Allallt says:

    Sorry, that’s what i thought the post was about. What is your post about then?

  24. Michael says:

    Here’s an idea – try something called……”read the post.”

  25. Michael says:

    Allallt,

    Are you willing to acknowledge your defeat?

  26. Allallt says:

    Sorry, both the reply function and notification system doesn’t seem to be working, I had no idea you had replied.
    To be Po’d is to become convinced a person represents a certain position, when in fact they are only pretending to represent that position and are intentionally doing it badly.
    To be a Po is to badly represent a position disingenuously.
    The thing is, a Po is a type of Troll and it requires a large audience to be successful. The idea of sending off private Po letters is a self-defeating premise.
    Also, to assume the letters are Po letters does ‘multiply entities’ i.e. violate Occam’s razor. It’s not a reasonable accusation.

  27. Michael says:

    The thing is, a Po is a type of Troll and it requires a large audience to be successful. The idea of sending off private Po letters is a self-defeating premise.

    Nice try, but as we have shown, the Gnu atheist organizations and leaders love to show off their hate mail. The MFRR is well known for publicly sharing its hate mail. Your objection has been defeated.

    Also, to assume the letters are Po letters does ‘multiply entities’ i.e. violate Occam’s razor. It’s not a reasonable

    No it doesn’t. Po’s exist. And they can come in two forms – 1) the troll looking for laughs and 2) the political activist, looking to damage public perception of Christians.

    Look, from the atheistic perspective, there is nothing wrong with po’ing. From the atheist perspective, it is all upside, no downside. It is not reasonable to ignore the reality of po’ing among the atheists.

  28. Allallt says:

    Are you saying that these are an example of Poes, or simply that it’s possible?

  29. Michael says:

    I spelled it out clearly in the blog entry above:

    I have a problem with all of this. As one who values critical and scientific thinking, I cannot get past the simple fact that there is no evidence all of this hate mail, or even most of this hate mail, came from people who would call themselves Christians. The only evidence to support this hypothesis is the wording of the letters themselves. In other words, the letters are supposed to sound like they came from raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians. Yet this sliver of evidence only exists if we have the willingness to take these letters at face value; we must accept on faith that the letters are legitimate. Yet there is an equally plausible alternative explanation – most of this hate mail comes from atheists trying to sound like raging, ignorant, foul-mouthed Christians.

  30. Allallt says:

    I have serious doubts that they are equally plausible. A Po needs an audience; it’s a lot of effort that a lot of people go through for no guarantee audience (and this effect). Letters are not like YouTube comments.
    I accept that it’s plausible, but not equally so.

  31. Michael says:

    A Po needs an audience;

    Weinstein and the MRFF have made it clear to the atheist community they are willing to provide that audience.

    1. “Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein shares his hate mail with both friends and strangers the way elderly people show off photos of their grandkids.”

    2. The MRFF has a whole YouTube channel devoted to an actress reading the “hate mail.” Weinstein and the MRFF promote this on FB.

    3. The MRFF actually published a book filled with its “hate mail.”

    Clearly, the MRFF has done all it can to ensure Poe’s get an audience.

    it’s a lot of effort that a lot of people go through for no guarantee audience (and this effect).

    What are you talking about? First, Poe’s do not need a guaranteed audience anymore than a fisherman needs a guarantee to fish.
    Second, a “lot of effort?” That’s ridiculous. It probably takes 3-5 minutes for an atheist to Poe. And that would be 3-5 minutes of fun time.

    Letters are not like YouTube comments.

    E-mails are.

    I accept that it’s plausible, but not equally so.

    I see no evidence that indicates one explanation is more likely than the other, thus the reasonable thing to do is assign equal plausibility.

  32. Allallt says:

    What came first: the hate mail or the infrastructure by which the hate mail was given an audience?
    What about the letters makes you assume they are other than they claim? There are hateful Christians who make remarks that could populate hate mail. The only evidence we have that the letters are other than they claim is your assertion. Whereas, in defence of the claim they are what they claim, we have the letters.

  33. TFBW says:

    Whereas, in defence of the claim they are what they claim, we have the letters.

    Great. I take it that you are also willing to accept that the Bible is the word of God, because it says it is?

  34. Michael says:

    What came first: the hate mail or the infrastructure by which the hate mail was given an audience?

    Hard to say. The MRFF is connected to the wider community of skeptics and atheist, and the atheist/skeptic community has a long tradition of publicly sharing its hate mail. Whatever the answer, it’s not relevant since we are not discussing the legitimacy of the First Hate Mail. We are talking about the mail that is the subject of the MRFF’s book.

    What about the letters makes you assume they are other than they claim?

    I don’t have to assume they are other than they claim. I simply note there is a) no evidence the letters are genuine and b) the letters exist as part of a community well known for being Poe’d. It is the MRFF (and people like you and Nick Matzke) who insist the letters are genuine, thus it is your burden to supply the evidence and rule out the alternative explanations.

    There are hateful Christians who make remarks that could populate hate mail.

    And there are Poe’s.

    The only evidence we have that the letters are other than they claim is your assertion.

    You don’t understand critical thinking. You are the one insisting the letters are genuine. I am simply adopting the position of the skeptic. Atheists need to practice what they preach and support their truth claims with evidence.

    Whereas, in defence of the claim they are what they claim, we have the letters.

    That same evidence is just as plausibly explained by Poe’s.

    Look, I realize you have great faith in your stereotypes and want those letters to be genuine. But it’s time to grow up and start acting on your posturing about supporting beliefs with evidence.

  35. Allallt says:

    You said they’re equally plausible possibilities. I explained why they’re not equally plausible (Occams razor). I admitted, freely, that your Poe hypothesis is plausible and asked you why you thought they were equally likely. I never claimed they were genuine.

  36. Michael says:

    You said they’re equally plausible possibilities. I explained why they’re not equally plausible (Occams razor).

    Your explanation failed. Occams Razor would only apply if you could make the case it is highly unlikely the MRFF would be poe’d. Yet the evidence indicates the opposite.

    I admitted, freely, that your Poe hypothesis is plausible and asked you why you thought they were equally likely.

    And I answered, “I see no evidence that indicates one explanation is more likely than the other, thus the reasonable thing to do is assign equal plausibility.”


    I never claimed they were genuine.

    Very good. So you do acknowledge there is insufficient evidence to merit belief that these hate mails are genuine?

  37. Dhay says:

    Allallt > The thing is, a Po is a type of Troll and it requires a large audience to be successful. The idea of sending off private Po letters is a self-defeating premise.

    In my responses to the 05 December “Atheists Sure Seem to Enjoy Their Hate Mail” post, I wrote that Ann Coulter wouldn’t send a private hate e-mail to Richard Dawkins; if this has misled you that anyone has sent a private e-mail to anybody, I apologise for misleading you. I am, however, quite unclear where you got the idea that anyone (Poe or otherwise) had sent someone private hate letters – are you perhaps misleading yourself?

    If you look at Dawkins’ RDF website, it actively solicits mails, and gives the certainty that they will be published – hence get a public audience – in one of three sections: “The good” (mails the moderators like); “The bad” (the politely critical mails the moderators don’t like); “The ugly” (self-explanatory). These mails are not private, are not letters, and (so far as I can tell, all of them) are published and get a public audience. Whether that audience is sufficiently large to achieve enough “success” to repay a troll’s efforts, I do not know; I doubt you, yourself, can know; what I do know is that in general the alleged hate-mail is generally short and often copies memetically from previous mail.

    Dawkins’ “The ugly” page had no new entries in it’s first eight months, from it’s start date of 04 May 2010 through to 12 January 2011; that is, during the period when the “ugly” mail wasn’t given publicity, no new “ugly” mail arrived; it started arriving after the “Hate E-mails with Richard Dawkins” video was uploaded to YouTube on 15 November 2010.

    The 05 December, “Atheists Sure Seem to Enjoy Their Hate Mail”, post shows that if someone sends in an allegedly Christian hate-mail, they can not only get themselves published and publicised in the alleged hate-mail section of the website, but there’s a good likelihood that the worst examples will get taken seriously by the website owner, who will chortle the examples into an online video: for a short and easily composed e-mail, that’s a chain of successes.

    Allallt > Also, to assume the letters are Po letters does ‘multiply entities’ i.e. violate Occam’s razor. It’s not a reasonable accusation.

    Actually, if we were to assume that (all of) the mails are Poe mails, that would surely be simpler than assuming that some of them are Poes, while some others are not; your Occam’s razor rule, if taken seriously, works in the opposite direction than you claim it does.

    You seem to have comprehension difficulties: nobody here has claimed that all allegedly Christian hate-mails received by New Atheist websites are Poes.

    Allallt > There are hateful Christians who make remarks that could populate hate mail.

    Yes, Ann Coulter, for one. Not that she actually sent any hate mail, despite Richard Dawkins’ lying claim in his video. Her remarks were in a book. Do you have evidence that any of the “hateful Christians who make remarks that could populate hate mail” have actually populated hate mail with said remarks, or are you merely assuming it.

    Allallt > The only evidence we have that the letters are other than they claim is your assertion. Whereas, in defence of the claim they are what they claim, we have the letters.

    Perhaps you would re-read my response to the 05 December post, “I Need Evidence”, where I reported that many of the sample of RDF “Ugly” e-mails that I examined were probably Poes, and gave reasons for that assessment. There was internal evidence that many of them were Poes.

    My memory might be fading, but the Dawkins “letters”(?! – why the obsession with “letters”, when electronic mail plainly predominates) generally didn’t claim to be from Christians; are you (generally) merely assuming it.

    Allallt > … a Po is a type of Troll and it requires a large audience to be successful.

    Actually, no; to be successful, a troll just needs to jerk people around, with maximum return for minimum effort. Hmm, might I point out that your responses are much shorter and less thoughtful than the responses in return.

  38. Michael says:

    Perhaps you would re-read my response to the 05 December post, “I Need Evidence”, where I reported that many of the sample of RDF “Ugly” e-mails that I examined were probably Poes, and gave reasons for that assessment. There was internal evidence that many of them were Poes.

    Indeed. That was very good.

  39. Isaac says:

    It’s certainly NOT true that Poe’s wouldn’t be motivated enough to send phony letters, even snail-mail. I’m constantly amazed at the amount of effort and detail atheists online invest in lying/trolling. I’m talking about the kind of dedication people put into their life-defining projects. There’s a widespread “end justifies the means” mentality.

  40. Michael says:

    Agreed. If you check out the Landover Baptist website, a hoax site, you will find a forum section where hundreds of people role-play as extremist fundamentalists. Many people have over 10,000 posts!

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