Sep 20, 2007

Ed Brayton is "New"!

Or should I say "fundamentalist"? Or "evangelist"? Whichever misnomer you choose to describe atheists outspoken in criticism of religion, like Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris or PZ Myers (But what about H. L. Mencken or Robert Green Ingersoll?), this post looks like it was written by one of "those people":
Talk about leaving out relevant information. Well yes, Christianity has certainly been a huge influence on Irish culture for centuries, but that hardly tells the full story. Making that vague statement without pointing out that two brands of Christianity have been murdering each other for much of that time is a lot like whitewashing the truth.

That's exactly like Dawkins warning that religion provides a structure for people to divide into opposing camps, define themselves by membership in a camp, and kill the members of the other camp. It would be a one-sided argument if taken out of context, but not if used (as by Dawkins and Brayton) as a counterargument to the dominant/prevailing/background argument that religion benefits the community. As Brayton points out, it is a necessary part of the whole truth.

I am glad to see Brayton arguing like Dawkins because I think he made a mistake when he declared himself to be a member of... well, the opposing camp:
I am firmly a member of the first group, as are the vast majority of those I work with on this issue. Genie Scott, Rob Pennock, Wes Elsberry, Nick Matzke, Jack Krebs and nearly everyone I consider colleagues in this regard recognize that the dispute is over evolution and creationism, not over theism and atheism. But some, like Larry Moran, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Gary Hurd and others, are involved in an entirely different battle. For them, it's not enough to protect science education from the attacks of some religious people; religion itself, in any form, is to be attacked and destroyed by any means necessary.


I thin Brayton's self-classification is a mistake not only because I tend to think that Dawkins has the better arguments than the "appeasers", but also because Brayton - much like Larry Moran or PZ Myers - is temperamentally not suited for charming the religious, so he can be more effective if he doesn't try. He is quick to call some types of religious arguments idiotic, and he is usually right, but the division among anti-creationists is not about who is right (they all are), but who is diplomatic. And Ed is not diplomatic, which, BTW, is one of the reasons I read his blog.

UPDATE: Ed Brayton responds here.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thin[k] Brayton's self-classification is a mistake not only because I tend to think that Dawkins has the better arguments than the "appeasers", but also because Brayton - much like Larry Moran or PZ Myers - is temperamentally not suited for charming the religious, so he can be more effective if he doesn't try.

Actually, I think Ed is far more effective, simply because he proves himself both more knowledgeable than the Dawkinistas, and shows more compassion for the rights and interests of those who don't think exactly like himself. He may not be able to "charm" the religious, but he's repeatedly proven his ability to appeal to the common ground between atheists, agnostics, and non-ridiculous, non-bigoted religious people -- many of whom actually post on his blog and support his arguments.

--Raging Bee

Anonymous said...

I second Raging Bee's comments.

Another loyal reader of Ed's blog.

Michael Heath

bullfighter said...

Ed is knowledgeable, but so are the people he distances himself from. You have nothing to support your claim that he is more knowledgeable. (How would you even measure that? Give them each a test?)

As for his compassion, it is limited to those who are not "idiots". That's fine to me, I seldom disagree when he characterizes somebody that way, but one who does that probably shouldn't chide other people for doing the same thing, i. e., openly expressing the view that some opinions and some minds are inferior.

I try to look at the substance of opinions rather than at the form of expression, but I am nevertheless curious how you expect to be taken seriously if you use terms like "Dawkinistas". Oh well.

BTW, there are quite a few theists who regularly comment on Pharyngula and generally support PZ's arguments. I read both blogs regularly and I don't see much difference in their success in establishing common ground with liberal believers.

Anonymous said...

You have nothing to support your claim that he is more knowledgeable.

I have his statements, compared against those of Dawkins, Harris, PZ, etc., in writing for all to see. And those of the latter group are, at best, over-generalized to the point of saying nothing of substance; and, at worst, totally ignorant of what certain theists actually believe.

I also have supporters of Dawkins et al flatly admitting that their guys have chosen their words poorly on many occasions, and even blaming others for not understanding what they really meant. To date, I have observed no one making such an excuse on Ed's behalf.

The important difference is that Ed criticizes SPECIFIC BELIEFS AND ACTIONS of SPECIFIC GROUPS, while the Dawkinistas make wild ridiculous generalizations and guilt-by-association arguments that very often have no factual backup at all, and easily crumble under close scrutiny.

--Raging Bee

bullfighter said...

Raging Bee, do you have concrete examples? Without them, your statements sure seem like "wild ridiculous generalizations and guilt-by-association arguments".

BTW, I find Ed wrong many times, but I take it as inevitable; if one writes so much, one is bound to write a lot of stuff that's wrong. He's right much more often than he's wrong, and that's what counts. I could say the same thing about any of the names mentioned here. I don't have any personal alliances and I think it would be utterly absurd to assert that any one person is always right.

However, the anti-Dawkins publications are a cultural phenomenon. I haven't seen anybody criticized in the media so much, yet so baselessly and fallaciously since the media lynching of Al Gore in 2000.

Anonymous said...

Bullfighter -

The test is easy, compare their writings to what we know is true historically. All one has to do is read Dawkins' "God Delusion" to understand that Dawkins virtually knows nothing about America's founding ideals related to religion vs. what Ed posts every day, e.g., Dawkins' characterizatition of Thomas Jefferson is not only false but absurdly so. Dawkins also makes several claims regarding current events based on dubious sources in that same book.

I love both Dawkins and Ed and agree with much of what Dawkins claims. However, Dawkins often publishes assumptions that are either not true or go beyond the evidence at hand to the point he falls into the rhetorical trap of wishful thinking. Ed on the other hand is rarely challenged on the assumptions he uses when taking a position. Dawkins can learn much from Ed when it comes to building an argument.

In fact, several months ago, Dawkins issued a retraction that if memory serves me, was helped along by Ed's perspective on the issue (Dawkins' position related to his desire regarding UK law and religious indoctrination of children).

Michael Heath

bullfighter said...

Michael, would you care to cite an example of an "absurdly false" claim by Dawkins? And where I can find it (e.g. page # in TGD)? I saw many scathing reviews of TGD, but none of them found any gross factual errors.

Are you sure you aren't just disagreeing with him over historical interpretation? Like I often disagree with Ed about constitutional interpretation; but I don't jump to a conclusion that Ed knows doodley-squat about the US constitution.

IIRC, Dawkins' retraction of his signature on a petition had nothing to do with factual errors, but with his failure to read the full text of the petition. (Based on my practical experience with petitions, I would not automatically assume he was ever shown the full text.)

Shap said...

Hi -

I'm a regular reader of both Ed and PZ, I'd say they're my #1 and #2 blogs to read, in that order. I happen to like Ed's point of view much more than PZ's, because he always seems more reasonable and open-minded. I also enjoy PZ's blog, but he tends to be more sensational and divisive. PZ is a fascinating guy who's really intelligent, but sometimes I feel like he's going for ratings more than substance. And there's nothing wrong with that, either. Ed usually provides insight on topics that relate to freedom and civil liberties, while PZ likes to ridicule creationist nuts. I enjoy both, very much!

Anonymous said...

I base my claims about Dawkins on three sources: an interview with Dawkins in Salon.com, quotes from Dawkins and Harris in a Wired article titled "The New Atheism," and blog commentaries by their supporters in places like Dispatches and PT, in which they try to explain and justify what Dawkins and Harris said, and in which they more often than not completely fail to reconcile the assertions with the observable and documented reality.

The most offensive example I can cite offhand is Dawkins' apparently repeated assertion that religious moderates, such as myself, all of my friends, and most of my family, somehow "validate" religious extremists such as Osama and Falwell, by a cause-and-effect process he never describes in any detail, even though we may explicitly condemn and work against such extremists, merely by virtue of having some sort of religious belief (of which Dawkins clearly knows nothing and doesn't bother to inquire). This is what I mean by "guilt by association." It's how religious bigots demonize all believers of other religions, and it's how Daawkins tries to justify belittling all religions without even pretending to learn anything about them. In both cases, it's wrong.

--Raging Bee

Anonymous said...

Also, another problem we have with people like Dawkins and Harris, is not merely their inadequate command of relevant facts, but also their often slipshod and dishonest logic and reasoning.

I haven't seen anybody criticized in the media so much, yet so baselessly and fallaciously...

You are clearly wearing blinders. I read at least one review that pointed out, with great clarity and detail, Dawkins' logical fallacies and inconsistencies with regard to religion; and I've found plenty of such fallacies in my own reading of Dawkins' interview statements.

--Raging Bee

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Dawkins' retraction of his signature on a petition had nothing to do with factual errors, but with his failure to read the full text of the petition. (Based on my practical experience with petitions, I would not automatically assume he was ever shown the full text.)

First, his failure to read the full text of the petition led him to sign on to a statement he didn't know he was making, and found out too late he couldn't defend. Sounds like a factual error to me. Second, if he signed a petition without being shown its full text, then he's a fool, and that mistake is on the order of making assertions without doing the necessary research first. The incident doesn't exactly establish him as a reliable source of insight.

--Raging Bee

bullfighter said...

Raging Bee, you have still not given any evidence for Dawkins' ignorance. You have only stated that his view of religion offends you. And even there, although you said you were citing an example, you only offered a vague description of the offending view. I can't argue with such inchoate characterizations.

You tell me that I am wearing blinders, but your only support for that is a vague memory that you read something somewhere that would prove me wrong if you could only remember it. Again, nothing to argue with.

And Dawkins may have been a fool to sign that petition, but you don't know that. I and a few other people once got a lot of Nobel laureates to sign a petition and it turned out that, because of (unintended) miscommunication, not all of them saw the same text when they signed.

Maybe you should be a little less raging.

Anonymous said...

Bullfighter,

Regarding your skepticism of my claim that Dawkins makes assertions beyond what the evidence would allow in the areas of American History and current events and your request to me to provide an example.

As stated in a previous post regarding Thomas Jefferson: In The God Delusion, pgs. 42 & 43, Dawkins insinuates that Jefferson may have been an atheist by quote mining Jefferson by way of Hitchens. In a further attempt to sow doubt, Dawkins himself states on page 43 and I quote, “Whether Jefferson and his colleguges were theists, deists, agnostics, or atheists, they were also passionate secularists”.

Clearly Jefferson was no Christian-theist or Jew, nor did he completely fit the realm of a deist. Dr. Greg Frazer best identifies Jefferson as a theistic rationalist. Certainly Jefferson’s own words communicate that Jefferson was no agnostic or atheist, thus, one example of Dawkins stretching his case.

I want to continue to emphasize that I am a fan of Dawkins, in fact I gave his last book high marks, http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/AI9ZL7F6SS3KO/104-1379764-1690368?ie=UTF8&display=public&sort%5Fby=MostRecentReview&page=1. I just believe he needs a role model in order to help him better frame his arguments and I can think of no better than Mr. Brayton.

Michael Heath

Anonymous said...

I have told you exactly where you can find the examples I cited, and you know full well you can use Google, or the publications' own search-engines, to find the specific articles (they were both pretty recent). Your continued refusal to do so, and your blatant misrepresentation of what I said, strongly implies you're trying to avoid something. Rreally, you sound like those creationists who keep on demanding evidence to support evolution, then ignore the evidence and citations provided, and continue to insist no one has ever provided any evidence.

--Raging Bee

Anonymous said...

And Dawkins may have been a fool to sign that petition, but you don't know that. I and a few other people once got a lot of Nobel laureates to sign a petition and it turned out that, because of (unintended) miscommunication, not all of them saw the same text when they signed.

First, signing a petition, or a contract, without seeing its full text, is, pretty much by definition, a foolish act; so yes, I know Dawkins was a fool to have done so. Second, how the Hell could you have possibly distributed two different versions of a petition's text to its intended signatories? Did you and your fellow organizers not agree on what your petition should say before getting signatures? That can only result from extreme incompetence or deliberate deception.

--Raging Bee

Anonymous said...

In fact, several months ago, Dawkins issued a retraction that if memory serves me, was helped along by Ed's perspective on the issue (Dawkins' position related to his desire regarding UK law and religious indoctrination of children).

What more proof do we need that Brayton is the more effective arguer than Dawkins?

bullfighter said...

Michael, earlier you wrote that Dawkins' characterization of Jefferson was "absurdly false", but the details you provided don't support that assertion at all. The worst that a hostile but honest and reasonable critic could say about Dawkins' statements would be that they represent a biased, selective and self-serving interpretation of Jefferson's beliefs. But how are they false, let alone absurdly so? There is plenty of evidence that Jefferson did not believe in a supernatural being, especially an interventionist one.

Yes, there is evidence to the contrary, too, so you can say that Dawkins is choosing only the evidence that supports what he wants to conclude. But you must accept some evidence and discard the rest if you aren't to conclude that Jefferson's beliefs were confused and contradictory. Now, as he was a politician leading a democracy composed almost entirely of Christians, guess which of his statements were probably less sincere.

I personally think Jefferson was a Deist, but I strongly hold a view that a Deist in his time is equivalent to an atheist today. Pure atheism, in the modern sense, was almost untenable then, because hardly any scientific knowledge existed. So in my view, Dawkins' characterization is essentially true. Moreover, if we assume that the reader is an average college-educated Westerner (implying a limited sense of history and very little knowledge of philosophy and history of science), I think it is the most accurate characterization available.

Anonymous said...

I personally think Jefferson was a Deist, but I strongly hold a view that a Deist in his time is equivalent to an atheist today.

Sorry, that's bullshit. Jefferson believed in a supreme being, therefore he cannot be considered "equivalent to an atheist."

The worst that a hostile but honest and reasonable critic could say about Dawkins' statements would be that they represent a biased, selective and self-serving interpretation of Jefferson's beliefs. But how are they false, let alone absurdly so?

Well, if Dawkins' "selectiveness" had led him to ignore a crucial fact that didn't serve his "self-serving interpretation of Jefferson's beliefs," then his conclusions would then be, for all practical purposes, "false." Or, at the very least, highly unreliable. And if all you can do is make the distinction you made above, instead of trying to say Dawkins was actually RIGHT, then you're pretty much conceding that Dawkins is unreliable and indefensible.

--Raging Bee

PS: The above anonymous comment was mine also. Sorry, I forgot to sign it.

bullfighter said...

Raging Bee says: Sorry, that's bullshit. Jefferson believed in a supreme being, therefore he cannot be considered "equivalent to an atheist."

Unlike Dawkins, who said he couldn't have been an atheist had he lived before 1859, you obviously have no sense of historical context in which ideas are formed and expressed.

I don't want to be harsh to you - I get the feeling from your comments that you are very young - but I really think you could discuss much more constructively if you first spent some time learning.

Anonymous said...

Raging Bee, you have still not given any evidence for Dawkins' ignorance. You have only stated that his view of religion offends you.

I have stated exactly WHY it offends me, and have described why is not merely offensive to me personally, but logically, factually, objectively, morally wrong. To date, you have neither admitted my point, refuted it, distanced yourself from the offending arguments, or addressed my point in any way. Avoiding something, are we?

Yes, there is evidence to the contrary, too, so you can say that Dawkins is choosing only the evidence that supports what he wants to conclude. But you must accept some evidence and discard the rest if you aren't to conclude that Jefferson's beliefs were confused and contradictory.

And what would be wrong with such a conclusion? Jefferson was a learned and experienced man, so it seems almost certain that his beliefs, as they evolved during his life, would not be those of a simpleton looking for easy answers. I'm nowhere near TJ's level of intellect, and my own beliefs are too "confused and contradictory" for me to explain to my own satisfaction. (I prefer the word "complex," as in "people and life in general tend to be...")

I don't want to be harsh to you - I get the feeling from your comments that you are very young...

Gee, thanks for pretending not to notice my signs of advancing age. Now if only the chicks could ignore them too... Your needlessly patronizing tone might be more effective if you had, you know, refuted my allegedly-immature arguments first.

--Aging Bee