Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gnu Athests are also guilty of "motivated reasoning"

Motivated reasoning, or, as I call it, "pulling a Chris Mooney," after Chris Mooney, who popularized studies of the psychology, is reasoning that is designed to strengthen "in-tribe" support for a certain idea.

Christian Righters have long made a "tarring the lot" claim that Hitler, Stalin, Mao and others, like Cambodian mass murderer Pol Pot were all atheists.

Well, Al Stefanelli, who I am taking as a Gnu, shows motivated reasoning isn't restricted to theists. He claims that neither Hitler, nor Stalin, nor Pol Pot were atheists. I tackle, in response to his posting his column link on Google-Plus (the Examiner page won't allow comments) on how this is just wrong, on Stalin.

The typical Gnu-type atheist claims that because Stalin went to an Orthodox seminary, that means he can't be an atheist. Stefanelli adds the claim that because Stalin "revitalized" the Russian Orthodox Church as part of developing patriotism during The Great Patriotic War (WWII), Stalin couldn't be an atheist. Well, WRONG!

I'll explain why, below the fold, as well as tackling another case of motivated reasoning by a more famous atheist who's gotten other things wrong.

Just because Stalin was raised in an Orthodox household and even went to seminary doesn't make him a Christian, and doesn't mean he wasn't an atheist. I am tired of atheists repeating this old line, because it's sloppy thinking in the extreme. If you follow that logic, than John Loftus isn't an atheist, either, because he was a pastor. God, that's SO fucking stupid. And, the fact that Stalin revitalized the Orthodox church during the "Great Patriotic War" doesn't mean he wasn't an atheist, either.

Reality? By empirical evidence, as leader of the USSR, Stalin was indeed an atheist. The rest of Al's column on Stalin is splitting hairs at best. Sorry, but if an Xn rightist argued like that ...

Pol Pot? All we have is the claim of Sihanouk, not totally disinterested. Sorry. In the court of legal history, we throw that one out.

And, Al conveniently dodges talking about Mao. Probably because he can't even find a sliver of exculpatory evidence there to avoid the conclusion that ... Mao's an atheist.

Note: Before anybody asks, by metaphysical stance, I'm an atheist, though that's not the word I normally use to describe myself.

Now, on to case No. 2. Atheist, alleged skeptic, and known promoter of libertarianism under the guise of skepticism (not an ad hominem, a reflection on his reasoning credentials) Penn Jillette claims atheism is growing rapidly, even that "the population is going through the roof," and that some surveys show it's as high as 20 percent of the U.S. populace. Well, Mr. Penn, you're probably either reading poorly written surveys, or you're of your own accord conflating "irreligious" and "atheist," and, in all likelihood, given that I've seen other atheists (whether Gnu or not) make similar claims, you're likely doing the second.

Surveys DO show that the number of Americans who self-identify as "irreligious" or "nonreligious" is indeed growing rapidly. But ... that's far and away from being the same group as "atheists" or even as "atheists plus agnostics." For many such people, it simply means they don't go to church and don't align their belief systems with any particular denomination or tradition within Christianity.

Motivated reasoning is often sloppy reasoning, and sometimes willfully perverse reasoning, as the two examples above show. If Gnu Atheists' goal of atheist evangelism wants to have a chance of succeeding, not just in "reaching" open-minded "drifter" types, but, in not alienating secular humanists who don't like the word "atheism" a lot any more because Gnu Atheism has become its "face," they're going to have to be better.

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