Thursday, July 28, 2016

Labeling the Enemy

When I started reading Victor Reppert's Dangerous Idea, it quickly became apparent to me that many of the theists there have little interest in conducting a friendly dialog with non-believers.  People are divided into camps with an attitude of defending their own side and attacking the other.  When the us-against-them mentality becomes prevalent, then reasoned discussion tends to lose out.

Sure, Victor pretends to be a champion of Socratic debate and rational discussion, but then he never fails to get his digs in against the likes of Richard Dawkins, whom he has repeatedly labeled as a "gnu" atheist.  Dawkins is one atheist that Victor will never listen to and never understand, simply because he is one of those on the other side of the divide.  It really doesn't matter what he says.  It doesn't matter if he makes a statement that is reasonable and nuanced and worthy of discussion.  Victor will take an uncharitable view of it, dismissing any possible merit it might have, and at the same time dismissing any possibility of rational discussion on the very issues in which he claims to bemoan the absence of reasoned debate.

The sad thing about it is that Reppert promotes himself as being "dedicated to the idea that real constructive dialogue is possible between believers and nonbelievers".  But he buys into the labeling of his opponents, and tends to blame the "other side" for any lack of civility that ensues.  To me, this seems like sheer hypocrisy.  When he links to an article like this one at Shadow To Light, he might as well drop any pretense of expecting to stimulate anything but the kind of discussion that he bemoans. 

Shadow To Light is a site that is firmly devoted to widening the gap between "us and them", as you can easily see just by looking at the list of tags showing on the right side of his blog, or by reading through the titles of the posts.  The latest target of Mikey's attention seems to be the transhumanist Zoltan Istvan, who is running for president as a fringe candidate under the Transhumanist Party.  Mikey tries to associate atheists in general to all kinds of unusual, extreme, or controversial views held by any atheist that says something he finds worthy of ridicule.  Rather than noting that these views may not be typical of the majority of atheists, or that their statements may be nuanced and only applicable in limited circumstances, Mikey likes to pretend that they are more broadly representative of atheistic thinking.  By using the label of "new atheist" for diverse groups such as transhumanists (who aren't necessarily even atheists) and the social justice warriors of Atheism Plus (who are often at odds with other atheists), he blurs the distinction between various different social movements and points of view.

This indiscriminate labeling of everyone he doesn't like may serve to separate "us" from "them" in the mind of people like Mikey, but for anyone who wishes to understand their opponents and engage their discussions, it isn't effective.  It seems to me that the label of "new atheist" means absolutely nothing, especially given that people like Mikey and the denizens of Victor's blog use it so freely to apply to different groups that have very little in common.  It doesn't refer to any identifiable group of people or ideology.  And Victor apparently endorses this because he links to these posts.

If Victor wants to have reasoned discussion on his site, I would suggest that he start out by dropping the use of pejorative labels like "new atheist" or "gnu" that only serve to separate the good guys from the bad ones, and create an us-against-them atmosphere.  He should also avoid endorsing the antagonistic posts he finds at sites like Shadow To Light, where nobody would expect to find any rational discourse between believers and non-believers.  Then he might try to give serious consideration to some of the things that people like Richard Dawkins say.  Not that he has to agree with those statements, but it might make for some fruitful discussion.  Imagine Victor having a rational discussion about what Dawkins means, and making a serious effort to understand it, rather than a just visceral reaction to it.  Until he leads by his own example, I can't take seriously his lamentations about the lack of well-reasoned discourse.


  1. " He should also avoid endorsing the antagonistic posts he finds at sites like Shadow To Light, where nobody would expect to find any rational discourse between believers and non-believers."

    I was largely with you until this bit.

    Yes, I think that holding up crackpot atheists as emblematic of so called New Atheists is not reasonable, and I have said so on Shadow to Light at length.

    Some of the folks there obviously have a great deal of education in logic, argumentation, and language. Ultimately their arguments are not valid, but for me its been an interesting exchange so far. But then, I've been called a liar and a troll so many times that sort of thing just adds a bit of color to the language for me:-)

    1. What I mean is that the nature of his posts is more antagonistic than conducive to reasoned discourse. I agree that there are people there who can and do rise above the tone that Mikey sets.

    2. Update...looks like the obvious fact that I am a Walter Mitty troll suffering from Dunning Kruger has finally caught up with me since Michael just blocked me.

      I thought a discussion forum was to have, oh, I don't know, a discussion. Michael seems to have a bit of trouble with math since he does not realize 1 atheist responding to 8 Christians will, on average, mean that the atheists posts 8 times as many messages as the average Christian on that thread.

      Well, it was fun while it lasted. Perhaps the funniest part, apart from all the pedestrian errors of logic and argumentation Michael and the gang endlessly commit, is the last series of refusals to provide evidence for god, or even tell me what they consider to be their personal evidence for god.

      Here are Michael's parting disjointed rationalizations for lowering himself to the level of the safe spaces he has such disdain for.

    3. I see that he labeled you, just like he labels everyone he doesn't like. I am ever increasingly convinced that people like Mikey are not interested in anything but an echo chamber where their followers will applaud everything they say. They tolerate atheists as long as the home team can keep the upper hand in exchanges with them. So if you're "one of the good ones" - that is, one who doesn't argue too strongly and remains deferential, then you don't get the label of "gnu". But if you have the audacity to speak up in the same manner as his own followers do, that means you're a threat - it makes you bad, and earns their scorn. They don't know how to deal with that.

  2. "reasoned discussion".... is that why the sub-header on your site is "Speaking out against bullshit"?

    1. That's right. I speak out against bullshit. I don't go around moaning about how there isn't enough Socratic debate while at the same time encouraging divisiveness. Nor do I claim to be a paragon of virtue. But if you'd like to have a reasoned discussion with me, I'm game.

    2. You think signing off on bullshit is reasonable discussion?

    3. I have no problem with you calling religious belief bullshit... call anything you'd like to call 'bullshit'. But, why are you holding them to a standard that you clearly don't even hold yourself to?
      But even more than that.... sure, there are some guys on Reppert's blog that would criticize first and listen never to an atheist's view..... but your site (from what I read) does worse than that. You just mock, sneer, and laugh. Again, fine, do that.... but how is a guy like you who carries on as he does going to call anyone else on not being friendly enough with their dialog???

    4. That's a large number of allegations.
      Got anything specific, perhaps even a direct quote, or are we just slinging mud here?

    5. Mister Jorge,

      I don't think you really know what standards I hold myself to. You say I "just mock, sneer, and laugh". I disagree. I don't think I do much of that. (Perhaps you can point out where I do. It could be that I slip up from time to time.) I do say things that people don't want to hear, but I try to keep a modicum of civility.

      As for holding others to a standard, there is really only one main thing I criticize them for: bullshit. That means lying, hypocrisy, science denial, logical absurdities, things like that.

      I don't criticize Victor simply for labeling people with pejorative names, but he is hypocritical about wanting Socratic dialogue while doing that. I don't criticize people like Mikey just for being anti-atheist. I criticize the bullshit things they say. If Mikey would stop distorting what atheists stand for, I wouldn't have a problem with him. But he's a liar, and that's what I have a problem with.