Cults of Personality

I’ve really become convinced that the “atheist community” is no better than the religious community.  Let’s face it, with all the idiotic drama that we see, the “atheist bigwigs” are really no different than priests and ministers.  They’re preaching to their individual choirs.  They have their own individual agendas and their own individual playbooks and they expect their adherents to follow their teachings to the letter.  If they don’t, they get excommunicated.

Now I’m not picking specifically on PZ, although I think he’s the worst of the bunch at the moment, nor am I saying that most of the high priesthood of atheism is using their positions and influence for ill.  Certainly, most of the big names on the atheism circuit, from Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to Matt Dillahunty and Michael Shermer, they all have their group of followers, who hang on their every word.  Certainly, Christopher Hitchens had a massive following before his death.  I’m not saying that it’s bad that these people are popular or that people shouldn’t find what they have to say interesting and valuable, but when it starts being about the people and not about the message, there’s a problem.

And there’s a problem.

No, the problem isn’t necessarily that people get popular, it’s that people start to believe their own press.  They start basking in the glow of adulation and after a while, they crave the attention.  Worse, they start thinking they can do no wrong because their mindless groupies are telling them exactly that.  Every word that comes out of their mouths is gold.  Every concept that crosses their keyboards is perfect.  However, in reality, these people are the Ron Paul of the skeptical world.  They have a very few highly fanatical followers who, in the scheme of things, really don’t mean anything.  They stand up before, at best, a couple of thousand atheists at these conferences and deliver talks and get standing ovations and they think that makes them leaders.

In fact, isn’t that exactly what priests and ministers do every Sunday?  Deliver their sermon before the flock?  They stand in front of a group of people who believe what they’re saying because they’re seen as authority figures, then because people like and respect them, they think they’re qualified to make policy and tell people how to live their lives.

They’re wrong.  A priest doesn’t necessarily know how to counsel someone on their finances or love life, any more than an atheist speaker necessarily knows how to lead people in political matters.  But because, hey, they seem to know what they’re doing in one area, people follow them blindly in another.  If you want my opinion, we ought to question everything that everyone says, no matter who says it.  Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist.  I’ll probably trust what he says with regards to his field of expertise, although, to be honest, I’d expect his peers to review his work and turn up anything that he says that is bogus.  However, I wouldn’t turn to Richard Dawkins for advice on electronics or child rearing or anything else because I don’t think that he’s an expert in any of those fields.  That doesn’t mean that I dislike Dawkins, I happen to greatly admire him, but I’m a skeptic, something every single one of us is supposed to be, and I treat anything he says, outside of his specialty, with a grain of salt.  The same goes for Daniel Dennett and Vic Stenger and Eugenie Scott and everyone else.

Let’s stop blindly following people just because they put on a good show on stage, or just because they agree with your views on one particular position.  Question everything and every one.  Doubt all claims until sufficient evidence is provided.  Stop being a groupie.  Stop bowing before the altar.  Be an actual skeptic!

Otherwise, you’re no better than the mindless drones that fill the pews on Sunday morning.

30 thoughts on “Cults of Personality

  1. There does seem to be a price to be paid for hero worship. Love him or hate him, this really isn't even about PZ. It is about us and our need to put people on pedestals. Like you said, skepticism isn't supposed to be about blindly following people. I'd hope that atheism wouldn't be about it either.

    1. No, it isn't about PZ specifically, as I said, I'm not trying to pick on him, he's just put himself up there as a giant target and it's hard not to take a shot at him the way he's behaving. This is really about the desire of some atheists to remove overt religion from their lives, then embrace something that looks, sounds and quacks like the same duck. PZ isn't a hero, neither is anyone else. He's just a guy who got popular in the small atheist uprising. That's fine, I suppose, but to take this back to science, I don't care what kind of rock star you are, your work still has to go through peer review.

      Far too many people seem to be allowing it to pass unscathed and that's a problem.

  2. I see this as a tendency of human nature. However, I don't see any examples here of where it has been a problem. There is no bigger Hitch fan than me, but I disagreed with him on several points. Sure, meet the new boss same as the old boss, is a possibility, but I think most atheists are a little more independent than most church goers.

  3. As an avid reader but not a commenter of PZ's blog for many years I've found his writing entertaining and thought provoking including the topics outside biology and atheism even if they are not expertly comprehensive or in accord with my understanding of things.

    In recent times I've struggled to sustain any interest in the Thunderfoot controversy and the related issues because I find it to be a distraction from the secular and scientific excellence of his blog.

    But PZ would disagree with me on the importance of these unscientific/social issues and argue that the broader topics he covers are integral to confronting idiocy, bigotry and sexism inside and outside the atheist movement. And he would be right and it's his blog and his positions on any issue are there for the reader to consider or not.

    I would think the majority of his readers are not the "mindless groupies" that you describe, but like me, entertained and informed in areas of PZ's expertise and provoked to consider broader issues beyond or within the atheist community that are important to PZ.

  4. I think PZ is taking a page from the playbook not from the religious, but from rappers. Rappers typically understand that they are in a business to make money and the music is secondary to building their brand. With the advent of FtB there can be a strong argument to be made that PZ has made the transition from being primarily an atheist blogger to someone more concerned about his and the FtB brand.

    1. I don't know that I see FtB as a "brand" though. Originally, ScienceBlogs was telling him what he could and could not publish on his own blog, he and Ed started FtB as a place free from censorship, where people could post anything they wanted. Then he turned around and started censoring people. That's the height of hypocrisy.

      It seems to me that he got a little popularity and it went straight to his head, now he and his compatriots want to reform the atheist community in his own image, molding it into his own little liberal utopia where everyone walks in lockstep. I've seen exactly this same thing happen before elsewhere and it absolutely ruins communities. If this continues, if people keep bowing and scraping to the hyper-feminist ideals, it will set the atheist movement back 20 years and it may never recover.

  5. Theists claim that atheism is a religion. Thank you for giving them some ammunition to prove their point. Their claim is much stronger now that we have atheists agreeing with them.

    1. Reality is reality. If atheists don't want to be treated like they are religious, they should stop acting like they are religious.

    2. Does that mean we should never criticize our fellow atheists no matter what they do or say? Such a position would seem more than a bit hypocritical to me.

      1. I actually probably am more critical of people in the skeptical community than anyone else, simply because we're supposed to be rational and be capable of critical evaluation. We ought to go after anyone who makes logical, rational or evidential errors in their claims and arguments and frankly, I think that the whole FtB crew is guilty of such errors. They don't have a rational leg to stand on in the extend of their claims and desires. However, as rational thinkers, we all ought to be open to and welcome criticism that helps us to make stronger, more rational arguments. If I say something stupid, I expect people to correct me. How can I improve my statements if people are not willing to challenge me and demonstrate where I'm wrong on intellectual grounds?

        If anything, what I'm saying is that far too many people who surround these cults of personality are unwilling to challenge their heroes and call them on faulty thinking because they don't want to look bad in the eyes of their celebrity superstars. When you refuse to challenge the status quo, when you put people on a pedestal, when you embrace anything that comes out of their mouths without critical evaluation, how are you any better than the faithful that gathers in the pews to gain enlightenment?

  6. Quite the skeptic you are. You assert, without providing any evidence whatsoever, that people who agree with certain bloggers do so "blindly" and you imply that the consensus on many issues is due to some sort of group think.

    I'll propose an alternate hypothesis to your insulting and condescending suggestion that the followers of these blogs are sycophantic fanaticals accepting the dogma of the bloggers from on high. I assume you are familiar with the concept of selection bias? Couldn't it be that people who agree with view X would self-select the blogs they read, resulting in them ending up at blogs promoting view X?

  7. Furthermore, even if your unevidenced assertion were accurate, and followers of these blogs dogmatically agreed with everything the writers say, that doesn't at all validate your claim, "I’ve really become convinced that the “atheist community” is no better than the religious community".

    You really need a caveat in that statement to clear up specifically what you mean by "no better". Atheist groups are not systematically discriminating against GLBT people and women. They are not funding legislation taking away the rights of minorities. They are frightening their children with concepts of eternal torture.

    You really need to provide more evidence for your assertions. What is your proof for the claim that the "atheist community" is no better than the religious?

  8. "We ought to go after anyone who makes logical, rational or evidential errors in their claims and arguments and frankly, I think that the whole FtB crew is guilty of such errors."

    Overgeneralizing much? "The whole of FtB"? Are you not aware of the number and diversity of bloggers at Free Thought Blogs, or are you just a lazy writer?

    "They don’t have a rational leg to stand on in the extend of their claims and desires."

    This is extremely vague. It would be more intellectually honest to specifically state which claims FtB (*snort*, as if it was a single monolith) makes which are not rational. Not being specific with your criticisms is an easy (and dishonest) way to shield yourself from criticism.

    "If I say something stupid, I expect people to correct me. How can I improve my statements if people are not willing to challenge me and demonstrate where I’m wrong on intellectual grounds?"

    How can I show you that your criticism is flawed if you won't specifically state it. Make specific claims, and provide evidence for them, then people may challenge them.

    1. "Overgeneralizing much? “The whole of FtB”? Are you not aware of the number and diversity of bloggers at Free Thought Blogs, or are you just a lazy writer?"

      Of course, I never said that. If you go back and look at what was said in context, I was saying those people on FtB that are a part of the controversy. I have never said, nor implied, that every blog on FtB is involved, regardless of your intentional attempt at a misquote with "the whole of FtB". If you're going to be dishonest, give up now.

      "This is extremely vague. It would be more intellectually honest to specifically state which claims FtB (*snort*, as if it was a single monolith) makes which are not rational. Not being specific with your criticisms is an easy (and dishonest) way to shield yourself from criticism."

      Do you ever get tired of being dishonest? Nowhere did I say that there were any claims made by FtB, I used the word "they". The fact is, I have been very specific on my charges in this and other posts on the subject.

      I guess that's what happens when you follow a link on Pharyngula and don't actually stop to read what's actually going on.

  9. Please define "hyper-feminist ideals". Examples? And how does treating women as equals harm the atheist movement?

    1. When done as a peripheral issue, it doesn't. True equality is a great thing, one we ought to strive for, but when bickering and bitching and moaning takes over the center stage, it does lots of harm. Any kind of open in-fighting gives ammunition for the opposition to use against us. Besides, you have to remember that this is an *ATHEIST* community, not a liberal community, not a feminist community. People come together because they are atheists and that's all. Trying to turn it into a liberal utopia is destined to fail.

      The serious issue here though isn't equality. I have yet to see a single verifiable incident of women not being treated equally. When was the last time a woman was told to get to the back of the bus? When is the last time a woman was rejected as a speaker because of her gender? Those things don't happen. This isn't about equality. This is about control. This is about a small but vocal group of people who want to control how people act and what people say. This is a group of people who have vastly over-reacted to ridiculously minor incidents and blown their response way out of proportion. There is no actual harassment going on here, otherwise the police would have been contacted and charges filed. There is no actual fear of rape here, otherwise the police or FBI would have been contacted. None of that has happened. It's all being used to make a scene where no scene ought to exist.

      I find it funny that, for a movement which seems to value "no means no", they're not very concerned about it. After all, in no verified incident that I'm aware of has that not worked out just fine. A guy asked, the woman said no, the guy respected that. What these hyper-feminists really want is for people to read their minds and never ask in the first place. That's unrealistic. In fact, you want to know what's even more unrealistic? None of these complaints are really endemic to the atheist community, they are things that happen with equal frequency in all of society. It shouldn't be insulting and attacking atheists for acting like everyone else in society, it should be moving for a social change in general. But, of course, this group doesn't have the numbers or the political clout to make any kind of real change, they're trying for that aforementioned liberal utopia within the atheist community.

      In short, treat everyone equally and think before you cry wolf. That would solve the problem right there.

  10. "No, the problem isn’t necessarily that people get popular, it’s that people start to believe their own press. They start basking in the glow of adulation and after a while, they crave the attention. Worse, they start thinking they can do no wrong because their mindless groupies are telling them exactly that. Every word that comes out of their mouths is gold. Every concept that crosses their keyboards is perfect."

    Evidence please. Lots of opinionated claims and not one shred of evidence. I can't be sure but this sounds more to me like envy. It is much more likely, I think, that atheists who pay attention to these individuals do so because their views happen to coincide with the views of Myers, Dawkins, Harris and the others whom you describe as atheist priests.

    "They stand up before, at best, a couple of thousand atheists at these conferences and deliver talks and get standing ovations and they think that makes them leaders."

    Again, provide evidence that they think this. How the hell do you even know they think this? When have any of them actually said this of themselves? What statements have they made that lead you to this claim? If you are the skeptic you claim to be then stop making unsubstantiated claims.

    "That doesn’t mean that I dislike Dawkins, I happen to greatly admire him, but I’m a skeptic, something every single one of us is supposed to be, and I treat anything he says, outside of his specialty, with a grain of salt. The same goes for Daniel Dennett and Vic Stenger and Eugenie Scott and everyone else."

    And you've provided no evidence that we other atheists don't do exactly the same. I listen to these individuals on other topics and weigh their comments the same as I would the comments of any others, you included. I find that the overwhelming majority of the time, their viewpoints coincide with or parallel mine and that often they have articulated the view better, more eloquently, more deeply than I have or could have. I don't worship any of these individuals. I personally know well over a thousand atheists and not one of them worships any of these individuals.

    "Let’s stop blindly following people just because they put on a good show on stage, or just because they agree with your views on one particular position. Question everything and every one. Doubt all claims until sufficient evidence is provided. Stop being a groupie. Stop bowing before the altar. Be an actual skeptic!"

    You've provided, to repeat myself, not one shred of evidence that we atheists are not doing this. You've provided not one iota of evidence that any atheist is "blindly" following Myers, Dawkins, Harris or any other of the well-know atheists. My conclusion is that this entire post is a strawman you've created so you can pontificate and whine. I hope you feel better, but you've said nothing of any substance or merit.

    1. A little late here…WTF is up with the "Cite or it didn't happen," evidence crap. The author is noting a broad trend. It would take hours upon hours of actually sifting the data. Even then it would be subjective. Yes, subjective. Before you go off sniveling and whining, you might remember that all the accusations of sexism are also…subjective.

      As to facts, refute the following-

      1. People got banned from free thought blogs for disagreeing, even politely, from the majority consensus. Hard to prove, since the narrative is controlled by the censors.

      2. A small, vocal minority controls the narrative on FtBs comment section. If you feel differently, you could, you know, read the 'effin thing.

      3. The regulars at Phalusgulag are actually proud that they "created a nurturing space." Translation- don't disagree, don't "trigger" the more sensitive types (weird that it's fine to trigger the fairy-tale crowd.)If you wanna cite, go read the thing. It give me a headache.

      4. A whole post was dedicated to the atrocity of a t-shirt. Yeppers, that's right. In an age of encroaching religion, diminishing privacy and rights, ethnic cleansing, human starvation, and real sexism-you know, where a women are denied leadership roles, paid less than men, not allowed to control their uterus…a t-shirt reduces a grown person to tears. WTF?

      So proudly don your victimhood, wail and gnash your teeth. The fact of the matter is that the poster is right, and your silly attempts to bury it in a flame of squealing, squalling "cite" "no proof" (by the way, I provided ample cites and proof on a FtB comment section, and was banished for my efforts. You folk wouldn't believe any evidence, even if it was gnawing on your ass)is simply another way to try to control the narrative by burying the competition.

      A proud day for atheists everywhere.

      1. if the Cephus is "noting a broad trend" as you claim then it is incumbent upon Cephus to first establish the existence of the trend. I don't think that Cehus did so. Anecdotal evidence was provided. This fails to establish the claim of a "broad trend."

        I have no need to refute the facts you presented. Some or all of them may be true. But it is not my responsibility to prove the charges or claims false, to refute them as you demand. Rather it is your burden to provide evidence to substantiate them. This is how it works. The claimant has the burden of establishing the truth of the claim.

        I never claimed that sexism does not occur and has not occurred in the atheist community. I accept that it has. I can't myself speak to how widespread is the occurrence of this sexism. Others are more knowledgeable than I on this topic.

        It is not as you claim a "fact" but rather an opinion that Cephus is right. It shall remain an opinion until ample evidence is provided to substantiate the claim. Cephus, as I understood the post, implied that all or damn near all the atheists who listen to and agree with the likes of P.Z. Myers, Dawkins and Harris do so without ever applying any skepticism to their comments. I am simply asking how the hell she knows this. I, for one, apply as much skepticism and scrutiny to the remarks from these individuals as I do to any other person, including Cephus and you. The criteria by which my skepticism operates demands that Cephus provide evidence that I and other atheists, who frequently agree with Myers and the others, are agreeing out of some blind acceptance of whatever issues forth from the mouths of these individuals. To make such a claim without substantiating it is to insult these atheists and skeptics. Cephus is free to insult other atheists and skeptics as often as Cephus likes. We insulted atheists and skeptics are likewise free to challenge Cephus to demonstrate that the insult is justified. Cephus has not done this. Incidentally, Cephus appears to be engaging in the very conduct for which you have criticized me. Cephus seems to be saying, as are you, that to disagree with the two of you on this point is evidence that I and others do blindly hang on every word issued by Myers, Dawkins, and Harris. As I said in my previous post, I find myself agreeing with Myers, Dawkins, and Harris more often than not because they have expressed a view, opinion or conclusion which had already found a place in my worldview before any of these individuals uttered it. And I suspect that this is true of most of the atheists and skeptics who agree with Myers, Dawkins and Harris. (Although I find myself agreeing with Harris much less frequently than with Myers and Dawkins. In fact, I am in nearly complete agreement with the criticism of Harris that has been made by Myers and others concerning torture and profiling.)

        Can't understand why you urge me to don "victomhood" since I never said anything that remotely implied I felt victimized. I simply refuse to accept, as a skeptic, any claim or charge made without an offer of evidence of its veracity. Cephus failed to do this. And I don't give a shit how long Cephus might have to spend sifting through the data to substantiate the claim. That is in fact the obligation of a person who makes a claim. If you are unwilling to do the work then don't offer the claim as a factual statement, as Cephus did. The post never once referred to the comments being made as opinion. They appear to have been offered as a conclusion based on facts that were never actually offered for examination.

        Finally, the comment that I and others who might share my viewpoint I have expressed "wouldn't believe any evidence, even if it was gnawing on your asses" is nothing more than a pathetic means of excusing yourself from offering the evidence. This is not a healthy form of skepticism.

        1. First off, I said nothing about a broad trend, let's make that clear. Those words appear nowhere in my article.

          "I never claimed that sexism does not occur and has not occurred in the atheist community. I accept that it has. I can’t myself speak to how widespread is the occurrence of this sexism. Others are more knowledgeable than I on this topic."

          I never said sexism doesn't occur either, I simply pointed out that, of all the possible examples of sexism one could conceivably find, the best they can come up with are elevator antics and T-shirts. That's it? There are no examples of actual sexism in atheism that are better? No actual rapes? (thank goodness for that). No examples of women being denied access to conferences because of their genitals? No one was attacked? No actual threats that warranted police involvement? Nothing? Nope… elevators and t-shirts. If getting propositioned in an elevator, an encounter that was completely and totally harmless, is the worst thing in Rebecca Watson's life, she's got nothing to complain about. These are all complete over-reactions to very tame situations, they're using these examples as evidence for their absurd claims about the atheist community, running around like Chicken Little screaming the sky is falling. It's just not. Whether these women feel "comfortable" or not really isn't relevant. They've described nothing whatsoever that ought to make a well-adjusted, emotionally-balanced individual uncomfortable.

          It doesn't matter whether you feel you've been victimized or not if you support others who claim they have been, or claim that victimization is going on, without providing actual, credible evidence that it's actually so. Clearly that's the case at the moment. There isn't a single example of a woman being raped at an atheist event, or being fondled, molested or threatened to the point the authorities have been contacted. There's been no evidence that anyone has been victimized at all. Being propositioned in an elevator is not victimization. Being asked to have sex is not victimization. Seeing a t-shirt is not victimization. So who has actually been victimized?

          Nobody. It's an agenda, nothing more.

        2. Do you not understand subjective? Really? Even if "proof" was offered, it would still be subjective. Just like sexism. I've been down this road before, and just like dealing with the god crowd, the goalposts keep moving, the proof is disputed and it end up being…subjective.

          I cannot objectively prove a sunset is beautiful, bacon is tasty or that FtB is a bastion of toadies. That does not mean that any of these are untrue, it simply means that this is not really quantifiable. It is sad and sort of amusing that you can call somebody an ass, and get a "cite or it didn't happen," like some form of junior scientist, smug in the knowledge that no matter what proofs are submitted, you will simply interpret it differently. One person might see PJ as being legitimately praised, another will see that he is getting his hiney kissed. There is no quantifiable means of distinguishing the two. I don't know why some people have a hard time understanding that.

          As to the victimhood thing…I was not referring to you in particular, but when a whole blog post is devoted to what one person was wearing, and how it injured their widdle feewings….what do you call it? Another dreaded subjective thingy, I guess.

          1. Apparently I don't understand "subjective" in the way you mean it. Perhaps it would help if you gave me the definition you are using in this conversation. I fail to see how objective data from which a logical conclusion can be drawn could not be had in the case we are discussing. It may well be a long and laborious effort to sift through the data and organize it in support of the claim, but that is the obligation of anyone presenting a claim as a fact or empirically derived conclusion. Cephus ended the post with the following:

            "Let’s stop blindly following people just because they put on a good show on stage, or just because they agree with your views on one particular position. Question everything and every one. Doubt all claims until sufficient evidence is provided. Stop being a groupie. Stop bowing before the altar. Be an actual skeptic!"

            Good advice to any skeptic. Nowhere in this comment or any other part of the post does Cephus, however, label this as opinion. In this comment Cephus appears to be implying that a substantial number of atheists and skeptics who frequently agree with Myers and the other "bigwigs" are doing so out of some groupie mentality and that this warrants criticizing them for their failure to exercise skepticism. If it were only a few doing this I would not see the point of the post. So I am assuming that Cephus thinks the numbers of atheists and skeptics doing this is large enough to sound an alarm and chastise them for this conduct. But only one anecdote was offered. No attempt was made to quantify the scale of this alleged problem and therefore give the reader some criteria for judging how seriously to take the comment. As I have said several times now I am one of those skeptics who frequently agrees with Myers, Dawkins and some of the other "bigwigs." I know many others who do as well. Neither I nor any of the atheists/skeptics I know accept the commentaries of Myers and the others out of a groupie mentality. IMO nearly most, if not all, of these atheists/skeptics apply skepticism in the same dose to these "bigwig" atheists as they do to the claims of any other atheist, Cephus and you included, when evaluating their claims and comments. Cephus is wrong to say we are not, unless Cephus can provide evidence that the statement made is a fact about a substantial number of atheist/skeptics. Otherwise the claim is nothing more than opinion based only on the one anecdote offered. And I'm fine with this, provided Cephus acknowledges that this is opinion. I state again, the original post was phrased in such a way as to imply that the claims made were fact and not opinion.

            I agree that your inability to prove that "FtB is a bastion of toadies" does not mean that the claim is untrue. It also means you can't prove it is true. Yet you continue to defend the claim as though it is. I don't know if it is or isn't a bastion of toadies. But I reject the claim, made by Cephus and defended by you, that those who frequently agree with and support the comments of Myers, Dawkins and the other "bigwigs" are not behaving as good skeptics and are instead just a bunch of mindless groupies. I will continue to reject the claim until sufficient evidence is offered to substantiate it.

            It would indeed be sadly amusing if someone asked for evidence to support the claim that someone is an ass. Give me an example of this happening. Cephus did not call these skeptics and atheists asses. Cephus said they were failing to exercise their skepticism. That is a statement I think to be wrong.

            I agree that different people may interpret the response of another differently. You apparently interpret the response of many of those who post on Pharyngula as kissing hiney. I do not. But Cephus did not present the claim as a matter of personal intepretation, or at least did make it clear this was personal opinion. It reads like a declaration of established fact. Cephus appeared to be saying that a substantial number of these individuals were not exercising a proper degree of skepticism and are behaving as groupies. Cephus, however, did not restrict this criticism to just those who post at the blogs of the "bigwigs." Cephus seemed to be implying that anyone who agrees frequently with these bigwigs is not exercising a proper level of skepticism. Well, I am expressing my doubt that this claim is true. Provide a convincing argument with sufficiently compelling evidence and I will accept the criticism as warranted. Cephus simply did not do this.

            I am unfamiliar with the T-shirt blog post to which you have referred to twice now. Thus I won't comment on it. Provide the link to it and I'll read it.

  11. Two additional criticisms I have, Mike, of Cephus' post.

    1) Cephus wrote the following:

    "They stand up before, at best, a couple of thousand atheists at these conferences and deliver talks and get standing ovations and they think that makes them leaders."

    How does she, or you, know that this is what they think? What comments have they made or behaviors have they exhibited that leads Cephus to this conclusion. I am unconvinced by Cephus that Myers and Dawkins think this of themselves simply because they are the ones at the speaker's podium and because she claims it to be true. I follow these individuals and I've heard no comments, nor seen any behavior on their part that they have self-appointed themselves as our exalted leaders. I think it more likely they are leaders because the skeptic's and atheist communites in general have elevated them to this position, largely because of the body of written work, both scholarly and non-scholarly, they have produced and their demonstrated ability to articulate their positions.

    2) Cephus also said, this time labeling it as opinion:

    "If you want my opinion, we ought to question everything that everyone says, no matter who says it."

    I absolutely agree. But Cephus, IMO, fais in the post to provide a sufficiently strong argument that this is not happening. I think the overwhelming majority of atheists and skeptics do question "everything that everyone says." I am highly skeptical of the implication in this comment that Cephus questions everything said by everyone but the majority or a substantial number of the rest of us don't.

    1. 1. People who speak at conferences are asked to do so for a reason, because they are seen as having something worthwhile to say. When one does this often, one is seen as an authority figure and thus a leader of sorts. Clearly, people like PZ and Rebecca Watson are seeking to use their influence to push the atheist community down a particular path. I find it very unlikely that people who are trying to hard to lead would not see themselves as leaders. Certainly, a quick Google Search finds site after site after site that identifies PZ as a leader, it's really not that difficult a conclusion to come to.

      2. Clearly, that's what is expected of people who post at or comment on FtB. Thunderf00t was banned because he didn't toe the party line. This is particularly ironic because it was PZ himself that said Thunderf00t could post on any subject he wanted without fear of reprisal and that if he saw anything else on FtB he didn't agree with, he could attack it at will, again without reprisal. Yet the second he did that, he was banned. FtB is clearly not a site set up to avoid censorship, as PZ claims it was when he largely abandoned ScienceBlogs for their censorship, it's a place to set up his own little liberal utopia. It's a place where all the godless liberals are supposed to ejaculate together on cue. Now, PZ and Ed own the place, they can do whatever they please, but is it too much to ask that they're at least honest about it? Apparently so.

  12. T-Shirt fun- http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/http://thunderf00tdotorg.wordpress.com/tag/rebecc

    This concerns FtB, not the other major atheist figures, as I have not experienced the same level of dogmatic vitriol from the "followers" of prominent atheists outside of FtB. However, if you've read the comments on the Free Thought blogs and come to the conclusion that polite disagreement with the majority opinion will not result in insults, accusations and censorship, nothing I can put forward will convince you otherwise. Trying to be clever and engage in distraction tactics of "I don't know what you mean by subjective.." Really? You think semantics and sophistry are going to advance the discussion? There is simply no way to scientifically quantify what are essentially opinion positions. You say "well-deserved accolades" and I say "group-think butt-kissing."

    As to the non-thinking religious qualities of the FtB, my experience is that no argument will sway PZ's followers. Take the Thunderf00t expulsion. If you feel that Thunderf00t may have a point, you're not just wrong, you're evil, stinking, rape-apologist misogynist scum. If you feel that Thunderf00t was wrong, but question censoring him, you are evil…blah blah blah. Not only do you have to agree with PZ's followers, you have to agree the RIGHT way. This seems dogmatic, almost religious to some people.

    I is also hard to show the real context, as PZ and other FtB cronies control the narrative. Many of the comments were sanitized, censored, removed…gone. No honest assessment can be made when pertinent comments were removed. Nor is there any point in putting in a large effort to convince people that are already dogmatic in their stance. Perhaps you are not one of them, and if so, I apologize.

    The funny thing is that I thought Thunderf00t was wrong about the whole harassment policy disagreement. I thought the policy was pretty harmless, perhaps beneficial and nothing to pick a fight over. I thought the way Thunderf00t's disagreement was handled, with censorship, insults and accusations of the most vile sort, was petty and immature. And if you mentioned this in the comments, you got insults, accusations of misogyny and worse. PZ made no attempt to be a moderating influence, indeed just the opposite.

    When insults take the place of reasoned discussion, when no dissent, even polite and considered is not tolerated, that begins to look an awful lot like Cephus' description of the situation above. It seems more a popularity contest than any skeptical inquiry. People defending PZ and the FtB crowd outside of FtBs only reinforce the notion that a religious-like dogmatism has prevailed over true skepticism. Some of the responses of FtB defenders on sites outside of FtBs are eerily similar to what happens when you question scientology.

    1. Keep up the good work Mike, I'm really just enjoying watching you two go at it.

      As for harassment policies in general, I agree with you, they're probably a good idea to have, but likely not for the reason most people think. Conferences need to be able to demonstrate they made a good faith effort to discourage antisocial activity when it invariably happens. It's purely CYA. No policy is ever going to stop someone who is dedicated to violating it from doing so. If someone goes to a conference and wants to harass women or men or whatever, they're going to do it no matter what written policy you have on the matter. Having a policy simply makes it easier to cover the conference's backside in the event of a lawsuit, makes it more justified in removing an individual from the premises if they go overboard and also in refusing to sell them a membership in the future. I don't know if people like Rebecca Watson and the FtB crew think that having something written down officially is going to magically make people behave, but that's just not how it works in the real world.

      I happen to agree with you on the scientology comment, I hadn't considered that angle. Right after I wrote this article and PZ commented on it, I did get several people showing up in comments with long strings of invectives, coming straight off the link from Pharyngula. While I certainly don't blame PZ in any way for the actions of his readers, it does seem to me that the blog culture PZ has always encouraged is likely to fault to some degree. After all, when you engage in things like "crash the poll", telling your readers to go attack things that you personally disagree with, what can you expect?

  13. As an aside, Ron Paul actually does mean something in the grand scheme of things, if for the only reason that he's one of very few political figures in the public eye who is willing to consistently oppose military aggression, destruction of civil liberties and the war on drugs.

    Any debate you see Ron Paul in, regardless of his flaws, is most likely a debate where there would be no critical voice on the wars and the destruction of civil liberties if he was not there.

    When there is overwhelming bipartisan support for these issues, and these issues have a huge effect on millions of lives, the value of someone who stops these issues being ignored on a national stage should not be understated.

    1. That's fine for what it is, I never said I disagreed with everything that he says, but along with a few good ideas tends to come a lot of wingnut craziness. In addition to that, you have to deal with his hordes of zombie-like followers who make anything half-way worthwhile he says come off as raging fanaticism. While I agree that we probably need someone to point out some of these issues that may otherwise be ignored, Ron Paul probably isn't the guy we should hope for, he's just too nutty.

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