Bigots on Parade

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 26, 2010 in Ethics,Guest Post

The ethical theory I currently defend is desirism. But I mostly write about moraltheory, so I rarely discuss the implications of desirism for everyday moral questions about global warming, free speech, politics, and so on. Today’s guest post applies desirism to one such everyday moral question. It is written by desirism’s first defender, Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist. (Keep in mind that questions of applied ethics are complicated and I do not necessarily agree with Fyfe’s moral calculations.)

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I saw some pictures of a group of people gathered to protest the construction of a Muslim community center in New York near “Ground Zero.” From there, they then marched to “Ground Zero.” When I saw pictures of the march, the words that came to my mind were, “Bigots On Parade.”

I can see no difference between this group of people gathering to protest this community center in New York and a group of white people gathering to protest the fact that a black family is trying to buy a lot and build a home in the neighborhood.

Fortunately, the Park51 Community Center protesters stopped short of burning crosses on the sidewalk in front of the proposed site of the Park51 complex.

Unfortunately, they carried out their acts of bigotry under an American flag. If they had brought Nazi flags or at least worn white hoods they would not have besmeared anybody’s good name. Those are far more fitting symbols for this type of bigotry than an American flag. While some might complain that the American flag has been a common symbol of bigotry, this does not change the fact that it should not be.

Some would argue that we should cut the bigoted protesters some slack – some even claim that we should turn a blind eye to their bigotry – because they went through a traumatic event, as if this somehow excuses injustice.

Let’s try that line of reasoning out and see how far it gets us.

Imagine this: A black family has purchased a lot with plans to build a house there and move in. Two blocks away from the lot, a black man went on a shooting spree in the park, killing a dozen or so citizens. Now some people protest the black family who want to build a house two blocks from the site of the killing spree.

Are we to believe the protestors are not bigots? An undercurrent of bigotry is required to even think that this black family that wants to move into the neighborhood is somehow connected to that mass killing. In the absence of bigotry, nobody would link the two events.

To go so far as to accuse the black family of being “insensitive” for planning to build the house adds insult onto insult. This is nothing less than a command to the victims of bigotry to pay homage to that bigotry – to kneel before the altar of bigotry and say that it is far more important than a person’s right to be judged by his or her own actions.

No person has any obligation to give respect to such sensitivities of bigots.

If the Park51 protesters wish to avoid the charge of bigotry, then I would recommend that they do so by not being bigots. They can easily avoid the charge of bigotry by judging the construction of a Muslim community center 2 blocks from the World Trade Center the same way they would judge the construction of a YMCA. Of course, they would not protest the latter, so if they were not bigots they would not be protesting the former, either.

As it turns out, some atheists are making valuable contributions to the rhetoric of bigotry. They think that they can somehow justify the mistreatment of all Muslims – indeed, the mistreatment of all theists – based on a principle of “moral sharing.”

On this principle, religious moderates deserve much of the blame for the actions of religious extremists because they cite the same holy book. Because the moderates hold as sacred a book from which the extremists draw their inspiration for acts of violence, the moderates share moral blame for those acts of violence.

I have a question.

Why is it that this moral sharing only goes one way?

If we are going to blame the charitable doctor who finds in scripture a commandment to help the poor and who spends untold hours in a free clinic for the acts of religious extremists, then to be fair we should also give the extremists moral credit for the acts of the charitable doctor.

It seems just as legitimate to claim that, on the principle of moral sharing, the religious extremist deserves much of the credit for the actions of the religiously moderate. Because the extremist holds as sacred a book from which the moderate draws inspiration for kindness and charity, the extremists must share in some of the moral credit for those acts of charity.

However, I, for one, have never heard a new atheist defend the inference where the religious extremist gets credit for the kind and charitable actions of the moderate. Instead, they always and only want to blame the moderate for the violent acts of the extremists.

I have another question.

What type of force can blind a person to the logical flaws in an argument that appears to justify looking down on a whole group of people and condemning all of them as morally inferior, but make strikingly clear the invalidity in that same argument when it goes the other direction and assigns moral credit to those who do not deserve it?

Bigotry works this way. These people have taken a conclusion that they like – the inferiority of all who believe in a God – and used this bigotry to decide if they will accept or reject arguments assigning condemnation or praise. “Moral sharing” is seen as legitimate when it is used as a reason to look down on a whole group of ‘THEM’ and to conceive of ‘THEM’ as the enemy. Yet, the same form of argument is seen to be invalid when applied in a way that gives ‘THEM’ any type of moral credit.

“Moral sharing” is actually just another word for bigotry. Each person needs to be judged on the quality of his or her own actions. If a physician finds in scripture a command to work in free clinics and aid the poor, this tells us something about the type of person he is that he should find that interpretation. And if another should find in scripture a reason to slaughter thousands of people, then that tells us what type of person HE is. Neither person’s character is made any better or any worse by the fact that the other person exists. If that other person should vanish from the planet, he or she is still the same type of person – the same quality of person – that he was the moment before.

In just the same way that we can tell the quality of a person by what he finds in scripture, we can also tell the quality of a person by the types of moral arguments they embrace that are independent of any scripture. When we see what type of non-religious arguments a person takes to be valid or invalid, that tells us something about his moral quality as well.

There is nothing about being an atheist that rules out the possibility of being a bigot.

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous August 26, 2010 at 7:42 am

That was very, very good. Very thought-provoking.

I have felt the temptation of what you so aptly call “moral sharing”. I see the terrible things that religion makes people do, and I can’t understand why its adherents aren’t ashamed to be associated with these hateful, violent people. When their holy books say such wretched things, and yet even the moderates venerate it as complete and pure and just, I find it hard not to ascribe some blame to all the adherents to some degree.

My error, however, is in ascribing so much fault to the religion. If not the Quran, then something else would help these people rationalise their actions. Violent video games don’t make you violent, and Islam doesn’t make you a suicidal psychopath. The “top-down” view (Religion is the cause of bad people) is an easy, but false, interpretation that ignores the completely chaotic process that is the development of a person.

I think these protesters are repugnant. And I’m sure there are more than a few atheists out there. If we want to be a society of freethinkers, then we must stop generalising, tying people to labels and thinking we know everything we need to.

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Ajayraju August 26, 2010 at 7:45 am

I think the difference between the BLACK and MUSLIM example here is as follows:

The 9/11 perpetrator did it in the name of ISLAM against AMERICA. The Muslims who are building the center share the concerns of the general muslim that America is on a unjust war in middle east and has bad foreign policies.

The black man did not do in the name of blackness, he just happens to be black. Instead of a black couple nearby imagine that the black shooter’s dad is the neighbour there and he doesnt necessarily condemn his son’s act and kind of indicates that what his son did is not terrible. wouldnt that be insensitive if he is seen by the victim’s family everyday smiling and laughing.

Does the above make sense?

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Emil Karlsson August 26, 2010 at 8:12 am

I agree, Islam is obviously identical to a specific ethnic group, and all criticisms against the negative effects of Islam on our society is racist.

I’m sorry, calling opponents “bigots” and “racists” is not an argument.

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lukeprog August 26, 2010 at 8:48 am

Emil,

No, calling people bigots is not an argument. It’s an insult. And Fyfe gave arguments to back up the legitimacy of his insult – his moral condemnation.

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Paul August 26, 2010 at 8:51 am

The closer analogy is if the black person killed white people while shouting “Black Power, Death to Whitey!” and the black family that wants to build a house is prominent in the civil rights movement.

You’d still bigoted to protest the building of the house.

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G'DIsraeli August 26, 2010 at 8:52 am

There is no problem criticizing Christians in general (In the name of there ideology) but when it comes to Muslims its bigotry? I think what is important is the grounds you generalize on are sound. It starts with the fact, that Islam is a religion not an ethnic group in itself.

Yep, you just technically lost (Godwin’s law) the debate ;)
Cheap analogies, we don’t need them to understand the gravity of an issue mister…
Never mind the Nazis, blacks are a racial group, Islam is a religion. You seem to confuse an ideology with actual people. Muslims are adherents of the religion of Islam, not an ethnic group.
The tolerance demanded should be addressed equally without the usual (usually religious, and now secular) hypocrisy.
Mister Feisal Abdul Rauf isn’t exactly a political secularist to say the least (visit http://www.cordobainitiative.org/ & read).

Critique of the protesters for being intolerant, while a center of intolerance is going to be built? To Support tolerance is one thing. There is a difference between biting the tongue and watching the mosque being built and actively supporting it (supporting intolerance).

A. Are only Muslims allowed to be offended?
B. Want more tolerance? Islam has no tolerance for building other religious establishments under its control. On grounds do they demand?

I think this should be a turning point about how the redundant emotions concerning Muslims should end. One standard for all, no more “I’m offended, stop that!”.

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lukeprog August 26, 2010 at 9:02 am

Paul,

Yes, good one.

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nate August 26, 2010 at 9:42 am

//Instead of a black couple nearby imagine that the black shooter’s dad is the neighbour there and he doesnt necessarily condemn his son’s act and kind of indicates that what his son did is not terrible. wouldnt that be insensitive if he is seen by the victim’s family everyday smiling and laughing.//

False. The builders of the mosque have condemned the attacks of 9/11.
“The events of 9/11 were horrific. What happened that day was terrorism, and it shames us that it was cloaked in the guise of Islam. It was inhumane, un-Islamic and is indefensible regardless of one’s religious persuasion. Not only Americans but also all Muslims are threatened by the lies and actions being perpetrated by these self-serving extremists and their perverted view of Islam.”
http://www.cordobainitiative.org/?q=content/frequently-asked-questions

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piero August 26, 2010 at 10:20 am

I wholly disagree with Alonzo here.

First, if Alonzo has the justified right to call me a bigot, then I too have the justified right to dislike muslims. After all, theirs is the most bigoted, irrational and downright stupid of the Abrahamic religions.

Second, muslims choose to be muslims, at least in America. Just as some people choose to be fascists, and some choose to be republicans. Would it be bigoted for me to say that fascists are despicable wankers? I don’t think so. Similarly, I don’t see the bigotry in claiming that I don’t like muslims: they have chosen to follow a faith I find abominable, and as such I don’t regard them as trustworthy people.

Third, the justification for building the community centre is at best dubious. Is it aimed at providing the muslim community with a new meeting place? Then it could have been built almost anywhere else, and with far less fanfare. Is it meant to foster ecumenical harmony? Then it is failing spectacularly.

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Reginald Selkirk August 26, 2010 at 11:26 am

Second, muslims choose to be muslims, at least in America.

This is true to only a slightly greater extent than people choose their parents.

Breakdown of US Muslims by race/ethnicity/country of origin

Wikipedia sez

Recent immigrant Muslims make up the majority of the total Muslim population. South Asians Muslims from India and Pakistan and Arabs make up the biggest group of Muslims in America at 60-65% of the population. Native-born American Muslims are mainly African Americans who make up a quarter of the total Muslim population. Many of these have converted to Islam during the last seventy years.

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Reginald Selkirk August 26, 2010 at 11:27 am

First, if Alonzo has the justified right to call me a bigot, then I too have the justified right to dislike muslims.

Hate the sin, not the sinner.

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Reginald Selkirk August 26, 2010 at 11:30 am

Third, the justification for building the community centre is at best dubious.

Who the fuck do you think you are that they need to justify their building plans to you? They own the land. It is up to you and your fellow bigots to prove why they shouldn’t be allowed to build whatever they want on that land, consistent with zoning requirements, building codes, and constitutional guarantees as to freedom of religion and freedom of assembly.

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Emil Karlsson August 26, 2010 at 11:36 am

lukeprog,

Just because a person morally condemn a group of people does not mean that this group is, in fact, bigots. That would be moral subjectivism and certainly not any form of moral realism. Also, eliminative materialism poses a serious threat for desirism if it turns out that desires are merely folk psychology. What was that about basing morality on things that actually exists?

You also did not attempt to defend the central false premise of comparing a religion with an ethnic group and criticism of that religion with racism. Could you even imagine someone calling criticism of Christianity racist? If a Christian theist discussed theism with you and you made an argument against his position, do you think a legitimate reply is to call you a racist?

Furthermore, the argument against religious moderates is being false characterized. The argument is not that “[R]eligious moderates deserve much of the blame for the actions of religious extremists because they cite the same holy book. Because the moderates hold as sacred a book from which the extremists draw their inspiration for acts of violence, the moderates share moral blame for those acts of violence”, but rather than since religious moderates often do not criticize religious extremists (how could they? The religious extremists take their shared holy scripture more seriously than they do) but demand respect for belief in iron age superstitions, this further shields the religious extremists from criticisms.

Did Fyfe even read Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith”? Or did he just go “this book appears to not contain a detailed presentation and discussion of formal philosophical arguments against god, so it must not be worth reading”?

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piero August 26, 2010 at 11:39 am

Reginald, calm down. For a start, I live exactly 8,427 miles away from Ground Zero, so obviously I do not expect anybody in New York to justify anything at all to me. This is a discussion on ethics, not on building plans.

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RA August 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm

There is one little problem with claiming that Muslims are not an ethnic group. That problem is that they are made up almost entirely of an ethnic group. And that ethnic group has a dark skin color. And the protesters are almost all white.

So you have elements of bigotry as well as a touch of racism.

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Eneasz August 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm

piero:

Third, the justification for building the community centre is at best dubious.

As Reginald says, they don’t have to justify a thing to you, or to anyone. They have just as much responsibility to give a justification as Glenn Beck has a responsibility to deny that he raped and killed a girl in 1990. http://www.examiner.com/liberal-in-anchorage/did-glenn-beck-rape-and-murder-a-young-girl-1990

I know this won’t make a bit of difference for anyone who’s already decided to destroy freedom and hate minorities, but at least we’ll now be able to point out they are liars when they say there’s no justification:
It is already a mosque. Another mosque four blocks from Ground Zero got full, and so they were having services since Sept 2009 at the Burlington Coat Factory — the site of the proposed new community center/mosque.

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Patrick August 26, 2010 at 1:19 pm

If you oppose the Cordoba House because of notions about an essential nature of Islamic belief and an essential nature of Islamic believers, and you reject the idea of actually looking at the ideology actually held by the actual people involved and actually looking at the character of the actual people involved…

…then you’re a bigot.

That’s the definition of “bigot.”

If you oppose the Cordoba House because you have specific problems with the specific ideology or people involved, then you’re not automatically a bigot. Of course, if the problems you have are false ones you got from demagogues, then you are either gullible, or gullible with a bigoted predisposition to believe slander about muslims, or a demagogue who knows damn well that he’s not telling the truth but who doesn’t care.

As it stands the people involved seem perfectly nice, and their interpretation of Islam is no more objectionable than any of the other religions we put up with in this country. If I could snap my fingers and turn them into atheists I would, but since I can’t, I don’t see a problem getting along with them and engaging with them like an adult.

I may think that their happy, friendly reading of the Koran is unsupported by the text, but that’s beside the point. I don’t know why I have to spell this out, but apparently I do:

If a sect believes Interpretation X of a holy text,
and I believe that Interpretation X is a poor reading,
and I believe that Interpretation Y is better,
and I believe that Interpretation Y is morally horrible,
then that does NOT mean that the members of that sect are believers in evil Interpretation Y.

That’s like so freaking obvious that I don’t know why people keep getting it wrong.

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piero August 26, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Reginald and Patrick:

It is quite amusing to see you bending over backwards in order to justify the unjustifiable. “A happy, friendly reading of the Koran”? Indeed. I have a friend who does a very happy, friendly reading of Mein Kampf, if you are interested. Oh, and I also have a bridge to sell.

Of course, what I think does not matter in the least. I have no way to stop the building, and even if I had I wouldn’t. Is that enough, or do I have to like muslims as well?

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Patrick August 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I don’t think its possible to come up with an anti-slavery reading of the Bible.

But if I claimed that all churches are monuments to slavery, I’d be a bigoted, blithering moron.

Meditate upon that, bigot.

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cl August 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm

The only thing I agree with is that subsets of any group acting inappropriately give the rest of that group a bad name to the rest of the world [and I am not making the sweeping generalization that all the opponents of the mosque are bigots, either].

My question for Luke and Alonzo is, how can you guys give us a post like this when you yourselves make bigoted statements about creationists? Don’t you think that’s hypocritical? Does anyone else think that’s hypocritical? I mean, granted, I don’t see you two out and about in vocal protest about the matter, but still.

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Brice August 26, 2010 at 3:10 pm

This topic is tough for me. I think whole heartedly that they should build the community center for obvious free speech reason. I think the people who are at those protests are for the most part idiots. They are Christians or whatever who can’t even look at the horrible stuff in their own religion. HOWEVER the argument seems to be that the community center will lead to terrorists. I just don’t can’t support that claim. If that was the case we would all be pretty fucked a long time ago.

To me the fight worth having is discussing and critiquing the religion itself and why people belief what they do. I admit that I think beliefs matter, and religion can lead people to do stupid things in the name of it. But hasn’t the atheist weapon always been separation of church and state? Let’s not ban religion lets just keep it out of the government, and the way we will lesson it’s impact is speak about it and hopefully through education people will stop believing? How is protesting the building of a community center for what will probably be moderate Muslims who won’t hurt a fly going to do?

Lets save our hatred for the religious who really deserve it right now. People like the Westborough Baptist Church.

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Welsh August 26, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Just a few general observations:
You’ve used the emotionally charged word “bigot” and conflated all of those who are against the building of the mosque as bigots.
You have not established that all positions opposing the community centre are bigoted. For instance: If one opposes the building of all religious establishments on the principal that they enable more extreme forms of belief, are you bigoted?
You may be correct in principal but by using such emotive language you’re sabotaging your chances of convincing those not already convinced.

A number of anti-Mosque arguments here have equated criticism of Christianity with protesting the building of a Mosque.
There is an important difference between these 2 positions: Critiquing a view point does not actively prevent a person or group from pursuing their other freedoms.
If we prove they are equivalent we will establish that both practices are unjustified. We would not justify either position.

Your ideas on moral sharing are very interesting, it seems a shame that the conversation has been derailed by so much inflammatory rhetoric.

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piero August 26, 2010 at 6:16 pm

patrick:

If you oppose the Cordoba House because of notions about an essential nature of Islamic belief and an essential nature of Islamic believers, and you reject the idea of actually looking at the ideology actually held by the actual people involved and actually looking at the character of the actual people involved…
…then you’re a bigot.
That’s the definition of “bigot.”

I don’t think its possible to come up with an anti-slavery reading of the Bible.

But if I claimed that all churches are monuments to slavery, I’d be a bigoted, blithering moron.

Meditate upon that, bigot.

Nice. I like your attitude. Pity about your arguments, though.

The first one is stupid. You cannot apply that standard unless you are prepared to do thousands upon thousands of in-depth interviews every time a matter of public policy is raised.

I don’t analyze “essences”, but behaviours. A muslim, by definition, believes that Mohammed was God’s prophet. Anyone who believes that deserves derision and contempt. If you can find a muslim who does not believe that then I wonder in what sense you would call him or her a muslim.

The second one is equally stupid. Most christians don’t read the Bible, so they have no idea what their faith commands them to believe. I happen to know a lot of good people who call themselves christians, but their faith boils down to a vague belief in some kind of pervading “energy” they call God, and a more or less consequent belief that we should “love one another”. I find that silly, but harmless. None of them would raise funds or be otherwise involved in a project to build a church. Those who are committed enough to participate in such a project whilst ignoring the central tenets of their faith I would safely dismiss as morons and avoid them like the plague.

Muslims, on the other hand, must read their holy book. Some of them understand it. Anyone who understands the Koran and still embraces it is incapable of rational thought and devoid of basic human decency, so I’d avoid him/her like the plague. Others do not understand it. Anyone who reads a book without understanding it and still embraces it is a moron and I’d avoid him/her like the plague.

Finally, there are people like you who do not understand or pretend not to understand these arguments. I can safely dismiss them too, for reasons even you could understand.

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ken August 26, 2010 at 7:55 pm

The premise is not quite the same. A black man moving into a predominantly white area does not equate to a person with an explicitly political ideology framed in religion, who unashamedly declares (written and verbalized into their doctrine) world domination as their goal. While political views may have routes toward particular ethnic, social and racial groups, one difference between ANY black man or immigrant to America versus Islamist, is that the Islamist will ALWAYS be Islamist first,….. American 2nd…or 3rd. The woman who recently and stupidly decided to put a cat in a rubbish bin for a few hours is currently and predictably threatened by animal lovers. However, many hundreds of animals in your country and mine have their throats cut (sometimes by the sidewalk) without stupification of the animal or threat of legal or public outcry towards the slaughterer.
In what can only be construed as a complete loss of any semblance of goodness and morality in the name of multi-cultural poison, the most advanced civilization on the world is sanctioning……clitorectomies.
It will not have the effect these nudnik do-gooders imagine. It will have just the opposite effect. Islamic misogyny will be given the seal of approval by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

On the face of it, the protestors can be villified, but there is more to their concerns, whether conscious or unconscious, than just the position of a mosque. Europe, i fear, is already lost. America may have a chance to stem the tide, if they see what Europe didn’t see coming.

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piero August 26, 2010 at 8:23 pm

RA:

There is one little problem with claiming that Muslims are not an ethnic group. That problem is that they are made up almost entirely of an ethnic group. And that ethnic group has a dark skin color. And the protesters are almost all white.

So you have elements of bigotry as well as a touch of racism.

This has to be the stupidest argument on this thread. I’ll try to type as slowly as I can, so that even you can understand why it is stupid, OK?

People come in different shapes, sizes and colours. Geography being what it is, and heredity being what it is, people tend to form racially homogeneous communities.

In the absence of wireless communication, ideas spread radially, and so it is to be expected that their spread will encompass racially homogeneous populations. Had muslims succeeded in their drive to conquer Europe, we would now have a greater racial diversity amongst them, but as a matter of fact they failed.

Does all this mean that criticizing Islam is equivalent to racism? Of course not. On the contrary, I believe your attitude to be patronizing and racist: is brown skin a licence to be an idiot? Are brown-skinned people somehow less than fully human, so that us “whities” have to excuse their weird beliefs?

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AlonzoFyfe August 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm

The alleged distinction between an ethnic group and a religion is irrelevant.

A derogatory overgeneralization remains an derogatory overgeneralization regardless of whether one is making derogatory overgeneralizations about a religion or an ethic group.

If one could demonstrate that all Muslims believed exactly the same thing and that this thing they all believed was worthy of condemnation, then one would have a reason to condemn all Muslims.

However, the bigotry I write about is the bigotry of taking something true of a subset of Muslims and claiming all are guilty – which is exactly the same type of crime as taking something true of a subset of blacks and claiming it is true of all blacks.

If this distinction had any merit, there could never be any discrimination or prejudice against atheists, because atheists certainly are not an ethnic group. Yet, any time somebody makes a derogatory overgeneralization about atheists, then this IS bigotry.

I suspect the people making comments here would recognize it as such.

If the bigot should try to defend himself by saying, “My derogatory overgeneralizations about atheists do not represent bigotry because atheists are not an ethnic group,” they would instant recognize that this does not matter. It does not matter what TYPE of group is the victim of your derogatory overgeneralizations. Derogatory overgeneralizations across any type of group represents bigotry.

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piero August 26, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Alonzo:

Could you give an example of a derogatory overgeneralization about atheists that actually has some evidential support?

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piero August 26, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Alonzo:

Also, I am not claiming that racism is the only possible form of bigotry, and hence I agree that “I am not a bigot because Islam is not a race” is a weak argument. Nevertheless, I’d take issue with this statement of yours:

However, the bigotry I write about is the bigotry of taking something true of a subset of Muslims and claiming all are guilty – which is exactly the same type of crime as taking something true of a subset of blacks and claiming it is true of all blacks.

I said in an earlier post that in order to be a muslim you have to believe that Mohammed was God’s prophet, and that given Mohammed’s moral fiber that belief was either a mark of utter stupidity or a mark of utter wickedness. Since no muslim can deny that Mohammed was God’s prophet, how can this belief be construed as “something true of a subset of muslims” only?

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Ajayraju August 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm

In any case, no one is denying the legal and constitutional right for the structure to be built. So, is the issue now simply that the christian groups have no right to protest and they should not?

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G'DIsraeli August 26, 2010 at 11:33 pm

AlonzoFyfe,

Let me make my position clear, I don’t oppose a mosque being built near ground zero. I said this before a few times.
Criticism of Islam is not bigotry (prejudice & intolerance of differing ideas and beliefs) or racism & I think the analogies are cheap. Muslims are not blacks, its not a intrinsic attribute (like skin color) which could be criticized. What unifies Muslims are there basic beliefs in the Quran and tenets of Islam.
It’s correct that overgeneralize (Hasty generalization) Muslims on the acts of a few, is invalid. Yet you can generalize and critique part of/most/all Muslims on the basis of good reasoning. The question is if the generalization is a justified one or invalid (overgeneralize).
Take this as a side comment.

Yet it is purely hypocritical to consider the emotional offense Muslims feel on certain occasions, and not the local New-Yorkers, that’s my whole point.
I simply do not understand people who hate themselves.

And how can Muslims demand this, while a very basic belief in there religion is that no other religion under its control should build its establishments (the debate is ongoing about if they can repair them or not after damage).

How all this hypocrisy is possible without pointing it out?

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AlonzoFyfe August 27, 2010 at 4:35 am

Ajayraju

In any case, no one is denying the legal and constitutional right for the structure to be built. So, is the issue now simply that the christian groups have no right to protest and they should not?

This is not the issue. The Christian groups (and they are NOT just ‘Christian groups’) have a free-speech right to protest even if they are wrong to do so.

piero

Could you give an example of a derogatory overgeneralization about atheists that actually has some evidential support?

“Could you give an example of a round square”. An “overgeneralization” is, by definition, a generalization that exceeds evidential support.

But, you are changing the subject. I am talking about THIS PROTEST against THIS STRUCTURE and the reasons that THESE PROTESTERS are giving for their actions.

The fact that I can think of possible cases in which killing somebody would be justified would not be an argument against the claim that THIS KILLING (given some hypothetical killing) is a murder.

I said in an earlier post that in order to be a muslim you have to believe that Mohammed was God’s prophet, and that given Mohammed’s moral fiber that belief was either a mark of utter stupidity or a mark of utter wickedness. Since no muslim can deny that Mohammed was God’s prophet, how can this belief be construed as “something true of a subset of muslims” only?

I can think of an infinite number of ways around this, from claiming that some of the assertions made about Mohammed are not true to a conscious decision to use the Koran as a starting point and intentionally throw out the things that one things are mistaken.

You may then want to claim that none of these would be “true Islam”, but then you would be committing the “no true Scottsman” fallacy and grounding our conclusions on invalid reasoning.

However, all of that is beside the point.

If these were the reasons for the protest then these are the claims that the protesters should be making. Furthermore, they would provide no reason to single out Park 51 – they are equally valid against the construction of any mosque anywhere in the world.

The reason the protests are signaling out this structure at this location is because they are holding all Muslims responsible for the crime of 9/11 – yet it is a crime of which a substantial portion of them are not guilty.

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Alonzo Fyfe August 27, 2010 at 6:08 am

G’DIsraeli

Criticism of Islam is not bigotry.

True.

That is absolutely true and I almost feel insulted that you would want to charge me with being so stupid that I did not know this.

I criticize Islam constantly. Not too long ago on this very blog I defended Draw Mohammed Day – because the criticisms made in that protest were legitimate criticisms.

I have also said that scripture represents the superstitions and prejudices of primative cultures that were as ignorant of the moral facts as they were of the physical laws of nature, and that it is morally irresponsible for anybody to try to justify violence (including the passing of laws) by appeal to any sort of scripture.

So, where do you get the idea that I consider the criticism of Islam to be bigotry?

In this post, I argue that THESE criticisms – those being employed in this protest – are NOT legitimate criticisims. They represent the types of derogatory overgeneralizations that define bigotry.

And the same objection applies to the doctrine now popular among many atheists of “moral sharing.”

Only a bigot would accept these arguments as valid.

This does not imply that legitimate criticisms do not exist – any more than the fact that a person has a stupid reason for believing a plane will crash (it said so in my horroscope) does not imply that somebody else can come up with legitimate reasons for believing that the plane will crash (we have found fatigue cracks on the left wing that will cause the wing to break off).

You are arguing against a position that exists in your own imagination. You won’t find it anywhere in what I wrote.

Criticism of Islam grounded on true premises and employing sound reasoning is NOT bigotry.

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Reginald Selkirk August 27, 2010 at 6:08 am

piero: Reginald, calm down….

In which it is somehow my fault that you said something colossally stupid.

piero: Reginald and Patrick: It is quite amusing to see you bending over backwards in order to justify the unjustifiable…

Where the fuck does this come from? I thought we had already established that the Park51 muslims have no need to justify anything to you. I have tried to justify nothing more than freedom of religion. You are backsliding, and unwilling to own up to the fact that you made stupid arguments.

ken: In what can only be construed as a complete loss of any semblance of goodness and morality in the name of multi-cultural poison, the most advanced civilization on the world is sanctioning……clitorectomies.
It will not have the effect these nudnik do-gooders imagine. It will have just the opposite effect. Islamic misogyny will be given the seal of approval by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Hey ken, you might want to bone up on your facts.

2) The American Academy of Pediatrics did recently issue a policy statement in support of “pricking” as a relatively harmless substitute for female genital mutilation. After a voluminous and spirited backlash, they reversed themselves and retracted that statement.

1) Female Genital Mutilation is not an Islamic practice. It is a cultural practice found in certain regions of Africa and crosses lines of religion.
Female Circumcision in Sudan: Future Prospects and Strategies for Eradication

Female circumcision is not associated with any one religious group. It is practiced by Muslims, Christians, Jews and members of indigenous African religions.7 Some Sudanese believe that Islam supports female circumcision, although Muslim theologians state that there is no explicit support for the practice in the Koran.

Try harder.

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Reginald Selkirk August 27, 2010 at 6:12 am

ajayraju: In any case, no one is denying the legal and constitutional right for the structure to be built. So, is the issue now simply that the christian groups have no right to protest and they should not?

Yes, they have the right to protest, but if the reasons for opposing the mosque (some expressed by Christians, some by atheists or other non-Christians) are both stupid and un-American, we certainly have the right to point that out.

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other eric August 27, 2010 at 7:01 am

piero – “Anyone who understands the Koran and still embraces it is incapable of rational thought and devoid of basic human decency…”

holy… what? seriously? …huh?

i mean, i dislike the ideology of islam as much as the next atheist, but the prevalence of this kind of sentiment, in western culture especially, right now reveals to me how vulnerable the muslims in our communities are and how they may be more in need of defence from this type of dogmatic hatred than criticism for their ideological faults.

piero, if you could see and correct the bigotry of your expressions against muslims you might find us back on your side, condemning islam together in a productive and reasonable manner. which is certainly where i’d rather be.

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piero August 27, 2010 at 7:13 am

Alonzo:

“Could you give an example of a round square”. An “overgeneralization” is, by definition, a generalization that exceeds evidential support.

Nope. I was using “overgeneralization” in the sense you attributed to it. I said muslims, by definition, believe that Mohammed was God’s prophet, and I characterized this as an immoral belief. You claimed this was an “overgeneralization.” In that case, you should provide an example of a muslim who does not recognize Mohammed as God’s prophet or show that Mohammed is not an immoral role model.

I can think of an infinite number of ways around this, from claiming that some of the assertions made about Mohammed are not true to a conscious decision to use the Koran as a starting point and intentionally throw out the things that one things are mistaken.

I can find a million ways around it too. That’s not the point. Can you find muslims who circumvent the difficulty in one of those infinite ways? Can you find and quote a statement by a muslim declaring that the assertions made about Mohammed are false?

The reason the protests are signaling out this structure at this location is because they are holding all Muslims responsible for the crime of 9/11 – yet it is a crime of which a substantial portion of them are not guilty.

Talking about overgeneralization! I do not hold all muslims responsible for 9/11. I hold muslim responsible for their weird beliefs.

Furthermore, they would provide no reason to single out Park 51 – they are equally valid against the construction of any mosque anywhere in the world.

Precisely.

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RA August 27, 2010 at 8:04 am

Piero,

Actually, this was the most stupid argument:

Similarly, I don’t see the bigotry in claiming that I don’t like muslims: they have chosen to follow a faith I find abominable, and as such I don’t regard them as trustworthy people.

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Eneasz August 27, 2010 at 8:10 am

piero, I suspect you are now defending an indefensible position simply because you do not want to be seen backing down. No one expects you to apologize and recant, but at the very least you may want to take a couple days to think on what you’ve said.

In that case, you should provide an example of a muslim who does not recognize Mohammed as God’s prophet or show that Mohammed is not an immoral role model.

Here’s a very secular muslim, and a public figure at that. There’s many others like him. (starts at 4:40)
http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-august-25-2010/tennessee-no-evil

I happen to know a lot of good people who call themselves christians, but their faith boils down to a vague belief in some kind of pervading “energy” they call God, and a more or less consequent belief that we should “love one another”. I find that silly, but harmless.

It is impossible to honestly believe there are no muslims who feel exactly the same way and still be intelligent enough to write in coherent paragraphs. You are therefore a liar and a bigot. Go troll somewhere else.

Muslims, on the other hand, must read their holy book. Some of them understand it. Anyone who understands the Koran and still embraces it is incapable of rational thought and devoid of basic human decency…

Jews must read their holy book. Some of them understand that it directs them to put to death anyone who claims to be god. Therefore they are all Christ-Killers. Right?

You are deranged.

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Alonzo Fyfe August 27, 2010 at 8:18 am

I was using “overgeneralization” in the sense you attributed to it.

Does your theory of interpretation have an explanation as to why I would use the term “overgeneralization” rather than “generalization” – because the sense you assign to me does not seem to recognize a distinction between the two.

You may have defined Islam in terms of “Mohammed was God’s prophet,” but there is no law of nature that says that others must accept your dictates on this matter. There are people who call themselves Jews who do not believe in God and “Christians” who do not think that Jesus was anybody other than an ancient philosopher whose teachings they happen to greatly respect.

I suspect there are people using the term “Muslim” in ways that do not conform to your definition. I certainly see no reason to rule out the possibility.

Can you find and quote a statement by a muslim declaring that the assertions made about Mohammed are false?

Your “by definition” argument would have to make a stronger claim than this. There is a difference between saying, “There are no black swans” and “No swan is black by definition.” The former says that I cannot find a black swan. The latter says that the very idea of a black swan is incoherent.

Talking about overgeneralization! I do not hold all muslims responsible for 9/11. I hold muslim responsible for their weird beliefs.

Nothing that I wrote says or implies that you do.

If you are not using your arguments to protest the specific fact that Park 51 is being built too close to the World Trade Center, then my generalizations do not apply to you.

I am writing about support for the specific conclusion that this Muslim center is being built too close to the World Trade Center building, an attitude that can only be explained in terms of holding all Muslims responsible for 9/11. If you are not supporting that specific conclusion, then my post does not apply to you.

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Ralph August 27, 2010 at 10:32 am

“But if I claimed that all churches are monuments to slavery, I’d be a bigoted, blithering moron.”

No. You will just be an idiot.

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Ralph August 27, 2010 at 10:57 am

Hypothetical: “A subset of the Nazi Party plans to build its headquarters near the gas chambers in Auschwitz. (sufi) Said Nazi Party Subset does not believe in discriminating against Jews but still believes them to be inferior.(House of Islam versus House of War) It is fairly well known that a book of the Nazi Party instructs its members to lie to promote their beliefs and spread their brand of government (taqiyya/sharia). Let’s further hypothesize that the Nazi Party tends to build its headquarters on top of conquered land (mosques over church rubble).

Question: Would the Jews be bigots if they protest this building?”

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Alonzo Fyfe August 27, 2010 at 11:49 am

Ralph

Question: Would the Jews be bigots if they protest this building?” Ralph

It depends on what they were protesting and why.

You introduced two confounding variables in this example that distinguish it from Park 51.

(1) The first confounding issue is that you speak of THE Nazi Party, suggesting that you are talking about a single entity. A closer example would be if you spoke instead about “a group of socialists.” However, once we make this change we can see that the claims are at risk of being bigoted. It would be wrong to condemn all socialists for the crimes of the National Socialists of 1930s Germany.

If it were The Taliban wanting to build Park 51, I would not have written a post such as this. The Taliban are, in fact, culpable in the destruction of the World Trade Center and there is no derogatory overgeneralization involved in saying so.

(2) The second counfounding issue is that you introduced specific beliefs of the organization in question that provide legitimate reasons to condemn them. If people condemning Park 51 had done so based on the actual deeds and actions of the individuals involved in constructing it, then my arguments would not have applied.

I read the articles in which people began to protest the construction of this center and none of them mention any specific fact about the group wanting to construct it other than “they are Muslim.”

If the protests were grounded on facts specific to the group wishing to build the Park 51 complex, then my criticisms would not be applicable.

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piero August 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm

other eric:

holy… what? seriously? …huh?

Eneasz:

You are deranged.

I’m sorry if I’ve shocked you. Before you execute me, however, I’d like to present my discharges.

First, I am in no way advocating discrimination against muslims. I just happen to dislike their beliefs, just as I dislike scientologists’ beliefs. If I said I wouldn’t vote for a muslim for public office, I’d certainly be called a bigot by you, Alonzo and others. If I said instead that I wouldn’t vote for a scientologist or a creationist for public office no-one would raise an eyebrow. Why?

Second,I’m not singling out muslims for special condemnation. When I said that understanding and embracing the Koran was symptomatic of a lack of human decency, I could have made an exact parallel with my assessment of William Lane Craig: in his website he offers a long-winded justification for the massacre of children. Anyone who is capable of putting forward such arguments is not going to get any respect from me. As you see, If I am a bigot at least I am an ecumenical one.

Third, I know there are muslims who go about their daily life without giving religion much thought, just like many jews and christians. A simple thought experiment, however, will suffice to establish some marked distinctions. You of course rememember the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and its aftermath. Now, suppose instead that a muslim writer had published a novel which christians found offensive, and suppose further that the pope had put a bounty on his head. Can you imagine what the reaction of the West would have been? Well, we got nothing like that from the muslim world. Yes there must be some moderate muslims, but they are either too few to count, or too scared to protest, or both. In either case, the chances that a muslim would turn out to be a decent human being are quite a bit smaller than the equivalent chances for jews and christians.

I rest my case. Shoot me.

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Keith August 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I’m not sure it’s correct to say that some atheists actually blame moderate Muslims for extremists’ acts. I don’t imagine that any atheist would, for instance, recommend that moderate Muslims share the punishment for these acts.

Instead, atheists are blaming the religious tradition itself, and the way it functions as a cultural phenomenon in Muslim societies.

Here’s an analogy: a certain virus kills a small number of people every year. However, the same virus lies dormant in most of the population without doing any harm, and it gets passed from generation to generation in this manner.

Should we blame the virus-caused deaths on the rest of the population which, after all, hosts the virus, thereby allowing it to continue from one generation to another? Of course not. Instead, we can blame the virus itself, and the way in which it has taken advantage of the population. And we can also seek ways to remove the virus from the population so that it ceases to cause deaths.

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Alonzo Fyfe August 27, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Piero

Yep. Here is where I would make the charge of bigotry.

Yes there must be some moderate muslims, but they are either too few to count, or too scared to protest, or both. In either case, the chances that a muslim would turn out to be a decent human being are quite a bit smaller than the equivalent chances for jews and christians.

If every atheist, for example, were to turn out to be a moral monster, I would demand the right to be judged for my beliefs and not be blamed for what every other atheist is doing.

Every one of us can be put in an infinite number of groups. If that infinite number of groups. We can be grouped according to place of birth, age, height, weight, hobbies, schools attended, political affiliations, types of cars we drive (if we drive), marital status.

With every group, we can evaluate a “percent chance that a G-member will turn out to be a decent human being.”

Each group will have a different percentage. Some will be high. Some will be low.

At least one group will necessarily have a score that is higher than all the rest. I will call this group a person’s G-group. Your G-group is the group that you belong to that has the least chance of its members being a decent person.

We all have a G-group. Every one of us.

So, if we are going to condemn people for having a G-group for which “the chances that a member of G-group would turn out to be a decent human being are quite small,” then we are going to have to condemn everybody. None of us are innocent. We all have a G-group.

Or, instead, we can judge people by their own actions and ignore the fact that each of us has this G-group out there somewhere.

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cl August 27, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Alonzo Fyfe,

A derogatory overgeneralization remains an derogatory overgeneralization regardless of whether one is making derogatory overgeneralizations about a religion or an ethic group.

I agree. So why do you make derogatory overgeneralizations about creationists? Don’t you find that the least bit hypocritical?

…the bigotry I write about is the bigotry of taking something true of a subset of Muslims and claiming all are guilty – which is exactly the same type of crime as taking something true of a subset of blacks and claiming it is true of all blacks.

Yes, I agree, but that’s precisely the type of bigotry you exude against creationists. You practice exactly what you condemn, Alonzo, how can you not see it?

Derogatory overgeneralizations across any type of group represents bigotry.

Yes, so, won’t you confess your bigotry against creationists now? Is it really that hard to say something like, “Okay, maybe I overstepped my bounds there, not all creationists apprehend their beliefs in a way that leads to death and maiming?”

Welsh,

You’ve used the emotionally charged word “bigot” and conflated all of those who are against the building of the mosque as bigots. You have not established that all positions opposing the community centre are bigoted.

I was thinking the same thing.

piero,

Anyone who believes that deserves derision and contempt.

I think Patrick may have been correct about you being a bigot – you’re going off in this thread! I know people who believe that that do not deserve derision or contempt. There are some people with that belief who more or less keep to themselves so your sweeping generalization is silly. It’s actually scary. That you react so strongly to them testifies to the power they have over you.

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Ralph August 27, 2010 at 1:38 pm

“Yes, I agree, but that’s precisely the type of bigotry you exude against creationists. You practice exactly what you condemn, Alonzo, how can you not see it?”

Can you give an example, cl? I know I have made derogatory comments about creationist precisely because they ARE creationists – but that’s not an over-generalization. Example: “YEC are too fanatic about their devotion to the Bible that they ignore common sense and evidence.” is not an over-generalization. By logical extension a YEC would have to ignore common sense and evidence to sustain his beliefs.

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cl August 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Ralph,

Truth be told, I think we’ve all probably made a bigoted statement at some point in our lives, because we’re all human.

Can you give an example, cl?

Oh, I’d be more than happy to. Give me some time so I can cobble it all together – with actual links to statements – as opposed to search results or anything else vague. Check back later…

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piero August 27, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Alonzo:

Thank you for giving me a rational answer rather than an emotional one. Unfortunately, I do not find it convincing. Try as I may, I can find no group I belong to which would make me more more likely to condone the murder of a novelist for religious reasons. I accept that we all have a G-group, but not all G-groups are equal.

Besides, since we cannot possibly meet everybody on earth in person, we are forced to judge on the basis of avowed beliefs. You did this yourself when you named your article Bigots on parade, and everybody here does the same when referring to creationists, scientologists and mormons. Why the free pass for muslims?

Commenting on The bell curve, Chomsky pointed out that statistics offer no basis to judge individuals, and I fully agree. That’s why I expressed myself in probabilistic terms, not personal ones.

Everybody else:

I don’t mind being called deranged, an arsehole, a monster or a bigot. I would, however, appreciate supporting arguments to prop up the epithets. For example, I wonder if anyone can rebut my thought experiment: if the pope had put a bounty on a muslim writer for offences against christianity, what would the West’s reaction have been? Why did muslim countries and muslim communities in the West (Cat Stevens comes to mind) not react in the same fashion when Salman Rushdie was condemned to death? I would also be grateful if someone could explain to me why scientologists and creationists are not awarded the same respect muslims are.

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piero August 27, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Ralph:

Example: “YEC are too fanatic about their devotion to the Bible that they ignore common sense and evidence.” is not an over-generalization. By logical extension a YEC would have to ignore common sense and evidence to sustain his beliefs.

My version:

Example: “Muslims are too fanatic about their devotion to the Koran that they ignore common sense and evidence.” is not an over-generalization. By logical extension a muslim would have to ignore common sense and evidence to sustain his/her beliefs.

Can you explain the difference between these two statements (other than the addition of “/her”?

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Ralph August 28, 2010 at 7:10 am

@piero

Muslims cover the whole spectrum of believers. I don’t know if each one would have to ignore common sense and evidence to sustain his/her beliefs. A YEC, on the other hand, by definition, believes in something that runs counter to every evidence offered.

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piero August 28, 2010 at 8:18 am

Ralph:

I am not sure muslims cover the whole spectrum of believers. Some posters on this thread have suggested that some muslims, like some jews, might not even believe in god. I find that laughable: what’s the point of calling anybody a muslim who is actually an atheist? Alonzo took issue with my definition of a muslim as someone who believes that Mohammed was God’s prophet; but then what criterion should we use to identify a muslim? Anybody can call himself or herself whatever they want, of course; I can call myself a mormon. Is that a reasonable way to define what a muslim is? Should we call a fishbowl a swimming pool because a fish swims in it? In any case, muslims who do not believe Mohammed was God’s prophet are unlikely to be involved in the building of mosques, and if they are their cognitive dissonance has reached the level of imbecility.

If anybody can be anything, then we can say nothing. Let’s say I called myself a YEC, but I did not believe the Earth was created by God. Should we then include non-creationists in the concept of a YEC?

So, if we are going to be able to speak at all, we must draw some boundaries.

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Ralph August 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm

“I am not sure muslims cover the whole spectrum of believers.”

The thing is, they really do. One can be a muslim even if one sanitizes everything that one can find in the hadiths or the Quran. One can argue that these muslims really do provide cover for the more extreme elements of their faith but that’s a whole different argument altogether.

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piero August 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Ralph:

The point is that I was accused of bigotry because I disliked muslims, and the justification for that judgement was, basically, that some muslims are not muslims, in the sense I understand the word. So, I reject the accusation of bigotry because it is based on a semantic game.

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MichaelPJ August 28, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Piero:

Okay, so you say you don’t like Muslims. I think the response has been that you take “Muslim” to indicate something stronger than what everyone else does. In fact it sounds like what you mean by “Muslim” is what we would mean by “Muslim fundamentalist”. Now, in the case of the Cordoba initiative, it is pretty dubious whether, by your definition, any “Muslims” are involved at all. Hence your dislike of “Muslims” is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. If the Cordoba centre was being built by Muslim fundamentalists, then I think there would be considerably more ground for objection. But it isn’t!

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MichaelPJ August 28, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Also, you seem to suggest that the Muslims who are not “Muslims” are just fools who can’t see the implications of their beliefs. As an atheist, I may even agree with you, but I do not believe that this is sufficient grounds to object to the building of the centre, since otherwise you would also be obliged to oppose the construction of every church or other religious building anywhere.

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piero August 28, 2010 at 9:59 pm

MichaelPJ:

As I’ve said before, I live more than 8,000 miles from New York, so whether I object to the building of the centre or not makes no difference at all.

By Muslim I do not mean a Muslim fundamentalist; I mean somebody who believes that Mohammed was God’s prophet, and hence a role model. By Christian I do not mean a Bible literalist; I mean somebody who believes that Jesus was the son of God and hence a role model. I do not think any other definitions are useful.

It is extremely unlikely than no Muslims (in my sense) are involved in the Park51 project. For a start, if Feisal Abdul Rauf did not believe Mohammed was God’s prophet, I doubt he would get any financial support from Saudi Arabia, or any other Islamic country, for that matter.

I do oppose the construction of religious buildings anywhere: religious communities have a right to build places of worship wherever it is legal, and I have the right to oppose them. This particular religious building, however, is less palatable than most, and for a simple reason: Feisal Abdul Rauf is not an idiot, and he knew perfectly well what the reaction would be. This is not a building project, but a deliberate, calculated provocation. Why intelligent people such as Alonzo, Eneasz, Reginald, etc. fail to see this is beyond me. Even further beyond me is the fact that so far I have received from them neither a valid argument that would justify calling me a bigot, nor an apology.

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cl August 29, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Ralph,

You asked for statements from Fyfe that I believe constitute anti-creationist bigotry. To keep it easy, I limited my citations to a single post of his. I think the following statements certainly qualify per Fyfe’s criteria as delineated in this thread:

Electing a young-earth creationist to make laws is as foolish as getting into a car driven by a drunk… a character trait that defines young-earth creationists is a character trait that people generally have reason to discourage through condemnation because that trait leads to death and maiming… The character trait I looked at is a willingness to blind oneself to evidence. The evidence for evolution and for the Earth being over 4 billion years old is so overwhelming that only a person with a morally irresponsible disposition to ignore evidence would not accept it. Assuming only that he has the mental faculties that would qualify him as a moral agent. THIS is the post in which I say that what a young earth creationist believes itself contributes to death and maiming. [Alonzo Fyfe, Immorality and Young Earth Creationism, 10-1-2009]

IMO, it is undeniable that those are derogatory overgeneralizations made about all members of a group. Why are so many people here – people ostensibly committed to fairness and reason and logic and rationalism – apparently willing to overlook this?

To those who deny that Fyfe’s aforementioned statements constitute bigotry, would you change your mind if we were to switch “young-Earth creationist” with “atheist?” Would there be any distaste whatsoever for such an across-the-board overgeneralization about atheists?

piero,

Feisal Abdul Rauf is not an idiot, and he knew perfectly well what the reaction would be. This is not a building project, but a deliberate, calculated provocation. Why intelligent people such as Alonzo, Eneasz, Reginald, etc. fail to see this is beyond me.

Do you have evidence or a valid argument to sustain your claim? Else, why shouldn’t I suspect that your anti-Muslim prejudice is guiding your assessments of reality?

Even further beyond me is the fact that so far I have received from them neither a valid argument that would justify calling me a bigot, nor an apology.

Do you really need them to lay out syllogisms for you? I mean, come on. Re-read your comments. Just as you say “Christian” should refer to somebody who believes that Jesus was the son of God, I say “bigot” should refer to anyone who makes derogatory overgeneralizations about all members of a group. Here, in this thread, that’s you [among others]. You imply that your accusers might owe you an apology; methinks you might need to retract the bigoted statements.

However, you will certainly get my support when you allege that Fyfe and others are pleading specially, as I’ve heard them make bigoted statements about creationists plenty of times. Why they seem to draw the line at Muslims puzzles me, too.

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MichaelPJ August 29, 2010 at 2:56 pm

cl:

Okay, that is a bit strong from Alonzo, and perhaps he should tone it down a little, but I think there is still a relevant difference.

Compare:
a) All Muslims are terrorists/terrorist sympathisers.
b) All YECs exhibit a worrying tendency to ignore the evidence when it suits them.

In a), the fact of someone being a Muslim does not obviously require one to be a terrorist sympathiser. As some people have suggested, you might take a very liberal interpretation.
In b), the very fact of being a YEC entails that you believe at least one thing: the earth was created 6000 years ago (or so). Now, while there might be some YECs who have simply not been exposed to the contrary evidence, the context of Alonzo’s quote was YECs as lawmakers, so let’s assume that all the YECs in question have had access to all the evidence. In that case, it seems as though they must exhibit a worrying tendency to ignore that evidence. So b) is perhaps justifiable on the grounds of what it IS to be a YEC.

Now, I can already feel piero’s ears perking up. Surely being a Muslim entails that you believe Muhammad was God’s prophet? And hence that you are committed to all the unpleasant things that might follow from that.
Now, my response is just that many Muslims don’t follow their thought through like that, or they come up with some other interpretation of the Qu’ran. Now, I would agree that this probably makes them epistemically irresponsible, but as an atheist, I think that charge could be extended to all theists.

However, the epistemic irresponsibility does block the immorality judgement. They may be fools, but they aren’t necessarily bad people.

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piero August 29, 2010 at 3:34 pm

cl:

My position is diametrically opposed to yours. I find no bigotry in Alonzo’s dismissal of young-Earth creationists, simply because it is true their belief implies a “morally irresponsible disposition to ignore evidence”. Unless you are prepared to argue that the evidence concerning the age of the Earth is unreliable or false, I don’t see how you could deny that.

Substituting “atheist” for “creationist” in Alonzo’s statement yields nonsense; if your intention was to establish an analogy, I’m afraid it doesn’t work. What possible grounds would there be to charge atheists with “a disposition to blind oneself to evidence”? About the only thing that could justifiably be said about atheists as a group is that they do not believe there is a god. Hardly news, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I re-read my comments, and found no justification for calling me a bigot. As you well said, a bigot is “anyone who makes derogatory overgeneralizations about all members of a group.” The important part is the “over” in “overgeneralization.” Would it be bigotry to claim that “child rapists are dangerous to children”? No. Neither is claiming that someone who adopts a morally despicable role model is morally despicable.

I was careful to define Muslim as someone who adopts Mohammed as his/her role model. I happen to think that there is enough evidence to describe Mohammed as an abhorrent role model. Perhaps someone could have rebutted my dismissal of Muslims by proving that Mohammed was in fact a splendid (or at least a neutral) role model, but nobody did. Instead, I was accused of bigotry because not all Muslims adopt Mohammed as a role model. That’s silly: if someone does not adopt Mohammed as a role model, then he/she falls outside the scope of my definition, and hence my dismissal does not apply. I wouldn’t even call him or her a Muslim at all.

We can argue whether my definition is the best or the only possible one. I happen to think it is a useful one. I remember a debate where Hitchens complained about the slipperiness of Christians when asked direct questions, like “Do you believe in the virgin birth?”, and he described the usual replies a “Monty-Pythonesque”: “Well, it’s all a bit of a metaphor, really…” Is it possible to have a debate with someone whose ideas are so fuzzy as to be unassailable? I don’t think so, and that’s why I defined Christian as someone who believes that Jesus was the son of God, and Muslim as someone who believes that Mohammed was God’s prophet.

Concerning Park51, I find it very hard to believe that those involved are Muslims of the Monty-Pythonesque denomination. People who do not care much about the divine are not usually involved in the building of places of worship. But even if they were, the whole exercise reeks of provocation for political gain.

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piero August 29, 2010 at 4:07 pm

MichaelPJ:

My ears were perking up all right!

I don’t mind epistemic irresponsibility, as you so aptly named the phenomenon. Indeed, the more epistemically irresponsible a believer is, the better. Islam, however, presents a unique problem in this sense. Most Muslims do not speak Arabic, so they haven’t the faintest idea of what they believe in, except through the interpretation of their religious leaders (think Christians before the Bible was translated). Obviously, religious leaders are more likely to have adopted Mohammed as a role model than the common flock, and hence the average epistemically irresponsible Muslim fools are far nastier than their counterparts of other faiths. For example:

A furious Asian father was shaking his young son and tearing up the picture his child had drawn.

The boy kicked and cried. Recognising my face from TV appearances I had made as a commentator on current affairs, the father came across to say ‘hello’.

So I asked him what his child had done that had made him so angry. He explained that according to his Islamic mentors, drawing pictures of people was forbidden.
The rise of fundamentalism: An increasing number of children go to madrassas

The rise of fundamentalism: An increasing number of children go to madrassas

I was flabbergasted. After all, this was in the middle of Britain’s multi-cultural capital – a modern metropolis, not some dusty backstreet in Kabul.

What harm can there be in a picture?

So I asked the man if he owned a camera. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘And a video camera.’

So why, I asked, was it acceptable for him to take pictures, but not for his child to draw a stick figure?

‘The madrasa teacher told me children are not allowed to,’ he said, referring to the places of religious instruction for Muslim children, which are the equivalent of Sunday schools for Christians.

‘I am not an educated man, so I must listen to them.’

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Daily Mail, 5 August 2010

I can suffer fools. I cannot suffer cruel fools.

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piero August 29, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Sorry. In the quotation above the “The rise of fundamentalism: An increasing number of children go to madrassas” bit is a picture caption, not part of the article.

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cl August 30, 2010 at 10:40 am

The message I’m getting from Luke and Alonzo is that bigotry against creationists is okay. That should be condemned, IMO. Luke could easily stand up for fair treatment of all people here.

MichaelPJ,

Okay, that is a bit strong from Alonzo, and perhaps he should tone it down a little,

I agree and think you should be applauded for having the honesty to admit it. Apparently, nobody else does.

…the fact of someone being a Muslim does not obviously require one to be a terrorist sympathiser.

Correct, and the fact of somebody being a creationist – or a YEC – does not require “a worrying tendency to ignore [that] evidence,” so I disagree with you that there exists any relevant difference which would excuse Alonzo’s bigotry.

piero,

All that blathering, and NOT ONE SHRED of empirical evidence to sustain your claim that “[Feisal Abdul Rauf] knew perfectly well what the reaction would be. This is not a building project, but a deliberate, calculated provocation. Why intelligent people such as Alonzo, Eneasz, Reginald, etc. fail to see this is beyond me.” Why are you making claims yet failing to support them with evidence? Isn’t that what you say we should condemn the creationists for? Why shouldn’t we condemn you?

I find no bigotry in Alonzo’s dismissal of young-Earth creationists, simply because it is true their belief implies a “morally irresponsible disposition to ignore evidence”.

After listening to your bigoted anti-Muslim screeds, I’m not the least bit surprised. Just stay away from the tar and feathers please!

Unless you are prepared to argue that the evidence concerning the age of the Earth is unreliable or false, I don’t see how you could deny that.

Now you’re endorsing Luke’s vapid position. As you stated it, it is essentially an argument from ignorance.

What possible grounds would there be to charge atheists with “a disposition to blind oneself to evidence”?

To charge atheists? No grounds. Remember, I don’t confuse group members with groups like you and Alonzo. However, I have plenty of ground to charge individual atheists with having a disposition to blind themselves to evidence; do you really need a citation? The point is, I would never charge all atheists with the mistakes of a subset. That’s why you shouldn’t judge all Muslims for the mistakes of a subset. That’s why Alonzo Fyfe shouldn’t judge all creationists for the mistakes of a subset.

As you well said, a bigot is “anyone who makes derogatory overgeneralizations about all members of a group.”

Yes, and that’s you. Your evaluations are so utterly shallow I don’t even know why I’m taking the time trying to help you see the light. Simply put: Muslims that do not exhibit negative character traits exist. Your generalizations are overboard and derogatory. Presuming he fits your definition, does everything you say apply to President Obama?

Would it be bigotry to claim that “child rapists are dangerous to children”?

How did I know you were going to grasp for a category error? Please, that’s the same paltry argument Luke used to try and excuse himself from the same criticisms. An act of harm is implicit in the label “rapist.” No act of harm is implicit in the labels “Muslim” or “creationist.” You’re simply wrong there – you and Luke.

I was careful to define Muslim as someone who adopts Mohammed as his/her role model.

I agree, and I’m using your definition in our discussion, but you took no care in the statements you made about all Muslims. That’s bigotry.

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MichaelPJ August 30, 2010 at 11:56 am

@cl

Now, I don’t want to overgeneralise. As I said, I’m sure there are some creationists who simply haven’t encountered the facts, or haven’t got around to examining their beliefs on that topic yet. That’s fine. Being ignorant is not necessarily a sign of epistemic irresponsibility.

An act of harm is implicit in the label “rapist.” No act of harm is implicit in the labels “Muslim” or “creationist.” You’re simply wrong there – you and Luke.

Ignoring the Muslims for the moment, the judgement I was trying to defend is that in the context of lawmakers, the label “creationist” does imply, not an act of harm, but a judgement of epistemic irresponsibility.

Let’s consider a more clear-cut case. Suppose Joe is running for Senator (or something). Among other things, Joe believes that maths is useless. He has some bullshit rationalization for this, which somehow manages to account for its apparent usefulness, probably in the form of some kind of conspiracy theory.
Now, given no other facts about Joe other than the fact that he subscribes to this particular belief, is not justified to say that he is epistemically irresponsible?

Now, creationism is not quite so obviously false, but in the case of a lawmaker, whom we would hope has some understanding of the science that makes our world run, it is at the very least worrying. Maybe he has some religious beliefs that mandate creationism. Well, in that case we should worry that he will let his religious beliefs override the evidence in other situations. Of course, I’m taking it as read that that is epistemically irresponsible; you might disagree.

In particular, this is where Alonzo needs to make an argument: that the fact of membership in the group of creationists gives at least a strong suggestion of epistemic irresponsibility.

That would be an example of correct generalization. It is not an argument from ignorance as long as a positive argument has been given. Admittedly, Alonzo doesn’t do this explicitly, but it seems fairly clearly implicit to me.

Usually an incorrect generalization is one that deduces from the fact that some people are epistemically irresponsible and creationists that all creationists are epistemically irresponsible. Or just assumes that the latter is true!

Now, you could easily refute the above argument by showing me a creationist, and then convince me that they were not epistemically irresponsible (or perhaps enough to convince me that they were not a wild exception). But you need to do that.

@piero

In the context of what I’ve said above, it looks like your argument should go as follows.
1. All Muslims accept Muhammad as God’s prophet, and so consider him a good role model.
2. Anyone who considers Muhammad a good role model is immoral/worthy of condemnation etc.
3. Therefore all Muslims are immoral etc.

I guess I really object to 2. Many people take role models partially. For example, some people might consider Winston Churchill a good role model, even though he was a racist, imperialist bastard. He was also courageous and eloquent. Someone can be a good role model in some aspects but not in others. Now, many Muslims show no inclination to try and be a warlord. Now this either shows that they can take Muhammad to be a role model in some aspects but not others, thus falsifying 2, or it shows that they are not really Muslims at all, in which case that casts doubt upon your definition, and hence 1.

You complained that talking about the definition of “Muslim” that we use is a semantic game. The problem is that YOU are the one playing the game. When the rest of us talk about Muslims, we mean people who self-identify as such, and who go to mosque, follow the rituals of Islam etc. If you want to talk about people who take Muhammad as a strict role model, the burden is on you to show that there are any such people involved at all.

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piero August 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm

cl:

You are obviously a very clever guy. Why do you keep pretending to be an idiot? It is quite obvious that if I had empirical evidence about Rauf intentions then you would not need me to tell you about it: you would have read it in the NY Times. Does that make my claim spurious? No. Just as I might rationally argue that the most likely explanation for the existence of evil is that God does not exist, I can argue that the most likely explanation for the Park51 project is that it gives Rauf exposure and prestige.

I argued that Alonzo’s assessment of creationists was not bigoted, because believing that the Earth was created a few thousand years ago does imply a morally irresponsible disposition to ignore evidence. You replied by calling me a bigot again. Not quite the argument I could expect from you, to be honest. So I’ll ask you a direct question: is it possible to believe that the Earth is a few thousand years old and morally responsible at the same time? If so, justify your answer. If not, don’t justify your answer: I already know the justification.

You said that Muslims that do not exhibit negative character traits exist. Not according to my definition, because I happen to think that admiring a moral monster such as Mohammed is a negative character trait. As usual, you are using another definition of Muslim in order to accuse me of bigotry.

I didn’t know what to make of the bit concerning “Luke’s vapid claims”.

As for your attitude to atheists, I wasn’t accusing you of bigotry. I simply pointed out that doing what you suggested (i.e. replacing “atheists” for “creationist”) yielded a nonsensical statement, and hence that I failed to see the point of the exercise.

I didn’t know what to make of the bit concerning Obama. I’m not even a US citizen. I couldn’t care less about Obama, really.

As for the category error, you are wrong. I defined Muslim as “holding Mohammed to be a role model”. Obviously, anyone who holds a moral monster to be a role model is necessarily immoral. So, according to my definition, Muslims are despicable. The moral shortcomings that justify my contempt are already contained in my definition, so the analogy with the child rapist is exact.

Finally, I made claims about all Muslims using my definition of Muslim, so your last statement is wrong.

MichaelPJ:

Yes, your summary of my argument is fair, and your objections are reasonable. Nevertheless, I still disagree. Let’s take Churchill; I’d love to be able to write like him, but that does not qualify him as a role model. I’d hate to be like him in any other respect (sexist, racist, etc.). So if anyone asked me, “Do you admire Churchill?” I’d reply, “No, but I do admire his writing”.

But even if I considered Churchill a role model, it does not follow that I should strive to be like him. Of course I realize I’ll never be able to write like Churchill: I just lack the talent. Having a role model does not thus imply striving to emulate him or her: it simply means that you’d approve of someone who behaves like your role model, even if you are not that someone. A Muslim does not have to try to become a warlord, but if his/her role model is a warlord, he/she will approve of warlords.

And even if I granted your suggestion that a role model can be a partial one, I challenge you to name any admirable trait of Mohammed.

Finally, I was not playing semantic games, and I deeply resent your accusation. I made it quite clear from the start what I meant by Muslim. We can discuss whether my definition is the best one, and I might adopt a better one if necessary. But I do not accept being called a bigot because someone else decided that Muslim “really” had a broader scope.

Is the burden of proof on me? I am sorry to disappoint you, but I haven’t yet mastered mind reading. All I can see are actions, and they suggest one of two possibilities:

1. Rauf is a Muslim (according to my definition)
2. Rauf is a clever public relations manager and he is raising hell for personal gain

Neither of those I find too palatable. Ask yourself whether the following scenario is a plausible gesture of good will: a group of well-meaning Americans decides to build a community centre for Americans residing in Hiroshima. Part of the complex consists in a Nuclear Energy Permanent Exhibition. A group of Japanese residents protests. The well-meaning Americans are taken aback: “But…but we meant to celebrate the peaceful use of nuclear energy! Yes, we are Americans, but we are not Trumanites! We did not bomb your city, we condemned the bombing! We want to show the world that nuclear energy must not be used for evil, but for good”. The protest doe not subside. The well-meaning Americans hold a meeting, and decide to go through with the project: “We’ll show them we mean well, whether they like it or not! Someone has to show these bigoted Japs that not all Americans are Trumanites!”.

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cl August 31, 2010 at 5:45 pm

MichaelPJ,

…the judgement I was trying to defend is that in the context of lawmakers, the label “creationist” does imply, not an act of harm, but a judgement of epistemic irresponsibility.

I understand; I’m disagreeing with you. Nobody has shown how “creationism belief” -> “epistemic irresponsibility.” Alonzo, Luke and others are painting all creationists as science-rejecting vandals.

Usually an incorrect generalization is one that deduces from the fact that some people are epistemically irresponsible and creationists that all creationists are epistemically irresponsible.

Yes, those are exactly the types of incorrect generalizations Alonzo and Luke are making, and they are bigoted generalizations, but for some reason, very few people seem to feel it’s an issue – Luke and Alonzo included.

Now, you could easily refute the above argument by showing me a creationist, and then convince me that they were not epistemically irresponsible

I believe God created the Earth and the cosmos and I make no claims as to the time frame within which God worked. Simply put, I’m agnostic and skeptical of age-of-the-Earth claims. Ask me anything you’d like. As far as convincing you that I’m epistemically responsible, you may wish to start here.

piero,

You are obviously a very clever guy. Why do you keep pretending to be an idiot?

You know, that’s exactly what you’ve got me thinking. I know you’re clever, yet, you’re apparently having a really hard time understanding the fact that you made derogatory statements about an entire group of people.

As usual, you are using another definition of Muslim in order to accuse me of bigotry.

No, I’m not. I’m using your definition that you gave: somebody who believes Mohammed was God’s prophet. You claimed that all people who believe Mohammed was God’s prophet deserve derision and contempt. That’s such fallacious reasoning I have no idea why you’d espouse it.

As for your attitude to atheists, I wasn’t accusing you of bigotry. I simply pointed out that doing what you suggested (i.e. replacing “atheists” for “creationist”) yielded a nonsensical statement,

I know you weren’t accusing me of bigotry. If you thought I thought you were, you were mistaken. Re nonsensical, the first line would have sufficed, i.e., I was interested in how you would react to the statement, “trusting an atheist to make laws is as foolish as getting into a car driven by a drunk driver.” Instead, you focused on technical inconsistencies between two parsings.

Obviously, anyone who holds a moral monster to be a role model is necessarily immoral.

Oh, well then there you go: bigotry justified! Seriously though, what you say is not true. You pretend like we need arguments to sustain the bigotry charges, when actually, it’s you who needs arguments to exonerate yourself. You need to show that it’s impossible for a person to believe Mohammed was God’s prophet and be a moral person. Can you?

There are moral people who are unable to form true beliefs based on limited access to facts. Does that mean they deserve derision and contempt? I mean, people here have already tried to point you to examples of Muslims who are not immoral. I’m beginning to think you’re beyond reproach.

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MichaelPJ August 31, 2010 at 6:46 pm

@cl

Thank you! I can see you have a substantive blog there… I’ll have to give it some attention :)

I understand; I’m disagreeing with you. Nobody has shown how “creationism belief” -> “epistemic irresponsibility.” Alonzo, Luke and others are painting all creationists as science-rejecting vandals.

I did try to sketch an argument above. I’d appreciate you telling me which bit of it you disagree with. Just to be clear, I’m thinking of young-earth creationists here, not your common-garden “God-was-the-prime-mover” creationists. Presumably you think that creationist belief is responsibly tenable given the current state of science?

However, of course, you’ve given me a counterexample, and I need to say something about that. You say you believe God created the Earth, but you wouldn’t specify when? So would you reject the claim that the Earth was created 6000 years ago? Do you believe God created the Earth directly, or that its creation resulted from what was already in the universe beforehand (albeit perhaps that was created by God)?

My thinking here is that you don’t sound like what I would term a “creationist”. Now, I know I’m sounding like piero here, but I think my definition would agree with common usage. Someone who is labelled a “creationist” usually believes things contrary to the scientific orthodoxy about the age of the earth. Someone who just thinks that God created the universe and sent it on its merry way (I’m not saying this is you; I need to see your answers to my questions first!) is, I suppose, a creationist in some sense, but not the sense I think it is used here. In particular, the context is “young-earth” creationists. In that case, a YEC is definitely claiming to know better than the geologists on at least one point.

Now, you say you are agnostic about the time-frame. Would you therefore say that science has a good chance of working out what God’s timeframe was? That if science dates the age of the earth at six billion years, then that probably tells us how God set it up? And that if we look out and see that other planets are formed from accretion discs around stars, that we can probably conclude that the Earth was so formed? And so on… until we get to the Big Bang. As I said, if the role of God can be pushed back that far, or hidden in the details in such a way that it is not visible to the (admittedly, somewhat vague) generalisations that science can make about our planets history, then I don’t think you count as a “creationist” at all. Certainly your view would be much more sophisticated than the kind of claims we hear from pundits, and, alas, our political leaders, from time to time.

The point is that the generalised argument relies on creationist belief conflicting with science. If your “creationist” beliefs are so inoffensive that they don’t do that, then you dodge the epistemic irresponsibility charge. But those sorts of beliefs are not the kind that get a fuss made about them by those that hold them!

Regarding Alonzo & Luke, I still think that in the context of YECs and lawmakers, their generalisation is valid. A wider generalisation is probably not valid, but again I think that this particular context was fairly clearly implied. Obviously that was not clear to you, and that was a failure of communication on their part (if my generous reading is correct).

@piero

I’m afraid I’m going to have to bow out here due to lack of knowledge about a couple of things.

1. Does Rauf approve of warlords? I’d be surprised (but I don’t know).
2. Does Muhammad have any admirable characteristics? I don’t know enough about Muhammad to say, but I imagine if you consider piety and justice (and depending on what you consider to be justice — I agree that you might question that) to be virtues, then he might have shown them. But I haven’t read the Qu’ran, so I can’t really say.
3. Are your two options really the only ones for Rauf? Could he not be a community leader who believes in Allah; thinks that the Qu’ran is a reasonable transcript of his word; and considers Muhammad, who was, after all, only human and possibly misrepresented, to have been Allah’s prophet? Who thought he might open a community centre in a vacant plot that happened to be within a few blocks of Ground Zero?

While you may be right about Rauf, to make the judgements you are making on the grounds that he is a Muslim — and I remind you that in the wider world, people are called Muslims on the basis of their religious behaviour, mosque attendance etc. rather than on whether or not they consider Muhammad a role model — is unjustified. If on further investigation Rauf in particular is an unsavoury sort, that is not necessarily because he is a Muslim.

The Nuclear Energy exhibition is not apposite. Why? Because setting up an Islamic centre is a much more usual activity than building a nuclear energy exhibition. There is no particular reason for the exhibition to be near Hiroshima, and the connection is much more pointed. Whereas New York already has hundreds of mosques, and another one could perfectly well just be to close a hole in coverage.

Anyway, I think I’ve said enough here. Maybe you can concede that your initial remarks were a little too strong, given the evidence?

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cl August 31, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Just to be clear, I’m thinking of young-earth creationists here, not your common-garden “God-was-the-prime-mover” creationists.

Hey, at least you take the time to make the distinction. Luke just writes stuff like, “Creationism is evil.” How would he – or any atheist in their right mind – react to the statement, “Atheism is evil?”

Presumably you think that creationist belief is responsibly tenable given the current state of science?

Well, it’s hard to tell what you think would be “responsibly tenable,” but given the current state of science, I think it is responsible to tenably believe that anywhere from ten-thousand to who-knows-how-many-billions of calendar years have passed since Earth and the cosmos began to exist. I certainly don’t think there’s enough evidence to make bigoted statements against all people who believe the Earth may in fact be less than 10,000 years old, as Luke and Alonzo do.

…would you reject the claim that the Earth was created 6000 years ago?

No. I would ask the person making it to provide me with their evidence, and consider each case according to the merits thereof.

Do you believe God created the Earth directly, or that its creation resulted from what was already in the universe beforehand (albeit perhaps that was created by God)?

I feel the question itself to be an instance of false opposites, and I don’t see how answering it helps your [implied] claim that YEC belief -> epistemic irresponsibility.

Someone who is labelled a “creationist” usually believes things contrary to the scientific orthodoxy about the age of the earth.

I get the point, but are not our brightest luminaries often those who believed things contrary to scientific orthodoxy? Show me one legitimate scientific revolution that was not preceded by a challenging of the status quo.

If your “creationist” beliefs are so inoffensive that they don’t do that, then you dodge the epistemic irresponsibility charge.

Well, you heard what I said. To repeat: given the current state of science, I think it is responsible to tenably believe that anywhere from ten-thousand to who-knows-how-many-billions of calendar years have passed since the creation of Earth and the cosmos. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to make bigoted statements against all people who believe that Earth may in fact be 10,000 years old or even less.

Regarding Alonzo & Luke, I still think that in the context of YECs and lawmakers, their generalisation is valid.

Really? You really believe that electing a YEC to make laws is as foolish as getting into a car driven by a drunk?

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MichaelPJ August 31, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Hey, at least you take the time to make the distinction. Luke just writes stuff like, “Creationism is evil.” How would he – or any atheist in their right mind – react to the statement, “Atheism is evil?”

Look, you’re the only person I’ve ever encountered who self-identifies or is identified as a “creationist” and who isn’t a young-earth creationist. I think that in common usage the two are synonymous, and so if you call yourself a creationist, you’re being misleading. Hence what Luke says seems pretty unambiguous to me.

…given the current state of science, I think it is responsible to tenably believe that anywhere from ten-thousand to who-knows-how-many-billions of calendar years have passed since Earth and the cosmos began to exist.

Five minutes of googling got me this
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-age-of-earth.html
Do you deny that radiometric dating works? Then you’re going to have a big argument with a lot of physicists.
If that doesn’t count as evidence, I’d like to know the problem. Do you want to see the actual data? Do you have issues with their experimental assumptions? If so, which? What would count as evidence for you?

I feel the question itself to be an instance of false opposites, and I don’t see how answering it helps your [implied] claim that YEC belief -> epistemic irresponsibility.

Sorry, that was me being unclear. It was meant to be a “do you believe this, or this [or something else]?” The second disjunct was just meant something I thought you might want to say. I take it you don’t go with either, so I’d like to know what you do think.

I get the point, but are not our brightest luminaries often those who believed things contrary to scientific orthodoxy? Show me one legitimate scientific revolution that was not preceded by a challenging of the status quo.

Yes, but all of those challenges were spearheading principled alternatives. No such alternative that explains the data as well has been provided by a YEC. The link that I provided lists a few, along with their scientific demolitions.
If you can do better, please let me know!

I think an apt, although more extreme, example would be the persistence of belief that the Earth was flat. Even as the contrary belief became orthodoxy, there were plenty who challenged it. Should we judge them as anything other than irresponsible?

Really? You really believe that electing a YEC to make laws is as foolish as getting into a car driven by a drunk?

Ouch. I think (hope) that’s a rhetorical exaggeration. Probably not that dangerous. However, consider: if said creationist believes what he does for explicitly religious reasons, and those considerations lead him to be unreasonably hostile to countries which are largely Islamic, say, and might lead to worse relations, or war… (yes, there are a lot of “might”s there. Plenty of other bad things could happen too)

The point is that creationism is an indicator that you let your religious beliefs cloud your assessment of the evidence. Which corresponds to the clouding of your responses when you are drunk. Driver = government, the country = the car. It’s an analogy, it’s not perfect, but I can certainly see where it’s coming from.

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piero August 31, 2010 at 8:40 pm

MichaelPJ and cl:

Let’s leave it at that. I think most of our disagreement stems from a loose use of words. Belief implies conduct, and has to be distinguished from belief in belief, and from statement of belief. As Daniel Dennett put it, does anyone really believe God is omniscient? Do people really don’t care that God knows they are masturbating?

So I agree that most Muslims (in the loose sense of cultural Muslim) deserve neither contempt nor derision. Like most Christians, their redeeming feature is that they don’t act in accordance with their avowed beliefs. In other words, they don’t really believe that crap.

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piero August 31, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Holy shit! I really meant to leave it at that, but just after I posted what was to be my last message on this thread, what do I find? A claim by cl that forces me to continue.

cl:

I was wrong. Hopelessly wrong. And I humbly apologize. You are not clever at all; claiming that the Earth could be anywhere from 10,000 to a few billion years old is a mark of abject imbecility.

I also noticed your peculiar use of “creationist”. I was rebuked for using “Muslim” in a non-standard way, but at least I took care to define my terms; you, instead, are dishonestly trying to capitalize on ambiguity. If anything is worse than being an imbecile, that’s being a crafty imbecile. Get lost.

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Reginald Selkirk September 1, 2010 at 4:42 am

Incident at Orleans County mosque leads to arrest of five teens

Police say the teenagers drove past World Sufi Foundation Mosque in Carlton on Monday yelling obscenities, beeping car horns and firing a gun, and allegedly struck one worshipper with a vehicle.

I would write that up as an incident of Islamophobia, except that Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have both recently assured me that it doesn’t exist.(sarcasm)

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cl September 1, 2010 at 9:46 am

MichaelPJ,

Look, you’re the only person I’ve ever encountered who self-identifies or is identified as a “creationist” and who isn’t a young-earth creationist.

So? That doesn’t justify Luke’s derogatory overgeneralization, does it? I make the assumption that people have investigated the issues they like to debate. Presumably you’ve looked into the creationism-evolution debate; how is it that you didn’t know such a thing as old-Earth creationists exist?

I think that in common usage the two are synonymous, and so if you call yourself a creationist, you’re being misleading.

No. The one who’s being misleading is the one who uses common usage when nuanced precision would fare better. That people jump to conclusions doesn’t mean I’m being misleading. The definitions of terms should dictate how they are used, not vice-versa.

Do you deny that radiometric dating works?

No.

If that doesn’t count as evidence, I’d like to know the problem.

Energy expenditure !== calendar years.

I take it you don’t go with either, so I’d like to know what you do think.

I think the people that claim “YEC belief” -> “epistemic irresponsibility” need to either support their claims, or retract their unsupported claims and apologize to creationists like me who remain agnostic about the age of the Earth.

Should we judge them as anything other than irresponsible?

You’re asking me to make a judgment on hypothetical people and that seems pointless. Like anything else, we should judge each case individually. That’s the whole point of eschewing bigotry.

Ouch. I think (hope) that’s a rhetorical exaggeration.

Ask Alonzo; he’s the one that wrote the bigoted statement.

However, consider: if said creationist believes what he does for explicitly religious reasons, and those considerations lead him to be unreasonably hostile to countries which are largely Islamic, say, and might lead to worse relations, or war… (yes, there are a lot of “might”s there. Plenty of other bad things could happen too)

Fill in the blank with “politician” and it works just the same. Are all politicians equally dangerous? If a lawmaker’s political leanings lead her to be unreasonably hostile to Islamic countries, wouldn’t that be the same?

The point is that creationism is an indicator that you let your religious beliefs cloud your assessment of the evidence.

No, it’s not. Your conclusion simply does not follow from your premise. Like Luke and Alonzo, you are effectively accusing me of epistemic irresponsibility [and ultimately immorality], and I would like to know on what evidence you’re charging me. Else, let’s all stop the bigotry.

piero,

You are not clever at all; claiming that the Earth could be anywhere from 10,000 to a few billion years old is a mark of abject imbecility.

Ooh, another atheist namecaller. Lookout world! Tough egg on the block! Seriously though, why does that not surprise me coming from the commenter who claimed that all who believe Mohammed was God’s prophet deserve derision and contempt?

I also noticed your peculiar use of “creationist”. I was rebuked for using “Muslim” in a non-standard way, but at least I took care to define my terms; you, instead, are dishonestly trying to capitalize on ambiguity.

If you’re referring to me, I never rebuked you for using “Muslim” in a non-standard way. Just to be clear.

As far as “creationist” goes, your ignorance is not my problem. I simply assume that the folks who like to shoot their mouths off about this kind of stuff have studied the various terms. That you haven’t is neither my fault nor evidence of dishonesty on my behalf. Although, I understand that people – especially bigots – like to see what they want to see.

If anything is worse than being an imbecile, that’s being a crafty imbecile. Get lost.

Whatever. You’re not the first bigoted atheist, and you certainly won’t be the last.

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MichaelPJ September 1, 2010 at 10:14 am

Look, all I’m trying to defend is the claim that there is a reasonable, not-necessarily-bigoted reading of what Luke said. I think in the context it was pretty clear that “creationist” was meant to refer to YECs. I think this is borne out by the general confusion people seem to have felt about your accusations of bigotry against creationsts: YEC is a much crazier position. Obviously, it was not clear to you. That indicates a failure of communication. However, I don’t think anyone else misunderstood. Possibly they did. Consequently, I would recommend that Luke and Alonzo specifically say YEC when they mean it. Would that be OK? Plus then we could find out whether they really meant YEC at the time or not!

Energy expenditure !== calendar years.

Sorry, I’m not following you here. As I understand it, radiometric data works by looking at the decay rates of some radioactive isotopes. Clearly — assuming said rate is constant — by comparing the ratios of the original and the daughter element we can work out how old the rock is (wikipedia has more details – there are some subtleties with isochrons etc.). I’m not clear where energy expenditure comes into it. A little more detail would really help me, since this is precisely the nub of the argument.

I think the people that claim “YEC belief” -> “epistemic irresponsibility” need to either support their claims, or retract their unsupported claims and apologize to creationists like me who remain agnostic about the age of the Earth.

Again, sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I wanted to know what you thought about the origin of the Earth. Not the timing, just whether it was directly created by God or something else.

Also, I think that creationists who remain agnostic about the age of the Earth need to give reasons for rejecting the scientific reasons we already have for estimating the Earth’s age. Of course, I’ve already asked you to expand on what you think the problem with radiometric data is, so hopefully we’ve got that covered!

Fill in the blank with “politician” and it works just the same. Are all politicians equally dangerous? If a lawmaker’s political leanings lead her to be unreasonably hostile to Islamic countries, wouldn’t that be the same?

Good point. There is, however, a relevant difference. The problem would be if the politician let their political belief blind them to the evidence (many do, alas). Merely holding a political ideology is not evidence of this. Being a Holocaust denier (or more normally, ignoring studies that show your proposed legislation will be ineffective) because that fits with your ideology would be such evidence. Creationism is such evidence. I do not object to political lawmakers. I do not object to religious lawmakers. Provided, in both cases, that they do not let these things cloud their view of the evidence.

No, it’s not. Your conclusion simply does not follow from your premise. Like Luke and Alonzo, you are effectively accusing me of epistemic irresponsibility [and ultimately immorality], and I would like to know on what evidence you’re charging me. Else, let’s all stop the bigotry.

I repeat: I’m not charging you with anything. I don’t know enough about what you think yet. Because you don’t fall into the category that the generalisation was meant to cover; that is, you don’t hold explicit beliefs about the young age of the Earth. What I am doing is accusing anyone who thinks that the world is 6000 years old of epistemic irresponsibility, and hence unfitness for office.

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cl September 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm

MichaelPJ,

I think in the context it was pretty clear that “creationist” was meant to refer to YECs. … Obviously, it was not clear to you.

It was clear all along. My point was to show that Luke’s statement was a rhetorical device that wasn’t conservatively stated. Precision with language matters. If we are going to commit ourselves to cogency and rationalism and all that good stuff, we ought to eschew rhetorical devices and liberally stated claims, don’t you think?

Consequently, I would recommend that Luke and Alonzo specifically say YEC when they mean it.

I concur re: Luke, but in the statements of his I cited, Alonzo took the time to make the distinction, so there’s no need to recommend Alonzo thusly. Besides, let’s not lose the real issue for the semantic issue.

Sorry, I’m not following you here. As I understand it, radiometric data works by looking at the decay rates of some radioactive isotopes. Clearly — assuming said rate is constant — by comparing the ratios of the original and the daughter element we can work out how old the rock is (wikipedia has more details – there are some subtleties with isochrons etc.). I’m not clear where energy expenditure comes into it. A little more detail would really help me, since this is precisely the nub of the argument.

I’d be willing to discuss that with you, but I fear it would obscure the bigotry discussion. If you wish, let’s either pursue the technical side of the argument elsewhere, or after the bigotry discussion has been resolved.

Good point. There is, however, a relevant difference. The problem would be if the politician let their political belief blind them to the evidence (many do, alas).

There is no relevant difference, whatsoever – unless of course you want to imply that YEC’s blind themselves to the evidence by default – and that’s bigotry. The “if” you gave to politicians must also be given to YEC’s: IF the YEC lets their religious belief blind them to the evidence, THEN we have behavior that would merit condemnation.

Merely holding a political ideology is not evidence of this.

Similarly, merely holding a religious belief that conflicts with scientific orthodoxy is not evidence of “epistemic irresponsibility,” either. If that’s the case, why limit our criticisms to YEC’s? Isn’t the claim that people rise from the dead crazy, too? Tons of moderate Christians believe that; are all moderate Christians unfit as lawmakers?

I repeat: I’m not charging you with anything. I don’t know enough about what you think yet. Because you don’t fall into the category that the generalisation was meant to cover; that is, you don’t hold explicit beliefs about the young age of the Earth.

So, a creationist is only “epistemically irresponsible” if they believe 6,000 calendar years have passed since Earth’s creation? What if they believe that 7,000 years have passed? What about 8,000? Or, what about somebody like me, who says, “It could be that less than 10,000 calendar years have passed since Earth’s creation?” It seems to me you’re going to have to split hairs awfully fine to say that you aren’t charging me with anything. If I’m saying I believe Earth could be less than 10,000 calendar years old, how does the fact that I don’t make explicit truth claims get me off the hook?

What I am doing is accusing anyone who thinks that the world is 6000 years old of epistemic irresponsibility, and hence unfitness for office.

…and, what I’m doing is calling that bigotry. You have redefined epistemic irresponsibility to include “believing that the world is only 6,000 years old” when there is no reason to include such a criterion.

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Welsh September 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

If I’m saying I believe Earth could be less than 10,000 calendar years old, how does the fact that I don’t make explicit truth claims get me off the hook?

I’d say you’re on shaky ground. You’ve adopted a belief, albeit a lack of belief, against the scientific consensus. Without giving a good reason, your ability to make reasoned decisions is put in doubt, as it shows disregard for evidence based reasoning. Perhaps you’re an expert in a relevant field?

Another example of worrying reasoning: A number of sceptics without relevant expertise have rejected the scientific consensus of anthropogenic global warming. I’d have concerns about such people holding public office, particularly because it has immediate relevancy to current global policies.

I suggest that we’re all vulnerable to rejecting ideas without good reason. Thus, we should be ever vigilant of ourselves and others on this regard.

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MichaelPJ September 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm

It was clear all along. My point was to show that Luke’s statement was a rhetorical device that wasn’t conservatively stated. Precision with language matters. If we are going to commit ourselves to cogency and rationalism and all that good stuff, we ought to eschew rhetorical devices and liberally stated claims, don’t you think?

So you don’t actually think Luke is bigoted then? (pretend for a second that you agree that the YEC claim works) Just that he said something which could be interpreted in a bigoted way?

I’d be willing to discuss that with you, but I fear it would obscure the bigotry discussion. If you wish, let’s either pursue the technical side of the argument elsewhere, or after the bigotry discussion has been resolved.

Actually, the technical part is crucial to the argument. I’ll lay it out just to be clear.
My argument is:
1. There is good scientific evidence for the Earth being 4.5 billion years old.
2. If 1. is true, then it is epistemically irresponsible to believe that the world is less than 1 million years old (say — I’ll discuss this later) without a principled criticism of said evidence and/or an alternative theory that explains the data.
3. It is epistemically irresponsible to believe that the world is less than 1 million years old without a criticism of said evidence and/or an alternative theory that explains the data. (1 and 2). (let’s pretend that everyone has been exposed to the evidence)
4. YECs believe that the world is less than 1 million years old (definition for our purposes — use a made-up word instead of YEC if you want).
5. Noone has (to my knowledge) provided principled criticism of the evidence and/or an alternative theory that explains the data.
6. YECs are epistemically irresponsible (3,4,5).

Now, in order to claim that I am making a bigoted claim, you need to show that this argument doesn’t work. Given that you said the current state of science leaves you an agnostic about the age of the earth, I presume you disagree with 5. I would like you to explain why you disagree with 5, and if you convince me that you have a good reason for doing so, then we can move on to whether I am bigoted for assuming that 5 was true when in fact it isn’t.

There is no relevant difference, whatsoever – unless of course you want to imply that YEC’s blind themselves to the evidence by default – and that’s bigotry. The “if” you gave to politicians must also be given to YEC’s: IF the YEC lets their religious belief blind them to the evidence, THEN we have behavior that would merit condemnation.

Well yes, that’s exactly what I’m claiming. To be a YEC you have to believe that the earth is young. For the sake of argument, let’s say that to be a YEC you have to believe that the Earth is less than 1 million years old. That should be broad enough. Then my argument for why that is epistemically irresponsible is above. That’s the claim I want you to defeat.

Similarly, merely holding a religious belief that conflicts with scientific orthodoxy is not evidence of “epistemic irresponsibility,” either. If that’s the case, why limit our criticisms to YEC’s? Isn’t the claim that people rise from the dead crazy, too? Tons of moderate Christians believe that; are all moderate Christians unfit as lawmakers?

Good point. I should probably declare that I think religion is irrational, but it’s so prevalent that as long as it’s compartmentalized or de-literalised enough, I give it a pass. But given two otherwise identical candidates for election, I would choose the atheist.
That said, I would defend the weaker claim that anyone who believes the Bible to be wholly, literally, inerrantly true is also epistemically irresponsible enough to be unsuitable for office. Many people have a non-literalist interpretation of the Bible – that may get them off the hook.
However, belief in the resurrection is much less directly in conflict with science than YEC. The point is that we don’t have any direct evidence about the particular case of whether this one man died (and stayed dead) or not. Maybe if we found his bones in Palestine or something (though how we would know they were his… whatever). So it’s not as blatant a rejection of scientific epistemology.
I know, that’s a little weaselly, but this whole matter shades off into grey pretty quickly.

If I’m saying I believe Earth could be less than 10,000 calendar years old, how does the fact that I don’t make explicit truth claims get me off the hook?

I’m sorry. I misinterpreted you. I thought you were claiming to be an old-Earth creationist, which I thought meant that you thought that the Earth was probably created by God, just 4.5 billion years ago, or something. This is why I was asking you what you thought about the origin of the Earth! (I’d still like an answer to that — you did say I could ask you whatever I wanted) I don’t know if you’re off the hook until I know what you think, and you still haven’t really told me.

…and, what I’m doing is calling that bigotry. You have redefined epistemic irresponsibility to include “believing that the world is only 6,000 years old” when there is no reason to include such a criterion.

I have defined epistemic irresponsibility to be believing something, against the evidence, for no good reason. Now, I think it is indisputable that there is evidence (although you may disagree about it’s strength or appropriateness), and I’ve given you an argument as to why there is no good reason to believe that the Earth was created 6000 years ago. All you have to do to refute this is give me such a reason.

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MichaelPJ September 3, 2010 at 8:21 am

Um, are you still there, cl?

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cl September 3, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Yeah, I’m here. I’ve been dealing with these same issues in other threads. Seeing as how your latest response is quite long, let’s start with something small:

I have defined epistemic irresponsibility to be believing something, against the evidence, for no good reason.

Yet, different people will think differently about what constitutes “a good reason,” so would you care to elaborate?

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cl September 3, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Welsh,

You’ve adopted a belief, albeit a lack of belief, against the scientific consensus.

I’ve not “adopted a belief,” nor have I “adopted a lack of belief.” I’m simply agnostic about the age of the Earth in calendar years. Though I understand the argument, I am hesitant to accept the claim, “4.5 billion calendar years have elapsed since Earth began to exist,” because it rests on assumptions from facts, not the direct testimony of facts themselves. People making the explicit truth claim that Earth is 4.5 billion calendar years old are not making a conservatively-stated claim, IMHO.

Without giving a good reason, your ability to make reasoned decisions is put in doubt, as it shows disregard for evidence based reasoning.

Hey, at least you include the caveat “without a good reason;” Luke and Alonzo simply assume all YEC’s are morally negligent. Still: what constitutes “a good reason?” Is informed, cautious skepticism a “good reason” in your opinion?

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MichaelPJ September 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm

@cl

Yes, I’d noticed you were running the “bigotry against creationists” thing again. Clearly I haven’t persuaded you yet, so let’s get to it!

I agree that there probably needs to be something said about what constitutes a good reason. I think I went some way towards that in my previous post. Try point 2.

However, before we get into that, I’d like to know what your good reason is. I’ve given you some evidence, and if you’re going to sustain your agnosticism in the face of that evidence, you need to tell me what’s wrong with it. Just lay it out. We can argue about whether it’s a good reason later, but so that all the cards are on the table, tell me why you aren’t convinced by this evidence.

Note that the theory that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old is a perfectly legitimate scientific theory. It even gives us predictions: for one, that if we date any more old rocks, they should tend to give us the same answer. So far, it has passed all such tests that have been thrown at it. As far as I can see, it’s an nice example of scientific geology.

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MichaelPJ September 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Also, regarding

Hey, at least you include the caveat “without a good reason;” Luke and Alonzo simply assume all YEC’s are morally negligent. Still: what constitutes “a good reason?” Is informed, cautious skepticism a “good reason” in your opinion?

The argument is that there is no good reason, in this case. If you’re going to cast doubt on that, the easiest thing to to is to produce a good reason. Scepticism alone is not a good reason. It must always be supported. Often, that support is the claim that “there is insufficient evidence”, or “the evidence is inconclusive”, or “there is conflicting evidence which I am not expert enough to arbitrate, and so I will wait for further consensus”, or somesuch. Scepticism as a methodological heuristic merely advocates respect for these reasons. They still have to be present.

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cl September 6, 2010 at 1:41 am

MichaelPJ,

Though we’ve been pursuing this across a few threads, I just noticed these:

It even gives us predictions: for one, that if we date any more old rocks, they should tend to give us the same answer.

That’s irrelevant though, as this is exactly what we’d expect either way. My position doesn’t entail the claim that non-resolvable discrepancies must exist. I’m not rejecting radiometric dating; I’m questioning the assumptions behind the conclusion it often generates.

We can argue about whether it’s a good reason later, but so that all the cards are on the table, tell me why you aren’t convinced by this evidence.

In a nutshell, because the methods measure isotope decay rates, not calendar years, but let’s pursue this on the other thread.

If you’re going to cast doubt on that, the easiest thing to to is to produce a good reason. Scepticism alone is not a good reason. It must always be supported. Often, that support is the claim that “there is insufficient evidence”, or “the evidence is inconclusive”, or “there is conflicting evidence which I am not expert enough to arbitrate, and so I will wait for further consensus”, or somesuch. Scepticism as a methodological heuristic merely advocates respect for these reasons. They still have to be present.

Of course. That the evidence is inconclusive is exactly what I’m saying.

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