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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2010: FTSOS in review, July to September

This is the third installment of the 2010 review of FTSOS. See the first two here and here.

July:
Some of the smaller posts I’ve made that I think deserve a little more attention are the ones where I emphasize that biology is all about shape. The article I wrote about the fight against HIV is one of those posts. Research earlier this year found at least one location on HIV molecules that remains a consistent shape between individual viruses. This is important because HIV’s ability to be differently shaped in different parts of a single body makes it difficult to combat.

I also wrote about the difference between atheists, new atheists, and anti-theists. One of the public relation problems for atheism is that it is viewed as a dirty word. People assume it means absolute certainty, and that is seen as arrogant. It’s ironic because belief in God usually comes with certainty and that isn’t seen as being so arrogant, but I digress. Atheism is not certainty. Furthermore, where it is involved in new atheism and anti-theism, atheism acts as a descriptive base; new atheism and anti-theism are normative positions.

One of my all-time favorite posts is the one about photolyase and cancer. Photolyase is a protein that captures light and uses two of its constituents (a single proton and single electron) to force contorted nucleotides back into place. It is not present in humans, but is common in plants and other animals, helping to keep their genes functioning properly. This may be one reason we’re more susceptible to cancer than many of our fellow organisms.

August:
This was a skimpy month for FTSOS. I was away on a couple vacations for the bulk of the month, so the majority of the posts were either from my “Thought of the day” series or they were pictures/YouTube videos. But for what was there, I couldn’t resist pointing out and expanding on a fantastic quote from the judge who said Prop 8 in California is unconstitutional. In his quote he said a ban on gays getting married fails to advance any rational cause. I compared that sentiment to the idea that the majority cannot be allowed to discriminate simply because it is the majority.

I also made a post about a website devoted to philosophical thought experiments. The thought experiment I chose to highlight was Judith Jarvis Thompson’s Trolley Problem. My big motivator was a recent discussion with another blogger who laughably claimed that the trolley experiment was merely a logistical exercise, not an exercise about morality. To date he is still the only person in the world to believe that.

I also went through a few theistic arguments that are obviously failures. The most notable in my mind is the argument that says everything has a cause, therefore the Universe had a cause. There are two major problems with this. First, then why not just say a sort of ‘exo-nature’ caused the Universe? There is no need for consciousness – in fact, that only makes the theistic argument less probable. Second, the whole basis for this argument rests in the idea that forces result in reactions. For instance, if I push a chair, that chair moves; I applied a force. This is basic physics. But the whole shebang of forces and equal and opposite reactions? We’re talking about the science of what we know that happens within the Universe. And all we know necessarily breaks down prior to the Big Bang. The First Cause argument cannot be used because it rests about an unwarranted extension of science. Religion abusing science? Crazy, I know.

September:
The beginning of September was just as skimpy as the end of August because I was still on vacation. But while I never gave a huge post on the subject, the defining moment of the month (and year and decade and…) for me was my hike of Kilimanjaro. I have started writing about it at this point – just not for FTSOS. But in lieu of that you can read the account of the journey from my fellow group member and current Facebook buddy Jim Hodgson.

I also gave a very lengthy post on why prostitution ought to be legal. No one seemed to care, but I put a lot of effort into, so I thought I would mention it here. Basically, we make the practice illegal because of our own discomfort with sex as a society. We also draw false correlations between it and other illegal activities: of course one illegal thing will bring with it other illegal things if it’s something people want. Finally, for the safety and health of all involved, it would be better to legalize and regulate prostitution than keep the old system we have now.

One of the most popular posts on FTSOS that people found via search engines was the one where I lamented low science and math scores in the United States. A lack of funding relative to other areas, hostility towards science, and a general anti-intellectual trend in the U.S. all contribute to the decline of America on the world stage in education.

Another lament was my post about the anti-vax crowd causing deaths. The fact is, people who advocate against vaccines or for made-up alternatives to vaccines are making the world a more dangerous place, making people sick and even causing deaths. Get vaccinated – and, if you have them, especially get your children vaccinated.

Once again I really want to highlight a fourth post here. In this case, it is the one I made about the Problem of Evil. This has forever been an issue that no Christian (or other relevant believer) has been able to resolve. If God is good and evil exists, then we need to answer why. Appealing to free will fails because while God is necessarily good, free will does not need to necessarily exist. In other words, God is required to be good; he is not required to create free will.

Expect October to December tomorrow.

Giberson gets it before Maloney

Karl Giberson is one of those insufferable BioLogos accommodationists who loves to make up stuff about New Atheists. He has recently offered up a sort of apology for his crappy rhetoric. This comes after Dan Dennett pointed out that his attacks make him a fibber for faith.

As I reflect on the various exchanges [via email with Dan Dennett], I see no evidence that religious believers are standing on any higher moral ground. The vilification of the New Atheists is accompanied by caricature, hyperbole, misprepresentation (sic) and a distinct lack of charity.

On the Answers in Genesis site, to take one example, Ken Ham published a report about the atheist that Christians love to hate entitled “Dawkins Ranting in Oklahoma.” The audience was described as “mind-numbed robots,” and Dawkins’ ideas were sarcastically dismissed as communications from “an extraterrestrial.” Anti-evolutionary religion sites across the Internet make similar claims. But not all the charged-up rhetoric is on the lowbrow backwaters of the Internet. A passage from the 2007 book “Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion,” compares Richard Dawkins to a “museum piece that becomes ever more interesting because, while everything else moves forward and changes, it remains the same.”

Alas, I have to confess to having authored the museum metaphor. It was a cheap shot and, while hardly the cheapest of all possible shots, it was probably about as cheap as could reasonably sail past the staid editors at the venerable Oxford University Press. Certainly my co-author, the late Father Mariano Artigas, would have objected to anything less charitable.

Confession, they say, is good for the soul. So Dan, I was a faith fibber. Sorry about that.

My only hope is that this doesn’t get confused as a call for unneeded civility. I always like to see substantial, cutting arguments that address issues; Giberson didn’t always do that, instead making up whatever about an entire group of diverse individuals who aren’t even held together via a common philosophy. But I think he could have let his language soar, a la Hitchens or Dawkins or Myers, and not been charged as a Faith Fibber by Dennett.

I have to confess that the temptation to ridicule one’s debating opponents is all but unbearable, especially when playing street hockey on the Internet, where one must shout to be heard. In the past few months I have tried hard to come up with clever rhetorical attacks on Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris, PZ Myers and countless others whose ideas I was supposedly challenging. PZ once wrote the following about me, which I thought was pretty clever: “I will have no truck with the perpetuation of fallacious illusions, whether honeyed or bitter, and consider the Gibersons of this world to be corruptors of a better truth.” Of course, I responded to his evangelistic assault on me by calling him “Rev. Myers” in an essay on Salon.com. And so it goes. (I recommend against verbal swordfights with PZ Myers — you can’t win.)

If only his rhetoric could soar to such levels.

But notice his use of “Rev. Myers”. My, oh my. Who else has done that?

Dear “Reverend” PZ Myers,

How fitting that, three hundred years later, the witch trials continue. If you recall, it was the herbalists that were burned then as well. Your flock has spoken to me, Reverend Myers, with the shrieking common to all fundamentalist cults. I believe if you check you will find that fundamentalism involves a closed mind while doing science requires an open mind. It also involves a thing they call research.

Yes, yes. Christopher Maloney.

Now I understand why Maloney refers to me as The Maine kid with an English degree who can’t read: his writing reads like a child’s and maybe he’s looking for (made-up) excuses why everyone else does so much better. Honestly. Aside from the fact that he has qualified that an English degree is unable to read (which I suppose is true), his rhetoric is about as strong as his medical background. But then he’s taken all sorts of homeopathic classes. Maybe that explains why the strength of his responses are so diluted?

At least Giberson has figured out how the Internet works.

Francis Collins

Francis Collins has a new book due out soon. Jerry Coyne has already covered it more interestingly than I can here, but this quote from Collins really got me.

The conclusion is astounding: if any of these [physical constants] were to vary by even the tiniest degree, a universe capable of sustaining any imaginable form of life would be impossible.

Having just read Victor Stenger’s New Atheism, I find Collins all the more annoying for bringing up this point. The fine-tuning argument is terrible enough just for the fact that it often takes the form of “But how is everything so well adapted to life?!”, but all of its creationist forms are awful. In Collins’ version, he’s assuming that the variance would be done to only one physical constant. In reality, physical constants are almost always dependent upon each other; the changing of one would mean the changing of them all. Collins’ argument is, then, incoherent.