Friday, January 27, 2012

Unreason and lack of understanding by Be Scofield

 Yesterday Be Scofield wrote an article attacking atheists for four points: 1) that atheists claim religion is harmful, 2) that atheist attempt to convert the religious, 3) that atheism is cultural imperialism, and 4) that conversion attempts are racist.  Rather than trying to make a reasoned analyses he simply uses a number of rhetorical tricks to avoid the complexity of the issue.

1. Is Religion Harmful?
I won't answer the question in the above heading, because that question is too complex and difficult to answer.  The issue I want to start with is to show that Scofield is a complete hypocrite.

Scofield completely contradicts himself in the end of his article after making a legitimate point.  I agree with Scofields initial point that we should do scientific studies to determine whether specific aspects of religion can be beneficial or harmful.  However, Scofield ends his article with claims that religion can be positive and beneficial to members without citing studies to prove his point.  Hypocritically, he started his article criticizing atheists for claiming religion is harmful without having studies to back themselves up but then goes on to do the same thing himself.  Scofield does not escape his hypocrisy by pointing out anecdotal evidence such as the social services provided by religion because he specifically criticizes atheists for relying on anecdotal evidence of religious harms such as child rape and religious wars.

This debate: religion is good vs. religion is evil is also a bit of confusion of the issue. It is impossible to say that religion as a whole is good or bad.  We can look to evidence of how certain aspects may help people in their lives and other aspects may harm but it is not useful to try to claim the whole of religion good or evil.  Scofield uses a straw-man argument and wrongly accuses atheists of not understanding this and holding an "absolutist position".  If he had read the works of major new atheists such as Dawkins or Harris he would realize that they admit that religion does do good things.  But in order to make atheists look unreasonable he simply makes up this claim that atheists are absolutist.

In the end, I would agree that if we are going to say religion has harmful effects we should cite studies that show this rather than anecdotal evidence. But Scofield can't require Atheists to present evidence of bad aspects of religion if he is going to claim religion is good without evidence.

2.  Converting the faithful
Scofield says:
". . . I simply don’t see why believing in the afterlife is such an urgent issue to liberate people from."
The reason is that religion isn't just belief in an afterlife.  This is a straw-man attack on atheists.  Atheists criticize religion because it is a whole system of beliefs that requires one to accept certain things as true without good evidence to do so.

Imagine this, your neighbor believes in Aliens that live on the inside of the moon.  Every Sunday he travels to a model spaceship where he places on a tin foil hat to commune with the aliens, he donates 10% of his income to a man who claims to be an astronaut who works for the Aliens and he bases his votes on what he thinks the aliens want.  Every day your neighbor lives his life by the rules that this alleged astronaut has written down in a book.  Thus your neighbor hangs moon artwork in his house, teaches his children that the moon is a spaceship and that humans were put here on earth 2,000 years ago by the Alien race.  All of his beliefs are based off the words of this alleged astronaut and many claims in the astronauts books are directly contradicted by scientific evidence.  What do you do?

If you think that your neighbor sounds kinda crazy for believing that then you now know how an atheist feels because these are the exact sort of things that the religious do and believe.  The reason that atheists try to convert theists is not because belief in an afterlife is dangerous but because religious thinking teaches people to  accept things on faith.

Scofield continues his starw-man arguments with no shame stating:
[Atheists have] identified belief in God or religion as the single most oppressive factor in people’s lives . . . .
Considering Scofield just criticized Atheists for requiring evidence I'd like to see one atheist quoted saying the above.  This is a silly straw-man, I have read many atheists and have never seen such a claim by atheists.  Many atheists claim that belief in god can be a problem for people, but to claim that atheists think it is the primary problem is highly disingenuous.  Thus, Scofield's following arguments talking about all the other worse problems people face, such as racism are irrelevant.  Atheists like myself do not disagree that racism can be a greater problem than religion.

3.  Cultural Imperialism
Scofield shows his true lack of integrity when he compares Atheists converting the religious to the slaughter of Native Americans and destruction of their culture by the Americans saying:
. . . when Greta Christina says we’d be better off without religion and insists that we convert believers to atheism she is reproducing cultural imperialism against Native Americans
This is totally inappropriate by Scofield; it is offensive and rude to the plight of the Native Americans who faced and still face oppressive cultural imperialism.  The Native Americans were killed, slaughtered, and oppressed by actions of the United States government and its citizens.  The Native Americans were not killed by social criticism and debate that suggested their political system was wrong or that they should change their cultural habits.  They were killed and displaced by actual physical violence, force, and manipulation.

On the other hand Atheism is simply social criticism and debate.  New atheists point out flaws in the arguments of the religious and attempt to convert them with logic.  If this is cultural imperialism then we can no longer debate any issue because it will be considered cultural imperialism.

Open debate is an important part of our society and is accepted in all areas from politics to philosophical beliefs.  If Scofield wants to accuse Atheists of cultural imperialism like that imposed against the Native Americans he must also accuse the democrats and the republicans for their ongoing battle and even accuse those who prefer Mozart to Beethoven of cultural imperialism.

4.  Converting the Religious is Racist
Scofield uses the inflammatory title in his article "Reason & Racism in the New Atheist Movement."  With such a bold title you would think the article would contain more than three references to the word "racism" but in fact it does not.  Nor does Scofield ever state how Atheists have discriminated against anyone on the basis of race.  Not once does he even attempt to show that atheism is racist.

Instead he just says that most atheists are white males and therefore privileged and thus can't understand the benefit that religion has conferred on minorities fighting for equality.  Ok, that might be a legitimate argument that many atheists are privileged but that doesn't make them racist.  This is a total non-sequitur because privilege does not equal racism, privilege may be a result of racism but a privileged person is not necessarily racist.

If Scofield wants to make an inflammatory claim that atheists are racist he better come up with some better evidence.  As it stands right now he is calling names without any grounds for doing so.

Scofield took the time to criticize atheists for their conversion attempts but unfortunately he didn't take the time to think his arguments through.

Scofield says at the end of his post:
Imagine if much of the passion and fire that characterizes much of the New Atheist community could be directed towards the racial, class and patriarchal oppression that believers experience rather than their beliefs about God or heaven.
First, I want to point out that Scofield obviously does not follow the atheist community otherwise he would see that atheists do often stand up against discrimination.  Then I want to imagine what would happen if Scofield would put his passion and fire into researching and writing reasonable arguments.  But that's not hard to imagine because if he was reasonable he wouldn't have written this article.


  1. Found through a link on Pharyngula (

    Very well written.

  2. What Brownian said. I've bookmarked your blog.