First, what is a secular whackjob? The term secular for the purposes of this article will refer to those who disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims, not to those who merely support a separation of church and state. Although all secular (by this definition) extremists are atheists, not all atheists are secular extremists.
First, Melinda Barton makes up a new definition of “secular” for her article. Apparently the usual definitions of “secular” and “atheists” don’t conform to her assumptions — which, ironically, is a problem typically suffered by extremists.
Secular is simply a label for that which is not religious. Secular institutions, thus, are not religious institutions — baseball is secular, church is religious. Melinda Barton insists that her criticisms are only of “secular extremists,” but the fact is that atheists in the West tend not to be religious and tend to disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims. As a consequence, her attacks on “secular whackjobs” are necessarily attacks on most atheists. I doubt that she is unaware of this.
Update: There is now an “editor’s note” where an “editor” says:
Ms. Barton has devoted a considerable number of words to make it abundantly clear that she is not referring to all atheists or secularists--or even a majority of either--in this piece. Many outside blogs have posted critiques that (rather dishonestly) omit this fact, portraying the piece as an attack on all atheists, or even on secularists.
I don’t know if this “editor” has my critique in mind, and I haven’t seen any critiques which don’t quote at least some of the words which the “editor” has in mind, but I’ll point out that I don’t omit Barton’s words where she says that she’s not referring to all atheists or all secularists. However, I also argue that I don’t find her protests credible — many of the words she uses are only compatible with talking about most to all atheists.
I also believe that this “editor’s note” places the “editor” squarely in the position of taking responsibility for Melinda Barton’s expression of religious bigotry. It would be more “honest,” though, if it weren’t done anonymously. (note: the anonymous editor’s note has been replaced with a longer and signed note — see below for more.)
The whackjob is a special sort of atheist [who] will meet any criticism of atheism or positive representation of religion as a horrible attack on his way of life or as support for religious extremism and oppression.
Funny how Melinda Barton doesn’t provide examples of atheists doing this. Given that the whole point of her article is to point out the dangers of secular, atheist extremism within liberal, progressive politics, she really should be able to cite significant and influential examples of this sort of thing happening. After all, if there are only a few marginal and unimportant people saying such things (and it’s implausible that there aren’t a few), then why is she getting so upset... unless atheists are, for Melinda Barton, serving the role of scapegoat and internal enemy, a group she can attack in order to prove her own ideological purity.
Ironically, that’s a characteristic usually found among extremists.
Outrageous claim number 1: Atheism is based on evidence and reason and is philosophically provable or proven. Atheism is a matter of thought, not belief. In other words, atheism is true; religion is false.
Are there atheists who claim this? Perhaps, but it would be unusual because atheism isn’t a claim itself and, therefore, the qualities of “proven” and “disproven” simply don’t apply. Atheism is the absence of belief in gods — it may be more or less rational (as well as reasonable, logical, etc.), but it’s not a specific, testable claim which one can “prove.” It’s perhaps not a coincidence that in her attempt to demonstrate atheists doing this, she cites someone who isn’t actually doing this.
Since the actual definition of atheism undermines the above position, what can we conclude? Well, either Melinda Barton uses a false definition of atheism because she doesn’t know any better, or she uses it despite knowing better. If she doesn’t know any better, then she didn’t do the research she should have; if she does know better, then she isn't being very honest. Either way, the failings in the rest of her article become more comprehensible.
I should also point out that Melinda Barton makes the common mistake of pretending that atheism and religion are somehow diametrically opposed. Atheism is compatible with religion, as there are religious atheists and religions which are atheistic; theism is compatible with irreligion, as there are theists who not only aren’t religious, but who in fact despise religion. Melinda Barton’s made-up definition of “secular extremism” doesn’t entirely justify this error.
Both [atheism and theism] are a matter of faith and therefore belief. In the absence of verifiability, neither can claim to be absolute truth. Placing a burden of proof on either “side” in the matter would be futile as neither could rise to the challenge. Tolerance for differences of belief would be far preferable.
Theism may be a matter of faith; atheism is not — atheism is simply the absence of such a faith. Whether theistic claims can be verified or not depends upon what exactly they are — but if they cannot be tested and at least potentially verified, then they’re probably meaningless and not worth bothering with. In that case, atheism would be more rational.
More interesting, though, is just how much Melinda Barton seems to object to the idea that theists have the burden of proof. It’s common, unfortunately, for theists to react negatively to being put on the spot — they just aren’t accustomed to someone who doesn’t share many of their basic assumptions about the nature of reality and so don’t like having to justify so many things they are used to taking for granted. Not liking the fact that one has a burden of proof, however, isn’t a basis for claiming that one doesn’t have a burden of proof. So long as theists are making extra claims about what exists, they are assuming for themselves a burden of support at the very least (i.e., they are making claims and must be willing and ready to support those claims).
Most atheists would agree that theists have some burden of proof or support; they may or may not agree on what sort of burden atheists have. Once again, it looks like Melinda Barton is classifying most atheists as whackjobs.
In the middle, as always, are the agnostics who hold that claims about the supernatural cannot be assessed as “true” or “false” because they invoke the unknown, the unknowable, and the incoherent. This is perhaps the most logically defensible stance...
It appears that Melinda Barton can no better define agnosticism than she can atheism. That’s usually the case when someone needs to attack atheism: they create a straw man position for atheists which they proceed to rip apart, never really caring whether they are attacking what atheism really is.
Outrageous claim number 2: Since the natural is all that we have or can scientifically observe and/or measure, it is all that exists.
That’s metaphysical naturalism and, as PZ Myers notes in his comments, it’s a reasonable conclusion from the evidence we have. Melinda Barton makes a big deal out of the aphorism “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” claiming that metaphysical naturalism is a “logical fallacy.” She couldn’t be more wrong, though.
First, I frankly don’t think that Melinda Barton understands what a “logical fallacy” is — even if metaphysical naturalism is incorrect, it is not itself a logical fallacy. Incorrect conclusions are not logical fallacies, though they may be based on a logical fallacy. A logical fallacy is an error in the reasoning of an argument which may or may not lead to incorrect inferences and an incorrect conclusion.
Second, sometimes absence of evidence is evidence of absence — it all depends upon the claim. For Melinda Barton to reasonably object to the above, she would have to seriously examine both the claim and the line of reasoning, neither of which she does.
Outrageous claim number 3: All religion is oppressive.
I’ve seen a few atheists claim this — usually on the basis of limited experience with Christianity and Islam. It’s regrettable and incorrect, but also understandable given how little experience people have with the diversity of religion in world. We must remember, however, that Melinda Barton is describing the “outrageous claims” of atheists who “disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims.” The fact of the matter is, there are many such atheists who don’t believe that all religions is oppressive. They may believe that religion tends to be oppressive, or is often oppressive, or even that Western religion can be oppressive. Ad Nihilo, for example, says:
I, like many atheists, do not claim either way whether or not the eradication of religion alone will create a utopia. It is simply far preferable over ‘what it’s created in the world today.
The opinions of atheists on religion are as diverse as atheists themselves are and Melida Barton is grouping them all together as if they monolithic in their beliefs. Unlike metaphysical naturalism, this is a logical fallacy and it’s known as “hasty generalization.” Such generalizations, ironically enough, are often made by extremists about groups they don’t like. It’s easier to smear a diverse group with a simplistic attack than to deal substantively with what they do claim and argue.
According to The International Manifesto for Atheistic Humanism, for instance, “Religion is oppressive. The act of subjugating human will to “divine will” is oppressive. The practice of obeying clergy, of letting them make our decisions for us, is oppressive and irresponsible.”
This one flies in the face of the evidence.
The “evidence” cited by Melinda Barton are examples of religious believers fighting against oppression. For some reason, she doesn’t seem to realize that this is a non sequitur — another genuine logical fallacy. Just because individual religious believers and some religious institutions fight against some types of oppression (but not all — how many abolitionist groups also fought for women’s suffrage?) doesn’t mean that the above claim is false.
Melinda Barton cannot demonstrate that religion is not oppressive through examples of religious believers combatting forms of social and political oppression, like slavery. The truth of the claim “religion is oppressive” is fully compatible with the truth of the claim “religious groups sometimes fight against social oppression.”
Outrageous claim number 4: The eradication of religion in favor of secularism will bring about utopia.
There have been people who have believed this — and not just atheists. I think that some theists have sought the eradication of religion in order to achieve utopia. The entire “spirituality” movement in the West is predicated, at least in part, on the idea that religion is oppressive, evil, and prevents people from truly connecting with the supernatural. There are people who consider themselves deeply spiritual who are more devout believers in the third and fourth “outrageous claims” listed by Melinda Barton than any atheist I’ve ever met.
Outrageous claim number 5: All religious people want to force you or convince you or coerce you to believe as they do.
Melinda Barton at least has the honesty to admit that she can’t cite any examples of this claim being made, but then she proceeds to insist that it’s true anyway because of “personal experience.” For some reason, none of her “personal experiences” provided any useful quotes — but that’s not really relevant because, as I explained above, the purpose of her article requires that she cite influential and important examples of these claims. Otherwise, she’s just using atheists as a scapegoat for her personal ideological agenda.
I find it interesting that only at this point does Melinda Barton begin to demonstrate some understanding of what a logical fallacy is — and it just happens to be the “hasty generalization,” the fallacy which her entire article is built upon.
In modern America, secular extremists as a group don’t have the wealth, influence, numbers or power to affect the way most of us live our lives. However, we should learn from what has happened elsewhere and be prepared to meet them if or when they do.
Translation: even though my article was all about the “important” duty of cleaning the “whackjobs” out of “our attic,” the truth is that they are completely irrelevant and have no real influence on anyone’s lives. Still, they’re vile creatures so we shouldn’t hesitate to attack them at every opportunity and make sure that they don’t get any actual influence like us moral religious believers.
I find it amusing that the above quote could be taken right out of any of the many Christian Right screeds against atheism and humanism. Usually Christian Right authors spend time complaining about the crimes of totalitarian communist governments and then insist that we need to oppose atheism at home because atheists and communists are all basically the same. Here, Melinda Barton is doing something very similar — but in the name of “progressive” politics. I didn’t know that generalizations and smears against people who simply don’t believe in your god was a “progressive” value, Ms. Barton.
Of course, Melinda Barton must consider it “progressive” to describe “atheist whackjobs” thus:
No rational movement dedicated to intellectual courage and honesty should maintain a relationship with those for whom intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and cowardice are a way of life.
Remember, “atheist whackjobs” are atheists who “those who disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims.” That’s most atheists in the West, so according to Melinda Barton, most atheists are intellectually lazy, dishonest, and cowards.
Most atheists are intellectually lazy, but Melinda Barton didn't check her article for logical fallacies before publishing it.
Most atheists are dishonest, but Melinda Barton didn’t use standard definitions of atheism or secular in her piece.
Most atheists are cowards, but Melinda Barton didn’t provide real evidence and examples of the claims she makes.
If it’s atheists who are intellectually lazy, dishonest, and cowards, then what does that make Melinda Barton?
While most who believe in the separation of church and state hold that only government support of religion in the public sphere should be forbidden, the secular extremist may take it one step further to forbid the private display of religious symbols in public places.
Melinda Barton can’t cite any examples of any atheists in America who actually believe that private displays of religious symbols in public places should be banned, but that doesn’t stop her from suggesting that they may do it and, therefore, should be opposed.
Melinda Barton is arguing that religious believers should be “prepared” for what she claims “may” happen, without any examples or evidence, for what atheists “may” do. This puts her in the same league as religious conservatives who attack gay-rights supporters because they “may” do things like take away the tax exempt status of churches which preach against homosexuality.
Ironically, those are “extremists” who Melinda Barton would appear to categorize as “religious whackjobs.”
...the greatest danger the secular extremist poses now is to the integrity and success of progressive movements. ... in a nation comprised predominantly of those who believe in some sort of supreme being, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the secular extremist as a legitimate voice of the left.
Well, here we have yet another religious liberal who is so upset at the existence of irreligious and atheistic liberals that she considers them a “threat” to liberal politics overall. The exact same words could be written about feminists, gays, blacks... indeed, much the same words have been written about those minorities.
Minority groups have often been attacked as “extremists” because they challenge the status quo and refuse to accept traditional wisdom about how society, government, and social relationships should be structured (usually because those structures privilege certain groups over others — the ones in the minority, of course). In the case of atheists, it appears that they are attacked because they represent the specter of doubt — doubt in and skepticism of traditional belief in a benign deity who made everything for a purpose and will make sure that everything turns out OK.
The usual response to such minorities is to tell them to just sit down and shut up; but nothing was ever changed by people who refused to stand up for their rights and who refused to speak up for their equality. Bigots have to portray minorities as extremists because if they actually had to confront minorities’ demands, they might have to produce arguments for what they are doing and why — but they know they can’t. They defend their special privileges by portraying minorities as so far outside the mainstream (the nation is “comprised predominantly of those who believe in some sort of supreme being”) that it’s impossible to modify social structures to incorporate them as complete equals.
Melinda Barton appears to want to marginalize atheists with her attacks, hoping to rally people to the idea of shutting atheists out and not giving them any place in liberal politics because of what they “may” do. Such an article written about Jews, Muslims, or gays would be instantly denounced by other liberals as bigotry disguised in a cheap and tawdry suit — and Raw Story probably wouldn’t have published it.
Saying “in a nation comprised predominantly of those who believe in some sort of supreme being, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the secular extremist as a legitimate voice of the left” is no less bigoted than saying “in a nation comprised predominantly of whites, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the black extremist as a legitimate voice of the left” or “in a nation comprised predominantly of heterosexuals, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the homosexual extremist as a legitimate voice of the left” or “in a nation comprised predominantly of Christians, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the non-Christian extremist as a legitimate voice of the left.”
Because Melinda Barton wrote about atheists, though, it’s OK because atheists don’t count.
Finally, our commitment to truth demands we counter the fallacies being perpetuated in our name.
It doesn’t seem to me that Melinda Barton regards a “commitment to truth” as demanding that she avoid committing fallacies in her effort to denigrate and marginalize people she doesn’t like. It’s true that there are atheists who are “out to lunch,” so to speak — being an atheist doesn’t make one any less prone to all the problems the rest of humanity suffers from (arrogance, dogmatism, intolerance, etc.).
Nothing in Melinda Barton’s article, though, actually addresses that issue — instead, it’s just one fallacy after another (real fallacies, not her mistaken notion of what a “fallacy” is) that ends up as an attempt to marginalize atheists as a despised minority that people must “fear” because of what they “may” do and because they are too “extreme” to accept into polite company.
Update: An editor by the name of Avery Walker has chosen to taken responsibility for Melinda Barton’s smear on atheists. I say “take responsibility” because he denies the validity to atheists’ complaints about the piece. Like Melinda Barton, Avery Walker makes claims for which he offers no support — like, for example, the claim that people are “arguing against an obvious straw man.”
This I found interesting:
I take particular exception with those posts that have changed her wording in the few quotes they provide. Whether this was intentional or simply lazy, I cannot say. I am not a mind-reader, though some of her critics seem to believe they are (apparently, she hates Jews and homosexuals -- though she is a Jewish lesbian!) However they came to these misrepresentations, they are nonetheless irresponsible.
If someone is changing Melinda Barton’s words while pretending that they are actually quoting her words, that’s a pretty serious ethical lapse — but again, Avery Walker doesn’t support his claim. Instead, he is in precisely the same place as Melinda Barton who accuses most atheists of intellectual laziness, dishonesty, and cowardice.
I wonder, though, if Avery Walker has this post in mind because I do change Melinda Barton’s words to demonstrate what her attitude would look like if it were directed at other minority groups. When I do so above (In the paragraph beginning with “Saying “in a nation comprised predominantly...”), I’m clearly not attributing the changed quotes to her, though.
RAW STORY has repeatedly published editorials critical of religion, so I felt it was only appropriate to allow space for an opposing viewpoint.
An “opposing viewpoint,” Avery, is one that supports and defends religion — not one which insists that atheists be further marginalized than they already are.
As another RAW STORY editor wrote to me, “the point is, they’re her opinions and she has a right to express them.”
Yes, these are Melinda Barton’s opinions and she has a right to express them — I’d guess that’s why she has a blog. Since when does a “right to express one’s opinions” include “a right to publish those opinions on RAW STORY”? I’m pretty sure that a similarly worded hit-piece on gays or Jews wouldn’t have been published, even though RAW STORY has published stories defending gay rights. Why doesn’t publishing “the opposing viewpoint” count here? Would RAW STORY publish “the opposing viewpoint” on something like Holocaust Denial, or whether the Earth is round?
Again, I doubt it — so RAW STORY can’t justify their actions here as simply an attempt to present “an opposing viewpoint” and to given Melinda Barton a chance to express her opinion. By publishing it, they take responsibility for it — and Avery Walker takes personal responsibility not only for the piece because he didn’t insist on one that’s more clearly worded, but also because he adopts similar tactics of unsupported accusations as Melinda Barton.
The link to this article have been removed from the RAW STORY front page. Andrew Collins comments:
They seek to conceal their moral failure in first publishing, and later providing protection for, this bigotry. ... They have rewrote history by removing all direct links--along with the “crusading sword” image, to this column from their main web site.
In addition, while it is still possible to search for this column (surprisingly “atheist” and “whackjob” fail, but “barton” works), the link provided in the search results only goes to the main web site.
Avery Walker stands by Melinda Barton’s bigotry and refuses to apologize for publishing — and thereby supporting — such bigotry. That’s his right, naturally, but it’s not compatible with removing the link from the front page so that only those who already know about the essay can get to it. If you remove the link from the front page, you’re communicating the idea that there is something wrong with the essay and don’t want everyone reading it first thing Monday morning while sipping their coffee at work. So why not actually say this? Why not come out and acknowledge that there is something profoundly wrong with the essay?
PZ Myers also comments on the new editor’s note:
I think the reprehensible thing here, though, is that rather than admitting that Barton’s article was a piece of crap, they attack her critics. And attack them rather dishonestly. I noted that Barton claimed her article was not about all atheists; however, she also redefined secularism to only include atheists, and made a series of invented assertions about atheists that she was not able to support—a series of contrived claims that I say effectively meant that her diatribe was against no one at all, but the odious straw man she was shredding was boldly labeled “ATHEIST”.
Myers then goes on to say that editors have asked him to clarify that Melinda Barton’s piece reflects only her own opinions, not those of Raw Story. Myers doesn’t have much sympathy for this request and, frankly, neither do I. They chose to run this piece when they didn’t have to. They chose to defend it in two different editorial notes, one anonymous and one from Avery Walker. Both notes were just as bad — from the perspective of logic and fairness — as Barton’s original article.
I think that the editors of Raw Story have to be held responsible for this because, if they aren’t responsible for what they publish and the bigotry of the articles on their site, then what they heck are they doing all day? There’s no point to being an “editor” if the position doesn’t come with some measure of responsibility — especially the responsibility of choosing what to publish and what not to publish.
Note: Avery Walker has drastically edited his “editor’s note” without actually noting that fact. So some of what is quoted above no longer appears on the page. See below for more...
Note: if you have commentary of your own about Melinda Barton’s little essay, send me a link so that I can point others to it as well. Here are a few I've seen so far...
Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy actually wrote this before Melinda Barton’s piece appeared:
Well, I have a message for you, my Christian / Jewish / Muslim / Scientologist friend. We mean no harm to your planet. Truly.
If you think we’re dismissive, please be honest about how you feel about atheism. You think it’s somewhere between naive and dangerous. Is it so bad if that’s how we feel about organized religion?
And we have a lot more to fear from you than you do from us. Not only are there a lot more of you, you guys are a hell of a lot more aggressive.
I’ve had Mormons walk onto my lawn during a barbecue and stare in my face and try to convert me. I’ve had to steer around screaming people foisting “You’ll Burn in Hell” pamphlets on me. At most every baseball game in the last four years, I’ve had to endure stadia full of my countrymen chanting the theo-jingoistic “God Bless America.” My neighbors have funded $150 million (the Boston Archdiocese’s latest settlement estimate) worth of boy rape. Oh, and some religious dudes slammed some airplanes into buildings, as best I recall — and in the “crusade” that followed, Jesus told our leader to attack a completely unrelated country.
Neural Gourmet writes:
Here’s the deal Melinda. Atheists are easy to paint with your broad brush because we are so few (just about 1% of the population in the U.S.) and aside from not possessing a belief in any gods there’s simply nothing more you can say about us. There are liberal atheists. There are conservative atheists. There are male, female, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transvestite, meateating, vegetarian, vegan, white, black, yellow, red, and, probably somewhere, green atheists. There are even disgusting, hateful atheists.
Nowhere though will you find an atheist agenda. Like the old saw about economists, if you ask 5 atheists their opinion on any given topic you’re likely to get 5 different opinions in return.
J.R. Kinnard writes “You Might Be An Atheist Whackjob If...”
“If you find yourself tilting at windmills while not on the miniature golf course...you might be an atheist whackjob!”
“If you find yourself marginalized from your own political camp by DLC douchebags that wish to champion values, which you abhor, in the blind hope of becoming more politically popular...you might be an atheist whackjob!”
According to Secular Front:
Curiously, the only two examples of “whackjob” atheism she cites are rather obscure [The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc.?], not American and not political.
It is not as if militant atheists are that hard to find, unless you use the peculiar definitional criteria she proposes. Some of us have even produced documentaries or written books or run popular websites.
Spotted Elephant points out how bad the “editors note” is:
It appears the editors are being as hateful as Barton is. Take any marginalized group, and think of conversations where people tut-tut about the “good” members of that group. They’re exceptions to the rule, and they show how vile the rest of the group is. That bit of cognitive acrobatics applies to this article.
At any rate, I fit the definition of the extremist atheist Barton attacked. So to the editors at The Raw Story: cut the crap. You supported bigotry by publishing the piece. Then you endorsed that bigotry by dismissing criticisms of the piece as being the result of lazy reading. Why not consider that the objections have merit? Hey, Barton said atheists were intellectually lazy. Sounds like Barton and The Raw Story are a perfect match.
There are a few other mentions of Melinda Barton's article elsewhere, too. Atrios makes her his Wanker of the Day. Bora Zivkovic comments on her briefly and there are two threads at Democratic Underground about it.
Update: An Apology?
It appears that Melinda Barton has tried to apologize for what she wrote, though it’s not clear that she’s actually apologizing for what atheists were generally complaining about. Does this make it a real apology, then? Barton writes in the comments section of her essay:
After the publication of my take on secular extremism on Raw Story, I received quite a lot of vitriol from many atheists who felt I was condemning atheism as a whole. While I feel that I made clear that that was not the case, I must admit that if so many people came away with this conclusion, then obviously the article was not as well prepared or well written as it should have been.
This is fair. Melinda Barton wouldn’t be the first person to intend to say something about one group of people and then, without realizing, actually express themselves in a way that applied to a broader group. The problem is, Barton does not here explain whom she meant to be talking about. Remember, her attack was aimed at atheists who “disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims.” This constitutes most atheists in America and if that’s not whom she meant, then whom did she really mean? Barton was criticized for her failure to define atheism, agnosticism, and secular properly — indeed, for deliberately making up a new definition for “secular” to suit her ideological purposes. Barton doesn’t mention this at all.
It sounds like she sincerely didn’t intend to offend people, but she doesn’t explain what she ultimately wanted to achieve.
Although I disagree with atheist precepts, I have respect for the logic and reasoning upon which it is based. This continues despite my acceptance of faith in my own life.
What are “atheist precepts”? I didn’t quote here Barton’s explanation that she fully supports the separation of church and state because I’m not sure it’s relevant — off hand, I don’t remember reading anyone who accused her of rejecting it. Maybe some did, but I didn’t see any basis for such a conclusion in her original essay.
Finally, I do not believe that anyone should be silenced or purged, only that the progressive movement is not required to grant legitimacy to all leftist beliefs.
I can’t disagree with this; however, we must remember that she evidently wants to deny legitimacy to the positions of atheists who “disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims.” Since she doesn’t retract that, it seems like that’s still what her stance is — and that undermines her attempt at an apology.
I have regularly opposed religious extremism and have held it up to harsh criticism numerous times in my published work. I thought it only honest to take a look at the other side despite the fact that I consider religious extremism to be the greatest threat facing us today.
This is fair. However, this “other side” which Barton tried to “take a look at” was mostly something she created in her own mind. She didn’t cite any authoritative or influential atheists in America. She committed repeated logical fallacies, none of which she acknowledges in this apology.
So, is it an apology? I’m not sure. The words used suggest that it’s possible that her intentions were good, but there’s too much missing: no acknowledgment that she used bogus definitions, no acknowledgment of her many fallacies and logical errors, and most importantly no acknowledgment of the basic complaint that she’s attacking and seeking to marginalize pretty much all atheists. I get the impression that she didn’t mean to do this, but she doesn’t retract the statements which communicate this and doesn’t clarify her definitions in a manner that would narrow the scope of her attacks.
So, unless she can expand upon this (i.e., retract/modify the statements which cause most atheists to be the targets of her vitriol, just for starters), then it really looks like her position is “I’m sorry that I’ve insulted you and added to your burdens, but I continue to think that the position of most atheists should be disavowed by progressives and further marginalized as much as possible.” That, frankly, isn’t much of an apology as far as I’m concerned — and if that’s not what she means, then she’s still having trouble communicating well (or maybe she just doesn’t “get” what the complaints have been about).
Update: What’s Up Now?
Editor Avery Walker really seems to be upset. First, he drastically edited this signed editor’s note without actually noting that fact, thus giving the impression that his “note” was always short:
I offered no apology, and you will receive none from me. This piece has flaws, but it is not an attack on all people in any one group and we will not pretend it is simply to quiet a very small and very vocal group of mistaken people.
Avery Walker says that it’s not an attack on all or most atheists generally, but he doesn’t address the arguments about how it does do so. Basically, I’ve supported my position (a position shared by others, naturally, and I’m not the only one arguing this) and Avery is rejecting that without offering a counter-argument of his own.
This is key: Avery insists that everyone else is completely wrong in how they have interpreted Barton's piece, but he can't seem to explain how or why they are wrong. Instead, he merely asserts they are wrong. Reasoned arguments just don't work that way, though. If he's right, he should be able to show why and how he is right.
Isn’t it interesting, though, that the essay is flawed enough to remove the link from the front page, but not flawed enough to offer any sort of apology over? I wonder just how bad and how flawed an essay has to be before editors like Walker will admit to having erred in approving them?
It is an attack on logical flaws, not an act of bigotry.
For it to be a valid attack on logical flaws, it would have to be an attack on an identifiable and relevant group of people. I and others have pointed out why that's not so; Avery simply asserts they are wrong without supporting his claim. Avery Walker is not being very credible here because he refuses to explain how and why Barton's piece can be read as an attack on only a small sub-group of atheists.
Surely the many self-proclaimed students of logic on this thread have heard of a vin diagram.
I’ve never heard of a vin diagram. I do, however, know a great deal about Venn Diagrams. Because I know about Venn Diagrams, I also know that they aren’t particularly relevant here so long as Avery Walker refuses to explain how Barton’s piece really only refers to a small sub-group of atheists.
As for the repeated claim that she’s using nothing more than straw men, well, that’s also just flatly false. She provides two written examples of arguments she refutes; she cites a well-known historical example for another; yet another is provided through anecdotal evidence (this is an opinion column, after all).
Avery Walker couldn’t be more wrong here. First, Barton claimed that there are 5 “outrageous” arguments. Four examples for five arguments doesn’t cut it. Second, one written example is the Australian group — but since the context of her article is America, the opinions of Australian atheists aren’t very relevant. Third, anecdotal evidence isn’t adequate because she is calling for the marginalization of a group of people and you can’t legitimately do that on the basis of a single piece of personal experience. Finally, he completely ignores the question of whether the claims in question really are “outrageous” in the first place. Would Avery Walker accept an “opinion column” on “black extremists” based upon the above “examples”? I hope not — but he will do it when it comes to atheists.
This particular point is important because even if we ignore Barton’s straw men (yes, making up incorrect definitions of “secular” and “atheists” means that your are also making up straw men) and false generalizations, the absence of serious examples for all five of points was a serious error. Even if we pretend that her overall arguments and conclusions were true, the piece never should have been published without sound supporting evidence. Barton erred in not providing that, but Avery Walker also erred very seriously in not requiring this evidence before publishing.
However, Avery Walker has made it unambiguously clear that he won’t be apologizing to anyone for this lapse in editorial standards.
Are we really to believe that an answer to documented arguments, preceded and followed by acknowledgments that this is not the thinking of the majority, is an act of bigotry? That’s absurd.
Why does Avery Walker imagine that Melinda Barton really “documented” her arguments?
What truly shocks me is that no one--not a single reader--referred to us by certain blogs has bothered to check the content of the piece against the quotes provided. They don’t match, and they never did. Period. And, no, I will not provide links or name names for the same reason I pulled this version from the main page: These people will not receive the attention and advertising revenue from Raw Story’s readership.
Pay very close attention to this: Avery Walker is not saying that some blogs are misquoting Melinda Barton. This comment requires, I think, that we assume that all the blogs referring people to Raw Story are misquoting Melinda Barton. In such a case, Avery Walker is claiming that I, here in this post, am misquoting Melinda Barton — a very serious accusation which Walker should defend.
Instead, he refuses to name names — and while it’s fair to not want to give advertising or attention to people who have annoyed you, it’s not fair to make very serious ethical accusations without backing them up.
Note that Avery Walker’s “explanation” for why he edited his original note doesn’t add up: he never named names, so when he made his accusation above the article he wasn’t giving anyone any attention or advertising. Why, then, would he pull that original accusation in order to avoid giving anyone any attention or advertising?
I believe this provides a great deal of food for thought on just how and why Melinda Barton’s original piece was published.
Understanding Atheism & Atheists:
- Atheism 101
- What is Atheism?
- Defining Atheism
- Is Atheism a Religion?
- Who Are Atheists?
- Why Don't Atheists Believe in God?
- Questions About Atheism
- Atheism Myths
- Polls on Atheism
Agnosticism & Agnostics:
- Agnosticism 101
- Strong Agnosticism vs. Weak Agnosticism
- Atheism vs. Agnosticism: What's the Difference?
Separation of Church & State:
- Separation of Church and State 101
- What is the Separation of Church and State?
- Religion's Place in the Public Square
- Myths About Church/State Separation
Secularism & Secularization:
- What is Secularism?
- Religious Origins of Secularism
- Secularism as Philosophy
- Secularism as a Political & Social Movement
- Secularism vs. Secularization
- Religion in a Secular Society
- Critiques of Secularism
Christian & Religious Privilege: