Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A Response for Charlie

Poor Charlie!  Being another one of numerous people called Anonymous, his comment was filed in the spam directory.  Never mind, it has been extracted, cleaned off and put back where it should be.  However, I am going to call him Charlie rather than Anonymous, just for the sake of the on-going discussion.  (I did toy with calling him Peewee, because he's the "Poisoning / Pimping the Well" guy, but he might have thought I was just insulting him.  We don't want that.)

Anyhoo, here's his comment:

I am the anonymous who reviewed and confirmed that this author resorted to fallacies in the previous blog post.

Since I am partially the subject of the author's blog post here, let me lay out for the reader the context of this discussion.

Everything starts with an innocuous Barnes blog post, where, in the comment section, a seemingly animated commenter going by 'neopolitan sokare', and later 'n30p0litan' investigates Barnes' background, and upon finding him supported by a Templeton grant, becomes agitated by it.

The unfortunate odor of atheist fundamentalism becomes pronounced at that point. This type of atheist, as you know, is deeply angered by and prejudiced against academic work that might possibly be construed as sympathetic to theism, and 'Templeton' is one of their dog whistles.

The more moderate atheists among us have no problem with Templeton because Templeton provides valuable support to a diverse set of initiatives and does a good job of affording research independence.

So how does n30's hostility come to bear at this point? He demands that Barnes explain himself for accepting Templeton support given his neutrality on the question of the theological value of fine tuning.

To n30 and fundamentalists like him, you're not allowed to take Templeton support if you are neutral on the theological question. That's forbidden. To do so, in his own words, is to "act from a covert position as a theist with apologetic leanings". Thus n30 demands Barnes state his public commitment to the fundie line, and promise he's not "one of them".

It's easy to see how atheist fundamentalism poisons academia with such overbearing and paranoid Orwellian demands and pressures to commit to their ideology, which is where I repudiate this kind of extremism. It hurts academia, is totally unnecessary, and ends up making atheists look like lunatics!

But the real issue here is the well-poisoning charge. Why do I think n30 is well-poisoning? Because of n30's absurd Templeton rage.

I don't think taking Templeton money on its own says anything about your allegiance to theism or atheism, nor is it, on its own, a mark against your scholarship. Plenty of atheists I know have taken Templeton money. None of them have seen or spoken of undue influence or produced compromised scholarship.

As I've pointed out, only fundamentalist atheists have this problem. Given the paucity of evidence for it, the only basis for arguing such a point is on faith (of a slightly unusual sort, given the atheism of its proponents).

I stand by the view that charging that someone's work is tainted on the basis of their funding or personal views alone, with no further evidence or engagement with their claims is well-poisoning.

Stop embarrassing the rest of us with this silly ghostbusters witchhunt. Let us, both atheists and theists, get to work in peace.

I'm not entirely sure why WordPress sometimes lists me as "neopolitan sokare" and sometimes as "n30p0litan", the latter was chosen merely because "neopolitan" wasn't available (perhaps for the same reason that it was not available at BlogSpot, hence the use of "wotpolitan", which is just a little play on words).  I have put, at the bottom of various comments, the name I go by (neopolitan) and this blog is titled "neopolitan's philosophical blog", so it should be easy to work this out.  If, on the other hand, you want to refer to me as n30p0litan or n30 or wotpolitan or wot, then I guess you can.  I even accept neo, but I must stress that I've been using this nick (and before that one similar to it) for almost two decades, well before the Matrix came out and almost forced me to abandon it.   No matter which nick you use, I'll probably know who you are talking about.

So, to the crux of your complaint.  Am I unreasonably "agitated" by Barnes' association with Templeton?  I am clearly "agitated" to some extent, although I would characterise it as "being motivated to act".  I don't think this level of "agitation" is unreasonable though, nor do I think that my "agitation" warrants labelling me as a "fundamentalist atheist", whatever that is supposed to mean.

I do have to turn the spotlight on you for a moment, Charlie.  Where are you coming from?  What's your motivation in this?  Why does Barnes deserve or need your protection?  If I have, as you seem to imply, significantly wronged Barnes, why is he hiding behind your skirts and not speaking out?  (He's currently putting a lot of effort into skewering Richard Carrier who is a much bigger fish, so either I am not important enough or he doesn't have the time, either of which is okay.  Especially if he has lapdogs like Charlie to yap at small fry like me.)

You, Charlie, seem to imply once or twice that you are a "moderate atheist", or at least to allow the appearance of such an implication – "the more moderate atheists among us" and "(s)top embarrassing the rest of us".  Which "us" is this precisely?

You make a claim that there is some sort of fundamentalist core within academia, one that demands that everyone toe the line with respect to some sort of atheist ideology.  I'd like to see evidence of that.  I agree that it's built-in as far as engineering and maths goes and, I would argue, proper physics.  You can't design a building and have the load bearing structure be supported by your god, you'll get the sack pretty quickly if you did that.  Your design must have an inherent presumption of the lack of a god.  A mathematical proof has no need of a god hypothesis.  Actual physics doesn’t call on god to explain phenomena, although it is true that some physicists (say cosmologists and astronomers, for example) call on theology to fill the gaps in knowledge that normally would be covered by the phrase "we just don't know".  NASA engineers trying to build the craft for some future manned mission to Mars won't put up with advice from an astrophysicist that includes references to divine intervention.

But none of this is ideology.  It's pragmatism.  The god that Barnes seems to believe in (and the one that I suspect that you believe in, Charlie) doesn't ever intervene.  It is effectively non-existent, and very likely actually non-existent.  Pondering this god while there are real issues to contend with is a massive waste of time.  Treating it as if it were real is worse.

Templeton is a god-bothering organisation.  We both know it.  I don't think you have even tried to deny it.  It preferentially hands out money to people who are furthering its god-bothering agenda – and note that assistance by the recipient doesn't have to be intentional.

You say you know "plenty of atheists (who) have taken Templeton money" none of whom have "seen or spoken of undue influence or produced compromised scholarship".  Hopefully, you'll forgive me if I find this apparently partisan anecdote to be unconvincing.  I don't know who you are, I don't know how many people you consider "plenty" and I don't know in which field(s) these atheists you know work.  There are plenty of people around who do object to the involvement of Templeton (Jerry Coyne, John Horgan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, for example).  Note a competing anecdote from John Horgan:

One Templeton official made what I felt were inappropriate remarks about the foundation's expectations of us fellows.  She told us that the meeting cost more than $1-million, and in return the foundation wanted us to publish articles touching on science and religion.  But when I told her one evening at dinner that – given all the problems caused by religion throughout human history – I didn't want science and religion to be reconciled, and that I hoped humanity would eventually outgrow religion, she replied that she didn't think someone with those opinions should have accepted a fellowship.  So much for an open exchange of views.

As to getting to work in peace, feel free to not read what I write.  So, what sort of work were you doing again?


  1. Neo/n30 has finally come up with a response. Is it adequate?

    Sadly, no. This response is replete with bare assertions. For a thinking atheist this response is inadequate and unimpressive. It is also unsurprising. The hapless fundamentalist atheist position, as it turns out, is just not one you can provide good evidence for. Let's see why.

    But first, a preface. There are two or three issues I will cast aside due to their irrelevance to the discussion. I won't address the history of Neo's nicknames, and I won't go into the details of my belief. A sound argument and good science holds regardless of one's nickname or ideology.

    So where do we begin on Neo's litany of errors? Let's start at the beginning.

    You'll notice Neo's first charge is that his agitation at Barnes' alleged Templeton funding is reasonable. No explanation, no evidence, no justification. Just a bare assertion. It has as much substance as an air guitar. Are we supposed to take him seriously? I think not.

    Second, Neo comes after me, and Barnes, who I defend on the Templeton issue. Neo is hysteric at the idea that Barnes doesn't respond to his allegations. Why is he hiding, Neo demands to know!

    But once again Neo shows his failure at doing due diligence: He hasn't considered the possibility that he (Neo) hasn't come up with a coherent problem for Barnes to address. Not every rambling and confused screed is worth responding to, let's recall. Not because Neo is small fry but because he's toeing the fundie atheist line, the intellectual equivalent of Holocaust denial.

    It's not just the fundamentalist atheism that's wholly distasteful about n3o's campaign, its the fundamental misunderstanding of basic maths. As a flimsy defense of his Templetonphobia, Neo cites a list of people who are also unhappy with Templeton. But the astute reader will notice that almost everybody else on this list is also a fundie. Dawkins? Coyne? Dennett? This is an obvious con, a white supremacist citing other white supremacists. No thinking atheist will be persuaded by this ruse.

    The thing to notice here is how the extreme wing of atheism ends up sabotaging social progress by importing unnecessary and divisive anti-religious prejudice. No adequate defense of such an intolerant and bigoted approach has been forthcoming.

    Science works best when people aren't bickering unnecessarily. There is absolutely no need to foment illusory divisions with people of other views. Let it remain on the fringes where it belongs.

    Barnes, in doing his work, need not answer to or negotiate with the extremists. As long as he is an impeccable scientist, his views are no problem to me and most atheists. We need more atheistic moderation in the mainstream.

    1. | As long as (Barnes) is an impeccable scientist, his views are no problem


      I'll leave the rest of your comments to stand for themselves. I have no concern that others will be unable to read between the lines and see you for what you are, Charlie.


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