Gary Francione's criticism of the "New Atheism" movement (Dawkins, Sam Harris etc.) - VeggieBoards - A Vegetarian Community
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#1 Old 02-21-2012, 06:46 AM
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http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/...e-reflections/

This is a long piece, but he makes some good points which I agree with. Mainly, the fact that trying to derive a system of morality based on "rationality" or natural science alone is silly. I think Sam Harris's attempt to derive a "scientific morality" in specific, is ridiculous and philosophically naïve.

I disagree with Francione about there being moral facts or moral realism, though, and I do not see any need for any religious or spiritual elements to animal rights ethics.

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#2 Old 02-21-2012, 07:22 AM
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Considering Richard Dawkin's attitude towards women, I wouldn't really be using his beliefs to adopt a system of morality.
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#3 Old 02-21-2012, 07:37 AM
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Considering Richard Dawkin's attitude towards women, I wouldn't really be using his beliefs to adopt a system of morality.

I adore Dawkins, but I've heard him speak briefly on the subject of animal rights and he seemed pretty ignorant. What is his attitude towards women?
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#4 Old 02-21-2012, 08:09 AM
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I adore Dawkins, but I've heard him speak briefly on the subject of animal rights and he seemed pretty ignorant. What is his attitude towards women?

There was a spat awhile back where a blogger detailed a woman complaining about being uncomfortable when a man and her were riding in an elevator, and the man asked her to go back to his room for coffee. (Which is kinda creepy behavior, IMO).

Dawkins' reply was:

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Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don't tell me yet again, I know you aren't allowed to drive a car, and you can't leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you'll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep"chick", and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn't lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Ah, Richard Dawkins, showing us that once again, you don't need to be a religious fundie to be an annoying a**hat.

No matter what your opinion of the situation was (and I truly do think that Richard Dawkins should be propositioned by a taller, larger man in an elevator one day, just to see what he thinks of it), dismissing someones concerns as a variant of "#firstworldproblems" is pretty nasty.
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#5 Old 02-21-2012, 08:55 AM
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Is Gary Francione a member of this forum? I thought he was a member of Vegan Forum.

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Ah, Richard Dawkins, showing us that once again, you don't need to be a religious fundie to be an annoying a**hat.

Haha, very true.
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#6 Old 02-21-2012, 09:03 AM
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Sevenseas, I went to reread that piece, and the link 404s.
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#7 Old 02-21-2012, 09:37 AM
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Is Gary Francione a member of this forum? I thought he was a member of Vegan Forum.

He isn't a member here -- or, in any case, I've never seen anyone identify themselves as him.

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Sevenseas, I went to reread that piece, and the link 404s.

Francione posted an explanation:

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My essay on New Atheism became scrambled in that the citations were removed and some paragraphs dropped. This has happened once before. Anyway, I am working to get it straightened out and will do my best to restore the essay as soon as I can. Sorry.


Update: It appears as though the version that was published this morning was a version from Saturday afternoon. I made some significant changes, including an addition of a discussion from Dawkins’ book, and other changes, that did not appear. I am not sure what happened. But I will try to piece things together as soon as I can.


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#8 Old 02-21-2012, 12:40 PM
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Sam Harris' book "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Moral Values" is terrible in my opinion and it doesn't reflect well upon Dawkins that he gave it such a glowing endorsement.

I'm going to steal some words from myself that I've written about the book in the past. Sorry it's a bit wordy:


"I've read the introduction and first chapter of Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape. The book, so far, is much better than the TED talk in the sense that I had no clue what he was on about in his talk. That's not to say the book is good, though.

The book argues that maximizing "the well-being of conscious creatures" must be the fundamental goal of morality. That is, actions that positively impact well-being are (by definition essentially) more moral than actions that negatively impact well-being. Harris argues that this is a valid starting point, because to not value well-being is nonsensical. I'm inclined to agree with this last point -- at a fundamental level, meeting value necessarily increases well-being in some sense. The glaring problem is that Harris does not make the jump from the fact that all people value well-being to the conclusion that people should value other people's (or animals) well-being, nor does he seem to acknowledge that a jump is there to be made.

Let me clarify that last point. Yes, we could say that well-being is necessarily valuable to individuals. But to each individual, the only thing that is fundamentally valuable is their own well-being. Since individuals can feel empathy, the well-being of others can certainly be valuable to us. But it cannot be said to be necessarily or fundamentally valuable to us. It is easy to think of situations in which the well-being of others either has no value to us or in which it has value, but that value is out-weighed by some other value.

The relevance of science, claims Sam Harris, is that it can help us figure out the impact on overall well-being that certain actions, decisions or practices have. This can help us to answer moral questions assuming that we accept Harris' definition of moral value. For example (this is my example, not Harris'), if we could demonstrate that homosexuality does not decrease human well-being, and that discrimination against homosexuals does decrease overall well-being, we could prove that homosexuality is not immoral and that intolerance of it is immoral.

The many counter-intuitive implications of utilitarianism are well-known. One of the most famous "moral dilemmas" is whether you should push one person in front of a train in order to save five people further down the track, where most people tend to say no. I think for most people, their sense of morality takes the utilitarian ideal into account, but certainly also takes non-utilitarian ideals into account as well.

Despite Sam Harris' sometimes embarrassing use of logic and incredulity toward any disagreement, I do agree with him that science seems to me to be undervalued when it comes to questions of how to improve society or whether to engage in certain practices. When faced with a question such as state health care policy or spanking our children people seem to gravitate toward ideological or intuitive reasons rather than scientifically tractable reasons that could be explored with evidence. However, there are certainly already plenty of scientists researching "well-being" or things relevant to it. Psychologists, sociologists, pharmacists, economists, policy researchers... Sam Harris is not (as far as I've gotten in the book) advocating anything be done that isn't already being done by science, he would merely have us re-define morality so that we could insert the label "moral" into the conclusions of some of these scientific studies.

Harris' book seems to argue for utilitarianism. Again, not that there is anything wrong with that, except that it is argued for poorly. Some quotes from the book:

"Once we see that a concern for well-being (defined as deeply and as inclusively as possible) is the only intelligible basis for morality and values, we will see that there must be a science of morality, whether or not we ever succeed in developing it: because the well-being of conscious creatures depends upon how the universe is, altogether. Given that changes in the physical universe and in our experience of it can be understood, science should increasingly enable us to answer specific moral questions. For instance, would it be better to spend our next billion dollars eradicating racism or malaria? Which is generally more harmful to our personal relationships, white lies or gossip? Such questions may seem impossible to get a hold of at this moment, but they may not stay that way forever. As we come to understand how human beings can best collaborate and thrive in this world, science can help us find a path leading away from the lowest depths of misery and toward the heights of happiness for the greatest number of people. Of course, there will be practical impediments to evaluating the consequences of certain actions, and different paths through life may be morally equivalent (i.e., there may be many peaks on the moral landscape), but I am arguing that there are no obstacles, in principle, to our speaking about moral truth."

"For instance, to say that we ought to treat children with kindness seems identical to saying that everyone will tend to be better off if we do."

"Do pigs suffer more than cows do when being led to slaughter? Would humanity suffer more or less, on balance, if the United States unilaterally gave up all its nuclear weapons? Questions like these are very difficult to answer. But this does not mean that they dont have answers."

"The fact that it could be difficult or impossible to know exactly how to maximize human well-being does not mean that there are no right or wrong ways to do thisnor does it mean that we cannot exclude certain answers as obviously bad."

I wonder if Harris and supporters will use this "maximizing well-being" (call it what you want, I call it utilitarianism) moral philosophy to change their lives in any difficult ways? Because from his book and TED talk it seemed he was mainly interested in going after easy targets that a secular audience would already agree with. The amount he talks about the Taliban... hell even the vast majority of Afghanis hated the Taliban when they were in power.

I respect Singer (even though I don't agree with him about everything), because he asked difficult moral questions, came up with some counter-intuitive answers and significantly changed his own behavior in accordance with his conclusions."

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#9 Old 02-21-2012, 01:39 PM
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Francione is a theist. He can't think straight about the subject.
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#10 Old 02-21-2012, 01:43 PM
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I adore Dawkins, but I've heard him speak briefly on the subject of animal rights and he seemed pretty ignorant. What is his attitude towards women?

I seem to remember him saying something along the lines of "I would be a vegetarian but it's more convenient to not be a vegetarian." Which is an excuse I would take seriously from someone living in the middle of a food desert, not someone who is A very wealthy and B living in Britain.

Anyways I can't read the article but it does sort of seem obvious that if you want to build up a moral or ethical framework, you're better of listening to a philosopher than a scientist.
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#11 Old 02-21-2012, 01:47 PM
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All the criticism of "new atheism" in the world doesn't present a single shred of evidence for a deity, especially one that's worth admiring or worshiping.

Also, FYI, making personal points against a proponent of an idea does not defeat or even put a dent in the idea. If, for instance, Newton had been a child rapist that would not mean his ideas on gravity were false, etc.

Tam! RUGH!
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#12 Old 02-21-2012, 01:58 PM
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Francione is a theist. He can't think straight about the subject.

Being a theist doesn't prevent him from pointing out things that are true though, such as rationality itself being a norm, and in general the "no ought from is" problem that people like Sam Harris seem oblivious to.

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#13 Old 02-21-2012, 02:44 PM
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Being a theist doesn't prevent him from pointing out things that are true .

Currently Francione can't even do that though. He hasn't made the post available for us to read yet. He can't figure out his computer.
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#14 Old 02-21-2012, 04:04 PM
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The only time I've ever heard about science and morals came down to a simple thing of we would (by "default" with some people falling outside it) not want to kill others, be social/friendly, and generally help those who need it--because if we didn't have those traits humans would have died out (or be a really small group). Sometimes with an extension of the "do unto others" applying as people would fear that if they did something to others, they would do it back to them--so they'd do what they want done to them hoping the people will do the same.
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#15 Old 02-21-2012, 04:13 PM
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Currently Francione can't even do that though. He hasn't made the post available for us to read yet. He can't figure out his computer.

heehee

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#16 Old 02-21-2012, 07:38 PM
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Considering Richard Dawkin's attitude towards women, I wouldn't really be using his beliefs to adopt a system of morality.

You shouldn't conflate the man's "attitude towards women" with some off color comments he made about a woman who claimed that she was being "sexualized" by a man simply because he asked her to his room for a coffee and a chat (after they had attended the same conference).

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Mainly, the fact that trying to derive a system of morality based on "rationality" or natural science alone is silly. I think Sam Harris's attempt to derive a "scientific morality" in specific, is ridiculous and philosophically naïve.

I disagree with Francione about there being moral facts or moral realism, though, and I do not see any need for any religious or spiritual elements to animal rights ethics.

I really don't see a problem with developing moral systems using rationality or logic. Philosophy has always been a system of arguments based on logic. I'll have to read the article when it's up.
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#17 Old 02-21-2012, 10:04 PM
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You shouldn't conflate the man's "attitude towards women" with some off color comments he made about a woman who claimed that she was being "sexualized" by a man simply because he asked her to his room for a coffee and a chat (after they had attended the same conference).

How dare she talks about being offended by someone asking to her to go to his room for "coffee" at 4 am in the morning! Especially since, according to news reports, she was a panel speaker at the conference and mentioned how she didn't enjoy being hit on and how the violent sexual threats she received from other people in the community.

Dawkins was being an a**.
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#18 Old 02-22-2012, 06:43 AM
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People are entitled to be asses every once in a while. We don't need to label him a woman hater and throw him in a fire because of it.
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#19 Old 02-22-2012, 08:10 AM
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*checks to see if original article is back up* *no* *continues on tangent*

"Asses every once in a while" doesn't really describe Dawkins. He's pretty much the atheist version of the smug, know-everything fundie.
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#20 Old 02-22-2012, 08:29 AM
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How dare she talks about being offended by someone asking to her to go to his room for "coffee" at 4 am in the morning! Especially since, according to news reports, she was a panel speaker at the conference and mentioned how she didn't enjoy being hit on and how the violent sexual threats she received from other people in the community.

Dawkins was being an a**.

It wasn't quite that simple. There was a controversy over how Watson dealt with disagreement to her expressed sentiments. In particular, publicly calling out a blogger who was in attendance at a talk and lumping her together with the nastier trolls. Then PZ Meyers, whose blog is pretty huge, wrote an entry in support of this titled something like "Always name names!" I believe this was where Dawkins left his comment and I think he was partially making fun of the fact that a small incident had blown up into such a big thing. Not that he wasn't being a bit of an ass, but nothing monumental in my opinion. I also think Watson is an ass for reasons unmentioned.

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#21 Old 02-22-2012, 08:32 AM
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Why did Hitchens have to die? He was the only "new atheist" I liked.

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#22 Old 02-23-2012, 04:16 AM
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hey, if ppl wanna read the essay here is a cache of it. if that doesnt work let me know
http://webcache.googleusercontent.co...&client=safari

for now i'lll just say I am by far not a Francione fan, but its too late (early in the morning) to write any kind of detailed thing about this latest piece from him

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#23 Old 02-23-2012, 04:32 AM
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I disagree that Dawkins acted in such a way that one should draw the conclusion that he has a bad attitude towards women. He didn't think asking a woman out, while alone with her in an elevator at 4 a.m. was wrong. I don't, either. Probably stupid, but not "wrong".

To me, the scary part would be riding in an elevator at 4 a.m., alone, with an unfamiliar male. If I was already in the elevator, I'd probably hop out. Because I know not every male is going to ask me politely back to his room for coffee.
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#24 Old 02-23-2012, 11:14 AM
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"Asses every once in a while" doesn't really describe Dawkins. He's pretty much the atheist version of the smug, know-everything fundie.

I don't get that from him at all. He's always struck me as extremely patient even in the face of questions he's heard hundreds of times before. We obviously have opposing biases about Dawkins. I've always rather liked him.
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#25 Old 02-23-2012, 03:41 PM
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hey, if ppl wanna read the essay here is a cache of it. if that doesnt work let me know
http://webcache.googleusercontent.co...&client=safari

I got an Error 404 message when I tried it. Thanks for trying.
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#26 Old 02-23-2012, 04:30 PM
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I got an Error 404 message when I tried it. Thanks for trying.

here you go, http://shortText.com/BOtteeK
I suggest saving a copy in case it goes down

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#27 Old 02-23-2012, 04:34 PM
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also i think some one mentioned Dawkins talking about animals....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYYNY2oKVWU

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#28 Old 02-23-2012, 07:33 PM
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I don't get that from him at all. He's always struck me as extremely patient even in the face of questions he's heard hundreds of times before. We obviously have opposing biases about Dawkins. I've always rather liked him.

There's a clip on youtube where someone asks him what if he's wrong, and he starts attacking Christianity, since, of course, the person who asked that *must* be Christian.

*sigh*
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#29 Old 02-23-2012, 10:16 PM
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here you go, http://shortText.com/BOtteeK
I suggest saving a copy in case it goes down

Thank you. I've saved a copy. Now, I just need to find the time to read it carefully.

And thanks for steering me to http://shortText.com/

I had never heard of this before reading your post. Sounds interesting and very useful.
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#30 Old 02-24-2012, 10:10 AM
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There's a clip on youtube where someone asks him what if he's wrong, and he starts attacking Christianity, since, of course, the person who asked that *must* be Christian.

*sigh*

Are you an atheist? I'd like to know what perspective you're coming from.

In that video he's not attacking Christianity specifically, either, and merely assumes that she is Christian for the sake of argument. She could have been a muslim, a christian, a medieval cathar duelist, or whatever. He's simply pointing out that any religion has as much a claim to truth as any other and how her original question does not exclude believers.
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