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The perils of liberals politicising science Progressive people signalling to each other how progressive they are won't change any minds

Broadly pro-science. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Broadly pro-science. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call


December 15, 2020   7 mins

Just before the US presidential election, several major scientific journals endorsed Joe Biden over Donald Trump. And I thought it was a bad thing. Since I wanted Biden to win, that might seem strange. In order to explain, I’m going to start by talking about New Atheism.

New Atheism was a big thing for a while, in the first decade or so of the 21st century. Then — suddenly, some time around 2012 — it stopped being a big thing. The whole internet seemed to be about evolution vs creationism, science vs the Bible, Dawkins vs God; then, almost overnight, it wasn’t.

I don’t know exactly what happened (although I think this explanation is very plausible). But around that time, something else happened. New Atheism — or at least the brand of New Atheism — morphed, or perhaps splintered, forming a new New Atheism called “Atheism+”.

In its original manifesto, written on the then-huge New Atheism portal FreeThought Blogs, Atheism+ defined itself like this:

We are:
Atheists plus we care about social justice,
Atheists plus we support women’s rights,
Atheists plus we protest racism,
Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,
Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.

The blogpost argued that this was simply a natural progression of the atheism movement: religion stoked racism, sexism and homophobia. In the act of throwing out religion, atheists ought naturally to want to throw out the “bigotry” that goes with it: “I can’t help but see social justice as a logical consequence of atheism.”

This idea spread around. Another part of FreeThought Blogs hived off to become “The Orbit”, which described itself as “a diverse collective of atheist and nonreligious bloggers committed to social justice, within and outside the secular community”. They declared: “Our site is feminist and progressive. We know black lives matter and that no one is illegal, we know trans women are women and that sex work is work, and we support a socially conscious atheist movement. As atheists, we believe criticism of religion must fall within this framework.” 

Other atheist bloggers joined in. For instance, PZ Myers, previously a New Atheist so firebreathing that he once nailed a eucharist wafer to some pages from the Koran and then threw them in the bin, changed tack to argue that “atheists ought to fight for equality for all, economic security for all, and universally available health and education services”. If you weren’t keen on Atheism+, he said, you could set up your own movement, called “Asshole Atheists”.

Equality for all, universally available healthcare, women’s rights, an end to homophobia and racism, social justice; these are all, surely, good things. Arguing against any attempts to promote them always feels like sticking a big label on yourself saying “Bad person here, please kick me (or call me an Asshole Atheist).” But the Atheism+ movement made me uncomfortable, for the exact same reasons that the Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine endorsing Joe Biden made me uncomfortable.

In my mind — perhaps naively — the atheist movement was about questions concerning the underlying truths of the universe: Does God exist, or not? Yes, it descended into flame wars and silliness, shouting about “invisible sky fairies” and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that was the flag it marched under. 

And truth-seeking is separate from social justice. The call to treat all humans equally should not depend on any material facts about the universe; it is a moral claim, not an empirical one. I believe that all humans have the same moral value, and that does not depend on whether the Earth orbits the Sun or the Sun orbits the Earth. 

Or, perhaps more relevant: I think women who want to pursue STEM careers should have exactly the same opportunity to do so as men who want to pursue STEM careers. That does not depend on whether or not women are, on average, less interested in STEM careers than men; nor does it depend on whether any such difference, if it exists, is “innate” or “socialised”. The two questions are orthogonal to one another.

Finding out whether the Earth revolves around the Sun is a different kind of question from asking whether humans have equal moral value. One is a question of fact about the world as it is; to answer it, you have to go out into the world and look. The other is a question of our moral system, and the answer comes from within. The same is true of women in STEM. The empirical question “are there differences in the average level of interest in STEM careers between men and women?” is entirely separate from the moral question “should a woman who is interested in STEM be able to pursue it exactly as easily as a man?”

Similarly, atheism is about a question of fact — whether or not God exists — and a set of subsidiary facts, such as whether He made the world, judges our souls, cares which particular religion we follow, etc. Social justice is a set of moral questions, about how we ought to treat different groups in society. It is informed by the answers to empirical questions — we need to know which groups are treated worse, if we want to promote equality — but the fundamental idea, that there should be justice (howsoever defined) between groups, is not an empirical one but moral, or political.

You can, presumably, see the analogy with the Biden endorsements. Whether Joe Biden’s policy goals were superior to Donald Trump’s is a moral, political question — one with, to me, a pretty obvious answer, but still. However, the Lancet’s job is to enable people to answer empirical questions, such as “What role does ubiquitin play in the cell?” or “Is the opioid crisis behind America’s falling life expectancy?” And I would prefer to keep those questions as separate as possible from the political issues that divide our culture.

I can see various objections here, so let me try to head them off. First: yes, of course it is naive to think that scientific questions are in reality separate from moral or political ones. I’ve written too often about how we believe convenient facts not to realise that. Right-wingers and Left-wingers tend to give different answers to questions such as “is the climate warming dangerously, and if so is it due to human influence?”, and that’s because Right-wingers and Left-wingers have different political beliefs and influences, and tend to believe the empirical claims that are most convenient for those political beliefs.

But most of us would agree that there is an underlying reality, a true answer to the question, which does not depend on whether or not people believe it. The question “Should we do something about climate change?”, on the other hand, is a question that doesn’t have a correct answer that we can establish by checking out in the world. 

Even if we could prove that it would literally kill every human on Earth, some people might say: “That’s fine! Humanity doesn’t deserve to live.” (People say this to me surprisingly often when I write about existential risks.) You can’t prove them wrong by showing them graphs of sea-level rise or atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Yes, humans struggle to keep empirical questions separate from moral/political ones — but they are, nonetheless, separate. You can’t get an “ought” from an “is”.

A second potential objection is more subtle. Sure, moral questions are separate from factual questions. But promoting the right moral answers is still good, yes? “Does God exist?” might be a different kind of question from “Should you be racist?”, but I think the answer to the latter is still “no”, and campaigning for more people to realise that is a good thing.

I’ve got two responses to that. One is about demarcation. If you’re the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, your job is to protect birds. Protecting old buildings is someone else’s job: maybe English Heritage or the National Trust. If the RSPB changed their name to RSPB+, and started campaigning to protect Battle Abbey and Stonehenge from developers, then I suspect that would not be good news for birds — even if we agree that old buildings are very important. Similarly, there are organisations set up to promote social justice, and newspaper comment sections set up to argue political questions; if the atheist movement pivots to do that as well as ask questions like “Does God exist?”, or the Lancet pivots to political commentary as well as publishing scientific papers, then I would imagine they would become less effective at their original remit.

The second response is about recruitment. If I want to maximise the number of people joining the RSPB, I don’t want to tell them that they have to care about architecture as well as birds: the set “people who care about birds and about architecture” is, almost by logical necessity, smaller than the set “people who care about birds”. Similarly, if I want to maximise the number of people joining my atheism movement, or reading my scientific journal, it seems counterproductive to say “and you have to agree with me on these political principles”.

In fact, I would go further than that. It is specifically bad, in these cases, to attach progressive ideals to the central truth-seeking core, because — for both atheism and science — the movements are already very progressive. For all the occasional talk of “sciencebros” and the arguments (prominent during the founding of Atheism+) about sexists and racists in the skepticism-with-a-K movement, both academic scientists and self-described atheists are overwhelmingly left-liberal. (Yes, it is possible for left-liberal people to be racist and sexist; but there is a part of the Left that considers the Right to be almost axiomatically bigoted.)

As we discussed earlier, it is already a problem that the Left and the Right disagree over empirical facts, such as whether man-made climate change is real. We may or may not agree on the right place to get to, the best moral and political outcomes, but we will have a more productive discussion about them if we agree where we are.

Tying truth-seeking organisations — the atheism movement; scientific journals — to progressive politics seems an amazingly good way of pushing right-wing people away from those organisations. I would rather more people were non-racist, and I would rather people voted for Biden than Trump; but I would also rather more people understood how science works, and when to trust its findings. If “neutral”, truth-seeking groups become associated with one side of the political divide, then I think that will make it harder for people on the other side to trust those groups, and it will make our global conversations that bit harder to base on commonly understood facts.

It’s one thing, in the case of Atheism+, to say that you are only against racist, sexist, homophobic people — although we should be honest with ourselves, and say that those words are often defined in quite broad ways which include large parts of the political mainstream. But something like 30% of adult Americans voted for Trump. I would like to do everything we can to make sure that, when the New England Journal of Medicine declares that a vaccine works, or that masks slow the spread of Covid, it’s not just Biden voters who believe them.

Maybe it wouldn’t have much effect — but then I don’t think the endorsement will have much effect either. As we’ve seen, most scientists vote Democrat anyway; a scientific journal endorsing Biden simply tells people to do the thing they were going to do anyway. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but it does feel like progressive people signalling how progressive they are to each other, rather than making any serious efforts to find people who disagree with them, and to persuade them to change their mind.

Of course science is political: its findings have political implications; its practitioners have political beliefs. But its questions are fundamentally different from moral and political questions: What is real? vs What do we want? 


Tom Chivers is a science writer. His second book, How to Read Numbers, is out now.

TomChivers

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Again and again this shallow assumption that Biden – or anyone – must be better than Trump. Is Tom Chivers even aware of the total corruption of the Biden family and the live FBI investigation of the corruption? More people need to watch the very left-wing Jimmy Dore, who consistently points out that voting for the Democrat invariably turns out to be the WORST of two evils, because the media gives them cover to do all sorts of terrible things to the working classes while going around the world ‘intervening’ i.e. destroying and killing.

As for the politicisation of science, the inevitable consequence is that we have now added scientists to the very long lists of people we don’t believe or trust. This is partly because many of the ‘scientists’ are nothing of the sort. For instance, many of those on the tyrannical and lunatic SAGE committee are behavioural or social science i.e professional BSers.

G Harris
GH
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Whether you agree with much of what they write or not, the left wing American website Counterpunch makes no secret of how much it dislikes both Obama and Biden with a passion for much the same reasons that you point to.

Similarly, I’d far rather take my chances with the wolves that I know to be wolves like Trump than with the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

People who get exactly where they want to get to in no small part because they are fluent in the ‘liberal’ language they know is going to help get them there as quickly as possible with the least amount of opposition and long before most of the ‘useful idiots’ eventually wake up to them.

Simon Baggley
SB
Simon Baggley
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

I don’t even think Biden is a Wolf in Sheep’s clothing – his position on the Iraq War is well known – essentially bomb the shit out of everything

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Similarly, I’d far rather take my chances with the wolves that I know to be wolves like Trump than with the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Funnily enough, the original coat-of-arms of the Fabian Society (a social activist group) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

jem karin
jem karin
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

By international standards the Democratic party of the US is centrist at best. By EU standards it’s centre-right. I find it hilarious when Americans worry about leftists in the Democratic party. They’re nowhere near.

jem karin
0
jem karin
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

That’s why there’s now an Independent SAGE committee free of the political interference and expectation that comes with appointment to a government body. https://www.independentsage.org/ and https://twitter.com/IndependentSage

Gary Cole
Gary Cole
3 years ago

“…academic scientists … are overwhelmingly left-liberal…”

That’s only because in the last 50 years progressive morality has crushed scientific truth in academic institutions. If you’re a centre-right university scientist you keep quiet about it, otherwise you lose your job.

Irrespective of your political outlook you lose your job if your search for objective scientific truth clashes with the orthodoxy of progressive morality e.g. Noah Carl at Cambridge.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Gary Cole

To be right wing after 12 years of school and 3-7 years of University is akin to being a vegan pacifist and a West Point graduate. The corners have been long beaten off the square pegs from being beaten through so many round holes.

Paul Marks
PM
Paul Marks
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

The United States military (including West Point) is increasingly under threat from Marxist (Frankfurt School) “Diversity and Inclusion Agenda” – it is true that President Trump produced an Executive Order against Marxist indoctrination in the American armed forces, but it is not being fully enforced – and he stops being President in a month. “President Biden” will allow this stuff to run riot.

Within a few years the world view of the United States military will, basically, be the same as the world view of “Antifa”. What is going to stop it happening?

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Gary Cole

“… the last 50 years progressive morality has crushed scientific truth…”

so you are saying you are a progressive who has had not only scientific truth crushed out of you but the very concept of truth as well…it is the only plausible possiblilty for your flaming mendacity.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

American “Pragmatist” philosophy (normally identified as being on “the left”) denies the existence of objective truth (both moral and scientific). And modern Frankfurt School Marxism and French “Post Modernism” DE FACTO also deny the existence of objective truth – denouncing objective truth as a cover for “exploitation” and the “oppression” of “Power Structures”. That these philosophies are not compatible with real science should be obvious – if these “Progressive” philosophies continue to dominate then science will die in the Western World. Not “just” medicine – all the sciences will die in the West. For their philosophical foundation will have been undermined.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Marks

what a load of bullocks…Happy Christmas.

Tom Graham
TG
Tom Graham
3 years ago

This is not new.

It is an unpleasant trait of all fanatical political cults – including liberals, communists and nazis – to try and assert that their political beliefs are scientific.

Liberals have always promoted the lie that their ideology is not just morally right, but empirical truth. It is just another way of asserting that no one can legitimately disagree with them.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

I know Atheism was the official religion of the worst brutality governments of the 20th century. Atheism is a-moral, and always will become a monster if enough people actually base their personal beliefs on it.

stephen f.
SF
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

“woke macht frei…”

Nun Yerbizness
NY
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

given the absoluteness of your claim that “Liberals have always promoted the lie that their ideology is not just morally right, but empirical truth.” you certainly have at least one example at your finger tips you can share with us.

Nun Yerbizness
NY
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

more importantly it is not accurate.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

Yes, ‘the science’ has become politicized. I oppose social justice, which is just a softer form of mob justice. When a scientific agency aligns itself with progressive* causes it becomes immediately suspect to many people.

*many progressive causes are actually deeply regressive if you look beyond the surface.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Dorsley

“many progressive causes are actually deeply regressive if you look beyond the surface.”

given you beleive there are “many” progressive causes that are actually regressive perhaps you can share your favorite example.

Charles Rense
CR
Charles Rense
3 years ago

I am an atheist. Therefore I am holy. Kneel and worship me, for I am your god now!

I actually am an atheist. I don’t believe being an atheist makes a person any more or less likely to be a good person. I don’t think atheism is any more a badge of intelligence, ethicalmindedness, or good personness than religion is. I believe that given the proper secular motives, an atheist can oppress and repress as surely as any Christian. All religion does for the wrongdoers is provide a cover via its positive label. But if the term “atheist” is manipulated to provide similar cover, then what difference does it make.

I am an atheist. I might be a cvnt, or I might be a swell guy. If you’re smart, you’ll split your bet between both options.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

Wrongdoers?

Charles Rense
Charles Rense
3 years ago

I didn’t want to say “evildoers”, because evil is a religious fallacy.

Fred Atkinstalk
JS
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

I would agree that a personification of evil (e.g. satan) is a religious fantasy, but evil in the form of behaviour which seeks to harm people definitely exists, and certainly transcends ‘wrongdoing’.

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago

Is the wrong answer. Everyone knows Trump is Satan? duh!

Mike Boosh
MB
Mike Boosh
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

Good point. I’m also atheist, and I’d never heard of atheism+ until I read this article, but it sounds like exactly the sort of hypocritical, sanctimonious, hate filled dogma that used to be the realm of religion.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Boosh

Atheism+ drove James Lindsay (co-author of Cynical Theories, the magisterial analysis of wokism) out of the new atheism movement. He says its toxicity started his investigation into critical theory/social justice.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

all those Dawkins types seemed completely oblivious to even the most recent history. Just look at the way Soviet rhetoric mirrored the rhetoric of those hapless creeps

Jon Redman
HJ
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

Notably atheist regimes such as Communism use it to grant themselves permission to hate and murder people who disagree with them. It is indistinguishable from a religion in that respect.

Environmentalism is a religion and we have already seen its clergy calling for the judicial murder of disbelievers.

https://tallbloke.wordpress

A Bcd
A Bcd
3 years ago

“Trans women are women” = the woke’s version of “God made the world in seven days.”

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  A Bcd

Equality for all, universally available healthcare, women’s rights, an end to homophobia and racism, social justice; these are all, surely, good things.

Naughty, naughty, Tom. You left a line out. Should we report you to Twitter for re-education?

Theo Hopkins
Theo Hopkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Should we report you to Twitter for re-education?

Silence Is Violence ™(c)

Ralph Windsor
RW
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Surely no need. The inquisitors of Twitter will have noted the omission.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  A Bcd

“Trans women are women” the ultimate expression of libertarian ideology.

voodoopolitics
voodoopolitics
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

How so? It’s dumb. But how is it libertarian?

Harold Robinson
Harold Robinson
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Troll, libertarians are about individuality and not identity groups. Most libertarians also believe in empiracle science. “Trans women are women” is clearly not empiracle science.

Nun Yerbizness
NY
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago

“…libertarians are about individuality and not identity groups.” so you are one of those selective libertarians…excactly why this isn’t a single elected official on the face of the earth who ran for eleciton as libertarian.

jem karin
0
jem karin
3 years ago
Reply to  A Bcd

This is something I feel women should be discussing, not men. I see no harm in treating people as the gender they identify with and I personally know people whose lives and mental health have improved enormously since changing their gender from woman to man. They’re not doing this to annoy you. It’s a brave thing to do and something which I respect hugely as a straight male.

They’re not denying their biological sex – a trans woman is still biologically male unless they have surgery. Trans people still believe in the scientifically accepted two common sexes (male/female) and the rare inter/undifferentiated sex. Gender is where people get confused, and it’s fine for you to not understand or empathise with them all. Just as a man can’t feel what it’s like to be a woman, I can’t feel what it’s like to be a trans-woman. We just need to accept what we can’t understand and leave them be, they’re no threat to anyone.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
3 years ago

“Of course science is political: its findings have political implications; its practitioners have political beliefs.”

No its not. This is a bad starting point. Science if it is to be accepted needs to be objective truth. If its findings are political then that should not be the scientists business or problem. If its practitioners have political beliefs then they should have absolutely nothing to do with the evidence they present.

I guess you are half way there in understanding that moral answers are different from factual answers but you need to work on understanding that science only gets respect if it is based on fact or else it should be treated with the same level of respect and doubt shown to those in the humanities where its all pretty much opinion and bias.

Kelly Mitchell
Kelly Mitchell
3 years ago

Interesting idea, but difficult to make it real. Both Popper and Kuhn (especially) disavow ‘objectivist’ science as an extant possibility. It’s more of an idealized striving without the possibility of attainment.
Truly objective science as establishing truth is called Logical Positivism and even the strongest proponents of that movement (AJ Ayers, ie) agreed that it is incorrect epistemologically.
Now we have falsifiability and observor participancy both of which imply at least some level of subjectivity to science – ie, what do you choose to study and what to not study? – already implies a subjective stance.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Mitchell

How is measuring the value of the fine structure constant subjective?

How is choosing to measure it a “subjective stance”?

What a load of balls.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Mitchell

Falsifiability is subjective? That’s a pretty extreme stance.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Mitchell

Sure its difficult to make it real be we at used least to strive. The attitude now is more like “oh well I am biased so be it” with the implication you just need to filter what they say based on that. It aint science, more like journalism.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Mitchell

String Theory is where the upper scientists become Mystics, and science gets more weird than hard. The higher you go the less you have stable footing. By the way it was the Scientist Priests who basically invented the ‘Scientific Method’ and gave us Western Science as we know it.

John Jones
John Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Actually it was Descartes.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Kelly Mitchell

Many words, little reason…

No Thanks
NT
No Thanks
3 years ago

Seems that’s the point Tom seeks to make…

Mike Hearn
Mike Hearn
3 years ago

You’re basically summarising the article whilst believing you’re disagreeing with it. I wonder if you actually read it?

Tom’s point with that last sentence is undeniably true, but only in the sense that you can define politics to incorporate nearly everything. If a scientist published a paper on warp speed travel tomorrow that wouldn’t merely be a factual paper to do with physics, it would also open up a huge set of political questions that didn’t previously exist, like “how much money should we spend on colonizing the galaxy?”. In that way it’s political. But viewed more narrowly, it’s not.

The article is actually a truly excellent one, the type of article I wish I’d written myself and the sort of thing I come here to Unherd to read. The fact that the institutions of science are all in a headlong rush to debase themselves at the altar of far-left politics is THE key issue that needs to be discussed and debated in every newspaper, every magazine in every country in the world. (Incidentally, it’s no surprise that Tom reads SSC as well).

The blurring of the lines between science and politics is by far the most relevant topic in the world today, given the extremely political and ideological nature of much of the modelling driving government positions on COVID and (pre 2016) Brexit. Many of these ‘scientists’ are proposing policies based on models that incorporate strongly ideological positions, without them being explicitly aware of it. For example, why do models always recommend social distancing and not the more obvious path of measures to increase hospital capacity? It’s because many models don’t incorporate hospitals at all, and those that do simply view them as a constant number of beds above which everyone starts dying. Social distancing is their policy of choice because it’s easy to program: just reduce the probability of people infecting each other which is already a parameter. There you have it, an “oven ready” policy waiting to be proposed … assuming of course you believe governments can and should treat how much people meet each other to be a knob you can twiddle like a cell in a spreadsheet. If you have a more realistic view of the world you might rather prefer to investigate capacity increases first, but, modellers are uninterested in such questions because they perceive lockdowns as free to begin with … so why work harder?

Greg Eiden
GW
Greg Eiden
3 years ago

@Fraser Bailey, the vast majority of scientists I know (I’m a PhD physical chemist, 40 years into my chemistry career), I don’t know their politics because I know them professionally as scientists and its not polite to talk politics, or rather, we want to talk about other things more. I’d guess 80% are strongly left leaning.

When any of them do slip up and indicate a political opinion, it is ALWAYS friendly to the leftists. Two reasons for this: the leftists think everything is political and the conservatives are afraid to speak up. This progressive nonsense has infected all of academia, all professions, everything.

Matthew Powell
MP
Matthew Powell
3 years ago

“Because Science” is quickly becoming analogous to “Because the Bible said so”.

Both are rooted in cherry picking source material which confirms their own prejudices and a misapprehension that there can be one source of truth for all answers.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

“Because science says so” is always the right answer. Ok we’re always learning more and sometimes it contradicts what we’d thought, but if you start equating science with religion we’re heading down a slippery slope back to the dark ages.
We’re already seeing it with crystals, homeopathy, reiki etc crowding into the field of medicine using the spurious logic that since science isn’t infallible then magic must be the solution.

Andrew Harvey
AH
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

So Kevin, as the resident champion of wokedom, could you tell us if a transwoman is a woman?

The majority of the scientific community in the West either agree with that statement or offer their assent by remaining quiet as others speak in their name, thereby showing that they’re only following “the science” when it gives them the answer they want. That’s not science.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

“Is a transwoman a woman” is not a question of fact, but of definition. The uncontroversial (and obvious) answer is “In some ways no, in some ways yes”. In fact it is an underhand way of not dealing with the real questions, whether (or when) a person who grew up with male physique should be accepted in the social roles, changing rooms, sports competitions, and close communities normally reserved for females.

Compare:
“Is an adoptive mother a mother?” “a surrogate mother”? “a birth mother”? ” a stepmother”? “a foster mother”?

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Is a “scientist” a scientist is also not a question of fact, but of definition.

Micheal Lucken
ML
Micheal Lucken
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Its about linguistics and much deliberate blurring of definition. If people really wanted to it wouldn’t take that much effort to get together and hammer out a few cast iron definitions. Woman – adult female. Female – capable when mature of producing large gametes which can be fertilized by much smaller male gametes and so produce offspring. You can go on to layout secondary and tertiary characteristics to pin down more observable features. Humans never had to do this in the past because they hadn’t invented the word games in order to carve out beneficial social niches. Of course you can argue its possible to find individuals who don’t fit either category easily but they are rare. Nothing in nature is absolute but we don’t avoid naming species because there are a few anomalies. Humans have two arms and two legs but we don’t say they are not human if they only have one of either, we don’t create a separate category. People don’t want to sit down and clear up these arguments because too many have too much to gain using the ambiguity to their advantage.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Micheal Lucken

“Female – capable …”
Maybe not such a cast iron definition, but a working version that might serve until medical technology supersedes it, allowing trans women to ovulate and conceive.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

If you’re infertile, do you no longer qualify as a man?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

What matters is what your body was designed to do, not whether it is currently functional. A car is a car and not a raft – even if it has flat tyres and is capable of floating.

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Possibly. Usually, though you’re merely a defective male. Sadly, for the person concerned very often.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Micheal Lucken

I agree with everything you say, @Micheal Lucken – but setting a cast iron definition and applying it rigidly is not a useful way to go. Compare: a cast iron definition of ‘mother’ would clearly be that you were the one giving birth. Yet my wife and I are adoptive parents. Would you really be telling my wife that she is not mother to her children? She would take severe exception, and quite rightly so.

Biologically, a woman is clearly someone whose body is designed to let her become pregnant. In the uncomplicated situation that goes with a standard social role, a sense of self, behaviour rules, rights and obligations, and everything is consistent. The problem is what we all should do in cases where the biology and the sense of self conflict. If you stick to rigid definitions you would have to privilege one and completely ignore the other. Surely it makes more sense to say that ‘woman’ can include anybody who fits some of the criteria, and decide from case to case who gets to count as a woman in context? That would let us keep sport (and radical feminist meetings) for biological women, but open public toilets and normal social interactions to anyone who identified as a woman and fulfilled whatever rite of passage we decided to set. It might not make anyone completely happy, but at least it would spread the unhappiness more evenly. It would also move the discussion from total war to a more tractable question of practical steps.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Micheal Lucken

I think you’re about 50pc correct (see my reply to Andrew Harvey above). I think you’re definitely wrong about the “deliberate blurring of definition”. People don’t fall as readily into male/female as would be convenient for society. And the “ambiguity to their advantage” actually sounds pretty hateful. Whatever you personally think of trans, intersex and non-binary people, there’s a lot of real pain out there among people who don’t know how to fit in. You only have to look at the suicide rates to see that.

Micheal Lucken
Micheal Lucken
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Sorry but male /female is a binary, a biological definition that applies to all creatures that reproduce sexually, you are either one or the other, it is not a spectrum. Secondary physical traits such as height, body shape are a spectrum but still the vast majority cluster towards either male or female as determined by body chemistry associated with gametes. The same can be said, perhaps to a lesser degree around brain function and intrinsic behavior patterns, moving further down the line to social behavior. In animals secondary, tertiary and lesser defined gender characteristics align very well with gametes. Humans are the same but capable of modifying their social presentation both consciously and subconsciously and nothing wrong with that. You can change body shape through surgery and chemistry but as yet you can’t swap gametes or a whole range of biochemical functions. By all means have names for people who have undergone physical or psychological transformation but you cannot turn a woman into a man unless of course you change the meaning of our language and erase the original, linguistic manipulation. Some are looking to do that, control the language and control the debate. A society that cannot agree a common language and definitions cannot have meaningful conversation. It will lose its sense of cohesion and community which I think is what we are seeing with the culture wars.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Micheal Lucken

There are lots of examples of pre-modern cultures with specific words for what could be called non-binary identities. I’ve not studied this but I wonder if it could be the presence of organised monotheistic religious doctrines and their impact on cultural, societal and legal norms which historically has reduced the number of different genders
societies recognise rather than modern linguistics increasing them.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
3 years ago
Reply to  Micheal Lucken

My understanding of biological science and definitions is that while there are many ways in which male and female human beings can have genetics and conditions outside the “normal” blueprint for male/female characteristics, the basic format doesn’t change. There is no person who has ever been BOTH male and female. Females produce large gametes and males produce small gametes. The fact that some people (or animals) have conditions that interfere with the ability to do so, or to develop “normally” is beside the point.

Theo Hopkins
Theo Hopkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The “trans women are women” idea (especially as trans women are considered to include those who retain their male biology) is surprisingly similar to the Christian belief of ‘transubstantiation’.

Eugene Norman
EN
Eugene Norman
3 years ago
Reply to  Theo Hopkins

Exactly. Transubstantiation for people not bread.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I wonder if your answer – “In some ways no, in some ways yes” – is as uncontroversial as you think. What if you were Someone Famous and you said that in public?

Eugene Norman
EN
Eugene Norman
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

I don’t think he realises that the equivocation about the definition of trans women being women is itself by the standards of trans activism, transphobic.

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

It would be controversial to both the Woke and the decidedly un-woke. The latter will take the view that a “transwoman” is simply the name some apply to a man pretending to be something, namely a woman, that he is not. The latter clearly have science on their side.

Eugene Norman
EN
Eugene Norman
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

To say that a trans woman is a woman in someways but not others is a long handed way of saying no to the question. It’s “transphobic” in fact according to most trans activists.

The idea of self identification is to remove all legal barriers to this question, so in law a transwoman is (or will be) a legal woman. Good luck with stopping legal women getting into ” the social roles, changing rooms, sports competitions, and close communities normally reserved for females.”

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Eugene Norman

Indeed. Which is why I reject free self-identification, just like I reject the idea that trans women can be dismissed as mentally disturbed men.

J StJohn
AM
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The producer of the male gamete is the male; the female produces the counterpart gamete. You can swap the names if you like, but you still need one of each to reproduce. No reproduction : no more humans. A billion years of evolutionary processes have determined that almost every cell in your body corresponds with which of the gametes you produce. Science found a 5000 year old piece of ‘chewy’ in a bog in denmark, from the associated DNA they determined only one thing – chewed by a female.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

I’d agree with much of what Michael Lucken says below. If you’re asking about biological science, I think the question should be, are they ‘female’. The word ‘woman’, imo, seems to come more under a sociological definition.
Where I disagree with him is where he says ‘it wouldn’t take much effort to get cast iron definitions’. If the production of sperm or eggs is the definition, then a vaste swathe of infertile humanity loses its identity tomorrow. (nice one)
Google tells me that 1,7% of us are to some degree intersex. I wouldn’t call that ‘rare’. That number means you know intersex people yourself , several of them.
Then we get into the whole field of gender dysphoria. Are you your body or your mind?
It seems to me that science is showing us that male/female isn’t as binary as we’d thought but more of a sliding scale with plenty of humans not readily categorized.

My question back to you though is why does it matter so much ?

(Thank you for my promotion to ‘champion’ but I don’t think I deserve it. It’s true I don’t like using ‘woke’ as a term of abuse as readily as many do here, but I am also aware of the extremist nonsense that exists on that side of the debate. As I said to someone yesterday, if you think I’m super woke, it’s possibly because you’re so far out on the right fringe that everyone else is just a blur to you)

Eugene Norman
Eugene Norman
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

That definition of intersex is vastly exaggerated. Most of the 1.7% don’t know it themselves. Historically it’s nothing like that, intersex was used to describe 0.01% of people who presented with ambiguous phenotype ie genitalia.

And it has nothing to do either with the transgender ideology, driven by post structuralism, that biology doesn’t really exist and gender is assigned at birth.

Science has nothing to do with that philosophy, if it did then the only people who could change their gender/sex would be intersex. In fact trans activists oppose any medical tests for self identification.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Male/female is not a ‘sliding scale’, and the proportion of unclassifiable people is surely much lower than 1.7% (unless for some reason you want to keep it high). Sure, individual parameters may overlap. But if you measured all relevant characteristics (internal and external organs, chromosomes, hormone levels over time, …) and plotted them together – on a very large multidimensional piece of paper – you would find two rather well separated clusters, with the fertile people neatly separating into one or the other. The number of people where you genuinely could not say which cluster was closest would be quite small. I’d argue that male/female is actually a very good binary classification – certainly compared with other classifications we accept, like lion/tiger, black/white (people) or rapist/innocent.

That is not to say that we are forced to let the biological classes determine our social roles, or even who get to play women’s rugby, just that the possibility is open if we want it.

Matthew Powell
MP
Matthew Powell
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

The problem is when “science” becomes little more than an appeal to authority, with practitioners claiming their political views are superior to others because of their scientific background. There are fields of human enquiry which will never be reducible to a scientific hypothesis in the way the physical sciences are and to believe otherwise is faith not science.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Which fields are they?

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Politics, Economics, History, any field which involves human agency.

I oppose what I see as Scientism, the inappropriate or incorrect application of the scientific method to areas where it’s not tenable. Especially where this leads to an authoritarian mindset, though a false equivalence between physical science and social science.

This was perhaps best demonstrated in the dogmatic attitude of those who believed in Scientific Socialism. By incorrectly equating the theories of social science with the hard empirical facts of science, they justified the most barbaric behaviour on the grounds that it was based on a scientific truth.

In those circumstances, the follows of “science” become indistinguishable from those of religion.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

I take your point. Especially about where science becomes a religion.
I do think though that even a lot of the social sciences will turn out to be a question of processing power. They’re largely interpretation now, but will be accurately measurable sooner or later. Economics being a good example. With enough data points and information feeds we’ll be able to predict outcomes with very high accuracy.

Arnold Grutt
AG
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

“With enough data points and information feeds we’ll be able to predict outcomes with very high accuracy.”

The fallacy of equating the metaphysical (ideas, choice) with the physical. Only the physical (the data obtained by the ‘five senses’ + technically obtained measurements for those aspects incapable of detection by humans e.g. ultra-sonic vibrations) can be reduced to scientific formulas. I invite you to ponder whether there could ever be a ‘science’ which is able to measure the human habit of ‘changing one’s mind’.

In any field in which the crux is ‘what a human says about what he thinks’ there can be no ‘science’, which is solely observation of physical ‘events’. The difficulty would be clear in a case where a person changes their mind, but doesn’t tell anybody. All ‘science’ has to go on is what he physically does. The planet Jupiter cannot lie about its speed of rotation or orbit, but human beings can and do about their ‘choices’ and motives. Hence the frequent criminal claim that they made ‘mistakes’, rather than doing exactly what they always wanted to do, up to the final point when they were found out. This is why Law was historically concerned with intention at the moment of the crime, but ignored motives. What was punished was the visible crime, and the only relevant question was ‘deliberate or accidental’. ‘Motives’ might support a claim to intention (formed at the instant of action, earlier expressed intentions being irrelevant. Saying you’re going on holiday to Tuscany with Polly Toynbee or going to give someone a doing might be interesting (though I can’t think why), but anyone can say anything), but they were not in themselves ‘criminal’ or proof of guilt or innocence.

Nor can I see any needful connection between the visible, physical, activities of the brain and the reasons behind why people act as they do. Up to the actual point of decision (where an idea manifests itself physically as action) all ‘measurements’ are practically useless to a ‘scientific’ theory.

What makes us human is language and choice, not our physical bodies. Human life is entirely a succession of ideas in language which find simultaneous physical expressions (which are thus secondary and theoretically worthless to a ‘science of Man’).

torgnycar
torgnycar
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Well, maybe. However, “Because scientists say so” is never the right answer. Science is about verified facts (with validated methods), not about opinions.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  torgnycar

I didn’t say scientists, I said science. If you like I can clarify that to “because science tells us so”

shiroemakabe
JA
shiroemakabe
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

My sister, who is an environmental biologist, regularly uses “because science says so” to debunk climate change. So be careful about scientism, because cherry-picking DOES happen in the scientific community and therefore “because science says so” is NOT always the right answer.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  shiroemakabe

Well then she’s wrong. 97pc of climate scientists say it’s real (source NASA). She needs to go back to her statistics studies, because she’s going to find total 100pc scientific agreement on very little. We could obviously just wait it out and see if the 3pc are right, but there’s a fairly obvious downside to that plan.

shiroemakabe
JA
shiroemakabe
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

I whole-heartedly agree, and it’s amazing watching her contort herself to validate her confirmation/credentials biases. However, for ever argument anyone else throws at her, she’s got some science – real science, but cherry-picked, ideological, and ignoring huge chunks of the rest of the data – to back her up. Just like religion, science can be presented in a dogmatic way. Look how long behaviorism dominated psychology before cognitive was even considered.

Max Beran
Max Beran
3 years ago
Reply to  shiroemakabe

Interesting that Chivers picks on these two particular examples when he writes (presumably addressed to a climate sceptic’s position), ” you can’t prove them wrong by showing them graphs of sea-level rise or atmospheric CO2 concentrations.” One would not expect a sceptic’s view to be much influenced by showing how change in sea level (an alleged warming “output”) precedes by decades its putative warming input. Similarly fraught are links between humans and CO2 and between CO2 and global temperature given contrary observations and alternative explanations.Not saying humans have no role, but the graphs Tom Chivers proposes come nowhere close to providing “proof”.

J StJohn
J StJohn
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

You’re forgetting that ‘he who pays the Piper calls the tune’. ‘Scientists’ know which side their bread is buttered and make sure they get their next project by ensuring that today’s project makes the conclusions that the politicians want . Especially Social Scientists.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago

“all humans have the same moral value” ? Not in my book. Nor do I understand how anyone can say that and believe it. If you believe that criminals have the same moral value as a law-abiding citizens who contribute to the well-being of society, then I doubt that anything you write is worth reading.

Goodbye.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

Many consider Paulo Coelho well worth reading, judging from his millions of book sales. His idea of Heaven is populated by thieves and prostitutes, while the self-righteous fume in indignation outside. And is the climate emergency solely the fault of criminals, or have law-abiding citizens (and how many abide by every law) contributed at least as much?

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

I certainly don’t abide by every law of the land all the time, but I do try not to degrade the quality of life of others – which sometimes means breaking the law. And who says there is a climate emergency and that such an event is a criminal act? You have got the public and private spheres totally confused.

Eugene Norman
Eugene Norman
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Well the self righteous probably won’t go to heaven, only the righteous. Not that I believe in heaven.

Do criminals contribute to climate change? I’d say the people smugglers and drug importers certainly do, and the mid to high level drug gangsters and Mafiosi seem to like their cars. Unless they are being mis represented by Hollywood.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

What’s a criminal? What’s moral?
If you steal because you’re hungry, are you a more or less moral person, than a law-abiding investor who asset-strips a company for his own profit and makes hundreds unemployed?

I’m not sure I’ve created the best example there, but my point is those terms are too simple to be useful. There’s also the ‘absence of free will’ argument. We only ever make the decisions that our brains allow us to. Which leads into another conversation on the physiology of criminality.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Well, I could have used the words murderer or rapist rather than criminal. but I thought I would make the general point. You choose to find an extreme example to support your case. Mine does not require extremism.

I also believe that for the most part we are responsible for our actions. But blame someone else if you must. I already believe that my life has a greater moral value than yours, and you may not even be a criminal!

Last Jacobin
LJ
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

One could find numerous examples of when murder can be morally justified (by some) – when part of a state sponsored war, when carried out on the order of the state as punishment (execution), when in self defence, when protecting one’s property, when protecting someone else’s property, when protecting oneself or others from harm. Rape – I can’t think of any. But definitions of rape vary according to laws and people’s moral values and beliefs – one person’s rapist is another man exercising his conjugal rights.

All humans have equal moral value is a belief – not a fact. That’s the point Tom was making.

When people start applying a moral hierarchy to humans based on their own beliefs and those they’ve imbibed from the culture and society they grew up in – that’s when rape and murder in the name of morality become more, not less, likely.

shiroemakabe
shiroemakabe
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

“one person’s rapist is another man exercising his conjugal rights”

Or it’s a woman who has either used a device on a man or forced him to penetrate her, which is called “forced sex” in the United States because “rape” requires a p***s doing the forcing… because sexism or something.

voodoopolitics
voodoopolitics
3 years ago
Reply to  shiroemakabe

Is life good on your planet?

shiroemakabe
shiroemakabe
3 years ago
Reply to  voodoopolitics

Planet reality? No, not really, it’s pretty sexist:

https://medium.com/mel-maga

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

People always value their own lives highest.

Eugene Norman
Eugene Norman
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Both should be criminal of course. There’s no real problem here even if you have some sympathy for the former.

We can’t run society on the basis of lack of free will, or we wouldn’t arrest anyone not even the biggest rapist, child molesters, genocidalists or murders.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Eugene Norman

Where’s the ‘of course” ? I can create 100 scenarios where stealing is morally right.
Asset stripping should be illegal ? I’d like to see you try and draft that law. All financial trading and markets or just ‘bad’ ones?

We already partly run society assuming lack of free will. Mental incapacity is a legal defence, also crime of passion/provocation/loss of control, depending on country. Neuroscience keeps finding more physiological causes for anti-social behaviour. Are you a criminal if you have a brain tumour? Or a hormone imbalance?

I’m guessing that future generations will see much more treatment than incarceration. Maybe a bright Clockwork Orange future.

Eugene Norman
Eugene Norman
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Ok stealing is morally right when you’re starving. But nobody is starving in the west. Criminality is more likely to affect the poor, rather than the rich. This is in fact why the rich are fairly sanguine about criminality.

I don’t think I said anything about aaset stripping per say (but laws could easily be enacted there). There was a time when insider trading wasn’t criminal, then it was. So you can clearly draft laws against financial malfeasance.

Yes the law accepts that people are sometimes non compus mentis, but no legal system is going to apply that to everybody or the legal system would cease to exist.

That legal systems are imperfect is a given. That culture and thus laws changes over time is also a given. That there are discussions in the margins about what should be legal or not, is also a given. Drug use legalisation is controversial but trending towards acceptance, nobody is asking that murder be made legal.

Well done on noticing those things. That society is imperfect. That laws change. That morality is in flux.

This is a world away from suggesting there can be no legal system at all.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Eugene Norman

Nobody is starving in the West? Not to the extent or in the numbers they are in Yemen perhaps, but access to enough food, never mind a quality diet, is a pressing issue for more and more of the West’s poor. A recent Washington Post article reports not only an increase in shoplifting in the US, but an increasing proportion of shoplifters taking food and other essentials.
‘Stealing to survive: More Americans are shoplifting food as aid runs out during the pandemic’

Eugene Norman
EN
Eugene Norman
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

No the poor aren’t starving in the west. In any case you’ve ignored the substance of my argument (where I said I was ok with stealing were people starving).

Probably because all your other arguments are demolished at this stage. So to be clear to everybody following this thread; you are opposed to the arrest of drug gang members, Human traffickers, rapists, murders and other violent criminals (as well as the non violent) on two grounds.

1) how can we define morality anyway. Who is a criminal?
2) we don’t have free will.

This is sophomoric bull crap. You lawless society would be a disaster for the poor, the middle, the old, the weak, the female and the average joe. Everybody in fact, except for the rich who can hide in their compounds.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Karma! In my life I have seen a great deal of Good, and of Evil and they exist on a level which is other than crime, law abiding.

Someone raised with love, good parents, good peers, in a nice society could get worse karma from a cruel word than a person raised in violence, meanness, lovelessness, and crime, would get by beating some one up. Nice people get no good Karma from acts of being nice, it is just required of them, but huge bad Karma by being cruel. Bad people could get massive good Karma just by deciding not to beat up someone.

Free Will must be looked at by what one has been made into, it is never the same choice from one to another. This writer saying all are morally equal amazed me, there is NO SUCH THING.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

“There is nothing more unequal than equality itself”. (PtY).

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

Equality under laws, that is what rule of law means. But equality of Morality? No, there is no human issue where there is less equality than that.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

The Australian comedian Steve Hughes rather brilliantly describes how he did a gig for atheists in his ‘Who’s Satan? And who’s Frank? available on YouTube….

‘What are you making a group for if you’re an atheist…that’s got to be the good thing about being an atheist….you don’t need an effing group!! When you get into a group things start getting mental’

Theo Hopkins
Theo Hopkins
3 years ago

Some of the Left in the US are confident Mr J Biden will blow a lot more foreign brown people to smithereens than Mr Trump.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Theo Hopkins

Many of the right are too. Though as Mr Trump removed legal requirements to report civilian casualties from drone strikes sometime last year, we might have a hard time knowing.

It looks like the reporting requirement was only brought in by Obama in 2016, so none of them have exactly covered themselves with glory here.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago

Tom,
I really think you should get out more!
There have always been religious cranks around and “Atheistic +”, just seems to be another one.

You, also, seem to have got a very bad case of “Green”. The earth’s climate has always changed and always will, regardless of mankind. I think you would have been happier living during the time of Noah, you could have preached that the floods were caused by mankind’s wicked ways.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

The question is whether we are affecting the change this time (we are) and whether that’s going to be good for us (seems not).

It’s not ‘green’, it’s pure self interest.

Nick Whitehouse
NW
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

I am not so sure as you are that we are having any major effect.
Consider what happens naturally, when the last ice age ended see levels rose by 100-200ft – it is why there is no land bridge from England to the Continent; it makes the current changes in sea level tiny.

The climate has warmed and cooled over the small time span from which we have written records.
They talk of a warm Roman period, followed by a cool period; then the medieval warm period followed by a cool period (called the little ice age) and now a warm period.
Warm periods have been a time of prosperity, whilst the cool periods have brought misery through crop failure and starvation.

So, I believe our effect on climate is tiny, and anyway, warm periods are good for us.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

It does dwarf the current predicted changes in sea level, yes.A lot more people live in coastal cities now though, so a smaller change could easily have a massive effect on us.

The periods you talk about and their relative effect would appear to be centred on the UK or European geography, I’m not sure they’re particularly applicable when looking at the planet as a whole. And they weren’t accompanied by things like acidification of the sea.

Regardless of our individual understanding though, the science is in at this point, though will continue to be refined. Disputing it outright is effectively a contrarian activity.

I just wanted to point out that one can have entirely selfish reasons for being concerned by it.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago

“I believe that all humans have the same moral value”

Really? Why on earth would you say something which is so patently incorrect? I don’t want to resort to examples (of which there are many) but I am deeply offended about being described as having the same moral value as some nutjob Iranian ayatollah!

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

It is as if he said: “all humans have the same intellectual value…”-clearly he refutes that by opining. When someone says “I believe”, they are not saying “I think…”.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago

I don’t think it is patently incorrect. Are we all not ask just the product of our upbringing and experience? Rewind your life and put you where he was born, and 30 years later you turn out a ‘nutjob Iranian ayatollah’. Is that not true?

Fred Atkinstalk
JS
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Irrelevant. Human beings have a choice between (essentially) good and bad. Even if you accept that someone is purely a product of their upbringing (and I don’t) you cannot say that the end products are morally equivalent. They may have started out as potentially equal, but in the end moral quality is not subjective. Bad people are bad, and not equal to good people.

Even if the Ayatollah and I each started as ‘tabula rasa’, we are now in entirely different places, and I am still offended to be compared to him. Simlarly, I am offended to be compared to anyone whose personal values include treating women as inferior, just as I would be humbled to be wrongly compared to someone whose values are better than mine (OK. I am vain enough to think there are not many of them, but the Dalai Lama springs to mind. I am sure that, given time, I might be able to think of another.)

Last Jacobin
LJ
Last Jacobin
3 years ago

Can bad people become good people? And then would they have the moral equivalence of a good person who became a bad person? Or is your moral value what you are at a particular point in time? So you’re good when risking your life to save a child but you were bad when you beat your wife?

I agree with the article though – these aren’t questions for science. But science might be able to provide indications of whether men whose fathers beat their mothers are more or less likely to become men who beat their wives. Then it might be able to look into potential causes (genetic, chemical, environmental). Of course, the decision whether or not to do any of that research would be a political one – not scientific.

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

You are drifting off the point. The author said “I believe that all humans have the same moral value”.

I don’t think that can be correct – do you?

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago

“Moral value” what’s it supposed to mean? Measured in sterling, points, gold stars? Even then, whose morality ? Mine, yours, different cultures, different times? Does anyone ever think their culture is morally inferior? How do you know yours is superior? Is my upbringing a mitigating factor? Can I blame my parents? The whole concept easily becomes angels on pinheads.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Basically morality is very flexible as it has a cultural expectation, AND is fluid depending on how you were actually raised.

But anyone can be good and bad in their morality as they are selfish, or charitable, within their framework. This is free will.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago

If your whole society treated women as inferior, so would you.
Look at something as simple as the Stanford Prison Experiment (or any numerous similar ones) to understand that all these words are mutable and all people are too.

Fred Atkinstalk
JS
Fred Atkinstalk
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

You have missed the point. Someone who treats women as inferior is not the moral equal of someone who doesn’t. I agree that if I were unfortunate enough to have been born and brought up in a morally inferior society I would have morally inferior values : so what? I wasn’t, thank goodness. Nor, because of my good futune, do I need to pretend that other people with rather nasty beliefs are my moral equivalent.

Perhaps the author of the article, and you, are confusing the good old phrase “equal in the sight of God” with “morally equivalent.” (Just a thought – let’s agree not to get bogged down in theology, about which I know very little!)

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago

Morality exists within society expectations of ideal behavior, it is cultural. Ethics are universal right and wrong, and thus amazingly hard to nail down.

To a head hunter it is very moral to kill a stranger, to a Englishman it is not. Ethically the Englishman is likely the proper one, and both are moral.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

How you were raised excuses and enforces a great many qualities, but we then exercise ‘Free Will’ within that framework to produce our morality. Thus some turn to the dark some, some to the good, and those can be very different as we started from different places.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago

“Scientists” can frankly buzz off at this point having proven themselves with Covid to be a bunch of power-mad, hypocritical morons completely devoid of reasoning skills. If they don’t like the answer, they don’t ask the question.

jmskennedy9
jmskennedy9
3 years ago

“Yes, it is possible for left-liberal people to be racist and sexist; but there is a part of the Left that considers the Right to be almost axiomatically bigoted.” Take liberals saying all white people must die for instance.
Why do we need the Social qualifier for Justice. Justice is Justice, adding the adjective immediately creates castes/groups of people and sets the pattern for racism and discrimination. Taking people for who they are one at a time is the only true Justice.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  jmskennedy9

the qualifier mostly serves as a smokescreen. It’s like the people who insist that using “democratic” somehow changes the underlying nature of socialism.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  jmskennedy9

Yep. As ever, it ALWAYS goes back to ‘content of character’ and two wrongs NEVER making a right.

‘Race’ is an unhelpful and largely inaccurate word anyway, but those who continually seek to simplistically define themselves and others as being fundamentally, and I stress ‘fundamentally’ different from them, primarily based on their different skin pigmentation and in spite of the myriad of common traits and shared experiences they do so obviously share are, to my mind, little better than the openly declared racists they purport to be fighting.

Now, unfortunately, in some ‘enlightened’ circles, I realise that that is considered to be a racist position in itself, but I refuse to support any stance that is so obviously designed to foment and perpetuate needless division, regardless of what skin colour you might have.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  jmskennedy9

Social justice is a softer form of mob justice. I was watching Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ the other day, and I found uncanny resemblances between the Salem witch trials and the cancel culture of our times – not so much the hangings, but the mindset that propagates such a ‘justice’ system.

Eugene Norman
EN
Eugene Norman
3 years ago

PZ Myers is a good example of this change. At the start of the new atheist era he is defending Darwinian science against creationism. Fair enough. Now his blog is pro trans and anti biological essentialism. Which is a strange position for a biologist.

I’ve never rated Hitchens. When he said that most wars were religious I began to think he wasn’t the intellect he claimed and had left most history books unmolested. It isn’t the Marxist position either (they would say that all wars have materialistic reasons) even though he was supposedly a Marxist.

None of them seemed well read enough to realise the attack on science was more likely in future from the left but had they been as well read as they claimed it would have been obvious. Did Hitchens read Foucault or the post structuralists? What did he read, this smartest man ever?

Mostly it was of its time, the new atheism, a reaction to Islam and 9/11 and given that the protagonists were English, anti Catholicism was an obvious addition.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

Speaking as a right wing atheist who thinks that religion is for the most part a force for good, I think this is an excellent article.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

Atheists and religious zealots are opposite sides of the same coin. Each is not only convinced of his side’s righteousness, but that the other side is made up of terrible people. I don’t see what the + has to with anything beyond a fervent desire to pat one’s back by insinuating that those horrible religious folks are NOT in favor of treating people well. There are women, minorities, gays, and all the rest in houses of worship, too, not just social warriors looking for the next cool cause to adopt.

In the act of throwing out religion, atheists ought naturally to want to throw out the “bigotry” that goes with it:
So the antidote to bigotry is bigotry? Because that’s what this statement is, a bigotry toward people who subscribe to any religion. What’s ironic is a lot of people who subscribe to this type thought have turned science itself into a religion.

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Most of us atheists are not zealots at all, thank you very much.

Just because a small minority of shouty morons who like to claim to speak for all of us really are fanatical bigots, in truth they do not.

An atheist is just someone who does not believe in the existence of the supernatural. I am not remotely convinced that all theists are terrible people, because I have met some of them.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

Fair enough. I should have been more specific: militant atheists. Most theists are not the shouty types, either, yet the same perception you ascribe to atheists is often mirrored on the other side. To an extent, this is true of most causes or belief systems – the loudest voices draw the most attention and they paint an image of the rest of the group, fairly or not.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Tom, you write: “But something like 30% of adult Americans voted for Trump.” The 2020 presidential election results, heavily inflated by illegitimate votes for Biden as they are, still show that 46.9% of voters voted for Trump. Very sad, Tom. You’re really losing it.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Baldwin

Both can be true, depending on turnout?

Turnout appears to have been 66.7%, so 0.667*0.469 = 0.312 -> 31.2% of eligible voters voted Trump. So if we use the total number of eligible voters as a proxy for the adult population (they’re not going to be exactly the same of course) then both of you are correct!

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

both may be true but one is purposely misleading which makes it less than accurate. It would be just as inaccurate to suggest a similar figure for Biden. If Tom wishes to make the broader point, he knows that it’s not hard to include the caveat of “among total eligible voters, to include those who did not cast ballots…..”

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I don’t consider the use here to be misleading, as it’s not being used to make a point about the election. In-context it’s a point about what proportion of the population may be likely to be put off a vaccine if such a vaccine is seen to be associated with the other side.

Sure, if it was used in an “only 30% voted Trump, nerr!” context, I’d agree.

Ian Perkins
IP
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Agreed entirely. It was entirely clear and transparent to me. If the alternative and equally valid statistic had been given, someone would have leapt in claiming that was misleading.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Baldwin

Just be careful with the wording.
“31% of eligible American voters voted for Trump” … is a fact.
“47% of adult Americans support Trump” … is a statistical probability, (with a high degree of accuracy due to sample size).

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago

Yeah, I hear you.

To take the (relatively – okay, very relatively) unemotional example of welfare. I want a solid welfare system, irrespectively of whether that is good or bad for the economy as a whole, because I consider it morally better that we don’t let people starve to death if they can’t provide for themselves. But people on the left will insist, often against all seeming evidence, that a welfare system will definitely improve the economy. This would seem to suggest, then, that if a welfare system was found to make the economy worse (leaving it aside how impossible it would probably be in practice to convince someone of that who didn’t want to be convinced), then we should scrap the welfare system and let people starve to death. And I consider that to be an immoral position to take, and it bugs me that liberals implicitly seem to be taking it.

Though as far as New Atheism goes, I think the problem was that there was always the assumption that correct knowledge would lead to correct morals – all that was wrong with the world was assumed to be the fault of religion, and once we got rid of religion everyone was going to become good. When it turned out that people could agree on the non-existence of God but still disagree on literally everything else, I think it was all over bar the screaming and shouting and incriminations. Of which there was quite a lot.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago

But people on the left will insist, often against all seeming evidence,
that a welfare system will definitely improve the economy.

People on the extreme left do not support (western) welfare systems, that the left supports welfare is an assertion of the laissez faire right to discredit the principle of those welfare systems.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Teo

Who are the people on the left who have advocated for dismantling the welfare system? You make an assertion with scant, if any, evidence for backing it up.

Teo
T
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Blair’s “think the unthinkable” to Frank Field.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

I think the problem was that there
was always the assumption that correct knowledge would lead to correct
morals – all that was wrong with the world was assumed to be the fault
of religion, and once we got rid of religion everyone was going to
become good.

While that may be a slight exaggeration (a lot just viewed it as one significant force for evil that could be removed with reason), you’ve more or less hit the nail on the head.

As I age I realise that humans just are warlike, power-hungry, assholes. Especially in groups. Religion is more or less orthogonal to this, an excuse more than a reason.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
3 years ago

the problem with ‘rationalists’ is that they’re intensely literal minded, & not half as ‘rational’ as they think they are. Much of the poetry of various aspects of religion & life seems lost on them.

plus they’re all drawing on cultural trends largely inherited from Christian cultural foundations. The whole idea of ‘rationalist’ social justice is Neo-Christian in a way. The whole tradition of natural philosophy, to understand God’s works, has now swallowed God himself, to the point where its inheritors wonder whether the original driving concept can itself be logically justified within the empirical frameowork they developed

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

It appears that the Scientific American, Nature and others really went to town on Trump, with only Nature really having any past form on the practice, previously endorsing Obama.

All born of selflessness, of course.

I’m sure it wasn’t because they were in any way peeved with Trump’s disruptive policy of rooting out and replacing a good many of the entrenched supporters in various government agencies of the long established, doubtless lucrative, self-perpetuating scientific consensus.

No, by association, a vote for Biden was the only rational, reasoned, educated and decent thing to do apparently, whereas a vote for Trump was as good as admitting you were a buck-toothed flat-earther from the boondocks.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Trump has often not rooted out and replaced scientists at various agencies, but simply rooted them out.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Only those who hate deplorables would wish Biden to win. Biden win was not a vote for him as no one could actually wish Biden be president, it was a vote against American Traditional Values, as in what deplorables believe in, and so a vote against Trump.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  7882 fremic

Trump has always been such a divisive,love or hate figure and that was forever going to be his problem particularly in an election in 2020, unlike in 2016 when he was the newcomer, where he was now the incumbent and his supposed (mis)handling of the coronavirus became a significant, if not deciding, factor.

What he actually said and what he actually did were often two very different things though, and I think that many working Americans, including black and Latinos, as evidenced by his increase in their votes counter to the popular narrative, were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt as many felt it in their pockets.

Not only that, they saw it on their TVs with the ‘lack’ of Stars and Stripes draped body bags coming home they’d long grown used to and weary of, or the regular stories and pictures of horrific attacks on US targets abroad.

Most people have mighty short memories I’m afraid.

All the ‘deplorables’ can hope for is that Biden, the superannuated leopard, can finally change his spots and live up to his election rhetoric.

Not wishing to sound cynical, but I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath.

Adam Lehto
Adam Lehto
3 years ago

“I would like to do everything we can to make sure that, when the New England Journal of Medicine declares that a vaccine works, or that masks slow the spread of Covid, it’s not just Biden voters who believe them.”

What’s missing here, and touched on by some commenters, is some nuance around what counts as a robust scientific conclusion. Old news here, but the claim that ‘masks make a difference’ represents an incontestable scientific position which should inform public health policy needs to be clearly acknowledged as fatally wrong. It’s a real problem when very weak science gets held up as orthodoxy, all the more so when the real world impacts are huge. The problem, then, is that *anyone*, of any political persuasion, would take a position on a new and complex problem that is defended in only one part of the scientific world (or even many parts) as if it were definitive. To put it another way, the goal should not be to ‘get people to believe’ what the NEJM or the Lancet might be saying at any given point, but to acquire a deeper appreciation for the *process* of scientific research and for the importance of rigorously testing any hypothesis. It got quickly buried in the hysteria, but the WHO actually had a ‘Research Roadmap’ laid out in February which, if it had remained a genuinely scientific process, open to diverse opinions and adjusting itself as new evidence emerged, could have moderated and even guided public policy. But then it started ‘sounding the alarm bells’, politicians and most media caught the bug, easily-convinced citizens were swayed, and the prospect of real science guiding policy went down the drain. It’s going to take a lot of work to set things right, i.e. to see clearly what went wrong and figure out how to avoid another mess like this for the next pandemic, which is just a matter of time. I worry that decision-makers will simply assume that we now know ‘the science’ of how to respond in such situations.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Adam Lehto

I think you’ll find that most scientific journals do not “claim that ‘masks make a difference’ represents an incontestable scientific position.” They acknowledge the evidence is not conclusive. They do say it is mounting, but I haven’t seen any serious article claiming it is incontestable.

M Spahn
M Spahn
3 years ago

Scott Alexander has written a lot of interesting stuff about how New Atheism got supplanted by wokeness.

rbailey5555
rbailey5555
3 years ago

I find it no small irony that so many of the people who argue the “science” says so, are scientifically illiterate. Further, the notion that “the science is settled” is wrong. Science is always changing, it’s hubris to assume that anything is settled, there is always more to learn.

Brian Dorsley
0
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  rbailey5555

I agree. The ‘science’ is never settled as new discoveries and facts come to light. In fact it is deeply unscientific to state that ‘the science is settled.’

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
3 years ago

Yes, we’ve solved the question of which astronomical body orbits which other astronomical body. I have some difficulty in accepting that, “Does God exist?” is a similar type of question, regardless of the similarity of the grammar of the question. I suppose that this is because I cannot think of an experiment that would decide this. Granted that neither the Hubble, or successor telescopes are likely to take a photo of a stern-looking man on a throne suspended in space: that’s partly because the doctrine of aseity rules it out and partly because that image was always a visual metaphor. Back in the 1200s Dante visualised God as a bright point of light surrounded by three concentric, bright circles: fractionally more plausible than suspended thrones.

Al Tinonint
AT
Al Tinonint
3 years ago

How has science come to this pass? There is only one group to blame. The scientists themselves, who allow this nonsense to go by, uncriticised.

Glaciers, gender, and science:
A feminist glaciology framework for global environmental change research
Carey, M., Jackson, M., Antonello, A., et al. (2016). University of Oregon
Merging feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology, the feminist glaciology framework generates robust analysis of gender, power, and epistemologies in dynamic social-ecological systems, thereby leading to more just and equitable science and human-ice interactions.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Al Tinonint

“In reality, antiscience attitudes are formed in very narrow cognitive windows”those in which science appears to oppose certain political or religious views. Most people embrace most of science most of the time.

“Who is skeptical of science, then, and when?

“That question was the title of an October 2017 talk I attended by Asheley R. Landrum, a psychologist at Texas Tech University, who studies factors influencing the public understanding and perception of science, health and emerging technologies.

“She began by citing surveys that found more than 90 percent of both Republicans and Democrats agreed that “science and technology give more opportunities” and that “science makes our lives better.” She also reviewed modest evidence in support of the “knowledge deficit hypothesis,” which posits that public skepticism of science is the result of inadequate scientific knowledge.

“Those who know more about climate science, for example, are slightly more likely to accept that global warming is real and caused by humans than those who know less on the subject.”

Scientific American
“Science Denial versus Science Pleasure”
By Michael Shermer on January 1, 2018

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Lol. Ok

jenny.m.mclay
JM
jenny.m.mclay
3 years ago

Brilliant. Spot on!

Peter Ian Staker
Peter Ian Staker
3 years ago

Yes, science and politics should be kept separate. Scientific thinking needs to be protected because it is open to attack, and taught because few people seem to know the difference between scientific fact and opinion. Hypothesizes can be biased but results shouldn’t be. It seems like these organisations are exploiting their public, respected profile to push opinions unrelated to their cause, which annoys me. I can see the encroachment of politics into science and this affects funding decisions, what gets researched and who gets hired. If a journal supports Biden, what they are saying is that, it is a scientific fact that Biden is the best person for the job, after all their job (on which their reputation is built) is to present unbiased scientific research. In every other endeavor scientists are cautious about their findings but seemingly not when it comes to politics.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago

I would like to do everything we can to make sure that, when the New England Journal of Medicine declares that a vaccine works, or that masks slow the spread of Covid, it’s not just Biden voters who believe them.

This is why I had such a big problem with Al Gore putting out his movie “An Inconvenient Truth”.

Not because it was wrong, but because by him doing it a significant proportion of the US public would immediately associate it (further?) with the Democrats and take up an opposing stance, regardless of the underlying facts. Instead of enlightening people, it preached to the converted and it drove republicans away. Any internet discussion of climate change was then interrupted with “huh huh you love algore” for several years. (See also South Park’s ManBearPig episode, and their more recent followup/retraction)

“New Atheism” was interesting to watch, as an atheist I never wanted to be part of a movement and that whole “Atheism+” thing sounds deeply unappealing. I figured the movement sputtered out around the time that Dawkins was character-assassinated and focus instead moved on to identity politics. You can’t despise all religions while at the same time shouting down any criticism of Islam as Islamophobic, so shouty public discourse moved on to where it is now…

That schtick about atheism implying certain positions on other matters reminds me of some of the things I’ve seen about feminism over the years – declarations that if you are a feminist then you must necessarily also be a socialist, and any non-socialist feminists were not real feminists. It’s always funny, in a highly cynical way, to watch these causes eat themselves.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

That’s a great point about Al Gore. I’d never considered that before. I don’t quite understand the atheist/Islamophobe point though. Can you explain.

Dave H
DH
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Towards the end of the prominence of “New Atheism” as I understood it, Dawkins started overstepping a few lines in many people’s view, his open letter to “Muslima” was widely considered offensive.

But to the more general point, at one time it was quite on-point for the progressive/liberal side of the argument to be entirely anti-religion, assume superiority of the non-religious and presume that all religion would necessarily wither away over time. Religion was equated with irrational prejudice. But the ground has shifted.

While criticism of Christians and Christianity is still well tolerated, and of course criticism of Islamic violence as well, criticism of Islam and other minority faiths in and of themselves is no longer really a facet of the progressive/liberal left. Instead criticism of Islam is now more-or-less considered an unacceptable prejudice, even when coming from the viewpoint that all superstitious faith is flawed and outdated. As Muslims can be seen as a disadvantaged minority in the West, and seemingly nobody can separate criticism of the faith from criticism of race, well, we are where we are.

I’m not one of the “You can’t say anything any more!” brigade, because clearly you can, more people are saying more things in more places than ever. Just noting that what was once considered progressive is no longer so, the ‘debate’ has moved on.

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

I understand. Though I’m not sure how possible it is to say with confidence what the prevailing rules are.
It’s that criticism of faith/people point that really unhinges the conversation.
The further left you go, the more tolerant of fundamentalism they are, under the guise of protecting minorities.
The further right you go, the less tolerant of minorities they are, under the guise of defeating fundamentalists.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

I agree, it’s a quagmire 🙂

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

Atheism+ sounds like the official religion of Antifa.

ard10027
ard10027
3 years ago

New Atheism disappeared because Christians (and it was usually us who were the target) got into the game, toughened our arguments and showed the Dawkins gang up for the pseudo-intellectuals they actually were.

The same defect of reason that animated the New Atheists is the one that’s running the Bidenistas – the completely unfounded, yet totally unquestioned assumption of their own moral and intellectual superiority. Maybe it’s a function of Whig history — progress is linear, I believe whatever the latest thing is, therefore I’m progressive, ergo I’m the best. Whatever the reason, it’s like talking to a billiard ball. There’s no way in, because if there were, they’d have to give up the foundational assumption. That’s a terrifying prospect. Peter Hitchens described it as crashing through the successive floors of a high rise building: once it begins, there’s no stopping it until you hit the ground. I know. It happened to me.

But what happens to individuals is one thing — what science in the abstract does is something else again. That’s much more dangerous for society. “Science” is not a separately existing entity like a living demi-god. It’s made up of lots of individual scientists holding each other to the standard of impartial reason: two and two will always equal four, no matter who tells you it does. Once you depart from that practice, you end up with the “Jewish science” of the Nazis: ie, we should ignore such and such a development because the wrong person or a member of the wrong group made the breakthrough. That kind of thinking can’t be allowed to gain a foothold.

Theo Hopkins
TH
Theo Hopkins
3 years ago

Trans women are women.
Trans men are men.
The Sun revolves round the Earth.
2+2=5.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago
Reply to  Theo Hopkins

You need something on masks in there too.

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago

PZ Myers was got to and brainwashed. I hung out at Pharyngula as this all kicked off. A geeky male scientist got the wrong idea about a flirtatious colleague and tried it on in a lift and all hell broke over his head. As if geeky scientists always behave impeccably. There was zero empathy for the geeky, socially awkward guy who did something socially awkward.

The discussion disturbed me, it was too American loaded so I stepped away for a while. When I came back the wrong people had won and boy were they crowing about it and throwing their new weight around. I got out of Dodge and haven’t been back.

PZ has made a spectacle of himself jumping through hoops to demonstrate how pure he is. Woke is a purity cult, you can never be pure enough and must always find ever more elaborate ways to demonstrate your purity.

The Pharoah Akhenaten introduced monotheism, the worship of the sun disc Ra and appointed himself the sole priest. He did this because the polytheism priests got themselves into a purity spiral. They spent all their time bathing and hanging in lovely gardens being pure. They were reluctant to sully themselves ministering to the grubby people. Elaborate rituals of cleansing were introduced.

Purity cults are BAD. We know this.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Muscleguy

Was Moses a disciple or perhaps servant of Akhenaten?

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

or a winger for Chelsea?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

Yes, spot on! Well done indeed!

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago

What happened to Atheism is that it stopped being something only geeky guys did and the women joined in. Originally it was very much a guy thing. With the women came Feminist thought and social activism which derailed guys building curated lists.

It also meant some of the geeky guys got laid, and married and became fathers so their time spent online arguing the toss was curtailed. It also meant this solo activity was frowned on and couple activism was in and who wouldn’t go on an anti racism march.

Here in Scotland we all got distracted by Independence and we still are. I don’t have time for that stuff any more. I have a country to help free, oh and we’re against GRA because we’re Pro Women’s Rights. The big Independence party was deep inside Woke but then the adults (meaning the women) got organised and the woke were largely booted out of the party committees, the women’s officer was no longer a Trans woman.

The SNP have lost their way a bit but things may be changing. Social justice can wait until we have all the levers of an independent nation to pull. Then I expect we will be much too busy building the new Scotland to have time for narcissistic people. Time to be selfless and shoulders to the wheel together.

Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper
3 years ago

Just like objectivity in mathematics (godel) there is no secure foundation on which to claim ultimate virtue for ANY baggage of ethical claims (nietzsche). Bibamus edamus cras moriemor.

Tom Krehbiel
Tom Krehbiel
3 years ago

I haven’t read all the comments yet, so hope this point hasn’t already been made: hasn’t The Lancet already thrown its objectivity into serious question by publishing a study that purported to show tests of hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and anti-viral drug (whose name escapes me now) from back in January? The trouble was, no one had mentioned such a possible Covid-19 cure until March. Granted, the journal subsequently took the article down. However, that doesn’t negate the suspicion that they – like others in the “scientific community” – have a fanatical resolve to get rid of Trump and other right-wingers, even if it costs people their lives.

Vilde Chaye
Vilde Chaye
3 years ago

Also, it isn’t Trump and/or his “deplorable” base that is doing whatever it can to make science more “inclusive”. It isn’t Trump supporters but woke mathematicians who claim 2+2 can = 5, or that “indigenous ways of knowing” are equal to Western ways, with regard to the properties of light,. Etc. ETc. Etc. I think the “progressives” and their “lived experience” notions pose a much greater threat to science than Trump or his supporters.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 years ago

“Equality for all, universally available
healthcare, women’s rights, an end to homophobia and racism, social
justice; these are all, surely, good things.”

Since they remain ‘undefined’ as concepts, one cannot say this.

mlipkin
mlipkin
3 years ago

Great article. The other aspect is that these Atheist+ people are wrong to suggest that hewing to the scientific consensus means people being nice forever. 100 years ago the scientific consensus was eugenics.

By taking a moral stance we are (hopefully) taking an axiomatic position r.e. valuing all human life equally.

It is not impossible that there are some tiny differences in some capabilities between ethnic groups or between the sexes (with wide variation within each group so it would be a very foolish person to make assumptions about an individual they meet based in this information). By taking the moral stance we say that this information is not even worth knowing.

G Harris
GH
G Harris
3 years ago

Most of you on here are likely far too young to remember Beezer’s and Look In’s highly controversial endorsement of Thatcher during the politically charged early 80s.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago

I don’t know exactly why the NEJM and the Lancet endorsed Biden, but Nature did so because they felt another Trump term would be a further disaster for science, and science is what Nature has always been about. You could perhaps call that a cynical attempt to keep or increase their funding and employment, but it’s far from conflating moral and empirical questions. Nature is there to promote science, and there is ample empirical evidence Trump would continue demoting it.
See ‘Why Nature supports Joe Biden for US president’, 14 October, for example.

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
3 years ago

Atheism means that you don’t believe in a god. It does not carry any other meaning than that. Any other “beliefs” attributed to atheists are in the mind of the observer and cannot be assumed to be in the mind of the atheist. This “projection” error is at the bottom of many politicized debates these days (encouraged by evil social media of course) such as BLM, trans issues and even left vs right. However, it is clear to all by now that humans run on mental algorithms based on belief and bias and fail at most complex logic tests.

7882 fremic
7882 fremic
3 years ago

Not all religions have a god. like Confucianism.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago

True science has no “versions” – the very essence of scientific approach is impartiality. Now people twisting findings or disavowing evidence on non-scientific grounds is not science, period.
Once that is clarified, let me point out to the author that no problem is being “created” by scientists declaring their political preferences. It is not the scientist’ problem that the MAGA crowd “decides” what is science and what is not. And the world has no obligation to accommodate their ignorance. The smarter ones are perfectly capable of separating scientific facts from political B S. The rest are impervious to reason, so don’t bother.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago

…academic scientists…are overwhelmingly left-liberal…it is already a problem that the Left and the Right disagree over empirical facts, such as whether man-made climate change is real…If “neutral”, truth-seeking groups become associated with one side of the political divide, then I think that will make it harder for people on the other side to trust those groups

Well, quite. The reason the right is sceptical of climate change is that it’s the left insisting it’s real. Scientific journals are no longer truth seeking organisations. Academics can’t be trusted because they’re saying this not because it’s true but because they’re of the left. The left can’t get people to vote for its policies so instead it corrupts the academy and says it’s all settled science and we’re not qualified to join in the debate that’s already over. If you argue with any left wing shibboleth you’re out, even if you discovered DNA.

And it’s only the left that ever corrupts science in this way – Lysenko, Soviet punitive psychiatry.

As a result, if an academic tells me something, I reach for my wallet because he’s probably a lefty and so I’m probably being had.

Dave H
Dave H
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

But to other onlookers, when the right talks about science, we’ve learned to look at which mega-corp is pulling the strings.

Is it Philip Morris, Monsanto or Shell that paid for favourable results this time?

I think it’s time to look past the lefties on climate change. One can agree that it’s real (which the science does show) without then also agreeing on the policy changes they would enact.

In fact that’s more or less what this article is about. I’d love to get to a place where we’re arguing policies and outcomes from a place of shared knowledge, but we’re not there, and if anything we’re getting further from there.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

it’s a bit curious and perhaps telling that policies and outcomes are seldom in the climate discussion. The question in invariably framed religious terms: do you believe?

Doesn’t matter if I believe; what matters is what the political proposes to do about it and the consequences of those actions. I am hard pressed to come up anything more arrogant han the belief that govt can manage the climate via policy.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave H

No, I’m afraid we can’t agree that it’s real. The problem starts exactly there. It’s the left that wants it to be real, so it can attack Philip Morris, Monsanto and Shell, and cancel everyone else’s permission to object. Because it’s science, and science is always right.

Anything that’s an important axiom to the left is either a lie or a pipedream.

stephensjpriest
stephensjpriest
3 years ago

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Richard Pinch
RP
Richard Pinch
3 years ago

Perhaps it would help to disentangle some of the ways that “science” is being used here. There are at least three meanings: science-1 as a body of knowledge about how the world works; science-2 as the intellectual process that investigates how the world works and builds up science-1; and science-3 as the organisational and social structures within which science-2 is practised.

Richard Pinch
Richard Pinch
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Pinch

Let me add a possible fourth interpretation: science-4 as the opinion of some group of scientists, that is, people working in science-3, on the state of the world as informed by their knowledge of science-1, and/or their recommendations as to what might be done to achieve some change in that state. This is what I take to be “the science” as described in the media.

Vilde Chaye
Vilde Chaye
3 years ago

I think the reason for the demise of New Atheism in 2012 is something else entirely, namely: Christopher Hitchens its most powerful and erudite voice, died in Dec. 2011.

Vilde Chaye
Vilde Chaye
3 years ago

RE: If you weren’t keen on Atheism+, he said, you could set up your own movement, called “Asshole Atheists”.

No, we couldn’t do that, because someone who says something so assholic owns the copyright to that designation.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

Interesting. Certainly from my point of view, the atheism movement found itself in a cul-de-sac since whilst creationism as religious dogma is clearly not empirically valid neither is the supposition that our universe was not created by a higher dimensional intelligence.

In my mind, it is only by living in a closed system universe, that thermodynamic laws can exist. If we lived in an open system, then thermodynamic laws cease to operate. Thus, the hypothesis underlying the empirical fact of thermodynamic laws is that we live in a closed system, not an open one, which means the Big Bang is a repeating occurrence with universal expansion and contraction a very different process to the one assumed within an open system.

I.e a human being is conceived (Big Bang) and during the life cycle expands and then contracts with decomposition redistributing elementary matter.

Thus, the atheist movement was faced with a dilemma, do they promote an open system view with no beginning and no end and so no creator but needing to explain where EVERYTHING has come from as well as explain how thermodynamic laws operate within this open system. Or do they promote a closed system view which does have a beginning and an end (even if it is able to infinitely regenerate itself) and therefore needing to explain how our closed system was designed and created if not by a higher dimensional intelligence.

Clearly the weight of evidence seems to suggest we live in a closed system but have no idea how it was created. Hence, the cul-de-sac.

So perhaps at this awkward juncture, atheists simply jumped on the humanist – egalitarian bandwagon.

This leads me to your assertion that,

“The call to treat all humans equally should not depend on any material facts about the universe; it is a moral claim, not an empirical one.”

This however is false. Equality is as much an empirical concern as it is a political or moral one since prevailing evidence suggests that equality, especially material equality, will increase conspicuous consumption unless social policy is able to foster a much greater social sense of cooperative relations rather than competitive ones.
https://academic.oup.com/jc
https://jasoncollins.blog/2

This conclusion is implicitly confirmed by the Equality Trust whereby under certain circumstances, equality can drive economic growth as a result of transfers from the rich to the poor contrary to the supposition that inequality drives the incentives necessary for growth.
https://www.equalitytrust.o
https://www.weforum.org/age

Thus, Equality has empirical global ecological consequences which within the context of rapid human population growth, means Equality speeds up consumption growth and the end of finite resources.
https://www.weforum.org/age

In other words, increasing Equality within a competitive social environment under conditions of human population growth means reducing finite resource availability for future generations. As such, Equality under these ecological conditions will result in a ‘resource bubble’ which may dramatically affect the generational longevity of humans.

Hence, Equality is primarily an empirical concern along with empirical consequences that will need to be bridged by politics and ethics within a framework of ecological morality.

Real Horrorshow
0
Real Horrorshow
3 years ago

“For instance, PZ Myers, previously a New Atheist so firebreathing that he once nailed a eucharist wafer to some pages from the Koran and then threw them in the bin, changed tack to argue that “atheists ought to fight for equality for all, economic security for all, and universally available health and education services”. If you weren’t keen on Atheism+, he said, you could set up your own movement, called “Asshole Atheists”

As someone who was spectating from the sidelines during the – brief – heyday of Atheism+, I don’t share the view that Myers changed tack. HIs tack was always “Look at me, make me famous. Why can’t I be a Fifth Horseman?” The answer was pretty simple: The others (Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris) were established authors. Myers was an Internet ranter. And it was a joke anyway.

He was certainly one of the biggest promoters of the line that failing to agree to an entire socio-political agenda meant that you were not allowed to call yourself an atheist. Where he believed his authority came from I couldn’t say.

The heyday was very brief too. I recall the Atheism+ message board self-destructing in about two weeks, with nothing left but half a dozen moderators banning each other. They’d already banned Matt Dillahunty – who was quite well-known in American atheist circles – twice.

The problem was that, from the very first, Atheism+ was a pseudo-religion of competitive victimhood. Everyone on the message boards had a whole list of – self-diagnosed – mental and physical illnesses and a catalogue of past traumas. They had a massive row about which of them deserved the most e-hugs near the end.

Naturally, this herd composed entirely of culls, drew trolls from all over the ‘Net. Yet, in a sense they won. The last time I checked – some years back now – many of the larger U.S. atheist groups had bought into the thing to some extent. Whether it has lasted in any form I don’t know – it’s probably part of the larger “Wokening”. I gave up when reading each fresh haul of hysterical entitlement was taking me several hours per day. But I do know that whatever you gave these people; jobs; speaker slots at conferences it would never be enough.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
3 years ago

Nice article, and well argued!

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago

Atheists’ belief that God does not exist is for most, if not all, formed as result of their personal experience and knowledge of religion.

Religions are creations of men…proving beyond doubt that God is not infalible nor is creation perfect.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago

It starts in the education system – which, in most (although not all) countries, is saturated with Frankfurt School assumptions – and it is quite false to call Frankfurt School Marxism (Herbert Marcuse and co) “liberalism” of any sort.

When, for example, Medical Journals support “lockdowns” but make an exception for the Marxist (founded in 2014 by Marxists and controlled by Marxists) “Black Lives Matter” movement to have mass gatherings (even defending looting and burning – or denying that it has taken place) this is NOT liberalism, it is Frankfurt School Marxism.,

When the New England Journal of Medicine AND the health bureaucrats of most States say that the vaccines for Covid 19 should NOT be given to the most vulnerable first – because “the old are too white” this is NOT liberalism – it is Frankfurt School Marxism “Critical Race Theory”, “Systemic Racism”. Frankfurt School Marxism started its influence in the humanities and “social sciences” – but it is increasingly dominating the teaching of everything, including the physical sciences, in the United States and many other countries, Academics no longer seek to discover and teach objective truth, following the facts wherever they lead – they seek to “fight inequities” and destroy a “systematically unjust” society. Even mathematics and physics must “serve” certain favoured groups (black people, women, homosexuals – and so on) or else they are denounced as “tools of exploitation and oppression” – and people who oppose this position are driven from their jobs.

The doctrine that all inequality is “injustice” and that all success is based on “exploitation” is not liberalism – it is Marxism. And the doctrine that Freedom of Speech is “repressive” and state tyranny is “liberation” is from Herbert Marcuse.

As for Mr Joseph “Joe” Biden – he is not a Marxist, but he is a “fellow traveller” riding a tiger. Mr Biden is a person of declining mental abilities, who is being used. He is essentially a puppet.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
3 years ago

Arguing against God has the problem that we’re not supposed to have any images nor descriptions of God and His sacred texts are written in metaphor (i.e. Not Literal).

And the problem with Climate is that humans dont understand it, nor its’ past sufficiently well to be truthfully able to say what’s going to happen.

What we do know is that Carbon Zero is almost certainly impossible.

Maria Bogris
Maria Bogris
3 years ago

Thanks to Professor Pantsdown and his horrendously innaccurate predictions, plus an admitted liberal bias among scientists, plus US blue team using this to advance political goals, plus an alarming amount of scientists allowing themselves to be used this way, both science and government are taking a tremendous hit to credibility they could well be decades recovering from…and frankly, you all made this bed and are going to have to lay in it…

Will D. Mann
Will D. Mann
3 years ago

Protecting birds means protecting that the environment, that includes measures to slow global warming and sea level rise. (Arguably it also includes preserving some urban architectural features which have become roosts for species such as peregrine falcons) , success depends on sympathetic government, not on like Trump’s which favours oil interests over nature.

Paul Hayes
PH
Paul Hayes
3 years ago

Tying truth-seeking organisations ” the atheism movement; scientific journals ” to progressive politics seems an amazingly good way of pushing right-wing people away from those organisations.

They’re not tying themselves to progressive politics. Trump and other right-wingers haven’t been e.g. accepting the climatology and its implications but then, intellectually honestly, making a case for not doing anything much about it policy-wise. They’ve typically been, at best, indulging in pseudoskepticism.

Far from being somewhat uncomfortable with science journals and others coming out for Biden and against Trump – and any other “adversaries of the evidence-based worldview […] those whose goal is not to analyze honestly the evidence for and against a particular policy, but is simply to manipulate the public into reaching a predetermined conclusion by whatever technique will work, however dishonest or fraudulent” – you should be extremely uncomfortable that so few did (or ever do).

Kevin Ryan
Kevin Ryan
3 years ago

Unherd is scraping the bottom of the barrel to find new reasons to foam at the mouth about the woke, snowflake, libtards etc. I never heard of Atheism+ and a Google search turns up very little. Liberals can’t even do atheism properly, who’d have thunk it.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago
Reply to  Kevin Ryan

I was there at the time. Trust me, Atheism+ was a thing.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago

As James Lindsay, co-author of Critical Theories, also testifies. He says the toxicity it generated was the reason he left the new atheism movement and started investigating social justice theory.

Theo Hopkins
Theo Hopkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Lindsay is, to my mind, a little OTT, but he is certainly useful.