Why is the Secular Coalition for America giving Justin Vacula — online bully, A Voice for Men contributor — a leadership position? [UPDATE: He's resigned.]

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UPDATE: Vacula has resigned.

As most of you are no doubt aware, the atheist and skeptic movements have had just a teensy bit of a problem with misogyny in their ranks. You may recall the unholy shitstorm that erupted last year when Rebecca Watson of Skepchick casually mentioned in a YouTube video that it might not be such a good idea for dudes to try to hit on women in elevators at 4 AM. The assholes of the internet still haven’t forgiven Watson for her assault on the sacred right of creepy dudes to creep women out 24 hours a day, every day.

Watson is hardly the only skeptic to face vicious misogynist harassment for the crime of blogging while feminist. Last month, Jen McCreight of Blag Hag announced that near constant harassment from online bullies was wearing her down to such a degree that she felt it necessary to shut down her blog – hopefully only temporarily.

I can no longer write anything without my words getting twisted, misrepresented, and quotemined. I wake up every morning to abusive comments, tweets, and emails about how I’m a slut, prude, ugly, fat, feminazi, retard, bitch, and cunt (just to name a few). If I block people who are twisting my words or sending verbal abuse, I receive an even larger wave of nonsensical hate about how I’m a slut, prude, feminazi, retard, bitch, cunt who hates freedom of speech (because the Constitution forces me to listen to people on Twitter). This morning I had to delete dozens of comments of people imitating my identity making graphic, lewd, degrading sexual comments about my personal life. In the past, multiple people have threatened to contact my employer with “evidence” that I’m a bad scientist (because I’m a feminist) to try to destroy my job. I’m constantly worried that the abuse will soon spread to my loved ones.

I just can’t take it anymore.

McCreight’s harassers and their enablers were delighted in this “victory,” taking to Twitter to give McCreight some final kicks on the way out the door. “Good riddance, #jennifurret , you simple minded dolt,” wrote @skepticaljoe. “I couldn’t be happier,” added @SUICIDEBOMBS. “Eat shit you rape-faking scum.”

One of the celebrators that day was an atheist activist named Justin Vacula, who joked that “Jen’s allegedly finished blogging…and this time it’s not her boyfriend who kicked her off the internet.”

So here’s the latest twist:

Justin Vacula has just been given a leadership position in the Pennsylvania chapter of the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group for secular Americans whose advisory board includes such big names as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Susan Jacoby, Wendy Kaminer, Steven Pinker, Salman Rushdie and Julia Sweeney.

It’s an astonishing choice. In addition to gloating that bullies had led McCreight to shut down her blog, Vacula has harassed atheist blogger and activist Surly Amy, including writing a post on A Voice for Men (yes, that A Voice for Men) cataloging all the sordid details of his supposed case against her. At one point he even posted her address, and a photo of her apartment building, on a site devoted to hating on feminist atheist bloggers.

Blogger Stephanie Zvan has set up a petition on Change.org urging the Secular Coalition of America to reconsider its choice. You can find further examples of Vacula’s questionable behavior there.

As Watson notes in a post on Skepchick, Vacula’s position with the SCA is likely to “drive progressive women away from the secular cause.” She adds,

I will never, ever get involved with SCA so long as someone like him holds a position of power anywhere, let alone in a state I live in. So Vacula is actively driving people away from SCA. …

It’s all a real shame, because SCA fills an important role in our movement and I’d like to give them my support. … I don’t believe secular organizations should reward bullies and bigots with high-level positions, even if those positions are volunteer-only.

I recommend that everyone here take a look at the petition.

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Posted on October 2, 2012, in a voice for men, actual activism, antifeminism, bullying, gloating, harassment, hate, misogyny, MRA, rapey, threats and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 553 Comments.

  1. But I don’t think that the idea that religious belief is caused, at least in part, by “cognitive errors” necessarily implies that religious people are stupid, that they have a mental disorder, or that their opinions can be dismissed out of hand.

    Maybe not stupid or mentally ill, but it does imply that atheists’ brains are superior in that respect (or atheists are superior at using their brains), because religious people make a cognitive error that atheists don’t. I mean, the word “error” is in the phrase. You’re directly saying that religious people have something wrong with their brains. (And while that’s not exactly the same as saying they have a mental illness, it’s damn similar.)

    And of course the whole purpose is to dismiss their arguments out of hand! You’re classifying their beliefs as the same kind of thing as optical illusions: Things that are not real, and therefore don’t need to be given real attention. Why even bring it up if not to explain why you shouldn’t really have to listen to religious people?

  2. Also, Nepenthe, where are those studies proving that religious people are more likely to support ineffective charities?

  3. captainbathrobe

    @The Kitteh’s Unpaid Help,

    Speaking as someone who is both an atheist and a therapist, I take a pragmatic view of my clients’ religious beliefs. If faith is helping them more than hurting them, I’m all for it. It’s not my job to impose my beliefs on anyone, but rather to help my clients get where they want to go–or decide where they want to go if they are not sure.

    It’s much trickier, however, if a client’s beliefs are interfering with living a happy, fulfilling life (i.e., being forbidden to marry outside one’s faith). Then, rather than challenge beliefs directly, I look for loopholes and wiggle room (“but wouldn’t God want you to find love?”). Even then, I have to proceed VERY carefully, since the life consequences of bucking one’s religious beliefs can be unpredictable to say the least. Much better to help people get some clarity on the issue and then make their own decision–which, of course, they will do anyway.

  4. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    Just a reminder of SallyStrange’s first comment on this particular theme:

    I’m anti-belief-in-God. I’m an atheist and an anti-theist. I think god-belief relies on some of our most common cognitive errors to survive, notably “faith,” i.e., the believing in something for which there is no evidence. Faith is not a virtue, it’s a fucking cognitive error. The world will be better off when people stop thinking there’s any sort of difficulty involved in “having faith.” If there is, it’s a sign that the proposition you’re trying to muster belief in is really, REALLY obviously false.

    No, no implicit superiority there at all. Calling faith “a fucking cognitive error” couldln’t possibly be read as a put-down. Assuming you know better than someone else what their faith is, or how they reached it, or whether it was difficult or not, isn’t putting your atheist beliefs above theirs at all. Silly me to think it was.

  5. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    Captainbathrobe – I would bet that’s exactly where my psychologist was coming from. He could see how much happier I was with the changing mindset. Plus I guess the matter of professional ethics would come into it, wouldn’t it?

  6. Yeah, SallyStrange may be amazed to discover that bigots usually don’t come out and say that they’re better than other people; it’s much more likely to be something like “Homosexuals were created in the image of God like everyone else, they just chose to pursue a sinful lifestyle!” Turns out that if you do that you’re still acting superior.

  7. Look Pecunium, I’m not going to argue with you about the American jurisdiction and the legal meaning of specific terms which might be different from the casual meaning. Quite frankly, I know shit about the American law and I don’t really care. I’m not even a native speaker. So yes, maybe you are right, though I remain skeptical. Because I’m smart enough to realize that this shit is complicated and you are layperson as well. If you’re interested in that discussion you should debate with a lawyer.

    Just one thing:

    Characteristically repetititve. He did it twice, in two different fora. Did he remove it when he apologised? This one is against you.

    As far as I know, he posted the address in one forum and later asked the admin to remove the post when he realized he made a mistake.

  8. In other words, the kids nowerdays are really good with these computer machines.

    Many of those kids are good at responding on the correct threads. :-)

  9. Quite frankly, I know shit about the American law and I don’t really care. I’m not even a native speaker. So yes, maybe you are right, though I remain skeptical. Because I’m smart enough to realize that this shit is complicated and you are layperson as well.

    Hahahahahahaha, “I don’t know anything about this topic, so you might be right, but I’m still totally skeptical and also I don’t even care so really it’s like I was right all along.” Keep fighting the good fight, duder.

  10. Also, “just-so” stories about the origins of religion are stupid and thoroughly anti-empiricist because we have no fucking evidence to support them. Saying “Religion came about because it offered an evolutionary advantage!” is ridiculous. You could make literally the exact same argument about the evolutionary origins of rationalism. (Not that religion and rationalism are fundamentally opposed, but the evo-psych faux-science being pushed here posits them as opposites, so I’m running with that to make a point.)

  11. As I said earlier: The realm of science is huge, since it encompasses all causal explanations and predictions. However, it’s not infinite, since there are other kinds of questions in life, like, for instance, basic epistemology and questions about what one ought to do. Now it doesn’t seem terribly uncommon for atheists to just fail to see this, and rather believe that science can answer ALL questions, even ones that aren’t about causal explanation and prediction. These same atheists are often unable to listen to arguments to the contrary. And this, to my mind, just goes to show that being an atheist in itself doesn’t improve your critical thinking skills, and that atheists too often believe things for no reason.

    So I agree that it’s not good to believe things for no reason. It’s debatable, however, whether reasons always have to be epistemological. (And even if they’d have to be, I’ve given epistemological reasons earlier in this thread as to why I personally believe in God)

  12. @cloudiah 

    You are the internet bad ass, I would think you would be capable of scrolling up.

    Sorry, I’m just scrolling for friends.

  13. @Thomas
    So you admit you’re a loser, then, rather than someone who engages with arguments and facts. Thanks?

  14. Damn, realised I contradicted myself. In my first post I said that everyone believes some stuff for no reason (such as the existence of an external world), implying that this was perfectly allright, and now I said that it’s no good to believe things for good reason. Gotta make up my mind!
    So… I guess one could hold up “always believing things for a reason, never without reason” (without equating reason with absolute proof) as some intellectual ideal, while simultaneously say that it’s okay and not that big a deal that people have all kinds of beliefs for no reason.

  15. @Gametime

    I suppose you are a lawyer. I would be interested in your expert opinion of the legal definition of harassment.

  16. Also, “just-so” stories about the origins of religion are stupid and thoroughly anti-empiricist because we have no fucking evidence to support them. Saying “Religion came about because it offered an evolutionary advantage!” is ridiculous.

    And it’s evo psych, which is bullshit all around. Notice how Nepenthe uses the exact same pseudologic as any MRA crusader who wants to prove that women are irrational:

    1. Make a hypothesis about how the brain functioned in the past.

    2. Assume that your hypothesis is true.

    3. Make a sweeping assertion about how this causes large groups of people to all act a certain way in the present.

    4. If anyone asks for evidence of 3, refer to 1.

  17. @cloudiah 

    Really? I’m quite alright to admit that I may be wrong or don’t know anything about a topic. See my response to pecunium.

    You, on the other hand, are just absurd right now. Let’s recap: You made an ill informed post. I mocked you and apparently wounded your honor. You can’t admit that your post was ill informed and now you are endlessly defending your position and digging yourself deeper and deeper.

    Let’s call it a draw. You can even claim victory, if it’s really that important to you.

  18. Thomas, stop calling everything a draw.

  19. @Thomas
    But it isn’t a draw. We pwned you, and you don’t want to admit it. That’s why you played the “calm down” card. Predictable, but disappointing. I often wish for a worthy opponent, but I didn’t get it this time.*

    Look, I can understand why you want to turn it into something else, but unfortunately for you reality is not on your side. Sorry you’re so upset about it. Calm down? Chamomile tea? Kitten videos? How can we help?

    *If you want to try to redeem yourself, you could try actually responding to my comments rather than responding to your imaginary version of my comments. But I suspect you just want to troll.

  20. I suppose you are a lawyer. I would be interested in your expert opinion of the legal definition of harassment.

    I don’t need to be a lawyer to realize that your pompous little attempt at retaining some measure of dignity while still admitting that you know basically nothing related to the subject about which you’ve been arguing for hours was fucking hilarious.

    Hey, remember when you were excoriating us for not doing our research properly and then it turned out you were totally wrong and you had to eat crow? Good times, good times.

  21. Captainbathrobe – I would bet that’s exactly where my psychologist was coming from. He could see how much happier I was with the changing mindset. Plus I guess the matter of professional ethics would come into it, wouldn’t it?

    Well, yeah. I mean, the first mandate is “do no harm.” Using one’s trusted position as a therapist to pursue one’s own agenda is 1)massively unethical and 2)incredibly dickish (to use clinical jargon) :) . Which is not to say that it never happens, unfortunately.

  22. Um, the reason I care that people believe in God is that, as far as I can tell from the evidence I have, it isn’t true. I am against people believing in things that aren’t true, even if the not-true things make people feel really happy. I am particularly against the idea that believing in things without evidence is good, and therefore I am against the idea that faith (in the sense of believing without sufficient evidence) is a good thing.

    Of course, there are a LOT of things that aren’t true, and so as a practical matter I think people should prioritize getting people to not believe in the untrue things that hurt people, and in raising the general level of scientific knowledge and rationality and skepticism and so on.

    Really, the whole “faith is a cognitive error” thing is the logical outcome of atheism. “God does not exist” –> “people must have a reason for believing that God exists” –> “here are some hypotheses about why people believe God exists.”

    Frankly, a lot of the proposed cognitive errors that I’ve read about are pretty fucking well-documented. Humans tend to model things as having minds, even when they don’t: ever seen a little kid play with a doll? Ever yelled at your computer because it didn’t work? It seems pretty fucking likely that over time that sort of thing evolved into animism (which most of the fairly early religions are, afaik).

    And, yes, some of those cognitive errors evolved. Brains evolved. It would be ludicrous in the extreme to expect that the brain is 100% a blank slate.

    Gametime: …yes, of course rationalism evolved, where the fuck else do you expect it to come from?

  23. ithiliana, sorry to hear about the diabetes; hope you can adjust to it without too many problems.

  24. Oh, yeah, and *hugs* Ithiliana about your diabetes. I hope you can still eat some tasty food. :)

  25. Really, the whole “faith is a cognitive error” thing is the logical outcome of atheism.

    Really? Must the logical outcome of “I believe X” be “people who don’t believe X must have problems with their brains?”

  26. …No, *everyone* has the same problems with their brains, and for some people it leads to theism.

  27. captainbathrobe

    I think of a tendency towards the spiritual as a personality trait rather than some sort of defect–rather like being introverted as opposed to extroverted. Of course, experience and culture shape how this trait is expressed. I also believe that people are religious for a variety of reasons. Some people crave a connection with a greater whole. Others are drawn to the certainty of a rigidly structured system of morality. Still others seek out comfort in the face of life’s uncertainties and the death that awaits us all. And, of course, some like the social/communitarian aspect to organized religion.

    Personally, I have a hard time faulting people for wanting these things, even if I think we’d all probably be better off if we faced the cold, hard, existential truths of life.

  28. Ozy, would you accept the religious corollary; that is, do you think it’s reasonable for religious people to think that atheists have a problem with their brains that makes them unable to accept the rational, reasonable position that is theism?

    (I don’t think that, for the record.)

  29. captainbathrobe

    On the other hand, atheists are subject to the same fits of irrationality as everyone else. This thread is more than enough proof of that. :)

  30. Captain Bathrobe: Oh, yeah, I do agree “tendency to the spiritual” is a personality trait. (Because I have a whole fuckton of it, despite being an occasionally quite obnoxious atheist, and am prone to going off on rants about how I wish I could believe in God but the evidence is too shitty.)

    IDK, I feel like one can have rigidly structured systems of morality and comfort in the face of death and social aspects and connection with a greater whole *without* having the God part, and that in fact developing those is one of the things the atheist movement should be doing instead of appointing Vacula to leadership positions.

  31. The really fun part is when people believe things that are right for cognitive-error-filled reasons… Like me. With feminism. XD

  32. captainbathrobe

    Katz, I don’t think Ozy is saying that religious people have a problem with their brains, but rather that their religious beliefs are the result of cognitive errors that everyone makes but which are expressed differently in different people under different circumstances. I’m not saying I necessarily agree or disagree, but that does appear to be what Ozy is saying. (Oz, tell me if I’m wrong.)

  33. Okay, well then, would Ozy accept the religious corollary that atheism is the result of a brain malfunction that everyone has but which is expressed in different ways, one of which is the inability to believe in God, something which is clearly a normal, healthy brain function in most of the population?

  34. captainbathrobe

    IDK, I feel like one can have rigidly structured systems of morality and comfort in the face of death and social aspects and connection with a greater whole *without* having the God part, and that in fact developing those is one of the things the atheist movement should be doing instead of appointing Vacula to leadership positions.

    Sure, but it begs the question of why religion has been such a persistent and pervasive presence in human history. Even if God doesn’t exist, humans have invented him/her/it/them again and again and again. If all of these things can be achieved without having the God part, then why has God shown up so often in so many different forms? There’s something else going on here, and I think it has to do with how our minds work, generally speaking.

  35. Captain Bathrobe: Yep, you adequately summed up my ideas, thank you. And God coming up cross-culturally is why I think it’s a manifestation of some, probably evolved, universal human cognitive error. Which one, I don’t know. I’ve read several plausible explanations and few with the evidence I’d really like to back it up. Hell, maybe we’ve evolved to believe in God, there are weirder things.

    Katz: Sure. I presume (coming from a Catholic perspective, as that’s the one I know best) that my atheism is a manifestation of original sin, the habitual tendency of humans to be separate from God and to choose evil over good.

  36. No, no, not original sin, we’re talking about a brain malfunction. Like there’s a neural pathway that causes people to perceive the existence of God, but it’s missing in you, and you’re God-blind like some people are color-blind.

    (Gonna keep repeating that none of this is true.)

  37. Gametime: …yes, of course rationalism evolved, where the fuck else do you expect it to come from?

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “evolved,” since rationalism isn’t an organism and thus doesn’t participate in the generational genetics of evolution. Assuming you mean developed over the course of time, yeah, obviously. I’m… pretty sure I never said it didn’t? My point was that it’s silly to tell just-so stories about how and why it developed when we have little to no evidence backing that up. We can speculate about it, but let’s not front like we know enough to construct even a basic theory.

    Like, it’s not even clear that either rational or religious thinking provide any substantial evolutionary advantage, nor that even if they do that it’s the sort of thing selected for. Going from “maybe groups which exhibited religious thinking gained an evolutionary advantage over their competitors, that seems like it might’ve happened” to “religious thinking helped us avoid predators in the following ways and that’s why religion” is totally unsupported, and that’s the line of thinking I criticized.

  38. Katz: Cool, if that’s your theory. Can we figure out some empirical way to test it? Although identifying a particular “God” neural pathway would probably require more knowledge of how the brain works than we have right now. But, no, I don’t take any particular offense at that as a working hypothesis.

    Gametime: Yeah, sloppy phrasing, sorry. :) I agree with the rest of your statement, with the caveat that if something appears to be a human universal I think it’s fair to speculate about how it might have evolved, since appearing cross-culturally is pretty good evidence that *something* non-cultural is happening there.

  39. Fine, points for internal consistency (although I did say a million times that it’s not my theory).

  40. I think lots of American atheists don’t believe in God because they feel cool and radical having a different opinion than the mainstream one. And I think that if you take any group of people that oppose the mainstream view in any given democratic society (I hesitate to apply this theory to societies where you can actually be imprisoned or killed if you go against the mainstream view) it’s gonna be the case that a pretty large percentage of them are motivated by a desire to feel cool and radical. I think this is true for Swedish vegans, for instance. I’m a vegan myself and think this position is the reasonable one, and I think meat-eaters are wrong, but it doesn’t follow that all vegans came to their conclusion for rational reasons. I think lots of vegans were exposed to some vegan argument, and then accepted it not for its strength but for its radicalness.

    I also totally believe that most people with the mainstream view in any society hold the views they do because it’s comfortable to believe what the majority believes. And I think whether you like to feel cool and radical, or like to conform, is largely a matter of personality. Most people like to conform, a majority likes to oppose, and this lies behind LOTS of views people hold.

  41. I agree with the rest of your statement, with the caveat that if something appears to be a human universal I think it’s fair to speculate about how it might have evolved, since appearing cross-culturally is pretty good evidence that *something* non-cultural is happening there.

    Sure, but I’m not sure it’s quite accurate to characterize belief in God as a “human universal” given the wide variety of divine beings described by different religions. There are interesting themes that tend to pop up – sacrifice, resurrection, etc. – but once you move past the Abrahamic religions it gets harder and harder to convincingly argue that all the theistic belief systems share a single evolutionary explanation.

    But I don’t begrudge people investigating possible candidates for that explanation; if they can support one, more power to them. I would welcome a comprehensive study of the origins and development of religion and theistic thinking.

  42. Sally’s train of thought was featured in my blog post last night about how to smash stupid arguments in Evo-psych. spoiler: it’s a stupid argument. If we need to keep talking about it, I will hand you the literature on the neurobiology of human faith, a big book about evolution, a slap in the face, and a well-designed experiment to determine the biological origins of superstition and storytelling. Hope you’re not an ARA, you’ll be mapping macaque and chimpanzee brains and plying them with optical illusions for the next four years! BECAUSE NOBODY ELSE IS DOING IT.

    Love,

    An actual fucking working evolutionary biologist making a living in a field constantly undermined by squawking laypeople.

  43. The thing is is positing “God-blindness” is not the inverse of saying that cognitive flaws (i.e. cognitive tendencies that lead to errors in reasoning) lead to religious belief. We’re all susceptible to cognitive flaws like confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, as plenty of atheists demonstrate admirably thoroughly all the time. Aside from the asshole atheists who think religious people are just stupid, I can’t think of anyone who has or would say that religious people’s brains are deficient; rather, the cognitive flaw argument is just that religious conclusions are being derived from cognitive flaws common to all humans and paired with a lack of critical thinking. Some more info on these kinds of cognitive flaws so we’re clear:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias
    http://www.npr.org/2011/07/14/137552517/brain-bugs-cognitive-flaws-that-shape-our-lives
    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/is-optimism-a-cognitive-flaw/

    It’s not “your brain is broken,” it’s “all our brains behave in basically the same flawed ways.”

  44. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    One thing I wonder, reading the thread – what ideas of “God” are we all talking about? An anthropomorphic deity? An unspecified source of life or ground of being? Is this discussion framed in a basically Christian-God-as-painted-by-Michaelangelo sort of cultural background? That’s precisely the sort of God I didn’t, and don’t, believe in, so it’s interesting when anyone mentions lack of convincing evidence. I’d certainly agree there, but it doesn’t lead me to the conclusion of no god at all. Nor does the matter of rigid codes come into it, for me, because believing in deity =/= religion or anything to do with behaviour, morals, ethics or whatever. They don’t have to overlap.

    Actually I think Ceilng Cat is the best idea of God anyone’s come up with yet. :)

  45. I don’t know that religious faith has been selected for/conserved in evolutionary terms as that would require evidence that people with faith are better at producing offspring that then both have a predisposition to having religious faith and reproduce themselves. In order for it to be selected for in evolutionary terms, it must provide a reproduction advantage.

    There are social, cultural reasons why religious faith is encouraged. For example, sharing a faith creates an ingroup that supplies a shared meaning of existence, and shared ultimate goals and values, and operates as a glue to bind society together. It’s a pretty easy way to get people to work together. And if cohesive societies tend to do better over time compared to less cohesive societies, there’s the social/cultural answer that doesn’t require an appeal to evolution/ evo psych.

    Additionally, there is the comfort that religion can provide to life’s big questions, such as “do I really matter in such a large universe?”, “I feel so alone in society, is there someone, somewhere that cares about me?”, “is there some purpose to my current suffering?” I’m not saying that religion is good in all cases, for example where it encourages people to stay in pain because they’ll get a great reward in the afterlife, and there is something that they could objectively do now that is within their means to limit their suffering. People tend to want to know that they matter, that they are cared about, and science really has nothing to offer in this area, which is fine as it’s outside the provenance of science. But maybe that’s where we could do better as a less religious society, let people know that they do matter. It’s kind of tending to people’s spiritual needs, without being religion-based.

    Of course, based Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we do need to fix some basic stuff first, like proper food and housing for the poor, and justice system problems. Otherwise it’s kind of just #firstworldproblems.

  46. Not that any of us are squawking laypeople. But we really do live on public funds, and people claiming that “storytelling is a brain disability that happens in stupider people than me because BIOLOGY!” is…. Well. In a positive spin, it’s motivation to do better outreach!

  47. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    Elodieunderglass, just read your blog article. :)

  48. Tulgey. Don’t link to Wikipedia. We all know it exists.

    I’m aware what I said wasn’t exactly the same as Ozy’s original hypothesis, but Ozy had mentioned original sin as a religious corollary to zir belief, which is a very different sort of thing, so I was bringing the topic from theology back around to psychology. And it’s moot anyway because that’s not something that anyone actually believes.

    But you have to understand that “religious conclusions are being derived from cognitive flaws common to all humans and paired with a lack of critical thinking” is only ever so slightly less insulting than “religious conclusions are being derived from cognitive flaws specific to you and paired with a lack of critical thinking.”

    You’re still saying that people are religious because their brains have problems and they’re not that bright.

  49. You’re still saying that people are religious because their brains have problems and they’re not that bright.

    Except everybody has brain problems and critical thinking isn’t the same thing as being bright.

  50. So…you aren’t grasping that telling someone that they only believe something because of their lack of critical thinking is insulting? And that nitpicking is not making it less insulting?

    Do you understand that there’s an inherent implication that, since you don’t believe the thing that results from a lack of critical thinking, that you therefore have better critical thinking skills (at least in that area)?

    And that you are therefore implying that your brain works better than theirs?

  51. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help

    And what about the people who believe in things after doing the critical thinking, people who are aware of cognitive bias?

  52. I can’t think of anyone who has or would say that religious people’s brains are deficient

    Imma scratch this statement because I just read the part where Sally Strange says “Anyway, it’s a fucking fact that faith is a cognitive error” because no, there are multiple ways “faith” is expressed, even in my own personal experience. It’s not a single cognitive error by any means.

    And that you are therefore implying that your brain works better than theirs?

    If I’m implying that by explicitly stating that we’re all subject to cognitive biases, I really don’t know how. For the record: my brain is a normal human brain, subject to confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, etc.. To say that one has applied critical thinking to a subject does not make one’s brain function better, not even “in that area”.

  53. Comment on the thread, not the article. Mainly anecdotal, very tentative.

    Of course I would say this, because I’m a language/literature teacher and an arts and history nerd, but I think that many people tend to forget that the empirical, positivist scientific method is not the only relevant form of knowledge- or thought- building. I suspect that the atheist movement might be a bit overbalanced in favour people in STEM-related fields, which gives us a great understanding of loads of things, but is usually not concerned with qualitative studies on the myriad ways in which humans think, feel and express themselves. As a humanities-person, I tend to butt heads a lot with people from STEM-related fields when trying to discuss religion, theism, atheism, secularism and a whole host of other things, due to us coming at the subject from vastly different systems of thought, both of us trying to claim that out viewpoint is the most useful in discussing these things. This kind of discussion end with them calling me a superstitious, deluded fool and me calling them reality-challenged robot-wannabes (eh, my usual opponents are The Husband Elect and my closest friends). I think that less people would feel unwelcome in the atheist movement if some care was taken to make sure that voices from within the humanities were heard as much as physicists and biologists, or at least more than they are heard right now.

    As for my self? I’m mostly a theist. I like science as I think it’s the best tool for giving us the most accurate picture of the physical world. However, I don’t think it’s the full extent of relevant human thought and knowledge. I’m also lucky to live in a society where your religious habits are pretty much as much of a private matter as your masturbatory habits.

  54. Edited to add: “…a superstitious, deluded fool unable of critical or structured thinking…”

  55. @cloudiah 

    We pwned you, and you don’t want to admit it

    It’s telling that you say “we”. When I had the last tedious discussion with pecunium a year ago or so he did the same. Suddenly it was “we” not “I”. It’s telling, because you people here, the in-group, love to bully people who disagree with you into submission. It’s always the manboobz tribe versus the big meanies who come here and dare to disagree with the party line.

    That’s why you played the “calm down” card.

    I played the calm down card because I was under the impression that you are angry. The slurs directed at me gave me that impression. What was it? Condescending idiot, pustulent duck, etc. ?
    But maybe that’s just your regular way of communicating. In this case, I retract my “calm down” comment.

    How can we help?

    For starters stop calling yourself we?

    @Gametime 

    You are saying that I’m completely wrong because I’m unfamiliar with American harassment laws, even though I never argued on a legal level? You must realize that makes no sense.

  56. @Ozy:

    IDK, I feel like one can have rigidly structured systems of morality and comfort in the face of death and social aspects and connection with a greater whole *without* having the God part, and that in fact developing those is one of the things the atheist movement should be doing instead of appointing Vacula to leadership positions.

    You can arguably create a specifically Christian or Muslim or other religious morality, by interpreting said religion’s holy texts (I say arguably, since there are always so many ways to interpret them, and historically there have for instance been Christians who think utilitarianism captures the core of Christian ethics, or Kantianism, or virtue ethics…).

    I don’t think you can have a specifically atheist morality (although perhaps that’s not what you meant?). Since pretty much the entire field of moral philosophy abstains from referring to God when arguing for their respective positions, we can conclude that ALL current moral-philosophical schools are compatible with atheism. (Which is one reason why it’s stupid to claim that atheism=nihilism, and I’m saying this as a theist.)

  57. As a nonbeliever, I just don’t see the point in wanting people to not believe in religion/deities/faith/whatever because they’re believing in things that are not true. I don’t get it. I mean, sure, if people are against teaching evolution in school because it’s against their belief, that’s mixing church and state and shouldn’t be allowed, but just believing in a god? It may not mesh with my understanding of the world, but why does it matter? If they’re not forcing it on me, why should I want my beliefs forced onto them?

  58. @pecunium

    Before I leave this discussion I want to highlight one thing.

    In one of my comments I said: “Everyone should inform themselves and listen to the other side of the story before they sign the petition. I think that’s a fair request.“ You called that passive aggressive arrogance and me inept.

    Later in the discussion you claimed that Vacula posted the address in two different places: „He did it twice, in two different fora. Did he remove it when he apologised? This one is against you.“ This is clearly false. He posted it in one forum. So obviously you are not familiar with the facts. But when I ask people to inform themselves I’m passive aggressive and arrogant. I hope you see the irony.

    With this I’m dropping out. I really have better things to do than wasting my time with people like you.

  59. @Thomas

    Later in the discussion you claimed that Vacula posted the address in two different places: „He did it twice, in two different fora. Did he remove it when he apologised? This one is against you.“ This is clearly false. He posted it in one forum. So obviously you are not familiar with the facts. But when I ask people to inform themselves I’m passive aggressive and arrogant. I hope you see the irony.

    No, he posted it in a forum and then he wrote a post for AVFM where he posted it again. We have been paying attention, and we have informed ourselves. When you lie about what has happened and try to nitpick harassment out of existence through dictionary definitions and then you tell people they have to inform themselves, being passive-aggressive is the least of your problems.

  60. Katz, my examples of ineffective charities, alternative medicine, and Republican economics were examples of uncontroversial places where believing things without or against evidence is a Bad Thing, not example of things religious people do more. I’m sure any study done would be confounded by the varieties of religion, with left religious doing the dumb shit of alternative medicine and feel-good charity and right religious doing the dumb shit of Republican economics and proselytizing charity.

    Religion is, obviously, not the only silly thing that people believe for no reason; goodness knows that plenty of atheists believe stupid shit about economics or sociology or medicine or what have you. Religion is just the most entrenched, most popular variety of non-reason.

    The reason that I care is that poor thinking leads to bad outcomes and I’m highly skeptical that people who are lazy in one aspect of their investigation of the world are able to set that all aside when they start investigating things that actually matter. I think that teaching children from the cradle that the best way to find out about the world is to read a very old book, to believe whatever someone in authority says, or to take their perceptions* for granted is wrong. I think that our culture is weighed down with irrationality and I think that we would all be better off if we could start dealing with the world as it is, rather than the way we’d like it to be. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe religious people are able to stick their irrational bits in the corner when they’re dealing with the rest of the world.

    I have not made a hypothesis about how brains functioned in the past. I have made an observation about how brains function now, how everyone’s brain functions. I personally am skeptical that religion “evolved” in any traditional sense of the word. We can, of course, observe developing religions now, like Scientology, Mormonism etc., but those don’t necessarily provide much insight into the origins of religion as a whole.

    It really would be more useful if people would address what I’ve actually said, rather than talking to some fantasy anti-theist making easier arguments.

    *One of the reasons that I don’t count spiritual experiences as evidence for the existence of a spirit or deity is that spiritual experiences can be induced with drugs or brain damage. If it were possible to induce the experience of eating a ham sandwich with neural stimulation, we could still look at the sandwich and see confirm that it exists. The existence of ham sandwiches is well within the facts that have been discovered about how the universe works. Supernatural objects have no such outside confirmation and if they exist, there’s precious little space for them to sit. If you’ve had a spiritual experience (I certainly have), and concluded that this indicates that a deity exists, I’m interested to know how precisely you think that being interacted with your brain to produce that experience.

  61. @ Katelisa

    I like science as I think it’s the best tool for giving us the most accurate picture of the physical world. However, I don’t think it’s the full extent of relevant human thought and knowledge.

    Thank you for this. It’s ever so much more eloquent than what I was garbling together and thankfully did not post before reading.

  62. So Thomas fixates on pronouns, tone trolls, and leaves without answering any of the reasonable questions he was asked. Let’s see if he can stick the landing for another year, I guess.

  63. The reason that I care is that poor thinking leads to bad outcomes and I’m highly skeptical that people who are lazy in one aspect of their investigation of the world are able to set that all aside when they start investigating things that actually matter.

    In my experience, people are lazy about some stuff and meticulous to the point of OCD about other stuff. Stuff that matters *to them*.

    I think that teaching children from the cradle that the best way to find out about the world is to read a very old book, to believe whatever someone in authority says, or to take their perceptions* for granted is wrong. I think that our culture is weighed down with irrationality…

    Just want to point out that you’re talking about your culture, and apparently about abrahamic religion, and that those aren’t the only options out there.

  64. @lauralot89:

    “As a nonbeliever, I just don’t see the point in wanting people to not believe in religion/deities/faith/whatever because they’re believing in things that are not true. I don’t get it.”

    It’s because our beliefs don’t exist in a vacuum, they inform our actions and stances on things.

  65. @Nepenthe

    Eh. Religious people =/= lazy thinkers. I live in one of the most secularized countries in the world. Only 17% of the population says religion holds an influence over their daily lives, elected officials (mostly) keep their religious beliefs to themselves and there are comparatively few (around 70, and they are generally quite small), religious schools (who still have to teach the national curriculum, which is science-based). This country is still awash in lazy thinkers, they have just found someone else to do their thinking for them. (No, I do not have a quotation for the prevalence of lazy thinking…)

    I am all for banishing intellectual laziness and complacency. Even if the non-lazy thinkers occasionally arrive at different conclusions than my own

  66. Thomas: Look Pecunium, I’m not going to argue with you about the American jurisdiction and the legal meaning of specific terms which might be different from the casual meaning. Quite frankly, I know shit about the American law and I don’t really care.

    Then you shouldn’t have introduced the terms. You could have left it out as not relevant. But you didn’t.

    So yes, maybe you are right, though I remain skeptical. Because I’m smart enough to realize that this shit is complicated and you are layperson as well. If you’re interested in that discussion you should debate with a lawyer.

    Actually… I’m a semi-pro. I’ve had to deal with this sort of thing in my professional capacity. Again, you brought it into the discussion.

    You can be skeptical all you like, it doesn’t change you being wrong.

  67. And now I have to go keep people from cutting their fingers off. Have fun while I’m away.

  68. It’s because our beliefs don’t exist in a vacuum, they inform our actions and stances on things.

    Going by that logic, I shouldn’t let anyone have different political/philosophical/ethical/any other beliefs than my own.

  69. With PEOPLE LIKE YOU.

    YOU PEOPLE.

    Here, let me OTHER YOU SOME MORE.

    Thanks, Thomas. Stay classy, bud.

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