I didn’t identify as an atheist until just after The God Delusion was released. I wasn’t in the atheist community, so I had so idea who Richard Dawkins was, but I did see a lot of reviews decry how shrill, mean, and unsophisticated he was.
The narrow and rather meaningless argument to which Dawkins confines himself is the incessant charge that there is no “evidence” for God. And evidence, of course, is defined only within the strictures of his own empirical scientism. The problem is that faith isn’t primarily evidential, as he demands it to be, but revelatory – and we would claim no less true for all that in explaining the human condition.
The shrill voice of Dawkins is gradually being marginalised by those of no more faith than him, but who nevertheless perceive mystery in humanity and, while not accepting the presence of God in the world, are prepared to face in the same direction as the rest of us and stand in awe and wonder.
So, when we hear the shrill voice of Dr Richard Dawkins bleating about Professor Craig’s ‘relentless drive for self-promotion’, and rejecting the debasement of his eminent CV by debating with the distinguished Christian apologist, we should remember this: Richard Dawkins never contributed much to science; his Oxford chair was bought for him by a rich admirer; and the scientific ideas upon which he built his reputation are increasingly discredited.
On the one hand, it is obvious that the political prospects of the New Atheism are slight. People see a contradiction in its tone of certainty. Contemptuous of the faith of others, its proponents never doubt their own belief. They are fundamentalists. I hear this protest dozens of times. It comes up in every conversation. Even those who might side with the New Atheists are repelled by their strident tone.
Funny thing, though: few people bothered to link to examples of what Dawkins said, instead preferring to repeat the “shrill” charge over and over, hoping it would stick. The rare exception was… uncharitable, at best, blatantly false at worst. The rebuttals to his arguments, even to my novice eyes, were deeply suspect.
Of course, God is not an Object on which one can do experiments – God inevitably transcends science. It is easy to say that an idea is absurd when you don’t understand it. But since we have no idea what constitutes the Dark Matter and Dark Energy that seem to make up over 90% of the Universe, the idea that ‘nothing can be true unless it is well-understood scientifically’ is ludicrous. And the idea that ‘you should not believe anything unless it can be scientifically proven’ is self-refuting, since that statement is itself beyond science’s power to prove.
It was a pretty clear signal to me that this Dawkins guy was onto something. It led me to buy one of Dawkins’ books, then several more, then hop into the secular movement, then find genuine things to dislike about Dawkins.
Fast forward a few years, to a party with a few friends. Partway through the evening, someone chimed in with a “didja see what PZ Myers just posted?”, punctuated with a “FUCK that guy!” from someone else. Myers had apparently tried to exploit Robin William’s suicide to score cheap political points. I scrambled to grab the offending article, and was greeted with… something banal.
I’m sorry to report that comedian Robin Williams has committed suicide, an event of great import and grief to his family. But his sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.
Myers went on to elaborate on that thesis, with links and examples of how Mike Brown’s death was being trivialized or excused. I’d heard the same basic argument before, so I asked what was so objectionable to this.
No-one could tell me; instead, as tempers started to flare the story quickly became “it was too soon after his death, and I totally saw tonnes of articles about Mike Brown.” Myers’ crime kept shifting around, as I started quoting parts of the article and pushing back against their arguments. There was only one constant.
I understand that Myers’ main intent was to indict the media and politicians, but I found it impossible not to flinch at the rudeness and spite he throws the comedian’s way while he’s at it.
This is one of the most contemptible and inhumane things I’ve ever seen posted by a well-known atheist. It reeks of arrogance, of condescension, and especially of a lack of empathy for those who loved and admired Williams not because they knew him, but because he brought them happiness and made them think.
But in this case of unmitigated toxicity, I want you to know that I am disgusted and that most atheists would also be if they were to read it. I cannot speak for anybody else (though, if you click around the internet, you can find them speaking for themselves), but this man absolutely does not speak for me. I think what he said was cruel and ill-reasoned.
I was floored at how people who even quoted Myers’ thesis statement would promptly ignore it and take him to task for doing something he never did. I was not surprised, though, because I’d been seeing this for years.
Nothing like telling a scientist that he isn’t being scientific to piss him off, though admittedly PZ’s threshold for getting pissed off is pretty low. I have no dog in this fight, since I am on record disliking PZ’s rhetoric and I have told Jamy several times in private that I don’t like his approach either — ironically, for similar reasons to my rejection of PZ’s!
I then hear that the article has been gleefully endorsed by that shepherd of Internet trolls PZ Myers, amplifying its effect. […] If my daughter one day reads in my obituary that her father “was persistently dogged by charges of racism and bigotry,” unscrupulous people like PZ Myers will be to blame.
Perhaps PZ and many Freethought Blogs commenters should take a lesson in civility and respect from fellow Freethought Blogs blogger Dan Fincke. If we want to demand respect from others and encourage a civil atmosphere free of personal attacks, name-calling, and insults, it would probably be best to emulate that behavior and create an environment in which civil behavior is called for. PZ, though, quite unfortunately does not seem to be interested in that. He and his commenters may direct hate at whomever they please, but when internet trolls happen to make nasty comments about Rebecca Watson and her fellow Skepchicks…well, that’s just unacceptable.
There are websites devoted to cataloging his misdeeds, forums where it’s one of the primary topics. Some won’t even name him, thinking it was below their dignity.
I am aware of certain benighted segments of the atheist blogsophere that have damned Hirsi Ali for supposedly, in this talk, dismissing the problem of Western gays and urging us to concentrately solely on the more brutal repression of gays—and of women and dissidents—under Islam.
It was this particular event that broke the camel’s back.
Atheist Ireland is publicly dissociating itself from the hurtful and dehumanising, hateful and violent, unjust and defamatory rhetoric of the atheist blogger PZ Myers. The final of many, many straws were his latest smear that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is ‘happily exploiting atrocities’, and his subsequent description of Atheist Ireland’s chairperson as ‘the Irish wanker’.
That document is quite bizarre. For starters, Atheist Ireland has no association with Myers. Sure, he’d talked at and attended prior events, but that was years ago and on their invite. “Dissociating” in this context makes no more sense than someone who no longer shops at WalMart declaring they’re boycotting the mega-store.
Secondly, it’s signed
7 April 2015
No names are attached to it. That makes no sense, as organizations are defined by their members and executives. When the people change, policy changes; so while the current executive may be in full support of the statement, the future executive may not be. They’ll have an awkward time distancing themselves from it, thanks to this decision.
There’s also the faint whiff of cowardice here. When a commenter on this document asked who was on the executive committee, “Atheist Ireland” responded
Donnie, our constitution refers to the management committee and the full committee; in practice, they typically operate together under the name Executive Committee.
You’ve listed the four positions that are elected at each AGM. We also co-opt a flexible number of co-opted officers (currently including Human Rights Officer, Newsletter Editor, Blasphemy Law Campaign Coordinator, Web Presence Officer), and a flexible number of regional chairpersons, with some overlap between co-opted officers and regional chairpersons.
Like any advocacy group, we don’t sign everybody’s names to our documents, whether they be statements like this or submissions to Government bodies. Anything issued on behalf of Atheist Ireland is issued on behalf of the organisation, not on behalf of individuals. If you want to contact a member about their particular portfolio, please let us know and we can put you in touch with the right person.
Still no names, nor any suggestion of where to find them, even when directly asked about it. Executive committee members had to be explicitly called out to confirm they endorsed the document, which suggests they don’t have much confidence in it (or are frightened of retaliation by PZ Myers, which seems laughably paranoid).
The primary author of this document is likely Michael Nugent, who’s written about three dozen posts in eight months documenting PZ Myers’ actions. But while Nugent was happy to link back to sources in his blog posts, that’s conspicuously absent in the Atheist Ireland statement. Nugent certainly had a motive and means for including them, as it would bring his arguments to a wider audience. Perhaps he lacked the time to include them, which seems unlikely give this was a committee decision. I think the more likely reason is that he thought the arguments which went over well on his blog would fail with a wider audience; he, too, lacked the courage of his convictions.
This is a weak statement at best, meaningless at worst. So why are so many cheering it on?
Atheist Ireland has dissociated itself from PZ Myers of FreethoughtBlogs, on the grounds, essentially, that Myers is a shrill, foul-mouthed demagogue with a rabid cult following, whose toxic shenanigans have damaged the atheist/humanist community both internally and externally. Good on you, Atheist Ireland, and on those who have come out in your support.
I won’t bore people with the specifics that led to the disassociation, the post speaks for itself plus I am sure people are well aware of it. However, I will briefly say why I think it was an important move.
“PZ has surely done freethought a great disservice by elevating the politics of personal destruction to a high art, and by consciously cultivating a commentariat that takes sadistic joy in pulling their knives and rhetorically flensing the speaker rather than straightforwardly addressing their argument.
I haven’t read PZ Myers for years because his scorched-earth brand of criticism, whereby he abuses the wide influence he has at Free Thought Blogs — particularly among an easily led college demographic — by dismissing everyone he disagrees with as cretins, goons and halfwits, belies the honest conversation we should be having in the freethought community about civil rights, social justice, secularism and the influence of religion in public life.
I’ve not gone near his blog in years. Maybe he changed or maybe I changed, maybe both, but anymore it seems any disagreement with him, even those in good faith, is met with accusations of misogyny and all manner of other insults. As Hemant said, even for people who share many of PZ’s goals, it’s not enough to disagree: he has to destroy them, smear their name, etc. And as bad as PZ has gotten his commenters are often even worse.
For Myers, it’s not enough to merely say someone is wrong or to point out the problems with their arguments. He has to insult and embarrass them, too, even if the differences in opinion are relatively minimal. […]
I still reached out to the leaders of various American atheist groups yesterday asking if they had any reaction to the statement. Were they going to take a similar step and join in dissociating themselves from Myers? Or did they not want to comment, perhaps, as the statement suggested, to “avoid becoming his next target”?
Yes, you read that correctly: we’ve reached the point where secular organizations are being asked to denounce Myers.
We believe the secular movement should stop rewarding those who cause discord. Why are “shock jock” bloggers invited to lecture at major secular conferences? Freedom of speech is a confusing issue, but it means that each person can speak freely through his or her own channel. It does not mean that angry voices have a right to dominate unmoderated discussions on our own Facebook pages and forums.
It’s a shame other organisations such as American Atheists and the Atheist Alliance International haven’t said a word on this issue: there’s plenty of evidence PZ Myers is a bully and he will actively promote and engage in all kind of harassment and defamation of anyone who dares to disagree with him.
I don’t know what secular values other organisations hold, but I think we should ask ourselves how can we trust them with doing the right thing when religious bullies start peddling their bigotry, when they can’t even bring themselves to stand up to a bully in their own backyard. Hey, guys, take a stand!
Think about that for a second: the last time secular organizations stood up together to condemn an atheist, said person allegedly murdered three Muslims in cold blood. Myers’ actions are in the same moral ballpark as that, according to some atheists!
Rather than wrap this up with a tidy conclusion, I’d like to give you some homework. Much like I did with Dawkins way back in the day, I’d like you to set aside an hour or two and read up on what Myers has actually said and done. I recommend the annotated version of Atheist Ireland’s statement. Click through the links, read the context, and decide for yourself if Myers occupies a similar moral sphere as a murderer, if he really is as hateful as many people claim. This exercise isn’t for my benefit, though, but for yours: at some point, your level of hatred towards Myers will be assessed and judged. If it doesn’t measure up, you will lose allies and even friends.
It’s happened to me. And I’m confident it’ll happen to you, too.