FtB page hits down ~70% in 18 months

Freethought Blogs was once a pretty happening place. It was like Scienceblogs or Discoveryblogs but with a whole lot more atheism. In essence, it was a dose of science with a heap of New Atheism. And that made a lot of sense. As I’ve said before, New Atheism is very much a reflection of scientific thinking: Before we are to believe some claim (especially if it’s a significant claim), evidence is a must. But then the tone changed drastically at FtB. We went from people who placed atheism first when speaking about atheism – because that’s fucking logical – to people who were very much atheism-second bloggers. Science was almost entirely out the window. Philosophy? That was only ever there because of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, (of course) Dennett, and Coyne. Once we had people like PZ Myers, Richard Carrier, and Rebecca Watson decide that feminism needed to be the dominant theme in the atheist community, philosophy was deader than ever, at least in the worst circles. These people didn’t draw issue with the likes of William Lane Craig because they saw fundamental problems with his philosophical arguments; their issue was always that he wasn’t a feminist. It’s the same reason Dawkins and others have lost the support of these people. They don’t care why someone believes something – it doesn’t matter if a person isn’t a feminist because he hates women, because feminism is not a part of any religion, because he’s a utilitarian, because he’s a libertarian, because he’s an egalitarian, or for any other reason. All that matters is you aren’t a feminist, so you hate women and you’re not with us, you’re against us. It’s like George W. Bush weaseled his way into the atheist movement. You aren’t a real American unless you support American foreign policy; you aren’t a real atheist ally unless you support feminism.

And now here we are with atheism+, the movement that is to atheism as “patriotism” is to American conservatives. Consistency and coherency are secondary to this movement. You must support x, y, and z “social justice” issues, but to hell with explaining why all these issues tie together. To hell with explaining why atheism, an entirely descriptive position, is fundamentally related to any of these issues. To hell with explaining the benefit in destroying the big tent of New Atheism, the tent which encompassed those who are pro-science and against religion regardless of their views on GMO’s or abortion or Iraq or gun rights. None of that matters in the splinter group – nay, the splinter effort – that is atheism+. Philosophy only isn’t dead to that movement because it was never alive to them in the first place.

So what has the result been? From a once happening place, Freethought Blogs has fallen and continues to fall. Its page hits are down about 70% in the last few months. Fewer and fewer people are interested in the split. Fewer and fewer people want to be part of a movement which so eschews philosophy. Atheism+ is little more than a political movement with a political foundation. That isn’t the basis of the surge in atheism around the globe in recent decades. Richard Dawkins didn’t become famous for his politics. No one became a New Atheist because they are for or against marriage equality. That’s just not what this is all about. Atheism plussers simply do not understand the point to all this. They don’t get it at all.

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Thought of the day

Atheism+ is little more than an attempt to destroy the fledgling and so far successful New Atheist movement. It disgusts me.

Harbin, China: A libertarian dream

From time to time a meme will pop up on Facebook that talks about Somalia being a libertarian utopia. There’s no regulation, everyone has to more or less go it alone, and the government is virtually non-existent. Of course, this claim falls flat when one realizes that libertarians are not anti-police or anti-military. The minimal necessary governmental organization necessary to prevent anarchy is well within the philosophy of libertarians. So, fair enough, Somalia is not a libertarian utopia. However, the regulatory conditions that have led to smog problems in Harbin, China are exactly a libertarian dream:

Choked with smog that shut down roads, schools, and its main airport, the city of Harbin (map) this week offered a striking reminder that China has a long way to go in addressing the hazards caused by its dependence on coal.

Visibility in the northeastern city of more than 10 million people reportedly was reduced in places to less than 65 feet (20 meters) as coal-fired heating systems ramped up for the winter months. Officials also pointed to farmers burning crop stubble and low winds as additional causes for the pollution crisis.

Roads have been shut down due to the intensity of the smog. People in this area of the country die much sooner than those in cleaner areas. It’s a serious problem that has been fueled, in part, by a desire to grow, grow, grow.

Now, to be fair, it was actually the government that encouraged the use of coal in the first place. That, of course, is not a libertarian dream. Libertarians would rather the magical hand of the free market guide the energy markets. But let’s be reasonable. The use of coal in China is going to be significant with or without the government. It’s a cheap, easy energy source. Moreover, one cannot ignore the fact that it is a complete lack of government regulation that has allowed carbon emissions and other pollution to get so out of hand. Forget that the government shares blame in this: This is the difference between handing a child a loaded gun with the safety off versus handing a child a loaded gun with a child safety lock in place. The kid shouldn’t have the loaded gun in the first place, but if he’s given a Glock anyway, he shouldn’t be able to so easily shoot himself in the head. But under libertarianism? Who cares if he’s dead? What’s important is that he had the FREEDOM!!! to kill himself in the first place.

Thought of the day

I have a number of issues with feminism. The biggest is that the movement is overwhelmingly pro-censorship, and that tells me there aren’t enough good arguments in its favor. However, I have another significant issue: It seeks to promote female equality when positive or beneficial things are involved with said equality, but it falls loudly silent when equality is not to the benefit of women. Specifically, I have in mind the military. After falling behind many nation’s that allowed women in combat roles, the U.S. recently caught up (or is at least in the processing of implementing its new policies on the matter). That’s fantastic and it’s how it should be. But this benefits women. Female soldiers who wish to have the opportunity to fight for their country and/or who wish to be considered for promotions where combat experience is needed now have that opportunity. Yes, this puts them in harm’s way and that is something to be admired on a certain level, but it’s a choice. More than that, it’s a desired choice. That’s why women fought for this sort of policy, and it’s why feminists are generally supportive of it. But I ask…what of the draft? Why don’t we have a movement, either spear-headed or at least supported by feminists, that would require women to sign up for the draft at 18? As I recall, I forfeited my alleged “right” to vote or some such nonsense if I didn’t fill out some card the military wanted. (I did fill it out.) Why shouldn’t women have the same requirement of them? I thought this was all about equality.

I don’t expect to hear much about this from feminists any time soon.

Taking on the apologetics of Randal Rauser

Mike over at The A-Unicornist has a solid history of taking on the apologetics of believers who have managed to publish books. I took on a post by one of those apologists, David Marshall, who was responding to Mike. It wasn’t that I thought my assistance was needed (it wasn’t). I suppose I just felt like responding. It turned out to be unfruitful due to the surprising and abundant childishness of Marshall, but I’m going to put that experience in the back of mind and respond to another theist Mike has recently taken on, Randal Rauser. (In Mike’s most recent posts, he discusses Rauser’s censorship. Apparently Rauser wasn’t a big fan of having his beliefs taken apart, so he went on a deleting binge. As a result, I don’t think I’ll be posting on his blog – a censor cannot be trusted – but I will post here.)

The Rauser post that caught my eye was one in which he discusses why Jesus was never really tempted:

In their trials and temptations many Christians have drawn strength from Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin.” (TNIV; cf. Heb. 2:18) Unfortunately, the significance of this passage is widely misunderstood, and thus its true force is often lost.

The problems are rooted in the erroneous belief that to be tempted means that Jesus could have sinned and that he was somehow enticed by sin (that is, he found it appealing but still resisted it). Both assumptions are deeply mistaken.

Rauser takes this on from two angles. First, he notes that Jesus is God and God cannot sin, thus Jesus was never actually tempted into doing wrong. It isn’t hard to see why this isn’t much of an answer. Rauser is noting two claims in the Bible – God is perfect and Jesus was tempted – and he is arbitrarily deciding that the claim to perfection must be true. That is, there is a clear contradiction, so Rauser effectively declares that the Bible is wrong in one of its claims. I’m sure he wouldn’t phrase it this way at all, but it’s plainly what he has done.

But, okay, maybe he’s talking about Jesus the Christ, not Jesus the man. So what of the man? Well:

“But what about his humanity? Couldn’t Jesus sin because he was a man?” Ironically, I argue that the opposite is the case: it is also because Jesus is human that he could not have sinned.

How so?

The key is to recognize that Jesus was not simply a man, but the perfect man. First ask what is it that makes human beings uniquely human? According to scripture, the answer is the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). But while we are made in the image of God, Jesus is the image of God (Col. 1:15). That means that he is not just another man, but the standard and essence of human perfection.

This just brings us further down the rabbit hole. What does it mean to be “the perfect man”? Can the perfect man not sin? Does that mean he lacks free will? Can perfection be attained without free will? And what of emotions? Was Jesus able to feel guilt and envy and jealousy? Hatred? If he lacked basic human characteristics – free will, emotions, etc – then I fail to see how we’re describing a human at all.

So where does this leave us? Well, if Jesus was unable to experience, say, envy like any other human, then he wasn’t really human, perfect or not. That isn’t to say he needed to experience envy in order to be human, but he did need to have the ability to experience it. So let’s say that he could experience envy, but he simply did not. That’s all fine and well for the perfect human argument, but it fails the Jesus-couldn’t-be-tempted argument. That is, if he could experience envy (or any other human emotion), then he could be tempted. That then leads us to conclude that he could sin – which then means that he could be imperfect.

Rauser continues:

But if Christ could not have sinned then what does it mean to say Jesus was tempted? Is there a contradiction between the statement that God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) and the statements in Hebrews that Christ was tempted?

Not at all. To resolve the tension we need to understand that the Greek word for temptation (peirazo) has two meanings: temptation and testing. God cannot be tempted in the sense of finding sin enticing. But he can be tested (1 Cor. 10:9).

None of this answers questions about whether or not Jesus could logically be a “perfect man”, but it does avoid the problem of declaring one Biblical claim correct while saying another is incorrect simply because it’s inconvenient that they contradict each other. That is, if the Bible only ever says Jesus was tested, then there is no issue with the claim that he is also perfect. This leaves me to wonder why Rauser bothered with his first claim at all.

As to the notion that Jesus couldn’t be tempted because he was “a perfect man”, I don’t see a satisfactory resolution. Parsing the original Greek works for one issue, but the whole point here is to demonstrate that Jesus could not sin. That, to me, destroys his humanity. It takes from the story of when he flipped over the merchant tables in the temple. If that wasn’t his humanity, what was it? He may have been righteous, and a few weak philosophies will justify using any means to achieve a desirable end, but he was also fundamentally human at that moment. Jesus’ sin in destroying the merchant tables cannot and should not be explained away.

Thought of the day

There are very few non-ivy league colleges and universities that are actually any better than the average run-of-the-mill school (at least education-wise). People think that if they spend $35K a year on their education, they must be getting far better professors who are able to pass along their knowledge far better than other professors at other schools. It isn’t really true. Some of the more expensive schools may have better resources for courses where that matters*, but the education one receives from a state university in, say, Idaho, is not significantly different from the education one receives just about anywhere else. Moreover, very few people even care about a person’s place of education once that person gets into the “real” world.

*If a person majors in sociology, the greater resources probably won’t make a huge difference. However, a person who majors in a lab-based/heavy science may see some notable benefit in terms of equipment.

What do some people hate honesty so much?

Every so often I’ll come across something on the Internet about me that I hadn’t seen before. This is fortunately less common than it once was, but it still happens from time to time. Back in May it was a video:

I knew about that video long before it happened, but I never knew that it had been published until I was searching something else. (My part happens around 4:25.) Just the same, I didn’t know about this post by PZ Myers until just today. It was a response to the above video (which you should watch if you want the rest of this post to make sense):

[The case study in the video] is Michael Hawkins, a skeptic. C0nc0rdance is aghast; he notes that:

In two years, PZ went from praising Michael Hawkins for his courage in standing up to homeopathy…to banning him permanently for “being a douchecanoe”.

Yes. Two years. Almost from the beginning of his interactions here, Hawkins was a carping jerk, yet somehow he managed to continue dissenting here regularly for all of those years before he finally convinced me he was too stupid and oblivious to allow him to continue. This is of course an excellent example of my notorious hair-trigger banning of all disagreement.

I can’t search for my comments on Pharyngula, so I can’t link anything, but Myers is lying. My comments on his blog, whether on scienceblogs.com or his new, group-think site, have always been pretty sparse. Too many people post there for any fruitful debate to really happen; it’s like talking to no one in particular at a Metallica concert. No one is likely to hear you, and if they do, you better not say anything bad about the band, no matter how much you think St. Anger sucked. Furthermore, most of my comments on his scienceblogs site were generally pretty positive.

Not shown, though, are his whining emails to me. Yes, I praised his work fighting a quack in Maine; why wouldn’t I? What you don’t see is that after I put four posts on my blog on the Maloney issue, Hawkins would write to me complaining that I wasn’t doing enough, that I must not like him, that I was allowing my personal distaste for the guy interfere with the importance of his cause (there was no personal distaste until he started demanding my attention!) And from that point on, he came onto Pharyngula with a chip on his shoulder and was persistently obnoxious.

Again, Myers is lying. I would write to him when something new popped up about said quack, but that was a matter of keeping him generally updated. I didn’t complain about anything. After a short time, my emails (which were never that frequent anyway) tapered and I stopped bothering with any communication. Fast forward a bit and Myers gets a cease and desist letter from the quack and his wife/lawyer demanding Myers give up his First Amendment rights. Several months later, I got the same thing. I sent Myers an email about that as a matter, once again, of keeping him updated. At this point I was probably expressing some dissent at Pharyngula, but nothing major. And again, no complaining. Fast forward even further and now a lawsuit is being threatened against me. But by this time I had been dissenting a fair bit more in the sparse comments I did leave. Myers ignored my need for help, but once again, I did not complain. I eventually got help from Ken White and moved on with life. It was only in a comment or two, at most, that I said anything about Myers not helping me. Indeed, it would appear that Myers’ claim about all those complaints I made all boil down to one post – one post which was amongst a series on a particular thread which soon got me banned by Myers.

Let’s quickly review the above paragraph: Myers clearly says that I complained that he wasn’t doing enough and that I thought he should give me all the attention I want. As a result, this contributed to a lengthy interaction which, despite Myers’ incredible patience, resulted in my banning from his echo-chamber. However, the only time I complained at all was over 250 posts into some random thread where I made a post addressing 9 different people. I wasn’t even talking to Myers at the time.

But I’m not the dishonest one here, so I feel obligated to point out that, yes, I do think Myers ignored my request for help in a lawsuit because he dislikes the views I’ve expressed on his brand of feminism. I fully believe that he would have responded to and helped someone he considers to be ‘on his side’. (After all, he was quick to ‘help’ someone accusing Michael Shermer of rape. That person had unfounded claims that may get Myers sued. I had actual facts and legal materials to offer up.)

For example, here is Hawkins’ very first comment (aside from some test comments) on Pharyngula after I made the move to Freethoughtblogs.

I hate to feed the troll (PZ), but the fact is Watson and (more so) those who spread her video and story are the ones who made this all a big deal. Anyone who says otherwise is either a moron or liar. Take your pick.

By the way, you don’t get to damn Christians for projecting, PZ, when you did the exact same thing in this very post when you went out of your way to use “shrill”.

That was in September 2011. He wasn’t banned until four months later, after he’d piled up an impressive record of belligerance and antagonism. And note the source of his ire: that Rebecca Watson had said, “Guys, don’t do that” in a youtube video. You want to really piss off the regulars here? Take that attitude. It’s one of the most annoying things anyone can say here, and yet, notice, it didn’t get him banned.

For once Myers isn’t lying. He’s wrong because he isn’t very good at parsing language, but at least he isn’t lying. My “source of ire” wasn’t what Watson had said. I was annoyed that Myers and co had recently taken to claiming that they had always been aloof to and above “elevatorgate”. Why, they weren’t the ones who created a mountain out of a mole hill. It was all those damn women-haters! They just won’t shut up about it! Yeah, right. As I’ve said before, almost no one would know what “elevatorgate” was today if Myers hadn’t picked up on the story and later continued to push it.

He became notorious here as a tone troll: the substance of a complaint didn’t matter, what was horrible was being so irritating as to make a complaint in the first place (we note the irony that he was actually hoist by that petard eventually). He had a reputation as someone who demanded irrelevancies, like the time he told me to go “craft a few hundred words” and publish them in my local paper, rather than writing blog entries (there’s a theme here, too, of people ordering me to run my blog or my life in the particular way they prefer).

Again, that’s a lie. Aside from the fact that I’m very, very, very far from being a tone troll (I mean, really? me? c’mon), there was one thread in which I talked about using more effective rhetoric. That is, I said that if a person’s strategy is to get a person to listen and be engaged, then insults aren’t likely to work. However, if the strategy is to shame a person (and for many of the caricature feminists out there, it is), then using harsh language and insults may be the way to go. That isn’t me being a tone troll. That’s me describing rudimentary rhetoric.

As for me ‘telling’ Myers to go craft a few hundred words, he is intentionally taking that out of context. That is, he wants it to sound like I was saying, “Why don’t you go fuck off?” Then to add to the quote-mine, he says that I was telling him to do that instead of writing blog entries. Again, we have another magnificent lie. What actually happened is that another poster came into a thread bitching about how awful those threads were. A bunch of people piled on that poster and nothing interesting happened. I then noted that that user did have a point about the lack of productivity in those threads. So, I thought and wrote, why not use a better medium for an important message? That is, I thought an OP-ED (not a mere letter to the editor) by Myers in his local paper would be a good way to get people discussing this or that issue. But who knew that “Have you thought about using your status as a professor to contact a newspaper about an OP-ED” was equal to saying, “STOP WRITING YOUR BLOG POSTS AND DO WHAT I DEMAND!”

The final straw was his privileged, oblivious pomposity. Hawkins, the fellow who got terribly irate that a driving range made him buy their golf balls, then waxed indignant that poor people might use food stamps to buy lobster in Maine. It was classic privileged meddling. Subsidize my golfing hobby, but no, no, no, don’t let those poor people enjoy a good meal!

Again, we have a lie. The issue I had with a driving range was that I was treated poorly by a business. I went to hit a few of my own golf balls near closing time at an empty range. The owners, outraged that I would dare not immediately pay them $1.50 for a small bucket, berated my girlfriend and me. At no point was my problem that they had a rule about buying a bucket. (Most ranges in the area have no such rule, nor did this range have that rule written anywhere; an owner of another range told me he always gets customers from the one where I had an issue.) Had they said, “Oh, sorry, we don’t allow people to use their own golf balls. You need to buy a bucket”, I would have bought the fucking bucket. But that isn’t the real issue for me here; I’m well over that incident. What bothers me is the incessant dishonesty from Pharyngula, now continued by Myers. This issue was brought up randomly in a thread in which I was disagreeing about something else. People focused on it for the sake of personally attacking me. It is easily the absolute best real life example of an ad hominen I’ve ever seen.

As to poor people buying lobster, Myers has about as much understanding of economics as he does of philosophy: he’s a dolt. I dislike the idea of expensive foods being available via food stamps because 1) they fail to contribute to lifting people out of poverty, 2) they are not nutritionally necessary nor without more than adequate alternative choices, and 3) they cost the taxpayer more, thus hurting the economy (and thus poor people). (Lobster happened to be the example I used.) So did Myers respond to each of my points, considering and perhaps rebutting each one? Of course not. He simply characterized me as hating poor people since my position wasn’t sufficiently liberal.

At that point he was toast. Again, it’s not that he disagreed with me — there are plenty of people bickering on that thread, and some making the same claim that these youtubers do, that I’ve violated FREE SPEECH by kicking him out — but because a persistently sanctimonious asshole wore out his welcome at last.

Of course I was banned because I disagreed with Myers. He even admits as much when he talks so dismissively about me, in his view, not wanting poor people to have a good meal. Why, how dare I hold such an opinion! It’s just so privileged. There was simply no way such a viewpoint could be tolerated at Pharyngula.

As to a ‘violation of free speech’, there seems to be mass confusion about this. People think that simply because something isn’t an illegal violation of free speech as described in the First Amendment, it also isn’t censorship. I don’t know what YouTube comments are being referenced, nor am I saying that Myers is expressing this type of confusion, but no one seems to have any idea that censorship can happen in both an illegal and legal context. In this case, yes, Myers legally censored me. That’s the entire point of the video – and it’s a point that is 100% correct. Furthermore, it’s important to note when censorship is justified and when it isn’t. Simply because it is allowed does not mean that it is defensible.

And that’s C0nc0rdance’s Big Lie: that I don’t tolerate any disagreement, that I’m quick to pull the trigger, that no dissenters can get a word in edgewise here. If you actually look at the record honestly, you cannot come to that conclusion…but it’s now the party line for people like NoelPlum99 (168 dissenting comments here) and C0nc0rdance (12 dissenting comments).

C0nc0rdance closes with the horrifying statistic that there are 105 entries in the dungeon file. Oh, no! A big number! Let’s terrify the children with it!

Perspective: that’s the number of permanently (there were a few others who were released) banned individuals accumulated over ten years of blogging. I get between 15,000 and 20,000 comments per month, and have banned less than one person per month.

You want to argue that my commenting policy is just too brutal? The facts say you’re wrong.

It’s so cute that Myers is calling someone else a liar. It’s even more cute when he tries to use facts, as if he has any clarity on any matter in which he’s so clearly biased. Yes, the number of total bans are small. So? Think, Myers. If your argument is that your policy isn’t bad because you only implement it on occasion, then you have a shitty argument. When that exact same logic is applied to something more extreme, like murder, any reasonable person can see that it fails. (I suspect that analogy doesn’t work for Myers, what with his poor record in philosophical thought.) The real fact is, you ban people for disagreeing with you. You can’t handle the speech of others, so you get rid of it when it begins to offend you. Aw, your poor wittle feelings. Deal with it, man. Deal with the fact that other people are going to dissent and do so in a way in which you will lose the argument. Don’t pretend like allowing a handful of people to say a negative thing here or there proves that you have nothing but patience. Rather than constructing these elaborate tales of your tolerance for other views, drop the ego and own your censorship tendencies. Just be honest and own what you do.