Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Joseph Hoffmann Responds

 
Joseph Hoffmann thinks he knows a lot about modern atheism so he wrote an insulting and rather stupid attack: Atheism’s Little Idea. A lot of atheists were offended and took the time to try and educate Hoffmann. My own contribution was: On Being a Sophisticated Atheist.

Hoffmann noticed that there was less than unanimous agreement with his position so he replied on his blog The New Oxonian: The Sure-Fire Atheist Rapid Response Manual.

You really have to read it to see just what a sophisticated response from a Harvard/Oxford intellectual looks like. I think he's a bit annoyed at all the attention he's getting.


33 comments :

  1. Hoffman seems to have created a caricature of atheism; he's quite willing to mock us, and make fun of how we're saying things, but I notice he never quite says that we're wrong.

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  2. I still don't have the slightest clue what he's on about. His original essay reads like something created by the postmodern generator. His 'response' just digs the hole deeper.

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  3. That is hilarious, it also happens to jive exactly with my experience of Atheists, and why I refuse to have agnosticism be associated with them.

    Btw Larry - you never responded to this

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  4. Yawn, feeling insulted again? This posing as insulted is reminiscent of the religious indignation of believers who claim exemption from criticism for their faith, whatever that may be, because it's their faith.

    P.S. I'm not Joe Agnostic.

    P.P.S. It's sad to imagine the creationists and IDologists laughing up their sleeves because their opposition is at each other's throat.

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  5. Joe Agnostic says,

    Btw Larry - you never responded to this

    Yes I did.

    Joe, I can understand why you're upset. You locked yourself into a single definition of "atheist" and named yourself accordingly. Now you find out that another definition of "atheist" is used by millions of people (and several dictionaries).

    You needn't be so upset. Just add "atheist" to the end of your name as in "Joe Agnostic-Atheist." It will look like you're the offspring of an atheist and an agnostic.

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  6. Larry Moran said:
    Yes I did.
    Could you link to where you posted your response, because that particular comment thread has no further input from you, at least not under the "Larry Moran" name.

    Larry Moran said:
    Now you find out that another definition of "atheist" is used by millions of people (and several dictionaries).

    Larry, millions of people use the definition:
    God: noun, the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe. (and several dictionaries) - does that mean they are right?

    If you want to start listing dictionaries and encyclopedias that use your preferred definition - I would be happy to supply more that use the widely accepted one.

    Why on earth should I change what I name myself just because you failed to do your homework?

    If you don't actually subscribe to:
    Noun:
    The theory or belief that God does not exist.


    Why don't you pick a name that better encapsulates your position?

    For some inspiration you could read Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism

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  7. I've replied on Hoffman's website. Can I just point out that last time atheism was a 'little idea' and that this time atheists are 'ants'.

    All very Freudian. I think we can probably placate him by reassuring him that he's way taller than PZ Myers and that we're sure everything's proportional.

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  8. Here's what I read:

    "You're all a bunch of insects... who need to learn to speak more respectfully about other people."

    "You're some primitive and ignorant tribe, who don't know how to speak politely to anyone and most of you don't know how to read. Also, it is unfair that you get together in groups."

    "I'm going to demonstrate my own reading ability by creating a strawman version of atheism that I've never actually read or heard an atheist express. Look how sophisticated I am!"

    And then I had to stop reading, because this guy is a joke as an intellectual AND as a human being.

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  9. Just another blowhard who has to hide his lack of a point under mountains of pompous prose. He's not interested in communicating, only in showing off his vocabulary and hoping people will confuse lack of clarity for some sort of genius.

    You're a dishonest hack Hoffman, as is anyone who thinks that diatribe has anything to do with actual atheists in the actual world.

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  10. Just another blowhard who has to hide his lack of a point under mountains of pompous prose...

    You stole the words from my mouth.

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  11. ...hoping people will confuse lack of clarity for some sort of genius

    Unfortunately, lots of people confuse lack of clarity for some sort of genius. Unfortunately, intellectualloids like this Hoffman guy think that their lack of clarity and lengthily nonsense reflects some sort of genius.

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  12. Joe Agnostic,

    That is hilarious, it also happens to jive exactly with my experience of Atheists, and why I refuse to have agnosticism be associated with them.

    I can't see how it is hilarious to write something based on a supposed "atheist manual" and paint a cartoon of atheists I have never known in a long life among mostly atheists. That you enjoyed that crap shows that your pain at seeing that atheists describe themselves as agnostic atheists when asked about that philosophical "issue" of proving a universal negative is due to yours being a mediocre mind, rather than holding to a one-and-only accepted meanings of terms.

    As of me, after reading your "arguments" and those of others stubborn "agnostics" like yourself, I rather not associate my atheism with "agnosticism." Besides your stubbornness, I refuse to entertain the stupidity born out of a philosophical technicality. Show me that there's a god or gods. In the meantime, "agnosticism" remains a consolation prize for mediocre minds that can't get to terms with their disbelief.

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  13. Negative Entropy said:
    describe themselves as agnostic atheists when asked about that philosophical "issue" of proving a universal negative

    The thing is that it is "agnostic atheist" is either redundant or a contradiction in terms if you cease to apply the new-age-atheists-neologism interpretation to either.

    Show me that there's a god or gods -- Exactly :) see:

    Huxley: I neither affirm nor deny the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it. I have no a priori objections to the doctrine. No man who has to deal daily and hourly with nature can trouble himself about a priori difficulties. Give me such evidence as would justify me in believing in anything else, and I will believe that. Why should I not? It is not half so wonderful as the conservation of force or the indestructibility of matter...

    Its not about a philosophical technicality - it is about what the words actually mean.

    I am fine with not believing in God(s) - what I have a problem with is willful ignorance.

    What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
    —Bertrand Russell, "Skeptical Essays", 1928

    and further from Bertrand Russell:
    An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that that can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The agnostic suspends judgement, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may hold it is so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice.

    I have to ask, given that you seem to know the widely accepted definition of Atheism, why are you trying to change it? If you don't find that "The theory or belief that God does not exist." represents your position, there are existing words which might encapsulate your position better: Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism could serve as a guide.

    If you do subscribe to "The theory or belief that God does not exist." then why are you trying to pretend that you aren't? This effort at watering down Atheism smacks of accommodationism.

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  14. Well, Hoffmann's approved a bunch of comments, but apparently turned down mine. His blog, his privilege.

    So, this was what I said to Joseph Hoffmann:

    "Part of me looks at what you're saying and thinks that, yeah, isn't the headline that that cheese you were defending with all your might vanished? Isn't the primary issue your failure, not the manner of your failure? If your cheese defence was robust, wouldn't you still have at least some cheese?

    But then I looked at your argument a couple of times, thought about it. And here's my question: 'which of your points is specific to an atheist response, and which are just standard responses any group would make to any critic?'

    Because the argument you set up here depends on atheists having a peculiar, insectile, hivemind approach to taking down a target. But none of your examples are specific to atheism, are they? Your examples don't match the premise. It's the work of moments to find religious folks employing all the same techniques. 'The fool has said in his heart there is no God', for example, is your point (b).

    And the idea that, when faced with one of the world's great monotheistic religions, atheism scores because it has a manual for believers, seminaries, fanatical devotees and an urge to conform in the service of a cause ... well, doesn't that skip straight past 'ironic' to 'downright silly'?

    Is it also significant that this is two arguments in a row where you are literally belittling your opponent - atheism was a 'little idea' last time, atheists are 'ants' this time. It's interesting imagery, and it's very hard to resist a Freudian reading of that. I'm sure you're very girthy, whoa, I've never seen someone as big as you. You're way taller than PZ Myers. Does that make you feel better?

    If a hundred people are explaining why your argument is bad, from multiple angles of attack, it almost certainly does not mean you are in some epic struggle between a hundred foolish ants and you, a giant with the strength of one hundred mortal men. It probably indicates that your argument wasn't actually a very good one."

    Once again, this is directed at Joseph Hoffmann, not Larry!

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  15. Joe,

    The "widely accepted definition of atheism" is not what holds my stoping using the "agnostic" useless adjective. I am saying that after your stubbornness I rather not add that.

    Sure I have known "agnostics" such as yourself who think that atheism and agnosticism don't go together. But that does not mean you are right, no matter how many "Russells" you can recite. These words can surely go together. One is about knowledge (gnostic/agnostic is the pair about knowledge, and it applies to anything, not just gods), while the other pair, theism/atheism is about belief/disbelief. Theists believe there's a god, atheists don't believe such thing. What you fail to understand at this point is that rejecting a belief is not the same as claiming to know that something is not there. Theism and atheism reflects a position, a position that might have tons of good reasons (or not) behind it. Once you understand the distinction between knowledge claims and belief/disbelief claims, it is quite clear that the "theism-agnosticism-atheism" is an artificial trio, and that the word agnostic can happily live next to either theism and atheism. Agnosticism does not have any god-meaning particle anywhere, and it is about knowledge. Sure it was adopted by some group of people to make clear their understanding of this philosophical technicality about universal negatives. That does not mean that the trio is correct.

    So, among people I know, the "widely accepted meaning" of atheism is rejection of the belief in gods, and it is compatible with agnosticism, which refers to whether we can know that these gods don;t exist. Among your friends, it does not go well with the word "agnostic." Fine, keep your meaning to those who share it. Still, if we are to play the intellectuals, then show me where is "god" in the word "agnosticism," and where is "know" and "theory" in the word "atheism." Otherwise, you are pissing out of the toilet. Bertrand Russell and all.

    (Here you keep missing the point and cite another sort of authors to show how much of an intellectual you are, but you keep failing to show how exactly atheism and agnosticism can't go together. You will keep missing that even if atheism were "the theory or belief that gods don't exist," it would still be compatible with "agnostic" because neither "theory," nor "belief" are knowledge claims, but proposals. Again, as of me, I will not use "agnostic" lest I might be mistaken for someone like yourself. This means that you were partially successful for the wrong reasons.)

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  16. Joe the agnostic:

    Your comments suggest that you are an arrogant ass. You criticize Larry for pointing out that not everyone agrees with the definition some philosophers have chosen for the word "atheist" and then claim that YOU know the TRUE definition. You then quote mine a few famous people as if they are the sole authorities on the subject.

    But your definition and those that you quoted conveniently ignore the root words in athiest: "a-" meaning "without","lack of","not" or "no" and "theist" meaning "god belief" or "god believing". The prefix "a-" only means "denial of" and "theist" only means "god" in the minds of those that need convenient support for their straw man argument.

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  17. I've read Hoffman off and on for over 2 years and I still don't get his points. If Hoffman is a paleo atheist (pre gnu), what has he contributed to the atheist community with his deep thoughts?
    I've been an atheist for over 4 decades and have never heard of him until recently.

    Jeff Sherry

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  18. The comments to "Atheism's Little Idea" are different today than they were on November 30. On Nov.30, there were 28 comments at 9:56 am, and today, at 21:15 there are only 12. My comment, steph's reply to my comment, and Hoffmann's reply to my comment are gone.

    Hoffmann is now replying as admin rather than his own name. The original post date seems to have changed as well; I remember the date as November 26.

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  19. Veronika:

    It seems to be due to a faulty setup of sorts see:
    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/atheisms-little-idea-2/

    vs

    http://www.rjosephhoffmann.com/2011/11/25/atheisms-little-idea/

    Note that the same thing happens with my comment at:

    http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/the-sure-fire-atheist-rapid-response-manual/
    vs
    http://www.rjosephhoffmann.com/2011/12/01/the-sure-fire-atheist-rapid-response-manual/

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  20. ScienceAvenger wrote: "Just another blowhard who has to hide his lack of a point under mountains of pompous prose."

    Agree completely, and yet one of the commenters at Hoffman's site had the gall to refer to Eric McDonald as a "humorless windbag". Does he not read Hoffman's writing?

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  21. Chris said...
    Your comments suggest that you are an arrogant ass.
    No, Chris, I have been very patiently and delicately trying to point out the profound absurdity of your position. Let me show you an approach that might fit your characterization better:

    You criticize Larry for pointing out that not everyone agrees with the definition some philosophers have chosen for the word "atheist" and then claim that YOU know the TRUE definition. You then quote mine a few famous people as if they are the sole authorities on the subject.
    Yeah Chris, those darn philosophers.
    Just for fun, try to replace "philosophers" with "scientists", "atheist" with "evolution" and you will see how you come across to me.

    As for quote mining - feel free to add the context that you have faith is lacking from my excerpts.

    As for your hilarious appeal to etymology, which I will "quote mine" here:
    But your definition and those that you quoted conveniently ignore the root words in athiest: "a-" meaning "without","lack of","not" or "no" and "theist" meaning "god belief" or "god believing".

    First of all - etymology does not guarantee to capture contemporary usage - consider ( even if you apparently don't read them ) "book" which stems from "Beech" ( a species of tree ) - are you going to try to argue that a "bookworm" is now a parasite of beech trees?

    Second of all - you are a complete dumbass, let me show you why, even if we entertain your preposterous postulate:

    1. ἄθεος ( Greek gooblydyk for Atheos)
    1.1 ἀ- The alpha privativum, used to make words that have a sense opposite (aka negative prefix ) to the word (or stem) to which the prefix is attached.
    1.2 θεός (theos, “god”)

    Quite literally 'no god' - do note that this is not about 'belief' it is about presence or, if you will, existence - compare with ἄκαρπος ( no - fruit, barren)

    For giggles we can try to plonk on -ist now to get:
    god-ist and no-god-ist

    But it gets better! But I'll leave it up to you if you are going to actually try to educate yourself a bit or if I'll need to piss on you a bit more in that hole you have dug for yourself.

    Breathlessly awaiting your response, Joe Agnostic

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  22. Negative Entropy said...
    The "widely accepted definition of atheism" is not what holds my stoping using the "agnostic" useless adjective. I am saying that after your stubbornness I rather not add that.

    My 'true believer' translator is on the blink - would "I know you are right but I won't admit it" be an adequate translation?

    I am showing you that you are holding a mistaken belief, you seem to understand that but wont change it and you call me stubborn?


    Negative Entropy said...
    What you fail to understand at this point is that rejecting a belief is not the same as claiming to know that something is not there.
    What you fail to understand is what 'rejecting a belief' means in this context - hint, your sentence is nonsensical.

    Consider the avowed atheist Kai E. Nielsen who wrote the entry for EB on Atheism ( omg bias lol ) - it is an interesting entry for a variety of reasons, lots of saucy quote mining to be had such as:
    Generally atheism is a denial of God or of the gods, and if religion is defined in terms of belief in spiritual beings, then atheism is the rejection of all religious belief.
    Its right, there "rejection of belief" - Score for the new-age-atheists amirite?

    Well.. if you read a little further:
    An agnostic, like an atheist, asserts either that he does not know that God exists—or, more typically, that he cannot know or have sound reasons for believing that God exists—but unlike the atheist he does not think that he is justified in saying that God does not exist or, stronger still, that God cannot exist.

    Emphasized for the reading impai, err, stubborn.


    Negative Entropy said...
    Once you understand the distinction between knowledge claims and belief/disbelief claims
    You will truly know the greatness of his noodly appendage..

    and
    even if atheism were "the theory or belief that gods don't exist," it would still be compatible with "agnostic" because neither "theory," nor "belief" are knowledge claims, but proposals.
    Hey Larry, can you help this guy out, it is all about the furtherance of knowledge and the eradication of ignorance, ey Larry.

    Since Larry has been somewhat reticent in responding to my posts, I'll have to help his devouts.

    Negative Entropy, since it seems that dictionary is a four-letter word in your house, you will have to take the following at my word ( or click )
    be·lief/biˈlēf/ Noun:
    An acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.


    I would urge you to study what is meant by 'theory' in different fields for yourself - fair warning though, big words are involved.

    I'll give you a taste:
    "Theory is constructed of a set of sentences which consist entirely of true statements about the subject matter under consideration."
    and some rope:
    "They are 'rigorously tentative', meaning that they are proposed as true but expected to satisfy careful examination to account for the possibility of faulty inference or incorrect observation." Hint - that one is not for you.

    Negative Entropy said...
    Again, as of me, I will not use "agnostic" lest I might be mistaken for someone like yourself.

    Trust me, such a misunderstanding is highly unlikely to be entertained at length.

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  23. Joe,

    Trust me, such a misunderstanding is highly unlikely to be entertained at length.

    Well, after reading your rhetorical contortions, I am sure that will not happen. And I thought I was talking to an "intellectual," only to be surprised by your series of equivocation fallacies and other stupidity adorned by word salad.

    My mistake. The creationist inside you prevails. No, I will not answer. As the subconscious creationist you are, you added so much rhetorical crap that this would go on forever.

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  24. I've never understood the respectability that agnosticism has in some circles. People seem to have forgotten (conveniently) that gods are fantastical creations spawned from the imaginations and ramblings of our distant ancestors; imagined entities that violate physical law. Yet we are asked to consider them as a respectable idea that might, just might, be true and that can't be demonstrated to be not true.

    Gods can only exist if you are willing to believe that physical law can be violated by thought alone. To be agnostic you have to believe in magic - put simply! I describe myself as an atheist and state that there are no gods and that their existence is disproved easily by the fact that imagined entities that violate basic physical law are nothing but fantasy and can not exist in reality. What's more, I shouldn't even have to have evidence that gods don't exist to deny their existence - We don't need empirical evidence to disprove the existence of things that can not be. We shouldn't be wasting millennia of thought on this infantile fantasy.

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  25. Negative Entropy said...
    Well, after reading your rhetorical contortions, I am sure that will not happen.
    and
    your series of equivocation fallacies

    Do you want me to guess or are you going to tell me where you believe to have seen those?

    Sorry guy, at this point you could be stomping mad that I indicated that ignorance should be eradicated, since you seem to idolize it so thoroughly. I wouldn't know where to begin guessing.

    Do feel free to expand your rant into something coherent.

    Also:

    Joe Agnostics Law:
    As a discussion with a sufficiently obtuse new-age-atheist grows longer, the probability of accusations of being a creationist approaches 1.


    Seriously though - are you saying that Kai Nielsen and EB are mistaken, but you are right?

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  26. Guess away Joe. I could show you, but who cares. You intentionally misread what I told you, then equivocated a few times, then added rhetorical effect. All classic creationist modus operandi. I hope I complied with your standard, ahem, I mean, accepted definitions of "guess away," "could," "show," "who," "cares," "intentionally," "misread," "equivocated," "rhetorical," "effect," "classic," "creationist," "modus operandi," "hope," "complied," "mean," "accepted," and "definitions" in the above (and "above"). Otherwise this might become a tortuous exchange (and "otherwise," "might," "become," "tortuous," and "exchange"). I hope the meanings I used, who cares about context, appear first when searching with google (and "meanings," "used," "cares," "context," "appear," "first," "when," "searching," and "google").

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  27. ... oh shit ... and/or are official as per encyclopaedia britannica (and "shit," "official," "as per," and "encyclopaedia britannica"). Please forgive me Oh Great Lord and Guardian of The Word (and ... )

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  28. A whimsical analogy: I have two cats and I can state with complete confidence that they have never written a novel. I don't entertain the possibility that they might have - not because I've yet to find the novel that may be hidden somewhere, but because of what I know of the properties of cats and novels. Cats don't write novels, therefore I know with absolute certainty that they have never written one. Similarly, I'm not agnostic on the existence of gods because of what we know about the properties of gods. Gods are magical entities from a magical realm that can manipulate the universe with magical powers. Nearly all descriptions of modern-day gods give them properties and abilities that are what can appropriately be described as physics-defying magic. You can't break the laws of nature umpteen times before breakfast and get away with it. There is no magic in the universe and therefore there are no gods. They are imagined entities. Fantasy, They DO NOT exist in reality. They CAN NOT exist. I know this. There is no room for the agnostic.


    Agnostics forget what god is and instead get themselves all tied up in knots over the limits of what can and can't be known. Once knotted up so, they then argue to the ends of time over the definitions of words. Anything to avoid dealing with the most important fact of all: gods are imagined entities from the realms of fantasy that break natural law. If it's not magical it's not god. A non-magical god is an entity that had a biological ancestor and manipulates the universe with technology. Only our naivety would call that godly. It would be great if an agnostic would describe what god is and with a straight face suggest that such a thing could possibly exist.

    Agnosticism is for the credulous or for those that are heterozygous for the religion gene.

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  29. Anonymous said...
    there are no gods. They are imagined entities. Fantasy, They DO NOT exist in reality. They CAN NOT exist. I know this. There is no room for the agnostic.

    Thank you :) Finally a true and honest Atheist.

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  30. Joe Agnostic wrote: "That is hilarious, it also happens to jive exactly with my experience of Atheists, and why I refuse to have agnosticism be associated with them." [emphasis added]

    Joe Agnostic wrote: "Its not about a philosophical technicality - it is about what the words actually mean." [emphasis in original]

    Agreed. For example:

    jive
    transitive verb
    1 : TEASE, CAJOLE
    2 : SWING 5
    intransitive verb
    1 : to talk jive : kid around
    2 : to dance to or play jive

    jibe
    intransitive verb
    : to be in accord : AGREE

    Also, you had your say and made your arguments and convinced no one. You can stop now.

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  31. the innominate one said...
    Agreed. For example:

    Thanks :)

    the innominate one said...
    Also, you had your say and made your arguments and convinced no one. You can stop now.

    It is difficult to convince the true believers, sometimes the best that can be hoped for is to enlighten those not already invested in mistakes made.

    So you believe that Kai Nielsen is mistaken in his writings for EB, here?

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  32. Joe, this particular atheist would prefer if you just wholeheartedly embrace the logical conclusion of your position and climb completely into bed with the godbots. Your presence in the Freethinker camp is neither wanted nor needed and, frankly, it's embarrassing to be even tangentially associated with you as your sole purpose appears to be one of snarky arrogance. Do toddle off now, there's a good lad. I'm sure the other agnostics are missing you so there's no need to sully yourself with the atheists (whom you claim to want to distance yourself from) on this atheist-centered blog you feel the need to infect.

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  33. Wolfhound said...
    Leave atheism alone!!11!one!1!

    I have to say, I find it deeply worrying that you are so invested in a word that you won't admit to the definition of it ( well, some of you do, which is commendable ). Why wont Larry Moran either defend his position or concede it? Is this really the quality of pursuance of knowledge and learning that we can expect from someone who apparently teaches "Critical Thinking"? I am not a theist; therefore I'm an atheist.

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