Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Kansas Warms Up

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What a surprise to get when opening up today's (Monday as of this composition in a notepad) and yesterday's (Sunday) Kansas City Star and looking at the opinions page to find three people defending atheism against a fellow letter-author. What's more, one of them declared himself not an atheist!

It started when on the 24th, and I missed this, a letter to the editor from Theresa Hamilton, , was published as so.

Examining atheism

I admit I am confused by the atheistic view. There seems to be no accountability other than what one chooses to think, which can change constantly with whatever justification is necessary.

With God removed, this view seems to mean that you came from nothing, what you do here means nothing, and you are eventually going nowhere.

To retain this view would certainly involve a strange kind of fatalistic courage.

Who has the courage to be their own god while professing there is no God? Who can believe they alone have the power to dole out goodness or evil to whomever they choose, with no repercussions or accountability except to themselves? Who can believe that when they die they may be remembered but not still united with anyone else because they went nowhere?

I do not see how this brings joy or peace to anyone. And what about this is “good news?”

I am not saying that atheists do nothing good, but where is the capacity for good coming from if you believe you came from nothing? What about what you do here is valuable, if what you do means nothing? Why care about what you do if you are going nowhere?

Teresa Hamilton

Bucyrus, Kan.

Pretty ignorant. Equating atheism with a belief in a clo-causal universe, atheist have no source for morals, same old deal. Luckily, some fellow Kansas stood up for atheists, even one who was not an atheist himself.

Another view of atheism

Teresa Hamilton writes that she is confused by the atheistic view (10/24, Letters). Perhaps that confusion results from her view of the atheist. She describes this person, removed from God, as facing a life of absolute bleakness, accountable to no one, mindlessly doling out goodness and evil without consequence, and vanishing when this joyless existence ends into a lonely nothingness.

May I offer an alternative view?

This person, removed from God, sees a world of infinite possibility and wonder; not satisfied with ancient answers to current questions, but challenged and inspired through reason, evidence and imagination to embrace life with a thirst for knowledge; to treat the earth with respect and responsibility; and finally, to end the brief span of a life having demonstrated its purpose by kindness and compassion.

Jamie Fopeano


Examining atheism

Teresa Hamilton (10/24, Letters) thinks that the only reason people do anything good is that a god somewhere is keeping track and holding them “accountable” for their actions.

This leads illogically to the mistaken idea that meaning for our actions is provided to us solely by a god. As far as atheists “dol(ing) out goodness or evil to whomever they choose,” I would suggest that she study the histories of major world religions and see that a belief in god does not exempt one from atrocity.

She questions whether atheists’ actions are “valuable.” Feeding a hungry person, loving one’s children, giving to the poor and fighting injustice are valuable to the hungry, children, poor people and the persecuted. Does it matter that these deeds are done out of compassion rather than divine coercion?

She asks, what is the “good news” of atheism? It is that we can make the world a better place out of our inherent recognition of the worth of humanity and the world around us, and god does not become our enabler in inaction in the process.

Paul Klawinski

A non-atheist in Liberty

Theresa Hamilton asks some questions about atheists that I would like to address.

Her main concern seems to be how we know how to act without some belief in an almighty being telling us what to do.

Personally, I am an atheist who still thinks the teachings of Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed have some validity when not taken to excess.

The ideas of “Love thy neighbor,” “Do unto others…” or treating “the least among you” with kindness are wonderful concepts and much of how I live my life.

I truly believe that most people are good and do not need some vague ominous threat from “God” to do the right thing anymore than kids need the threat of no presents from Santa Claus to behave.

My question for all the professed Christians: If you truly believe in an eternal life, why do you not spend every waking minute of your brief time on earth doing good?

I think the answer to this question is obvious. Deep down most people know these stories are fairy tales.

Theresa Hyde

Overland Park

Wow. Couple this with many letters pointing out the insanity and inanity of Phil Kline, and suddenly I have a little hope for this red state I live in.


  1. "Examining Atheism" by Theresa Hamilton, Kansas City Star, letters to the editor, October 24, 2007. http://www.kansascity.com/309/story/330121-p3.html
  2. "Another view of atheism" by Jamie Fopeano, Kansas City Star, letters to the editor, October 28, 2007. http://www.kansascity.com/309/story/336086-p3.html
  3. "Examing atheism" (rebuttal) by Paul Klawinski, Kansas City Star, letters to the editor, October 29, 2007. http://www.kansascity.com/309/story/337357-p3.html
  4. "Examing atheism" (rebuttal) by Theresa Hyde, Kansas City Star, letters to the editor, October 29, 2007. http://www.kansascity.com/309/story/337357-p3.html

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Monday, October 22, 2007

A "Militant" Atheist Takes a Dive

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It just never ends. How Sam Harris says that we [atheists] are all doing it wrong and acting like a bunch of doodie heads. Why? Because we call ourselves atheists. Apparently every time I or someone else refers to an atheist as an atheist, we are either admitting defeat, or making atheism into a religion.

Another problem is that in accepting a label, particularly the label of “atheist,” it seems to me that we are consenting to be viewed as a cranky sub-culture. We are consenting to be viewed as a marginal interest group that meets in hotel ballrooms. I’m not saying that meetings like this aren’t important. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was important. But I am saying that as a matter of philosophy we are guilty of confusion, and as a matter of strategy, we have walked into a trap. It is a trap that has been, in many cases, deliberately set for us. And we have jumped into it with both feet.

That alone is dumb enough. Of course we can and should use the tearm "atheist." It is an umbrella term. It refers simultaneously to everybody who is harassed, persecuted, assaulted, manipulated, or otherise treated poorly on the basis of not being a theist. We don't have time to deal with mentioning each and every non-theist viewpoint when we talk about such societal bigotry. The central crux of the issue is discrimination against people who are without theism, i.e., atheists. We do not use the word to make a viewpoint out of atheism, but to speak honestly about what is salient.

But no. Sam Harris, it seems, is so desperate to make a display of his advocation of unity that he admonishes honesty in speaking about our individual schemes.

So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves “atheists.” We should not call ourselves “secularists.” We should not call ourselves “humanists,” or “secular humanists,” or “naturalists,” or “skeptics,” or “anti-theists,” or “rationalists,” or “freethinkers,” or “brights.” We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar—for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.

Hey, don't talk about what you're not. But don't talk about what you are, either!

Fuck. That.

Then check out this gem of hypocrisy, in two parts:

Atheism is too blunt an instrument to use at moments like this. It’s as though we have a landscape of human ignorance and bewilderment—with peaks and valleys and local attractors—and the concept of atheism causes us to fixate one part of this landscape, the part related to theistic religion, and then just flattens it.


Another problem with calling ourselves “atheists” is that every religious person thinks he has a knockdown argument against atheism. We’ve all heard these arguments, and we are going to keep hearing them as long as we insist upon calling ourselves “atheists."

Oh, we should not blunt ourselves or others because blanket statements and stuff is bad, but you are more than willing to exploit the same fallacy and attack against your fellow atheists in order to browbeat them. I see.

More hypocrisy:

Instead of doing this, consider what would happen if we simply used words like “reason” and “evidence.” What is the argument against reason? It’s true that a few people will bite the bullet here and argue that reason is itself a problem, that the Enlightenment was a failed project, etc. But the truth is that there are very few people, even among religious fundamentalists, who will happily admit to being enemies of reason. In fact, fundamentalists tend to think they are champions of reason and that they have very good reasons for believing in God. Nobody wants to believe things on bad evidence. The desire to know what is actually going on in world is very difficult to argue with. In so far as we represent that desire, we become difficult to argue with. And this desire is not reducible to an interest group. It’s not a club or an affiliation, and I think trying to make it one diminishes its power.

Nobody likes to be called racist either, Sam. But should that prevent us from calling out racist behaviors, words, policies and decisions? NO! I think your justification for not calling out anti-reason memes and culture fails miserably. Either something is reasonable or it is not. To go around saying, "Dude, I'm reasonable, you're reasonable, let's all be reasonable together.. even though our statements of fact contradict one another" and pretend that's unification... Wow.

PZ does a good job talking about the dirty tactic of equating this made-up "new atheism" scphiel with fundamentalism and militarism. It's disappointing that Sam would sink that low. I've spoken about this tactic before, and I need not go on right now.

Sam replies to PZ's criticism, as well as one from Ellen Johnson, and he just gets crazier. He gives two examples of a way to ask the president a question, one that gets right to the meat and one that beins, "As an atheist," and acts as if that's a fair comparison to what PZ Myers, Ellen Johnson, the Rational Response Squad, or anything else does.

Can you say straw-man, kids? Nobody does that. Nobody has ever asked the president a question like that. There's been plenty of opportunity for atheists to do so.

And he says that it's alienating 180 million people. That, my friends, is just fucking stupid. PZ deals with it well in a response to the response.

And it's highly disappointing that he resorts to using a dishonest rhetorical tactic: rather than addressing the issues we brought up, he invents a hypothetical situation — a reporter asking the president a question about stem cells — and then contrives two hypothetical ways the question could be phrased, 1) a good way that emphasizes the rational, scientific reasons for supporting stem cell research, and 2) a bad way that has the reporter declaring his atheism multiple times in a question that has nothing to do with atheism. And then he declares that all of us atheists seem to be preferring the second, bad way of asking the question.

Victory! He doesn't even have to catch us saying something foolish, he just writes stupid words into our mouths, and presto, our arguments are defeated!

And to wit,

One last thing that made me laugh out loud with its lack of reality in his latest reaction is something from his two hypothetical questions — the good one, in fact. In it, he says, as an example of the best way to phrase a disagreement,

Your veto, frankly, seems insane to any educated person, and it is painfully obvious that it was the product of religious metaphysics and superstition--not science or morality.

And then he claims that this phrasing is superior, would not alienate 180 million Americans, and would have the support of those 180 million plus the 20 million overt atheists. Nonsense. This is completely contrary to my experience.

Sam Harris seems to have completely forgotten that most of the time, it is the Christian who will claim to have reason all to himself. You can completely hide the fact that you're an atheist or even that you're not a member of an Abrahamic religion. But defend evolution in any context, and BAM! They see atheism and infidels everywhere. Now, when you go to defend the atheists and infidels who believe in evolution, are you going to hide the fact that you're an atheist? Youcan say it's not irrelevant, but if it's never asked and you know the person believes you're of faith, then guess what: you've just lied by deception.

And that seems to be what Sam is encouraging. He wants us to be dishonest. We should act as if, somehow, the logic we espouse does not eventually lead to atheism.


It's just so frustrating. And yet on another hand, it's vindicated some former posts of mine.

Sam Harris has been part of a trio (or sometimes a quartet) of authors who are being blamed for a "New Atheist" movement. I have defended these authors from selfish and superfluous criticisms from the like of DJ Grothe, Matthew Nisbet, and Michael Shermer. And what happens just now? Sam Harris proves he's not so much a part of the problem as they say he is.

A guy who wants other loud atheists to sit down and shut up. Doesn't sound so militant or zealous anymore, does he, Shermer, Nisbet, Grothe?

Links, chronological order (?)

  1. Transcript: Sam Harris, "the Problem With Atheism", speech to Atheist Alliance International Convention 2007, September 28. http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/sam_harris/2007/10/the_problem_with_atheism.html
  2. Blog Post: response to Sam Harris, "Cult is the New Fundamentalist" by PZ Myers, October 9, 2007 11:00 AM, http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/10/cult_is_the_new_fundamentalist.php
  3. Article: "Ellen Johnson Responds to 'The End of Atheism', Guest Column by Ellen Johnson" by Ellen Johnson, via Humanist Studies. http://www.humaniststudies.org/enews/?id=317&article=1
  4. Blog Post: "Response to My Fellow 'Atheists'" by Sam Harris, personal domain, http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-my-fellow-atheists/
  5. Blog Post: "Sam Harris Seems Like a Nice Fellow, But Very Confused" by PZ Myers, October 8, 2007 8:42 PM http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/10/sam_harris_seems_like_a_nice_f.php

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

KC Star Re-Distributes Ignorant Nuggets

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Hat-tip to Possum Momma (my guilty interweb crush) for spotting this article in my local newspaper the Kansas City Star. In response, I wrote the following letter to the editor.

An article by Jacqueline L. Salmon and Mary Jordan recently published in the KC Star (10/05/07, "Atheists on the rise") started out well enough, but then it took a severe turn into ignorance.

"Many analysts trace the rise of what some are calling the “nonreligious movement” to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The sight of religious fanatics killing 3,000 people caused many to begin questioning — and rejecting — all religion."

Well, that is certainly new to me. I have been a member of many nontheist / atheist / skeptical / freethinking forums for a couple years now, even listening to nontheist and interfaith "podcasts," and reading books by & listening to inverviews of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait, Massimo Pigliucci, Steven Pinker, James "The Amazing" Randi, Bertrand Russel, and more. That's not including the huge list of influential internet-based atheist celebs (I'm on a list of nearly 400 atheist bloggers, and that doesn't even include the most influential among us).

That's a lot of dialog (and dialog about other dialog, and so on) with my fellow nontheists in the form of humanists, wiccans, bhuddists, and other freethinkers. Yet never have I heard testimony from a single person that he or she became an atheist or decided to stop putting up with discrimination simply as a reaction to September 11, 2001.

I'm very interested to hear who these analysts are that trace the cause of atheism to that day, and how they calculated that correlation. I am aware of a few atheist organizations and programs that are as loud as they ever were that began as long as ten years ago, such as the official staff of the Rational Response Squad, which became a popular group to criticize because of their "Blasphemy Challenge." There is something clearly flwed about said analysts' analysis. Doubt is a process, not a singularity. For many, September 11, 2001 was the last straw, but not the only one. Those who saw 9/11 as the first draw are a minority in our minority.

I also take issue with the following ignorance:

"The majority of nonbelievers say they are speaking out only because of religious fanatics. But some atheists are also extreme and want, for example, people to blot out the words “In God We Trust” from every dollar bill they carry."

Allow me to teach Jacqueline Salmon, Mary Jordan and man other KC Star readers some history: "In God We Trust" wasn't present on our currency until 1954, and was only put there by Truman to encourage the association of Communism with Atheism and foster bigotry against us. Going against this obvious breach of separation of church and state, we are not extreme. This is just another defense against discrimination, and at the core, a dedication to the United States Constitution. And what is "extreme" about that?

It's nie that Salmon and Jordan are OK with resisting violent fanaticism, but I feel they only give us that because it's obviously good for everybody. But when they get to the part that they see as only a defense of ourselves, we're labeled "extreme.," which I have to say comes off as only an underhanded way of telling us to shut up. That's the kind of prejudice we're rebelling against.

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