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Sun Aug 11, 2013, 10:59 AM

 

I’m wrestling with the term ‘bigot’ in relation to Richard Dawkins’ now infamous remark about Islam

I agree with just about everybody that Dawkins' remark was a wrong thing to say, and that he provided no thoughtful context for his disdain.

Wikipedia (attribution uncertain) defines Bigotry as the state of mind of a bigot: someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats other people with hatred, contempt, or intolerance on the basis of a person's ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics.

This seems to characterize Dawkins' remark pretty damningly, but here's the rub: many atheists such as myself (and many others in this group, unless I've got it entirely wrong) consider religion to be unambiguously bad, regarding it as a set (many sets) of rather silly and often destructive fantasies to be tolerated only because we unbelievers have no right to interfere with it.

From our point of view, religion has richly earned our disdain because it is based on untruths that must be accepted as true — reality be damned — for religion to exist at all. And that the accepting of those untruths does people harm.

So here’s my question: if I say the following things, and if they are objectively true, am I a 'bigot' for maintaining my disdain? Or am I a simple truth-teller?

• Catholicism is inherently bad because of its treatment of women and LGBT persons
• Islam is inherently bad because it demands abjection from its adherents
• Judaism is inherently bad because it indulges in horrible rituals of genital mutilation
• Scientology is inherently bad because it is a con game designed primarily to fleece the faithful

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Reply I’m wrestling with the term ‘bigot’ in relation to Richard Dawkins’ now infamous remark about Islam (Original post)
MrModerate Aug 2013 OP
TreasonousBastard Aug 2013 #1
rrneck Aug 2013 #2
MrModerate Aug 2013 #4
rrneck Aug 2013 #6
MrModerate Aug 2013 #20
rrneck Aug 2013 #21
MrModerate Aug 2013 #25
rrneck Aug 2013 #33
MrModerate Aug 2013 #37
rrneck Aug 2013 #38
MrModerate Aug 2013 #39
rrneck Aug 2013 #40
skepticscott Aug 2013 #12
MrModerate Aug 2013 #22
frogmarch Aug 2013 #3
MrModerate Aug 2013 #5
skepticscott Aug 2013 #7
Curmudgeoness Aug 2013 #8
mr blur Aug 2013 #10
skepticscott Aug 2013 #11
MrModerate Aug 2013 #16
skepticscott Aug 2013 #18
MrModerate Aug 2013 #23
skepticscott Aug 2013 #28
MrModerate Aug 2013 #29
skepticscott Aug 2013 #30
MrModerate Aug 2013 #31
LostOne4Ever Aug 2013 #32
MrModerate Aug 2013 #36
skepticscott Aug 2013 #34
AtheistCrusader Aug 2013 #41
Curmudgeoness Aug 2013 #14
Curmudgeoness Aug 2013 #9
dimbear Aug 2013 #13
Curmudgeoness Aug 2013 #15
ScottLand Aug 2013 #17
AtheistCrusader Aug 2013 #19
MrModerate Aug 2013 #24
AtheistCrusader Aug 2013 #26
MrModerate Aug 2013 #27
skepticscott Aug 2013 #35

Response to MrModerate (Original post)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 11:14 AM

1. Hasn't he been trashing Christianity for years and getting a pass...

but mention Islam or Judaism and he's a bigot.

The particular remark about Islam was actually true, but don't let that get in the way of bigot-shaming.

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Response to MrModerate (Original post)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 11:14 AM

2. Your four examples are not objectively true.

Although Scientology comes close. (Probably because I find it particularly annoying).

And the followers of those faiths are not inherently anything because of those faiths. Those followers can make of those faiths what they wish, and many do. I think the disdain for followers based on their beliefs is an Ecological fallacy.

Religion is not unambiguously bad.

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Response to rrneck (Reply #2)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 11:35 AM

4. Well, that's not what I said . . .

 

Just as Christians say "hate the sin, love the sinner," my proposition is that, while religion is unambigiously bad, that doesn't mean that believers necessarily are.

I know parents who think their children are extraordinary; golfers who think their swing is a marvel; choristers who think they can sing. The fact that this is objectively untrue doesn't make them bad people, it just makes them people.

But the fact that such people are trapped — by accidents of culture, history, or upbringing — in an elaborate superstition that prevents them from reaching their full humanity? That's bad.

Also, what's not true about my examples?

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #4)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 12:08 PM

6. Religion is not inherently bad.

Thus, the followers of any particular religion are not necessarily "trapped in an elaborate superstition that prevents them from reaching their full humanity".

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Response to rrneck (Reply #6)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 12:42 AM

20. Hmm. There we disagree.

 

The "trapped in an elaborate superstition" is what I consider one of the worst aspects of religion.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #20)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 12:44 AM

21. Trapped some may be,

but not because of any inherent badness of religion.

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Response to rrneck (Reply #21)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 01:10 AM

25. It's hard for me to look at a belief system . . .

 

That's based on fantasies, and which demands adherents live their lives according to those fantasies, and not call it 'bad.'

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #25)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 09:54 AM

33. I call it fiction.

We all live according to one fantasy or another. We project ourselves into the future, and use one sort of narrative or another to do it. And some of it is indeed bad fiction.

Jesus in heaven, seventy two virgins and a Cubbies pennant win are all the same as far as I'm concerned. I think some fictions are better than others because some fictions are attached to the reality of the world and others are just idle wish fulfillment. It's like the difference between Shakespeare and a Harlequin romance.

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Response to rrneck (Reply #33)

Tue Aug 13, 2013, 11:06 PM

37. Certainly our knowledge of the universe around us . . .

 

Is imprecise and filled with error and unknowns, but I wouldn't call that 'fiction.'

Believing something like "I'm a pretty good-looking dude," or "If I stick with this dead-end job, it'll eventually pay off" is not equivalent to believing that there's an omniscient supernatural being guiding the universe that's interested in my behavior and welfare.

And there's no physical law of the universe that would need to be violated for the Cubs to win a pennant someday — just experience and common sense.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #37)

Tue Aug 13, 2013, 11:14 PM

38. I wouldn't call our knowledge of the universe fiction either.

I don't recall making that association.

The Cubs won't win the pennant with skill alone. They will have to want it. They will have to believe they will win. They will have to have faith in their ability to win, especially because they will probably have to come from behind to do it.

Do you believe in the scientific method? Do you have faith that any given discovery will be for the betterment of mankind? Can you imagine a better world through rational thought?

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Response to rrneck (Reply #38)

Wed Aug 14, 2013, 03:17 AM

39. It seemed to me that 'live according to one fantasy or another . . .

 

. . . some of it is indeed bad fiction' was defining our knowledge of the universe as fiction.

But I don't want to put words in your mouth.

With regard to faith in one's ability and faith in one's god, I see those as entirely different, more like the difference between confidence and belief.

Similarly, I have confidence in the scientific method, I have no faith that all discoveries will be for the betterment of mankind, but yes, I can imagine a better world through rational thought. In fact I don't think you even can have a better world without rational thought (although luck — i.e., random chance — is also an essential element).

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #39)

Wed Aug 14, 2013, 10:25 AM

40. I was talking about religion.

Last edited Wed Aug 14, 2013, 11:18 AM - Edit history (1)

Facts is facts and faith is faith. We can amass facts about the universe, and we can have faith in anything. We can have faith that we will have the facts that we need to survive, and our successful survival confirms our faith.

Ability and god, confidence and belief are all the same thing. You say tomato, they say tomato. The "thing" to which you, me, and everybody else refers is the projection of emotion into the future. Learn to make fire, and a warm fire feels good. Make nice and promise to help her survive and you'll get laid. Treat everyone well and don't be an asshole and you'll go to heaven. Take the ring to the mountain of fire and Gandalf won't chew your ass out every fifteen minutes.

Humans spontaneously anthropomorphize everything around them and project themselves into infinity. So science figures out zero, string theory, and the magic of ice in scotch while religion cooks up the concept of pearly gates, bevys of hot virgins and the grease of societal cooperation. It doesn't always work. Sometimes we get Hiroshima and the Inquisition, both of which produced human barbeques.

As far as I'm concerned it's just form and content. In art, form is anything in a work of art you can point at like line or color. Content is what it is about or why it is made. You can't have one without the other, and parsing the objects of faith into into inherently good or bad is an exercise in futility.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #4)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 04:10 PM

12. You're moving the goalposts, which makes me wonder

 

what your real purpose here is. In the OP, you asked about those statements being not just true, but objectively true. Saying that something is "inherently bad" or even just "bad" is a subjective judgement, and can never be objectively true. Who won Nobel Prizes, and where they were from, IS objectively true, so the examples you offer are not at all analogous.

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #12)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 12:48 AM

22. Well, I wasn't trying to make a direct comparison to Dawkins' remark . . .

 

Last edited Mon Aug 12, 2013, 04:43 AM - Edit history (1)

But to pose a question triggered by his remark and responses to it.

Perhaps 'objectively' was not the optimal word. Maybe I should rephrase it as 'and a reasonable person would agree that they're true.'

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Response to MrModerate (Original post)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 11:15 AM

3. I think that

if you call the followers of Catholicism, Islam, Judaism and Scientology inherently bad, labeling you a bigot might be justifiable, but if you call a religion inherently bad you wouldn't be treating other people with hatred, contempt, or intolerance, so I'd say go ahead and call religion whatever you want to.

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Response to frogmarch (Reply #3)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 11:37 AM

5. That's an excellent parsing of the dilemma . . .

 

And indicates exactly where Dawson went off the rails.

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Response to MrModerate (Original post)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 12:51 PM

7. Just to be clear

 

What is the exact quote of Dawkins that you're talking about?

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #7)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 01:56 PM

8. I believe this is what the quote is:

“All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

But I will wait to see whether this is the same quote that the OP is talking about. If I remember correctly, this was a Tweet, so there is no further context. It sounds more like a statement of fact more than an act of bigotry to me. It can be easily proven to be true.

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Response to mr blur (Reply #10)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 04:04 PM

11. Yes, exactly

 

I'm just waitng for the OP to go on record as saying that this was in fact the quote being talked about. Because if it was, their claim that "he provided no thoughtful context for his disdain" is either deliberate falsehood or willful ignorance. Aside from this particular piece, anyone who has paid the slightest attention to Dawkins over the years shouldn't be clueless about the context (which shouldn't have to be repeated at length every time Dawkins comments on something). And whether there is even any "disdain" in this statement is debatable.

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #11)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 06:38 PM

16. Yes, that's the one. n/t

 

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #16)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 07:27 PM

18. So can you specify

 

what in that quote is "bigoted", when it is the simple statement of an objective and unquestionable fact?

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #18)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 01:05 AM

23. I've just read Dawkins' response to the controversy . . .

 

In which he provides plenty of context. I agree with much of it.

And I didn't maintain that the quote is bigoted, only that it was 'wrong.'

Accusations of bigotry, however, arise from the implications of the remark, and how a resonable person could interpret (or perhaps just guess) Dawkins' intent. For many hearers, the remark was clearly akin to dropping a match in a room filled with gasoline.

Any objective truth is vastly overshadowed by the aftermath, something Dawkins' could reliably predict. And so he opens himself up to accusations that he made the remark to injure rather than instruct — which would be bigotry.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #23)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 05:12 AM

28. You stated that the definition of "bigotry"

 

characterizes Dawkins' remark "pretty damningly". In what way does what he said match the definition of bigotry? And please, give us an argument that would convince a rational and objective observer, not just the religionists who start screaming "bigot" like Pavlovian dogs every time Dawkins opens his mouth. The fact that someone is uncomfortable with or offended by the truth doesn't make their accusations of bigotry valid. People with cockeyed worldviews are going to find the truth offensive all the time, but that doesn't mean that the truth should be off limits.

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #28)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 05:30 AM

29. In particular, the "contempt" part . . .

 

Which I think a reasonable person (me for instance) sees dripping off the remark.

Don't get me wrong: I consider all religions to be at the very least silly if they're not destructive, while some tend toward genuine evil (Scientology being my personal bęte noire).

Where Dawkins crossed the line, IMO, was in conflating the belief with the believers.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #29)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 07:24 AM

30. And why would a reasonable person

 

necessarily see contempt, and not regret? He clearly points out in his statement that Islamic culture and societies were at one time in history leading supporters and advancers of scholarship and scientific inquiry. Now, he implies, that seems not to be the case. Is that not a shame?

And how exactly did his statement conflate the belief with the believers, as opposed to pointing out the effect of belief on believers?

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Response to skepticscott (Reply #30)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 07:33 AM

31. A reasonable person would see the tone of the remark, as well as the content.

 

And, for whatever reason, Dawkins chose to mention not Islam (as you have done), but its adherents, Muslims.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #31)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 08:54 AM

32. You can not convey tone of voice through text.

And one cannot show a trend within a religion without referencing its adherents. How can one show that a religion has hampered learning without referencing the accomplishments of its followers?

You could view his words as full of contempt, but its also could be regret as scott says or it could be just stating a fact indifferently in an effort to refute other statements followed by a quip in which he also acknowledged the past success of Muslims.

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Response to LostOne4Ever (Reply #32)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 09:38 PM

36. Oh, *really*?

 

Of course you can convey tone in text. You just can't convey it with the precision you can with actual speech, and you need to use different techniques.

With regard to the different interpretations of Dawkins' statement, public intellectuals need to anticipate the impact of their words (and phrasing, and diction and voice) if they are to be effective.

Dawkins badly misjudged this one, in my opinion.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #31)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 06:23 PM

34. And the tone of the remark

 

if there is any, is to say that things used to be much better than they are now. How does that get interpreted as contempt by default and not regret, especially coming from someone who values the pursuit and advancement of knowledge?

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #29)

Wed Aug 14, 2013, 10:54 AM

41. He didn't. Keep in mind it is a lament. Not an accusation.

He's not conflating the belief with the believer, he's lamenting that the belief has RESTRAINED the achievement of those believers. A people who were, prior to their inculcation in that belief, on the cutting edge of science, math, philosophy, etc.


The 'nobel prize' scoreboard is simply one metric he is using to compare their modern performance with that of peers.

There's really no other explanation for what happened to a social community of more than a billion adherents, that used to produce such amazing advances in multiple fields of science.

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Response to mr blur (Reply #10)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 04:50 PM

14. Excellent link, with great rebuffs.

I especially liked this one---a common "family" of tweets:

You’re a racist (actually usually written as “Your a racist”)


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Response to MrModerate (Original post)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 02:00 PM

9. I do not think that any religion is inherently bad.

It may be a fantasy, people who believe it may be deluding themselves, and there are many who use it to justify bad acts. But it is not inherently bad, just like I don't believe that Santa Claus is inherently bad.

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Response to Curmudgeoness (Reply #9)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 04:28 PM

13. Some of them have some pretty grim facets, such as Thuggee. When the Brits took over

India they completely erased some very nasty religions.

Oddly enough, some Hindu apologists now choose to deny they ever existed. Surprise!

Thankfully we only have mild things here like Heaven's Gate and Jonestown.




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Response to dimbear (Reply #13)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 04:55 PM

15. The people who are sheperding the sheep

in some of these "religions" are inherently bad. I do not know about all the religions that have existed, but with Heaven's Gate or Jonestown, there was definitely a deviation from the accepted practices of Christianity by the leaders of those sects.

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Response to MrModerate (Original post)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 07:13 PM

17. I'm still trying to figure out how this was a "racist" statement as I saw reported.

I keep in mind that Christians judge us atheists and they have to get REALLY EXTREME with their judgment before anyone calls them out on it. It's perfectly fine for them to tell us we're going to BURN IN HELL. It's also okay for them to say the same of gays. But if we agree with them, WE are the intolerant ones?

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Response to MrModerate (Original post)

Sun Aug 11, 2013, 11:37 PM

19. Why 'wrestle' with it?

'bigot' is completely inapplicable to Dawkin's statement.

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Response to AtheistCrusader (Reply #19)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 01:07 AM

24. While your confidence is clear, many others think otherwise . . .

 

Including people who substantially agree with Dawkins.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #24)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 01:18 AM

26. So show them his full essay.

It's not hard to see that his statement is a lament, not gloating. If he were gloating, it might well signal some form of bigotry, but being sad at the failures of others is hardly a character flaw.

Niel DeGrasse Tyson had a similar lecture, check it out 38:30 minutes:
&list=PLDCF0D45F631D9087
Do you think that was a bigoted statement on his part?

It is a lament. Not a victory lap.

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Response to AtheistCrusader (Reply #26)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 02:32 AM

27. I've actually got better advice for Dr. Dawkins . . .

 

Don't try to do anything that calls for a thoughtful response in 140 characters.

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Response to MrModerate (Reply #24)

Mon Aug 12, 2013, 06:26 PM

35. It's not an argument

 

to say that Dawkins is a bigot because some people think he is. That's just repeating an accusation, and one that many people make as a knee-jerk reaction, to boot.

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