Saturday, April 22, 2006

The atheists under the bed

In a rather juvenile and loosely reasoned diatribe "The left's own religious whackjobs," Raw Story columnist Melinda Barton marshals a series of straw man arguments against the threat of what she terms "secular whackjobs."

As far as I can determine, her basic point is that secular extremists pose a danger to "the integrity and success of progressive movements" in America. Curiously, the only two examples of "whackjob" atheism she cites are rather obscure [The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.?], not American and not political.

It is not as if militant atheists are that hard to find, unless you use the peculiar definitional criteria she proposes. Some of us have even produced documentaries or written books or run popular websites.

Rather than go to the effort of reading what atheists have written, or even watching a documentary or two, she seems to have come up with most of the following tenets of "whackjob atheism" based on things she has "heard most often in conversations with friends and readers of the atheist persuasion."
Outrageous claim number 1: Atheism is based on evidence and reason and is philosophically provable or proven. Atheism is a matter of though,t [sic] not belief. In other words, atheism is true; religion is false.

Outrageous claim number 2: Since the natural is all that we have or can scientifically observe and/or measure, it is all that exists. [She actually quotes Rumsfeld in her struggle to refute this: "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." As for her forray into quantum physics, the less said the better. ]

Outrageous claim number 3: All religion is oppressive.

Outrageous claim number 4: The eradication of religion in favor of secularism will bring about utopia.

Outrageous claim number 5: All religious people want to force you or convince you or coerce you to believe as they do.
She has trouble arguing coherently even against this cartoon opponent she has assembled, and by the end of the article, she is forced to confront the fact that the "whackjob" atheists she has gotten so worked up about are not present in noticeable numbers and have no power.
In modern America, secular extremists as a group don't have the wealth, influence, numbers or power to affect the way most of us live our lives. However, we should learn from what has happened elsewhere and be prepared to meet them if or when they do.
And so we see that in the end the threat she envisions is as much a product of fantasy as Zeus or Thor. The only mystery remaining is why Raw Story would be willing to publish this crap.

Several UPDATES: Other responses to Melinda Barton's article from

Pharyngula--now updated with a crisp response to non-apology apology from the editors of Raw Story
Neural Gourmet--updated with the full text of some of the editors "replies." To channel Ms. Barton for a moment: "all answers are replies, but not all replies are answers."
And now Atrios has named her "wanker of the day."
And a very thorough response from Austin Cline, including an updated list of other responses to her bigotry.

Hah! The editors have "temporarily" taken the link to the article off Raw Story's main site (the link above still works though). No apology, just cowardice. It has begun to dawn on them that this story is going to hurt them.


At 4/23/2006 4:23 PM, Blogger Melinda Barton said...

I wasn't quoting Rumsfeld. I was quoting Carl Sagan. Love your take on the piece, by the way.

At 4/23/2006 5:15 PM, Blogger velid said...

As we saw with the weapons for mass destruction, absence of evidence sometimes does suggest very strongly that something isn't there.

But the search for god--and unicorns and fairies and satan--continues. Who knows?

At 4/24/2006 4:05 AM, Anonymous Austin Cline said...

I've linked to this piece from my site here:

At 4/24/2006 5:21 PM, Blogger FreeThinker said...

Thanks for sharing your good perspective on this article!

At 4/28/2006 3:25 AM, Blogger Simon said...

Imagine being the guy who made up the story which lead to Judiasm, Christianity and Islam - how cool must that feel?!

To make up a fictional god and then have billions of people devote their lives to him. Millions of educated people spending their entire lives looking for evidence he exists.

It has to be the BIGGEST practical joke ever pulled.

At 5/23/2006 11:04 AM, Blogger Mavmaramis said...

It was the Narn Ta'Lon who said to Ambassador G'Kar in babylon 5 that "A sterling reply Ambassador. But whilst all replies are answers, not all replies are answer. You did not answer my question"

Perhaps J. Michael Stravinsky was quoting another source when he had Ta'Lon speak those words.

As for Rumsfeld's "anscence of evidence" it is reminiscent of British Military rules thus:

"Ignorance of the rules is no excuse for non compliance"

At 6/08/2006 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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