search
top

Is New Atheism a Cult?

Disprove GodWikipedia says:

New Atheism is a social and political movement that began in the early 2000s in favour of atheism and secularism promoted by a collection of modern atheist writers who have advocated the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”.

A commenter put this link on Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True website this morning on a post about the kid in Texas who got arrested when he brought a clock he’d made to school, because they thought it was a bomb. It seems likely, though all the facts aren’t in yet, that 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was treated as badly as he was because he’s Muslim. Coyne was decrying the appalling way Mohamed was treated. The idea that a child, who had clearly done nothing wrong, was handcuffed, perp-walked, and interrogated without being allowed to contact his parents is horrific.

The link goes to a post on the Vridar blog called Atheism, Cults, and Toxicity. The author, Neil Godfrey, is in the camp that thinks New Atheists like myself are a pretty nasty lot. He has a particular dislike for, among others, Jerry Coyne, and considers that Coyne’s opinions are unjustifiably sympathetic towards Jews and Israel and bigoted towards Muslims. There’s been a fair bit about that on the Vridar site lately, though I confess I haven’t read much of it. I suspect the commenter on Jerry’s site was questioning whether Coyne’s sympathy for Mohamed was genuine, or whether this post was in response to the recent attacks on him – that he’s trying to prove he’s not bigoted towards Muslims. As someone who has been following Coyne’s website for a while, I can attest to the fact there have been several posts in the past that have supported Muslims who have been the victims of bigotry and this post is not unusual in tone or content. Further, Coyne has anti-racism credentials that go back decades. Anyway, so far no-one on Coyne’s site has taken the bait.

Godfrey’s post proposes that New Atheism is a cult. The definition of cult he uses is from the American Family Foundation. They are a group of committed Christians who do outstanding work in the rescue and rehabilitation of people from cults. Their definition of a cult (which I copied from Vridar) is:

  • The group members display an excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment to an individual.

  • The group members are preoccupied with bringing in new members.

  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amount of time to the group.

  • Members are preoccupied with making money.

  • Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give personal goals and activities that were of interest to the group.

  • Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Due to some interactions Godfrey has been having with New Atheists recently, mainly via his blog, he has decided New Atheism is a cult. (A regular commenter on this site has noted in the comments that he has come to agree with him, although he has also noted that he considers I personally do not fit the criteria.) Personally, I think the assertion ridiculous.

Dawkins ScaleIn The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins developed a theistic probability scale, and many atheists define themselves according to this scale. Atheists are a 5, 6, or 7 on this scale. Most who use the word “atheist” are a 6 or 7, but few would claim to be a 7. I’m a 6 on this scale as I don’t think we can know for sure there’s no god, which is the position most atheists, new or otherwise, take.

The important thing to note however, is that being an atheist does not bring with it any belief system whatsoever. There are dozens of analogies for this out there. Here are a few:

  • Saying atheism is a religion is like saying “off” is a TV channel.
  • Saying atheism is a religion is like saying bald is a hair colour.
  • Saying atheism is a religion is like saying not playing golf is a sport.
  • Sating atheism is a religion is like saying not collecting stamps is a hobby.

And so it goes on.

On Coyne’s website, he included a clip from the atheist YouTube channel The Young Turks, where they talk about Mohamed’s arrest. The presenters on that show, Cenk Uygar and Anna Kasparin, are firmly in the anti-New Atheists camp. (Uygar has become known for his criticisms of leading New Atheist Sam Harris.) Their analysis of Mohamed’s arrest is solid, but in the clip they blame New Atheists for the attitude that lead to his arrest. They also, in their non-New Atheist way, say Christians, Jews and Muslims should be able to have their own church courts for minor non-criminal issues if they want to. Live and let live when it comes to religion is their opinion.

But I think they’re dead wrong. Here’s my comment from Coyne’s website:

I’m bugged by TYT [The Young Turks] blaming New Atheists for the attitude to this poor kid. Tens of millions of conservative Christians are suspicious of ALL Muslims, while NAs speak against Islam to a greater or lesser extent in a more general way, but somehow this is the fault of NAs, and in Texas, a bastion of right-wing conspiracy theorists.

I also don’t agree with his support of religious tribunals, whatever the religion. Women and the socially powerless are frequently victims of these. They do not have a choice whether they use them, as he seems to think. Secular justice is, in principle at least, blind, and we should not be sanctioning other forms of justice if they cannot guarantee to operate on the same basis.

I screwed up the grammar a bit, but WordPress comments doesn’t have an edit function, and you’re all smart enough to work out what I mean. (A couple of people made some good responses to what I said too, but I don’t want to put them here without their permission. You can go to this link to see them.) My personal principles mean I can’t just stand idly by when I see others suffer. I think most people are the same. For me, that means when it is religion that is causing the suffering, whatever the religion, I don’t stand by either.

Chomsky on Freedom of Speech

Even New Atheists?

Many people think New Atheists have a particular animus towards Islam, that we are bigoted towards Muslims. This is simply not the case. I think many on the far left have got the issue a bit mixed up with racism. Because a majority of Muslims are people of colour, they think criticism of Islam is racism and they have a gut reaction against racism (which is a good thing of course). Godfrey says this: “Many of the West’s leading thinkers, from Finkelstein to Chomsky, from Gray to Hedges, have publicly denounced New Atheism as “idiotic,” “imbecilic,” and “racist,” but he has come to a different to conclusion to me – he believes the New Atheists really are racist. Further, he seems to think calling New Atheists “idiotic” and “imbecilic” is helpful. Those words aren’t any more useful from a “leading thinker” than they are from a child.

Anyway, back to New Atheism being a cult. The first criterion in the list is, “The group members display an excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment to an individual.” Now there are certainly some people who show excessive admiration towards the leaders of New Atheism. They have a star quality to them in the same way as a movie star or popular singer. That is not any different to any well known person – I’m sure Chomsky has his groupies too. That is not the standard behaviour of atheists though. In fact, Dawkins referred to the saying about trying to organize atheists in The God Delusion – it’s like trying to herd cats. So while you may come across some individuals who get a bit carried away, that’s neither usual nor encouraged.

Godfrey refers to a survey where atheists scored highest in terms of dogmatism. I have no idea whether that survey is a valid one or not and give him the benefit of the doubt there. However, the result is not typical and is possibly an outlier. Dr Phil Zuckerman, who has been studying secularists and atheists for years has concluded that:

“… when we actually compare the values and beliefs of atheists and secular people to those of religious people, the former are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian (Greeley and Hout 2006; Sider 2005; Altemeyer 2003, 2009; Jackson and Hunsberger 1999; Wulff 1991; Altemeyer and Hunsberger 1992, 1997; Beit-Hallahmi 2007; Beit-Hallahmi and Argyle 1997; Batson et al. 1993; Argyle 2000).”

Godfrey also uses the argument that anti-theists were found to be “the third most toxic group on Reddit.” This ridiculous argument raises many questions which we’re not told the answers to. Who took positions one and two? Are they religious groups by any chance? How do they know that all the  anti-theists are New Atheists? New Atheists are not always anti-theists, they’re always anti-theism – there’s a difference. It’s subtle, but it’s important.

The whole article is all about that first criterion, attacking New Atheists as being toxic, and in support of CJ Werleman’s new book, The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists. The other criteria are completely ignored and it’s obvious why – none of them actually apply to New Atheists. New Atheism is not a cult, and the whole idea is a bit silly really.

Tim Minchin on atheism


 

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider donating a dollar or two to help keep the website going. Thank you.



 

355 Responses to “Is New Atheism a Cult?”

  1. Ken says:

    I can barely be bothered to comment on this topic after the last round, but I’ll make a few points and that’s it.

    As a New Atheist who spends most of my blog surfing time arguing with other New Atheists, I find the premiss ridiculous. But I don’t know what goes on on most blogs, as I’ve found so few where these issues can be discussed calmly and without personal attacks and I’m too busy to waste my time. So for all I know, there are people who exhibit these characteristics.

    Another reason I’m sceptical though, is the example of Sam Harris. I’ve said over and over how wrong he is to ignore the role Western interventions have played as a motivation of Islamic violence. But having paid very close attention to what Sam has to say (because I’ve argued with him directly), I don’t think he is a racist and I know that many of his critics are misrepresenting his views on several topics. Sam is a calm and eloquent speaker and it is usually difficult to misunderstand him. Sam feels they must be doing this deliberately, and while I try hard not to assume what people’s motivations are, that is to me the most plausible explanation.

    For example, I watched the whole three hours Cenk Uygar spent with Sam going over the controversies and agreed with nearly all of Cenk’s challenges to Sam’s positions. Yet soon after, Cenk decided to write Sam off as a racist and now mainly resorts to personal attacks. I find that outrageous and unprofessional as Sam certainly didn’t give him cause for this in their talk. This is only one of many examples.

    So when I hear NAs suddenly being called a cult, I’m afraid my first reaction is that it is just another personal attack from people who want an easy way to demonise their opponents. And when it comes from a discredited writer with an axe to grind like CJ Werleman, there’s a strong argument I don’t need to look any further.

    • I watched the whole Uygar/Harris interview too, and although I like Harris, I was never actually against Uygar. It was his reaction after that interview that put me off him, although I still watch TYT sometimes. I think it’s a personal attack too, and I don’t really get where it’s coming from.

  2. Diane G. says:

    Remember that by Dawkins’s own precedent, one can be fractional on his scale–thus, like Richard, I call myself something like a 6.7 (or maybe it’s 6.999999). 😉

    Love the Tim Minchin graphic! So true. 😀 Reminds me of the famous exchange in Broadcast News:

    Paul Moore: It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room.

    Jane Craig: No. It’s awful!

    (Thank you, IMDb.)

    If I thought New Atheism had anything to do with those characteristics of a cult, I’d be disassociating with it so fast there’d be scorch marks. Great write-up as always, Heather. Now off to find Jerry’s.

    • LOL! Forgot about the fractions – I’d be a lot closer to 7 than 6 too. Probably 6.9 too. 🙂

      • AdamK says:

        I’d need somebody to define “god” before I could even begin to use that scale. (If the definition involved an immaterial non-evolved mind, boom! I’m a seven.)

    • rickflick says:

      The Broadcast News quote and Minchin comment make me wonder. I bet many of the religious feel similarly about their faith: everybody else is wrnog. And, that poor bastard who can’t go off to bed yet because someone on the internet is wrnog! I have a high degree of confidence that my position as a New Atheist is essentially correct. But, I have felt the same since I was a teen, which is an isolating feeling.

      • Diane G. says:

        Indeed. I’d say the rabidly religious seldom make any secret about it, while we tend to keep our convictions to ourselves in most social encounters, but that’s definitely something that both groups can be accused of having in common.

        There is, of course, the (not so) small matter of evidence, or lack of same, which seems to put our surety on sounder footing. (Well, duh.)

        Additionally, while I know I couldn’t live with the nonsense I’d have to embrace to be a theist, there have definitely been times that I wished life could be that simple and full of promise. Sometimes the benighted crowds seem much happier, which is what I’ve always read into Jane Craig’s BN response. The blissful supernaturalists who never stopped spake-ing as children must necessarily have a very childish conception of surety; and some of them appear much the cheerier for it.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that while coming to grips with the way the world is does imply a high level of conviction, it does not necessarily imply any concomitant smugness.

        Uh, Minchin’s said this much better.

        I hear you on the “isolating” front, which I suspect has been true for a lot of atheists over the course of their lives–one more reason the idea of us as a cult is ludicrous!

      • Shwell Thanksh says:

        As once put by a character in a John Barnes story:

        “Certainty is a very overrated quality. Certainty is what most people prefer to truth, and it cannot be kept from them.”

  3. Diana MacPherson says:

    It is interesting that those who screech “racist” at Sam Harris or who label all “New Atheists” as “cult members” don’t seem to recognize that they are doing exactly what they accuse Islamophobes (which they also call Sam and the New Atheists) of doing: damning a whole people.

    Do they not realize how damaging and pernicious such behaviour is? Or is it simply okay in their view because they see the opinions of New Atheists as so dangerous that if individuals come to harm, it is ultimately good? I think, most likely, they feel religion should not be criticized but atheism and all atheists should be not only be criticized (I encourage criticism) but publically proclaimed as a great evil.

    • rickflick says:

      Agreed. I think many critics of NA simply have not thought through the harm of religion.
      “If I don’t go to church but my grandmother does, why do you hate my grandmother?”

    • AU says:

      Or, another way of looking at it is, it is interesting that those new Atheists who cry it is unfair to treat all New Atheists as the same are happy to treat all Islamists as the same or all Jihadists as the same or all Muslim terrosists as the same or all Christian Fundamentalists as the same.

      I agree – all New Atheists are not the same, I have said this many times before, but until the New Atheist community start treating Islamists as individuals, Jihadists as individuals, Muslim terrorists as individuals, Christian fundamentalists as individuals, I am not going to lose any sleep if people don’t treat New Atheists as individuals (although I will feel sorry for the good New Atheists who don’t actually label theists as one).

      • TFJ says:

        Of course Jihadists and Islamists are treated the same, at least with regard their religious views. Those are fairly descriptive labels denoting adherence to a dogmatic worldview particularly intolerant to deviance from doctrine.

        • AU says:

          Of course Jihadists and Islamists are treated the same, at least with regard their religious views. Those are fairly descriptive labels denoting adherence to a dogmatic worldview particularly intolerant to deviance from doctrine.

          There are different levels of intolerance, ranging from killing someone to criticising them – why then should we lump them all together? It’s because many of us are happy to label those who we disagree with as one, we find the most worst amongst them, and then label all of them as this worst.

      • Joseph Stans says:

        What the hell is new atheist? Sorry I must have missed something. It sounds like a term made up to give nits something to talk about.

        I’m 70 years old and I have been an atheist the whole time and was raised in a family of atheists that goes back quite a ways. In fact religion, god, etc. was never and is never discussed much like we don’t discuss ice ants, wood fairies and snow weasels.

        • It’s the term used to refer to the Four Horsemen – Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris, and those who support their approach. Also in that group are people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Jerry Coyne, David Silverman, Bill Maher etc. i.e. speaking up for ourselves and against religion where we consider we should.

          There is now a new group of regressive atheists who find any expressed negativity towards religion, especially Islam, to be offensive. They deride the New Atheists. I consider myself a New Atheist.

          • Ken says:

            And then there’s the group of atheists (new and old) who just wish some of the very prominent new atheists (present company excluded) would get a clue about how geopolitics and imperialism actually affects issues like terrorism before they switch their megaphones on.

    • I agree Diana. Criticism is fine, but to condemn a whole group like that is just bigotry, and exactly what they accuse New Atheists of.

  4. Hi Heather,

    Most (I think all) of what you attributed to me in your post was actually quotation from Werleman’s book. If you read my own comment in response to other commenters (posted 4 days ago) you would have seen that I was not endorsing the book and in other comments that I had only read a few pages of the book.

    I believe I made it clear in my post the reason i was quoting those sections from Werleman — that they were in direct response to recent exchanges I and a few others have had over specific topics under discussion with Coyne and related views of Harris and Dawkins.

    That specific topic is one that I think you have avoided any mention of here.

    I believe I also made it clear in my post that what I took issue with was the toxic nature of recent responses I have had from Jerry Coyne over this specific topic and that others have experienced from from supporters of Harris and Dawkins.

    What concerns me — the reason for my post — is that Coyne, Harris, and their supporters fail to acknowledge, even denigrate, the serious scholarly research of anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, and others into the root causes of terrorism, of Islamic and other extremist violence. Often they fan public ignorance and yes, bigotry, by nonsensical claims that fly against all the research — such as “as one believes so one will act”, etc.

    My own background has been in a harmful religious cult and I know the damage that religion can and does cause. I have been responsible for establishing and running a support group to help victims of religion. I have also been outspoken against dangerous cults through publicity campaigns in my local area.

    But I have also been active in seeking dialogue and understanding between religious groups and have been actively involved in arranging public meetings where local Islamic leaders have an opportunity to meet the public and where criticisms and understanding can flourish.

    As for Werleman’s book, yes, I have read a little more of it since my post and he does present evidence that arguably does indeed support his claims about cultish behaviour. But that is for another post — or for simply reading his book. Simply dismissing the argument without bothering to hear it is not the way to a productive exchange. In fact, I did subsequently add a comment linking to Werleman’s justifications: http://vridar.org/2015/09/14/new-atheism-versus-old-atheism-and-what-is-a-cult/#comment-73039

    What has come to concern me about the New Atheist movement after my initial enthusiasm for what they were doing is the actively hostile anti-theistic activism. Of course we cannot stand by while we see religion causing harm — but nor can we flippantly accuse religion of always causing harm with everything it touches. The reasons people turn to religion are complex and unfortunately Coyne, Harris, and co demonstrate a lamentable ignorance on the subject.

    I have posted quite a few times on what the scholarly research specialists have had to say about the relationship between Islam and terrorism because I think this is more profitable than simplistically and often ignorantly blaming religion per se — and I have tried to post what the research has to say about religion itself and its relationship to human behaviour. It’s a little more complex than simply blaming Islam for extremist violence — but if we want to do our bit for encouraging evidence based understanding I prefer to go this way and try to show why Coyne, Harris, and Dawkins are sometimes flat wrong and dangerous — despite all the other good things they say and that I love them for. http://vridar.org/category/terrorism-politics-society/

    I am curious to know why you put the Chomsky quote there — it’s one I also strongly believe in and have referred to repeatedly. Were you seriously intending to suggest I don’t believe New Atheists have a right to be heard because I believe I have a right to debate and criticise them? Seriously?

    • The Chomsky quote wasn’t directed at you, and it’s also one I agree with strongly. If it was directed at anyone, it was directed at him; I’m not sure which of those you referenced called NAs “idiotic” and “imbecilic,” but if it was him, that’s really not a way to encourage debate.

      I’m aware you have a strong difference of opinion with Dawkins/Harris/Coyne on the cause of violence in the ME. That’s something I have been meaning to post on for a while. It should be obvious to all that Islam is not the only cause. Equally, it is a major cause. The difference between your stance and theirs is the extent to which you think Islam is part of the problem. None of them argue that Islam is the only cause but to me it seems that you ignore that part of their arguments and focus only on where they talk of the contribution of Islam. Because you consider their position motivated by bigotry, it seems to me you don’t hear that it’s not the only reason they give (you just give lip service there), or listen to their arguments. Imo there is a hole in your argument about how much of a contribution Islam makes too, which will take a long post to get into. (I’ve been promising this post for weeks. You’re probably unaware that I have a physical disability that severely limits the amount of time I can dedicate to writing, which is why it’s not getting done in a hurry. It’s not time sensitive and it’s not as if the world is waiting for my take.)

      I’m not simply dismissing Werleman’s argument without bothering to hear it. I acknowledged that there are some individuals who can get a bit carried away in their admiration for particular figures. But that’s individual behaviour, not group behaviour. The other criteria given for cults, which I agree with, I simply cannot see how they could ever be applied to New Atheists. I referred to the herding cats thing. Generally those of us who are outspoken about our New Atheism are simply of too independent a mindset to even be at risk of cultish behaviour, let alone joining a cult.

      I see that one of the behaviours that’s being interpreted as cultish is participating a variety of atheist websites, for example, where a majority of others hold similar viewpoints. That is really no different than groups of sites that advocate breastfeeding, or LGBT support, or grey power. No-one is leaving their homes to join a community where they only live with other NAs, don’t interact with non-NAs, give all their money and assets to the group, leave their jobs for New Atheism or any other of the cult behaviours. The idea is ridiculous. Werleman may have tried to make some analogy, but the evidence is just not there.

      I don’t think leading NAs fan public ignorance about Islam, especially in the USA. Most USians ignore anything that comes out of an atheists’s mouth unless they don’t know they’re an atheist. The public ignorance is mostly fanned by right-wing media, and the failure of the left to differentiate between Islam and Islamism. Obama’s failure, for instance, to call Islamist terrorism what it is means too many members of the public think all Muslims are they same. Maajid Nawaz has made some excellent comments relating to that in the past.

      • AU says:

        You’re probably unaware that I have a physical disability that severely limits the amount of time I can dedicate to writing, which is why it’s not getting done in a hurry.

        You still do very well.

        Obama’s failure, for instance, to call Islamist terrorism what it is

        You keep saying this, I thought we had been over this before, but I guess I was wrong, so let me try again.

        (First of all, this might be some good background reading.

        http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2015/feb/22/punditfact-why-obama-wont-label-isis-islamic-extre/)

        A religion, especially one like Islam where many of the beliefs are derived from scriptures (such as the Hadeeth) which are not universally agreed on by it’s followers, is highly interpretative – you cannot simply choose one interpretation, and say that is the “true interpretation of that religion”. Therefore, when we talk about a religion, the position of the majority of the scholars, both past and present, are used to define that religion’s beliefs. If someone has an interpretation that disagrees with the majority, then it is considered to be a fringe or extremist interpretation.
        As the majority of Islamic scholars, both present and in the past, have not justified attacks against civilians, and as these scholars have used scriptures to come to this position, it is perfectly reasonable for one to conclude that in Islam terrorism isn’t justified, and if someone argues that terrorism is justified in Islam, then they are following radical, fundamental Islam. Therefore, if Obama says terrorism isn’t part of Islam, he is right – it isn’t, it is part of radical Islam. Now of course radical Islam is a subset of Islam, but when a subset is very different from the rest of the set, then it is only natural to refer to the subset as a seperate entity.
        For example, if a nationalist from New Zealand went and killed 100 immigrants tomorrow, would it be right to refer to him as a nationalist? Of course it wouldn’t – because the majority of nationalists do not believe in killing immigrants. Therefore, the natural thing is to call him a nationalist extremist. Would it be right to say his murderous rampage was nationalism? No, even though he might love his country and think immigrants coming there will harm it, it wasn’t nationalism that caused him to commit his crimes, it was far-right nationalism.
        This is exactly how Obama sees Islamic terrorists – he thinks it isn’t right to call them Islamic, because he thinks Islam doesn’t justify terrorism, instead, he thinks they are radical Islamists (because he thinks they follow a radical interpretation of Islam).

        • You’ve just agreed with me. I didn’t say he should call them Islamic – that would be wrong, as you say. I said Islamist i.e. extremist. Probably using the actual word extremist would be better for general consumption because the majority won’t hear the difference. The point needs to be made that it’s a fringe, that it’s not all Islam.

          When you fail to mention Islam at all, but everyone knows that the terrorists in the ME are all Muslim, they think all Muslims are like that. If you talk about the issue openly so they understand that most Muslims interpret the Qur’an to mean such behaviour is haram, there will be less bigotry towards Muslims in general and people will be able to focus on the specific issue. They also won’t be so ready to just bomb the f**k out of the place – they’ll start to recognize that most of the millions stuck in DAESH territory, for example, aren’t supporters of DAESH.

          I know we’ve talked about this before – we have a different opinion of the correct approach to this, and I’ve retained mine.

          • AU says:

            You’ve just agreed with me. I didn’t say he should call them Islamic – that would be wrong, as you say. I said Islamist i.e. extremist.

            No, I haven’t agreed with you. Anything but.

            It is very silly to call ISIS Islamist, because not all Islamists are like ISIS. Why are you so upset when it comes to people judging all atheists by the actions of bad atheists, yet are happy to judge all Islamists by the actions of ISIS?

            For example, the Muslim Brotherhood are Islamists, they do not go around killing people like ISIS do.

            Ennahda are also Islamists, they are even more liberal than Muslim Brotherhood.

            Of course, no one is saying Islamists are as liberal as we are in the West, but there are some Islamists today in the West whose interpretation of Sharia Law is pretty tolerant and based on human rights.

            ISIS are fundamentalist Islamists – to paint all Islamists as being like ISIS is just wrong, and quite hypocritical considering you have written at how you think it is wrong to paint all atheists as being like the worst atheists one can find.

        • Coel says:

          This is exactly how Obama sees Islamic terrorists … he thinks they are radical Islamists (because he thinks they follow a radical interpretation of Islam).

          That would all be fine if he did indeed call them “radical Islamist terrorists”. But often he doesn’t. he avoids any mention of the religion, or of any radical version of it, entirely. In that he’s joined by Blair, Cameron (until recently), Holland, and others repeating the “nothing at all to do with Islam” mantra.

          • AU says:

            But often he doesn’t. he avoids any mention of the religion, or of any radical version of it, entirely. In that he’s joined by Blair, Cameron (until recently), Holland, and others repeating the “nothing at all to do with Islam” mantra.

            Of course many of them say ISIS isn’t Islamic – because they think ISIS is radical Islam and not Islam. It is perfectly natural to differentiate between radical elements of a group and the normal elements within a group. This is why even though in England the Conservative party and the BNP are right-wing, BNP is always referred to as being far right-wing, and not simply right-wing. If you said to someone BNP are right-wing, they would rightly say “no, BNP isn’t right-wing, BNP is right-wing extremist”.

            Now just because you might think that the Islam of ISIS is Islam-proper, and all other interpretations of Islam are Islam-liberal, it doesn’t mean everyone does.

            (And BTW, I am sure some politicians actually believe ISIS are very Islamic, but politicians try and be inclusive, and they don’t want to alienate potential voters, so they say things to appease the masses – this isn’t the same as saying things because they are afraid of upsetting Muslims.)

          • Coel says:

            Of course many of them say ISIS isn’t Islamic – because they think ISIS is radical Islam and not Islam.

            Being “radical Islam” does not make it “not Islam”, it makes it one variant of Islam.

            Now just because you might think that the Islam of ISIS is Islam-proper, …

            Which I don’t, so why the strawman?

          • AU says:

            Being “radical Islam” does not make it “not Islam”, it makes it one variant of Islam.

            You still do not understand the difference between natural language and formal language, so I will leave it at that.

            Which I don’t, so why the strawman?

            You still do not understand the meaning of straw man, so I will not waste my time.

      • I don’t ignore their arguments about the role of Islam in Islamic extremism but address them by pointing to the research that contradicts them.

        Harris and Coyne do on the one hand say Islam is not the only factor but look at their arguments and you see that they clearly convey the message that it is a necessary and fundamental driver to violence. “As a man believes so he will act” is Harris’s claim — one that is contradicted by recent and current psychological research and repeating it does indeed promote dis-understanding of Islam in our community today.

        This was in fact the central subject of another recent post: http://vridar.org/2015/09/13/where-the-new-atheists-have-let-us-down/

        As for cults, I have many years experience with a wide range of cults and cultish behaviour. The herding cats analogy bypasses the point about cultish behaviour — the idea of thousands of people all shouting in unison and marching in step is a caricature that confuses certain organizational structures with more psychological effects that surface in the way people respond to certain challenges.

        I am not and never have said all supporters of Dawkins etc are a cult. Werleman I think was speaking of the “movement” and I am speaking of cultish behaviour. Or should it be better called tribal behaviour — as I wondered in my post.

        • I do think “tribal” behaviour is a much better word to use. Imo, using the word cult in relation to atheism is going to cause so many problems, no one’s going to hear the argument, whether it’s valid or not.

        • Coel says:

          Neil,

          Harris and Coyne do on the one hand say Islam is not the only factor but look at their arguments and you see that they clearly convey the message that it is a necessary and fundamental driver to violence.

          Feel free to quote Coyne or Harris saying that Islam is “necessary” for violence, and that no non-Muslim has ever been violent.

          • Coel, this is a mischievous distortion. You know we are talking about “Islamic violence”, not violence per se. Taking my comments out of context to make it appear I am saying something utterly absurd is not helpful.

            Yes, Harris does say that Islamic beliefs cause terrorist acts and the evidence has been neatly summed up at http://vridar.org/2015/09/13/where-the-new-atheists-have-let-us-down/

          • Coel says:

            Neil,

            You know we are talking about “Islamic violence”, not violence per se.

            Well, if all you only mean is “Islamic violence” then the idea you attribute to Coyne et al is that Islam is a necessary part for something to count as *Islamic* violence — which is just tautologically correct.

            So your comment is no more sensible on that interpretation. For someone who is so keen to attribute fallacies and “ankle-deep thinking” to people like Coyne, your own comments are rather sloppy and fallacious.

          • nicky says:

            Indeed Coel, Jerry Coyne considers Islam is fundamental in Islamic inspired violence (nearly a truism), but not ‘necessary’. I hiccuped at the same conflagration of ‘necessary’ and ‘fundamental’.
            I’ve been reading Jerry Coyne’s WEIT for years now, but there is nothing to support the claim he considers it a ‘necessary’ driver.

          • Ken says:

            “But the problem of both American and foreign terrorism will not end until Islam itself undergoes a profound reform. Not just ISIS and other terrorist organizations, but Muslims as a whole, who, by and large, hold views incompatible with democracy, equality, and Enlightenment values.”

            This is no truism. Coyne is claiming Islamic terrorism has no other causes, and he holds Muslims collectively responsible to boot. If it’s the only cause, it must be necessary.

            http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/how-do-we-stop-the-madness-harvard-professors-weigh-in-ineffectually/

        • TFJ says:

          While poverty and oppression may cause resentment and even violent uprising, the expression thereof by Islamist terrorists is very particular. Beheadings, oppression of women and homosexuals, barbaric forms of punishment, glorification of martyrdom and the sanctioning of killing and enslaving unbelievers are religiously prescribed.

          Leaving aside the fact that Islam exploded on Africa and Europe in an orgy of violence and oppression until it was rolled back and that much of the dysfunction and poverty in the Muslim world is caused and perpetuated by Islam, lets concede that SOME of the Muslim world has a grievance against the West. The repressiveness and violence of the Islamist response is perfectly explained by the teachings of Islam so how is Islam divorced from it? Harris explicitly states that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceable, even if worryingly ambivalent about such things as the death sentence for apostasy. His point has always been that there is a significant number of Islamists with scripturally supportable beliefs intent on killing and forcibly implementing regressive policies. This is a phenomenon unique to Islam amongst major religions. Besides, much of the Islamic world is not occupied or oppressed by the West and yet still breeds Islamist violence. As Harris asks, “where are the Tibetan Bhuddist suicide bombers, where are the Jainist terrorists?

          Beliefs can cause the otherwise reasonable to behave in callous ways toward the outgroup. Anyone who doesn’t believe that needs to take a look at the way Scientologists apply their Fair Game policy. Take away the beliefs and it becomes impossible to justify the action.

          • AU says:

            Ah, another person who gets their knowledge from Harris! Explains a lot. As for

            As Harris asks, “where are the Tibetan Bhuddist suicide bombers, where are the Jainist terrorists?

            it’s interesting Harris is comparing the worst of the Muslims with the most peaceful Buddhists. The problem is that most people have no expertise in religion, so they just assume that Buddhism is all about people sitting meditating and never harming anyone, yet Buddhist scriptures also contain verses that say the unbeliever who rejects Buddha’s way is worse than an ant and there is no punishment for killing an unbeliever! Of course, I am not attacking Buddhism, far from it, it’s just funny how Harris is happy to cherry-pick from the Quran, but not from the Nirvana Sutra. Also funny how Harris doesn’t talk about the violence carried out by Sri Lankan Buddhists and how their Buddhism differs from Tibetan Buddhism. Why does it differ? Because in Sri Lanka there were resources that had to be fought over – so, yes, how a religion is interpreted and practised is influenced by external factors.

            Sam Harris has a soft spot for Buddhism, because he spent his time travelling in India and started believing all this spiritual stuff which PZ Myers mocks, but hus fanboys will insist that Harris is objective.

          • rickflick says:

            “the way Scientologists apply their Fair Game policy.”
            I had to Google that term. Pretty astounding. Makes your point perfectly. Belief driving action.

          • Beliefs can cause the otherwise reasonable to behave in callous ways toward the outgroup. Anyone who doesn’t believe that needs to take a look at the way Scientologists apply their Fair Game policy. Take away the beliefs and it becomes impossible to justify the action. – See more at: http://www.heatherhastie.com/is-new-atheism-a-cult/#comments

            Note the contradiction here. First it is said that beliefs can cause bad behaviours (no-one doubts that, by the way) but then the evidence for this is said to be that beliefs are used to justify bad behaviours.

            Justification is not the same as a cause.

            It is naive to assume that a justification we hear for an act is in reality the cause of the action.

            We know people can and do justify actions in ways that hide less than honourable motivations.

            And we have abundant evidence that most “cognitive extremists” — those who believe in justified violence — never take the steps towards actual violence. Only a relative few cognitive extremists go the next step.

            That is the question that needs to be addressed — why does this handful act out their extremist beliefs. Why do only a handful of our population join sects that both believe and practice terrible things?

            Delve a little into the psychological and anthropological research into these questions — especially from recent years and decades — and we see that there is quite a different way of thinking about religious ideas than there is about everyday things.

            This type of thinking needs to be understood, and human behaviour needs to be understood. The research into terrorism needs to be understood. That’s what I wish Harris, Coyne, Dawkins and their acolytes would do — read a little more widely and try to understand the research, not just laugh it off because it defies “common sense”.

    • Michal Michaels says:

      “as one believes so one will act”

      Well of course, nobody’s actions are ever influenced by their beliefs. That would be insane.

      (Rolls eyes)

      • One response is to roll eyes. Another is to study the serious research into human behaviour. Beliefs really are very often rationalizations to justify behaviour, it turns out. Coyne, Dawkins, Harris, are scientists. They ought to know better than to repeat popular misconceptions and have a responsibility to take the research of their peers seriously. Study the works of anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, and such and you will see that behaviours have many complex causes and beliefs really do rarely act as the primary motivating mechanism. See, for example, http://vridar.org/2015/09/19/how-terrorists-are-made-2-group-grievance/

        • Coel says:

          … beliefs really do rarely act as the primary motivating mechanism.

          Seriously? You’re seriously trying to assert that a person’s set of beliefs is “rarely a primary motivating mechanism”? Really? Sorry, but the things a person believes are *always* an integral part of our motivations for acts.

          Perhaps you might reply that you only meant to deny that *religious* beliefs were primary motivations. But, if that’s your reply, note that the phrase you quote from Harris: “As a man believes so he will act” is *not* just about *religious* beliefs. Read in context, the “beliefs” includes political beliefs.

          Are you trying to assert that the *totality* of beliefs that al-Qaeda and ISIS have, including all the political and social beliefs as well as religious ones, is not a prime motivation for them? If yes, then that’s just bizarre. If no, then you’re agreeing with Harris.

        • TFJ says:

          And often beliefs motivate the behaviour. So people born in Muslim countries just happen to really want to cut hands off, behead people, stone them, murder their sisters, ban dancing and football matches and really love the idea of martyring themselves? And oppressed peoples born into other religious traditions somehow don’t have the same urges.

          Have you listened to Meagan Phelps-Roper on the subject? She is quite clear that when she was protesting with the Westboro Baptists she was acting out of duty, not personal hatred. She dropped the fundamentalist beliefs and the ‘bigotry’ disappeared, not the other way round. Why is it so difficult to believe that people carrying out repressive and barbaric actions particularly laid down in their holy texts are carrying out their religious duty. If you look at Isil vids of gays being thrown off buildings you will note that it is sometimes done with a compassionate attitude. That isn’t scripture aligning with bigotry. It is undeniable that religious belief can be so strong that it overrides all personal impulse and natural morality. The psychology of why people believe is irrelevant to the matter at hand because belief appears to be rather persistent and there is a particularly nasty set of beliefs that the Quran can be used to justify. Those beliefs are not significantly present in other religions.

          • rickflick says:

            “there is a particularly nasty set of beliefs that the Quran can be used to justify.”

            There is a very reasonable explanation why Islam contains these nasty beliefs, it seems to me. The Quran was concocted embedded in a culture of warlords. The modus operandi of the times had to do with building an army to rid the local desert of rivals. You are either with me or against me.

    • Shwell Thanksh says:

      “What concerns me — the reason for my post — is that Coyne, Harris, and their supporters fail to acknowledge, even denigrate, the serious scholarly research of anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, and others into the root causes of terrorism, of Islamic and other extremist violence.”

      To the contrary, Jerry Coyne explicitly acknowledges these claims when he notes in his most recent book, Faith vs. Fact (after citing references to detailed data on the preponderance of Quranic literalism among Muslims in most countries):

      “One must take seriously the claim that they really believe what they say they believe, and that faith, not reason, can be a major cause of religious malfeasance.

      It is a staple of accommodationists, and of those atheists who ‘believe in belief,’ to exculpate religion by ascribing what are clearly religiously motivated acts to ‘politics’ or ‘social dysfunction.'”

      • No, he does not. What he cites are a lot of polls and he misleadingly presents the actual questions and qualifications that lie behind those data, injecting his own innuendo and presumptions into it. If you want a scholarly analysis of the same data you will need to turn to the scholars who specialize in the questions of Islam in society and the causes of terrorism, etc — the scholars whose analysis are sadly absent from Coyne’s book.

        I can see not a single anthropologist, sociologist, political scientist, psychologist who has researched Islamic extremism or the psychology of religion in his index. But if I missed any let me know.

        I demonstrated how such polls are used to make misleading claims in http://vridar.org/2013/04/13/damned-lies-statistics-and-muslims/

        Other scholarly works that demonstrate the real meaning of these polls are by are listed at http://vridar.org/2013/06/23/terrorism-facts-4-personal-motives-of-palestinian-suicide-bombers/ and http://vridar.org/2013/06/27/two-new-books-on-suicide-bombing-muslim-secular-democracy/

        Another list includes:

        Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us, by Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko, which outlines 12 mechanisms of radicalisation that drive people to extremism (and not just religious extremism – these mechanisms are more general, and explain both religious and non-religious extremism), as well as providing lots of case studies.

        Scott Atran’s Talking To The Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What It Means To Be Human,

        Anne Speckhard’s massive Talking To Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers and “Martyrs”.

        The final chapter of the revised edition of Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda: The True Story Of Radical Islam

        Pantucci’s “We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists.

        Weiss and Hassan’s ISIS: Inside The Army Of Terror

        New Sunni Revolution, the substantial ISIS: The State Of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J.M Berger,

        The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East, by Loretta Napoleoni.

      • Coyne’s Fact vs Faith book is built on a premise that is completely opposed to what all the serious research into the psychology of religion and religious belief has demonstrated and learned. Whitehouse, Leeuwin and others are nowhere anywhere in sight in Coyne’s thinking. He has no understanding of how religious thinking works at all — nor what motivates people to extremist violence. He even scoffs at the scholarship that could inform him by calling it left liberal apologetics for Islam — complete rubbish if only he would read it and see what it really says.

        • Coel says:

          Just to remark that this comment is typical of Godfrey’s complaints about Coyne — it leaves me baffled as to what he thinks Coyne is saying that is wrong. It talks about a “premise”. What premise? Can you state it? Can you say why it’s wrong? All it does is sneer at Coyne for having “no understanding”, but doesn’t actually specify or demonstrate any flaw in Coyne’s thinking.

    • Greg Esres says:

      “What concerns me — the reason for my post — is that Coyne, Harris, and their supporters fail to acknowledge, even denigrate, the serious scholarly research of anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, and others into the root causes of terrorism, of Islamic and other extremist violence. ”

      I have to agree with you on this; these non-specialists trust their own intuitions over the research by professionals in the relevant fields. Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

      Overall, though, I value Coyne’s and Harris’ contributions to the atheist movement, although they do have their blind spots.

  5. John Taylor says:

    If reading some books and perusing web sites makes me a cult member than I am indeed a deeply committed member.

    I did get a couple cats recently so I meet all of the criteria of being a proper acolyte of Ceiling Cat and his one true prophet Jerry Coyne.

    If asked to drink any kool-aid I’ll politely decline though.

  6. Excellent post – really enjoyed it.

  7. j.a.m. says:

    To borrow the stamp-collecting analogy: Old atheists don’t collect stamps; new atheists preach that stamp collecting is the greatest evil in human history and must be eradicated.

    (And oh, btw, stamp collectors’ children must be forcibly removed from their homes and made wards of the state.)

  8. Yakaru says:

    I like Sam Harris, though I do find myself sighing at the way he words things, and tuning out as yet another debate devolves into “What does Sam really think about this?” instead of whatever the actual issue was.

    That said though, Dr Sam is a good litmus test for rationality and intellectual honesty — if you can’t have a rational discussion with him, you can’t have a rational discussion with *anyone*.

    • I agree. I just ignore those discussions personally. It’s nearly always that someone hasn’t listened to what he’s said. They jump in to criticize before he’s finished making his point, for example, and miss the rest.

      Some people always just assume bad motivations too. To me, that says more about them than about Harris. They also seem incapable of agreeing to disagree. There are things I don’t think he’s right about, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start attacking his as evil personified. I agree with him about 98% of the time. For some, that’s not enough.

  9. AU says:

    I was going to write a message to you last night saying I will not be commenting on New Atheism anymore as a) I have a LOT of things I am behind schedule with and really don’t have the time, and b) I don’t want to take your post off-topic, something which I had done. I was going to finish it by thanking you for allowing all my posts through, even though I had really attacked your views. I was however absolutely shattered when I got home, I answered an email, browsed a few articles at some other websites, and then went straight to bed. Then when I woke up this morning, typed in “Heather Hastie” in my search bar, and in the results I could see it said in your Twitter account “Is New Atheism a Cult?” !

    So here I am, again, and I thank you for having a thread dedicated to this, as I have quite a bit to say. I will probably not have the time to write much, if anything, after Monday, so shall get my views across this weekend.

    the kid in Texas who got arrested when he brought a clock he’d made to school, because they thought it was a bomb. It seems likely, though all the facts aren’t in yet, that 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was treated as badly as he was because he’s Muslim. Coyne was decrying the appalling way Mohamed was treated. The idea that a child, who had clearly done nothing wrong, was handcuffed, perp-walked, and interrogated without being allowed to contact his parents is horrific.

    Now imagine the kid’s father had been an Imam, and Ahmed brought in an electronic Quran to show to his teachers. The reaction would be completely different – it would have been “yes, arresting a kid is really bad, but the school could be forgiven for taking caution as Muslims have used children as bombers before”, and I am sure Coyne would not have been decrying the appalling treatment of Ahmed. Nothing would have changed – Ahmed would still have done nothing wrong, he would still have been handcuffed, perp-walked, and interrogated without being allowed contact with his parents – in fact, I am pretty sure his treatment would have been even worse, and his parents too would have been arrested and interrogated. The only thing that would have changed would have been that his parents were religious Muslims and Ahmed had brought in a Quran instead of a clock. I would say that is Islamophobia, but I am sure many New Atheists would dismiss it and actually justify the treatment.

    The author, Neil Godfrey, is in the camp that thinks New Atheists like myself are a pretty nasty lot.

    I think that is very unfair. I don’t know Neil personally, so I can only judge him on his posts, and he comes across as a pluralistic person – I am sure he believes that the people who identify as New Atheists are diverse in their outlook and behaviour, and therefore not all New Atheists are a horrible lot.

    Further, Coyne has anti-racism credentials that go back decades.

    You are conflating – in fact, you’re doing the same as people who accuse Sam Harris of being “racist” do. More on that later.

    Godfrey’s post proposes that New Atheism is a cult.

    He actually elaborates in the comments section:
    ———-BEGIN QUOTE———-
    “Agree that there are cults and then there are cults. Cultish behaviour is my own preferred term and I tried to make that point. I know the authoritarian religious cult well enough and have spoken of my own experiences and the damage these totalitarian types of cults wreak. What is of interest are the ‘characteristics’ of a cult — as opposed to a formal definition — and what constitutes cultish behaviour. I have no problem using another word so long as the meaning is clear; just as I tried to make it clear what was meant by the use of the term ‘cult’ in this instance.

    Whatever term we use I certainly do detect a similar mentality among Acharya S’s/Murdock’s followers as to what I see among supporters of Harris, Dawkins, and co — and I see some of the same attributes in Harris and Dawkins and Coyne as I see in Acharya/Murdock — and they remind me too much of a certain mentality that was all too familiar from my own years in a religious cult. One does not need a formal authoritarian organisational infrastructure to produce cultish behaviour.”
    ———–END QUOTE———–

    Due to some interactions Godfrey has been having with New Atheists recently, mainly via his blog, he has decided New Atheism is a cult.

    Actually, you don’t know this. Maybe he thinks it is due to the way he has seen many NA conduct themselves over the years, and these recent interactions has just reaffirmed it. Instead of being so dismissive, you should try asking him how he has come to this conclusion.

    (A regular commenter on this site has noted in the comments that he has come to agree with him, although he has also noted that he considers I personally do not fit the criteria.) Personally, I think the assertion ridiculous.

    Well I think we should first clarify what people (or at least some of us) who consider New Atheism a “cult” mean – how can we have a proper debate if you are arguing against a definition of a cult different to what others mean. So let me do this and lay out my case why I believe New Atheism is in some ways like a cult.

    Before I do so, let me make it clear, I am no expert on cults, so nothing I say on cults is scholarly – I am more than happy to amend my opinions if someone can show me I am wrong. Ok, so here goes – of course I do not believe it is a cult like say the one David Koresh was leading – for example, there is no one who tells you what you should be reading, or what you should be thinking. That much should be obvious to everyone. However, “New Atheism” does display cultish behaviour.

    Again, let me define New Atheism as what many of us take it to mean today. A movement is defined not by what it’s stated goals are, nor by what the majority of it’s members believe – a movement is defined by what the most prominent members of the party advocate and how they behave. Let’s take the Labour Party in the UK – the party has traditionally stood up for social justice – so it cares about things like worker’s rights, helping the poor and vulnerable etc. Now suppose Labour has a new leadership, and the leadership, and some of it’s most vocal supporters, stop following the core values – they start spending more on defence, they spend less on health and education, they take away the rights of unions etc. The question now is – “does Labour stand for social justice?”, and the answer is “No, it doesn’t”. Even though it’s leaders might still say they are a party for social justice, they are not. So when people criticise Labour, they’re not criticising what the party used to stand for, neither are they criticising how the majority of it’s members still feel. They are criticising what the party has become.
    What happens in such a case is that either the members of the movement hit back – they take the fight back to those at the top who are betraying the values of the party, or they severe their ties with the party.

    Coming back to New Atheists, many of the secular criticis of New Atheism also believe “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises” – after all, they believe in secularism, and they believe if religion is causing harm, which it on occasion does, then we shouldn’t tolerate it, but we should criticise it with rational argument. So they can’t actually be against what NA stands for – after all, they also share the same values. So what are they against? They’re against the “movement” because those at the top of the movement, those who have the most influence, are often arguing irrationally, dishonestly, and at some times, with bigotry (just because you’re not a bigot when it comes to gay rights or womens rights or race equality, it doesn’t mean you cannot be a bigot against religious people).

    So to me, I think New Atheism is cultish because those at the top seem to be driven by narcissism, and prominent New Atheists like to portray people who disagree with them as lacking intelligence, often resorting to mocking others, they often try to stifle debate by not allowing legitimate criticisms of their posts, they can act disingeneously and even dishonestly, their followers are often irrational and not objective and simply repeat what the Great Leaders have said like a mantra, and there also tends to be a tendency to overlook and not criticise when memebers from within the community are clearly arguing dishonestly or with bigotry.

    Richard Dawkins developed a theistic probability scale, and many atheists define themselves according to this scale

    Dawkins didn’t “develop” anything – people have categorised their belief/lack of belief for centuries. Dawkins just wrote about this in his book. It’s just like the “selfish gene”, Dawkins didn’t develop this idea – it was developed by someone else, Dawkins just wrote about it in a book. Dawkins isn’t a great scientist, Dawkins is a great writer.

    The important thing to note however, is that being an atheist does not bring with it any belief system whatsoever.

    Actually, you’re wrong. It often brings the belief that religion is bad – and if you think something is bad, you will often work against it, and history has shown that when humans think something is bad and they want to work against it, often they will let bigotry come into play.

    It is completely hypocritical to say “religion has caused so many wars and deaths”, and then get upset when someone says “atheism has caused so many deaths”. Of course you are right that just because people are atheists they don’t necessarily follow the same beliefs or have you what, but the exact same is true of religion. Yet New Atheists are happy to lump all religious people as one category when they make statements like “religion has caused so many wars and deaths”, yet cry foul when religious people lump them all into one category. Personally, I find both statements wrong.

    Their [Uygar, Kasparin] analysis of Mohamed’s arrest is solid, but in the clip they blame New Atheists for the attitude that lead to his arrest.

    I disagree with them. However, your criticism of them for their religious tribunals suggestion is unfair. They are talking about “minor” issues. They are not talking about things like divorce (major issue). The poster in reply to your posts talks about domestic violence and divorce, and you reply “Exactly”. That is highly disingeneous of you, as neither Uygar and Anna Kasparin are talking about religious tribunals for major things like that.

    I do agree with you however that the scope of abuse against the vulnerable is very high in religious tribunals, and so we should not have them at the current moment, however, if in future we are at a stage where this is transparency and oversight, then I do not see why not on the condition that any ruling doesn’t breach any fundamental human rights.

    Many people think New Atheists have a particular animus towards Islam, that we are bigoted towards Muslims. This is simply not the case.

    It’s quite interesting that your website has a special category for “Islam”, but none for “Christianity” – I only noticed this last week. I personally don’t think NA have anything inherently against Islam.

    I think many on the far left have got the issue a bit mixed up with racism.

    You keep throwing around the term Far Left incorrectly. It seems you think that because people like you, Coyne, Dawkins, identify as being liberals, anyone who is “more liberal” than you is Far Left. That is simply not true. Most on the Far Left loathe religion. What the hell do you think Maryam Namazie (who Richard Dawkins loves) is? She’s a member of the Workers-Communist Party, who are Far Left! When the Muslim Brotherhood came into power, the Far Left in Egypt were criticising them and their policies, and were amongst the most vocal in working to get them overthrown. So you might want to correct yourself in future and stop dismissing those liberals who criticise New Athsists as being “Far Left”.

    I think many on the far left have got the issue a bit mixed up with racism. Because a majority of Muslims are people of colour, they think criticism of Islam is racism and they have a gut reaction against racism (which is a good thing of course).

    I don’t agree that they are “racist”. However, let us remember that race is a social construct – there is no such thing as “race” that everyone uniqely agrees on.

    Now if someone hates, say, Pakistani people, and sits there making comments that they hate Pakistanis, they will get called racist. In British Law, they will be charged with racial hatred. Technically speaking, are they racist? No, Pakistan isn’t a “race”. Furthermore, some people from Northern India are the same race as some people from Pakistan – so if someone doesn’t hate people from India but only Pakistanis, then they are clearly not “racist”. The point I am making is, the meaning of words evolve, and racism has come to embody not just hatred against someone because of some “race”, but also hatred of someone because of the country/part of the world they are from.

    Now say if tomorrow Donald Trump says that if he becomes POTUS, then he will increase the stop and search of black people, or people who look like they have been influenced by black cutlure, and reduce the stop and search of white people (unless it seems they have been influenced by black culture). Would you say his policy is racist? If you would, then you believe Sam Harris is racist when he suggests we should be searching people who look like Muslims (which mostly means brown people), and if you don’t, then you think Sam Harris isn’t racist. I don’t think Trump would be racist, and therefore, I do not think Sam Harris is either, but I can understand why he has been called that.
    Furthermore, even Glenn Greenwald believes Sam Harris isn’t racist.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/03/sam-harris-muslim-animus

    I’m sure Chomsky has his groupies too.

    I love Chomsky, I grew up reading him, and, yes, he has his groupies – some people will blindly follow anything, just because Chomsky said it. And, if Chomsky was leading a movement, and he had hoardes of admirers who were supporting him even when he was wrong, I would call that cultish too.

    BTW, you might want to read this (lengthy) correspondence between Monbiot and Chomsky.

    http://www.monbiot.com/2012/05/21/2181/

    I admire both of them, but I have to put aside my biases and agree with Monbiot here – Chomsky isn’t debating honestly in this instance.

    Godfrey refers to a survey where atheists scored highest in terms of dogmatism. I have no idea whether that survey is a valid one or not and give him the benefit of the doubt there.

    No, you are wrong. Godfrey refers to a survey where anti-theists (and the research doesn’t present a 1-1 correlation between anti-theists and New Atheists but I think it is pretty close) scored pretty badly, not just in dogmatism, compared to other atheists. You have totally misunderstood what Neil is saying, the research is solely on non-believers, it isn’t comparing non-believers to theists.

    You can see the research here:

    http://www.atheismresearch.com/

    … when we actually compare the values and beliefs of atheists and secular people to those of religious people, the former are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian

    I would probably agree with that. However, that research is about atheists. It isn’t about New Atheists. In the research Neil cited, it states:
    Fortunately, one of the many questions our empirical research was able to address was, “are all atheists angry, argumentative and dogmatic”? Our results lead us to answer that question with a resounding “absolutely not”! If any subset of our non-belief sample fit the “angry, argumentative, dogmatic” stereotype, it is the Anti-Theists. This group scored the highest amongst our other typologies on empirical psychometric measures of anger, autonomy, agreeableness, narcissism, and dogmatism while scoring lowest on measures of positive relations with others.

    So that research is in no way inconsistent with the one you cite, and is actually consistent with what I have been saying all along – there is a difference between atheists and New Atheists.

    Godfrey also uses the argument that anti-theists were found to be “the third most toxic group on Reddit.” This ridiculous argument raises many questions which we’re not told the answers to. Who took positions one and two? Are they religious groups by any chance?

    I personally would not take that Reddit survey seriously. Positions one and two were taken by “The Red Pill” and “Opie and Anthony.”

    http://idibon.com/toxicity-in-reddit-communities-a-journey-to-the-darkest-depths-of-the-interwebs/

    How do they know that all the anti-theists are New Atheists? New Atheists are not always anti-theists, they’re always anti-theism – there’s a difference. It’s subtle, but it’s important.

    When people use the word anti-theist, they do not mean someone specifically against a theist, they mean someone who is anti-theism. This is how the authors of the research themselves defined anti-theist: “The fourth typology, and one of the more assertive in their view, we termed the Anti-Theist. While the Anti-Theists may be considered atheist or in some cases labeled as “new atheists,” the Anti-Theist is diametrically opposed to religious ideology. As such, the assertive Anti-Theist both proactively and aggressively asserts their views towards others when appropriate, seeking to educate the theists in the passé nature of belief and theology”

    The whole article is all about that first criterion, attacking New Atheists as being toxic, and in support of CJ Werleman’s new book, The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists.

    I don’t think he is “supporting” CJW’s book.

    The other criteria are completely ignored and it’s obvious why – none of them actually apply to New Atheists. New Atheism is not a cult, and the whole idea is a bit silly really.

    I disagree. You are using flawed data to support your claim that New Atheists are good people – the research Neil cites suggests that atheists indeed are good people (simplifying here), but that New Atheists are different to atheists. Of course, this is just one study, and more studies are needed, but it is consistent with my own personal experiences, and those of others.

    • John Taylor says:

      That’s one big comment!

      • AU says:

        I enjoy debating Heather, even though we will quite often not agree and the debate can get “heated”.

        My criteria for debating someone is:
        1) Never knowingly dishonest
        2) Intelligent (well, reasonably at least)
        3) Civil

        She meets all three so I will always engage with her when I have the time. Some of my attacks against what she writes have been very strong indeed, yet she has never censored any of my posts, and for that I have a lot of respect for her – people often do not like being criticised, and many people would not allow such strong attacks against their article on their blog.

    • Coel says:

      Now imagine the kid’s father had been an Imam, and Ahmed brought in an electronic Quran to show to his teachers. The reaction would be completely different – it would have been … and I am sure Coyne would not have been decrying the appalling treatment of Ahmed. … I am sure many New Atheists would dismiss it and actually justify the treatment.

      What is notable is that you “imagine” such an incident and make *claims* and *assertions* as to how New Atheists might react.

      Couldn’t you find an actual example of the NAs acting as you say they do? Why the need to “imagine” one?

      • Personally, I don’t think if Ahmed Mohamed had brought an electronic Qur’an to school he would have been arrested at all. This being Texas, he may have been bullied, or put down by his teachers, or some other negative behaviour, or maybe nothing would happened at all.

        If he had been treated badly, I have no doubt that if the issue came to the attention of Coyne, I think I know him well enough to say he would have decried the hypocrisy. That would also have been my reaction.

      • AU says:

        What is notable is that you “imagine” such an incident and make *claims* and *assertions* as to how New Atheists might react.

        Couldn’t you find an actual example of the NAs acting as you say they do? Why the need to “imagine” one?

        Your post is very silly. Considering kids very rarely take home-made clocks or things to school, how could I find an example?

        You clearly do not understand the purpose of thought experiments.

        Anyway, I have no interest in engaging with you, you have demonsrated before, and again in your post about Neil, that you are unable to hold an intelligible debate, and I would therefore rather not waste my time.

        Thank you.

        • Coel says:

          It’s not so much that it’s a thought experiment (I’m ok with those) it’s that you declare your confidence about the NAs would react and then pronounce them guilty based solely on your “imagining” of how they might act.

          • AU says:

            It’s not so much that it’s a thought experiment (I’m ok with those) it’s that you declare your confidence about the NAs would react and then pronounce them guilty based solely on your “imagining” of how they might act.

            No. I said how I think many NAs will react. I did not say all, neither did I say most. I said many.

            And if you knew the first thing about thought experiments, you would know people also form conclusions on how a certain group will react if placed in certain situations.

          • Coel says:

            Whether it was all NAs or “many” NAs, your account of their likely behaviour is still entirely made up.

            Have the NAs done so little wrong that you need to make up things to criticise them for?

        • Ant (@antallan) says:

          If your thought experiments consist of making up scenarios and behaviors that simply reinforce your existing, faulty, preconceptions of how NAs behave, I’d rather you not waste your time, too.

          /@

          • AU says:

            If your thought experiments consist of making up scenarios and behaviors that simply reinforce your existing, faulty, preconceptions of how NAs behave, I’d rather you not waste your time, too.

            First of all, I did not say all NA, or most, I said many.

            Secondly, just because you think they are faulty preconceptions, it doesn’t mean you are right. That’s simply what you think – probably based on your faulty preonceptions and inability to accept criticism of the tribe you identify with. Therefore, I’d rather you did not waste your time telling others what you wish they would rather not do.

            Thanks.

    • Barney says:

      The problem with that study of reddit is the criteria for what is toxic:

      Ad hominem attack: a comment that directly attacks another Redditor (e.g. “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries”) or otherwise shows contempt/disagrees in a completely non-constructive manner (e.g. “GASP are they trying CENSOR your FREE SPEECH??? I weep for you /s”)

      Overt bigotry: the use of bigoted (racist/sexist/homophobic etc.) language, whether targeting any particular individual or more generally, which would make members of the referenced group feel highly uncomfortable

      A direct insult is somewhat toxic, and overt bigotry very much so; but sarcasm? I’m reminded of:

      “He used … sarcasm. He knew all the tricks – dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes, and … satire.”

    • As far as the categories go, you’ve caught me mid-change. I’ve been trying to reduce the number of categories. Instead of having a different one for each religion, I’m just putting them all under the category “Religion”. It’s just that Islam wasn’t done yet. Because you noticed, I’ve done it now, when I should have been doing something else, which has wasted about an hour of my time.

  10. Ant (@antallan) says:

    Of course it’s not a cult. Since the Elevatorgate and the Great Schism it’s now two! (Or since TERF-gate, maybe three.)

    /@

  11. Ant (@antallan) says:

    & sub!

  12. Coel says:

    I tried going over to Neil Godfrey’s blog to discuss with him his attacks on New Atheists.

    It was rather bizarre. As far as I can make out — and this may be unfair, but it’s the result of a genuine attempt to understand him — he thinks in terms of things only having one cause.

    So, if New Atheists say that religion is an important factor in Islamist terrorism, he thinks they must be saying that political factors are entirely irrelevant.

    Further, if scholars say that politics is important in terrorism, he thinks that means that everything else, including religion, has zero relevance.

    So, he adopts the position that Islamist terrorism is 100% political and 0% religious (which, he claims, is supported by scholarship), and then he attributes to New Atheists the strawman that Islamist terrorism is 0% political and 100% religious, and then criticizes them for that.

    My attempts to discuss with Neil Godfrey are recounted here.

    • AU says:

      As far as I can make out — and this may be unfair, but it’s the result of a genuine attempt to understand him — he thinks in terms of things only having one cause.

      No he doesn’t. On the contrary, he says the exact opposite. Either you have serious difficulty reading and comprehending what he says, or you are dishonest.

      So, if New Atheists say that religion is an important factor in Islamist terrorism, he thinks they must be saying that political factors are entirely irrelevant.

      No. Again, you have totally misunderstood what he says. He accepts that NAs will often say political factors also play a part in terrorism, however, his position is that NAs give much more emphasis to religion than it should get.

      Further, if scholars say that politics is important in terrorism, he thinks that means that everything else, including religion, has zero relevance.

      This is quite amazing. Again, he has never said politics alone is what causes people to be terrorists.

      So, he adopts the position that Islamist terrorism is 100% political and 0% religious (which, he claims, is supported by scholarship)

      Again, that isn’t his position at all.

      he attributes to New Atheists the strawman that Islamist terrorism is 0% political and 100% religious, and then criticizes them for that.

      Again, he has never said that, it is you attributing the straw man to him.

      Coel, honest question, and I don’t mean to be condescending – do you actually ever bother to read what someone else says?

      • Coel says:

        Coel, honest question, and I don’t mean to be condescending – do you actually ever bother to read what someone else says?

        Yes, I do. So let’s examine what Godfrey actually says. One quote is (added bold):

        Their [Coyne, Harris, Dawkins] thinking is ankle-deep and logically fallacious. Because some of these bombers believe they will receive a heavenly reward after death they jump to the conclusion that it was because they believe in the heavenly reward that they were in part motivated into a suicide bombing mission.

        This, taken at face value (and in context) says that theological ideas of a heavenly reward are *not* *even* *a* *part* of Islamists motivation, and that anyone who thinks so is guilty of ankle deep thinking.

        Or take this one (again added bold):

        The logical fallacy here is surely obvious (but apparently not to Coyne). If “Islam” is in any way responsible then we have a real problem — How on earth do we explain the millions and millions of Muslims who don’t commit this crime?

        Again, it’s a denial that the religion is *in* *any* *way* part of the motivations for Islamist violence. He states that such a claim is a “surely obvious” logical fallacy.

        As I put to him, try this: “If smoking is *in* *any* *way* responsible for lung cancer, then we have a real problem — how to explain the millions of smokers who do not have lung cancer”.

        Does the fact that many smokers don’t get lung cancer refute the idea that smoking causes lung cancer? No it doesn’t. Similarly, there is no “logical fallacy” in the above.

        I’m serious, Godfrey’s own wording and arguments reveal that he thinks in simple one-cause terms, and that is why he is misinterpreting the NAs and also why he thinks they are wrong.

        More at the above-linked blog article — where I indeed do read and analyse Godfrey’s comments on this.

        • AU says:

          Neil has already posted a reply to that here:

          http://vridar.org/2015/08/12/on-how-to-be-completely-wrong-about-radicalisation-the-curious-case-of-jerry-coyne/#comment-72554

          I actually debated the first part with Neil – I think a belief in an afterlife can influence someone to do a suicide bombing. However, Neil seems to disagree – he seems to think a belief in afterlife isn’t ever enough to cuase someone to do a suicide bombing – yes, they might gain comfort from the fact they will go to Heaven, but this comfort wasn’t what drove them to do the suicide bombing. I personally am still not convinced of this.

          As for the second part, again, Neil is talking about “Islam”, he puts it in inverted commas – the full post is here:

          http://vridar.org/2015/08/12/on-how-to-be-completely-wrong-about-radicalisation-the-curious-case-of-jerry-coyne/#comment-72455

          And, no, Neil isn’t saying religion is in no way responsible, Neil understands that ISIS use their interpretation of Islam to justify their crimes and it is therefore in part responsible, Neil’s point seems to be that it is a specific version of Islam that is playing a part and not Islam per se.

          Basically, you have cherry-picked parts of what Neil has said out of context, refused to listen to his elaborations, and then come to all sorts of rubbish conclusions about what Neil believes.

          • Coel says:

            Basically, you have cherry-picked parts of what Neil has said out of context, refused to listen to his elaborations, …

            I’ve made fair interpretations of his actual words (and you haven’t rebutted those interpretations or given alternatives). Yes he does say other things elsewhere, which seems to me to show that he is being very inconsistent on such things.

          • AU says:

            I’ve made fair interpretations of his actual words (and you haven’t rebutted those interpretations or given alternatives). Yes he does say other things elsewhere, which seems to me to show that he is being very inconsistent on such things.

            You have done nothing of the sort. You chose something he said which might be interpreted as saying religion has 0% to do with Islamic terrorism, and then used that to come here and say he believes religion has 0% to do with Islamic terrorism, even though he had clarified his position that he didn’t mean this. This is extreme dishonesty on your part – you simply chose one possible interpretation of his, and presented that as his viewpoint, totally ignoring the clarification he had made.

            As I said in an earlier post, I have three checkboxes for debating with someone – honesty, intelligence, and civility. You are not an honest debater, (and you also seem to have difficulty understanding natural language and logic), therefore, I shall save my responses for others on here who are interested in honest, intelligent debate.

            Thanks.

          • Coel says:

            You chose something he said which might be interpreted as saying religion has 0% to do with Islamic terrorism, and then used that to come here and say he believes religion has 0% to do with Islamic terrorism, even though he had clarified his position that he didn’t mean this.

            Thankyou for accepting that Godfrey has said something that might be interpreted as saying that religion has 0% to do with Islamic terrorism.

            Where has he (or you) given any other interpretation of those two sentences? Where has he asked to re-state them (if he now considers them mis-stated)?

            You are indeed right that he has, at other points, said that religion is a relevant factor. My interpretation now is that his various remarks on this are not consistent, resulting from his misunderstandings of how multiple-factor causation works.

            But, if he now wishes to restate those sentences that I quote just above, then fine, let him do so.

    • Coel, no, my argument has been the opposite and the reason I not not post one of your comments was because I was exasperated your repeating that accusation yet once more despite the evidence I had repeatedly pointed out to you to the contrary.

      The causes of terrorism are generally complex involving many factors — including very often the religious one. That in fact is the specific argument of my recent posts: http://vridar.org/category/book-reviews-notes/mccauley-friction/

      Of course religion plays a factor in Islamic terrorism and I have posted about that many times as I’ve tried to point out to you. But it does not act as a cause or driver in the way Harris, Coyne and others claim it does according to all the major research especially by anthropologists and others who are on the ground meeting with terrorists and their supporters and risking their lives to do their research.

      My argument that if we follow the serious scholarly research of those I have mentioned then there is no room for such claims as “As a man believes so will he act” that comes from Harris — that is flatly contrary to all the current psychological research into human behaviour.

      Religion is a factor but the role it plays is complex and needs to be understood if we are to have an understanding society.

      • Coel says:

        Neil,
        Well, if you’re now coming round to the idea that both political factors and religious ones are important in Islamist extremism, then you’re now pretty close to the position that Coyne and Dawkins have been taking all along (despite the fact that you’ve repeatedly accused them of ankle-deep thinking, overlooking clear logical fallacies, and worse things).

        But, in your several previous posts attacking Coyne and Dawkins, I’ve never seen you state that you accept that religious factors and Islamic theology play a role in Islamist extremism.

        Further, if you do accept that both religion and politics are important in such issues, I’m still baffled as to what your complaint with Coyne and Dawkins actually is — and one of the reasons for that, as I’ve told you, is that in the relevant posts you tend to avoid quoting them and you never make clear what it is you think you’re arguing against.

        • AU says:

          Gosh, you seem to have real difficulty understading this, so let me try a final time.

          Everyone agrees that religion does play a part in terrorism, the difference is exactly how much part it plays and whether it is a driving factor or not. Dawkins, Coyne et al suggest that it is usually a major factor and is the driving force, Neil suggests it is seldom a major factor and is rarely a driving force.

          Take the case of people who are unhappy and drink a lot of alcohol – too much alcohol. Because they drink a lot of alcohol, they don’t have the energy to exercise, so they gain weight, and spend most of their time sitting at home, and often eventually die early from diseases related to leading an unhealthy lifestyle. Now of course alcohol played a part in their death – if they were not drinking alcohol, they might have had the energy to go out and exercise, and therefore have been able to lead a healthier lifestyle. However, alcohol wasn’t the driving factor behind their death – it was their unhappiness. Their unhappiness drove them to alcohol. To go around saying alcohol was the driving factor, and that if we took away alcohol they would not have died early, is simply incorrect.

          • Ant (@antallan) says:

            But to go around saying alcohol was a significant factor, and that if we took away alcohol they likely would not have died early, is not incorrect.

            /@

          • AU says:

            But to go around saying alcohol was a significant factor, and that if we took away alcohol they likely would not have died early, is not incorrect.

            Alcohol wasn’t the “root cause”. If you took away the alcohol, the unhappy person might have started taking illegal drugs. Or they might have become hooked on anti-depressants, causing them to always be tired and not having the energy to do anything. Or they might have become frustrated and started a life of criminal activity. Or they might have killed themself. Or, they might have got counelling that helped them overcome their depression.

            Therefore, whether alcohol existed or not is irrelevant – alcohol isn’t the problem. The person’s unhappiness is the problem.

          • Ant (@antallan) says:

            Well, if you take that tack, you’ve invalidated your own comment earlier: “if they were not drinking alcohol, they might have had the energy to go out and exercise, and therefore have been able to lead a healthier lifestyle.”

            Argument by analogy is fraught with problems. In the real world, if not religion, what?

            /@

          • Coel says:

            Dawkins, Coyne et al suggest that it is usually a major factor and is the driving force, …

            I note that you (and Godfrey) habitually attribute things to Dawkins and Coyne (such as “… is the driving force”) without actually quoting them.

            If I’m struggling to work out what Godfrey’s criticisms of Dawkins and Coyne actually are, it’s largely because he avoids actually quoting them, but just wants to attribute things to them and to sneer at them.

          • AU says:

            Well, if you take that tack, you’ve invalidated your own comment earlier: “if they were not drinking alcohol, they might have had the energy to go out and exercise, and therefore have been able to lead a healthier lifestyle.”

            Argument by analogy is fraught with problems. In the real world, if not religion, what?

            Actually, I haven’t invalidated anything – you just failed to understand the whole point of my post, which is, that the unhappiness was the root cause, and not the alcohol. To suggest that if there was no alcohol, the person would not have died early is incorrect – it might be the case that if there was no alcohol they would not have died early, because they would have gone to a psychiatrist or have you what and received treatment, however, they could easily have become a drug addict or any of the other things I cited.

            Similarly, when it comes to religious terrorism, religion is often not the root cause – it is usually a combination of other issues. To suggest that if there was no religion the person would not have become a terrorist is incorrect – it might be the case that if there was no religion, they would not have become a terrorist becuase they would have found another outlet for the issues they have, however, they could easily have found another justification for the terrorism they participate in, such as nationalism, racism, criminal gangs.

            So when people say “religion is causing terrorism”, it is in most cases a misrepresentation.

          • AU says:

            I note that you (and Godfrey) habitually attribute things to Dawkins and Coyne (such as “… is the driving force”) without actually quoting them.

            You are being very silly now. No one has said they used the exact word “driving force” – however, what the say amounts to that.

            Whilst Dawkins has started using nuances recently, this is a tweet of his from December last year when the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Pakistan:

            Dawkins: Very few faith-heads are as evil as Taliban or IS. Yet what else but faith is CAPABLE of making people do such evil?

            Or here is Coyne defending what Harris says:

            Coyne: In a post on his website, Sam Harris dispelled the ludicrous claim that the actions of jihadis like those of ISIS aren’t motivated by religion.

            So Coyne is clearly saying jihadists are motivated by religion. He doesn’t say influenced, he says motivated – therefore, he considers religion to be a driving factor in their terrorism.

          • Coel says:

            … you just failed to understand the whole point of my post, which is, that the unhappiness was the root cause, and not the alcohol.

            You are doing what Godfrey does — privileging one of the causes over others and labeling that one the “root” cause or the “primary” cause.

            That’s not how causes actually work. Lots of factors are important, and it is the combination the effects the result. The labeling of one cause as the “root” is not warranted, and seems to be a way of excusing religion by applying the “root cause” label to something else.

            So when people say “religion is causing terrorism”, it is in most cases a misrepresentation.

            No, it is entirely fair (so long as it is interpreted as a shorthand for “… one of the causes …”, which is always the case.)

            So Coyne is clearly saying jihadists are motivated by religion.

            Yes, and it is true — so long as it is interpreted as a shorthand for being “… one of the motivating factors”.

            In the same way, “smoking causes lung cancer” is entirely true, but does not imply any of: (1) all smokers will get cancer; (2) genetics and all other factors are irrelevant; or (3) you can’t get lung cancer without being a smoker.

            Interpreted in this obvious and sensible way, what Coyne, Dawkins etc say on this is entirely true and fair.

            The problem is that you and Godfrey want to elevate some factors to being “root” and “primary” as a way of excusing religion. That is fallacious.

          • AU says:

            Actually, you do not understand how causes work. I gave an analogy before, you clearly did not understand it.

            First of all, when Coyne et al talk about religion and terrorism, it is in the context of them showing how religion is bad because it motivates people to commit terrorism. It isn’t that “religion is only one cause of terrorism amongst many others and these things are very complex and we cannot blame religion alone but we should also need to look at the political and social climate in which these attacks were carried out”, no – it’s within a very specific context – why religion is bad and why atheism is better.

            It’s funny, PZ Myers had a post about people like you only last week:
            http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/09/16/the-saga-of-slippery-sam/

            Sam Harris has an amazing talent: he can say the most awful things, and a horde of helpful apologists will rise up in righteous fury and simultaneously insist that he didn’t really say that, and yeah, he said that, but it only makes sense. And they have a battery of excuses that boil down to another contradiction: you must parse his words very carefully, one by one, and yet also his words must be understood in their greater context. They actually have a lot in common with radical Islamists: the sacred holy texts can only be understood in their original language, and the appropriate way to study them is by rote memorization.

            And this is exactly you, I mean, even when Coyne is sitting there writing that Islam is the motivation for Islamic terrorism, you are sitting there saying he didn’t really mean it is the motivation for Islamic terrorism, he means it is one of the motivations, and even when Dawkins tweets implying “what else but faith” can be responsible for the terrorist attack on the school which was attended by children of members of the Pakistani Army, you somehow want us to believe Dawkins was trying to say faith was just one of reasons behind the attack.

            As I said before, either you do not understand the difference between natural language and formal language, or you are a dishonest individual. Either way, I don’t have the patience of Neil, so I’ll leave you to it.

        • I have been posting on terrorism with these views ever since 2006 so it’s not quite accurate to say I am “now coming round”. http://vridar.org/category/terrorism-politics-society/

          Your question is taking us back to the very posts that started this conversation in the first place. We know terrorism is explained in the research literature quite independently of religion as a motivator. We have abundant evidence for its motivations that do not involve religion.

          But religion does play a significant factor in the radicalization and movements of people towards other associations and activities that do lead to terrorist actions. (The same could be said of many other social institutions. Religion happens to be the common one currently because of historical reasons, but a look at other very similar terrorist campaigns and we see that religion may not appear at all — there may be some other social entity that does the job.)

          Religion also is well known to come into play late in the game in Islamic terrorism for many terrorists as a rationalizer of behavious already in evidence, and as a political propaganda message.

          Playing a role, being a factor, does not simplistically inevitably mean that religious beliefs CAUSE some people to become terrorists. That is the claim that is unsupported by the research. It is not true that beliefs dictate how people act — contrary to popular beliefs.

          I am sorry you do not think I have been clear in what I have argued. My own response to that is that I would say you have approached my posts with so many misinformed preconceptions and these have led to your failing to understand them.

          I do not think the argument is entirely about evidence and argument, however, and that’s why we keep going in circles. There is a certain emotional component that keeps getting in the way here.

          • Perhaps an example: I recently posted an article demonstrating two mechanisms that are necessary and sufficient to explain how a number of people came to the point of becoming violent killers — terrorists. They included a Russian woman from the nineteenth century, a couple of Americans from recent times and an Islamic terrorist. http://vridar.org/2015/09/19/how-terrorists-are-made-2-group-grievance/

            It would be silly to say that religion did not play a part in the case of the Islamic terrorist in those case-studies. At the same time it would be a gross error to say that religion or religious beliefs “caused” him to become a violent terrorist.

          • John Taylor says:

            Wow! You guys are going at it all over the whole internet!

          • AU says:

            Wow! You guys are going at it all over the whole internet!

            Oh, this isn’t anything – we haven’t even got started yet! 😀

            Which reminds me, I really must be off now!

            Oh, BTW, I think this article might just end up being the most commented on at Heather’s blog!

          • It’s already up to fourth place.

          • Coel says:

            Neil,

            We know terrorism is explained in the research literature quite independently of religion as a motivator. We have abundant evidence for its motivations that do not involve religion.

            This is an example of what I see as your simplistic approach to this. You seem to regard terrorism as a unity, so if *some* instances of terrorism are unrelated to religion, then that means that all terrorism is little to do with religion.

            Actually, terrorism is a diverse phenomena, with different motivations in different instances. It is entirely possible that in some instances religion is not a factor at all in terrorism and in other cases it is a very big factor.

            What you have not done is give evidence that some *particular* *instances* of terrorism — ones Coyne picks out such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre — do not have religious motivations as a major factor.

          • AU says:

            It’s already up to fourth place.

            By the time my commemts are allowed through, it will be second!

            BTW, is it not possible for your homepage to have a “recent comments” section on the side? I ask because sometimes people make posts in an older article, and the “notifications” do not work for me (I signed up before but have never received anything even though comments were being posted), so I have no way of finding out which articles still have comments being posted.

  13. Mark Joseph says:

    The idea that any kind of atheism, much less New Atheism, is a cult is too silly to bother addressing. It truly is an error of the same type as considering bald to be a hair color would be.

    I only want to point out (as one who spent 25 years as a Baptist, 15 of those as a foreign missionary), that the excellent list of six defining features of a cult apply as perfectly well to traditional evangelical christians as they do to any group that those same christians would consider to be a cult–Mormons, JWs, Hare Krishna, etc.

  14. AU says:

    Oh, it’s also hilarious that New Atheists are so upset that people falsely accuse them of racism, yet are happy to falsely accuse others of racism.

    Here is prominent New Atheist falsely accusing someone of racism – remember, this is the guy who other New Atheists have been quoting with glee with respect to CJW’s book, yet I have seen not one New Atheist call him out on this. BTW, I did, I posted a message on the thread, but, surprise surprise, he didn’t let my post through.

    http://www.gspellchecker.com/2015/09/book-review-the-new-atheist-threat-by-cj-werleman/

    Stephen Knight says (emphasis is mine):

    Werleman quotes from Nathan Lean almost as much as Hedges. Lean is quoted in the book as saying ‘New Atheist’ opinions on Muslims are ‘uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect’. Which is interesting given Lean’s attitude and comments towards Muslim and anti-Extremist Maajid Nawaz are utterly disgraceful – referring to him as a ‘lapdog’ and Harris’s ‘Muslim Validator’. The idea being that a brown-skinned Muslim critical of Islamism can’t possibly be thinking for themselves, but must be a puppet of the evil (and smarter) white man.

    Except there is no proof that this is the idea Nathan Lean has. None whatsoever. People also call Tony Blair a lapdog – are they saying Englishmen are unable to think compared to Americans? Nonsense! Considering Nathan Lean works with Muslims, and writes about Islamophobia, the idea he thinks someone who is a Muslim must be of lesser intelligence who cannot think for himself seems to be silly. The attack by Lean is on Nawaaz, not Muslims or brown-skinned people, but Stephen Knight shamefully smears Lean. So come on New Atheists, who is going to call Stephen Knight out on this?

    • AU, imo you are frequently using the example of one person or situation to generalize to all New Atheists.

      • AU says:

        AU, imo you are frequently using the example of one person or situation to generalize to all New Atheists.

        I disagree. I am just curious why not even one New Atheist has called him out on this? I mean, I have seen *many* New Atheists, you included, link to his post as a take-down of CJW. Therefore, you have all read it. However, why hasn’t anyone challenged him on this ridiculous smear?

        BTW, there are also some other very silly and unintelligent things in Stephen Knight’s post, that no New Atheist has challenged these either also speaks volumes.

        PS, If someone wrote an article that I agreed a lot with, and I cited it, I would still always make sure I made clear that I do not endorse the article in it’s entirety.

        • Michal Michaels says:

          You disagree, even though you just used a single person in a group to represent an entire group.

          • AU says:

            You disagree, even though you just used a single person in a group to represent an entire group.

            I wasn’t using him to “represent” an entire group. I have consistently said that New Atheists are not homogeneous. See: http://www.heatherhastie.com/is-new-atheism-a-cult/#comment-5267

            I was simply stating at how New Atheists are citing his article all over the place, yet I have seen none call him out on his pathetic “racism” smear. Now I don’t know about you, but if a prominent member of the movement I identified with wrote something, incorrectly smearing someone, I would contact them asking them to justify why they are smearing that person – I would also post at their website, raising this issue. For example, I have debated Glenn Greenwald, who I really admire, when I think he is wrong, and we actually got into an argument recently, and I then posted an entire post, on his site, criticising him. But maybe it’s just me, maybe I expect too much when I expect people to speak out against wrong wherever they see it, and maybe most people are just happy with their tribalism.

  15. Night-Gaunt49 says:

    Seems to me the rational is being set down in relation to ammunition, as if they need it, to come after all Atheists, Secularists and other.
    What is worse is that the bigoted Christian ID is being replaced with Atheist. A now common tactic pioneered by Lenin.

    I am shocked at those others who find “New Atheists” i.e. the ones that stand up and shout it out, as being bigoted. Especially someone as erudite as Chomsky. Disappointing to say-the-least. Being against such a universal aspect of humans is a very dangerous place to be. People are also fearful of out right suppression as went on in ostensibly “Atheist” dictatorships like Russia was and China still. (They simply substituted a religious hierarchy for a secular one. Like another drug used in place of cocaine or heroine.

    The way I see it it is all Evolution. Should the environment change to where being secular and without any “spiritual sense” that is when any real big changes will happen.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson says:

    Of course the whole idea of trying to demarcate an ill defined group and then strawman it is ludicrous. (The current generation of atheist skeptics do not differ from earlier generations in content.)

    That said I can vouch for that few atheists agree wholesale. Out of the accommodationist appointed ‘New Atheist leaders’, I find myself disagree with each one on crucial points. Though I have also been convinced on other points, for example I do accept that Jerry see “free will” as a purely theological/philosophical construct.

    Speaking of unconvinced, I don’t agree with Dawkins on his crossbreed between a philosophical (“strong theist/atheist”) and science (“likelihood”) description of formal religiosity. In other cases science puts up a quality constraint on such descriptions, usually a less than 5 % likelihood that what we observe is not a random occurrence means that we “know” – provisionally.

    If Dawkins’s probability scale was linear, the boundary between knowing provisionally or not would go withing group 7, because this isn’t prior likelihoods. We have all lived a bit and can’t easily confabulate a philosophical state of no observation.

    And there wouldn’t be any “know for sure” category on a likelihood scale because we can never observe a 100 % noise free process. Possibly we could say after robust research that we “surely” know… (O.o)

  17. Religions are cults that have lost their amateur status and turned professional

    irony metre sproings, eh?

  18. A couple of posts commenters may be interested in by Godless Spellchecker/Stephen Knight:

    His comments on The Young Turks’ response to Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest:
    http://www.gspellchecker.com/2015/09/the-young-turks-link-ahmed-mohameds-bomb-clock-fiasco-to-atheists/

    and

    His review of CJ Werleman’s book: http://www.gspellchecker.com/2015/09/book-review-the-new-atheist-threat-by-cj-werleman/

    • Coel says:

      Neil, you likely don’t want me replying on your blog, so two replies here, a minor one first:

      … it was written “by an Atheist Who Shall Not Be Named” [Coyne] said for some unexplained reason

      The reason is that at the time when CJ Werleman’s serial and rampant plagiarism and sock-puppetry was exposed, Jerry Coyne was so disgusted by Werleman that he made a rash promise never to mention him again, and promising a free book to any reader who caught him out on that.

      Well, I caught him out and am now the proud owner of a free, signed book by Coyne! Ever since then he has been careful to avoid mentioning CJ Werleman. 🙂

      And now for the substantive bit:

      … I do not believe that Islamic beliefs themselves cause people to become terrorists.

      Is this to be interpreted as:

      “I do not believe that Islamic beliefs are among the package of beliefs and factors that causes people to become terrorists”.

      Thus, in a given person, “Islamic belief” could be swapped with “Jain belief”, with zero effect on their likelihood of becoming a terrorist.

      If that’s what you mean, then can you justify and support it? I would find it a rather unlikely claim.

      Or do you mean that:

      “I do not believe that Islamic beliefs are sufficient and complete in themselves, such that a Muslim is very likely to become a terrorist regardless of all other factors.”

      That one, is, of course, held by no-one, not Harris, not Coyne, not Dawkins.

      I am honestly trying to understand you here. It would be really useful if you would clarify what you are saying and what you think Coyne et al are saying.

      • Anyone is welcome to reply and comment on my blog according to the standards of comments that apply to everyone there.

        But I do get exasperated with going around in circles with you. You take one sentence of mine out of context and try to suggest I’m arguing something opposite to what I have set out.

        I have posted so often on terrorism pointing out the many diverse explanations for it. Of course religion is often a factor but if you bothered to investigate the research for yourself and not take the word of unqualified biologists etc then you would know how religion and religious thinking does and does not relate to motives.

        If you were really trying to understand you would do a proper response to our posts (Dan’s, I mean, as well as mine) and comments where they have been set out in full. But just taking one sentence or two in isolation ripped from context won’t cut it.

        I have begun a series on how 12 different mechanisms are understood to lead to extremist violence. The first two are found in some forms of terrorism — and one of them is a modern Islamic terrorist. When you understand the psychology and dynamics of human behaviour according to established research you will see exactly what it meant by religion being a factor but not a causal one with respect to violence.

        Coyne has appears not to have read any of this literature — or he could not possibly represent it as he does. But he has told us how little he thinks of it. He gets a few sound bytes from a few of them and thinks that’s all he needs to know to understand them — just as you pick out a few sentences and ignore everything else.

        What interests me is the literature of the research itself. I am and have often in the past discussed it in many posts. If you want to discuss any of that you are welcome.

        I and Dan have already responded to you in detail on Coyne’s arguments and I have no intention of repeating all of that again here. When you are ready to forget Coyne and look at some research from those qualified and trained in the relevant areas then we might have a more fruitful conversation.

      • I should have added, Coel, that I do not mean either of the alternatives you have set out. You are still thinking of religion and religious thinking and human behaviour in very simplistic terms that do not relate to the findings of psychology and anthropology.

        You seem to keep trying to fit ideas into the either/or dichotomies of your own assumptions and failing to grasp what it is that Dan and I have posted about and what the qualified authors specializing in these fields (not Coyne or Dawkins) that we have listed and referenced quite a few times now.

        • Coel says:

          I should have added, Coel, that I do not mean either of the alternatives you have set out.

          Then what do you mean then? Honestly, I don’t think it’s entirely my fault that I’m unsure what you’re trying to say.

          And yes, I have actually read some of your longer posts on terrorism (and some of Dan’s). Mostly I read them thinking: “Yes, I agree; very sensible; I concur … nothing to object to …”.

          But then at the end of such a post you claim something like: “… and this refutes the ankle-deep thinking of Coyne and Dawkins”, and I think, whoa??, what part of the above is inconsistent with anything they’ve said??

          And I’ve no idea because you don’t actually say. You don’t quote them, what you appear to do is attribute to them bizarre strawmen positions and then attack those.

          And above, I ask quite genuinely for clarification, in an attempt to move the conversation forward, and you avoid giving it.

          • rickflick says:

            Coel, you are one of the most patient people I’ve observed here. Congratulations. You deserve a medal.

          • What I mean is exactly what I said — not the alternatives you are looking for. Why do you not accept what I said? What I said is what I’ve been trying to explain from the outset.

            Which post did I conclude with “this refutes….”? — if you can be specific on such a post it might help me understand why we are not communicating.

            I have — and Dan Jones especially has — analysed the posts of Coyne but you reject our analyses or respond to sentences ripped from context only.

            You have presented interpretations of Coyne and Harris that contradict what they have clearly written– as Dan himself pointed out in detail. But let’s leave Coyne and co aside and focus on understanding what the scholarship says about terrorism. You said you agree with the posts I have written about it.

            An old adage for people failing to communicate is to have each of them try to sum up what they believe the other person is saying each time to be sure they really do understand before moving on to the next step. I think that might be helpful.

            Maybe it would help if you could take on of the posts you agree with and sum up in your own words what it is you agree with and understand the point to be.

            The question we need to be asking is “what leads people to extremist violence?” We need to be careful we are not prejudicing our answer by framing the question like “How does Western Imperialism or poverty or Islam lead to terrorism?” And we need to begin with a scholarly understanding of what we know about human behaviour.

          • If you read my second post on how terrorists are made you would see an interesting question implicit there: what role did Islam play in Al-Zawahiri’s path to becoming a hardened terrorist? Clearly it is not irrelevant. At the same time, it is evident that had the same mechanisms of personal and group grievance happened to a non-Muslim the outcome could have been exactly the same — as the other case-studies of non-Muslims demonstrates.

            And this is looking at just one small subset of terrorists. We find other factors at work in many other instances.

            The answers are not always neat and simple.

          • “The answers are not always neat and simple.” This is pretty much the point of my post. From my point of view what’s happened in this case is there is a disagreement amongst atheists about what the causes of Islamic terrorism are. We all acknowledge there are several factors, but each of us weights the factors differently. You have provided what you consider irrefutable evidence that your weighting is the correct one, but that hasn’t persuaded everyone. You look around and you see that four of the people who are disagreeing with you are well known NAs (Dawkins/Hirsi Ali/Coyne/Harris) and a fifth is a Muslim generally respected in the NA community (Nawaz). It seems to me that you are therefore assuming that the only reason some NAs aren’t accepting your pov is that they aren’t thinking for themselves and are blindly following Dawkins et al.

            Now take this example. Just about every atheist has, at least once, been presented with evidence by a theist that the theist considers irrefutable that there’s a god/s. Almost all atheists accept the Theory of Evolution, but most of us have had numerous (or at least heard) arguments with those who provide what they they is irrefutable evidence that ID is a valid scientific theory. Last I heard him talk about it I think Dawkins had been sent around twenty copies of the same book on the subject. Those people think atheists are brainwashed, they don’t believe they don’t believe, and all sorts of other things.

            Now, I’m not comparing your evidence with theirs – I’ve no doubt that your evidence is valid scholarship. That doesn’t mean that the reason I (and others here) disagree with you is because we’re all starry-eyed about Dawkins et al. I do admire all the people I named above. I do not agree with everything they say. The only one I’ve had the opportunity to say that to directly is Coyne, and I do. I have never had any of my comments on his site that disagree with him edited or deleted. (I have had comments edited or deleted, but that was for other reasons, reasons which I agree with.)

            I mentioned in my post that there are atheists who do get a bit carried away with their admiration. I just want to make it clear here that I wasn’t referring to Coel, as that may have been assumed by some because you and he have been discussing this issue at length on your site. I have always found Coel reasonable, balanced and fair. (Sorry if that sounds patronizing Coel – it’s not meant to be.)

            From the assumption that the only reason we disagree is our admiration for leading NAs, you are assuming cultish behaviour. To be a cult, a belief system has to meet all of the criteria listed. Even if you had proven that we met the first criterion, it’s clear NAs don’t meet any of the other criteria, and therefore are not a cult.

            Last week I downloaded the first twelve issues of Inspire, the magazine of AQAP. There is a constant theme throughout them all of using their interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith to justify their actions. There is also a lot of talk of the political motivations for their actions. I’ve got a lot left to read, and I haven’t yet performed a thorough analysis, but so far my impression is that religious motivations outweigh political ones.

            At this point, I’m not going to get into an argument about whether or not my impressions are correct. I have a lot more analysis to do, and I haven’t looked at many of your arguments. However, I don’t think it’s useful to throw around insults like Werleman does, especially when that’s exactly what he accuses NAs of doing to religious people. Personally, I don’t. I don’t back down in an argument either, and I see no reason why I should in most circumstances. Religion is not the source of all ills, but religious privilege is a problem in our society.

          • AU says:

            You have presented interpretations of Coyne and Harris that contradict what they have clearly written– as Dan himself pointed out in detail.

            PZ Myers had a post about this last week:
            http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/09/16/the-saga-of-slippery-sam/

            Sam Harris has an amazing talent: he can say the most awful things, and a horde of helpful apologists will rise up in righteous fury and simultaneously insist that he didn’t really say that, and yeah, he said that, but it only makes sense. And they have a battery of excuses that boil down to another contradiction: you must parse his words very carefully, one by one, and yet also his words must be understood in their greater context. They actually have a lot in common with radical Islamists: the sacred holy texts can only be understood in their original language, and the appropriate way to study them is by rote memorization.

            So even when Coyne says Islam is the motivation for terrosists, Coel wants us to believe Coyne is actually saying Islam is only one of the motivations, and even when Dawkins asks what else but faith could have caused the Pakistani Taliban to attack a school, Coel wants us to believe Dawkins is really saying faith was just one of the reasons!

            Dawkins is pretty wily, in his formal writings he actually talks about nuances, so he will admit for example that violence by terrorists also has a politcal element, but on Twitter he just shows his bigotry, because he knows that if challenged he can always defend his bigotry by saying that it is difficult to express yourself on Twitter, he didn’t really mean that, and he has written before expressing his true views on the subject.

          • We all acknowledge there are several factors, but each of us weights the factors differently.

            I don’t know that we do weight them differently. I think we have different perspectives on the functions of different factors. Not the same as weighting. Weighting implies we have a similar idea of cause and effect and are just adjusting relative strengths.

            You have provided what you consider irrefutable evidence that your weighting is the correct one, but that hasn’t persuaded everyone.

            I don’t consider my evidence “irrefutable”. That’s not the way I argue. Everything is open to question. My own ideas are always being questioned by me as much as anyone else. I am open to alternative ways of examining and assessing the evidence.

            You look around and you see that four of the people who are disagreeing with you are well known NAs (Dawkins/Hirsi Ali/Coyne/Harris) and a fifth is a Muslim generally respected in the NA community (Nawaz). It seems to me that you are therefore assuming that the only reason some NAs aren’t accepting your pov is that they aren’t thinking for themselves and are blindly following Dawkins et al.

            This is rather dismaying.

            My point that started this entire discussion was to ask Coyne why he failed to refer to the scholarship of those who specialize in the relevant human behaviours. That was — and remains — my point. It applies not only to Coyne but to Harris and Dawkins, too. (I don’t know of Hirsi Ali’s work and I don’t recall Nawaz’s understanding being informed by the scholarly research either. I am also a veteran of a cult and am very familiar with the way many of “us” argue about our former experiences — but a much deeper understanding can be acquired by studying the scholarly research, too.)

            Now take this example. Just about every atheist has, at least once, been presented with evidence by a theist that the theist considers irrefutable that there’s a god/s. Almost all atheists accept the Theory of Evolution, but most of us have had numerous (or at least heard) arguments with those who provide what they they is irrefutable evidence that ID is a valid scientific theory. Last I heard him talk about it I think Dawkins had been sent around twenty copies of the same book on the subject. Those people think atheists are brainwashed, they don’t believe they don’t believe, and all sorts of other things.

            This is a quite invalid analogy. Many atheists do indeed study and accept the scholarship I am speaking of and have quite different views from Harris, Coyne et al. What concerns me is that some scientists (it makes no difference that they are atheists) are stepping outside their realm of expertise and making statements that are contrary to all the scholarly research among specialists in the field and using their public popularity to spread these unscholarly — incorrect — ideas.

            From the assumption that the only reason we disagree is our admiration for leading NAs, you are assuming cultish behaviour. To be a cult, a belief system has to meet all of the criteria listed. Even if you had proven that we met the first criterion, it’s clear NAs don’t meet any of the other criteria, and therefore are not a cult.

            I have never suggested that “the only reason” you disagree is your “admiration for leading NAs”. I have never said that. What concerns me is that some prominent NAs are speaking outside their area of expertise in ways that appeal more to popular prejudice than to the scholarly research.

            Last week I downloaded the first twelve issues of Inspire, the magazine of AQAP. There is a constant theme throughout them all of using their interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith to justify their actions. There is also a lot of talk of the political motivations for their actions. I’ve got a lot left to read, and I haven’t yet performed a thorough analysis, but so far my impression is that religious motivations outweigh political ones.

            Now what does the research of anthropologists who have met and talked with the terrorists and supporters of terrorism say about this? If one thinks their arguments are not persuasive then one needs to explain why they are not persuasive.

            I don’t back down in an argument either, and I see no reason why I should in most circumstances.

            I try to avoid getting into arguments and generally walk away if I think a discussion is getting to that point. I have “backed down” several times in discussions and learning that I have been quite wrong on some very significant ideological viewpoints and lesser points. It’s embarrassing but I have admitted it when that happens. When I became an atheist it was because I determined to be as honest as I could be with the evidence no matter what that did to my ego.

          • AU says:

            Heather,

            I will save my comments regarding you and Coyne for the thread that you said you will write in response to The Curious Case of Jerry Coyne.

            I think the reason NAs come to such a different weighting on the part religion plays in Islamic terrorism is because New Atheists dislike religion, and thus they don’t look at things objectively, and come into the debate with a bias. The position is already formed – “religion is bad”, and so when religion is involved in something bad, the natural thing for them to do is to try and bend the facts around the conclusion they already hold instead of looking at things objectively and then forming a conclusion. Admitting this however is very very difficult for New Atheists, because they have always been led to believe that in contrast to the arguments of theists, which are biased and often irrational, New Atheists are the custodians of rational, objective debate. (And people who try to say religion plays no part are also coming into the debate with a bias that religion is good, and they too are not being objective).
            Human beings have this amazing ability to think they, and their tribe, are actually better than them over there, and this ability is independent of whether you are theist ot atheist, liberal or conservative. I have had an amazing debate with some former work colleagues via email recently – it all started after the Queen overtook Victoria and all that rubbish. Now my colleagues vehemently believe they are pro-democracy and objective, ironically, we had had a debate on objectivity only a few months ago, yet when I argued that the Queen has no right to be Head of State unless she is elected, my colleagues started defending her and the current system abd started coming out with all these unsubstantiated claims like “the Royals bring so much money to the British economy”, “if we didn’t have them we will get President Blair”, “they only cost us the price of a pint of milk” etc. So here were my so-called objective and pro-democracy colleagues arguing with a clear bias for something non-democratic!

            Of course, I too am human, and I too have subconscious biases. However, I try to be as objective as possible, this is why when I want to study something and form an opinion, I will go and study it from a pro, anti, and neutral point of view. If you actually go to Neil’s site, you will see I have questioned him on religion and suicide bombings – I actually think the weighting of how much part religon plays is slightly higher than he suggests. However, I do generally agree with what Neil is saying, he has after all provided quite a lot of evidence and argued his case, and it is consistent with my view of the world that humans are very complex beings, however, if someone presents scholarly evidence to the contrary that shows Islam is the root cause of Islamic terrorism – and I mean scholarly evidence, and not the kind of evidence Jerry Coyne presented about some psychologist who has had no papers published in any journals and whose only claim to fame is at anti-Islam sites such as Jihad Watch or conservative sites such as FrontPage magazine, where he claims “Islam creates monsters” – then I am happy to amend my conclusion.

            I think if more people were aware of the biases they might have, or rather, more willing to acknowldege the biases they might have (I think most people are aware of their biases, they simply do not want to acknowledge them), it might help them come to conclusions based on the evidence presented before them.

      • TFJ says:

        It is perfectly plausible that religious belief alone could cause one to become a terrorist. If one believes that one is enacting the will of the creator of the universe and the source of morality then all other considerations fade away. Islam is so dangerous because it can reasonably be read as requiring the death of infidel civilians. This is why Harris and Maajid Nawaaz are of the opinion that the urgent task is to make tolerant Islamic interpretations and traditions dominant.

        • TFJ says:

          You don’t need to bend the facts around to conclude that bad acts carried out in accordance with scripture that are not in the scripture of other religions and not significantly carried out by adherents of other religions are closely associated with the religion. When the actors explicitly state their religious motivation and are committed enough to welcome death and believe they are going to paradise you really have to put the blinders on to conclude otherwise.ISIL fighters run away from female soldiers because they really BELIEVE that to be killed by a women denies them entry to paradise. They are steepd in belief and their actions are in accordance with those beliefs. Poverty or oppression do not cause Islamic scripture.

          • AU says:

            ISIL fighters run away from female soldiers because they really BELIEVE that to be killed by a women denies them entry to paradise. They are steepd in belief and their actions are in accordance with those beliefs. Poverty or oppression do not cause Islamic scripture.

            LOL! This is hilarious. It just goes to show just how ignorant you are.

            There is not even one Islamic scripture I have ever come across that says if you die at the hands of a woman, you will not go to Heaven. Not one. I challenge you to find one that states this.

            The fact you just believe everything you hear without checking out the source shows how easily brainwashed some people are.

            This is a perfect example of how urban myths are created.

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11110724/Isil-fanatics-fear-being-killed-by-a-woman-will-deprive-them-of-virgins-in-paradise.html

            If you look at the article, one Kurdish woman says ISIS think they will go to Hell if they are killed by a woman. This is one Kurdish woman’s opinion – there is no evidence to support her claim. A US politician takes this one statement, which has no factual evidence for it, and then changes it from they will go to Hell if killed by a woman to they think they will not go to Heaven if killed by a woman. And then suddenly newspapers start reproducing this as if it is a fact, and people like you start believing it! 😀

        • This is also the subject of Hirsi Ali’s latest book. She thinks Muslim needs the equivalent of an Enlightenment, and has proposed some ways for this to happen.

  19. AU says:

    I found this quite interesting regarding the experiences of an author from New Zealand, Bernard Beckett, regarding Dawkins and New Atheism.

    https://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/06/bernard-beckett-converting-from-atheism.html

    It was during this time that you chaired an event for Richard Dawkins and, as a result, shifted your views from atheism to agnosticism. Why the conversion?

    The event sold out very quickly. The people were huge fans of Dawkins, and being amongst a group of card-carrying atheists was something I’d never experienced before.

    I’d probably have called myself an atheist at the time. But normally, that means going your own way and creating your own response.

    Instead, it felt more like being in church. Suddenly, there were a whole heap of people who seemed to be responding as one. To me, that reproduced some of the things I disliked about the church I was brought up in, because leaps are made from atheism to other beliefs that you are meant to have as well.

    For instance, the belief that there is something negative about the influence of religion, which I don’t necessarily think is true. It’s a very complex sociological question that would take a lot of research, but suddenly, if you’re one of us, you also have to be against religion.

    At that point I feel uncomfortable. I also felt uncomfortable with the idea of wanting to convert people – to atheism in this case. It felt evangelical, and that’s not my instinct at all.

    There was an issue of New Scientist recently, where Marcelo Gleiser wrote about the search for the theory of everything. Gleiser believes that this is a bit of a hangover from religion.

    For some people, like Dawkins, science is about beauty and meaning and truth. I’m really uncomfortable with that. I don’t think science is about that at all.

    Science is a little bit more than a wonderful way of modelling and predicting, it’s a wonderful technical abstraction. I think science is a really wonderful technical abstraction.

    I can’t see any great evidence that humans have any ability to access anything other than the material world. Beyond that, who knows, but there’s no good evidence that would take me to any particular belief. And that seems to me to me to be a more rigorous view and one I’m much more comfortable with.

    • rickflick says:

      “I can’t see any great evidence that humans have any ability to access anything other than the material world.”

      This statement begs the question of whether there is, or whether you think there is, or whether you think there is any evidence for anything other than the material world.

      “Beyond that, who knows, but there’s no good evidence that would take me to any particular belief.”

      Beyond the material world? Well then you imply that it cannot be know. What does it mean to say there is no good evidence for a particular belief? Do you mean a particular religious belief in a non-material world?

      Your more rigorous conclusion is pretty vague to me since your argument is not very clear. Just asking…

    • TFJ says:

      I take issue with the word ‘convert’ here. The idea is to dispel unevidenced religious belief, not to ‘convert’ to a different belief. It’s an obvious and frequently made point that agnosticism makes no more sense than doubting that the laws of motion will apply tomorrow. There is as much evidence for such a law suspension as there is for the existence of a god, so why is it necessary to profess such uncertainty?

      The only semi-valid point Beckett makes is that sometimes atheist gatherings may get a bit churchy. Other than that the quote is all about his feelings and fiddling with semantics. Who cares what Marcelo Gleiser believes about the TOE or that Beckett can’t find beauty in science?

      • rickflick says:

        Yes, I believe you are right. The term agnostic was applied long ago (I think it was Huxley) when there seemed a need for a euphemism a bit softer than atheist. As you point out, it’s, in once sense, not as good as the old standby (which I will stand by).

  20. Yakaru says:

    Two examples of how a dialogue is possible between atheists and religious people: see Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz talking together; and look at Tim Rutten’s discussion with Christopher Hitchens. Neither of these non-atheist people are wasting everyone’s time trolling, ascribing motives and personal failings without evidence (beyond simply quoting others who also ascribe them without evidence). And neither contest the fact that they don’t have any evidence for their religious beliefs. That is why they are interesting to listen to.

    Just saying “you’re all in a cult” is exactly the kind of stupid and insulting bigotry that Hitchens and Dawkins are always accused of.

    And anyone who thinks that Coyne or Hitchens say religion is the only cause of terrorism hasn’t read them. Sorry, but what people say is to be found in their words, not in a vote by people who haven’t been paying attention. The majority of Hitchens’ writing focuses squarely on politics, for heaven’s sake. ‘God is Not Great’ explores these connections extensively, but you can’t know that without reading it.

    And fine by me if you want to claim religion doesn’t influence behavior, but you have to throw out the good as well as the bad.

  21. Coel says:

    Hi AU and Neil,

    And this is exactly you, I mean, even when Coyne is sitting there writing that Islam is the motivation for Islamic terrorism, you are sitting there saying he didn’t really mean it is the motivation for Islamic terrorism, he means it is one of the motivations, …

    Yes, exactly, that’s exactly what he does mean. Thus phrase “Islamist theology causes terrorism” actually means “Islamist theology is one of the causes of terrorism”. Harris fully accepts that political and social factors are relevant, and indeed said so in the recent dialogue with Nawaz.

    This is the centre of our disagreement, so at the risk over over-repetition:

    Take the phrase “smoking causes lung cancer”. The tobacco companies might reply: “no, smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, that’s clearly fallacious, since millions of smokers don’t have lung cancer”. Or they might reply: “no, it is genetic susceptibility that is *really* important, smoking is just a side issue”.

    Both of these rebuttals come from taking an over-simplistic interpretation of “smoking causes lung cancer”, as though there can only be one factor, one “cause” involved. When the tobacco companies reply like that they’re being deliberately mendacious.

    “Smoking causes lung cancer” actually means “smoking is one of the causes of lung cancer”, and yes of course genetic susceptibility and other environmental factors are relevant!

    So, when Dawkins or Coyne or whoever say that Islamist theology causes violent extremism they are not implying that political and social factors are irrelevant! You are acting like the tobacco companies, taking a highly simplistic interpretation of a phrase in order to try to refute it.

    When I tried arguing this on Vridar, Neil just deleted the comment and called me a troll. It seems to me that you two are the ones who have overly-simplistic single-cause notions of how causality works, and are misinterpreting the NAs as a result.

    It is mind bogglingly obvious that all sorts of political and social and personal factors are involved in terrorism. But Coyne & Dawkins are entirely correct to *also* blame religious factors!

    Neil, Dawkins recently tweeted:

    “When Bush stole 2000 election from environmentalist Gore: worst turning pt in recent history? We’d have had: no Iraq war, no IS. What else?”

    That shows Dawkins pointing to the role of politics and US foreign policy. You say he doesn’t do that. You also say that Dawkins is “embedded in the political right” and that he expresses support for “wars of aggression”. Are those claims really in line with that tweet? Might you be misinterpreting Dawkins all along?

    • Ken says:

      While I agree religion is a factor in terrorism, there is just no doubt that Harris minimises the effects of non-religious causes. It used to be that he would only mention other causes to dismiss them. He says his work with Nawaz has changed his views more than he has changed Nawaz’s and I think this may be an example, because in my email exchange with Harris several years ago, he claimed that politics was essentially irrelevant. And you’ll never hear him discuss such obvious ideas such as, if we stopped killing so many of them, maybe fewer of them would want to kill us.

      That’s a far cry from expressing support for wars of aggression. Hitchens did that with Iraq, but I don’t think that Harris or Dawkins have. However, their naïvety (or at lease Harris’ who I know better) regarding geopolitics certainly can lead to accusations of at least inadvertently providing support for illegitimate Western interventions. But those who say that is their deliberate intention are I believe not being fair. People don’t have to have evil intent to be wrong.

    • AU says:

      Your analogy of smoking causing lung cancer and religion causing terrorism is like comparing apples and oranges – you are comparing something that can be scientifically shown to have a high causation to something which scholarly work hasn’t shown a high causation.

      86% of cases of lung cancer are a DIRECT result of smoking – in these vase number of cases, smoking is the ONLY cause of lung cancer, not “one of the causes” of lung cancer. So when people say smoking causes lung cancer – they are right, in 86% of cases of lung cancer, smoking caused it, and nothing else.
      Now if in 86% of the cases you could show that Islam alone was the cause of Islamic terrorism (or even 50%), and there were no other factors, then no one would have a problem with saying Islam is the motivation of Islamic terrorism, because it would be in many, many cases. However, no scholarly work has shown anything close to this figure, and Neil’s research suggests that on the contrary, it is very rare that Islam is the only cause of a terrorist attack. And you yourself agree that Islam isn’t the only reason, and you say Coyne and Dawkins and Harris agree too. So why are you comparing something (smoking) that is usually the ONLY reason for lung cancer to something (Islam) that you yourself say NAs say isn’t the only reason for Islamic terrorism?

      Additionally, 10% of smokers gets lung cancer. However, less than 0.001% of Muslims become terrorists. So, again, it just shows how silly your example is.

      Let’s summarise:
      Scientifically proven that circa 86% of lung cancer cases are a result of smoking and smoking alone, and 10% of smokers will get lung cancer.
      Scholarly work shows that it is very rare that Islamic terrorism is the result of Islam and Islam alone, and less than 0.001% of Muslims become terrorists.

      And yet, somehow, you are trying to compare the two?!

      So, when Dawkins or Coyne or whoever say that Islamist theology causes violent extremism they are not implying that political and social factors are irrelevant! You are acting like the tobacco companies, taking a highly simplistic interpretation of a phrase in order to try to refute it.

      Apologist argument. Words are said in context – when Dawkins et al are saying Islam causes terrorism, they are saying it within the context that religion is bad. Therefore, they are cherry-picking one factor that might have played a part in a terrorist act, and concentrating on that. Their aim is to influence public opinion that religion is bad and is causing terrorism. This isn’t scholarly or objective – if they were scholars, they would analyse each and every case when a terrorist attack happened, and write about it with all the nuances. They don’t do that, and so they are being disingeneous.
      Imagine I don’t like cannabis, and then try to influence public opinion against cannabis. My public position is that cannabis will sometimes be one of the factors that causes someone to commit a crime. Now, imagine that every time a criminal who was a known cannabis user committed a crime, I wrote an article saying how bad cannabis is and that this guy was a cannabis user and cannabis motivated him to commit a crime. According to you, I am doing nothing wrong, because I have never said that cannabis is the only reason, I have said it can be one of the reasons, and therefore I am not saying cannabis alone caused him to commit a crime!!! Nonsense. The reality is I am trying to influence public opinion to dislike cannabis, by simply honing in on the cannabis aspect (because I dislike it), and am then reporting to the public as if cannabis was the root cause of this guy’s criminality, when I have no proof it was. Now if I actually studied this individual’s background first, found out what was going on in his life, and then saw that this person seemed very happy, had no criminal past, had a good life, started taking cannabis, and then went off the rails, then my article trying to show how cannabis can have a bad effect could be justified, because the evidence would suggest that cannabis was the root cause of his criminality . However, without knowing the full background, and simply writing an article trying to give cannabis a bad rep is wrong – for all I know, this individual might have knocked the other person unconscious because the other person has stolen from him in the past.

      For example, look at this Dawkins tweet:Very few faith-heads are as evil as Taliban or IS. Yet what else but faith is CAPABLE of making people do such evil?. It’s clear what his game is, yes, Dawkins actually admitted that grievenaces and not religion are often the cause of terrorism, but here is again trying to influence public opinion against religion by trying to suggest that religion was the only cause of this terrorist attack, when in reality, that is nonsense – maybe the member of the Pakistani Taliban who ordered this attack had lost his children in an attack by the Pakistani Army and decided he will take revenge by bombing a school that children of members of the Pakistani Army attend. Therefore, there is no proof religion was the root cause of this attack, yet Dawkins, without knowing anything about those who did it, is trying to say it was.

      This is where your confusion lies – no one is saying a person doesn’t have the right to say Islam was the root cause in a terrorist attack. No one I know has ever said that. What they do say is that any conclusion shouyld be formed after analysing the background in detail before coming to a conclusion.

      When I tried arguing this on Vridar, Neil just deleted the comment and called me a troll. It seems to me that you two are the ones who have overly-simplistic single-cause notions of how causality works, and are misinterpreting the NAs as a result.

      No, we don’t have single-cause notations – you are projecting your simplistic thinking onto others.

      No one is misrepresenting the “NAs” – it is clear to see that they are often not scholarly, and that they are often driven by their bias and not objectivity, but because NAs have been indoctrinated that NAs are rational and honest and always argue logically, it is very very hard for NAs to acknowledge that their heroes can be disingeneous.
      I already demonstrated this when you were bending over backwards to defend Coyne censoring comments.
      http://vridar.org/2015/08/12/on-how-to-be-completely-wrong-about-radicalisation-the-curious-case-of-jerry-coyne/#comment-72669
      If you had an ounce of objectivity, the very first thing you would have done would have been to ask which comments Coyne censored. This is the most natural and rational thing to do. If someone complained to me George Monbiot had deleted their comments, I would not sit there trying to defend Monbiot – the very first thing I would do is ask them what the comment was. You however were not interested in asking anything about what the comment might have been, you had simply formed the opinion that Coyne is a good guy who believes in honest, open debate, and that he would never censor comments because they expose his extreme dishonesty.

      Now you will say that you have disagreed with Coyne in the past, but here’s the difference – disagreeing with Coyne is one thing, but accepting that he isn’t always honest and objective, that he has biases, and some of his views are bigoted, is another, and New Atheists find the latter very hard to accept because if they admit it, then the whole notion that the New Atheist movement is being driven by honest, rational debate, falls down like a pack of cards.

      Neil, Dawkins recently tweeted:

      “When Bush stole 2000 election from environmentalist Gore: worst turning pt in recent history? We’d have had: no Iraq war, no IS. What else?”

      That shows Dawkins pointing to the role of politics and US foreign policy. You say he doesn’t do that. You also say that Dawkins is “embedded in the political right” and that he expresses support for “wars of aggression”. Are those claims really in line with that tweet? Might you be misinterpreting Dawkins all along?

      First of all, I am not a fan of “left” and “right” and try to avoid using them – these categories are often mislesding. For example, you can have someone whose views are to the left for most things, but to the right for others – is this person left or right?

      I don’t know what Neil has said or not, but just because you criticise some aspects of a country’s foreign policy, it doesn’t mean you criticise all aspects of it. I am sure Dawkins has written about the US relationship with Saudi Arabia very unfavourably, but has he criticsed the American military aid to Israel? Has he criticised the American support for General Sisi? Has he criticsed the drone attacks on Pakistan and Yemen? Has he criticsed the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s son?

      IMHO, whilst Coyne and Dawkins are certainly liberal in many aspects, they also lean towards the right in other aspects. They are both public figures, they both know most atheists are liberal and on the left, and therefore, just like politicians and most public figures, they have to play to their audience. It’s quite interesting though just how often they actually refer to tight-wing sources when it comes to Islam. Take Dawkins today, he linked to a Breibart article by Frank Gaffney – the very same Frank Gaffney who called for the bombing of al Jazeera and who the SPLC describe as a paranoid conspiracy theorist.
      Or how about Coyne, he frequently links to Jihad Watch by Robert Spencer, and his rebuttal to the claim that Islam isn’t the root cause of most terrorism was to link to an article at Jihad Watch where a Danish psychologist, Nicolai Sennels, who is extreme right-wing and has said Muslims are “retarded” because of “interbreeding”, claimed that Islam is responsible because Islam creates “monsters”. I am sorry, but I know of no one who identifies with the “left” who would ever use such bigots to make their point.

      • Coel says:

        Your analogy of smoking causing lung cancer and religion causing terrorism is like comparing apples and oranges …

        The comparison is sound, and is actually very illustrative about how causation works. All along I’ve been suggesting that you (and Neil) believe in single-cause notions of causality, and now you go and admit it entirely explicitly. So thanks! You say:

        86% of cases of lung cancer are a DIRECT result of smoking – in these vast number of cases, smoking is the ONLY cause of lung cancer, not “one of the causes” of lung cancer. So when people say smoking causes lung cancer – they are right, in 86% of cases of lung cancer, smoking caused it, and nothing else.

        There we are, a direct claim of single-factor causation. You later say:

        Additionally, 10% of smokers gets lung cancer.

        Now, have you ever wondered why that is so low? Why is it that some smokers get lung cancer, and other smokers who have smoked just as much don’t get it? That would not happen under your suggestion that in the vast majority of cases smoking is the one and only factor.

        The answer is that smoking is never the “ONLY cause” and that other factors are ALWAYS important, in this case one of the other principal factors is genetic susceptibility.

        … it is very rare that Islam is the only cause of a terrorist attack.

        Never in the entire history of the universe has Islam ever been the ONLY cause of a terrorist attack! Only you and Neil think in such simplistic one-cause terms! The real world is ALWAYS more complicated and multiple factors are ALWAYS involved in anything as complicated as a human being!

        Then later, you say:

        No, we don’t have single-cause notations [notions?] – you are projecting your simplistic thinking onto others.

        Err, hello? What was that you just said above: “… in these vast number of cases, smoking is the ONLY cause of lung cancer, not “one of the causes” of lung cancer”.

        … when Dawkins et al are saying Islam causes terrorism, they are saying it within the context that religion is bad. Therefore, they are cherry-picking one factor that might have played a part in a terrorist act, and concentrating on that. Their aim is to influence public opinion that religion is bad and is causing terrorism.

        You are 100% correct, that is exactly what they are doing. But there is nothing un-scholarly about that. Scholars always have to pick and choose their topics (no one can research everything) and scholars often act as advocates of particular viewpoints. There is nothing wrong with this.

        You (and Neil) seem to think that Coyne and Dawkins are coming at this from the question: What are the causes of terrorism? And if *that* were the question they were asking, then the NA’s heavy emphasis on religion in terrorism would indeed be inappropriate, because other factors are equally relevant.

        But they are not asking that question! Instead, they are asking the question: What are the effects of religion on the world? And religious aspects of terrorism is one part of that bigger question. That’s why, when discussing terrorism, they focus on religion. That is entirely legitimate.

        • AU says:

          This is the problem that happens when you try and defend something that is “incorrect” – you keep ending up digging a bigger hole. What you have now resorted to is ignoring the context in which Coyne and Dawkins are “preaching”, and have gone down to literal meaning to try and defend them.

          First of all, everyone knows that technically speaking, there is no “single-causation” of anything. If someone gets shot dead by a terrorist, the terrorist isn’t the single cause of this death. There is the gun. There is the person who supplied the gun. The company who manufactured the gun. Then there is the fact that person was in a specific place at a specific time – if they had decided to go someplace else, the terrorist might not have found them that day and theyt would have been alive. The terrorist’s parents are also a cause of this death – if they hadn’t copulated when the terrorist was conceived, the terrorist would not have existed. This much goes without saying – of course nothing has just one cause.

          When Dawkins and Coyne talk about Islam causing terrorism, it is within a very specific context – and that context is that religion is bad and causes terrorism. Now of course everyone knows that literally speaking, Islam is one of the “causes” – if there was no Islam, then that terrorist would not have met other Muslims in mosques or have you what, and would not have been at that specifc place at that specific time to commit the terrorist act. So of course, literally speaking, Islam was one of the causes. But literally speaking, so was drinking water – if that terrorist hadn’t drank water previously, that terrorist would not have been able to carry out that attack. See how silly it is when you take the discussion out of context and go down to literal meaning?

          Going back to smoking, when people say smoking causes cancer, it is within a very specific context – the context of holding it responsible for the bad that it does. And smoking does to bad – if there was no smoking, then lung cancer cases will go down by 86%. However, if there was no religion, there is absolitely nothing to suggest that we would see a reduction in terrorism. Now I actually agree that in some cases of terrorism, religion plays a major part, and SHOULD be blamed. Even though there are other causes too, in these cases, the other causes were negligible compared to religion, so, yes, Islamic fundamentalism should be blamed. However, all the evidence so far suggests that in the najority of cases, this isn’t the case, and in many cases, our foreign policy was the driving factor.
          What Dawkins et al are doing however is trying to say all other causes are negligible, and Islam is the main cause – even though Dawkins admitted in one interview that it is usally grievances, he still tries to blame religion whenever he can. They are talking within the context of holding something responsible. They are not making simple observations, they are trying to blame religion. So when they say Islam is causing terrorism, they are not making an observation that Islam is just one of many causes … like drinking water! They are actively trying to convince people that Islam makes people into terrorists and if there was no Islam, terrorism would be reduced.
          But of course, we could ask them to clarify their position. So let’s do it, you post at Coyne’s website, why don’t you contact him and ask him this: “Jerry, can you please clarify – when you say Islam is causing people to commit terrorism, are you simply making an observation and nothing else? Do you agree that there is no evidence that if there was no Islam, terrorism would be reduced? Do you agree that there are many factors that cause someone to become a terrorist, and do you accept that if there was no Islam, people would still have grievances against us and they would still commit acts of terrorism, and do you accept that it is entirely plausible that some non-religious movement could have been created that could be committing more violence than Islamic terrorists? In other words, do you accept that there is no evidence to suggest that violence would be reduced if there was no religion?”

          You are 100% correct, that is exactly what they are doing. But there is nothing un-scholarly about that. Scholars always have to pick and choose their topics (no one can research everything) and scholars often act as advocates of particular viewpoints. There is nothing wrong with this.

          Gosh, there is so much ignornace in that statement, I do not know where to begin.

          First of all, Coyne, Harris and Dawkins are NOT scholars on terrorism or religion. If you think they are, then with all due respect, I don’t think you know the meaning of the word.

          Secondly, no one has said someone can research everything. However, any good scientist or journalist, before they submit a journal or write an article that they know will be read by the public and will influence opinion, will go and thoroughly research the topic before they write on it. Yet Coyne et al are writing and trying to influence public opinion on topics where they haven’t done even the simplest of research.
          Of course, scholars can act as advocates of a viewpoint of someone else – but only after they have studied all viewpoints. It is completely unscientific to cherry-pick a viewpoint, and advocate it, without studying all the other viewpoints. Or, if you do advocate a viewpoint without studying all viewpoints, then you have to make sure that the viewpoint is by a scholar who has studied all viewpoints objectively. You do not advocate the viewpoint of a psychologist who thinks Muslims are retarded because of interbreeding, like Coyne has done.
          I have opinions on string theory and problems with it, however, I have not studied Physics to a level where I can understand the Maths behind it. I have also not read all the viewpoints widely enough – therefore, it would be very silly of me, if I was a public figure, to start a blog saying string theory is rubbish and we should ditch it. I could of course start a blog exploring string theory, I could be saying “this is my opinion so far, can we please have a discussion on it”, and that would be fine. There would be nothing wrong with that. However, Coyne et al don’t do this – they came into the debate with a conclusion already formed, will try and bend “facts” to support that conclusion, and will also try and influence to also believe there incorrect conclusion – and there is something very wrong with that.

          • Jerry is not a religious scholar, but in preparation for his latest book he did read extensively and study a significant amount of theology and related subjects. It is unfair to brand him as someone who hasn’t even done the “simplest of research.”

          • Coel says:

            AU,

            When Dawkins and Coyne talk about Islam causing terrorism, it is within a very specific context – and that context is that religion is bad and causes terrorism.

            Yes agreed, well spotted! They are NAs who think that religion is a harmful influence, and they are pushing that idea.

            However, if there was no religion, there is absolitely nothing to suggest that we would see a reduction in terrorism.

            Yes there is: the large number of terrorist groups who state that religion is part of their motivation.

            Now I actually agree that in some cases of terrorism, religion plays a major part, and SHOULD be blamed.

            That directly contradicts your previous sentence.

            However, all the evidence so far suggests that in the najority of cases, this isn’t the case, and in many cases, our foreign policy was the driving factor.

            I don’t accept that in Middle-East contexts one can sensibly disentangle politics from religion. A lot of the political grievances are wrapped up with religion. Islam vs Israel for starters.

            What Dawkins et al are doing however is trying to say all other causes are negligible, and Islam is the main cause.

            Are they? Can you quote Dawkins or Coyne saying that all other causes are negligible? On this thread I’ve already pointed to a Dawkins tweet that says that if Bush hadn’t “stolen” the election from Gore then there would have been no Iraq invasion and hence there would be no ISIS.

            They are not making simple observations, they are trying to blame religion.

            Yes, we do know that! The NAs are indeed trying to blame religion!

            But the point of dispute is whether they are *also* trying to make out that “all other causes are negligible”. You claim they are, but I dispute that claim.

            Or perhaps you’re still stuck with your single-cause doctrine, such that trying to blame religion must necessarily imply that all other causes are negligible? But this is simply not so.

            In other words, do you accept that there is no evidence to suggest that violence would be reduced if there was no religion?

            That’s a strong claim, and you seem to be stating it as though it were obvious or a fact. Yet it conflicts with some of your own statements in this very comment. If you’re seriously suggesting that religion has *no* effect, such that there would be *no* reduction in violence without religion, then please can you try to justify that claim?

          • AU says:

            You think too simplistically. This isn’t an insult, or ad hominem, this is a legitimate criticism. For example, I write that there is no evidence that we will see a reduction in terrorism if there was no religion. You reply.

            Yes there is: the large number of terrorist groups who state that religion is part of their motivation.

            This is about as illogical as one can get. I don’t even know why I am doing this, but let me spell it out to you – let’s use p to denote the number of Muslims doing terrorist attacks a year. Now imagine there was no Islam, then obviously not all of these p people would be doing terrorist attacks. However, let’s imagine that out of these p number of Muslims, q is the number who are driven by anger or grievances and have you what and would latch onto something else to commit terrorist attacks. So we now have p-q number of people doing terrorist attacks, which is still less than p. However, with the absense of Islam, there might be a new political group that has been formed that advocates terrorism. Now let’s imagine that r number of people join this group and do terrorist attacks in it’s names, and these r number of people are not from p. So the number of people doing terrorist attacks is now p-q+r. Now if r happens to be greater than q, then p-q+r > p.
            Therefore, the number of people committing terrorist attacks if there was no Islam has gone up. Therefore, your statement that we will see a reduction in terrorism if there was no religion is unfounded.

            That directly contradicts your previous sentence.

            No it doesn’t. You think too simplistically, and therefore you think it does, but it doesn’t. There is no contradiction between A and B.
            A: However, if there was no religion, there is absolitely [sic: I wish Heather would correct my typos!] nothing to suggest that we would see a reduction in terrorism.
            B: Now I actually agree that in some cases of terrorism, religion plays a major part, and SHOULD be blamed.

            If you think there is then I am afraid I cannot have any debate with you.

            Are they? Can you quote Dawkins or Coyne saying that all other causes are negligible? On this thread I’ve already pointed to a Dawkins tweet that says that if Bush hadn’t “stolen” the election from Gore then there would have been no Iraq invasion and hence there would be no ISIS.

            Here is a Dawkins tweet that you keep ignoring: Very few faith-heads are as evil as Taliban or IS. Yet what else but faith is CAPABLE of making people do such evil? – I am not playing this game with you anymore, your posts are exactly the reason peoploe have started labelling New Atheism a cult – because you defend your heroes in a cult-like manner, which causes you to come up with all sorts of irrational and incorrect conclusions as I have just shown above.

            Or perhaps you’re still stuck with your single-cause doctrine, such that trying to blame religion must necessarily imply that all other causes are negligible? But this is simply not so.

            No, but you’re still stuck in your cult-like behaviour where you muist defend them at all costs, even if it means simply not reading what the other person has said and repeating yourself like a broken record.

            That’s a strong claim, and you seem to be stating it as though it were obvious or a fact. Yet it conflicts with some of your own statements in this very comment. If you’re seriously suggesting that religion has *no* effect, such that there would be *no* reduction in violence without religion, then please can you try to justify that claim?

            It doesn’t conflict with anything – holding the positions that religion can be the root cause of terrorism in some cases and holding the position that there is no evidence that terrorism will be reduced if there was no religion are not conflicting positions. This is really really simple logic.

          • AU says:

            Jerry is not a religious scholar, but in preparation for his latest book he did read extensively and study a significant amount of theology and related subjects. It is unfair to brand him as someone who hasn’t even done the “simplest of research.”

            Ok, I stand corrected.

            However, that still doesn’t change the point – to have your work taken seriously, you have to study both sides of the argument objectively. I am sure Glen Beck has done a lot of research on his latest book on Islam, but I am sure it won’t be taken seriously by scholars because Beck no doubt wrote that book for a conservative audience with the conclsuion “Islam is evil” already formed, and then did research to find things that might support this claim.

            What worries me about Jerry is, and I hate to sound like a broken record, his reliance on rabid right-wingers for some of the claims he makes about Islam – I am sorry, if your best source that Islam is the root cause of people doing terrorism is a psychologist who has had no articles submitted in any journals and who goes around saying Muslims are retarded because of interbreeding, you have some very serious problems with the position you are trying to peddle.

          • I’m not sure who you’re referring to here – I know you’ve said above but I can’t find it quickly. Anyway, obviously someone who says Muslims are retarded because of interbreeding is not someone you should be quoting. However someone in this thread (not sure if it was you AU or someone else) is basically saying we shouldn’t rely on any opinion from anyone on the right. To me, that’s what wrong with the US these days, and the UK is starting to get a bit like that too – the inability of people from different sides of the aisle to cooperate. For example, I hear Eric Bolling (Fox News) say he doesn’t trust any information from liberals. Even when it’s poll data from a company from Pew or Gallup, and the person is a friend, his mistrust is such he assumes the data’s been fiddled. There are always people with different viewpoints who are correct about some things, and also just because someone has a different viewpoint doesn’t mean they’re wrong (I know you’re personally not that pedantic). We need to be prepared to listen to and learn from others.

            There are other reasons to listen too. One of the reasons I watch a lot of Fox News is it helps me develop my arguments against the ideas promulgated there, and makes me aware what their lines of attack will be.

          • AU says:

            However, let’s imagine that out of these p number of Muslims, q is the number who are driven by anger or grievances and have you what and would latch onto something else to commit terrorist attacks. So we now have p-q number of people doing terrorist attacks, which is still less than p.

            I of course mean, q = number of people who are driven more by Islam than anger or grievances.

          • AU says:

            I’m not sure who you’re referring to here – I know you’ve said above but I can’t find it quickly. Anyway, obviously someone who says Muslims are retarded because of interbreeding is not someone you should be quoting.

            I of course mean inbreeding, not interbreeding!

            I am referring to non other than Jerry Coyne.

            https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/the-unctuous-and-dangerous-karen-armstrong/

            Even a commenter calls Coyne out on this – and Coyne has no reply.

            https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/the-unctuous-and-dangerous-karen-armstrong/#comment-1134399

            I am actually surprised Coyne allowed that comment through, the cynic in me says it’s because that poster has posted before and so Coyne felt obliged to let one of his regulars post, but if this isn’t the case, then credit to Coyne where due, and we need more of this at his blog.

            However someone in this thread (not sure if it was you AU or someone else) is basically saying we shouldn’t rely on any opinion from anyone on the right.

            I have never said this – I myself read things from opposing sides. However, when the right-wing site (or left-wing site) clearly has a bias, then you cannot take anything they say seriously without verifying it first yourself. So, I would not take anything Infowars says on climate change seriously, even though I go there from time to time to see what they are reporting because they do present some alternative news – news which I would never cite without first checking.
            Everyone knows JihadWatch is run by a Catholic priest who has a hatred of Islam and Muslims, so why would Coyne keep using them as an unbiased source on things about Islam? Everyone knows Breibart and Frank Gaffney have a hatred of Islam and Muslims, so why would Dawkins link to an article by Breibart?

          • Coel says:

            AU,

            Therefore, your statement that we will see a reduction in terrorism if there was no religion is unfounded.

            Well, that wasn’t my statement. I was replying to your claim that (added emphasis):

            … there is NO EVIDENCE THAT we will see a reduction in terrorism if there was no religion.

            Your own statement then contradicted that claim, when you said:

            Now I actually agree that in some cases of terrorism, religion plays a major part, and SHOULD be blamed.

            Now, that is indeed EVIDENCE THAT if religion were removed then terrorism would reduce. Granted, it is not *proof* or a guarantee that terrorism would reduce, but it is indeed *evidence* that it would.

            You are thus blatantly contradicting yourself in these rather rambling and confused comments.

            If you think there is then I am afraid I cannot have any debate with you.

            Up to you.

            Here is a Dawkins tweet that you keep ignoring: Very few faith-heads are as evil as Taliban or IS. Yet what else but faith is CAPABLE of making people do such evil?

            I think that’s a fair question (and note that it *is* a question). If you look at extreme behaviour such as burning someone to death for show, that sort of behaviour usually does involve an element of religious faith or some similar highly ideological faith.

            Anyway, you entirely avoided my main question. You claimed that Dawkins and Coyne et al are “trying to say all other causes are negligible”. Can you actually quote them saying that, or have you just made it up?

            I’ve already pointed to one Dawkins tweet that refutes the idea that he thinks political factors are negligible.

          • AU says:

            Now, that is indeed EVIDENCE THAT if religion were removed then terrorism would reduce. Granted, it is not *proof* or a guarantee that terrorism would reduce, but it is indeed *evidence* that it would.

            You are thus blatantly contradicting yourself in these rather rambling and confused comments.

            Nope, you are VERY confused, a person who is confused will always think the other person is confused, this is why you are rambling so incoherently. It’s the classic case of trying to obfuscate when you cannot defend your position logically, and so now you are coming up with all this nonsense, and all you are doing is digging a deeper hole.

            Again, I am going to have to show you how silly your above statement is.

            http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/evidence
            noun – that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.

            So if you are saying that there is evidence that if there was no religion, terrorism would be reduced, then you have to show there is very good reason to believe that if religion was taken away nothing else would replace it that could cause more terrorism. Evidence is in the context of trying to prove something – just cherry-picking a piece of information out of context doesn’t make it “evidence”. If someone is killed by a glock, you do not say you have evidence Alan did it just because Alan has a glock. You have evidence that Alan has a glock, but you do not have evidence that Alan did it. To try and prove Alan did it, you have to assemble all the other pieces of information you have that also suggest Alan did it, and then present them together as evidence.
            Similarly, if there was no religion, the number of terrorist attacks in the name of religion will be reduced – this is a conclusion based on sound reasoning, I don’t think anyone disputes this. It however isn’t evidence that the number of terrorist attacks overall will be reduced. To transform this piece of information into an evidence, you need to make a case showing that you have strong ground for belief that if religion went away, there isn’t anything else that will replace it that will cause more terrorism than religion does. If you can do this, then, yes, you have evidence that if religion was removed, then terrorism would be reduced. You still wouldn’t have proof – but you would have evidence. However, you haven’t presented strong ground for belief that if religion went away, there isn’t anything else that will replace it that will cause more terrorism than religion does, therefore, there is NO evidence that if religion was reduced, then terrorism would be reduced.
            It’s like homeopathy – homeopaths claim to have evidence from the trials they have done that homeopathy works. They have produced figures that show people who took homeopathic medicines improved. Does anyone take this evidence seriously? No. People say there is NO evidence that homeopathy works. They don’t say “granted, it isn’t proof that homeopathy works, they say it ISN’T evidence.

            This is where you get so confused – the whole concept of information, evidence and proof is confusing you.

            I think that’s a fair question (and note that it *is* a question). If you look at extreme behaviour such as burning someone to death for show, that sort of behaviour usually does involve an element of religious faith or some similar highly ideological faith.

            Your post just shows why people call New Atheism a cult – I knew you would try and defend your Great Leader with the apologist argument that it is a “question”, when it is clear to everyone that it isn’t a question, it is a rhetorical question.
            Ideological faith also includes New Atheists worshipping their Great Leaders in a cult-like manner.

            Anyway, you entirely avoided my main question. You claimed that Dawkins and Coyne et al are “trying to say all other causes are negligible”. Can you actually quote them saying that, or have you just made it up?

            Again, your obfuscation due to cult-like worshipping is getting silly. It’s like a misogynist, who, often when there is a car crash involving a woman, makes statements like “female involved in ANOTHER crash”, and when someone accuses this person of “trying to blame women for car crashes”, a cult-like worhsipper of this misogynist comes and says “Can you actually quote them saying that, or have you just made it up?”

            I’ve already pointed to one Dawkins tweet that refutes the idea that he thinks political factors are negligible.

            I have already discussed Dawkins, and said that Dawkins actually admits that in the majority of cases, it is grievances and politics and not religion. The point here isn’t what Dawkins actually believes, but how he tries to influence public opinion.

          • Coel says:

            AU, wow what a confused ramble.

            The fact that so much current violence is wrapped up with Islamist theology is indeed *evidence* (not proof) that without religion there would be less violence.

            If I were claiming solid proof then I’d need to establish the things you say, but I’m not, I’m claiming only evidence.

          • AU says:

            AU, wow what a confused ramble.

            The fact that so much current violence is wrapped up with Islamist theology is indeed *evidence* (not proof) that without religion there would be less violence.

            If I were claiming solid proof then I’d need to establish the things you say, but I’m not, I’m claiming only evidence.

            Nope, as I said before, people who are confused think others are confused. You still do not understand the concept of evidence – or, you probably do, but as you have now got yourself in a hole, you’re just having to dig deeper.

  22. Coel says:

    Neil,

    What I mean is exactly what I said — not the alternatives you are looking for. Why do you not accept what I said?

    So you refuse to expound or explain what you mean? Fine, up to you, but in that case I’ll stick to my interpretation of what you’re saying. Your statement:

    … I do not believe that Islamic beliefs themselves cause people to become terrorists.

    Seems to me equivalent to a tobacco-company spokesman saying:

    “I do not believe that smoking itself causes people to get lung cancer”, and saying that “the logical fallacy here is surely obvious (but apparently not to Coyne)”, since “If “smoking” is in any way responsible for lung cancer then we have a real problem — How on earth do we explain the millions and millions of smokers who don’t have lung cancer?”.

    That’s exactly what you’ve said, but about smoking and lung cancer rather than Islamic beliefs and terrorism.

    I’ve presented this comparison to you several times (you didn’t like it on your blog and just deleted it). You’ve never replied directly to this comparison.

    I’ve given you every opportunity to explain your meaning, or to retract and re-phrase your statements. The less charitable interpretation is that you, like the tobacco companies, are being mendacious. But, I don’t think that’s the case. Instead I prefer the more charitable interpretation that you simply don’t understand multi-factor causation.

    Which post did I conclude with “this refutes….”?

    That was a paraphrase, clearly labelled as such by the words “something like …”, but you have said repeatedly that you consider the view of Coyne and Dawkins to be refuted by scholarship.

    I have — and Dan Jones especially has — analysed the posts of Coyne but you reject our analyses or respond to sentences ripped from context only.

    I don’t accept that any of my replies were out of context or unfair. If you think there is something wrong with picking lone sentences to make an argument, then why do you repeatedly point to that one Sam Harris statement: “As a man believes, so he will act”?

    Maybe it would help if you could take on of the posts you agree with and sum up in your own words what it is you agree with and understand the point to be.

    I agree that all sorts of political, social and personal factors are relevant and important in the origin of terrorism and in who becomes radicalised as a terrorist. I’ve stated that to you multiple times already.

    No-one is disagreeing about that! Writing post after post about political, social and personal factors that lead to terrorism doesn’t rebut the point that religious factors are *also* an important cause of Islamist extremism.

  23. Robert says:

    One has to understand that this is a psychological and sociological play.

    The religious need to show how bad atheists are in their attitudes. By doing so, the religious do not have to pay attention to them, and hence, throw out any argument that they may have been presented.

    It’s both simple and pathetic.

    Why else are atheists reviled more than any other group in the U.S.?

    • AU says:

      The religious need to show how bad atheists are in their attitudes. By doing so, the religious do not have to pay attention to them, and hence, throw out any argument that they may have been presented.

      You are very confused. This debate isn’t about religious attacking atheists – it is about atheists attacking New Atheists.

      Why else are atheists reviled more than any other group in the U.S.?

      No, they’re not – Muslims are.

    • rickflick says:

      That makes a lot of sense.

  24. paxton marshall says:

    Can anyone cite new atheist investigations or criticisms of the role of Christianity and Judaism in motivating the west’s terrorism against Muslims in Iraq and Gaza? Unleashing the world’s most sophisticated weapons against people with no effective defense against them surely constitutes terrorism, and on a much larger scale, with much more devastating results, than anything Muslims have done to westerners. Have any new atheists acknowledged this? Bush and Blair, the leaders of the Iraq invasion, are both outspoken Christians. Have new atheists investigated the role of their religion in pushing the invasion? Have the investigated the role of “end times” theology in supporting it? Have they investigated the influence of evangelical Christianity in the US military academies and in the services themselves? Have they investigated the role of the outspoken evangelical General Boykin in promoting the war among the US military? Netanyahu’s coalition includes Jewish religious parties. Have the new atheists explored their role in instigating the Gaza slaughter of 2014? Have they explored the role of religious Jews in expanding settlements in the occupied territories or blocking any two-state negotiations that would return the west bank to form the basis for a Palestinian state? Have they explored the Jewish/Zionist indoctrination of Israeli Defense Force training, which almost all Israeli young people receive?

    If the new atheists are not addressing any of these issues, it is absurd to claim that they treat all religions equally. To criticize Christians for putting the ten commandments in courtrooms and Jews for refusing to sit next to women on planes, while ignoring the roles of Christians and Jews in terrorism on Muslims but obsessing about the role of Islam in attacks on westerners, is not criticizing all religions in an impartial fashion. As far as I can tell, the new atheists have lent their influence to join with fearmongers, war profiteers, and extremist Christians and Jews in vilifying islam and supporting western aggression. Hitchens was up front about this in his support of the Iraq invasion. Others have been more circumspect, but nevertheless complicit.

    So no, new atheism is not a cult, but it has compromised its integrity and sacrificed its credibility by joining a political vendetta. Their clear bias in favor of what Ken aptly calls “western exceptionalism” undermines any claim they may have to leading an atheist critique of religion. Heather, I hope you will reconsider some of your statements such as: “Everyone knows that the terrorists in the ME are all Muslims” or that “Islam is the mother of all bad ideas” (Harris) or that “Obama’s failure … to call Islamist terrorism what it is means too many members of the public think all Muslims are the same”. Whether you call statements such as this religious bias, or cultural bias, or racial bias, they are clearly not bringing science and rationality to the study of religion. And if they are not doing that, what are the new atheists doing that is useful?

    • AU says:

      Excellent post.

    • Yakaru says:

      I’m afraid you’ve gotten ahead of yourself. By assuming that the Iraq & Gaza wars were “against Muslims” you assume that the religion of the victims was significant in the decision to attack them. But that is actually an argument that you would need to make. Sadly, instead of making it, using evidence and analysis, you have simply asserted in the framing of the question.

      Also, your repeated demands to know whether “New Atheists” have dealt with any of this could have been answered simply by googling it, so I will also leave that to you, in the hopes that you might research it and learn something before demonstrating your ignorance again.

      Same again with all this blabber about “Have they explored the Jewish/Zionist indoctrination…” Again, you assert that which you actually need to establish. You do this repeatedly. It’s an extremely poor way of presenting a case. It assumes that you are right and your readers know it and merely need to be brow-beaten until they admit it. In fact, you are profoundly ignorant about these issues, but being entirely unfamiliar with the territory, you don’t know it.

      Your comment contains no research, no awareness of viewpoints other than your own, and despite being a string of questions, no interest in hearing any answers either.

      I apologize to Heather for engaging with this troll’s off-topic rant, but this kind of hysteria gets under my skin sometimes.

      • AU says:

        I apologize to Heather for engaging with this troll’s off-topic rant, but this kind of hysteria gets under my skin sometimes.

        There is no need to be rude. Him and I are regulars at Heather’s, and we have had many debates and disagreements with Heather, and we have never resorted to calling one another names.

        I do agree however that Hitchens was very critical of the West and Israel, and it’s wrong to lump him in the same group as say Coyne or Harris – I think Hitchens is reviled on “the left” because he became a neo-con.

        • Yakaru says:

          He should change his tone if he doesn’t want to be answered directly.

          “Have they explored the role of religious Jews in expanding settlements in the occupied territories or blocking any two-state negotiations that would return the west bank to form the basis for a Palestinian state?”

          Jerry Coyne condemns the illegal settlements and calls them “unconscionable”. If he makes these kinds of ignorant and aggressive accusations he should get used to what it feels like to be corrected. Have they explored the role—??? Has this fool read any of their work? Of course they have. They all have. Dawkins has, Harris has. Hitchens edited a book about it. Sorry, but if you ask a string of deliberately inflammatory rhetorical questions, all of which are stupid, you shouldn’t grizzle if you get a direct, undiplomatic correction.

      • Ken says:

        Paxton is no troll!

    • Ken says:

      The answer of course, is yes, there are people that identify as NA that are concerned with these issues. Even Sam Harris has talked about the motivations of Israeli settlers and that their State, based as it is on religion, shouldn’t even exist. I’m not sure why that gets no attention by the right, but there you go.

      The problem here is that any thing the few high profile NAs say is taken as fundamental to the “movement”, which, to the extent it can be called a movement is about speaking out against the untruth and effects of religious belief in general. This is probably inevitable given the naturally huge interest in terrorism, but in fact NA does not equal obsession with Islam. There’s a big group worried about the effects of religion on public policy generally, and there’s another big group worried specifically about terrorism, and in the intersection we find NAs, but by no means all.

      Re Heather’s quotes, I’m on record agreeing with her about Obama, because I think it is silly to pretend Daesh isn’t motivated by Islam, even if geopolitics is what enabled them to have formed. That’s the thing about faith; you can’t say some group is interpreting scripture wrong as it’s only your word against theirs where no facts exist. A majority interpretation, where such exists, simply does not equate to a canonical interpretation.

      As for the specific quote on Obama above, I have some sympathy for that too. Nawaj makes the same point that it would help the majority of moderate Muslims if the extremists were identified as such, so that they were clearly not identified with them.

    • By taking this stance Paxton it seems to me that you are somehow blaming NAs for the behaviour of Christians. It’s all our fault because we didn’t criticize the Christians enough. For a start, you know I was opposed to the Iraq war – we’re been over this before, and you’ve said that you accept I’m telling the truth about that. There were millions around the Western world who opposed the Iraq war. Blair faced multiple protests from both Christians and atheists (new and otherwise) alike. I also think the Christianity of Bush influenced his decision-making, but that’s no revelation as he’s said so many times himself.

      You think NAs have a bias in favour of Western exceptionalism. I’m not sure what you mean by that. If it means I think that the values of freedom of speech, human rights, women’s rights, freedom of association, freedom of the press etc., are better than those of a Muslim theocracy, then yes I do and I’m not apologizing for that. That doesn’t mean I think any people anywhere in the world are better or more important than any others, and I think you’d struggle to find me ever expressing anything like that.

      • Paxton marshall says:

        Heather, no I’m not blaming new atheism for the behavior of Christians. I’m saying NAs can’t be considered credible voices on the role of religion in violence if they only recognize the violence perpetrated by one religion and ignore the violence perpetrated by others. I know that you and other NAs have not supported western violence, but neither have they held it to the same scrutiny to which they have held Muslim violence, particularly with regard to the religious elements supporting it. Which is supposedly their main focus.

        I’m not saying we shouldn’t appreciate the values and benefits of western secularism. I do and I hope these values will eventually take hold everywhere. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves as Bush tried to do when he said the purpose of the Iraq invasion was to spread democracy. We invaded for multiple reasons, oil, militarism, profits for the military-industrial complex, etc which are still not completely understood. But one of the driving forces was religion. End times, the Biblical endowment of the promised land to the Jews, revenge against Muslims for 9/11, even though we sttacked the wrong Muslims. The NAs seem to have little interest in identifying the religious antecedents of western violence against Muslims. This is what makes their analysis skewed, simplistic, and biased. The real message is often not in what people say, but on what they don’t say.

        • Ken says:

          Paxton, it would of course be good if Western religious motivations for violence came under some scrutiny. But right now I’d be happy if just the fact and scale of Western violence was fully acknowledged. Can’t expect people to examine the motives for something they don’t fully admit even happened.

          Heather, exceptionalism in the context of foreign policy is the belief that the US has benign, unself-interested motives for intervening globally. The reality is that the US has behaved much like any other empire in ruthlessly pursuing it’s own interests, with exhibit A being the Middle-East. This is what enables Harris and others to minimise US crimes as mere mistakes rather than intentional acts. As I think Paxton said elsewhere, this despite that the resulting slaughter was predictable and often predicted.

          Chomsky uses the analogy of a person who kills in a street fight being unable to claim innocence for the death just because it wasn’t intended, because the law says if the predictable result of one’s actions is a crime, then one is liable for the crime. Imagine if this held true in international conflicts?

          • Ken, I have never thought the US’s motives were benign, and I hope I haven’t given that impression. Like every other state, they act in their own best interests.

          • paxton marshall says:

            But do we (the US) act in our best interests Heather? How was it perceived to be in our interests to invade Iraq. Why did our leaders feel so strongly compelled to invade that they fabricated evidence to make Iraq appear more of a danger than it was? Benefits for war-profiteering corporations? Sure. Promotions for the generals? Yes. Glory for Bush and Blair? No doubt. What kind of glory? Fulfilling Biblical prophecy? Likely. Just like the profiteers will never admit they supported the war for profit, the religious supporters will never admit they support the war to fulfill prophecy. Someone claimed that when the “west” declares it is attacking for religious reasons, the NAs will attack that as well. Three blind mice. Can only see what they are told.

          • I think they believed it was in their best interests. It’s obvious to nearly everyone now they were wrong, and a lot of people at the time thought so too.

            One of the problems with many government decisions is that they are not evidence-based. They believe they are doing the right thing, just like so many of them believe there is a god. It’s all a form of personal revelation. If more government policies were evidence-based, we’d all be a lot better off. It’s one of the things I think religion is a problem, because it teaches people to accept things based on their feelings and faith.

          • Ken says:

            No, wasn’t suggesting that. You said you weren’t sure what was meant by Western exceptionalism, so I was just defining it.

        • I’m sick of the royal ‘We’ you constantly use about the West. My country didn’t get involved in the war in Iraq. I’ve never had any delusions about why Bush went to Iraq. In those countries that did, there were some pretty big protests against the war, and it was a whole range of people from a whole range of religious viewpoints protesting. In the US there wasn’t much protest, and since there’s not a lot a lot of awareness of the rest of the world amongst the majority, there’s not so much awareness of how much opposition there was elsewhere. I am appalled by what happened but I’m not going to have someone else’s guilt thrust upon me.

          I also don’t ignore the violence carried out by religions other than Islam and I have mentioned it on this website. I’ve only been going a year, so I haven’t actually had the time to mention everything in the world. However, this site is not dominated by anti-Islam posts, and there have been several anti-Christian posts. If it’s dominated by anything it’s politics. There have been quite a few about various figures in the US Republican Party, and they all mention any extremist religions leanings they have, which are all Christian. I’m pretty sure that every time I’ve mentioned Carson I’ve said the reason he shouldn’t be president is his End Times beliefs, and I’ve another one about him planned. I’ve also half written (another) anti-Catholicism one which was supposed to be posted to coincide with the pope’s visit, but I haven’t been too well the last couple of days.

          Other NAs don’t ignore the role of religion either imo. All we say is that the role of religion is greater in Islamist terrorist groups than in the Situation Room at the White House. That doesn’t mean we don’t think religion influenced their decisions. I’m sure US soldiers raped locals in Iraq – I don’t think those who did it prayed before and after it or had it validated by their commanders as an acceptable weapon of war against those of a different religion.

          And why is it NAs job anyway? Are we supposed to do all the heavy lifting for all atheists then put up with being criticized and attacked when we fail to reach what they consider are the proper conclusions? If other atheists don’t like it, how about doing something about it? I’ll tell you why – because they struggle to find a credible voice, and surely if they had a persuasive argument, people would listen. Don’t blame NAs for failing to agree with you or make your argument – make the argument yourself.

          The Iraq War started more than a decade ago. It created the conditions that led to the current mess. I am not interested in going over whose fault it was constantly. I’m interested in dealing with finding ways to fix what the current situation is.

          • Diane G. says:

            Excellent response and statement, Heather!

            Regarding the US & protests–yes, there seem to have been far fewer than in the ‘Nam era, but there were still quite a few during the build-up to the Iraq war. What there wasn’t was publicity. The information, from onsite inspectors, about the LACK of WMDs was easily accessible but not at all emphasized.

            I worry greatly about the takeover of the major media by conservative tycoons and what that leads to in terms of reportage and coverage. Combined with the splintering of information sources (from 3 major networks to whichever political blogs one prefers) the press has lost considerable power. It’s quite scary.

          • Ken says:

            Heather, I don’t think Paxton was trying to get at you.

            The issues he raises are all relevant to finding that solution.

          • rickflick says:

            Hear, hear! Well said.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Heather, let me first congratulate you for stimulating and hosting such an interesting discussion. It is a privilege to be able to discuss important matters with articulate and well-informed people.

            By “we” when referring to the west, I chiefly mean US, UK, Israel. France was a player in the early 20th century. And then there are the COWs (coalitions of the willing) that they can scrape together for any particular initiative. I was not trying to thrust any guilt on you, or your fellow kiwis. The guilt, if any, is on me as a citizen of the worst perpetrator.

            And when I generalize about “NAs” I am primarily thinking of Coyne, Dawkins, Harris. I would categorize myself as a follower, except for their refusal to recognize that western (as defined above) violence against Muslims has far exceeded Muslim violence against the west, and to subject Christianity and Judaism to the same scrutiny as they hold Islam. My criticism is directed to this narrow, but important aspect of their activities.

            I realize that you and other new atheists criticize religions other than Islam. I realize that some Muslims, or Islamists, or whatever you want to call them, have engaged in acts of terror that should be condemned. I realize that some Islamic cultures remain at a tribal level of development that preserves harsh and often misogynistic practices that have largely been abandoned in the west. But the west has been guilty of large-scale terrorism and violence against Muslim countries that must be acknowledged in any fair analysis of the situation. And religion, along with the related sense of cultural superiority is very much involved with the wide spread failure in the west, shared by the new atheists, to subject western actions and motivations to the same scrutiny to which Muslim societies are held.

            You say: “I’m sure US soldiers raped locals in Iraq – I don’t think those who did it prayed before and after it”

            But how do you know that? I wouldn’t be surprised if some did. This assumption of cultural superiority, that it is not necessary to hold ourselves to the same standards as we hold others, is reminiscent of Kipling’s mission to civilize the benighted dark skin peoples of the world:

            “Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
            Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
            To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild—
            Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.”

            I’m not trying to define what new atheisms job is. But if they are going to pass moral judgments on the behaviour of Muslims, without applying the same standards to their own culture, their moral judgments have little value. They are just more special pleading for the superiority of their own culture.

            Finally on the Iraq war. I agree that the challenge now is to fix the situation. But if you don’t learn the lessons of the past you are destined to repeat them. People like Dick Cheney and his allies are on the loose, justifying the mess they created and advocating more of the same. People like Netanyahu are abroad trying to justify ever harsher actions against Muslims. Affixing responsibility is not just about moral condemnation, it is about learning from our mistakes. And it is about holding ourselves to the standards that we apply to others. My claim is that the new atheists, by and large and no doubt with exceptions, have failed to do this.

          • Yakaru says:

            Bravo, Heather!

            This “we” in the West ignores the fact that the UK was, I believe 80% opposed to the war. Spain was 92% opposed. (In Australia the human rat John Howard sent the navy but said he hadn’t made any decision, circumventing any public debate, then agreed to engage with no chance to stop it.) As an Australian citizen I wrote a letter saying he had made me into a target for terrorism, without allowing public debate. His office wrote back, incidentally and said “We in the West value democracy”. (Not bad for a country south-east of South East Asia.)

            Democracy, human rights, enlightenment values, and colonialism are not uniquely “western” values or practices at all.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Yakaru: “This “we” in the West ignores the fact that the UK was, I believe 80% opposed to the war. Spain was 92% opposed.”

            And yet we invaded. Doesn’t that call for an explanation? For oil? For Israel? For end times? Cost hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions. And no one feels compelled to ask why? Let’s just call it a mistake and move on? Why don’t we just do that with Muslim terrorism also?

          • Blair has said he was convinced by the evidence that Saddam Hussein had WMD, and that, coupled with the evidence of his character from the way he ran Iraq, including chemical weapons attacks on the Kurds, persuaded Blair that he would use them. For some reason I have this idea that he said he was shown evidence by the Bush administration that wasn’t made public that was especially compelling on the WMD thing, but I can’t remember where I remember that from, or even if it’s an accurate memory.

          • Ken says:

            Yes, the royal We is justified because citizens of democracies are responsible for the actions of their govts. It doesn’t mean we all have bad intent, it means we need to be sure our actions reflect that responsibility. This is true in Aotearoa as much as anywhere. Our govt lends moral support (and sometimes more) to US adventurism all the time by not criticising US interventions and by spying for the US, including on our own citizens. Not good enough to point the finger at others when our own house is not in order.

          • Ken says:

            Heather, whether Blair was lying, lied to or just delusional, his actions were shameful because he went against the clear wishes of the British population, and because he knew his intervention was not sanctioned by the UN and therefore illegal, a war crime.

          • I agree. I’m not saying he was right, just relaying the justification he gave.

  25. Paxton marshall says:

    Hmmm, seems I struck a nerve. So what if the terrorist attacks on iraq and Gaza werent because they were Muslim. The discussion is about the religious motives for terrorist attacks, on anyone. So don’t be sad that I didn’t use evidence and analysis to demonstrate a point that wasn’t relevant. The question is what part did the Christian and Jewish religions have in motivating the attacks. My questions highlighted some of the substantial reasons for believing religious motivations were present. If new atheists are asserting religious motivations for violence, why have they focused only on Violence committed by Muslims? I won’t address your insults, but assume you were frustrated because you disagreed with me but had nothing of substance with which to respond.

    • Coel says:

      My questions highlighted some of the substantial reasons for believing religious motivations were present.

      Well no, your questions didn’t actually do that. So, out of interest, what are the substantial reasons for believing that religious motivations were part of the Iraq invasion etc?

  26. Yakaru says:

    “why have they focused only on Violence committed by Muslims?”

    They haven’t. Google it for heavens sake. Read any of them.

  27. Yakaru says:

    Paxton:
    “As far as I can tell, the new atheists have lent their influence to join with fearmongers, war profiteers, and extremist Christians and Jews in vilifying islam and supporting western aggression.”

    Wrong. Dawkins strongly opposed the war and spoke out strongly and repeatedly against it. Harris opposed the war and spoke out strongly against it. Coyne opposed the war and wrote about it on his blog. Wrong on three counts at least of New Atheists.

    “Hitchens was up front about this in his support of the Iraq invasion.”

    Wrong. He supported the removal of Saddam Hussein for humanitarian reasons and based it squarely on international law.

    “Others have been more circumspect, but nevertheless complicit.”

    Wrong and you don’t know what the word “complicit” means. At least I hope you don’t.

    • AU says:

      You are cherry-picking one war which almost all liberals were against, and using that to say the people in question are anti-war. Has it ever occurred to you that if someone’s support base is largely liberal, they might make statements so that they don’t alienate sections of their support base?

      Anyway, they all supported the Afghan War, no? Did they speak out against the attack on Libya? Have they spoken out against the USA and Europe supporting General Sisi, a guy who took part in a coup and overthrew a democratically elected government, killing more than a thousand civilians? Have they spoken out against the drone strikes on Pakistan and Yemen? Have they spoken out against operations in Somalia?

      What if tomorrow we launch a war on Saudi Arabia to bring democracy and secularism to the country – do you think Dawkins, Coyne and Harris will sit there saying there should be no war?

      • Coel says:

        What if tomorrow we launch a war on Saudi Arabia to bring democracy and secularism to the country – do you think Dawkins, Coyne and Harris will sit there saying there should be no war?

        Yes.

      • Yakaru says:

        “You are cherry-picking one war which almost all liberals were against, and using that to say the people in question are anti-war. Has it ever occurred to you that if someone’s support base is largely liberal, they might make statements so that they don’t alienate sections of their support base?”

        Let me get this straight. You are accusing Harris and Dawkins of taking populist stances? That’s just plain stupid. They piss off their support base more than anyone else I think I’ve seen. Same with Hithchens. That is just so utterly absurd and stupid that I won’t pay any more attention to you.

        • AU says:

          Let me get this straight. You are accusing Harris and Dawkins of taking populist stances? That’s just plain stupid. They piss off their support base more than anyone else I think I’ve seen. Same with Hithchens. That is just so utterly absurd and stupid that I won’t pay any more attention to you.

          Of course they piss off “left-leaning” liberals, but left-leaning liberals aren’t their support base. Their support base are atheists who dislike religion but who are centre-left.

          And, no, you won’t pay any “more attention” to me because of whatever weird reason you have in your mind, but rather because I have shown that you were cherry-picking about Bin Laden and Australia, and that you failed to understand what Chomsky was saying.

        • I agree with Yakaru. You’re basically accusing all leading NAs who took a stance in opposition to the war of lying to appease their support base. The same support base who incidentally you have accused of getting all their thoughts from leading NAs in the first place.

          Unless you can provide some sort of evidence that they were lying, this argument just doesn’t hold water.

          • AU says:

            As I have said many times, New Atheists are not all alike who think alike on everything. Amongst New Atheists you have people who are “centre-left”, and you have people who are more to the “left” (yes, these terms are misleading, it isn’t this simple, just simplifying to make generalisations).

            Atheists who are centre-left and New Atheists who are centre-left will not be too bothered about wars in the name of “humanitarian intervention”. However, left-leaning liberals usually will, and so will left-leaning New Atheists. Left-leaning liberals are people who can potentially end up supporting New Atheists, and left-leaning New Atheists are atheists who could potentially disassociate themselves with the New Atheism movement if the leading New Atheists start supporting wars. So, yes, New Atheist leaders CAN alienate existing/potential supporters with their stance.

            I have never said they were genuinely not against the Iraq War. The post was in response to someone who cherry-picked one war to try and make it seem that leading New Atheists do not support war. However, considering they all supported the Afghan War, and considering I have not heard any speak out against intervention in Libya, or drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, it seems very silly to suggest that they are anti-war in principle. Therefore, if they are not anti-war in principle, then there is the possibility that they were not really against the war in Iraq, or if they were, it might have been because they thought a secular Saddam was better than a religious group that might come in power afterwards.

  28. paxton marshall says:

    Thanks for the support Ken and AU!! I realize the hazards of generalizing about such a diverse group as those who identify as new atheists and perhaps my claims about their political alliances were a bit strong (but I do know what complicit means). But no one has disputed my core claim, that (several of the best known) new atheists have not subjected the influence of Christianity and Judaism on terrorism to the same level of scrutiny that have Islam. In addition we have the seemingly credible testimony of Neil Godfrey, that even with regard to their judgments on Islamic terrorism, NAs have failed to exercise due diligence in their investigations of motivations. This doesn’t suggest that their opinions or conclusions on the role of religion in terrorism should be given much credibility. Again I realize each NA is an individual, distinguished in his own right. I have read the four gospels and quite a bet of Jerry Coyne. I’m sure they are all good people (Heather being the best) and I am grateful to them for pushing atheism ahead as a viable alternative to religion, but I believe they have underestimated the power and reach of religion, accepted too easily the assumption that all religious influence is bad, and allowed their implicit biases to seize upon Islam as their chief whipping boy, while giving a milder treatment to Christianity and Judaism.

    • rickflick says:

      “allowed their implicit biases to seize upon Islam as their chief whipping boy”
      My understanding of their position on Islam vs other religions is that they focus on terrorism in Islam simply because Islam is the current vehicle for so much violence going on on a daily basis. Their critisism started after 9-11 when Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. and other attacks took place in Europe. It is not that they have an unjustified bias. They have many times acknowledged that Christianity was as much or more of a bully during earlier times, such as during the crusades and the inquisition. Christianity, as you know, went through a period of upheaval called the reformation and was subject to secular cultural forces during the enlightenment. Islam has not enjoyed the same ameliorating influences.

      • Ken says:

        I think this is true too, yet they are misguided in focussing almost exclusively on Islam, as that will never lead to a solution when the root of the problem is geopolitical.

        • rickflick says:

          I’d prefer georeligiopolitical, but to each their own.

          • Ken says:

            Excepting Israel, modern terrorism only began in the context of increasing numbers of violent Western interventions. I don’t know of any credible argument that terrorist groups would have formed if these interventions hadn’t been going on. Yes, Bush said they hate us for our freedoms and Harris still says they want a global caliphate, but neither are credible.

            Now that the mess has been created, the issue is whether they would still be as violent towards us if we stopped being so violent towards them. There’s no particular reason to think this would be the case either, but we really should at least try it first.

          • rickflick says:

            “the issue is whether they would still be as violent towards us if we stopped being so violent towards them.”
            I don’t think the NA are currently particularly interventionist. With the exception of Hitchens earlier take on Iraq, you don’t see Harris, Dawkins or Coyne pushing for military action in the middle east. What they do, as scientists, is point out that religiosity is antithetic to human flourishing. As scientists they want to emphasis this aspect of jihadist motivation since others are trying, almost desperately at times, to clear Islam of any responsibility. If they seem to ignore other aspects of causation, it is probably because they see the need to balance the imbalance they see in the PC view. The NAs do not see it as their job to reiterate geopolitical history, but to try to make sure Islam, the 800 lb elephant, is not ignored.

          • rickflick says:

            I guess that elephant should be a gorilla, to keep my cliche straight.

          • Ken says:

            It’s not that they’re particularly interventionist, it’s that this topic simply cannot be discussed sensibly and real solutions found, if the 8000lb whale in the room of foreign interventions is ignored. That others ignore the causation religion has is no excuse for ignoring the even larger causation Western violence has. And the real shame is that we in the West can only do so much about other’s irrational religious prejudices, but our foreign policy is entirely in our control. Yet that is the thing they don’t feel a need to talk about. We could adopt a policy of reducing interventions and prioritise the reduction of the deaths of innocents right now and actually have a positive impact, and maybe then complain about other people’s dogma?

          • Diane G. says:

            @ rickflick @ 11:55

            Well said. And Coyne, at least, has a history of anti-war activities during the Nam era, FWIW. Although he mentions politics when it and religion intertwine, his is not a political blog. There are plenty of them around that cover the rest of what Ken, et al, want to emphasize.

          • Ken says:

            Seems bizarre, Diane. If Coyne doesn’t want to talk about politics, which I’m not even sure is true but never mind, then he shouldn’t raise issues that politics is fundamental to.

          • rickflick says:

            “If Coyne doesn’t want to talk about politics,…then he shouldn’t raise issues that politics is fundamental to.”

            What you seem to be saying is you have to be a political scientist before you publish your opinion on the causes of terrorism. First of all, this is essentially telling Coyne et al to just shut up. Second, if only political scientists are allowed to talk about the causes of terrorism, it is likely they will end up with biased conclusions based on their training. In fact this is what is currently happening in the U.S. People assume only political forces cause terrorism. Let a thousand flowers bloom. All thoughtfully considered views should be considered. It’s rather unfair to try to preempt viewpoints and silence participation based on a perceived lack of scholarly qualification.

          • Paxton marshall says:

            Rickflick, no one is trying to silence the new atheists (good luck to anyone who would try), but only to point out the serious biases in their analysis that makes them less than credible on the religious causes of violence. I do acknowledge that other western analysts, especially those on the right, are guilty of the same fault of failing to recognize western complicity (that word again) in the violence. “Oh what some gift the hogtie hie us, to see ourselves as ithers see us”. Burns.

          • Ken says:

            “What you seem to be saying is you have to be a political scientist before you publish your opinion on the causes of terrorism.”

            No, I quite clearly said the exact opposite, that it’s totally up to him what he wants to talk about. But if he chooses talk about a problem that was caused largely by geopolitics, then he should expect push back when largely ignores geopolitics.

            “Second, if only political scientists are allowed to talk about the causes of terrorism, it is likely they will end up with biased conclusions based on their training.”

            Biased conclusions are exactly what people like Coyne are reaching by largely ignoring the largest cause of terrorism.

            “In fact this is what is currently happening in the U.S. People assume only political forces cause terrorism.”

            There are plenty that make that mistake, and plenty that make the opposite mistake. Both are wrong.

            I think anyone should be able to talk about these issues. As I have no qualifications to do so, I’d have to be quiet if I thought otherwise. But anyone that is going to publicly foray into a topic needs to be prepared to deal with the major issues that are part of the topic. You can’t credibly claim you know what’s causing a problem when you largely ignore another possible major cause. At minimum you have to explain why you think it insignificant enough to largely ignore. I’ve never seen where Coyne has made such an argument and I know Harris hasn’t.

            Because I think geopolitics the far bigger reason for ME terrorist groups to target Western countries (specifically US interventions that have adversely affected millions of mostly Arab Muslims), the bias that results from Harris’ almost sole focus on religion take us far further from real solutions than the bias of those who ignore religion.

          • Paxton marshall says:

            Well said, Ken.

          • rickflick says:

            “then he should expect push back when largely ignores geopolitics.”
            There is definitely some common ground here since I (and I’m sure professor Coyne as well) EXPECT pushback. The pushback of major concern however is the tendency of accommodationists and liberals of a certain vintage attempting to shelter Islam because it is a religion and is sacrosanct – deserving of respect despite its tragic flaws. I don’t worry about pushback from political scientists who simply feel that blaming religion is given too much weight.
            But, I feel this conversation, hosted very bravely by Heather, has run it’s course. There is too much repetition and circularity to expect much progress. I bid farewell.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Rickflick: “The pushback of major concern however is the tendency of accommodationists and liberals of a certain vintage attempting to shelter Islam because it is a religion and is sacrosanct – deserving of respect despite its tragic flaws. ”

            Who the hell are you talking about? The people in the USA who think religion is sacrosanct are almost exclusively Christian, and hate Muslims even more than you do. The “accommodationists and liberals” who are pushing back against Islamophobia are primarily atheists who are saying, hey our country committed the greatest acts of terrorism and it was heavily promoted by religious elements. Why are we singling out Islam as a religious source of terrorism? Let’s investigate Christianity and Judaism as sources of terrorism also.

          • rickflick says:

            Paxton -> “Rickflick, no one is trying to silence the new atheists”

            Well, you didn’t exactly say STFU, but that’s what you are implying. Now answer me this: If all the NAs switched to talk only about political causes of terrorism and abandoned their warnings about religious causes, who would be there to fill the gap…to try to get a conversation going about the dangers of religion as a source of violent behavior? What would the conversation sound like with nobody pointing to the 800 gorilla?

          • Paxton marshall says:

            Rickflick, I’m not saying new atheists shouldn’t focus on religious causes of terrorism. I’m asking why they have not acknowledged that western terrorism against Muslims has exceeded Muslim terrorism against the west, and enquires into the religious causes of that terrorism as well. Their almost exclusive focus on Islamic terrorism, plays into the hands of people like Jeb Bush, who thinks his brother kept America safe and the Iraq war worked out pretty well.

          • Ken says:

            “The pushback of major concern however is the tendency of accommodationists and liberals of a certain vintage attempting to shelter Islam because it is a religion and is sacrosanct – deserving of respect despite its tragic flaws.”

            This is certainly not true for terrorism by ME groups directed against the West, where Harris, et al, are missing more than half the story when they focus so much on religion alone.

            Where it may be true is regarding violence other than terrorism by ME groups against the West, so within countries, whether it’s inter-Islamic violence in majority Muslim countries, or between Muslims and non-Muslim communities in the West, for example. It’s hard to tell as these two spheres of violence sometimes overlap and probably affect each other even where they don’t.

            I agree we’re starting to go around in circles here, so time to move on. Unless somebody says something outrageous, I’m going to let it go 🙂

        • Diane G. says:

          One factor not touched on much in this comment thread is that Muslim terrorists proclaim that their actions are undertaken explicitly in the name of Islam. They state it’s their motive. Note that I’m not talking about the actual importance of religion as a cause, but of the importance of it being declared to be the ultimate rationale.

          And because historically religion has crafted a special image as being unassailable and sacrosanct, any secular arguments are completely dismissable. Take away the Muslim ability to exculpate their actions by declaring that Allah demands them and the governments and strongmen involved will have to come up with better explanations, non-religious ones that will allow much more critical debate. Indeed, any debate at all. It’s no secret why Muslim constituencies in particular are behind the efforts to enact anti-blasphemy statutes.

          As long as their primary fall-back declaration remains untouchable (and gruesomely enforced), there’s no way to get around that via negotiation and bargaining, inter- or intra- nationally. The only way to reduce Islamic special privilege is to keep pointing out that it is invariably used by perpetrators to sanction and explain terrorism, something a civilized world can’t afford to tolerate; and this Harris, Coyne, and Dawkins do. Ken here has stated that the root problem is geopolitical, not religious, but even if that’s the case, it’s not something we can approach so long as the religious rationales are sacrosanct and at the forefront.

          • Ken says:

            I think this is wrong in two ways. First, at least some terrorists state very explicit political reasons for their actions. Certainly bin Laden’s reasons were more political than religious, repeatedly citing US support for Israeli oppression of Palestinians, and US enforced sanctions in Iraq that caused the deaths of over a million people as the core reasons for him to have turned on them.

            Second, if you believe this is what gives Mid-East extremist groups their biggest recruiting tool, as I do (admittedly made stronger when coupled with a religious argument), then the obvious answer is for the West to stop it’s constant violent interventions so as to take away the largest reason for those in the ME to want to kill us. This should shrink these groups and keep new ones from getting started. And the fact is that we have near zero moral standing on which to complain when we’ve been killing them for longer and in far greater numbers than the other way around.

          • Diane G. says:

            @ Ken’s 4:14 post:

            But do remember that the great majority of victims of Islamic extremists are Muslims themselves. That a major cause of violence is the rift between the Sunni & the Shia. And think of all the religious reasons Islamists pull out to justify the essential enslavement of women. You may be guilty of a too parochial–read, Western–approach to the situation.

            (FWIW I’m totally opposed to our (US’s) middle-east invasions.)

          • Coel says:

            Ken,

            Certainly bin Laden’s reasons were more political than religious, repeatedly citing US support for Israeli oppression of Palestinians, …

            But even reasons like that are just as much religious as political. Bin Laden (a Saudi) identifying with the Palestinians and against Israel has huge religious components as well as political ones.

          • Ken says:

            We need to distinguish between recent terrorism directed against the West, and violence (including terrorism) within the Muslim world. I’m only talking about the former. The latter has been around forever and certainly has a very strong religious aspect, particularly when it comes to women. But even here it’s not entirely religious. For instance, some attacks between Sunni and Shia are probably mainly about land. Religion is almost an excuse, because if the split didn’t exist, some other reason would be found to fight over the land. Complicated business.

          • Ken says:

            Coel, the difference is that even if religion didn’t exist, we could still expect a violent response to our violence, which again makes stopping our violence an obvious first step.

          • AU says:

            One factor not touched on much in this comment thread is that Muslim terrorists proclaim that their actions are undertaken explicitly in the name of Islam. They state it’s their motive

            They also say oppression by the West, the suppoort by the West of dictatorships in the Middle East, the killing of Muslims, the injustice in Palestine, is their motive. So who are you to say that their Islam motive is greater than the other motives?

            The question is, “if there was no religion, do we have evidence to show terrorism would be reduced?” – and the answer is, we don’t.

    • Ken says:

      I think the “core claim” is largely true, if for no other reason that Harris et al, don’t recognise state terrorism as terrorism at all. Sam refers to US atrocities as “mistakes”, which they have to be because by definition our intentions are good. These guys are still liberals in my opinion, because this Western exceptionalism certainly isn’t a neocon idea, but the huge blind spot makes there liberalism flawed. Yet to be fair, I agree with Sam when he complains that the majority of liberals who make the opposite mistake of mostly ignoring the role of religion are also flawed, as they won’t stand up effectively for human rights in Muslim majority countries, where the abuses are largely rooted in scripture.

      • Yakaru says:

        Ken:
        ” bin Laden’s reasons were more political than religious, repeatedly citing US support for Israeli oppression of Palestinians.”

        He also murdered Australian tourists in Bali — because the Australian military helped secure East Timor’s independence from Indonesia’s genocidal occupation (which killed 1/3 of the population). Indonesia carried out its invasion with US, UK military support and political collusion. He was fine with US actions then, and he was fine with colonialism then too. So it’s wrong to imply that bin Laden was upset about injustice, or that had the injustice not occurred, nor would the terrorist attacks.

        “I think the “core claim” is largely true, if for no other reason that Harris et al, don’t recognise state terrorism as terrorism at all. Sam refers to US atrocities as “mistakes”, which they have to be because by definition our intentions are good.”

        Flat wrong. Harris distinguished between 9/11 and Clinton’s bombing of Sudan because one was a mistake and the other deliberate. He made the distinction because Chomsky equated the two. You misrepresent Sam’s views.

        “don’t recognise state terrorism as terrorism at all”

        They do. They just use the term for its linguistic meaning rather than for naive rhetorical purposes. Hamas commits state terrorism. They recognize that. The Iraq war (which I also opposed, incidentally) probably had elements of state terrorism in the way it was at times conducted, and I see nothign that Sam or anyone would say that would dispute any clear case of it.

        I assume Sam would condemn actions of Israel where it crosses into state terrorism. But in the recent conflict Israel was clearly doing everything it could to minimize civilian casualties, and even took military casualties by sending in ground troops with minimal air cover. *Compared with* the efforts of Hamas to maximize their own civilian casualties and use their own people as a human shield, Israel is not to be condemned, rather Hamas.

        Plus, if Israel complied with Hamas’ demands, the attacks of Hamas would not stop. They are fighting a genocidal war against Jews. They are not fighting for Palestinian independence.

        Good point about SH standing up for rights of oppressed Muslims.

        • Ken says:

          “He also murdered Australian tourists in Bali”

          I’ve never read that. The Bali bombings are considered most likely to have been done by Jemaah Islamiah, a local group that is expected to now have ties with al Qaeda, but predates them.

          “He was fine with US actions then, and he was fine with colonialism then too.”

          So? He was a ally of the US before attacking them too.

          “So it’s wrong to imply that bin Laden was upset about injustice, or that had the injustice not occurred, nor would the terrorist attacks.”

          Wouldn’t be the first time someone was more upset about issues in their back yard than elsewhere. Of course, you could be right, and he could have said that only to recruit others to al Qaeda. But the ability to recruit is the issue. Fewer recruits, less terrorism.

          “Flat wrong. Harris distinguished between 9/11 and Clinton’s bombing of Sudan because one was a mistake and the other deliberate. He made the distinction because Chomsky equated the two. You misrepresent Sam’s views.”

          I didn’t even refer to that example, so couldn’t have misrepresented Sam’s views on it. I know what he emailed me several years ago when he wouldn’t acknowledge US crimes at all, and I’ve seen him minimise US actions in videos. It’s not that he says they weren’t wrong when pressed, but that he believes the reason the US is active in the ME is to help people or self-defence. So when we do something stupid it is excusable because our intentions are good.

          “They do [recognise state terrorism]. They just use the term for its linguistic meaning rather than for naive rhetorical purposes. Hamas commits state terrorism. They recognize that.”

          The point is they (Sam anyway) don’t recognise it or minimise it when the West does it! They certainly do not put it on the same level as Islamic terrorism against the West, even though far more people die as a result.

          “The Iraq war (which I also opposed, incidentally) probably had elements of state terrorism in the way it was at times conducted, and I see nothign that Sam or anyone would say that would dispute any clear case of it.”

          Probably? Only because it was far beyond terrorism. It was an illegal act of aggression, the worst of all war crimes defined at Nuremburg. The UN says sanctions and the war killed up to 1.5 million Iraqis. There’s genocide for you!

          “I assume Sam would condemn actions of Israel where it crosses into state terrorism.”

          And I’ve heard him do so as I said, though I’ve never seen him argue that their actions or ours have to change if we want to reduce terrorism.

          “But in the recent conflict Israel was clearly doing everything it could to minimize civilian casualties, and even took military casualties by sending in ground troops with minimal air cover. *Compared with* the efforts of Hamas to maximize their own civilian casualties and use their own people as a human shield, Israel is not to be condemned, rather Hamas.”

          Well, elsewhere on this blog is argued that Amnesty International can find no evidence that Hamas used human shields even though they asked Israel to provide it. But even if true, the best that can be said is that they’re both to be condemned. But Israel’s crimes are worse because they are the occupier and they hold the key to reducing the conflict.

          “Plus, if Israel complied with Hamas’ demands, the attacks of Hamas would not stop. They are fighting a genocidal war against Jews. They are not fighting for Palestinian independence.”

          If Palestine gained independence and Hamas kept at it, then the conversation would be very different. Come back when this happens.

          • Yakaru says:

            Regarding the Bali bombings, the point that I was making was that it was a case of terrorism being triggered by the *ending* of a colonialist occupation by a Muslim majority country that was actually supported by the west. If the west had kept supplying the planes and supporting the torturers, the Bali bombings would not have happened.

            “But Israel’s crimes are worse because they are the occupier and they hold the key to reducing the conflict.”
            Actually, Israel is not occupying Gaza.

            Watching last year’s conflict unfold, I was surprised at how much Israel tried to de-escelate the situation. The even tried a unilateral cease-fire which Hamas ignored. I don’t know how else they could have dealt with the pointless rocket attacks. And as you know, Hamas is not interested in democracy or freedom for its citizens. And it openly declares its intention of killing all Jews everywhere, simply because they are Jews. Their actions (rocket attacks, tunnels for kidnapping civilians) make no sense at all as attempts at winning freedom. I would argue that this is because they are not.

          • Ken says:

            What Paxton said.

      • AU says:

        He also murdered Australian tourists in Bali — because the Australian military helped secure East Timor’s independence from Indonesia’s genocidal occupation (which killed 1/3 of the population).

        Look at you cherry-picking. This is what Bin Laden said: “Australia was warned about its participation in Afghanistan, and its ignoble contribution to the separation of East Timor,” the tape says. “But it ignored this warning until it was awakened by the echoes of explosions in Bali.” Funny how you choose to ignore the part about Australian participation in Afghanistan.

        Flat wrong. Harris distinguished between 9/11 and Clinton’s bombing of Sudan because one was a mistake and the other deliberate. He made the distinction because Chomsky equated the two. You misrepresent Sam’s views.

        Flat wrong. Clinton knew that this was the only factory that produced drugs in Sudan. He knew that if it was destroyed, there would be a shortage of drugs in a country already under sanctions, and that many aid agencies will not be operate anymore. Yet he still went ahead and bombed it – even Hitchens, who you seem to really like, was absolutely critical of Clinton for doing this!

        • Yakaru says:

          Where on earth did you get the idea that I was supporting Clinton? Did you not notice that I referred to it as a crime? And I wasn’t necessarily agreeing with Harris either, incidentally. Merely pointing out the distinction that he had made — a distinction which, right or wrong, you seem incapable of perceiving.

          The point I made about Bali was to point out that Bin Laden was not acting out of horror at oppression and colonialism.

          • AU says:

            Where on earth did you get the idea that I was supporting Clinton?

            Where on earth did you get the idea that I think you were supporting Clinton? I was merely pointing out that Clinton knew that the bombing would result in the deaths of many many people who would lose access to medicines – so the distinction of it being a “mistake” and not “intentional” is wrong, but you have difficulty perceiving this.

          • AU says:

            The point I made about Bali was to point out that Bin Laden was not acting out of horror at oppression and colonialism.

            No, you were doing nothing of the sort. You were using Bali to show Bin Laden wasn’t upset about injustice. This has to be one the stupidest things I have ever read. By your logic, if someone isn’t concerned with injustice about one thing, then they cannot be concerned about injustice about anything. Following your logic, if someone isn’t upset at the injustice of people making clothes in factories in Bangladesh for a lower salary than they should get, then they cannot be upset about the injustice of people being killed in war or police brutality or have you what.
            The idea that many human beings are upset with injustices that are closer to their heart seems alien to you. By your logic, if someone isn’t upset at the injustice of the Palestinians, then if Russia developed some super weapon, invaded America, and kicked Americans out of their home and started living on their land, that person can’t be upset about the injustice against Americans because he wasn’t upset about the injustice against Palestinians! 😀

  29. paxton marshall says:

    Rickflick: “Islam is the current vehicle for so much violence going on on a daily basis” “Christianity was as much or more of a bully during earlier times, such as during the crusades and the inquisition.” Their [NA’s] critisism started after 9-11 when Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. and other attacks took place in Europe. It is not that they have an unjustified bias.”

    What is “current”? The US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq lasted from 2003 to 2011. Many thousands killed. Millions displaced, maimed, and homeless. The Israeli slaughter of the Gazans was in 2014. Over 2000 killed, many of them women and children. Western meddling and violence in the middle east is not a thing that happened centuries ago. It has been continuous for the last century and is ongoing. Yes, NA criticism started only after 9/11, because they ignore what the west has done to the Muslims and focus only on what the Muslims have done to the west. Just as this discussion continues to do. Coyne often speaks contemptuously of those who invoke imperialism as an excuse for Muslim terrorism, as if imperialism were a thing of the distant past. This is not unjustified bias?

  30. paxton marshall says:

    Ken: “the issue is whether they would still be as violent towards us if we stopped being so violent towards them. “

    Yes, that is the political issue faced by western governments. But for purposes of this discussion of whether new atheists are consistent and impartial in their attacks on various religions, the issue is why they have focused almost exclusively on Muslim violence towards the west, and ignored the west’s violence against Muslims.

    Rickflick: “What they do, as scientists, is point out that religiosity is antithetic to human flourishing. As scientists they want to emphasis this aspect of jihadist motivation since others are trying, almost desperately at times, to clear Islam of any responsibility. If they seem to ignore other aspects of causation, it is probably because they see the need to balance the imbalance they see in the PC view”

    If they were truly investigating the role of religion in human flourishing they would focus on the west’s motivations to attack Muslims equally with Muslims motivations to attack the west. They have ignored the former, and, according to Neil Godfrey, have done a poor job of the latter. The notion that they feel they have to counterbalance the “pc view” is delusional. Was it the ”pc view” that prevailed in 2003 when we invaded Iraq based on contrived evidence? The new atheists are protecting us from peaceniks who are collaborating with Muslims to impose Sharia law? That conspiracy talk; totally dishonest. What the NAs have done is to add whatever credibility they have to the cries of the fearmongers and Islamaphobes. They may not directly advocate aggression against Muslims, but their claims that Islam is the cause of Muslim attacks against us, provides ammunition for those who do. When the NAs delve into political matters they seem to abandon their scientific detachment, and assume the role of partisans. This bias has cost them their credibility as critics of the social role of religion.

    • Diane G. says:

      Paxton wrote:

      “If they [New Atheists] were truly investigating the role of religion in human flourishing they would focus on the west’s motivations to attack Muslims equally with Muslims motivations to attack the west.”

      That’s ridiculous. There are all sorts of other disciplines–political science, e.g.– more capable of examining “the west’s motivations to attack Muslims” than the New Atheists in question. Also, the west attacks–so far and supposedly–other nations, not religions. As soon as the US or the UK or any western entities go to war under the banner of religion, the NA’s will be all over them.

      • paxton marshall says:

        Perhaps that’s why their analysis is shallow and skewed Diane. If you only see religious motivation when it announces it self, you will miss the most insidious influences. If you concentrate of the Ken Hamms and ignore the General Boykins, you will see religion as a bunch of half-wits trying to prove the world is 6000 years old, and miss the very significant influence of religion in the American and Israeli government and militaries. Bush and Blair couldn’t very well announce they were leading a Christian crusade against Islam, but your use of the word “supposedly” recognizes that as a possible motivation. Yes, there are others more capable of examining the west’s motivations to attack Islam than NAs, just as there are others more capable of examining Muslims motivations to attack the west. That is my, and I think godfrey’s point.

      • I agree Diane. One of the articles I’ve saved from years ago that I’m planning to make use of at an appropriate time is about a US gun manufacturer who supplied rifles for the US army in Iraq. The manufacturer put a Bible verse on them. I can’t remember the verse off the top of my head, but it was about destroying heretics or similar. This went on for well over a year before a secular group complained and it was changed. I’m not a hoarder, but ten years before I was active on-line I kept something like that because I was so disgusted by the whole situation.

        • paxton marshall says:

          Yes, that’s a great example Heather! Western armies don’t “go to war under the banner of religion” (Diane G.) But they go to war subject to strong, and often subtle, religious influences. But apparently, according to Diane G, the NAs can’t take notice until an explicit banner is raised. Doesn’t say much for the NA’s discernment.

          • Diane G. says:

            But Heather’s point, Paxton, was that secular activists took action and got that changed. That is just the kind of democratic action you speak of. This is the sort of action NA’s are constantly supporting, usually through publicity and by supporting the organizations dedicated to the separation of church & state, such as the FFRF and ACLU. There is also a secular lobbying group in Washington, the Secular Coalition of America.

          • paxton marshall says:

            That was good Diane. But they didn’t get the invasion called off This example is just one of many ways religion, Christian in US, Jewish in Israel, has promoted the cultural superiority of the west and the evils of Islam, as a means of supporting violence against Muslims. The western establishment and media will not even call western terrorism for what it is, and investigate its causes. They prefer to blame all violence on Islamic radicals and just call western violence a mistake, or make feeble excuses for it. It wasn’t a mistake, it was deliberate and among its causes were Christian and Jewish hatred of Islam. The NAs have not challenged this narrative but played into it.

          • As always Paxton, almost all your comments relate to the Iraq war. Some people did make a “mistake” in supporting that, but there were other people who had different motivations. Not all were evil as you seem to think, they were just wrong. That doesn’t make it OK, but more understandable. We’re never going to move forward if we keep vilifying everyone, which is pretty much what you say about much of the West’s attitude to Muslims.

            Imo Cheney’s motives were distinctly nefarious, and I suspect he got Bush’s support by appealing to his religiosity. Other people were moved to support the war because they saw it as a religious war, but although those people made a lot of noise, they weren’t the majority except perhaps in the US. The mess created in the ME resulting from the war, but not just because of Western actions (Iran, Putin, al-Maliki and Assad have a lot to answer for too) led to AQAP, DAESH, the Khorasan Group and others and a lot of Western violence has been in response to their violence. Whether the Western response was the best one is another question.

            The situation between the Kurds and Turkey is not the West’s fault, and nor is the victimization of the Yazidi. And while the Palestinians in general have many valid arguments against Israel their position is undercut by the terrorists in their midst, who have made it clear their hatred of Jews is their primary motivation and they will continue to attack them whatever the political situation. I’m sure you’ve read the Hamas Charter already, but I feel like you need to do it again. Whatever faults lie with the Israelis, they should not have to live in constant fear of terrorist attack.

            You’re constantly ready to call out those Christians and Jews who hate Muslims just because they’re Muslim, which is fine, but you do not do the same when it comes to those Muslims who hate anyone who isn’t a member of their religion.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Hi Heather. I focus on the invasion of Iraq so much for several reasons. 1. To make the case that it was an act of terrorism, which many people in the west ignore or deny. 2. Because it was the initiating incident that created the chaos in the middle east, that continues today. 3. Because the same people and interests that led us into that “mistake” are encouraging more attacks on Islamic countries.

            For purposes of this discussion about the new atheists` criticisms of Islam, my additional reasons are that the NAs are not criticizing western terrorism and its religious antecedents in the same way they criticize Islamic terrorism and its religious antecedents, and until they do their criticisms of Islam are not balanced or credible. I do not call either the new atheists or everyone who failed to protest the Iraq invasion “evil”, although I do think the term could apply to some of the leaders of the invasion. I certainly do not consider all Christians, Jews and atheists evil, or complicit in the western terrorism on Muslims. I will be happy to stop vilifying the perpetrators of western terrorism, when new atheists and others stop vilifying Islam and provide a balanced assessment of the role of religion in violence. Personally, while I think there is some religious motivation in both western and Islamic terrorism, religion is not the leading cause of either.

            I recognize also that there are many bad actors in the middle east and elsewhere, and believe it or not, my primary desire is to move forward and make the middle east and the world a better place. My point is that we will not do that if we keep regarding ourselves as the good guys and the others as the bad guys, and think it is our responsibility, or even that it is possible, for us to wipe out the bad guys to make the world safe for the good guys. That is an illusion that has been punctured over and over, but some people never learn. I believe the Iran nuclear agreement is a step in that direction, and I resent the vilification of Obama and Kerry, by those who prefer force.

            The Israelis live in constant fear of terrorist attack because they have kept the Palestinian people captive for over 50 years. Year after year the Israelis kill ten to a hundred times as many Muslims as Muslims kill Israelis. No words in any document can justify the continued detention and occasional slaughter of people. I realize that many people disagree, but that’s the way I see it.

            I’ll call out any Muslim who hates anyone who is not Muslim. But I never hear that from my Muslim friends (not do I hear Islamophobia from most of my Christian and Jewish friends), and I certainly haven’t encountered that in this discussion. It’s been an illuminating discussion, but would have been even more so if there were a Muslim participant or two.

          • Paxton. Although the Iraq war certainly exacerbated the situation in the ME, that’s not where it all started. 9/11 happened before the war, as did the attack on the USS Cole and several attacks on US embassies.

            The Israelis invest a significant amount of money in protecting their citizens from terrorist attacks – there are bomb shelters in every school for example. Palestinian terrorists put their missiles in schools, divert materials given to them to build schools into tunnels to attack Israel, and use human shields. While there is no justification for any deaths, there is no wonder there are more on the Palestinian side.

            If the Palestinians didn’t react to their awful situation by murdering Israelis, they might get a bit more sympathy. Because of that, the Israelis always have an excuse not to engage. You have basically just said it’s OK for the Palestinians to murder Israelis because of the situation they’re in. The Palestinians have children’s TV shows which TEACH CHILDREN TO HATE JEWS! That doesn’t happen in secular states so we are generally able to get whatever our beliefs, but it is happening there, and it’s teaching a whole generation there to hate, and carry on the violent side of the fight.

            A peaceful two-state solution is the only hope. At the moment, the right-wing religious in Israel have too much power for that to happen. They continue to do things, like build in areas they know bloody well they shouldn’t, that prove their rhetoric for peace is empty. However, as long as the right-wing religious in Palestine keep justifying murder for their cause, it doesn’t matter what happens in Israel because the Palestinians won’t be trusted.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Yes Heather, there were many events before the Iraq war. Petro-imperialism, League of nation mandates, US/UK ouster of Mossedegh in Iran (1953), western support for brutal, totalitarian governments: Saddam Hussein, Assads, House of Saud, Mubarak and now al-sisi in Egypt. First Gulf war. Enormous western military support for Israel, including the development of nuclear weapons. A long history. If you only see their attacks against us and never see ours against them, then you feel justified in disliking them.

            I will not press the Israel-Palestine argument further except to say that Israeli settlement has proceeded to the point where I think a two-state solution is hopeless. Cheers!

          • Paxton marshall says:

            I am a member of Jewish Voices for Peace and J-Street, both of which have courageously campaigned for a two-state solution, and the Iran nuclear deal, being shunned and ostracized by right wing supporters, like AIPAC, of the Netanyahu “we will have it all” policies.

          • Those are excellent groups Paxton. Good on you for getting out and putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to trying to make a change to the situation.

          • Ken says:

            Heather, you’ve just let Israel off the hook again. This is one of the least reasonable comments you’ve written. They have had 48 years to do the right thing, but move constantly in the opposite direction no matter what the Palestinians or anybody else has done! That the Palestinians have been criminally stupid does not absolve Israel of their duty to comply with UN resolutions or from their responsibilities under international law as an occupying country. To wait for them to change internally is to give up entirely. The world should be stopping arms sales and boycotting if not placing sanctions on such a rogue state.

          • Ken (and Paxton). The last thing I’m doing is letting Israel off the hook. I said in my comment that it’s the Israelis who are the reason the peace process isn’t going forward currently, for example. I deplore the illegal building programme, and the only reason they get away with not complying with UN resolution is, of course, the support they have from the US. The US takes advantage of its security council veto to support Israel over and over again, and you probably know a lot more about that than I do. The Palestinians don’t even have enough potable water, which is disgraceful, and the Israelis take advantage of the fact that they supply so much of the Palestinian’s electricity.

            At the same time, I’m getting bloody sick of people who use the Israelis treatment of the Palestinians as a justification for murder via terrorism. Murder is NOT okay, whatever the circumstances, and I’m not going to enable anyone, no matter how hard done by, to use it as an excuse. There are many peaceful ways that they could make their point, and if they did the US would have no excuses and the diplomatic pressure on Israel would increase enormously.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Heather, I hope I have never used “the Israelis treatment of the Palestinians as a justification for murder via terrorism” either by Israel or the Palestinians. But I don’t distinguish between the value of an Israeli life and the value of a Palestinian life. In the past ten years well over 5000 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis and approximately 250 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians. That’s more than a 20:1 ratio. If we add that during this time the Palestinians were being held in captivity by Israel, Gaza subject to an embargo, west bankers subjected to constant restrictions on where they can go and what they can do, appropriation of Palestinian property in Jerusalem and the west bank, continuous expansion of settlements illegal by international law, the moral calculus seems clear. And note the source. These numbers are unlikely to be skewed in favor of the Palestinians.
            http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/casualtiestotal.html

          • I don’t value one life over another either, and I’m not sure why you’re saying this, unless it is to accuse me of doing that?

          • Ken says:

            Well, that’s much better than how you previously put it, though I don’t think Paxton has tried to justify murder. We’re left with what to do about it all though. While we can and should encourage the Palestinians to turn the other cheek, we’ve no way to enforce that they do so. Israel on the other hand, can be greatly influenced by what others do, particularly the US and we should be calling on all of our countries to use diplomatic and economic pressure to end the free ride.

          • To me, “The Israelis live in constant fear of terrorist attack because they have kept the Palestinian people captive for over 50 years,” is victim blaming. That may not have been what Paxton intended, but that’s how I read it.

          • Ken says:

            Heather, there’s a fine line, but I think Paxton is saying the same as me, that the power to change the dynamic is in Israel’s hands. That Palestinian violence is used as an excuse to justify more wrong rather than a valid reason for expanding settlements, etc.

            There isn’t a chicken and egg problem here that I can see. The fundamental cause of all the violence is Israeli occupation and economic strangulation. The Palestinian response, however wrong and counter productive, is just that, a response. Because there has been decades of back and forth it is easy to point the finger at one side or the other, but the fundamental issue has never changed.

            Some seem to think that a viable and independent Palestine would continue on with it’s violence as though nothing had changed (not saying that’s you), but that is just conjecture that at the very least needs to be tested before they’re written off entirely.

          • On this, my opinion is pretty much the same as Yakaru’s. As I’ve already mentioned, there are groups in Palestine and beyond who are dedicated to the destruction of Jews and Israelis no matter what the political situation. It wouldn’t matter what Israel did, Hamas would still be carrying out terrorist attacks against them and, in many cases, their fellow Palestinians fail to condemn their actions.

            Whenever Israel has done anything towards resolving the situation (and I agree they need to do a lot more), terrorists have taken advantage to attack. It’s common knowledge that at least 20% of the concrete Israel gives to Palestine for infrastructure purposes is diverted to tunnel building foe example. It’s true that Israel uses Hamas etc as an excuse not to do more, but Hamas is giving them that excuse, and there’s no excuse for it, and saying it’s “just … a response” is just another excuse imo.

            There is a religious element to the violence which many won’t admit to because it doesn’t fit the narrative of Palestine being the victims. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

          • Yakaru says:

            Ken said:
            “The fundamental cause of all the violence is Israeli occupation and economic strangulation. The Palestinian response, however wrong and counter productive, is just that, a response”

            Hamas says the mere existence of Israel means a renunciation of part of Islam, Jihad is the answer and no negotiated settlement is possible, Hamas is the spearhead of the struggle against Zionist world domination, there will be rivers of blood etc etc.

            Here’s a good article–
            http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/alanjohnson/100276898/its-time-to-stop-infantilising-the-palestinians/

          • paxton marshall says:

            Hamas is a response to Israeli occupation and economic strangulation. Hamas didn’t exist until 1988. The occupation and economic strangulation began in 1967, as did the policy of appropriating Palestinian property and building settlements in the west bank and gaza.

          • Ken says:

            So why aren’t all of Israel’s neighbours lobbing rockets over the boarder? I think it is because religious justifications alone are not enough reason for them to risk it. They are not under the same existential threat as the Palestinians and rationality prevails enough for the risk of getting similar attention from Israel to be recognised. It’s not like they haven’t tried it before and lost.

            In the current situation, Hamas has nothing to lose by talking tough. That staunchness gives them a sort of legitimacy that they can trade on. But they would lose a lot of standing if a viable Palestinian state were formed that allowed existential issues on both sides to recede. And there have been proposals put to Israel where all Arab parties would recognise it’s right to exist if it agreed to pull back within its boarders. But that we don’t know how Hamas would react simply doesn’t change what we know has to happen.

          • Yakaru says:

            Ken:
            “So why aren’t all of Israel’s neighbours lobbing rockets over the boarder?”

            *Sigh* Look up the Six Day War and the 1973 War. Egypt and Syria (with Jordan roped in on the first one) launched insane and completely unnecessary wars of aggression. They had no chance of winning, and in both cases knew it, but went ahead with it anyway. It’s entirely clear who started both wars and why. You really should include this stuff in your awareness.

            “Hamas has nothing to lose by talking tough”

            Why not accept their own words at face value. They could hardly say it more clearly. I don’t know why you don’t take their statements seriously.

            Israel tried a unilateral ceasefire in last year’s war, yet Hamas kept sending rockets over — hitting Arab houses and destroying their own power lines, leaving 20% of Gaza without power. Had they stopped, the conflict would have stopped.

            It’s perfectly in order to criticize Israel’s crimes and intolerable religious-based oppression. The Palestinians have every right to resist it with force. But it’s a mistake to ascribe *all* the aggression that comes back at them to their oppression. It couldn’t be clearer that this is not the case.

            Hamas doesn’t want a two state solution. They want a one state theocracy. If Israel has turned Gaza into a giant prison, they are the corrupt wardens running it — and they slaughtered the other wardens to get into power. They dream of turning the rest of the area into a giant prison, regardless of what Israel does.

          • Ken says:

            “*Sigh* Look up the Six Day War and the 1973 War. … You really should include this stuff in your awareness. “

            When I said “It’s not like they haven’t tried it before and lost”, what did you think I was referring to?

            “Why not accept their [Hamas] own words at face value. They could hardly say it more clearly. I don’t know why you don’t take their statements seriously.”

            I’m happy to take their words at face value, but I also know that the political situation would change in revolutionary ways if the Palestinians had a viable and independent state. Hamas’s role might be entirely different, as it might be rejected by Palestinians, or it may no longer be deemed worth funding it by those that do so now. It is almost impossible to say what power Hamas would have.

            But to be very clear, and I feel like I’m starting to beat the proverbial horse, Hamas’ declarations affect what we know needs to be done urgently exactly not at all. That doesn’t mean we forget about Hamas, but Hamas is just not a justification for further violations of UN resolutions and international law no matter what they say. You said we were on the same page, so I’m really not getting where you’re coming from here.

            “Israel tried a unilateral ceasefire in last year’s war, yet Hamas kept sending rockets over — hitting Arab houses and destroying their own power lines, leaving 20% of Gaza without power. Had they stopped, the conflict would have stopped.”

            See above.

            “It’s perfectly in order to criticize Israel’s crimes and intolerable religious-based oppression. The Palestinians have every right to resist it with force. But it’s a mistake to ascribe *all* the aggression that comes back at them to their oppression. It couldn’t be clearer that this is not the case.”

            I agree, which is why I haven’t argued that. Again, when I say the situation is “diabolically complicated” and that the Palestinians have been “criminally stupid”, what do you think I mean?

            “Hamas doesn’t want a two state solution. They want a one state theocracy. If Israel has turned Gaza into a giant prison, they are the corrupt wardens running it — and they slaughtered the other wardens to get into power. They dream of turning the rest of the area into a giant prison, regardless of what Israel does.”

            I’m sorry, but your obsession with Hamas is a bit bizarre. They are not what really matters. They were created by the occupation and they may even go away with the end of the occupation. Or not. Why not let’s see.

            I came across this just before reading your comment. Seems apropos.

            On 4 June 2015, Gideon Levy published a very thoughtful article in the Israeli daily “Haaretz” saying:

            “You can blame the Palestinians for everything and obscure the simple fact that this brutal occupation is Israeli. You can tell the world that it all belongs to us because the Bible says so and believe that anyone will take you seriously. You can be sure that the memory of the Holocaust will serve us forever, and justify any injustice.”

            And he added to the Adelsons and Sabans of the world:

            “Of course, it won’t work indefinitely. It hasn’t worked in any country in history, no matter how strong and well-established, not even in the mightiest empires. Justice always triumphs in the end, even if very belatedly. And justice says that Israel cannot continue to tyrannize another people forever, even if Haim Saban himself lends his support.”

            http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/52145-zionist-lobby-freaks-out.html

  31. paxton marshall says:

    Diane G: “Muslim terrorists proclaim that their actions are undertaken explicitly in the name of Islam. They state it’s their motive. Note that I’m not talking about the actual importance of religion as a cause, but of the importance of it being declared to be the ultimate rationale.”

    But if the NAs were acting as behavioural scientists examining the role of religion in violence, wouldn’t they go beyond what people say is their motivation to seek to understand “the actual importance of religion as cause.” It’s well known that what people claim as motivations are often not the real motivation. In western countries it is no longer fashionable to claim god’s will for doing something. This does not mean that many who organized the western invasion of Iraq (e.g. Bush and Blair) were not partly motivated by religion. To not look beyond what people say is either lazy or biased or both.

    “The only way to reduce Islamic special privilege is to keep pointing out that it is invariably used by perpetrators to sanction and explain terrorism, something a civilized world can’t afford to tolerate; and this Harris, Coyne, and Dawkins do”

    What Islamic “special privilege”? The special privilege of being hated, distrusted, and discriminated against? The civilized world can’t tolerate Muslim extremists killing a few cartoonists, but we can tolerate the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims by western sanctions and military attacks? Yes, exactly, Harris, Coyne and Dawkins point out Muslim terrorism obsessively and virtually ignore western and Israeli terrorism. That is why they are not credible as scientists examining the role of religion in promoting violence.

    • Diane G. says:

      “But if the NAs were acting as behavioural scientists examining the role of religion in violence, wouldn’t they go beyond what people say is their motivation to seek to understand “the actual importance of religion as cause.” It’s well known that what people claim as motivations are often not the real motivation.”

      But they’re not acting as “behavioral scientists,” they’re taking note of the universal proclamations of Muslim terrorists and saying, “we need to do away with this universal avoid-any-repercussions rationale.” Let the behavioral scientists do behavioral science. A library full of “scholarly research” will do nothing to address the fact that religious institutions are considered off-limits to criticism. No one thinks there aren’t cynics using religion to whitewash more sinister motives; and the religious explanations, again, cause harm to far more Muslim followers of the clerics than to victims of terrorism. New Atheists quite rightly point out that this is yet another example of the harm of religious influence.

      “What Islamic “special privilege”?”

      A subset of religious privilege in general, the idea that a declaration that one is acting in the name of some supernatural being is beyond rational debate.

      • Diane G. says:

        I swear when I typed that I prefaced the quoted sections with “Paxton says:”.

      • paxton marshall says:

        Diane G.: ““scholarly research” will do nothing to address the fact that religious institutions are considered off-limits to criticism.”

        Yes, but the leading NAs are scholars and scientists and claim to bring their evidence based rationality to the study of religious influences. And the question is why they have failed to acknowledge that western violence against Muslims is much greater than the reverse, and allow the religious influence on that violence to be off limits to their criticism. The NAs have a right to their opinions like anyone else, and I respect their opinions in their fields of scholarship. But their approach to examining the role of religion in western (might I say Judaeo-Christian?) Muslim interactions is one sided and not credible.

        • Coel says:

          And the question is why they have failed to acknowledge that western violence against Muslims is much greater than the reverse, and allow the religious influence on that violence to be off limits to their criticism.

          Where have the NAs placed the religious influence on Western policy “off limits to their criticism”? And what exactly is the evidence of substantial religious influence on Western policy?

          And, if the question is why the NAs don’t address political issues to a much greater extent, the answer is that they are not primarily about politics, rather, the NAs are primarily about the role of the religion in the world. That’s why they are called “New Atheists” and not “New Politicians”.

          • Paxton marshall says:

            Coel, if the New Atheists want to have credibility on the role of religion in the world then they ought to treat different religions in a consistent, impartial fashion. Maybe nothing is “off limits” to them, but they have failed to either recognize or examine western violence and its religious antecedents in a parallel manner to their indictments of Muslim violence and religion. They have chosen to enter the political arena. I wouldn’t be criticizing them if they hadn’t, since I’m largely in agreement with their religious views. As to evidence of religious influence on western policy, have you followed the Republican candidates for the U.S. Presidency at all?

          • Coel says:

            Yes I am aware of the Republican presidential candidates, and yes the NAs are aware of such things and criticise them. For example, Coyne has repeatedly laid into the current Republican candidates (see today’s post on Carson for example), while Dawkins in his new book refers to Bush’s “incipient theocracy”.

            And yes, the NAs have strayed into political issues. But the point is they are not coming into the political arena from the question of “what are the causes of violence and what are the causes of Middle-East dysfunction?”. Rather, they are very much coming at such issues as critics of religion, which is a much narrower focus. There is nothing wrong with adopting such a focus.

            As for the possible role of religion in things like the Bush invasion of Iraq well, I’m interested, outline the evidence for me. On a quick glance, religious motivations don’t seem to be obvious. And, recalling all the stuff from the UK government at the time, well, lots of it was flawed and contrived, but I don’t remember any of justifications put forward relating to religion.

            But if you can make the case for this I’d be more than happy to criticise Bush and Blair for it.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Yes, of course Coyne criticizes anyone for denying evolution (as he should). But has he criticized any of the Christian Republicans for their threats to attack Iran? Or the notorious Christian zealot Huckabee, for example, for saying the Iran deal will lead Israel to the gates of the oven? No religious motivation there? Why has Huckabee been to Israel 11 times?

            Here’s what Coyne has to say about the Iran deal: “They aren’t going to stop their program entirely, maintaining that it’s for peaceful uses—and does anybody believe that?). If an agreement is reached it will only defer the building of weapons for 5 or 10 years. Meanwhile we lift the sanctions, giving Iran an economic leg up. And of course Iran’s history of cheating and hiding its weapons program is well known…Obama has said that the U.S. won’t tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons, but in fact he’s making sure that will happen”

            Hmm. “Iran’s history of cheating and hiding its weapons program” When has Coyne ever acknowledged Israel’s substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons, about which Israel has obfuscated and never allowed international inspections. Bias? And no mention of the US/British history of overthrowing Iran’s elected leader and imposing the rule of the brutal dictator shah for 26 years. Bias? Did he criticize Netanyahu for seeking to undermine the US president, by accepting a partisan invitation to speak to congress without a Presidential invitation? Does he think religion has no role in the Republican’s hawkish behavior. Or his own for that matter. He claims he is just a cultural Jew, without religion, but his identification with Judaism is no less than many Muslims’ identification with Islam. It’s a distinction without a difference.

            Coyne is entitled to his opinions of course, but he seems completely unaware of how his biases, for Israel and against Islam, shape them. This is why I say his opinions on Islam are not credible. Evolution credible. Islam not credible.

  32. paxton marshall says:

    Yakaru: “Harris distinguished between 9/11 and Clinton’s bombing of Sudan because one was a mistake and the other deliberate.”

    This is nonsense. How is bombing a mistake? Only if the bomb was dropped by accident. But the Clinton bombing of Sudan was a deliberate act. He may not have known what he was bombing but he intended to do it. This is like Harris’ lame argument (as I understand it) that the deaths the west inflicted in Iraq were less heinous than the 9/11 killings, because we didn’t go in with the intent to kill people. The deaths are just collateral damage. Really? What did we think was going to happen when we unleashed our shock and awe attack? What did the Israelis think was going to happen when they fired rockets into apartment buildings in Gaza? “Oh, we told the residents to get out so it’s their fault that they died?” This argument is beyond bias, it is bigotry and moral obfuscation of the worst kind.

    “But in the recent conflict Israel was clearly doing everything it could to minimize civilian casualties, and even took military casualties by sending in ground troops with minimal air cover. *Compared with* the efforts of Hamas to maximize their own civilian casualties and use their own people as a human shield, Israel is not to be condemned, rather Hamas.”

    Yes, this is the standard line taken by Israeli apologists. Ignore 50 years of Israeli imprisonment and humiliation of Palestinians. Ignore the illegal settlements on land Israel had agreed was to be theirs. “Liberate” Gaza, but impose a total embargo on people and goods coming and going. Confine the residents of the west bank to only 3% of the land there. And then when the Palestinians throw rocks or make a few futile gestures of retaliation, blow them to bits with F16s and rockets against which they have no defense. The willingness of new atheists to unquestionably accept this scenario and refuse to look deeper into the actions and motivations of all sides is why they should be regarded as anti-Islamic partisans and not as unbiased investigators of the role of religion in provoking violence, as they claim to be.

    • Yakaru says:

      I was actually making a quite different point about Chomsky/ Harris. Chomsky argues that people like Harris value black lives less than white lives. Hence, the Sudan bombing was the moral equivalent of 9/11, and is treated differently by the US because it was poor black people who died, not rich (mostly) white people. In terms of numbers of victims that is a valid point.

      And Harris wasn’t denying it so much as looking at it from another perspective as well. He made a specific distinction, namely that the bombing was (supposedly) intended to hit a military target. This is qualitatively different to flying a plane into a civilian building in a manner that attempted to maximize civilian casualties. To understand the nature of each of these crimes, that is a perfectly reasonable distinction to make.

      You also wrote:
      “Yes, this is the standard line taken by Israeli apologists. Ignore 50 years of Israeli imprisonment and humiliation of Palestinians….”

      There’s a big difference between ignoring something and not mentioning it because of space and time limitations. You didn’t mention any of the insane and utterly pointless wars of aggression launched against Israel by Egypt and Syria, but I didn’t accuse of ignoring those simply because you didn’t mention them.

      What I saw in last year’s conflict was Israel seeking a peaceful solution and Hamas inciting a pointless war with no military goals beyond affirming their anti-semitic credentials (much like Egypt in 1973).

      Palestinians throwing rocks at military thugs who are stealing and occupying their property is a completely different scenario to the actions of Hamas. The former is deserving of international support and should be the beneficiaries of political pressure especially from the US. The latter are oppressors who exploit their own people mercilessly — locking up single mothers for having had unlawful sex, executing pot smokers, executing anyone accused of informing, executing smugglers while profiteering from it themselves…. The normal fare of revolutionary governments. And they are riding on a wave of support from uncritical people who think that opposing Israel equates with supporting the Palestinians.

  33. Diane G. says:

    AU wrote:

    They also say oppression by the West, the suppoort by the West of dictatorships in the Middle East, the killing of Muslims, the injustice in Palestine, is their motive. So who are you to say that their Islam motive is greater than the other motives?

    I am nobody to say that. Those saying it can be found all over the web in innumerous vids of imams and perpetrators proclaiming they’re acting strictly under Allah’s/Muhammed’s mandate.

    The question is, “if there was no religion, do we have evidence to show terrorism would be reduced?” – and the answer is, we don’t.

    No, the situation is, if there were no religion the perpetrators would lose their hole card and have to persuade recruits, rule civilians, and negotiate with other powers on the basis of real-world, rational arguments. The international court of opinion is the stage on which international grievances should be aired, not the sacrosanct unassailable grounds of religion.

    • Diane G. says:

      Hope the differentiation between AU’s remarks and my replies is clear despite my html errors.

    • AU says:

      I am nobody to say that. Those saying it can be found all over the web in innumerous vids of imams and perpetrators proclaiming they’re acting strictly under Allah’s/Muhammed’s mandate.

      That doesn’t make sense. Not at all. Just because someone is citing Islam for their violence, it doesn’t imply Islam is the reason they are being violent.

      It’s like someone who is depressed drinking themelves to death. What do you blame, the alcohol or the unhappiness? I blame the unhappiness, that’s what is causing them to drink themselves to death. If there was no alcohol, they would probably be taking something else. If there was no Islam, these angry people with grievances would probably be latching onto some other ideology – like Arab nationalism – remember that? Remember the PLO?

      Now of course I agree that there are some people being driven by Islam and not by grievances, but people like you are just intent on providing a very simplistic biased position.

      • Ken says:

        Totally agree.

      • Diane G. says:

        “It’s like someone who is depressed drinking themelves to death. What do you blame, the alcohol or the unhappiness? I blame the unhappiness, that’s what is causing them to drink themselves to death. If there was no alcohol, they would probably be taking something else.”

        Doesn’t matter what you blame, it’s what obvious factor can you address? Chances are no amount of therapy or psychopharmaceuticals is going to be of any use until this person stops drinking. Help them to stop drinking, then treat the depression. Or do it simultaneously. But ignore the alcoholism and you’re defeated before you start.

      • Coel says:

        AU,

        Just because someone is citing Islam for their violence, it doesn’t imply Islam is the reason they are being violent.

        “The” reason? Still after single-cause explanations? The above is indeed strong evidence that Islam is among the causes of the violence.

        What do you blame, the alcohol or the unhappiness?

        Why not both?

        I blame the unhappiness …

        That’s because you can only cope with one cause at a time.

        • AU says:

          “The” reason? Still after single-cause explanations? The above is indeed strong evidence that Islam is among the causes of the violence.

          That’s because you can only cope with one cause at a time.

          Not at all. You however think too simplistically, and so you have difficulty understanding that when looking at what caused an event, not everything deserves an equal share of blame.

          • Coel says:

            … you have difficulty understanding that when looking at what caused an event, not everything deserves an equal share of blame.

            Where have I ever argued for “equal shares” of blame for all factors??

  34. paxton marshall says:

    Jerry Coyne likes to feature surveys that show sizable numbers of Muslims supporting Islamic extremists and even terrorist attacks. Here is a gallup poll from 2006, after the Iraq war had already gone terribly wrong, showing continued strong support from Christian religious groups. The more religious the more supportive. Note the euphemistic way the question was asked, if the respondents thought it was a “mistake to send troops to Iraq”. Not invade, or launch a terroristic attack, but “send troops”.

    This illustrates not only the Christian role in supporting the war, but the failure of mainstream American institutions to identify it for what it was, an act of terror, massively larger than anything Muslims have inflicted on the west. The failure to acknowledge the terrorism and to examine the causes of the terror persists to this day. New Atheists have shown zero interest in this as far as I can tell, while obsessing over Islamic terrorism. If anyone has counter examples, I’d like to hear them.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/21937/protestants-frequent-churchgoers-most-supportive-iraq-war.aspx

    • The role of good survey companies is to ask questions in a neutral way so they do not influence the result. Using the words “invade” or “launch a terroristic attack” as you suggest would be completely inappropriate. The point is the question was asked, and it is obvious that the religious supported the war more strongly, which most of us probably expected.

      Jerry writes about surveys as they come out. It’s a bit ridiculous to expect him to suddenly write about one from 2006 in 2015. If that survey had come out since he had his website, he may have written about it. If I was writing about this subject, I would balk at using a survey from as long ago 2006, especially as it was taken so much closer to 9/11.

      • paxton marshall says:

        Heather, I agree that to refer to the attack as the terrorism that it was would be leading and provocative. But to use the term “send troops” for an attack that was called “shock and awe”?

        No I wouldn’t expect Jerry Coyne to go back and find this survey. I’m just questioning why he never calls the terrorism committed by his (and my) country by this name, while insisting on its use for Islamic attacks, and he expresses no interest in the religious antecedents of western (as defined earlier) terrorism, while being so insistent on the religious causes of Muslim terrorism. With the Israeli slaughter of Gazans he is even more biased, being openly hostile to suggestions it was terrorism or that religion had anything to do with it.

        I still read his posts on biology and evolution, on which I think he’s fantastic.

        • Yakaru says:

          Paxton, you seem to have your own definition of terrorism and then wonder why no one else uses it. It doesn’t simply refer to lots of civilian deaths. It means deliberate targeting of random civilians in order to spread terror for a political goal. If a military campaign has a clearly defined military purpose and attacks military targets, you could argue that it’s unjust or unlawful etc., but it’s not terrorism.

          If you want to say the Gaza war or the Iraq war were cases of terrorism, you actually need to argue that case, not just assert it. And arguing it means acquainting yourself with opposing viewpoints, of which you are, sadly, so ignorant that you don’t even know the extent of your ignorance.

          Your statements about Israel and Jews are, incidentally, over-generalized to the point of bigotry.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Yakauru, I will once again let your insults go, assuming that you don’t know better.

            Do you recall that the Iraq invasion was described as “shock and awe” by its perpetrators? What does that mean except to inspire terror in those attacked? I have explained before why this was a terrorist attack, but as they don’t seem to have gotten through, I’ll try again. This was not a war. Iraq had not declared war on us or attacked us. This was an unprovoked attack with advanced military weapons that Iraq had no means to resist. It killed far more people than any Muslim act of terrorism, and destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure leaving many more people in a desperate situation without adequate food and water. Here is a Wikipedia description of the initial attack

            “at Dora Farms, within the al-Dora farming community on the outskirts of Baghdad.[132] At approximately 05:30 UTC, two F-117 Nighthawks from the 8th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron[133] dropped four enhanced, satellite-guided 2,000-pound GBU-27 ‘Bunker Busters’ on the compound. Complementing the aerial bombardment were nearly 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from at least four ships, including the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Cowpens (CG-63), credited with the first to strike,[134] Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), and two submarines in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.[135]

            Now please explain to me why that is not terrorism on a scale the Charlie Hebdo killers never dreamed of. If by “opposing viewpoints of which I am “so sadly ignorant” you mean the Bush/Blair justifications for the invasion, I am quite familiar with them, thank you. If there are other arguments of which you think I am ignorant, please point me to them. And while you are at it you might deign to explain what I have said about Israel and Jews that are “over-generalized to the point of bigotry”. I might suggest that if you learned to articulate your arguments better, you wouldn’t have to display your bad manners so often.

  35. Yakaru says:

    Like I said, Paxton, you have your own definition of terrorism, and it’s wrong. You also have your own definition of insult. In English, the words “ignorance” and “bigotry” are accusations, not insults.

  36. Yakaru says:

    @Ken, (picking up the thread above)

    The problems in the Israel/Palestine conflict are extremely complex, and often over-simplified. I’ve already been called an apologist for Israel on this thread, simply for pointing out that Hamas is a human rights abusing terrorist organization. This problem can’t even be properly understood, let alone solved, if people see it in such polarized terms.

    You put enormously large groups of people into one category — Jewish/Zionist/Israel apologists one side vs strugglers against oppression on the other. That in fact plays straight into the hands of the fanatics on each side. (Illegal settlers and militarist thugs are perfectly happy to see the “Boycott Israel” lobby identifying the whole of Israel with their actions.)

    20% of Israelis are Arabs, 20% of Palestinians are Christian. Well over half Israelis would support a free, democratic Palestinian state, and Israel itself is in fact the only country in the area that would be prepared to live peacefully with it.

    If you assume that someone like me is an “apologist” for Israel simply because I put crimes of Palestinian groups on the record too, you are in fact doing exactly what you are accusing me of — excusing the crimes of one group and using double standards.

    In general, this conflict is blown out of all proportion. About 70,000 people have been killed in this conflict since 1949. For comparison, Indonesia has killed about 500,000 West Papuans since 1961 and taken over an area of land bigger than Germany. But who ever mentions that? Or East Timor, where Indonesia killed 200,000. Yet you can even hear idiots referring to Israel’s attacks on Gaza as “genocide”.

    The Palestinians have been horribly treated by their own leadership, and by neighboring countries who are on record as saying they want to keep them as poor refugees for the purpose of anti-Israeli propaganda. I would support a Palestinian movement for freedom, justice and democracy. The most effective groups doing that in the region are to be found in Israel — where they get boycotted by the anti-Israeli left and labeled apologists for terrorism.

    • Ken says:

      I’m tired so this is pretty quick but I hope coherent.

      “You put enormously large groups of people into one category — Jewish/Zionist/Israel apologists one side vs strugglers against oppression on the other. That in fact plays straight into the hands of the fanatics on each side. (Illegal settlers and militarist thugs are perfectly happy to see the “Boycott Israel” lobby identifying the whole of Israel with their actions.)
      20% of Israelis are Arabs, 20% of Palestinians are Christian. Well over half Israelis would support a free, democratic Palestinian state, and Israel itself is in fact the only country in the area that would be prepared to live peacefully with it.”

      A similar argument was made against sanctions against South Africa where it was argued the vast majority of the population would be hurt – the very people that needed help! Yet when asked, most South Africans supported the sanctions. I wonder how many Arab and Christian Israeli’s would?

      “If you assume that someone like me is an “apologist” for Israel simply because I put crimes of Palestinian groups on the record too, you are in fact doing exactly what you are accusing me of — excusing the crimes of one group and using double standards.”

      Given I’ve also complained of Palestinian crimes on this very page, I can only assume you haven’t been reading my other comments.

      “In general, this conflict is blown out of all proportion. About 70,000 people have been killed in this conflict since 1949. For comparison, Indonesia has killed about 500,000 West Papuans since 1961 and taken over an area of land bigger than Germany. But who ever mentions that? Or East Timor, where Indonesia killed 200,000. Yet you can even hear idiots referring to Israel’s attacks on Gaza as “genocide”.”

      That’s an argument for doing more I hope, not less. But those are great examples. These crimes were able to go on for so long because the US allowed them too. Kissinger and Ford were even told of the pending Timor invasion when they were in Jakarta. Their alarm was due merely to it occurring while they were visiting, which would have looked bad, so they asked that it be delayed until they left. Once Clinton finally pulled US support for Suharto, he fell immediately and things started to change. This is the power that the US has. Therefore this is the power that the US people have and to some extent citizens in other countries allied to the US who’s govts much choose whether to be silent or not.

      “The Palestinians have been horribly treated by their own leadership, and by neighboring countries who are on record as saying they want to keep them as poor refugees for the purpose of anti-Israeli propaganda. I would support a Palestinian movement for freedom, justice and democracy. The most effective groups doing that in the region are to be found in Israel — where they get boycotted by the anti-Israeli left and labeled apologists for terrorism.”

      I don’t know what you’re talking about here. I’ve read very positive things about Israeli peace groups. Chomsky for instance talks about them and also points out that there is a more lively debate within the media in Israel than almost anywhere in the West, which is rather ironic.

      “The problems in the Israel/Palestine conflict are extremely complex, and often over-simplified. I’ve already been called an apologist for Israel on this thread, simply for pointing out that Hamas is a human rights abusing terrorist organization. This problem can’t even be properly understood, let alone solved, if people see it in such polarized terms.”

      I used to think the ME was just too complicated to even try to understand. But the more I learn, the more that certain things become clear. Even though there are few without blood on their hands and perhaps because of it, we need to focus on what steps will make a difference and that are within our power to enact. We can’t let the diabolical complexity become an excuse for inaction, particularly given our countries are so integral to the problems. We need to go back to first principles.

      If we can do nothing else, we at least should stop doing the things that are in our control that we know are wrong. The international community has known what needs to be done for decades, yet has not had the political wherewithal and/or moral fortitude to make it happen. It needs to withdraw active support (despite the rhetoric) for ever expanding Israeli occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands and fully support the creation of two states. This is only doable if there is the political will to put pressure on Israel and that comes down to voters sending this message to their leaders. Whatever our personal interests are, say some particular new atheists who like to debate the effects of religion, we need to send this clear message to our political leaders often, rather than only tending to other matters. Otherwise, we’ll continue to give them cover for the status quo and nothing will improve.

      • Yakaru says:

        Thanks for your response, Ken. And it was very coherent.

        I think we are in principle more or less on pretty much the same page, actually. I was ranting perhaps too generally without making it clear it was not necessarily a direct response to specific comments from you in particular.

        Really all I want is equal treatment and all be judged by the same standards. No special warrant for genocide for the oppressed should they ever get the boot on the other foot — which is something I routinely hear, not from you, from a shockingly high proportion of people on the left.

  37. Hamas is not a single organisation but has always had several wings, only one of which has historically been militant. After it won a free and fair election under UN supervision its political wing has gone the way of all similar parties that have come to political power — it has pulled the reins in on its more extreme statements and tactics.

    Hamas has not removed or revised its Charter but what counts in any political analysis is what the leaders actually say and do, and on coming to power they did offer to live in a truce with Israel along the 1967 borders. Meanwhile the Likud party has not been judged by its Charter but by its actions and words: contrary to its Charter it has said they are prepared to grant some form of Palestinian State under certain conditions.

    There are several very good studies and accounts of Hamas available and more light than heat could be generated if we read one or two of these from time to time as a balance against what various news media and politicians are bombarding us with.

  38. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, you began this post with the Wikipedia definition of new atheists as believing “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”.

    I would like to ask you and your fellow commenters if that is and accurate statement? Does “wherever its influence arises” imply that everything every religion does is bad, and should be opposed? I think that’s extreme. Even the claim that religion has done more harm than good in the world, would seem to require some justification. I see Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups doing good all the time. Just because their supernatural beliefs are incorrect, wouldn’t seem to mean everything they do must be opposed. What am I missing NAs? I’ve been an atheist for 50 years, I’ve denounced religious influences many times. But I do not believe that atheism requires that I oppose religion at every turn.

    • I don’t think, and have never thought, that everything religion does is bad, and I don’t consider that an implication of the statement. In NZ religion is largely a private matter – our society is different from yours, and its difficult to describe because we’re coming from cultures that are the same but different.

      Almost all NZers, whether religious or not, would be horrified if a political leader came out and used the standard US phrase at the end of the speech: “God bless you, and God bless New Zealand.” They’d think s/he had gone mad. I couldn’t tell you the religion of most of our MPs, although we’ve had atheist Prime Ministers continuously since 1999. We had a Rastafarian one for a while, so people knew about that because it was a bit different, but atheist, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu are more common. Race isn’t used to judge MPs, and our parliament is genuinely multi-ethnic, although there are probably less Asians than are in the popn as a whole. Sexual orientation isn’t used to judge candidates here either – we’ve had multiple LGB MPs and one transgender for example. I couldn’t tell you how many gay and lesbian MPs we have at the moment, but it’s somewhere between 5% and 10%. We’ve got a deaf MP at the moment too, but we only really know that because there was a bit of a hassle to start with to make sure her needs were accommodated. The point is we mostly look at who’s the best person for the job.

      So atheists in NZ don’t go around opposing religion at every turn. People here mostly just get on with each other – we’re too small not to. We’re generally a pretty tolerant people, and atheists aren’t hated like they are in the US. Besides, we’re 42% of the population, so everyone knows we’re not scary and evil. I speak up when there’s a problem, but I don’t go around looking for things to complain about. There are always just as many average Christians as there are atheists complaining about fundamentalist Christians for a start. It’s a different atmosphere here. The focus is more on fairness, if that makes sense.

      The tolerance can be a problem in itself. For example, for years atheist groups have been trying to get our blasphemy law taken off the books, but no one worries about it because the law never gets used anyway. We’ve got quite a few symbols of our Christian past that people just ignore and put up with. Parliament still opens with a Christian prayer. But it’s just not like it is in the US here.

    • Ken says:

      Maybe it should say “negative influence” as that would be more accurate. Not one of the four horsemen deny there are positive influences as well. Dawkins says his prime motivation is truth for truth’s sake, so he will counter a mis-truth where ever it is found. He also says that good people don’t need religion to do good deeds, so that most of the good would get done anyway. But good people often do need religion to justify bad deeds, so the net impact of religion is actually negative and that’s reason enough to speak out.

    • I’ve done one specifically anti-Saudi post and criticized them in several others. There will be more sometime as I have quite a lot to say about Saudi Arabia, but I usually write because something happens that makes me need to rabbit on about it. This particular post only happened because I got pissed off about a comment made on another on my posts, and my reply was getting so long I decided to turn it into a post on its own.

      • Ken says:

        Missed that one somehow. Terrible stuff. Of course, religion aside, what I find interesting is how it is the West can be engaged in a supposed war on terrorism while giving a complete pass to possibly it’s largest funder and at the same time making the Saudi dictatorship all but unassailable by it’s population.

        Another very interesting angle is what the high profile New Atheists should be saying about this relationship and how little we actually hear about it from them. It’s deeply ironic that at the same time there is so much effort to encourage a reform movement within Islam, the US and others provide unquestioned support for efforts that seek to achieve the exact opposite.

        • Yakaru says:

          “how little we actually hear about it from them”

          Should read
          how little I have noticed about it from them

          • Ken says:

            Always possible. I follow Harris the closest and can’t remember anything specific from him. Got any links to any that have really dealt with the geopolitics of this?

          • Yakaru says:

            In general all of them have been spitting bullets recently about the appointment of a Saudi to the UNHRC and trying to free Raif Badawi. Maryam Namazie is another who is constantly critical of the Saudi regime. One of the reasons Hitchens supported the removal of Saddam Hussein (make of this what you will, of course) was that a sympathetic Iraq as a source of oil would alleviate the dependence on Saudi Arabia.

            As a more general point, Sarah Haider, founder of ex-Muslims of North America recently singled out the New Atheists as pretty much the only prominent people who support her and those like her.

            Sam Harris, I find, has some *extremely* unfortunate turns of phrase occasionally, but I do think he is entirely on board with human rights, as are all of them.

            I appreciate hearing your viewpoints, BTW!

          • Ken says:

            Thanks it’s been a good discussion.

            I just want to reiterate though, that the point I raised was about the ultra supportive relationship of the US/UK/etc with Saudi Arabia, as was the topic of the article linked to. The NAs do speak out about Saudi human rights abuses. I wasn’t questioning that. Harris often says that it’s Muslims within Muslim countries that suffer the most from extreme religious dogma.

            But I haven’t noticed him or any of the others speaking out about the politics of the relationship between the countries and what effect it would have to change that. As I keep saying, it is all well and good to campaign for Islamic reform within a country like Saudi, but our ability to influence that is minimal. Meanwhile, our ability to influence US foreign policy, at least Americans’ ability to influence it, is maximal, and the threat of withdrawing our unquestioned support is hugely more likely to have a positive affect on the spread of terrorism than just about anything else we could do. So people that care about reducing terrorism should be spending a lot of time arguing for this, right? Yet silence from the NAs. Or have I just missed it?

        • paxton marshall says:

          Insightful comment as always Ken. Jerry Coyne did have a post denouncing Saudi Arabian human rights violations yesterday, Cited Amnesty International. (Wonder when he has cited AI’s reports on Israeli human rights abuses). But your point is still valid, that NAs like most western commentators have failed to address the terrorism of western “allies” in the middle east. Osama, the al Qaeda leadership, and 17 of the 19 murderers on 9/11 were Saudi. SA finances the teaching of hateful Wahhabbi/Salafi versions of Islam in madrassa around the world. As we speak they are slaughtering long oppressed Shia in Yemen. Yet the US continues to provide weapons and cover for their crimes.

          Another good example is Egypt, where the US was complicit in the military overthrow of the democratically elected government. How much do we hear about the 2013 Rabaa massacre, where al Sisi’s government massacred 1000 Islamic protesters?

          How often do NAs mention these acts of terrorism by western backed governments on Muslims? If Muslims kill a few westerners they are outraged and blame it on Islam. But the slaughter of thousands of Muslims by western militaries and the military regimes that the west has so often inflicted on Muslim countries gets little notice. Not only do they not investigate the religious antecedents of these terroristic acts, they strenuously deny that Muslim terrorists are motivated by these acts of western imperialism.

          Like Ken, I don’t claim to be aware of everything NAs have said on these things, and I welcome information to the contrary.

  39. Yakaru says:

    Reply to Ken:
    …>>> “Yet silence from the NAs. Or have I just missed it?”

    It could well be that because there’s so little political discord between Saudi Arabia and UK / USA that it doesn’t figure as highly as it could do in their coverage. I mostly pay attention to Coyne (not for politics so much though) and Hitchens (who despite his death is still relevant). Hitchens was always banging on about how Prince Charles allowed the Saudis to fund Islamic schools and build Madrasas which promote Islamism.

    Mostly though, I don’t really expect them to cover world events and foreign policy thoroughly. Their focus is, of course, primarily on promoting reason and science. Hitchens was the only political commentator among them, and I think he has been more thorough in his coverage of the issues than just about anyone else who also deals so much with religion.

    They may focus too much on certain issues to the exclusion of others, but the media also distorts this a bit too — presenting them as fanatical outliers, rather than just another voice with a specific interest. But I also noticed how reluctant Sam Harris was to agree with Maajid Nawaz recently that the discussion needn’t merely be “Does God exist, no so you should drop your religion” but also, how can we live with our religious beliefs in a reasonable manner.

    Do you mean that they have a blindspot or are naive? Or something else? Personally, I cut them a bit of slack for being one dimensional, because the media under-represents their viewpoint.

    • paxton marshall says:

      Yakaru: “I cut them a bit of slack for being one dimensional, because the media under-represents their viewpoint.”

      To the contrary, I think most of the western media shares the NAs anti-Islam bias. In the US, there was scarcely a peep of resistance to the Iraq invasion from the MSM. The Washingtom Post was gung ho and The NYT later apologized for its credulity concerning the evidence presented. You certainly will not hear a word in support of Islam on Fox. The more “liberal” media pay lip service to saying Islam is not the problem, but don’t have the courage to say that WE (US and allies) are the problem. To admit that Islam is not the primary cause requires admitting what is. And that means pointing the finger at ourselves. And the American public doesn’t want to hear that we are the problem. So the media don’t tell them that. Whether they say it directly, or only imply it, they present Islam as the problem. Until we realize “We have met the enemy and he is us” we will fail to help develop peaceful solutions for the conflict. It’s too easy to always point fingers at the “other”, and the new atheists succumb to it, partly because it fits their premise that religion is the cause of much that is bad in the world, but also because it fits their prejudices in favor of their own culture vs, “the other”.

      • Ken says:

        Yea, this is why I hold people like Harris to a higher standard, too. It’s one thing to not want to hear you are a big part of the problem, but another to proactively go out and campaign for a solution to a problem that will be ineffective because you can’t face the other larger part of the problem.

        To be fair, and I am being generous here, the media dynamic is a two way street. Certainly when the mainstream media showed the American public what was being done in their name in Southeast Asia, the public demanded that it stop. Remember that lest you think we cannot influence our governments. But now, the ever more corporatised MSM has allowed itself to be so compromised via being embedded with the US military for instance, that they aren’t really trying any more to inform people of what’s really going on. This has the desired effect that many just can’t believe the horrible truth when it is presented to them. I had this experience with the Dawkins Foundation guy when he visited here. He was simply unaware that the US had been accused of genocide in Iraq by two UN Oil for Food Programme heads, because, of course, that was never reported in the MSM (with the one exception being Albright’s defence of the atrocity that no one followed up on). It was when I pointed out a very long list of these things to Harris that he broke off our email conversation. Of course I don’t know exactly why, whether he couldn’t accept such a challenge to his world view, or if he just thought I was mad. But he knows about the internet as well as I do and there really is no excuse for someone like him living in ignorance, so I must assume the latter.

      • Yakaru says:

        I confess I don’t read much of the US press. I’m more familiar with the UK papers, which are split basically between the Daily Mail/Sun approach which is often quite racist, and the Guardian / Independent faction which is at times rabidly anti-Israeli to the point of anti-semitism and soft on Islamist fanatics to point of virtually excusing beheadings.

        There is an extremely nasty pro-Islamic left movement in the UK that calls itself “multi-cultural” but in fact accepts the loudest and nastiest Muslims to be representative of “their” culture, and disregards the victims. Honor killings have been explicitly equated with Islamic culture by these people, without regard for the victims. (I can think of a court case where the judge explicitly apologized to parents he was sending to jail for shooting their daughter for wearing jeans.)

        I know there are some elements in the NA fan-camp who are overtly anti-Muslim, and in the past I’ve wished that S Harris would distance himself from them more clearly, but when I looked more closely, I noticed that he actually does. Sometimes clumsily, but he always does. I think if he yelled it through a megaphone Greenwald & Aslan would still not hear it.

        • AU says:

          There is an extremely nasty pro-Islamic left movement in the UK

          Why don’t you mention their name, I am from the UK and I am a liberal, let’s hear of this movement then.

          (I can think of a court case where the judge explicitly apologized to parents he was sending to jail for shooting their daughter for wearing jeans.)

          Shootings in the UK are very rare, so if some parents shot their daughter, it would have been all over the news, but I have NEVER heard of this case. Can you please provide the evidence of these Muslim parents who shot their daughter because she was … wearing Jeans! 😀

          • Yakaru says:

            *sigh*
            Okay, first a correction, AU. I should have written “pro-Islamist”, not “pro-Islamic”. People being pro-Islam would not worry me at all. As for the pro-Islamist left, I was referring to the same people as this author refers to
            http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/06/18/why-the-left-declares-we-are-all-hezbollah-now/
            — NB, I do not necessarily agree with te entire article, just indicating the section of society I am referring to. They always seem to deny that there is such a thing.

            The shooting I referred:
            http://www.smh.com.au/world/life-for-pakistani-parents-who-murdered-daughter-20120804-23m8m.html

            The judge said:
            ”Although you lived in Warrington, your social and cultural attitudes were those of rural Pakistan and it was those you imposed upon your children.

            ”She [Shafilea] was being squeezed between two cultures, the culture and way of life that she saw around her and wanted to embrace, and the culture and way of life you wanted to impose upon her; an expectation that she live in a sealed cultural environment separate from the culture of the country in which she lived was unrealistic, destructive and cruel.”

            The judge has decided that shooting your daughter is simply a part of Pakistani Islamic culture, but for cultural reasons it’s not acceptable in the UK. This is one example of the reverse racism I was referring to. If you dispute my interpretation of the judge’s remarks, I will not go off and find the next example for you to dispute. This mindset does exist, and I disagree with it and call it what it is when I see it.

          • Yakaru — Where in any of the quoted text is there any hint of the judge “apologizing” for jailing the parents? It’s simply not there. He is condemning the parents for cruelly, unrealistically and destructively imposing their cultural mores on their daughter in her new environment. He is stating the facts as they have been presented by the evidence as is his job.

            He does not address in any way shape or form the question of cruel and immoral practices found in another culture per se and I would expect that is because he is speaking professionally as a judge where his comments are related entirely to the case before him.

            He is addressing the facts of the motivation of the crime of shooting their daughter as he has judged them from the evidence presented to him in order to justify the prison term he is imposing — as is his job.

            Your *sigh* intros are condescending and unhelpful, but the way.

          • Yakaru says:

            @Neil Godfrey
            On a second reading, the judge could indeed be meaning it the way you say, rather than the way I took it.

          • AU says:

            In addition to what Neil wrote, she wasn’t shot dead, and it wasn’t for wearing jeans. I know this case well, because it was all over the news when it happened.

            What happened was absolutely appalling, and the parents deserve to be in jail, I think all of us here can agree with that. However, just because someone commits an awful crime, it doesn’t mean we can make up things about what happened.

            You are saying he shot dead his daughter for wearing jeans because it went against his Islamic cutlure. However, his other daughter who herself testified against her parents mentioned that her parents were Muslims but “they only really practised the faith after Shafilea’s death. Stressing that her parents’ values were more about Pakistani traditions than Islamic teachings, she told the court: ‘Western culture is a lot more free in terms of the times you can go out, friends you can keep, clothes you can wear – it’s very different.'”

            http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2148055/Shafilea-Ahmed-trial-Alesha-watched-mother-father-choke-sister-death.html

            Anyone who knows about the Indian subcontinent knows about how many care a lot about “honour” in that part of the world, and how this transcends all religions over there, which is why you get Sikh honour killings and Hindu honour killings too.

            So what really seems to have happened is that the family cared about the values of honour that are part of their culture in Pakistan, they were upset that she was dressing the Western way (but note, they wanted her to dress according to the Pakistani culture they were from, and not according to Islamic values i.e. headscarf), they wanted her to marry a man from back in Pakistan, and because she kept on rebelling, they killed her.
            It’s funny how the judge mentions “rural Pakistani culture”, and you change this to the judge blaming “Pakistani Islamic culture”. Why are you changing what the judge said? Does your dishonesty know no bounds?
            This was an absolutely awful crime, but it was very different circumstances to what you described, therefore, I stand my by initial post that you are talking nonsense.

            As for NUS, well, again, everything you have written about them is nonsense. First of all, NUS did not refuse to condemn ISIS:

            http://www.impactnottingham.com/2014/10/media-sensationalism-has-twisted-nuss-failure-to-condemn-isis/

            Secondly, the idea that NUS accepts the loudest and nastiest Muslims is again total fabrication on your part – if they accepted the nastiest Muslims, they would be giving a platform to people like Anjem Choudary and Abu Qatada.

            As for the rest of that article you link to, do you really think I will spend time answering a propagandist piece written by a Zionist from the Israel Government Fellows program?

    • Ken says:

      Yakaru said: “It could well be that because there’s so little political discord between Saudi Arabia and UK / USA that it doesn’t figure as highly as it could do in their coverage.”

      That’s a very poor reason, if true.

      “I mostly pay attention to Coyne (not for politics so much though) and Hitchens (who despite his death is still relevant). Hitchens was always banging on about how Prince Charles allowed the Saudis to fund Islamic schools and build Madrasas which promote Islamism.”

      Yes, Hitchens was the only one interested in the politics and despite supporting the Iraq war, would also criticise the conduct of that war.

      Hitchens’ support was the true enigma in all this. I read his memoir, Hitch-22, partly because I expected it to be a great read (it was) and because I hoped he’d be able to explain why he joined with the neocons. He did, but it wasn’t convincing. Like Dawkins’ driver being truth, Hitchens says his was a hatred of totalitarianism, and that he eventually realised that it didn’t matter from where in the spectrum it came from, left, right, or from above, he would fight it. And the totalitarianism he hates the most is the kind that demands that one love one’s oppressor. He often said about religion that he didn’t even wish there was a personal god, because of this totalitarian relationship that was so despicable. Well, Saddam Hussein was one of the most vile dictators imaginable in this regard and I think that is what tipped Hitchens into the get-him-out-at-all-costs camp. What I still don’t understand is how he could have thought it would end well, when the US wasn’t there for noble purposes in the first place. This is the country that helped put Hussein in power and would have happily left him there to be evil indefinitely so long as he kept doing their bidding. The Iraqi people that Hitch was interested in had never been of much concern to the US, yet he somehow rationalised that they would be now? He despised Kissinger for his crimes so much that he once said his only wish was that Kissinger die first so that he could dance on his grave. But I can’t for the life of me see what the material difference is between Kissinger and Cheney. A mystery now taken to the grave.

      “Mostly though, I don’t really expect them to cover world events and foreign policy thoroughly. Their focus is, of course, primarily on promoting reason and science….Do you mean that they have a blindspot or are naive? Or something else? Personally, I cut them a bit of slack for being one dimensional, because the media under-represents their viewpoint.”

      I don’t dis them because their primary interest is religion. But if you say you’re interested in promoting reason, then surely you have to follow reason where ever it takes you and this is another reason for my frustration. It’s not that Harris acknowledges geopolitics as a main driver of terrorism, gets some positions on the record for dealing with that, but says, now my particular interest is this… No, he gone only from claiming politics has essentially no causal effect, to admitting it probably does, but only a very small amount.

      Even his own logic fails him. As we know, he feels we should take what the terrorists say are their reasons at face value. Yet when they give political reasons, he ignores them. I asked him what he made of bin Laden’s three stated reasons for turning against the US (Iraq sanctions killing a million; US support for oppression of Palestine, US troops in the Saudi holy land), pointing out that two were entirely political. I got no answer. Yet just recently, I heard him running this trope again and using the third reason as proof that bin Laden was motivated primarily by religion! So, to answer your question, with Sam anyway, I used to think it was a blind spot, maybe due to US crimes not being reported in US media. And that may hold for the others, but I now find it difficult to believe that Sam is being honest with us, and maybe himself too.

      • I’m pretty sure you’ve said that you’ve read Harris’s End of Faith Ken? Have a look again at the section entitled ‘A Loophole in the Torquemada Defense,’ which in my copy is pp 192-199. It’s not precisely on this topic, but it gives some insight from a neurological point of view about how we think about torture of an individual vs collateral damage, which is, of course, related directly to his specialty. It’s quite clear from the text that he doesn’t think the US’s actions are OK, or less bad. If you read to the end of the chapter, there’s some more about terrorism too.

        • Ken says:

          Yes, I read it when it came out, so don’t remember many details. But I’ve always acknowledged that Sam has spoken out about things like Abu Ghraib that the US has done wrong. The issue is that he doesn’t link these things to the terrorism that results. It shouldn’t even be all that controversial to do so when the CIA talks of 9/11 as being blow back for US actions in the ME. But Sam *has* moved on this very slightly in recent years. Check out his blog post on Jeremy Scahill’s doco, Dirty Wars from last year. Sam watched it and said it was a revelation to him. It clearly depicts how US covert actions were leading to radicalisation of the local population. I was pleased as I thought his rhetoric would change at least a bit, but I haven’t seen him refer to it since, or to any other follow up research he might have done into the matter. A year later, it’s nearly as though he didn’t see the film at all.

      • Yakaru says:

        Ken– one incidental point: I’d say the difference between Cheney and Kissinger is the Viet Nam War, bombing of Cambodia, Chile, East Timor and no doubt many other things. It’s an even worse record than Cheney’s.

        I thought Hitchens made a decent case for war, even if I don’t agree with it. What struck me was the response from a great many on the left – who just screamed Judas at him or concerned themselves with guessing at his motives (which you also do to an extent). I find that approach quite toxic, because as soon as one stops taking a person’s statements at face value and start attributing various degrees of lying or self deception to them, discussion is no longer possible.

        That’s what bothers me the most about the attacks on Harris. His latest post has a clip of him being called a bigot repeatedly on CNN, with no discussion of his views beyond mentioning them to say he’s a bigot. Same with Hitch — some people just want to hang labels on these guys so they can be dismissed without understanding or refuting their views.

        • Yakaru says:

          Correction >”…Hitchens made a decent case for *the Iraq* war”

          • Ken says:

            “Ken– one incidental point: I’d say the difference between Cheney and Kissinger is the Viet Nam War, bombing of Cambodia, Chile, East Timor and no doubt many other things. It’s an even worse record than Cheney’s.”

            Well, I don’t know the relative numbers killed and more is always worse, but once it gets into the hundreds of thousands, I’m not sure how much it matters when deciding who is a monster.

            “I thought Hitchens made a decent case for war, even if I don’t agree with it. What struck me was the response from a great many on the left – who just screamed Judas at him or concerned themselves with guessing at his motives (which you also do to an extent). I find that approach quite toxic, because as soon as one stops taking a person’s statements at face value and start attributing various degrees of lying or self deception to them, discussion is no longer possible. “

            I agree. People should stick to the facts, but I also think it was right that he be pilloried for supporting a war of aggression war, a war crime. These things matter. And it’s worse when it comes from someone who you feels must know better.

            And it *is* natural to wonder at people’s motives, particularly when their reason seems to have failed. A lot of our debate has been about what the motives of Islamic terrorists are. What is wrong, and I don’t think I’ve done with Hitch, is ascribe motives for which there is no evidence. That certainly does happen on the left regarding Harris and others. With Hitch, I only talked about the reasons he has given. With Sam, I went a bit further because I think the evidence warrants it, but I don’t claim to be certain.

          • Ken says:

            “Seven countries in Five Years”, ending with Iran! How would that have ranked them next to Kissinger?

  40. Yakaru says:

    The Viet Nam war killed 5 million Vietnamese, and more tons of bombs were dropped on Cambodia than were dropped in the whole of WW2. Plus they armed and backed the Khmer Rouge (along with Australia and NZ) which killed a couple of million.

    • Yakaru says:

      However, I do recall that Cheney’s daughter (the crazy one not the gay one) set up the “Keep America Safe Foundation”, whose plan was to attack a long list of countries including North Korea and China. That would have wound up being worse than anything that Kissinger did!

  41. Yakaru says:

    AU said:
    “Does your dishonesty know no bounds?”

    Blimey, keep your hair on.

  42. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, Here’s the best critique of New Atheism (primarily Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris) I have read. Not a cult, but embracing a simplistic view of religion:

    “if you investigate the material basis of religious belief, you immediately confront a phenomenon that operates on many different levels. In particular circumstances and particular settings a faith may function as a guide to morality, or an aesthetic, or a social network, or a collection of cultural practices, or a political identity, or a historical tradition, or some combination of any or all of those things.

    You don’t have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available) and that what it provides is neither inconsequential nor silly.

    By contrast, the New Atheists engage with religion purely as a set of ideas, a kind of cosmic rulebook for believers. On that basis, it’s easy to point out inconsistencies or contradictions in the various holy texts and mock the faithful for their gullibility.”

    But please read it. It’s much deeper than this one quote.

    http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/we-can-save-atheism-new-atheists-richard-dawkins-and-sam-harris?akid=13723.1951870.45DxKC&rd=1&src=newsletter1046545&t=17

    • Sorry Paxton, but most of it sounded like the sort of self-righteous, judgmental, bulls*it I’ve come to expect from Atheism+. I’ve just posted something else, so I’m not up to doing anything else today. I’ll write about this tomorrow if I’m up to it, but later in the week my time is already booked, and I might just have to ignore this.

    • Yakaru says:

      Sadly, I’d have to disagree with almost every word of that. New Atheists might have a simplistic view of religion at times, but the evidence that is not there for the simplistic conception of God that most believers have is also not there for any other version of God either. That is the central point that condescending people like Sparrow won’t acknowledge.

      More importantly here, Sparrow not only has a simplistic view of new atheists, but at times grossly misrepresents their views. I won’t go into detail, but really — he sides with PZ Myers against Harris??? Nuff said. I read their exchanges. Sorry, but if you can’t have a rational exchange with Harris, you can’t have one with anyone.

      As for his stuff on Hitchens– claiming he “moved to the right” is just content-free tribalism. I disagreed with Hitchens on the Iraq War, but I learned a LOT from from listening to the case he put forward – a case based squarely on international law and humanitarian concerns. His views on religion are largely beyond criticism, at least for those who have read and understood them. (Hint for Sparrow- he doesn’t claim that religion has never done any good. Sparrow clearly didn’t read his book.)

      Sparrow is just another of many who contribute nothing beyond entirely negative, content-free, parasitic campaigns against Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens.

    • Ken says:

      You beat me to it, Paxton. I was going to post this too, more because he captures my frustration with Dawkins and Harris, who I’ve been great fans of for years, than because I agree with his thesis as to why they’re so frustrating. I think a comparison with Hitch is instructive. I would say he did move to the right; he certainly made it clear he had moved away from the left. But he was never cringe worthy even when arguing his support for the Iraq war. Outside his books, Dawkins comes across as trite and frankly upper class, like he’s never experienced what life is like for others to understand what motivates them. Harris seems out of touch too, but his seems naive. Like how could he think claiming Ben Carson better on foreign policy, even in the narrow context of Islamism, could possibly be a sensible thing to say? Both seem to have little talent for seeing how what they say will be interpreted by others, even when that should be reasonably obvious. Not a good skill for a public figure to lack.

      • Yakaru says:

        Depends on how you define left/right. Defined as “primitive tribal groupings based on interpersonal allegiances” “war yes=right; war no=left” then yes, Hitchens moved to the right. If you define the left as concerned with human rights and social justice, then no he didn’t, and such accusations are stupid and irrelevant.

        As for Harris, he tends to overestimate people’s reading age. And mental age. As for Dawkins, generally people agree with him on some things and not others. People who attach enormous significance to his personage are his critics, because they tend to think in black and white/ good and bad. It’s too complex to focus on issues and try to figure out what’s going on in the world. As Sparrow demonstrates, it’s much easier to earn a living as a journalist through ill-informed sniping at public figures than even attempting to analyse the issues they discuss.

        (For eg., it’s far easier to say “Hitch moved to the right” than to complete the sentence “Hitch was wrong about Iraq because___” — and then deal with the arguments as he presented them.)

        • Yakaru says:

          Or this from Sparrow–
          “These days, Myers (to his credit) devotes considerable time to denouncing Harris. My favourite of his recent interventions includes the line: “Sam Harris [is] full of paranoid, racist shit.” ”

          That is the level at which Sparrow functions. Why this man is getting published in the Huffingtongrauniad is beyond me. A high school kid would get his butt kicked for passing that off as analysis.

          Sorry, but anyone who is impressed with this idiot needs to raise their standards and learn to identify what an argument is.

        • paxton marshall says:

          Yakaru, I’ll complete your sentence. “Hitch was wrong about Iraq because___ he failed to recognize the Iraq invasion as a continuation of western imperialism in the middle east that had been going on for at least 100 years.” All the NAs seem to consider that because the west had an enlightenment and is no longer completely under the thumb of religion, that we don’t have to hold ourselves to the same standard as the benighted lesser peoples. Thus their failure to recognize the US/UK invasion of Iraq, and the Israeli invasion of Gaza as terrorism on a scale that Muslims can only dream of. These are scientists who leave their objectivity at the door when they venture into political commentary. They exhibit the same arrogance that Kipling did when he wrote his famous poem. They scoff at western imperialism as if it were in the distant past, like the crusades, and can’t bring themselves to recognize that it is an ongoing endeavor.

          • Diane G. says:

            “Thus their failure to recognize the US/UK invasion of Iraq, and the Israeli invasion of Gaza as terrorism on a scale that Muslims can only dream of…”

            I can’t think of another NA supporter of the Iraq war besides Hitch. Surprisingly enough, there are already a surfeit of Westerners opposing historic injustices and illegal war. There are only a handful (the NAs) who have emphasized the role of religion in today’s terrorism, and that is an area that can’t be ignored.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Diane G: “there are already a surfeit of Westerners opposing historic injustices and illegal war.”

            Can their ever be enough people opposing injustice and illegal war. There were not nearly enough of us to prevent the Iraq invasion. There are not enough to end the brutal Israeli occupation. There were not enough to prevent the Israeli slaughter in Gaza. Just today it is announced that the US will deploy more troops to the middle east. The defense contractors and other war profiteers are ecstatic. Where is the surfeit of people speaking out against it?

            No, maybe most of the new atheists did not actively support the Iraq invasion, but as they continually denounce Muslim terrorism, where are the NAs who will call out the invasion for what it was: western terrorism on a massive scale. Penny wise, pound foolish. Obsess about attacks that kill ten or a hundred and ignore attacks that kills thousands. And what NA ever investigates the Christian and Jewish role in western aggression?

            There may be “only a handful (the NAs) who have emphasized the role of religion in today’s terrorism”, because there are only a handful of NAs. But they have added their voices to a massive vilification of Muslims and Islam by right wing Christians and warmongers. In the US at least, there is no danger that Muslim terrorism will be ignored. What is being ignored and denied is the role of western imperialism in provoking terrorism. The NAs embrace that denial and apply a different standard for judging Muslim behavior than western behavior. So just what are new atheists contributing to the debate except to further enable neocons and militarists?

          • Yakaru says:

            The war that Hitch advocated was not the war that was fought. He later said that it would take several life times to live down the damage to his reputation that the conduct/misconduct of the war did.

            It could be argued that he should have seen it coming, or that he should not have supported such a war, after the US govt had installed and propped up Saddam Hussein for so long. But I think it is flat wrong to accuse him of advocating neo-imperialism. He never argued for anything like it, and specifically argued to exclude it.

            I simply don’t perceive any neo-imperialist message in any NA writings. I would invite you to provide one or two specific instances. As far as I can see, everything say is aimed at ending theocratic oppression and divisive tribalism.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Hitchins made a huge mistake, as apparently he recognized. How did he think the war would be fought? But I’ll not continue to pile on a dead man, and I think Hitchins had a much more nuanced view of religion and the middle east situation than the others. I’m not saying the other NAs actively support imperialism, I’m just saying that their vilification of Islam and denial of the western responsibility for the chaos in the middle east plays into the hands of those that do.

          • Ken says:

            Yakaru, do you have a link to where Hitch said that about his reputation? I have never seen him address it. Not a word of regret in Hitch-22 as I remember.

            He may not have advocated for neo-imperialism, per se, but he advocated for an illegal invasion by a country with a very bad track record that was clearly lying about it’s reasons for invading. So, yes, he should have known better, that it would be a disaster. He cavorted with neo-imperialists and got what he deserved.

            I looked for why he made this blunder in Hitch-22 and came away with two theories. His depth of feeling against tyranny comes through most strongly, so it could be just that he was blinded to reality by his passion. I still find it difficult for that to happen to a man of his intellect. The other theory is that he spoke of having a foot in both camps, leftist working class, and privileged upper class, from his school days on. He said that felt seduced by the latter, by the good life, and that he thinks it corrupted him to a degree (my description as I don’t have the book handy). The way he talks in the book about hanging out with very senior Bush officials, the Washington elite in general (Scalia was a mate, of all people) makes me wonder if the answer lies there.

        • Excellent analysis Yakaru.

  43. paxton marshall says:

    I think this comment of Sparrow’s is insightful: “An earlier generation of atheists were brash and offensive but their provocations were generally directed at a church that still possessed considerable institutional power. The New Atheists were, by contrast, insiders rather than outsiders, writing and speaking in societies where manifestations of fervent religiosity largely occurred on the cultural fringes rather than the intellectual centres”

    Much of the religious commentary of New Atheists seems to be censuring extreme religious practices and practitioners. People who won’t get medical help for their sick child, or zealots who commit terrorists attacks are hardly representative of Islam or Christianity, and their NA critics are so determined to attribute their behavior to religion that they ignore more obvious reasons. If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem is a nail. Excessive focus on putting the 10 commandments or a biblical verse on a public building just makes atheists look petty. Excessive focus on religion as the reason for Islamic terrorism makes them complicit in the neocon and war profiteering drumbeats for more invasions like Iraq.

    • Yakaru says:

      “Much of the religious commentary of New Atheists seems to be censuring extreme religious practices and practitioners.”

      No it isn’t. A large proportion of their most popular works are discussions about whether or not any gods exist, whether there is a heaven; and arguing for a secular approach to ethics.

      There arguments are sound and neither Sparrow nor any of the other useless parasites like him have come up with any improvements on their work at all. All they do is spout insults and — ironically — demand a more polite tone.

      “Excessive focus on religion as the reason for Islamic terrorism makes them complicit in the neocon and war profiteering drumbeats for more invasions like Iraq.”

      They don’t and it doesn’t.

      • paxton marshall says:

        As long as the NAs are talking about “whether or not any gods exist, whether there is a heaven; and arguing for a secular approach to ethics”, I’m with them. But being anti-theist, which I am, doesn’t necessarily mean being anti-religion. As Sparrow says: “You don’t have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available)” Yes, religion can also breed intolerance and hatred. But human behavior is invariably complex and when NAs attack religion for harmless practices and attribute harmful practices to religious influences without examining the history or context, they have ceased to be skeptical and have become doctrinaire.

        • Yakaru says:

          >>As Sparrow says: “You don’t have to be a believer to see that religion genuinely offers something to its adherents (often when nothing else is available)”<<

          Sparrow clearly hasn't listened to or read Hitchens. He says that repeatedly himself. But his critics only listen to each other.

          I think Sparrow and others need some lessons in how to construct an argument. You can't just make generalizations and proceed from there to insults. You need to to understand the position you are arguing against and familiarize yourself with the counter-arguments. That way you don't fall at the first hurdle like Sparrow does here.

          I don't blame you for linking to this incompetently written piece, Paxton. You have every right to assume that an academic who is writing in a major paper has read and understood the books he is criticizing. But his generalizations are unsupported and don't compare well with the actual territory.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Yakaru: “I don’t blame you for linking to this incompetently written piece, Paxton”

            I appreciate your generosity Yakaru, but I had never heard of Sparrow and had no reason to consider him an authoritative source. I brought up the piece because it supported some of my own observations about the NA superficial analysis of religion and obsession with the evils of Islam. If you, or Heather, or Diane G have the time, I’d appreciate a more detailed rebuttal of the claims he (and I) have made.

            I should add that I am in agreement with much that I have read of the NAs. Dawkins was a hero of mine long before I had heard of the NAs. I very much appreciate his and Jerry Coyne’s explications of evolution. (Poor Jerry Coyne can’t seem to get himself recognized in these critiques of new atheism.) I enthusiastically read all the NA “gospels” and considered myself one for a time. But I think they have gone overboard in their anti-religionism and their vilification of Islam.

    • Diane G. says:

      “Much of the religious commentary of New Atheists seems to be censuring extreme religious practices and practitioners…”

      Au contraire, Paxton. I’m unaware of any faction other than the New Atheists that routinely addresses the tacit (and not so tacit) culpability of “moderate/liberal religionists”–both Christian and Muslim–in providing a cover or excuse or natural progression for the radicals.

      If they concentrate on the extreme cases, it’s to point out to the “moderates” how dangerous is their policy of ignoring the extremes to which their doctrines can be taken.

      Also, how is this not more of the same old, same old, that has already been addressed here frequently. One more person asserting the same falsehoods about NA’s–no matter how many fallacy-of-authority claims are made, they remain fallacies.

  44. paxton marshall says:

    Another Sparrow observation: “In the name of enlightened atheism, you thus arrive at an old-fashioned imperialism: the people we just happen to be bombing are simple-minded savages, impervious to reason and civilisation. That was the secret of Hitchens’ success: he provided a liberal rationale for the “war on terror”.

    “You can proclaim you’re an atheist, a freethinker, a devotee of the enlightenment – and yet somehow still end up backing rightwing Christians like George W Bush and Ben Carson in their campaigns against the Muslim hordes.”

    NA simplistic critiques of Islam keep bringing me back to Kipling:

    Take up the White Man’s burden—
    Send forth the best ye breed—
    Go send your sons to exile
    To serve your captives’ need
    To wait in heavy harness
    On fluttered folk and wild—
    Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
    Half devil and half child

    NA “concerns” for the victims of Islamic religiosity translate into support for the continuing imperialism of the west. They ignore the Christian role in terrorism their own culture has visited upon Muslims, and arrogate to themselves the right to denounce the savagery of those Muslims who resist.

    • Yakaru says:

      (“Replies” have run out, so I’ll respond to your previous comment here.)

      I enjoy reading your comments and responses, Paxton, even if I don’t often agree with them! I find you a sensible interlocutor…

      The main thing that I find objectionable about Sparrow’s approach is that it’s infantile. “Why are so many NA’s jerks?” His entire argument is ad hominem, focusing on personalities — attention seeking behavior — and then rests on blanket statements about them being racists or jerks. Then sits back and expects people to prove that they’re not racists. He’s got the burden of proof backwards.

      As for “rescuing” atheism from them, well the best way for him to do that would be to contribute something better himself. But he has absolutely nothing whatsoever to offer.

      Or he could find some other articulate atheists who are not privileged white males, and promote them.

      Just focusing ad nauseam on D H & H merely adds to the impression that they are all there is in atheism. Really if they are such a burden, just ignore them (or argue specific points), and promote others who are better.

      Which atheists do you think have more to contribute than D H & H at the moment?

      • paxton marshall says:

        Thanks Yakaru. I enjoy your responses as well and am pretty much in agreement with this one. I agree that ad hominem insults only distract from the real issues. I do think that Sparrow offers an alternative: “that seeks to understand religion rather than simply sneering at it”, but I admit that he doesn’t offer any guidance or suggest any resources for doing that. I don’t know the answer to your last question, but it seems that people like Grayling, from the secular humanist tradition, offer a less simplistic critique of religion.

  45. Yakaru says:

    Sparrow: ““In the name of enlightened atheism, you thus arrive at an old-fashioned imperialism: the people we just happen to be bombing are simple-minded savages, impervious to reason and civilisation. That was the secret of Hitchens’ success: he provided a liberal rationale for the “war on terror”.”

    Flat wrong, and ignorant. He hasn’t familiarized himself with Hitchens’ writings and arguments at all. This is a fine example of someone who has not read Hitchens’ work – for example about the Kurds, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan…. He clearly hasn’t read any of it. Who is this ignorant buffoon?

    Has he read any other atheists? Ibn Waraq, Maryam Namazie, Sarah Haider…????? What an ignorant fool this man is.

  46. Yakaru says:

    Reply to Ken:
    “Yakaru, do you have a link to where Hitch said that about his reputation? I have never seen him address it. Not a word of regret in Hitch-22 as I remember.”

    It was on a youtube vid that I saw it. The phrase “it would take several lifetimes to live down” stuck in my mind, but I can’t remember the exact wording, or where it is exactly, so I probably should not have mentioned it. But he did in fact say a few similar things in Hitch 22. This is all from around p 334 (on my pdf version).

    I also got to know a bit about the near-incredible incompetence and disloyalty of the CIA and the State Department. I was able to satisfy myself that those within the administration who were making the case for “regime change” were sincere in what they believed and were not knowingly exaggerating anything for effect.
    I probably now know more about the impeachable incompetence of the Bush administration than do many of those who would have left Iraq in the hands of Saddam…

    I think that suggests that his motives at least were honest. He lists a string of horrendous failures and continues:

    But some of the failures were infinitely more culpable than that and, even though they don’t alter the case against Ba’athism, have permanently disfigured the record of those of us who made that case.

    For me, that indicates that he was in fact advocating a different kind of war from the one that was fought, and that his support for the Bush admin to conduct it was a compromise rather than personal opportunism. I disagree with him on it, and could write a lot about why, but I don’t see any reason to speculate about his personal motives.

    I also found this quote in Hitch 22 which I’d been looking for for a while – summing up the kind of criticism that I have also been complaining about here.

    “I had become too accustomed to the pseudo-Left new style, whereby if your opponent thought he had identified your lowest possible motive, he was quite certain that he had isolated the only real one. This vulgar method, which is now the norm and the standard in much non-Left journalism as well, is designed to have the effect of making any noisy moron into a master analyst.”

    • paxton marshall says:

      Hitchins: ““I had become too accustomed to the pseudo-Left new style, whereby if your opponent thought he had identified your lowest possible motive, he was quite certain that he had isolated the only real one. This vulgar method, which is now the norm and the standard in much non-Left journalism as well, is designed to have the effect of making any noisy moron into a master analyst.”

      Ironically, I see this as the modus operandi of the new atheists. A terrorist yells allahu Akbar and the NAs conclude his religion is the primary motive.

      Another habit of the NAs seem to be incessant and amorphous disparagement of the left, even though they proclaim themselves liberals. It’s apparent in Jerry Coyne’s fixation on any safeguards for vulnerable minority groups as a violation of free speech. Anyone who won’t recognize the religious roots of Islamic terrorism is just a tool of “political correctness”, the right’s favorite bogeyman for liberal principles.

      Finally, I have to note that Hitchins couldn’t even complete his half-hearted mea culpa without displaying his intellectual arrogance and taking a slap at those who did oppose the Iraq invasion: “I probably now know more about the impeachable incompetence of the Bush administration than do many of those who would have left Iraq in the hands of Saddam…” Well good for you. Too bad you were blind to these things as you were joining forces with the warmongers.

      • Yakaru says:

        “Ironically, I see this as the modus operandi of the new atheists. A terrorist yells allahu Akbar and the NAs conclude his religion is the primary motive.”

        Yes, it is ironic that you see it like that. Because NAs don’t exclude other motives, but they do point out problems with religion that others evade. Maajid Nawaz termed this evasion the Voldemort Effect. He is a Muslim, not an atheist.

        Nawaz argues that Muslims need top take a stand about the way their religion is being used by Jihadis and Islamists. His estimation of the importance that religion plays in this is virtually identical to the way it is seen by NAs.

        I take Nawaz far more seriously on this matter than I do Harris or Dawkins — he spent his life since he was 15 dealing with these issues. The fact that he agrees with Dawkins and Harris about the role religion plays in terrorism means that Harris and Dawkins are on the right track. Disagree with these three people if you wish, but I think you need to be very specific. I don’t see how you can dismiss Nawaz with a wave of the hand like that. It’s too generalized and too vague.

        As for me, I saw a video of ISIS fighters getting 50 9 and 10 year old children to lie on the ground and machine gunned the lot of them, while shouting God is great. It’s too late for anyone to tell me that they were motivated by neo-imperialism or western oppression.

        If I sound tetchy is because I’m watching a video of Maryam Namazie getting screamed at by Islamists at a talk at an English university — for saying that people should not get hacked to death for criticising Islam.

        • Ken says:

          We’re starting to go in circles now with arguments that have been made earlier, so I’ll just try and summarise what I’ve said before and that will be it for me (hopefully!).

          I have a lot of time for Nawaz as I’ve made clear. And I agree that religion plays a big role in sectarian violence and other problems that Muslims have in both majority Muslim countries and as minorities in other countries. But when it comes to terrorism against the West, the problem with Nawaz and the others isn’t that they don’t acknowledge other motivations, but that they minimise these beyond all good logic and insist religion is still the main driver. Sam makes this very clear in his recent Salon interview, the unedited transcript of which is here: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/sam-harris-the-salon-interview

          I think they are flat out wrong, that our foreign policy, based on a lust for cheap oil, and that has created a long list of legitimate Arab grievances including the deaths of millions and destabilisation of several countries, is a much bigger driver. It doesn’t matter what else we do about Islam, nothing will change if we continue to intervene violently in the ME and kill innocent Arabs. People will always find a way to resist.

          Sam seems to think that if we hadn’t killed a few million Arabs, nothing would be different, that they’d still be coming for us. Though I haven’t seen him use the term, he seems to believe in the clash of civilisations theory that it is just inevitable that Islam and the West must come into conflict.

          Daesh, now established, is surely committing terrible acts in the name of religion, but we know their tactics for recruiting are not based mainly on a religious appeal, but on the political appeal that they are the only ones Sunnis who feel persecuted can turn to for support. They got their start because we made this the case in Iraq. And they cynically increase Muslim’s isolation with terror attacks that make Western countries react with measures that adversely affect entire Muslim populations.

          Cenk Uygur did a nice piece last week that covers some of the historical aspects of all this and includes the ongoing role of the Saudis, which is another huge issue for the Western foreign policy that Sam and co seem oblivious to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmbkoiI5IYg

          • I started doing my response to Sparrow’s piece and it got too long, so I’m putting it into a post at the moment. I haven’t gone into the Middle East part of it much because it’s all been argued in the comments here (as you say) and I’ll be addressing them in another post I haven’t written yet. I agree with most of what you say, although when it comes to degrees, I’m at more of a midpoint between you and Sam. Anyway, maybe my post will make what I mean clearer.

            I’ll have a look at TYT. I’ve gone off Cenk a bit since his interview with Sam because I felt that on several points he was dishonest about Sam’s position. (Don’t ask me which ones because I don’t remember specifically now – that’s just what I’ve come away with long term.)

          • Ken says:

            Yea, Cenk was wrong about that and I kind of followed Dave Rubin away to his new show for a while instead. (I like Dave, but his hour with Ayaan Hirsi Ali was really mixed. I even wrote to him about it, but that’s another story.)

            But Cenk is still doing useful work, as I think the video will show.

          • Ken says:

            Oh, and I meant to add, which I’ve also said before, the small matter of what we can actually do about terrorism that will be effective always gets lost in the debate about who is the most wrong. No matter how big a problem Islam may be as a cause, we can do little to influence it’s course (beyond trying to force the Saudis to stop funding Wahhabism, which to few even want to admit is a huge problem in itself). On the other hand, it is entirely in our power to stop our own ME atrocities, so even if that were much less of the cause then I think it is, we should fricking stop it anyway as the largest contribution we could possibly make, as well as the only right thing to do.

          • Yakaru says:

            “But when it comes to terrorism against the West, the problem with Nawaz and the others isn’t that they don’t acknowledge other motivations.”

            Yes they do. Read Nawaz’s book or listen to any of his interviews. You keep making these generalizations and expecting someone else to argue that they are wrong. To construct an argument you need to start smaller and build up to generalization as a conclusion. Leading off with a conclusion is a very weak way to construct an argument. It’s all the rage today on the left, but it’s weak and leads straight into this infantile personality-based approach of Cenk or Sparrow et al.

            Indcidentally, Salon claim their interview with SH was unedited, but they were lying. They lied to him that they wouldn’t edit it and would give him control over the final draft, but they cut out a paragraphs critical of them, and then lied that it was unedited. Then they deleted their lie and presented a lesser lie in its place.

            I’m afraid I won’t say anything about Cenk beyond that I think he’s an utter waste of time and space. I watched him talk for 3 hours with SH. He is clearly way out of his intellectual depth and has the same lack of journalistic integrity from which Salon suffers.

            Religion is obviously an enormous tool in recruiting and controlling terrorists. We need to deal with it in numerous ways.

          • Ken says:

            “Yes they do. Read Nawaz’s book or listen to any of his interviews. You keep making these generalizations and expecting someone else to argue that they are wrong.”

            Yakaru, I wasn’t disagreeing with you; I’ve linked to his video’s myself. So I don’t understand this criticism.

            “To construct an argument you need to start smaller and build up to generalization as a conclusion. Leading off with a conclusion is a very weak way to construct an argument.”

            As I said, I was summarising arguments already made, at quite some length on this very page in fact, often in discussion with you, some of which you even noted you appreciated. The point was exactly not to go through all the detail again.

            “Indcidentally, Salon claim their interview with SH was unedited, but they were lying.”

            As Sam explains at that link. That’s why I linked to his full version rather than Salon’s butchered version.

            “I’m afraid I won’t say anything about Cenk beyond that I think he’s an utter waste of time and space.”

            I would be interested to know what you find so wrong with the piece I posted.

          • I started watching the Cenk piece, but couldn’t finish it. I was really annoyed at the way he was going on that all Muslims aren’t like DAESH, as if that’s what all New Atheists think. It was patronizing and he was speaking to us as if he felt like he was speaking to stupid, ignorant children in pointing this out.

            I’m not totally opposed to him, but I like him a lot less now than I used to. Basically since he took the side against Sam Harris following the infamous Bill Maher show I’ve liked him less.

          • Ken says:

            Heather, Cenk isn’t talking to NAs, he is talking to the wider American public at a time when a huge debate has developed over whether to close the doors to refugees and when leading Republican candidates for President are arguing for a religions test to keep out all Muslims. So I’m afraid the obvious must be stated. Stupid, ignorant children is what they are, yes. I’ve already said I agree with the criticism of Cenk regarding the NAs, but that doesn’t change the worth of what he’s saying here.

    • Ken says:

      Thanks for the quotes. Hitch says:

      “I was able to satisfy myself that those within the administration who were making the case for “regime change” were sincere in what they believed and were not knowingly exaggerating anything for effect.”

      And yet, we knew even then that the administration was lying left and right about it’s reasons for invading. I don’t see how he was able to satisfy himself of good intentions in such a situation with out lying to himself as well.

      Sorry, but I’m fascinated to make sense of this, and it’s because of my huge respect for Hitch. I went for years and years with him as an inspiration, finding almost nothing to disagree with. So when a howler of this size occurred, I thought, wait, if Hitch is so certain, what the hell have I missed? Yet on this one topic, he said absolutely nothing that made me even consider my opposition to that war. It still seems bizarre.

      It’s similar with Sam. He speaks so eloquently about all other aspects of religion, meditation, free will. I can even handle his thought experiments on torture and racial profiling. So I felt like I was missing something when it came to terrorism. But, no, it’s really that Sam is just wrong.

      • Yakaru says:

        I’m really not sure why you see it as such a problem that you disagree with Hitch or Sam on one or two things. If I agree with someone about everything, I start getting a bit nervous about it, and suspect myself of some kind of hero worship.

        One way I get out of it is by reading people who I disagree with, but who express themselves clearly and honestly — like some of you guys who post here…

        Thanks for your comments and replies!

        • Ken says:

          Well, the Iraq war and the proper response to Islamist terrorism aren’t just “one or two things”, but two hugely important things. But that’s fair comment. I do think I have been guilty of some hero worship in the past. I can also say that I’ve certainly been cured of it in recent years.

      • Yakaru says:

        A couple of thoughts about Hitchens. Personally I had no trouble following his reasoning for supporting the Iraq war — I could see a continuity. I did wonder if the Bush Admin played him a bit though. He wrote in H22 that Wolfowitz had a photo in his office dealing with the ousting of Marcos in the Philippines, which resonated well with Hitch, and stood, essentially, as an analogy for what Wolfowitz saw Iraq. (Marcos was kicked out of power in a peaceful revolution where the middle classes finally took to the streets. He had also been disgracefully propped up by the US for decades, but it was one of the few fairly peaceful, fairly successful revolutions the world has seen, as far as I understand it).

        So I wondered if Wolfowitz had put that photo there especially for that meeting with Hitchens. I thought in any case, he was finally a bit out of his depth on a personal level, surrounded by all these powerful people. But I don’t think it especially altered his political stance, maybe perhaps his personal conduct and how he presented himself.

        I think he had some personal baggage around being the alpha male. (Also apparent in that rather misogynistic streak he seems ot have had.)

        • Ken says:

          Yes, I remember him talking about Wolfowitz and thinking, WTF? It’s not his rationale for deposing Hussein that I have issue with, so much as his logic of marrying that to the mostly very different neocon agenda and tactics. That he never seems to have asked the question, what could possibly go wrong here?

          • Yakaru says:

            Yes, the naivety (if that’s what it was) is quite astonishing, given his quite impeccable record of opposing US military violence and incompetence.

            (Thanks for comments above, BTW.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

top