Saturday, August 09, 2008

Nisbet Attacks PZ Myers (again)

Mathew Nisbet has unleashed another attack on vocal atheists in general and PZ Myers1 in particular [Two Images of Atheism: Hate versus Community].
Atheists have a major image problem. There's a reason that when people ask me what I believe I have to say with a smile: "I'm an atheist...but a friendly atheist." For sure, atheists for a long time have been unfairly stereotyped in the mainstream media and in popular culture. But we also have a lot of lousy self-proclaimed spokespeople who do damage to our public image. They're usually angry, grumpy, uncharismatic male loners with a passion for attacking and ridiculing religious believers. Any fellow atheist who disagrees with their Don Imus rhetoric, they label as appeasers.

These "new atheists" are the dark under belly of atheism. In books, blogs, and public statements, they sell us ideological porn, sophomoric rants that feed our dark sides and reinforce our own unfair stereotypes about the "other," i.e. the religious.

Yet all of this does far more harm than good. The addictive nature of their rhetoric radicalizes us and leads us to an ever more closed off conversation about how we are superior and everyone else is delusional.
Nisbet thinks he's an expert on how to deal with the problems of religion. He just doesn't get it. Several decades of being "nice" and "friendly" toward those who believe in superstitious nonsense got us nowhere. We atheists were ignored at best, and denigrated at worst.

Now, just a few years after publication of The God Delusion (and other books), atheism is on the radar and the believers have to deal with the fact that non-believers exist. Not only that, the non-believers are fighting back against the religious bigots. People like PZ Myers have done more to advance the case for rationalism over superstition than all the Nisbets have done in decades of accommodation. That makes Matt really, really mad. He just can't cope with the fact that his version of framing didn't work.

The guest blogger on Pharyngula took note of the attack (PZ is in the Galapagos) [Oh, the Drama]. Needless to say, the comments on that blog are not kind to Nisbet, but, then again, neither are the comments on his own blog. Not too many people like Matt Nisbet these days. I can't imagine why. Could it have something to do with bad framing?

Afarensis recognizes the injustice of Nisbet's attack: Framing Science Embraces the Willie Horton Strategy

1. The picture that Nisbet posted of PZ Myers is beyond the pale. Whatever remaining credibility Nisbet had (not much) is gone.


  1. As a matter of interest, my comment on Nisbet's blog didn't make it out of the moderation queue. I mirrored it on Afarensis last night, and I'll repeat it here:

    Nisbet should visit my local school district where the fundamentalists have been trying to jam creationism into the public schools and who are running political interference for a science teacher who for years has been operating what amounts to a fundamentalist Christian private school embedded in the public school system. Without benefit of appearances by PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins, the "atheist" epithet is tossed around as an insult, stuffed in the face not only of the few genuine atheists here but also of the moderate Christians who oppose the fundamentalists' efforts.

    Nisbet lives in an academic fantasy world. He apparently believes that this is some sort of rational discussion with people who are susceptible to reason, and that calm discourse with fundamentalist loons is an effective strategy. Well, come on down here, bunky, and reason rationally with the Christian Dominionists who are infecting my school district.

    I note with interest and not a little disdain that Nisbet was pusillanimous enough to post this on the day when, as was publicly announced on Pharyngula, PZ left the country for a trip to the Galapagos and will have spotty web access. That's just plain chickenshit, Nisbet.

    I also call attention to Afarensis' remarks on Nisbet's post. His invocation of the "Willy Horton" tactic is exactly on point here. If what Nisbet has posted above is an appropriate application of "framing" then I want nothing to do with it.

  2. Hahaha aren't the "boys" (uncharismatic male loners?) going to be angry with this one.

    Actually I think Nisbet's criticism is completely necessary!!! Whether we support biology profesors desecrating the eucharist, should be debated. Religious people have found in PZ an easy target, a prominently visible, walking caricature: the evolution-defending scientist whose fundamental motivation in life is not scientific, but antireligious.

    I find the comparison of pZ myers to porn is enlightening. Similarly you may find wrestling or video games to be despicable child indoctrination in violence. But should you move to ban it, even if "corrosive to society"?

    The answer is no. Corrosion is not like the apocalypse, either. So, it's all fun. Nobody should get so worked up and antagonistic about wrestling, or what PZ myers or Nisbet said. PZ may think he's stopping religious stupidity from taking over the world, so he has to be "tough", and ban and censor people (like me, and I'm an atheist). For PZ "it's a war", and a very dirty one.

    Things are not so dire, folks. Some really have lost their trust in humanity. They obviously think they belong into some kind of rare 1% of the "truly intelligent" people...

    All we should do is vocalize our opposition to bad taste and stupidity and hope that we can convince people to voluntarily stay away from it.

  3. If I understand the situation:

    1. A Catholic publication describes atheists negatively. Nisbet says "The dominant image of atheism portrayed in the article is one of "hate," "contempt," "dogmatism," "a junior high level understanding of religion," "irate," "incredulous," "bigoted"...the list goes on."

    2. Nisbet accepts every word of it as an unbiased, accurate evaluation.

    3. Nisbet attacks Myers, implying that negativity like this creates a bad impression of atheists.

    Is Nisbet totally blind to the negativity, bias, bigotry, ideology and "sophomoric rants" of the Catholics? Why does he swallow everything they write as the gospel truth (ahem) and unbiased? He offers no insight, no nuance except "never offend the Christians" which is ridiculous.

    And what's up with the photo he picked? How much time do you think he spent trying to assassinate Myers' character? Sad.

  4. "Uncle Tom" Atheism hasn't made any progress just as it didn't work for blacks, women and gays. We need to make noise, offend some people, and state our case. With enough time society adjusts, our arguments won't sound so radical and they will become respected.

  5. I really don't see Nisbets posturing as ultimately directed towards PZ at all. I see it as a political ploy designed to create the appearance of an ongoing war between two groups of atheists, with Nisbet clearly identifying himself as one of the leaders of the 'friendly atheists' as opposed to the 'new atheists' of PZ, Dawkins etc. PZ is just useful at present since attacking him will attract outraged catholic interest. I doubt if its anything personal.
    The whole idea is to create the appearance of a political and media friendly alternative to the current situation where a story involving atheism requiring an atheist comment is more likely to get Dawkins interviewed than a well behaved American who knows his or her place in the Washington political show.
    I see his whole strategy as a political one with all the necessity for compromise, hypocrisy and backstabbing that such a pathway entails.

  6. Nah, the picture isn't beyond the pale at all. I'm not a pretty boy with nicely styled hair, and I don't hide the fact.

    The picture just doesn't make any point that Nisbet is struggling to get across. He needs to get a new photo of me eating a baby or something.

  7. Sanders, we're not angry with you. We are bored with you. You're pathetic. If you want to live a life of not offending, have at it. It is stupid to insist that others do so as well.

    I'm a friendly atheist too, and I think that I get more respect as a person from people such as Stephen Matheson and Thomas Robey by being honest in my atheism than Matthew does by attacking his fellow atheists from the rear. It seems like he is hell-bent on scoring own-goals.

    My own comment has yet to be approved, and Matt says he has been too busy to get to all of the posts. We'll see; but his headline alone in that stupid post was a deliberate act to bait pharyngulistas.

    I'm sick of Matt. He's arrogant on his blog and in person.

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  9. I was going to remonstrate with Mr Nisbet (on the principle: PZ can defend himself) but now he really isn't worth the effort of bayonetting.

  10. Mike, it's not the end of the world, OK? Seriously dude. Why do you guys get so worked up, so antagonistic, so "personal"... group hug, everyone.

  11. As Larry and PZ know, I use a pretty good deal of offense. I am no different than many scientists: Zero patience for nonsense.

    You can't get all personal and pissed with Nisbet if he criticizes you in a way you don't like. Hello? I thought you guys were AGAINST appeasing. Seems like you need your criticism told to you with pretty pink sugar on top.

  12. Nisbet has a lot nicer-looking hair than either Larry or PZ.

  13. Sanders, I find your comments are indistinguishable from those of a concern troll.

  14. I'm proud to be any kind of troll to PZ-lovers. GRrrrrooAAARRR Run for your lifes, miserable PZionists hehehehe

    This is an important topic. It's about not becoming just another brand of moralistic-flavored dicks that can't be wrong and spend most time congratulating each other and sucking each other's cocks.

  15. Nisbet of course leaves out the point of Myer's wafer stunt, which was that one must stand up to a bully, in this case Donohue and his Catholic League. The death threats speak for themselves. Nisbet would clearly rather truckle to the bully instead.

    His main objection is to linking science and atheism. The problem for him is that scientists are generally atheists, about 60% for the entire group, 90% for the NAS elite. He'd rather we conceal such facts lest they affright the pious and ignorant masses.

    We should instead continually and loudly proclaim that science has no need for supernatural explanations.

  16. What, did PZ's wafer stunt help the original wafer-hero in any way? More like it made everybody forget about it. Whatever happened to him?

  17. "...did PZ's wafer stunt help the original wafer-hero in any way? More like it made everybody forget about it. Whatever happened to him?"

    Maybe that was the point, Sanders. To redirect the ridiculous hatred and attention to someone who wouldn't have much (if anything) to lose and who wouldn't back down.

  18. You are making a huge error if you seriously think the Catholic Church will start holding up PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins as examples of atheism. They might be rather unquestioning in their own supernatural beliefs but they are smart enough to realize that drawing attention to the writings of the new atheists is going to be counterproductive. Try reading any modern Catholic writings on atheism and you will see that they still use the same examples they have used for the past half century - Stalin and Hitler (yes, I know)- as archetypal atheists.

  19. Well, atheists do tend to be grumpy rejectionists. As an atheist, my gorge rises whenever religious bigotry ("faith", "religion", "'spirituality'") is proferred as the natural order of things. But then there is a view that says that we Homo sapiens have evolved to practice religion. Religion is a human universal, rejectionists notwithstanding.

    The trouble with rejectionism, of course, is that that is ALL it is. You don't "believe in" something else when you conclude that God is a delusion.

  20. I think PZ desecrating the eucharist is really no big can rent way more profane movies and cartoons anytime. Ooooo!!! Shocking!!! haha

    Mind you it's no great feat of heroism or intellectual achievement either. If you take it that way, you're stupid. If PZ is willing to do stupid things for your entertainment, just enjoy.

    Perhaps it was a bit enlightening about the silliness of some catholics, as far as florist hubbies sending death threats and getting their wifes fired hahahaha. I guess every death threat was produced by big-mouthed total wimps like that.
    It is also silly that the catholics have not condemned the person who made the eucharist available to PZ. Obviously they were drooling for it, just waiting for the fish to take the bait.
    Overall, catholics had great fun too thanks to PZ. They got to make prayer meetings and shake their heads at what it's come to. Reaffirm the faith and catholic identity of thousands

  21. On the other hand, this "nothing is sacred" thing is very context-dependent, and it is disingenuous to think its not a form of offense. It's a specific thing, to specifically offend a certain kind of person.

    How far are you allowed to go to offend specific groups of people. It's highly context dependent, which means each case has to be thought out, we can't just say "anything goes" or "nothing goes".

    Notice that I'm being lenient to PZ because like anybody what he does with his personal life and blog is his own business, But is it not intriguing he happens to be a science professor, rather than a death-metal band leader or something?

    In this sense I wish to make it absolutely clear that scientists generally do not find any motivations for desecration of the eucharist and that this are VERY oddball case of a behavior certainly below most scientists.

  22. What I love is Nisbet then goes to show a picture of what he thinks should be the image of atheists:
    a guy overdressed taking to a bunch of bored looking tween girls. Is that really good framing? That does nothing to expand the stereotype of atheists. That is one of the stereotypes out there. It just happens to be the stereotype that resembles Nisbet himself.

  23. People expect scientists to do research, not desecrate the eucharist, nor take up the social niches of moral pontiffs such as priests or politicians.

    Science is not about generating social networks for atheism (or religion, that is), nor has it anything to do, of course, with the desecration of the eucharist.

    My problem is with those who WISH all of it to be connected. Science may help lead to atheism, but atheism does not mean we have to offend religious people.

  24. Nisbet has a lot nicer-looking hair than either Larry or PZ.

    That's because he uses poop as a hair gel.

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  26. may help lead to atheism, but atheism does not mean we have to offend religious people.

    Sanders, if eating beef is offensive to Hindus, do I have to give that up? What is the limit of "offense" against religous beliefs that you will allow me? Should apostasy be forbidden because Muslims find it "offensive"? What about homosexuality, which is offensive to all of the Abrahamaic religions? Or is it just desecration of religious icons that you find objectionable. Am I allowed to desecrate any 't' shaped object I like, or is it restricted to official crucifixes? I'm sure the Pastafarians would be mighty upset at me for consuming the big bowl of rotini in front of me right now.

    If someone wants to worship a cracker (or a cow), so be it; doesn't mean I have to.

  27. well of course not, dumbass. I'm saying anyone can do whatever he wants, but the consequences are context dependent. It's different if you make an exhibition of it, and it's different if you do it on purpose or not. When I eat beef, my purpose is to feed myself, not to offend hindus. If they take offense, they'd be wrong.

    But catholics are completely right to take offense at what PZ did. They'd be stupid not to know they have been offended. That's what PZ wanted, of course.

  28. Sanders, I'll ignore the ad hominem and move on to the substance of your post...

    I'm saying anyone can do whatever he wants, but the consequences are context dependent. It's different if you make an exhibition of it, and it's different if you do it on purpose or not. When I eat beef, my purpose is to feed myself, not to offend hindus. If they take offense, they'd be wrong.

    Do you know what I find offensive? People gathering every week in a building to listen to some guy preach hatred, bigotry, and exclusion; telling people that they are superior in the eyes of the invisible creator of the universe, and that I, as an unbeliever (and one who is vocal about it), am destined to burn in hell for all eternity.

    I find it offensive that many of these people advocate teaching children the most outlandish lies, or advocate outright hatred toward homosexuals, or contribute moneyto institutions that are directly responsible for millions of deaths every year.

    And yet, I have to suck it up; they are completely within their rights to gather and spew this nonsense, so long as they dont advocate killing any particular group of people.

    And you know what? I'm fine with that. I dont have the right to not be offended.

    And neither do they. If I feel like making a public exhibition of my non-belief, then that is my absolute right. It might not be polite (under some ridiculously PC definition of 'polite'), but it is my right. And, frankly, given the lack of effect of 'nice' atheism over the past, say, 2000 years, I'd say its high time more people like PZ stood up and stopped being 'polite'.

    These people were threatening PZ with DEATH over a cracker! A cracker which he had every right to drive a nail through, piss on, vomit on, or any other thing he wanted.

    They may be offended, but that's the price you pay to live in a society that allows diversity. I pay that price when they quote Leviticus, and they pay it when PZ desecrates a cracker.

  29. Mike says

    "Do you know what I find offensive? People gathering every week in a building to listen to some guy preach hatred, bigotry, and exclusion"

    So, we have to, too? I'm sorry but bigotry an exclusion is exactly what I found at PZ's blog. Finally PZ banned me and put up my name on a dungeon post so everybody could hate me.

    "And neither do they. If I feel like making a public exhibition of my non-belief"

    Such a gesture does not indicate non-belief but merely, anticatholicism. An honest worshipper of the devil could do that, and has better reason than an atheist, to whom such things do not deserve attention. You'll have to find a better way. Im'sure you can. Try wearing a T-shirt with that ugly-ass red A, perhaps? But desecrating the uecharist is just stupid.

    "given the lack of effect of 'nice' atheism over the past, say, 2000 years, I'd say its high time more people like PZ stood up and stopped being 'polite"

    Careful. Cultivating complete disdain for religion can ultimately lead to the prosecution and killing of religious people, as in the svoite unicon. Those soviet atheists were indeed not polite

  30. As I Christian, I have no standing to opine upon whether PZ's vinegar approach is more desirable and effective than Nisbet's honey. I have no dog in that hunt. That said, I'm surprised that so many atheists think PZ's simplistically rude approach makes any sense. I put PZ and Donaghue in the same general category and don't care which of them turns "our" morons into "their" morons. The morons (on all sides) simply don't interest me, despite their visability and apparent clout. I'm much more concerned with what the thoughtful (on all sides) have to say. Apparently PZ doesn't think engaging the thoughtful provides enough bang for his pseudo-intellectual buck. Besides, thoughtful discourse impedes the singing of the sychophantic choir. Indeed, PZ's bigoted view of the world seems to see "thoughtful" as simply agreeing with him -- we religionists necessarily being irrational, delusional, mentally ill morons, donchaknow.