2015-08-12

“On how to be completely wrong about radicalisation: the curious case of Jerry Coyne”

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by Neil Godfrey

If every time we mentioned women to a friend he started talking about their breasts, we’d be entitled to think that this was all he was interested in when it comes to women. The same goes for Coyne (and Harris’s) almost exclusive focus on religious beliefs in the context of Islamist terrorism.

Dan Jones on his blog The Philosopher In The Mirror has responded to Jerry Coyne’s little diatribe against an unpublished communication of mine in which I expressed some dismay that a highly educated academic such as himself (along with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris) reject scholarly research into today’s problems with terrorism and Islamic violence. What concerns me is the way Coyne and Dawkins have exploited their very public status (well deserved for their fields of expertise) to fan public ignorance and bigotry with their ill-informed commentary. Coyne has routinely denied me space on his blog to express this criticism so I wrote him the following:

Jerry, what concerns me about the various statements made by yourself along with Dawkins and Harris is that they are not informed by specialist scholarship — sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists et al — in Islamic and terrorist studies. Rather, they seem to be fueled by visceral reactions without the benefit of broader understanding and knowledge that comes from scholarly investigations into these phenomena. It almost appears to some of us that your criticisms are willfully ignorant of the scholarship. I find these visceral responses coming from trained scientists difficult to understand.

Jerry in response chose not to reply personally or to post my concerns among his comments section but made them the topic of a blog post with his reply as follows:

What “scholarship” that people like Godfrey and Robert Pape have mentioned or produced has completely ignored what the terrorists say about their own motivations in favor of blaming colonialism—something that self-flagellating liberals in the West love to do. (Not, of course, that the U.S. is completely blameless in oppressing and attacking the Middle East, but neither are we the sole cause of extreme Islamic terrorism.) As I once asked one of these blame-the-West apologists, “What would it take to convince you that some Muslim terrorists are actually motivated by religion?” Clearly the terrorists’ own words don’t count: the “scholars” claim to know better. This unfounded psychologizing clearly shows their motivations.

Jerry flatly declined my subsequent request to post a reply on his blog so I was pleased when a reader alerted me to a more prominent and accomplished writer taking up the cause with On how to be completely wrong about radicalisation: the curious case of Jerry Coyne. He begins:

So now it’s my time to get into the water – and hopefully clean it up a bit.

The full response of Dan Jones is well worth taking time to read. I post here just a few excerpts. (Bolding is my own.)

To kick off, can Coyne please show us some examples from the scholarship produced by radicalisation researchers in which the author simply blames colonialism (whatever that even means), and ignores the role of religious ideology in motivating Islamist terrorists?

In fact, it’s easy to show that Coyne is attacking a strawman. He would have you believe that radicalisation researchers are a bunch of “self-flagellating liberals” who ignore the role of religion and the ideologies it informs, and instead want to pin the blame on colonialism, or contemporary foreign policy more generally.

Coyne is talking total bullshit, bullshit he’s simply made up. It wouldn’t be worth responding to except it serves as a useful teachable moment.

After quoting the views of radicalisation researchers (Pantucci are Neumann) Dan Jones remarks:

Again, these are not the words of someone who wants to remove religious beliefs and ideology from the story of radicalisation, and blame it on colonialism/foreign policy. This is entirely uncontroversial in the world of radicalisation research. If that’s a surprise to Coyne, it’s because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to the radicalisation literature.

In response to Jerry Coyne’s attempt to link Scot Atran in support of his views (I have discussed some of Atran’s work in detail several times on this blog) Jones points out:

Read Atran’s books and articles, and watch his talks online, and you’ll see that he acknowledges the importance of ideology all the time – he just wants to know what translates ideology into action.

(Wikipedia)

(Wikipedia)

Jones then quotes from some of Coyne’s other posts in which he publicizes his popular prejudice and ignorance of scholarly research, summing up with

The message is clear: if you want to understand ISIS and other Islamist terrorists, you need only look at their religious beliefs. That will tell everything about why they’re radicalised, and why they do the awful things they do.

This is where Coyne, Dawkins and Harris leave me dismayed. If there is one thing serious research has demonstrated over and over it is that beliefs do not automatically stimulate and motivate behaviour — so much so that I thought the idea by now has been relegated to an “old wives tale” at least among academics.

Flying in the face of half a century’s research

Coyne often lauds Sam Harris’s writing. Jones quoting Harris: 

As a man believes, so he will act. Believe that you are the member of a chosen people, awash in the salacious exports of an evil culture that is turning your children away from God, believe that you will be rewarded with an eternity of unimaginable delights by dealing death to these infidels — and flying a plane into a building is scarcely more than a matter of being asked to do it.

Elsewhere, Harris writes:

Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? …. In drawing a connection between the doctrine of Islam and jihadist violence, I am talking about ideas and their consequences … Now can we honestly talk about the link between belief and behavior?

Please, let us! (It should be noted that Harris’s assertion that “As a man believes, so he will act” is not only based on zero empirical evidence, but actually flies in the face of half a century’s research – talk about having an honest conversation!) It should be stressed that the nature of the belief-behaviour link is not an area that radicalisation researchers have shied away from; in fact, it’s central to the field.

Jones references the literature to distinguish “cognitive extremists” from “behavioural extremists”. 

Note:

Various polls, often cited by writers like Harris as well as radicalisation researchers, suggest that a minimum of 15–20% of Muslims globally accept an Islamist or Jihadi ideology — making for somewhere between 240 million and 320 million cognitive extremists. One obvious question is why just 15-20% accept this ideology, while the vast majority reject it. Saying “Jihad is the product of beliefs derived from Islam” doesn’t even engage with the question, let alone provide an answer. . . 

missingmartyrsThe problems for this simplistic refrain are even more evident when it comes to behavioural radicalisation. A report published in July 2014 by the RAND Corporation estimated that there were 100,000 Jihadists active at the time — a terrifying number — but even if we assume that there are twice as many, that translates into just 0.06–0.08% of cognitive radicals (240-320 million) becoming behavioural extremists. 

If Harris is right — that “as a man believes, so he will act”, and “certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder” — why aren’t the millions of people who hold extreme beliefs going round killing people? As Charles Kurzman puts it, where are “the missing martyrs”? Is it really that they simply haven’t been asked to carry out an act of terrorism, or just lack the means to launch one themselves? If not, what might differentiate between those who hold extreme beliefs who refrain from violence, and those who embrace it? Pointing out that “some Muslim terrorists are actually motivated [PARTIALLY? EXCLUSIVELY? LET’S LEAVE IT CONVENIENTLY AMBIGUOUS!] by religion” is of no help.

He continues:

These are the kinds of questions that radicalisation researchers have addressed. In the 2013 review cited earlier, Neumann wrote:

No serious academic argues that all—or even most—cognitive extremists will go on to embrace violence. The notion of a ‘unidirectional relationship’ between beliefs and terrorism may exist in the minds of some right-wing bloggers, but it has never gained traction among members of the scholarly community. None of the widely used models and theories of radicalization suggest that beliefs or ideologies are the sole influence on or explanation for why people turn to terrorism.

Coyne, despite his strong opinions about Islamist terrorism and its causes, has little time for the views of people who spend their professional lives studying radicalisation and ideologically driven violence, as the quote from the beginning of this post demonstrates.

Instead, he prefers to tilt at windmills. Who, exactly, are the blame-the-West radicalisation researchers – not just someone spouting off on the Internet – that Coyne has so cleverly challenged with his hard-hitting question about religious motivation? To repeat for those who have difficulty reading and comprehending, the scholars Coyne writes off DO NOT DENY that some, perhaps most, Muslim terrorists are MOTIVATED BY RELIGION.

Coyne also maintains the ludicrous fantasy that these researchers do not listen to the words of terrorists.

It’s an odd claim since many of them, such as Scott Atran, Marc Sageman, and Anne Speckhard, have travelled the world meeting with terrorists, their friends and families – unlike Coyne who knocks out his polemics from behind his computer screen in Chicago. (Which terrorists is Coyne listening to, exactly? Those quoted on Fox News?)

Absolutely deaf to all of this

Look at the original post to see a series of quotations from the terrorists themselves. To find them quickly do a word search on “Fox News” and you will be taken to their starting point. Continue reading through the following half dozen or so paragraphs of further informed details about the words of the terrorists themselves until you reach this where we reach the point I myself have been attempting to make on this blog and elsewhere:

The fact that Coyne is absolutely deaf to all of this doesn’t tell you anything about the motivations of the researchers who have brought this to light, as he suggests in the quote at the top. But they tell you everything about Coyne’s. Arguing that religious ideology is not the SOLE motivator of jihadist terrorism is not an example of “uninformed psychologising”, as Coyne would have it. It’s Coyne who is uninformed, and who is guilty of baseless psychologising. The level of ignorance is embarrassing, especially from a tenured professor.

Coyne has protested — as have some of his supporter on Vridar — that he does not blame Islam “entirely” for terrorism. He really does admit there are some other factors involved. Yes, well, as Dan Jones poignantly observes:

Perhaps Coyne will be tempted to reply along these lines: “I’m not saying that Islamic religious beliefs are the SOLE CAUSE of Islamist terrorism; I’m just saying that the religious beliefs and ideological commitments of terrorists play a causal role in their behaviour, and that these beliefs are genealogically related to Islam”.

Well, congratulations on making the most banal and unhelpful contribution to the radicalisation literature – and one that is already a guiding assumption of most radicalisation research.

Dan draws a parallel that will come to mind every time I see another post by Coyne, Harris, Dawkins on Islamic violence.

It’s not just that Coyne is wrong about what radicalisation researchers say about the multi-factorial causes of terrorism (Islamist or otherwise), but that he – like Harris – only ever talks about the doctrines of Islam/Islamism, and the religious beliefs held by terrorists, when talking about radicalisation, violent extremism and terrorism. If every time we mentioned women to a friend he started talking about their breasts, we’d be entitled to think that this was all he was interested in when it comes to women. The same goes for Coyne (and Harris’s) almost exclusive focus on religious beliefs in the context of Islamist terrorism.

Gets you nowhere

The focus on beliefs, and the totally unwarranted assumption that beliefs cause behaviour in an almost law-like way (or at least reliably, whatever that means), gets you nowhere in explaining the disconnect between belief and behaviour. Indeed, it can’t, because it tries to hide that very disconnect, or pretend it isn’t there. But it is. (I’ve written more about this here.)

Radicalisation researchers are keenly interested in explaining behavioural (or action) radicalisation, which after all is the real threat to safety and security. The kind of researchers that Coyne would happily wave away actually spend their time going to places like Iraq and Libya to find out what drives intense commitment to both causes and groups, and have revealed how social, group-based processes can fuse groups into tight ‘bands of brothers’ who will kill and die for each other, just as you might for your family (another kind of radicalism, but a more acceptable one). If you keep banging on about beliefs, you’ll never hear what these researchers, who put their necks on the line in a way that Coyne wouldn’t dare, have to say. (Some relevant research is described in a feature I wrote for Nature a while back; see here and here for recent examples from Scott Atran.)

Concluding

Dan Jones quotes at length towards the end of his article words of Randy Borum, Professor of Strategy and Intelligence Studies at the University of South Florida, tying together the points Jones has made. Borum’s original two-part paper can be accessed here and here).

If you think the above remarks have been unfair to the views of Jerry Coyne then I ask you to first read the original post where further caveats and alternative anticipated responses of Coyne are set out and discussed. If you think I have distorted Jones’ post and done an injustice to Coyne then let me know.

Above all, if much of this is not familiar to any of us then look at Jone’s final paragraph where he lists a small and up-to-date bibliography of scholarly research into the causes of (Islamic) terrorism.

RandyBorum

Randy Borum

223 Comments

  • Kapitano
    2015-08-12 23:43:14 UTC - 23:43 | Permalink

    Everyone knows that when you’re trying to figure out why someone does something, their stated reasons tell us about their patterns of rationalisation, not their actual motives.

    It’s such a platitude it’s embarrassing to have to point it out.

    But when the stated reasons are religious, somehow we forget we know that. So when a bigot justifies their prejudice by mentioning the bible, we get sidetracked into biblical exegesis – with someone who’s probably never even read their bible.

    • j f d'auria
      2016-08-16 14:21:23 UTC - 14:21 | Permalink

      I agree…a major reason that i do not bother with auto biographies of people i am interested in.

  • VinnyJH
    2015-08-13 01:50:32 UTC - 01:50 | Permalink

    For cogent analysis of terrorism’s causes, I would say it rates right up there with George Bush’s “They hate our freedoms.”

    • 2015-08-13 03:40:24 UTC - 03:40 | Permalink

      I think they generally do, but only when these freedoms are enforced in their societies.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-13 04:59:20 UTC - 04:59 | Permalink

        This view is based upon the sort of research addressed by Dan Jones?

  • 2015-08-13 09:36:24 UTC - 09:36 | Permalink

    Long time listener, first time caller. I just want to ask you to do a post on the future where you elaborate on the research you cite in this post. This post, and the one you cite, will earn you many pats in the back I’m sure, but it will not convince anyone in the other side of the fence.

    When I was a teenager, I read the bible by myself, and I became very profuse about its doctrine. I was not in inserted into any religious network. I was more into calling people hypocrites because that was what Jesus did a lot hehe. I can see myself being more dramatic if the message of the holy textbook was more dramatic, like promising me rewards. Had I access to weapons and a reason to act, I might have done so. I can relate with conservatives who see Islam as a motivator, because a few religious people do get their motivation from their holy book. Not all, it depends on the personality, some are more into other aspects of religion, but some do take their holy books very seriously.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-13 11:12:06 UTC - 11:12 | Permalink

      I have posted quite often on these points. You will see a list of authors in my reply on Dan’s blog — I have posted on several of those in some depth in the past.

      Many but not all . . . .

      http://vridar.org/category/terrorism-politics-society/

      http://vridar.org/category/religion/islam/

      http://vridar.org/category/politics-society/islamophobia/

      http://vridar.org/category/politics-society/islamic-state/

      I have since downloaded and ordered more recent books that came to my attention through Dan’s blog. I do intend to write about some of them when read. Already I find the opening chapter of Friction by McCauley fascinating — comparing the various terrorist movements in history, especially the nineteenth century Russian ones, with our “Islamic” ones today.

      I am currently reading Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 (by Bruce Hoffman) and in the second or third chapter is a horrific and moving episode that illustrates the point made in the above post perfectly. I may post about that scenario soon.

      You are absolutely correct about not convincing anyone on the other side. I know quite a few readers of this blog are on that side and deplore these posts of mine. Several have left because of them, which is a shame, but it can’t be helped.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-08-13 10:36:13 UTC - 10:36 | Permalink

    I notified Jerry Coyne of Dan’s and my posts. His reply was to complain that “this guy is still after” him. He informed me he had read both my post and Dan’s but would not bother replying. I had alerted Jerry to the posts for the point of giving him an opportunity to make any public corrections in what was being said about him — and I explained this as my reason for my notice. I can only conclude he is choosing to be deliberately ignorant.

    (Jerry did explain that his “this guy is still after me” post was meant for another friend of his. Presumably the “this guy” he meant was me, not Dan. Bizarre that Jerry would interpret an attempt to point out needed corrections in his posts mixed with an ethical notice that I had posted something about him and wanted him to have an opportunity to correct anything as “going after him”.)

    • 2015-08-13 13:05:32 UTC - 13:05 | Permalink

      I can’t believe (well, I can!) that Jerry dismissed these posts like this. It’s possible that he meant me when we was talking about the guy still going after him. I have indeed mentioned him in previous blog posts, and even in the odd article published in mainstream media, but I’ve hardly pursued some sort of vendetta against him. It’s simply that Coyne – along with people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins – speak on topics that I’m fascinated with, and which I think they get completely wrong. Added to which, they’re incredibly dismissive about the very people who provide the corrective picture – why is why I ended up writing a post with such an irritated tone. (Plus, I wondered how COyne would react when he’s challenged in the robust, at times condescending, way he treats everyone else. Turns out he doesn’t like it very much. And I didn’t think he’d reply to this – after all, it would require some proper argumentation!

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-13 20:38:41 UTC - 20:38 | Permalink

        I asked Jerry for permission to make his email replies to me public. He denied my request with heated indignation and in subsequent emails would add in block type a demand that it be kept private. Needless to say the reason for my request was to show the public just what sort of a character he really is in his personal dealings with even insignificant critics such as me.

        Curious, too, that he accused me of emailing him because I was somehow “obsessed with” him! Then I recalled how in his latest book he expresses some dismay that his first book on evolution did not make a serious dint in his nation’s statistical record of proportion of people who don’t believe in evolution. One does tend to think about inflated ego issues — but then again that’s what we seem to be observing in those who exploit their well-deserved popular status to wade into influencing views in areas well outside their specialist areas.

    • 2015-08-13 15:37:02 UTC - 15:37 | Permalink

      I somehow didn’t notice before, but the handsome chap pictured with my name at the top is, alas, not me – he’s the younger, more successful historian Dan Jones. (Funnily enough, he writes about the Plantaganets, who my mum is interested in, and when she went to look for my book about memory on Amazon, she came across his – and bought them! She did, however, have the decency to buy mine too, even if my namesake’s books were really more up her street!)

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-13 20:29:18 UTC - 20:29 | Permalink

        Ah, how wrong we can be on the internet — and how mothers can so get us wrong, too! Do let me know if there’s an appropriate replacement photo I can use. Your avatar is strikingly colorful but perhaps not the most appropriate replacement. (I also tried to check out your other science writing but the link on your “get a better flavour here” link is broken, by the way.)

  • Scot Griffin
    2015-08-14 03:21:02 UTC - 03:21 | Permalink

    I am far less interested in understanding the reasons for the radicalization of a tiny percentage of Muslims than in understanding the West’s extreme over-reaction to them. As far as I am concerned, the biggest terrorists on the planet are Western governments (especially, that of the USA) and the corporate news media that serve them. (To be clear, I am accusing Western governments and the news media of terrorizing their own populations, not the Muslim world.) Why? What is their motivation for portraying a tiny minority as an existential threat to the entire Western world?

    I don’t know who this Jerry Coyne joker is– really, I have never heard of him– but Dawkins and Harris are clear neoliberal/neoconservative apologists whose diatribes stand as propaganda to enlist “rationalist” “liberal” support of military action against Islamic countries. At least that is the only way I can explain the behavior of Dawkins and Harris.

    • Gorit
      2015-08-14 09:38:58 UTC - 09:38 | Permalink

      I am fascinated with this series. I am trying to apply your point of view to other type of terrorism I am more familiar with: ETA in Spain. I offer here two observations that may be useful to think of:

      1. ETA has been more or less supported in some respects by a big part of the Basque Catholic Church (against the majority of the whole Spanish Catholic Church)

      2. What has always scared me, more than the hundreds or ETA terrorists, are the tens or hundreds of thousands of ETA supporters that do not hold guns, but justify their crimes and oppress their potential victims. Without this support, I feel that ETA would have dissappear a long time ago.

      • Scot Griffin
        2015-08-15 21:11:58 UTC - 21:11 | Permalink

        “I am trying to apply your point of view”

        Not true. You have completely misconstrued my point and essentially accused me of supporting “terrorism” by not speaking out against it.

        My comment had nothing to do with terrorism or terrorists but the West’s (over-)reaction to the radicalization of a tiny percentage of Muslims. Instead of trying to figure out how a tiny percentage of Muslims become radicalized, perhaps our time would be better spent trying to understand why we allow ourselves to fear “terror” so much, why we let that fear turn to hate of other people, and why we countenance counter-measures against “terror” that far exceed the destruction of the terrorist acts we are allegedly responding to in kind.

        What are we so frightened of? And why? We are talking about a tiny minority of people, and it seems to me that our fear of them far exceeds the threat they represent. So, maybe we ought to spend more time trying to understand ourselves than we do trying to understand them.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-17 00:54:17 UTC - 00:54 | Permalink

          For the record, Pinker offers the following to explain “what we are so frightened of and why” given the discrepancy between the extent of public panic and the actual numbers of deaths:

          Terrorism is a form of asymmetrical warfare — a tactic of the weak against the strong — which leverages the psychology of fear to create emotional damage that is disproportionate to its damage in lives or property. Cognitive psychologists such as Tversky, Kahneman, Gigerenzer, and Slovic have shown that the perceived danger of a risk depends on two mental hobgoblins.

          The first is fathomability: it’s better to deal with the devil you know than the devil you don’t. People are nervous about risks that are novel, undetectable, delayed in their effects, and poorly understood by the science of the day.

          The second contributor is dread. People worry about worst-case scenarios, the ones that are uncontrollable, catastrophic, involuntary, and inequitable (the people exposed to the risk are not the ones who benefit from it).

          The psychologists suggest that the illusions are a legacy of ancient brain circuitry that evolved to protect us against natural risks such as predators, poisons, enemies, and storms. They may have been the best guide to allocating vigilance in the pre-numerate societies that predominated in human life until the compilation of statistical databases within the past century. Also, in an era of scientific ignorance these apparent quirks in the psychology of danger may have brought a secondary benefit: people exaggerate threats from enemies to extort compensation from them, to recruit allies against them, or to justify wiping them out preemptively (the superstitious killing discussed in chapter 4).

          Pinker, Steven (2011-10-06). The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence In History And Its Causes (pp. 345-346). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

          • Greg
            2015-08-17 02:19:09 UTC - 02:19 | Permalink

            That gem offers another item of interest.

            Terrorism is a form of asymmetrical warfare — a tactic of the weak against the strong.

            Indeed, according to much of the literature I’ve perused not only is power differential a major element of terrorism but a mindset of desperation as well.

            If we were to do as Coyne suggests and accept stated religious motives as incontrovertible fact, how would we reconcile the end result of this line of reasoning with the scholarship?

            In what sense would people backed by the all-powerful Lord of the Universe ever consider themselves weak? Why would you ever be desperate knowing that the fall of your enemies is fated and that your act of service will bring you paradise?

            These people are supposed to be true believers, unwavering servants of the highest of powers destined to reward his disciples and punish the wicked. It makes no sense for them to behave like ordinary vulnerable people.

    • David Ashton
      2015-08-14 12:27:15 UTC - 12:27 | Permalink

      Both Zionism and Islam present problems, and still more now they are in intensive collision. There is not much gratitude for those who do not take one side against the other, but one should begin to see the pros and cons since those of us who are neither Jews and neo-cons, nor Muslims and left-liberals, are getting the backlash and it is not pleasant. Being bombed by US planes during your village wedding ceremony is evil, but being blown up on a bus or underground train in London by a “tiny percentage” of radicals was not much fun either.

      • Scot Griffin
        2015-08-15 21:35:56 UTC - 21:35 | Permalink

        “There is not much gratitude for those who do not take one side against the other, but one should begin to see the pros and cons since those of us who are neither Jews and neo-cons, nor Muslims and left-liberals, are getting the backlash and it is not pleasant.”

        Like Gorit, you have missed my point entirely. I said nothing about taking sides (or not taking a side). I said that if we are going to psychoanalyze anybody, maybe we should psychoanalyze ourselves to understand why we are overreacting to the actual threat presented by radical Muslims in our daily lives. Generally, see my response to Gorit.

        “but being blown up on a bus or underground train in London by a “tiny percentage” of radicals was not much fun either”

        People die every day. Many of those people are murdered, and the vast majority of those who are murdered are not murdered by radical Muslims or terrorists. In fact, I’d wager that more people are murdered every year by family members than by terrorists. In the U.S., I’d bet that the vast majority of mass murders each year also are not perpetrated by terrorists. So why do we spend so much energy thinking about terrorists and almost none wondering why we are spending so much energy thinking about terrorists? Terrorism only works if we choose to fear, and in the grand scheme of things, the odds of being murdered by a terrorist are vanishingly low and not worth fearing. So why fear terrorism (and by extension, radical Muslims) so much?

        • David Ashton
          2015-08-15 21:46:06 UTC - 21:46 | Permalink

          Why worry about terrorism? Why not just close down all defenses against it, including WDMs, everywhere? “In a world of pacifists, the one-eyed man with a bomb would be king” (Spengler).

          • David Ashton
            2015-08-15 21:48:55 UTC - 21:48 | Permalink

            PS. My point was a general one, not a reply to your own previous comment. Apologies for the WMD typo.

          • Scot Griffin
            2015-08-16 01:17:55 UTC - 01:17 | Permalink

            “Why worry about terrorism? Why not just close down all defenses against it, including WMDs, everywhere? ”

            Now you are just being silly. There is a big difference between an appropriate response to a crime, and an overreaction to a political tactic. Apparently, you take comfort in overreacting (WMD? Really? You bought that line in the march towards the Iraq invasion?).

            “In a world of pacifists, the one-eyed man with a bomb would be king” (Spengler).

            You had to double-down on the silliness. This is not about pacifism (and I am no pacifist), it is about rationality. The West’s response to terrorism is to embrace the fear, to embrace your inner cream puff. Why? Does that make any sense? Does it make sense to give up all the freedoms “they” supposedly hate us for in order to protect ourselves against a relatively small threat in our daily lives? If you think so, then why not apply the same type of thinking and overreaction to much larger threats in our lives (like family members, drivers who text while driving, people who smoke in public spaces)?

            • David Ashton
              2015-08-16 12:36:12 UTC - 12:36 | Permalink

              I never bought “that line” over the Iraq war which I opposed. Why did you need to ask me – what is your inference? I recommend the facts in Stephen Sniegoski’s “Transparent Cabal” to those with suspicious minds, though not Ted Honderich’s “Terrorism for Humanity” to “young men in a hurry”.

              The possibility of a home-made atomic bomb, or of poisoning a water supply, are not simply the fantasies of fiction writers, though only “some” people in “some” areas might fall victim.

              People have different views on various threats to life and limb, just as they have different motives and “justifications” for “terrorism”, and on attempts to prevent it. They do not need abuse like “inner cream-puff” when debating it; e.g. Richard Jackson’s “Contemporary Debates on Terrorism”. For the record, I have opposed (e.g. in letters to my MP) various UK government anti-“extremist” proposals, since as I have said here at least once that I support freedom of speech for all and violence for none.

              On the statistics, see e.g. “Terror Attacks” in “The Economist”, January 15, on-line. For all I know, more blacks in the USA die from smoking cannabis than from police bullets, and earthquakes in China kill more people than raids on Tibetans, but there are many objects of concern in a hierarchy of “fears” which can be discussed without discounting, let alone sneering at, the apprehensions of ordinary people, like the families in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in 1998, or the Tokyo Subway attack in 1995. Subsequent precautions against terrorism may well have reduced their potential frequency and scale.

              • David Ashton
                2015-08-16 19:31:57 UTC - 19:31 | Permalink

                PS. I have no access to my own library this next week, but should have mentioned the WMD data provided by Nadine Gurr & Benjamin Cole in the latest edition of “The New Face of Terrorism”.

                Prolific studies of terrorism by Walter Laqueur are also worth perusal. Though he is a bit of a “neo-con”, his voluminous documentation, and encyclopaedic reflections, are not to be dismissed, any more than Islamic terrorists are all to be explained away as CIA and/or Mossad puppets.

    • 2015-08-16 08:48:06 UTC - 08:48 | Permalink

      Dawkins and Harris are clear neoliberal/neoconservative apologists whose diatribes stand as propaganda to enlist “rationalist” “liberal” support of military action against Islamic countries. At least that is the only way I can explain the behavior of Dawkins and Harris.

      Just wondering if you can quote any statement by Dawkins advocating military action against Islamic countries?

  • 2015-08-14 11:39:08 UTC - 11:39 | Permalink

    Well, I’m not sure how much point there is in discussing this issue, but:

    … summing up with …

    As I’ve previously noted, part of the issue is people “summing up” or paraphrasing New Atheists such as Coyne in ways that grossly exaggerate what they’ve said. Direct quoting is much better. (Added emphasis below.)

    “ The message is clear: if you want to understand ISIS and other Islamist terrorists, you need only look at their religious beliefs. That will tell everything about why they’re radicalised, and why they do the awful things they do.”

    Of course none of Coyne, Harris, Dawkins or whoever have actually said that. **Of** **course** the religious beliefs are not the *only* factor, and do not tell you “everything” about their radicalisation!

    This is where Coyne, Dawkins and Harris leave me dismayed. If there is one thing serious research has demonstrated over and over it is that beliefs do not automatically stimulate and motivate behaviour.

    But then, not once have Coyne, Dawkins or Harris said that such beliefs automatically lead to radicalisation and violent extremism! People are obviously vastly more complicated than that! What Coyne, Dawkins and Harris are saying is that such beliefs are a major component of the overall set of influences.

    “Perhaps Coyne will be tempted to reply along these lines: “I’m not saying that Islamic religious beliefs are the SOLE CAUSE of Islamist terrorism; I’m just saying that the religious beliefs and ideological commitments of terrorists play a causal role in their behaviour, and that these beliefs are genealogically related to Islam”.”

    Why yes, that is *exactly* what Coyne et al would reply.

    Well, congratulations on making the most banal and unhelpful contribution to the radicalisation literature – and one that is already a guiding assumption of most radicalisation research.

    Why yes, it is indeed an utterly banal, utterly obvious statement! But, you know what, if you make such utterly obvious statements on blogs, then people freak out and accuse you of everything from Islamophobia to “ignoring scholarship”.

    Why do Coyne etal make such statements of such banal truths? Because some people deny them!. For example, in the UK, 120 MPs (including the Prime Minister) recently wrote to the BBC asking it to stop calling Islamic State “Islamic State” because it is (they claim) “… not Islamic”.

    Plenty of people are going around saying that Islamic extremism is “nothing to do with Islam”. It’s not only the New Atheists who react to this, for example Islamic reformer Maajid Nawaz has labeled as the “Voldemort effect” the reluctance to admit the links between Islam and IS-style extremism.

    *That* is why people such as Coyne write blog posts insisting on the “banal” truth that religious motivation *is* a significant part of the motivation for IS-style extremism.

    Yet, people twist this into the ridiculous strawman position that such beliefs are the *only* factor, and that they *automatically* lead to violence. Please, can you quote Coyne actually saying either of those two things?

    If not, perhaps it’s understandable why he doesn’t regard these attempts to “discuss” with him as all that friendly.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-14 13:04:58 UTC - 13:04 | Permalink

      Forget Coyne for a moment. He’s just the mouthpiece. Do you agree with the explanations for terrorism as presented by the specialist scholarly research into terrorism? (If so, then you might ask why Coyne does not agree with it.)

      But you are very keen to defend Coyne’s posts that are ignorant of the relevant scholarship and have missed Dan Jones’ point. It is the fact that Coyne says Islam is not the “Sole Cause” that is the issue. It is the fact that he dwells on such a banal factor that IS the issue. Why not ask Coyne why he also rejects the scholarship of any of the names of scholars Dan and I have listed? Ask him if he as read any of these, and if so, why he says none of it refers to what the terrorists themselves say.

      Can you ask Coyne what his own answers and responses are and pass them on to us?

      But I’m happy to leave all that (and Coyne) aside: Can you explain in what sense you believe Islam is “A cause” (though not the sole one, of course) of terrorism? What is it that actually tips some people to terrorist acts but not others? (your views — or Coyne’s if you’d really rather, but quoting him so there is no misrepresentation.) Can you also refer to scholarly research to support your views?

      • 2015-08-14 15:35:07 UTC - 15:35 | Permalink

        Do you agree with the explanations for terrorism as presented by the specialist scholarly research into terrorism?

        That’s far too vague a question. Specialist scholars *never* agree on something as complex as the causes of terrorism (do specialist scholars all agree on the historicity of Jesus?). You’ll have to spell out what you want me to agree with or dissent from.

        Can you ask Coyne what his own answers and responses are and pass them on to us?

        Do you really want to engage in discussion on this with Coyne? If so, a recommendation is not to try to open the discussion with highly argumentative claims and suggestions that he is “willfully ignorant of the scholarship”.

        It is the fact that he dwells on such a banal factor that IS the issue.

        I’ve already addressed that. He dwells on such a banal factor because of the large numbers of people who, as a knee-jerk reaction to any instances of Islamic extremist violence, exclaim “this is nothing to do with Islam, which is a religion of peace”. As I said, in the UK, 120 MPs (including the Prime Minister) asked the BBC to start pretending that Islamic State had nothing to do with Islam.

        Now, if it were to become generally accepted that of course Islamic religious beliefs are a major aspect of ISIS-style extremism, then Coyne, Harris, Dawkins et al might no longer need to say it themselves.

        Can you explain in what sense you believe Islam is “A cause” (though not the sole one, of course) of terrorism?

        Well, for starters, the Koran and other Islamic traditions contain a lot of vitriol towards non-believers and exhortations to kill them. If you want a fuller answer, read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Heretic” for an account of the Islamic traditions she was brought up in.

        What is it that actually tips some people to terrorist acts but not others?

        Heck, the answer to that one will be complicated, involving a lot of issues of personality, social factors, different influences and ways of interpreting Islam, et cetera. Human beings are, after all, very complicated.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-14 19:21:36 UTC - 19:21 | Permalink

          Recall that Tom Holland (see my recent post on his address on this very topic) explains why he believes various leaders and others are flat wrong when they say Islam has nothing to do with ISIS etc. Now Holland can say that without disagreeing with the bulk of scholarship and without fanning public ignorance and bigotry against Muslims. If that was all Coyne was doing he would be in the same position as Tom Holland and we would be agreeing with each other.

          The questions I asked above are not vague or complex. They are the very heart of what the research scholarship has been publishing and what I have posted about here and what Coyne rejects flat outright as “making excuses” or “denying the role of Islam”. I have cited the research in every case. It’s not complex. It is what Dan Jones’ post is about — with scholarly support.

          All the scholarship agrees on the point Dan and I have raised. That is why I can post so often on different scholarly works on this topic all pointing to the same theme and general point. It doesn’t help to read our posts with indignation because we point out that Coyne flatly rejects everything we are saying.

          You have said Coyne’s beef is about those who deny that Islam has anything to do with terrorism. But if that’s really true then Coyne is misrepresenting most specialist scholars and research.

          Do recall that I did not start with “the inflammatory statement” about Coyne but concluded with that phrase you quoted. Recall that I started with an attempt to approach Coyne off-line — to express my concerns and that he chose not to reply civilly or professionally but went public with my question and attacked with distortions and falsehoods the scholarship I was raising with him.

          Recall also that I had other email exchanges with Coyne in which I attempted to reach reconciliation but was met with hostility at every turn at the beginning. (Recall I attempted to apologize for any misunderstanding. That was before I realized it is pointless to try to disagree with him — sadly some academics really are insufferable snobs and tolerate no challenge to any of their published views.)

          Recall that Coyne refused to post any corrections on Vridar itself and denied me the right to reply on his own blog.

          Actually I attempted to approach Coyne with my concerns long before this — I had tried several times to leave comments on his blog pointing out his factual errors and directing him to the scholarship. He would not allow them to be published.

          I like and respect the positive work Coyne and Dawkins have done in their respective fields of scholarship. I used to enjoy many of Coyne’s science posts on his blog. This is not about attacking Coyne.

          But I fear you are more concerned with defending Coyne personally than you are in grappling with the real problems that his posts on Islam raise. That you think my questions are vague and complex indicates to me that you reject everything I have posted about Islam on this blog and that is based on a wide spectrum of serious scholarly research.

          • 2015-08-14 19:40:09 UTC - 19:40 | Permalink

            A couple of points. First, I have disagreed extensively with Coyne, on his blog, about freewill and other topics. I’ll happily disagree with him where I think it appropriate.

            Second, you refer to a whole host of previous exchanges where it’s impossible for any third party to evaluate the fairness of your comments, since it’s all private exchanges.

            Third, Coyne’s dismissive responses might be related to the vast amount of criticism that he and other New Atheists get for simply pointing out the links between Islam and extremism. See, for example, his recent post an hour ago.

            It may be that he has you down as just another who wants to criticise any linkage of Islam to violent Islamism. If you’re not doing that then perhaps there was miscommunication between you early on; again, it’s impossible for me to judge that.

            Lastly, and to repeat: if you do want to criticise Coyne, it really, really would be a good idea to quote what he has actually said, and then criticise what he has actually said. Your comments here are full of claims about what Coyne is saying, but I — as a long-standing reader of Coyne’s blog — simply don’t recognise the picture you paint.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-08-14 23:22:27 UTC - 23:22 | Permalink

              You are correct. I overstated the point about Jerry not tolerating disagreement. I should have said that only applies when he makes public declarations in ignorance and defiance of the scholarship and that fan public bigotry.

              Don’t assume Jerry is such a persecuted soul that he has become just a little too touchy on this matter. You know he either hates or is ignorant of what the bulk of scholarly research done on Islamic terrorism concludes and that he pours scorn on it — as he did in his post on my email to him. (He ignores the mass of reviews, dozens of them, praising Pape’s work and finds three links to say the opposite, one of which was broken and another of which actually opposed Coyne’s criticism.) This is doubly ironic because the purpose of Pape’s study was to advise the US government on how to best tackle the problem of terrorism.

              You know that those who dispute the claim that ISIS and others have nothing to do with Islam do so in ways that fully concurs with the scholarship of Atran, Pape and a host of others — and that Coyne is not simply joining the voices of those who simply criticize this point. He is falsely accusing the scholarly researchers of arguing what in fact they do NOT argue. Coyne is ignorant of their works — except perhaps via some maverick anti-Islamic review.

              My criticism to Jerry — my plea to him — was to post what the scholarly research says, the research that is based on interviews with and in the field studies of terrorists themselves. Jerry won’t do that. If any of my points on Islam and terrorism — or those of Dan Jones — are wrong then argue with them. Jerry won’t. He wants readers to ignore them, or ridicule them.

              My emails to Jerry:

              I posted this one after I attempted to reply to some pretty outrageous accusations about me on his blog, one in relation to claims I made about genocide. My attempted replies were blocked by Jerry so I emailed him:

              From: Neil Godfrey
              Date: 25 July 2015 at 09:17
              Subject: response
              To: Jerry Coyne

              Hi Jerry

              I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to respond to both your post and a number of the more outrageous and false comments made about me. My comment about genocide has been violently ripped out of context and original meaning; I am not a Marxist at all — I do not agree with the Marxist view of human nature of the economic model it is founded on; nor have I ever said politics is the only and exclusive way to explain terrorism but that religion (not just Islam) does have a significant part to play with rationalizing acts.

              I am dismayed that you have taken an email I sent to you directly and without responding courteously and professionally as I naively expected of you, you posted it and invited comments without any opportunity for me to respond.

              This is not appropriate, surely. I really look forward to a cordial exchange in future.

              Surely we can disagree without being disagreeable.

              Neil Godfrey

              Jerry replied with insult, distortions and half-truths so I emailed him a second time:

              From: Neil Godfrey
              Date: 26 July 2015 at 08:23
              Subject: Re: response
              To: Jerry Coyne

              Do I have permission to publish your private email on my site? I give you permission to publish mine.

              Neil

              Before he replied to that I did send another email to him addressing a number of points he made to me:

              From: Neil Godfrey
              Date: 26 July 2015 at 08:38
              Subject: apologies and retractions
              To: Jerry Coyne

              Jerry, I attempted to post my comment on your site but when that failed I emailed it to you directly. I apologize if there was a misunderstanding and will correct that publicly.

              As for the political right that quote came from a New Zealander and for Australians (like me) and others outside the US the political right means something with different nuances than it appears to mean for you in the US with so many domestic issues. I will withdraw or modify my claim if I have been mistaken. You could quite easily have corrected my error on my blog where it would have done more good to those who read it.

              But I have publicly honoured your intellectual rigour and scholarship in the field of your speciality. I am dismayed that you have not followed the same research and rigour with respect to Islam or even with what I say. The researchers I have mentioned – and I myself – always address what terrorists to say themselves so I do not know how you can possibly assert otherwise if you had even read a few of them or my own posts.

              You have many times the readership I have and you will not allow me to respond to gross accusations made to your readers but want me to respond where those readers will not see my reply.

              I find that unethical and surely you must acknowledge that.

              I really am dismayed by your hostility.

              Neil

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-08-15 01:06:37 UTC - 01:06 | Permalink

              See, for example, his recent post an hour ago.

              Presumably you mean this post.

              Yes, Jerry’s new post is quite different and more cautious in tone from any of his previous ones. Wonder why. But whatever the reason, it’s a small step forward. But what he has not managed to grasp yet is that he is attacking a straw man when he says:

              But what you cannot credibly say is that this is the fault of the West for unfairly maligning Islam or invading Islamic lands.

              Who says this? No-one that I know. Jerry’s post is still a naive (that is ill-informed and banal) attack on an obvious evil that we read about in the media. Everyone is rightly outraged by the reports if true — and I assume they are. Everyone deplores rape and rape in war at the best of times. So by singling out Islam like this Jerry is still venting his conviction that somehow Islam is responsible for these rapes and therefore it is Islam that stands condemned — even if the worst acts are committed by a few. The logical fallacy here is surely obvious (but apparently not to Coyne). If “Islam” is in any way responsible then we have a real problem — How on earth do we explain the millions and millions of Muslims who don’t commit this crime?

              Some people have gone so far to say that the answer is that most Muslims are not “real” Muslims and that if they took their faith seriously they would commit those crimes, too. Others have gone to the opposite extreme and said those who commit those crimes are not really Muslims, and if that’s the only point Jerry was wanting to make then there would be no discussion now — except for me to agree with him.

              The question that needs to be answered is how and why ISIS have come to do what they do (unlike other Muslims) and what has led them to turn their holy texts into a cover for their crimes. Perhaps you would like to raise this question with Jerry and see his response. He won’t tolerate any correspondence from me.

  • Lowen Gartner
    2015-08-14 15:33:35 UTC - 15:33 | Permalink

    Let’s presume we could settle this and attribute a precise percentage of terrorism conducted by Muslims to Islamic beliefs, a precise percentage to colonialism, a precise percentage to poverty, a precise percentage to corporatism and precise percentages to a myriad of other factors. Then what? What would we do differently to make living in our home countries safer for our friends and families?

    And as a side, why don’t I see such heated discussions about the role of Jewish religious beliefs in the terrorism conducted in the name of Zionism (maybe I need to read beyond Dawkins, Harris and Coyne)?

  • David Ashton
    2015-08-14 17:13:21 UTC - 17:13 | Permalink

    Or safer for people in other countries as well, if possible.
    The “problem” of Israel/Palestine arises from “religious beliefs” in that the area was chosen rather than others suggested as the sole national state for the Jewish people because of the ancient religious connection. Muslims who objected to Jewish settlement there saw the problem not only in terms of ethnic injustice but in the light of their hostile traditions about Jews and to some extent Christians. And it hasn’t got any better, for various reasons. The problems are complex, the propaganda complicating, and any solutions even more so.

    What happens when the the irresistible force of Islamic “Jihad” meets the immoveable object of Zionist Israel?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-14 23:43:25 UTC - 23:43 | Permalink

      Other sites were considered and at least one in South America was even tried. The difference with Palestine was that it had Big Power backing, support, governance and protection. For the British it secured a gateway to their possessions in the East and in particular it guaranteed the security of the Suez Canal. That is, it allowed British forces to secure the western side of the canal as their bases in Egypt secured the west. Similar strategic interests have dominated American thinking, too. (I don’t have the sources for this at my fingertips, but I believe the point about the British interests was addressed in the early chapters of the book I am reading by Hoffman, “Anonymous Soldiers” — Hoffman is relying upon a wealth of documents that were not very long ago released by British and Israeli archives.

      There were probably more Jews opposed to any idea of setting up a nation in Palestine as there were for it in the early days. Even today many Jews oppose the idea, many still do so on religious grounds. They know the promises to Abraham but they also place more emphasis on what they interpret as the promise that God will give them this land in the future and that the current state is a defiance of God’s will. Many of these oppose Israeli policies and support the Palestinian cause.

      • David Ashton
        2015-08-15 14:08:03 UTC - 14:08 | Permalink

        As I shall be away from home again next week, I would be grateful meanwhile for proof that English imperial strategy was the decisive reason for the selection of Palestine, by the Second and subsequent Zionist Congresses, as a national state in Arab territory, rather than their own historical preference (supported by some Jewish financiers). On return I shall make as brief a response as seems sensible and perhaps list various publications in my library on Israel, and on Islam, in another section of your website.

        , and list some of the books on Israel and on Islam I have

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-17 00:11:07 UTC - 00:11 | Permalink

          I did not say that imperial strategy was the decisive reason for the selection but that it was the crucial difference between Palestine and other places that were suggested and sometimes attempted.

          Without the British mandate there was simply no way Jewish immigration and land purchases could have happened in Palestine. The Arabs were begging for independence and a proportional representative parliamentary system of government but the British refused them that hope.

          (We can’t forget that Zionism was a product of an age of imperialistic fervour more generally in the West, and the time of a flourishing of nationalistic and racial myths and aspirations; it took a long time to persuade a critical mass of Jews that a pre-messianic Jewish state in Israel was permissible according to their religious beliefs.)

          • David Ashton
            2015-08-17 10:28:16 UTC - 10:28 | Permalink

            Will return to the issue when I can refer to detailed documentation at home.

            In brief, Zionism was mainly a secular movement that regarded Jewry as an ethnic group that required its own territory, and territorialists (e.g. Zangwill) had other ideas about its location. But the preference for Palestine (over Argentina, “Uganda” or Madagascar, &c) arose from the “sacred myth” in the Tanakh of a specific land for a chosen people. The British authorities were badgered by the Zionists rather than the other way round. In the post-Holocaust situation the badgering was transferred to the successor word power of the USA. From the outset Zionists had to conquer Jewish opinion and then Gentile opinion in overlapping efforts, and we can now see the results.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-08-18 12:05:04 UTC - 12:05 | Permalink

              This is all correct but it is only part of the story and I don’t see how any of it undermines the point I have made.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-08-14 19:51:18 UTC - 19:51 | Permalink

    One might say that Socialism caused the 1917 Russian Revolution and the rise of the Stalinist State but that would be a meaningless claim. Most Socialists rejected violent revolution; those who embraced revolution believed Russia would be the last country to succumb; and many socialists had to be killed to make way for Stalinism.

    To explain these violent events in Russia requires us to understand the political, economic, structural stresses facing Russia — and also requires us to understand Russian history from the nineteenth century on. The Socialist ideas were exploited by key actors in the midst of all of this.

    To suggest that the philosophy that similarly “caused” Owen, factory reforms, the welfare state, public education, and minimum wages and working conditions throughout much of the world “caused” the violence of the Russian Revolution and Stalinism is to explain nothing of any use to understanding why Russia suffered as it did.

    One might say that there are as many variants of Islam, Judaism and Christianity as there are of Socialism.

    Many Jews and Christians believe that God gave the land of Palestine to the Jews. But to say that that belief is “responsible” for Zionism misleads us badly.

    That belief existed for millennia, even among Jews living peacefully in Palestine when it was under Muslim rule. (And leading Zionists were not even religious.)

    The point is to explain what has happened since the late nineteenth century to produce what we see in Israel and Palestine today. If we simplify the explanation to a mere “religious belief” or “the promises to Abraham” then we fail completely to do justice to the many who hold those beliefs but repudiate what is done in their name today — and we fail to understand the real historical factors that have produced the situation we see today.

    • 2015-08-16 02:26:55 UTC - 02:26 | Permalink

      One might say that Socialism caused the 1917 Russian Revolution and the rise of the Stalinist State but that would be a meaningless claim.

      -I don’t think that’s a meaningless claim. It’s certainly not, say, Buddhism or Eastern Orthodoxy that caused it. But this analogy, I think, is quite helpful to understanding this whole discussion.
      “To suggest that the philosophy that similarly “caused” Owen, factory reforms, the welfare state, public education, and minimum wages and working conditions throughout much of the world “caused” the violence of the Russian Revolution and Stalinism is to explain nothing of any use to understanding why Russia suffered as it did.”
      -Minimum wages are not socialism, and government education and the rise of the welfare state are consistent with both socialism and capitalism. I think pointing to “socialism” is useful, but incomplete. It’s in pointing the right direction, but it’s not specific enough to be a fully-built-up explanatory edifice. Looking at Stalin’s ideology and his interpretation of Lenin, as well as Lenin’s interpretations of Marx and Engels, as well as Marx’s and Engels’s ideas and how they came to them, along with their disputes with other socialists, as well as the history of Russian socialism, is highly helpful to understanding what Lenin and Stalin did when they came to power.

      But to say that that belief is “responsible” for Zionism misleads us badly.

      -I don’t see how. There seems to be a direct, linear connection from one to the other. But it’s not the whole picture. It doesn’t explain why Zionism was so disproportionately advocated by secular Jews, or why the idea became so prevalent in the 19th century.

      If we simplify the explanation to a mere “religious belief” or “the promises to Abraham” then we fail completely to do justice to the many who hold those beliefs but repudiate what is done in their name today — and we fail to understand the real historical factors that have produced the situation we see today.

      -Agreed. It’s a big part of the story, but not the whole story.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-17 03:42:11 UTC - 03:42 | Permalink

        Socialism is not a thing. It does not have its own existence and cannot act on people and events in history. It is not a parasite that causes its biological hosts to act in certain ways. Russia became a Socialist country and the historical question is to ask what caused this. It’s meaningless to say that Socialism caused Russia to become Socialist.

        You are correct to say that “minimum wages are not socialism”. Minimum wages are things. Socialism isn’t. It’s an abstract idea. It’s a way of interpreting the world. (Socialist movements were certainly the driving force historically behind the demand for minimum working conditions, including wages. Perhaps the U.S. is the exception.)

        The historical question has to be “What factors explain people acting in certain ways for certain goals and what factors account for their success or otherwise?” That question usually leads us to identify real things in the world, real situations, real problems and tensions to be resolved. Real people respond to and act according to these real things.

        Sure “beliefs” provide frameworks through which some people interpret the world, but we also know that beliefs do not “cause” actions. Only a tiny few among the myriads of believers of just about anything, I suspect, choose to act in radical ways. And others follow for a variety of reasons — as studies of personal exchanges and meetings and letters among various actors and supporters have shown. To say “beliefs” are “responsible” for historical events like this not too far removed from attributing responsibility to people’s mouths and vocal cords.

        Yes, there are dedicated and active socialists, Zionists et al. And the biographies and actions of those persons deserve study. What makes them tick? Why did they take the course they did? What accounts for their impact?

        That’s what the anthropologists etc are studying. They talk to and get to know the terrorists as well as the relatives of their victims. The beliefs and ideas are a given — but they are a given for both sides, including those who reject and oppose violent actions of the few “actors in history”. So the real question has to be what causes some people (whatever they believe) to resort to violence, other drastic acts, etc.

  • 2015-08-15 08:42:15 UTC - 08:42 | Permalink

    Hi Neil,

    I’m replying down here since very narrow columns get a bit silly.

    I should have said that only applies when he makes public declarations in ignorance and defiance of the scholarship and that fan public bigotry.

    As ever, you make tendentious and derogatory “summaries” of Coyne’s views without giving example quotes of such things.

    Don’t assume Jerry is such a persecuted soul that he has become just a little too touchy on this matter.

    Jerry is a bit touchy on a number of topics. But he’s running a high-profile blog for which he gets a large numbers of emails and people wanting to correspond with him.

    You know he either hates or is ignorant of what the bulk of scholarly research done on Islamic terrorism concludes …

    No, I do not “know” that.

    Yes, Jerry’s new post is quite different and more cautious in tone from any of his previous ones.

    Is it? It seems in line with the others to me. But you’re welcome to quote the other ones to prove your point.

    But what he has not managed to grasp yet …

    “Not managed to grasp”? Everything you say about Jerry is just so hostilely worded. I’m not surprised that he doesn’t want to engage with you.

    … is that he is attacking a straw man when he says:

    But what you cannot credibly say is that this is the fault of the West for unfairly maligning Islam or invading Islamic lands.

    Who says this? No-one that I know.

    That sort of thing is actually common, at least in the UK. (I don’t know about Australia.) You regularly hear commentators on TV etc insist that Islam is a “religion of peace”, that ISIS-style extremism is “nothing to do with Islam”, and that the causes are purely political (and all the West’s fault).

    Even reforming Muslims such as Maajid Nawaz criticise the media for this, calling the “Voldemort effect”, and saying that we need to speak plainly about the defects and problems in Islamic ideology. How can reformers address and reform the harmful parts of Islam, if everyone refuses even to acknowledge them and insists that anything bad is “nothing to do with Islam”?

    This style of debate is very common in the UK, it is *that* that Coyne is addressing. Then, people say to Coyne that scholarship *shows* that this is “nothing to do with Islam”, and at that point Coyne replies to the effect of “no it doesn’t”.

    So by singling out Islam like this Jerry is still venting his conviction that somehow Islam is responsible for these rapes …

    Somehow? Are you maintaining that Islamic ideology has zero influence on the ISIS rapes of people they consider non-believers? Is it totally beyond the realm of possibility that an ideology that divides people into “believers” and “nonbelievers” and totally denigrates the latter, might be taken as licence or mandate to rape?

    [And, just in case, no, Coyne is not saying that no other factors at all are involved.]

    The logical fallacy here is surely obvious (but apparently not to Coyne). If “Islam” is in any way responsible then we have a real problem — How on earth do we explain the millions and millions of Muslims who don’t commit this crime?

    Oh come on, there is no logical fallacy there. In the real world causes are *always* multi-factored.

    “If smoking causes illness, how on earth do we explain all the smokers who are not ill?”

    “If Nazi ideology led to the Holocaust, how on earth do we explain the fact that the majority of the 8 million Nazi party members never killed a Jew?”

    The blatant fact is that Islamic ideology is a major part of ISIS motivations. *Obviously* it is not the only factor.

    The question that needs to be answered is how and why ISIS have come to do what they do (unlike other Muslims) …

    Quite obviously it is a whole mixture of personality factors, social factors, political factors and religious factors.

    And note that the “unlike other Muslims” does *not* mean that religious factors are unimportant! They can simply see the religious aspects differently. For example, the Protestant Reformation was pursued by some Christians, “unlike other Christians” who stayed Catholic, but it would be bonkers to suggest that that meant that religion had no role in the Protestant Reformation.

    … and what has led them to turn their holy texts into a cover for their crimes.

    I note how your wording wants to exonerate the “holy texts”. They’re merely a cover story. Perhaps the crimes were *motivated* *by* the holy texts? Or is that idea unthinkable because we all know that Islam is a “religion of peace”?

    • Al
      2015-08-16 08:41:30 UTC - 08:41 | Permalink

      ‘”Oh come on, there is no logical fallacy there. In the real world causes are *always* multi-factored.

      “If smoking causes illness, how on earth do we explain all the smokers who are not ill?”

      “If Nazi ideology led to the Holocaust, how on earth do we explain the fact that the majority of the 8 million Nazi party members never killed a Jew?”’

      Jesus wept.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-16 23:56:24 UTC - 23:56 | Permalink

      I think once before I asked if you could outline what you think my actual argument and if I am recalling correctly you said you did not know or understand it. Forgive me if I am mistaking you for something else. I would really appreciate it if you tried to grasp what it is that I am saying and then sum it up in your own words and ask me if I think you have understood. Otherwise we are just talking past each other and getting nowhere.

      (Some of your implications about what I am arguing I find absurd and I can scarcely be bothered replying to some of these.)

      • 2015-08-17 09:56:38 UTC - 09:56 | Permalink

        Hi Neil,
        I confess that I don’t really understand your position, or rather that part of your position that you see as opposed to what Coyne and Dawkins are saying.

        It *seems* to me that you are attributing to Coyne and Dawkins the idea that Islam is the *only* important factor in radicalisation, and that the Islamic religion is an automatic conveyor-belt towards violent extremism, that can only be stepped off by not being a “true Muslim”.

        And if they were adopting that absurd position then of course strong criticism would be appropriate. But they’re not. All they’re doing is saying that Islam is one important factor in radicalisation.

        And they’re saying that because many in the West have a stance of automatically excusing any religion from any blame for such things, for example by saying that they are nothing to do with Islam, which is a “religion of peace”.

        Thus I see you as essentially attacking a straw man and also of trying to excuse Islam as much as you can (that is also how Coyne sees you, which is why he can’t be bothered to respond).

        Now, of course, I could be totally misjudging or misinterpreting you, which is why — if you really want to pursue this — it would be really helpful if you could — as I’ve suggested about eight times — quote specifically Coyne’s actual words — not paraphrases or “summaries” of them — and then address and respond to those actual words.

        • AU
          2015-08-19 00:51:52 UTC - 00:51 | Permalink

          Oh, the irony – you talk about “straw man”, and then you say “And they’re saying that because many in the West have a stance of automatically excusing any religion from any blame for such things, for example by saying that they are nothing to do with Islam, which is a “religion of peace””.

          Now if that isn’t a straw man, then I don’t know what is.

          Anyway, you’re wrong, so let me spell it out to you. The problem many secular liberals have with Coyne, Dawkins and Harris isn’t that they criticise religion – to suggest that is completely nonsensical, these liberals themselves are secular and do not follow any religion and are often themselves speaking out against religious fundamentalism. The problem they have is that the likes of Coyne, Dawkins and Harris make statements about religion which are simplified to such an extent that they can actually be considered factually incorrect.

          Anyway, about Coyne, he is intellectually dishonest. I went to his blog and posted responses to his post when he attacked liberals for pandering to Islam for criticising Ayaan, and he did not let those posts through. I am pretty sure I know why he didn’t, it might well be that he didn’t get it but judging from his past behaviour, I would say it is much more likely that I systematically tore his article apart, showing how wrong he was, and because he had no logical response, he decided he didn’t want to allow it, even though he continued to let other posts through.

          I am glad we’re openly discussing Coyne now, it is about time someone exposed him for what he is – a bigot.

          • Yassamin Tehrani
            2015-12-23 17:34:38 UTC - 17:34 | Permalink

            I was just waiting for the ‘bigot’ name calling to emerge. Slam goes the door. Now you’ve got your way. A bully boy tactic which gives everyone the excuse to de-legitimise and disengage with Coyne and his views. Smearing people with whom you disagree is a lousy way to promote your position.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-12-23 20:01:26 UTC - 20:01 | Permalink

              Perhaps you can add your voice to the several others who have tried to persuade Coyne to stop smearing those whose views he opposes, to stop misrepresenting their views — and even to simply allow others to post defences in his blog comments against slander and misrepresentations.

              • Yassamin Tehrani
                2015-12-24 02:05:23 UTC - 02:05 | Permalink

                If I grant that all that is true, and you have said as much many times, I don’t understand how calling someone a ‘bigot’ makes you any better. It really is an awful accusation. Legitimate frustrations are better expressed without recourse to such inflammatory insults. Unless you really do think he’s an overt ‘bigot’ – then that should be your central criticism and all else is mute.

              • Yassamin Tehrani
                2015-12-24 02:19:13 UTC - 02:19 | Permalink

                …moot even. It’s late.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-12-24 02:36:38 UTC - 02:36 | Permalink

                I believe Coyne is a bigot but I don’t recall if I have ever used that as my argument against his views. (AU, by the way, has left this blog over a disagreement we had over his persistent and unapologetic name-calling and insults.)

                But is it not equally questionable to take a piece out of someone who does make an effort to present counter-arguments and defend himself/others against slander and misrepresentation because somewhere in the process they fail to keep their own cool and say something offensive?

                Yes we should all keep our cool and never act with a poor-me victim syndrome or retaliate, and yes, such failures do earn censure, but how often is that censure also directed at the primary source of the slander and misrep in the first place?

                I am thinking not of just Coyne here.

    • 2015-08-17 12:50:12 UTC - 12:50 | Permalink

      Hi Coel,

      I’ve been reading your exchanges, and it’s clear that you’re being reasonable and civil. So I will be too, and I hope you can you read this in the friendliest way possible.

      I want to back up a bit, to take a bird’s-eye view of Coyne’s output. It’s obviously highly varied, covering everything from evolutionary genetics and nature photography to philosophy and fossils. He also writes about religion. A lot. And Islam is a particular focus (little wonder, as in his view it’s the world’s most dangerous religion). It’s mostly critical, and tends to expose specific things that Muslims have done or are doing; what Muslims in general believe (or, at other times, what is said in the Quran); or what specific, and especially virulent, strains of Islam like ISIS say and do. I don’t think that’s a controversial claim, nor is this observation by itself an indictment of Coyne.

      Coyne also writes about, more or less directly, Islamism, Islamist violent extremism and terrorism, and the links between religious/Islamist belief and behaviour, as well as the connections between what many people would regard as extreme versions of Islam, like that practised by ISIS, and what Muslims in general believe.

      These are incredibly important and difficult questions, and it’s easy to come to facile, and unhelpful, answers to them. Simple narratives play out well in the popular press, where nuance is often traded for concision. (That said, there are have been lots of excellent articles on these issues from across the spectrum of mainstream media, especially in long-form pieces.) Ten years ago I hoped that New Atheists such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens – and, when he started writing online, Jerry Coyne – would be at the forefront of communicating a rationalist, empirically-informed account of religious violence and terrorism.

      They haven’t been. But not for want of lack of things to say about these questions. The problem is that they’ve been beating the same drum for years now: religious violence is motivated by religious beliefs. No one is denying that that. (Well, not here at least; you say that it’s common for people to say that ISIS-style extremism has nothing to do with Islam in the UK, though I live here and I can’t recall coming across this view in the numerous – many dozens – of articles I’ve read on ISIS or Islamism more generally. Nor in any of the many books I’ve read about religion and violence. Nor does it come up in coverage of ISIS in magazines like the Economist, NewStatesman, Literary Review, and Times Literary Supplement.)

      In fact, the only times I clearly recall someone baldy saying “this has nothing to do with religion” are Barack Obama in reference to ISIS, and Francois Hollande speaking immediately after Charlie Hebdo. Is this what Coyne – and Harris and Dawkins – are reacting against? Obviously not. No one would seriously engage with these political soundbites as the major impediment to understanding or thinking clearly about Islamism and terrorism – would they?

      It’s transparently clear, to me at least, why Obama said ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. It would be ridiculous to take Obama as making a profound theological point, or making the factually absurd – almost nonsensical – claim that the ideological core of ISIS has no genealogical link to Islam, and was essentially created ex nihilo with no input from Islam. He said what he said as he didn’t want people to equate the horrors of ISIS with Muslims in their community, simply by virtue of a supposedly shared set of Islamic beliefs. (Ditto for Hollande.)

      Why? Because that could feed anti-Muslim sentiment, and translate into anti-Muslim hate crimes, which have been on the rise in the US and elsewhere. It’s like if I said, “Eugenics has nothing to do with science”. Well, of course it has something to do with science, being that it was a supposed science of social improvement developed and endorsed by scientists and based on scientific ideas like natural selection and Mendelian genetics. If I say, “Eugenics has nothing to do with science”, I’m not making a causal claim about the history and sociology of science; I’m uttering a shorthand that means the overwhelming majority of mainstream scientists do no support eugenics. This is basic conversational pragmatics. It would be remarkable if this was what Coyne & Co were wasting so much time on, or expending so much energy arguing against.

      But let’s agree that a significant chunk of commentators push, as a serious thesis, the line that ISIS-style extremism has nothing to do with Islam, and that this is an argument worth countering. What we need in reply to this claim is not an equally simplistic, mono-causal story, but one that captures some of the complexity appropriate to this topic. Scientists like Coyne are, in principle, well placed to offer just this.

      Unfortunately, they don’t. Instead, all we get are very simple claims about what causes religious violent extremism. Does it not strike you as odd that Coyne, if he really takes seriously the multi-factorial nature of violent extremism, never mentions other factors other than to swipe them away (or, when it comes to talking about the scholarship on radicalisation, to make up spurious charges that the entire field is ideologically motivated to blame the West?)? A cynic might come to the conclusion that rather than trying to shed light on this topic, writers like Coyne are pushing an agenda, one that is isn’t based in empirical evidence about the supposed topic of conversation.

      I guess you don’t feel this way, as you write:

      “Of course the topic is way more complicated than a simplistic: “religion is the only factor here”. But then Coyne has never said that. Coyne is only arguing against the position that religion has *zero* influence and is not in any way part of the motivation. Unless you hold to that (which is equally absurd) you’re agreeing with Coyne.”

      This leaves me at a loss. I don’t know in what universe saying, in relation to Charlie Hebdo, “it’s almost impossible to pin the murders on anything but blind adherence to religious faith” is only arguing against the position that religion has *zero* influence. Ditto for when Coyne says “ISIS is motivated by one thing: religion—the desire to establish an Islamic caliphate and wipe out the infidels” (or when Harris says “[C]ertain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder”” or Murray “the violence of the Islamists is, truthfully, only to do with Islam: the worst version of Islam, certainly, but Islam nonetheless”)

      These quotations are not just instances in which Coyne (or Harris or Murray) has rightly rejected a silly claim (that religious beliefs have no effect), but cases in which they’ve asserted an equally silly one. That’s what Coyne & Co have been taking to task for, and for which you’re so valiantly trying to defend Coyne at least (what about the rest, who are singing from the same hymn sheet as Coyne?).

      (An aside: I’m aware that I’m lumping Coyne in with Harris and Murray, and at times Dawkins, and you might say that it’s not fair to do this, as they’re individuals with individual views – you can’t take the thoughts of one and ascribe them to the other. That’s fair, as far as it goes. But the facts on the ground are this: Coyne regularly endorses essays by Harris, often writing entire blogs about how brilliant they are, and showcasing Harris’s polemical skills. I’ve never seen any sign of dissent, nor with regard to Dawkins and Murray on these issues. Added to which, the thrust of what these different authors say is exactly the same. Finally, the reason I’m motivated to write about this that here we have a chorus of highly influential writers, all offering the same message, which is why I think it needs to be tackled.)

      And the same goes for when Coyne says “What “scholarship” that people like Godfrey and Robert Pape have mentioned or produced has completely ignored what the terrorists say about their own motivations in favor of blaming colonialism—something that self-flagellating liberals in the West love to do… Clearly the terrorists’ own words don’t count: the “scholars” claim to know better. This unfounded psychologizing clearly shows their motivations … I would maintain that this “scholarship” we ignore (and, in fact, I’ve read it) is tendentious and ideologically motivated”. That is not simply asserting that religious beliefs play *some* causal role in religious violence. It is a statement about the scholarship on the subject of radicalisation into violent extremism, one that is simply not true, but which is of a piece with the entire vibe of everything Coyne writes on these topics. It is the whole picture offered by Coyne that is being critiqued; you keep looking at a few pixels.

      I’m now genuinely struggling to see why you’re having such difficulty in seeing just what Coyne & Co are saying, and why people like me are responding. It is simply not true that Coyne “is only arguing against the position that religion has *zero* influence”, as I have just shown very clearly.

      I also want to ask, “If someone took seriously the scholarly research on radicalisation, and even if they did want to stress the role of beliefs and ideology, why would they write, in relation to Charlie Hebdo, a sentence like “it’s almost impossible to pin the murders on anything but blind adherence to religious faith”? Pin the blame? Seriously? Is that what Coyne thinks this is, some sort of kids’ game where we work out who the bad guy is and point our finger and say “Look! There he is!”? No one who is serious about these issues would talk this way. It’s childish. It’s ignorant. And when you tie it in with everything else that Coyne has written (see below), it’s clear we’re dealing with someone who takes a very tendentious and narrow approach to a complex topic.

      And yet when this is pointed out, his fan base is up in arms saying “Oh no, he embraces all the complexity and never said anything to suggest that he doesn’t take a sophisticated approach to violent extremism – poor Jerry’s just been fighting against the forces of irrationality that insist it has nothing to do with religious beliefs. And given that you agree with that last point, you agree with Coyne and are therefore just making a fuss over nothing, arguing against a strawman of your own creation!”. I literally cannot fathom how anyone who reads widely in this area, and regularly reads Coyne blog, could genuinely believe that.

      I also want to note that although you say Coyne only wants to correct the mistaken view that religion has nothing to do with religious extremism, he clearly says lots of others things in this context. Some of it is barely coherent, and at the very least is straightforwardly contradictory. So, for instance, Coyne will write a post praising the “distinction between dislike of Islam as a faith and dislike of Muslims as people. Only the latter is “Islamophobia,” just as “anti-Semitism” is dislike of Jews, not criticality of the tenets of Judaism”. Then, in the same post, he’ll write, “I will confess to disliking any Muslim who fervently believes in sharia law, the suppression of women, the murder of apostates, and so on”. That is clearly expressing dislike of Muslims, and not merely criticising the tenets of Islam. I can’t see how that could be any clearer.

      [Coyne does add, in relation to disliking Muslims, ““…but disliking them for their views, not as humans”, but here we’re beginning to descend into incoherence. If he doesn’t dislike them as humans, what does he dislike them as, fish? Coyne adds “All of us have friends with some views we dislike” to clarify what he means, but it’s hopeless. I do not have any friends who I’m aware hold racist, homophobic or misogynistic views. If they did, they wouldn’t stay my friends for long. Sure, we have friends whose views we disagree with, but that’s not the same thing. Does Coyne really have any friends who hold favourable views on, say, sharia, suppression of women or the murder of apostates, and whom he therefore dislikes for their views, but not as humans. And why say “as humans” here? The issue is whether we like or dislike these particular people. Is Coyne saying he doesn’t dislike them as particular people? This is getting weird!. Alternatively, would Coyne be happy to say of someone who supports sharia, the suppression of women, the murder of apostates, and so on “I dislike you because of your views, but I don’t dislike you as a person”?]

      Maybe Coyne is just targeting the minority of Muslims he believes hold extreme views. But in other posts he writes, “I certainly recognize that there are some liberal and moderate Muslims who do support things like gay rights, women’s rights, and decry violence. My question is how many of these there are among all the Muslims of the world. The evidence I’ve seen is that they’re only a handful compared to a greater majority with more extremist views”. Lest we’re in any doubt what this means, he says, in relation to the idea of ‘Muslim extremists’ “I no longer know if that phrase is nearly a tautology” – the clear implication being that being a Muslim, practically by definition, equates to being an extremist. That means that the class of Muslims who hold extremist beliefs, and who Coyne therefore does not like, extends to almost all Muslims. I haven’t brought up the charge of Islamophobia in this context, but Coyne’s views are Islamophobic ON HIS OWN DEFINITION! Reading this sort of stuff, I do not feel like I’m in an analytically safe pair of hands. It feels like I’ll being sold bullshit. This is part of the broader context in which my more specific criticisms originate.

      Before I leave this, I should add that this all links up with some much broader, deeper questions, about what really makes humans tick, and what drives our behaviour for good and bad. In my day job I am lucky enough to get to interview some of the brightest psychologists, anthropologists and neuroscientists around, and in researching the articles I write I’ve devoured enormous swathes of academic literature on a range of topics in the human behavioural sciences (bolstered by my personal explorations in history, political science, and contemporary affairs). Between about 2005 and 2010, as my understanding of human behaviour really deepened, I came to see human behaviour in quite different terms than I would’ve in, say, 2000. I now can’t quite understand why in 2004 I didn’t see the problems with Sam Harris’s The End Of Faith that I now find so glaring.

      And the big challenge here is that it is incredibly difficult, especially in essays, to convey an understanding of human behaviour that can get readers to see why the assumptions of people like Harris (“As a man believes, so he will act”) are so far off base. And so the more specific criticisms lack the resonance and force they otherwise might (though I’d contend that, on their own terms, the criticisms are quite devastating).

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-18 12:34:40 UTC - 12:34 | Permalink

        Thank you for taking the time to prepare this comprehensive comment, Dan.

        • AU
          2015-08-19 01:03:15 UTC - 01:03 | Permalink

          Yes, thanks indeed.

          Imagine if someone goes to the doctor and they are showing signs of heart disease. The doctor asks if they smoke and they reply “20 a day”. Should the doctor say “right, smoking causes heart disease, you need to stop smoking”? Of course not. Yes, smoking can cause heart disease. Yes, smoking might be a contributing factor in why this person has heart disease. However, it is also possible that smoking isn’t affecting the person – there is some other reason like a genetic disorder or an unhealthy diet or have you what. To try and cure this person, the doctor would need to examine this person in detail and consider all the nuances.

          And this is exaclty what human behaviour is like in my opinion – sometimes an action might be driven primarily by something, for example, religion, however, often there will be many things which would have influenced the person to behave in a certain manner. Therefore, to try and determine the cause, the natural thing is to look at all the nuances, if you just focus on one thing (like religion) and think that if you get rid of that thing, then so will the associated behaviour (like terrorism), then you are more likely than not to fail.

  • alnitak
    2015-08-16 03:41:35 UTC - 03:41 | Permalink

    I got lost reading all this. It’s not much ado about nothing, but much ado about very little. I read Jerry Coyne regularly, and he is firm in his conviction that religion is a prime motivator and justifier of some pretty abominable behavior, from Christians (see his discussion of children killed by faith (not)healing) to and Muslims (see his discussion of IS prayerful rape). He is right on both counts. Next we’ll hear that things that Jim Jones and David Koresh were not motivated by their religion. I understand that there are scholarly arguments that their motivations lie elsewhere, but someone needs to offer a better synopsis than I’ve read to convince me. If the claim is extraordinary, then the argument has to be strong. Meantime, the point that Coyne and others make is salient: religion is often offered a free pass when people who are fervent believers do evil things. That there are fervent believers who do not do bad things has never been in question, so religion alone is not conclusive, but still, a certain class of evil-doers find their justification in supernatural realms.

    • 2015-08-16 04:39:06 UTC - 04:39 | Permalink

      Agreed.

    • Greg
      2015-08-16 21:23:04 UTC - 21:23 | Permalink

      This is hardly a fair way to evaluate the evidence. Why should Coyne’s firm conviction take precedence over the bulk of scholarship on the issue? Creationists are firm in their conviction as well and find the scholarly arguments for evolution unconvincing. Does this similarly absolve them of the standards of argument, reducing the evolution debate to whether or not scientists can find the crocoduck?

      This is the problem with scholarship residing on one end and “conviction” occupying the other. How do we move this discussion forward when you can hand-wave away any scholarly argument with “someone needs to offer better”? Better how? What did you read? What specifically did you find unconvincing? What kind of argument or evidence would you find persuasive?

      It’s disheartening that rather than grappling with the works of the relevant experts, Coyne has chosen to simply strawman them out of the debate altogether; all the scholars can be safely dismissed as “self-flagellating liberals” and ideologues bent on blaming the West for everything, so all that’s left is to trash-talk back and forth and accuse the other of being hopelessly biased. Reality is whatever the side with the most conviction wants it to be.

      If the claim is extraordinary, then the argument has to be strong.

      That people’s words aren’t merely to be taken at face value at all times is an extraordinary claim? Seriously?

      • alnitak
        2015-08-17 06:04:29 UTC - 06:04 | Permalink

        After ‘Coyne’s firm conviction’ I cited a couple of instances. Presumably, those don’t constitute evidence in your opinion. My point was to indicate that, unlike your creationist friends, Coyne can and has cited a lot of evidence for his firm conviction. Why don’t you try that? If you have evidence, offer it. Then I can evaluate your evidence. I don’t find “scholars say” any more convincing than “Jesus says.”

        Or meet this offer: find a scholarly reference that says “those people who read and follow How to Train Up a Child” are not motivated by their religion,” and I’ll read it. But it better be good, because I know some of these people, and…wait for it… they think they’re motivated by their religion. What do your scholars believe leads a fervently religious parent to torture their child, or to murmur prayers over them while they die of a curable disease?

        Better than referencing a scholar, find someone who had sat with a child while it coughed itself to death, while prayer was applied as medicine. Ask them, someone who lives in the non-ivory tower world, if religious belief can promote evil.

        Still stirring a nearly empty teapot. “That people’s words aren’t merely to be taken at face value at all times is an extraordinary claim?” is just a straw man. Neither Coyne nor I have said that. But if you think someone reports a deeply held religious belief, and acts in consonance with that belief, then a nod toward a not-even-named expertise seems to be poor evidence. Open a tome and find an example that provides evidence. A link will be fine.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-17 06:20:35 UTC - 06:20 | Permalink

          If I may drop in a ‘by-the-way’ here ……

          Do we think the point made at http://vridar.org/2015/07/25/the-risks-of-understanding-and-explaining-evil/ has any specific relevance to the way we are arguing our case here?

          I ask because I get the impression you have not actually read any scholarly explanations but are relying upon what you have heard about them.

          One example you mentioned is one that I myself was once guilty of when a “true believer”. And yes I “know” my motivation was entirely my religion. But that was the perspective of the believer — and the victim. It leaves many questions unanswered and fails to explain why only a handful act on their beliefs.

          You speak of “motivation” and “rationalization” in the one breath as if they are the same. They are in fact quite different concepts — though the perpetrator is naturally (and by definition) using his rationalization to explain his motivation.

    • 2015-08-17 13:12:11 UTC - 13:12 | Permalink

      Much ado about very little? We’re talking about explaining some of the most extreme forms of human behaviour, behaviours that are having a massive impact on the world today. On one side we’ve got people who simply want to repeat, over and over and over, that religious beliefs have something to do with religious extremism. On the other we’ve got a body of researchers who are trying to explain violent extremism by drawing on, yes, analysis of religious beliefs, but also non-religious beliefs and non-belief-based factors such as social and group dynamics, with a view to helping us understand and tackle it. The former group dismiss the latter group as ideologically motivated, West-blaming liberals. I try to show why this charge is massively mistaken. And I’m making much ado about very little? I don’t think so. (See my long reply to Coel above for more context on this.)

      • 2015-09-18 03:25:53 UTC - 03:25 | Permalink

        You’re ignoring the third group: ideologically motivated, West-blaming liberals (and Islamists).

  • Lowen Gartner
    2015-08-16 20:13:12 UTC - 20:13 | Permalink

    *much ado about nothing

    I would like those who have Coyne’s perspective and/or those who have Godfrey’s perspective to explain why making the distinction is important? What are global, national, local and individual policy differences that would arise from ascribing more “fault” to the religious beliefs, historical actions, social circumstances and individual genetics? I can’t find anything written that addresses this.

    • Lowen Gartner
      2015-08-16 20:21:36 UTC - 20:21 | Permalink

      Hit submit too soon.

      For example, if it could be shown that religious beliefs were the dominant factor in the radicalization would one would work vigorously to limit opportunities for people to become radicalized through religious training. Alternatively, if it was social unrest due to past colonization would one pretty much stop worrying about radical religious teaching and work to restore pre-Sykes Picot border and power families? If it can be shown that this is mostly having a “radical personality” (similar as what has been shown for fundamentalists) would one focus primarily on profile those who would tend toward violence, regardless of motivation?

      To make it easy, how should the US change it’s policy wrt the Middle East based on what the true causes of radicalization are?

      • Lowen Gartner
        2015-08-17 00:33:58 UTC - 00:33 | Permalink

        How would the ideas presented by Dan Jones be applied to the terrorists who were bombing abortion clinics in the 80s and 90s. I had been of the mindset that these were primarily motivated by religious beliefs and that a small portion of those who shared those beliefs had the nature to act on them.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-17 01:08:47 UTC - 01:08 | Permalink

          Dan recommended a book titled Friction : how radicalization happens to them and us and I’m reading it now. It goes to the heart of your question.

          Many Christians believe abortion is murder but only a handful are radicalized to the point of criminal responses. Why?

          If the beliefs themselves are the explanation then we have a real problem. How do we explain the fact that most people with the same beliefs do not act that way? If they are the explanation then I presume it would follow that anyone holding or spreading those beliefs should be locked away.

          • Lowen Gartner
            2015-08-17 02:35:24 UTC - 02:35 | Permalink

            Is the answer then along the lines that there is a concrete mindset (right and wrong are absolutes) that is probably based in genetics and perhaps nurtured. There is also a scale of propensity to violence (again probably genetic that can be brought out through environment). Those that are high on concreteness and high on propensity to violent will find some belief system to act out. And that in a different place and time, they would still likely be violent, but use different rationale for it. In a culture/environment where there is more opportunity to be violent with relative impunity, many more of those with the above tendencies will choose violence–especially when they absolutely know they are “right” because of religion/God.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-08-17 03:06:37 UTC - 03:06 | Permalink

              Hopefully can discuss in more detail in a future post. There are multiple factors involved. The critical question to ask is what leads some people to take violent action. Beliefs alone clearly are not sufficient. Hence the subtitle of McCauley and Moskalenko’s book, “how radicalization happens to them and us”.

              (Note the “and us” — the point being that we often don’t recognize it in “us” but interpret our own responses quite differently.)

              That’s what scholarly research by anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists and such seeks to uncover. The answers are fairly well known — but too often rejected by the Harris-Dawkins-Coyne camp as simplistic and unrealistic. But ideas are not ‘real things’ with powers of their own to make people do this or that. (I hate that “meme” metaphor insofar as it conjures an image of a “gene” that “causes” certain self-destructive behaviours — like parasites in hosts.)

              • David Ashton
                2015-08-17 10:33:56 UTC - 10:33 | Permalink

                Religious people who believe that a supernatural being has instructed them to act in certain ways will do so. This applies today more to Muslims than the peoples of post-Christendom and even less so to those who identify as Jewish who are largely non-observant. The Qur’an is taken more seriously than the New Testament among such believers, and its instructions are more totalist and militant.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-08-18 12:10:21 UTC - 12:10 | Permalink

                How many religious people “believe that a supernatural being has instructed them” to kill others? Clearly — we know this from multiple sources, not least the polls — most Muslims do not believe this. The question is why certain ones do come to believe it.

      • paxton marshall
        2016-08-16 17:25:55 UTC - 17:25 | Permalink

        Lowen, I think a good case can be made that “Islamophobia” as expressed by Harris, Coyne et al contributed to support for the Bush/Blair Iraq invasion. Hitchens was an outspoken supporter of the invasion, and Harris continually promotes an apocalyptic fear of Islam, as expressed in the title of one of his posts “Sleepwalking toward Armageddon”.

        Islamophobia very likely played a role in the rise of Trump and in Brexit. I’m not ascribing enough influence to the new atheists to be determinitive in any of these developments, but their voices joined to those of evangelical Christians, including Bush and Blair, war-profiteers, including Bush, Cheney, Blair, Rumsfeld, various neo-cons, the media who recognize that fear sells, and extreme partisans of Israel to create a climate where the public would accept the distorted evidence presented as justification for the invasion.

        The policy alternatives you present are highly asymmetric. Of course we should do what we can to prevent people from becoming radicalized to the point of killing other people. There is no possibility of returning the middle east to a pre-Sykes-Picot status. (Remove Israel to Manitoba where it could make the tundra bloom?). What we can do is recognize that they are killing us, in large part because we are killing them, and if we’d stop our meddling in middle eastern countries, they’d likely stop meddling with us. What Coyne quaintly refers to as “colonialism” is not some vestige of the past, like the crusades, it is a continuous, ongoing assault.

        If one is looking for a general motive for terrorism, whether anarchist, anti-abortion, or islamist, one should start by looking at Revenge.

        • Grabrich
          2016-08-17 16:13:26 UTC - 16:13 | Permalink

          (Remove Israel to Manitoba where it could make the tundra bloom?).

          Hey, some of us live in Manitoba! 😉

          Richard G.

          • paxton marshall
            2016-08-17 17:32:03 UTC - 17:32 | Permalink

            You have plenty of room, don’t you?

  • Greg
    2015-08-17 10:30:54 UTC - 10:30 | Permalink

    My friends? I’m afraid I don’t share in the blanket anti-intellectualism or uncritical acceptance of any “authority” that supports my own presuppositions, but if you think it helps your case to shun scholarship in favor of blog polemics and rhetoric then be my guest.

    Coyne’s “evidence” is to make a trivial observation, then ascribe an inherent causal relationship to it – a “Look at the trees!” argument. Merely observing the existence of religious narrative is not enough to establish cause and effect because it papers over a whole other discussion: do the believers themselves shape narrative or are they just molded by it? Does religious narrative spur action or is action etched into religious narrative? Clearly, you’ve already formed your conclusion, but there exists an abundance of psychological, sociological, anthropological and political science data that would call such conviction into question.

    Coyne simply isn’t a credible source on the subject as exemplified by his refusal to even so much as engage with the scholarship choosing instead to impugn the motives of scientists.

    But it better be good, because I know some of these people, and…wait for it… they think they’re motivated by their religion.

    Keyword: think. That alone makes the subject more complex than Coyne’s “they said it, I believe it, that settles it” and blithe dismissal of scholars for “knowing better”.

    I apologize if I’ve straw-manned, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to spell out what this extraordinary claim you’re referring to is.

    • 2015-08-17 11:09:25 UTC - 11:09 | Permalink

      Greg,

      Keyword: think. That alone makes the subject more complex than Coyne’s “they said it, I believe it, that settles it” …

      Of course the topic is way more complicated than a simplistic: “religion is the only factor here”. But then Coyne has never said that.

      Coyne is only arguing against the position that religion has *zero* influence and is not in any way part of the motivation. Unless you hold to that (which is equally absurd) you’re agreeing with Coyne.

      • Greg
        2015-08-17 11:59:13 UTC - 11:59 | Permalink

        Coyne’s post:

        What “scholarship” that people like Godfrey and Robert Pape have mentioned or produced has completely ignored what the terrorists say about their own motivations in favor of blaming colonialism-something that self-flagellating liberals in the West love to do.

        “What would it take to convince you that some Muslim terrorists are actually motivated by religion?” Clearly the terrorists’ own words don’t count: the “scholars” claim to know better.

        This bit of reasoning leads directly to his conclusion:

        This unfounded psychologizing clearly shows their motivations.

        I would maintain that this “scholarship” we ignore (and, in fact, I’ve read it) is tendentious and ideologically motivated, and that Godfrey is pulling the credentials card here.

        This is his basis for dismissing the scholarship: if scholars don’t accept Muslim terrorists at their word it serves as irrefutable proof that they are not open to being convinced otherwise and therefore have a major ideological bent that wholly undermines their work. In Coyne’s post there is no room for evidence that humans might employ elaborate psychological narratives that obscure their true motives from even themselves or the possibility that nobody can know for sure; either you take them at their word or you arrogantly assume you “know better” in which case you can therefore be dismissed as an ideologue with a Western liberal agenda.

        Where in his entire post does Coyne acknowledge any greater complexity?

        In summary, no, I don’t agree with Coyne that his false dilemma fallacy is sufficient grounds for throwing science out the window or a useful criterion for distinguishing a scholar from a “scholar”. I don’t agree with Coyne that it’s as black and white as he claims that whether a scholar agrees with Coyne’s main assertion should be the only deciding factor in how credible their research is.

  • 2015-08-17 17:04:47 UTC - 17:04 | Permalink

    Hi Greg and Dan,
    Wow, long comments to reply to! A few points about where Coyne is coming from. First, let me quote Neil on Vridar:

    As Pape’s rigorously researched study demonstrates, all suicide bombing can be attributed to political causes.

    That’s a pretty bald statement. Did Neil intend to imply that religious motivations played no part in it, that it was entirely about politics? It doesn’t quite say that, but it could give that impression. So let’s quote the previous paragraph.

    After saying that “Coyne, Harris, Dawkins” have “ankle-deep and logically fallacious” thinking, Neil says (added bolding):

    Because some of these bombers believe they will receive a heavenly reward after death [Coyne, Harris, Dawkins] jump to the conclusion that it was because they believe in the heavenly reward that they were in part motivated into a suicide bombing mission.

    Here Neil seems to be claiming, with the support of Pape, that belief in a heavenly reward is not even a part of the motivation, and that anyone who thinks so is guilty of “ankle-deep and logically fallacious” thinking.

    It is this sort of thing that Coyne is writing against, the tendency to discount religion entirely.

    Dan then writes:

    The problem is that they’ve been beating the same drum for years now: religious violence is motivated by religious beliefs. No one is denying that.

    Aren’t they? Then how am I to interpret Neil’s writing above?

    If Neil (and Pape) were to say something like, well of course religion is 50% of the mix, but politics is in there as the other 50%, then Coyne might say “sure, ok, we’re agreed”.

    I can’t recall coming across this view in the numerous – many dozens – of articles I’ve read on ISIS or Islamism more generally. Nor in any of the many books I’ve read about religion and violence.

    You’re right that the idea that ISIS-style violence is “nothing to do with Islam” does not tend to come up in books and considered articles, since it is clearly ludicrous. But it does come up a lot in sound-bites by politicians and spokesmen interviewed on the news, etc.

    In fact, the only times I clearly recall someone baldy saying “this has nothing to do with religion” are Barack Obama in reference to ISIS, and Francois Hollande speaking immediately after Charlie Hebdo. Is this what Coyne – and Harris and Dawkins – are reacting against? Obviously not.

    Obviously not?? Yes, it is 100% exactly that Coyne et al are reacting to!

    No one would seriously engage with these political soundbites as the major impediment to understanding or thinking clearly about Islamism and terrorism – would they?

    Why not? Millions of people will watch TV News and hear a soundbite from Obama or Hollande. Only a couple of thousand will read a book on the subject.

    It’s transparently clear, to me at least, why Obama said ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. It would be ridiculous to take Obama as making a profound theological point, or making the factually absurd – almost nonsensical – claim that the ideological core of ISIS has no genealogical link to Islam, and was essentially created ex nihilo with no input from Islam. He said what he said as he didn’t want people to equate the horrors of ISIS with Muslims in their community, simply by virtue of a supposedly shared set of Islamic beliefs. (Ditto for Hollande.)

    Why yes, I agree. That is exactly why Obama says that. But, in the opinion of Coyne et al it is a wrong thing to say! Why? Because it deflects attention from the harmful and totalitarian doctrines in Islam!

    Islamic reformers such as Maajid Nawaz and Hirsi Ali want this scrutiny of Islam, and want the highlighting of the harmful ideas that underpin a lot of this extremism, because only be recognising them can they attempt to overturn them. Hirsi Ali, in her book Heretic, spells out the harmful doctrines that are taught across the Islamic world, and specifically asks for their reform.

    Ask yourself why, on twitter, Maajid Nawaz argues against what he calls the “Voldemort effect” of refusing to mention the links between Islam and Islamism.

    Instead, all we get are very simple claims about what causes religious violent extremism.

    Well, if were to get an end to the ludicrous claims that Islamist extremism is “nothing to do with Islam” then, yes, Coyne et al should then drop it. But it’s only six weeks since 120 MPs in the UK wrote to the BBC asking it to stop calling ISIS the “Islamic State” because (they claimed) it had nothing to do with Islam.

    That is what Coyne et al are reacting to! Yes, it is a very simplistic and even childish debate, but the fault for that is with those who attempt to deny any link between ISIS and religion!

    This leaves me at a loss. I don’t know in what universe saying, in relation to Charlie Hebdo, “it’s almost impossible to pin the murders on anything but blind adherence to religious faith” is only arguing against the position that religion has *zero* influence.

    But you’ve referred yourself to claims that Charlie Hebdo was indeed nothing to do with religion!

    Ditto for when Coyne says “ISIS is motivated by one thing: religion—the desire to establish an Islamic caliphate and wipe out the infidels”

    Given, not only their attitude to the West, but also their treatment of the Yazidis and Shia Muslims (both of which they regard as heretical versions of Islam), I think that Coyne is entirely right that their extremist version of Islam is indeed a large part of the motivation for ISIS.

    I also want to ask, “If someone took seriously the scholarly research on radicalisation, and even if they did want to stress the role of beliefs and ideology, why would they write, in relation to Charlie Hebdo, a sentence like “it’s almost impossible to pin the murders on anything but blind adherence to religious faith”? Pin the blame? Seriously? Is that what Coyne thinks this is, some sort of kids’ game where we work out who the bad guy is and point our finger and say “Look! There he is!”?

    Why yes! Pining the blame — at least a large measure of the blame — on the bad ideologies in Islam is 100% exactly what we should be doing!

    I’m really baffled here. If the bad ideas were racism or rampant sexism or fascism or totalitarian communism no-one would bat an eyelid if one wrote articles pining the blame on those bad ideas. But, when it comes to a religion, people always want to excuse it!

    And, as above, recognising the bad ideas that are taught to kids throughout the Islamic world is a first step to reforming them!

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-19 01:40:37 UTC - 01:40 | Permalink

      Without responding to all the details of your comment just now, Coel, I want to give here some context to some of the quotes of mine you find problematic. I was discussing Pape’s thesis so it would be useful to quote from Pape’s “Dying to Win” further. Note that the discussion is not terrorism in general but “suicide terrorism”. (Further, where you quoted my “in part motivated” line you will notice that in the next paragraph I referred to the preference to exchange their physical life for a symbolic life. That symbolic life for many involves religion, but no-one who studies the lives of those involved could ever conclude that their desire for a heavenly reward was a root motivator of their murderous crimes.)

      The data show that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or
      any one of the world’s religions. In fact, the leading instigators of suicide attacks are the Tamil Tigers in
      Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly
      opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents, more suicide attacks than Hamas.

      Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal:
      to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be
      their homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist
      organizations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective.

      Suicide terrorism is most likely when the occupying power’s religion differs from the
      religion of the occupied, for three reasons.
      A conflict across a religious divide increases fears that the
      enemy will seek to transform the occupied society; makes demonization, and therefore killing, of enemy
      civilians easier; and makes it easier to use one’s own religion to relabel suicides that would otherwise be
      taboo as martyrdom instead.

      The bottom line, then, is that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation. Isolated
      incidents in other circumstances do occur. Religion plays a role. However, modern suicide terrorism is
      best understood as an extreme strategy for national liberation against democracies with troops that pose
      an imminent threat to control the territory the terrorists view as their homeland.

      Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting
      and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective.

      The association between foreign occupation and suicide terrorism does not mean that religion plays no
      role; it does suggest that the widely shared view that suicide terrorism emanates from Islamic
      fundamentalism—or religious hatred in general—is wrongheaded.
      Since national and religious identities
      often overlap, distinguishing the main motive for particular suicide terrorist campaigns may seem
      excessively difficult. However, these two motives will not always lead terrorists to attack the same
      enemies. Attacking certain enemies would make sense for nationalist objectives, but not religious ones,
      while attacking others would make sense for religious but not nationalist reasons.

      The close relationship between Islamic fundamentalism and the membership of al-Qaeda has given
      many Americans the impression that religion is the main force driving al-Qaeda’s suicide operations. On
      November 8, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed the nation, saying: “We are the target of enemies
      who boast they want to kill—kill all Americans, kill all Jews, and kill all Christians. . . . This new enemy
      seeks to destroy our freedom and impose its views. . . . We wage a war to save civilization itself.”16

      However, to ascribe al-Qaeda’s suicide campaign to religion alone would not be accurate. The targets
      that al-Qaeda has attacked, and the strategic logic articulated by Osama bin Laden to explain how suicide
      operations are expected to help achieve al-Qaeda’s goals, both suggest that al-Qaeda’s principal motive
      is to end foreign military occupation of the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim regions. The United
      States and its allies who have been under al-Qaeda’s fire do export democratic, liberal, capitalist, and
      (arguably) Christian values to the Muslim world. The critical question is a counterfactual one: would
      these religious or ideological provocations suffice if the United States and European allies did not also
      station troops in the Middle East?

      The evidence suggests that answer is no. The taproot of al-Qaeda’s animosity to its enemies is what
      they do, not who they are.

      My hypothesis is that the taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism—the belief among members of a
      community that they share a distinct set of ethnic, linguistic, and historical characteristics and are entitled
      to govern their national homeland without interference from foreigners.1 Since the French Revolution,
      nationalism has been a powerful force in international politics. It has created nation-states, undermined
      multinational empires, and contributed to some of the bloodiest struggles in history. Nationalism is also
      the main reason why local communities resist foreign occupation. Some occupations inflame nationalist
      sentiments more than others; the hottest situations arise when the predominate religion in the occupier’s
      society is different from the predominate religion in the occupied society. Under the conditions of a
      foreign occupation, religious difference—more than Islam or any other particular religion—hardens the
      boundaries between national communities and so makes it easier for terrorist leaders to portray the
      conflict in zero-sum terms, demonize the opponent, and gain legitimacy for martyrdom from the local
      community. That is, religious difference helps to create conditions that encourage resistance movements to
      use suicide terrorism.

      Although it is not the bedrock cause of national resistance and may not be a
      necessary or sufficient condition for suicide terrorism, religious difference significantly increases the risk
      that a nationalist rebellion against foreign occupation by a democratic state will escalate to the use of
      suicide terrorism.

      The main mechanism is exclusivity. The harder the boundary between groups—the more exclusive are
      membership rules—the more extreme is the “us” versus “them” dichotomy. Religion is normally more
      exclusive than other national differences
      (except for race) under the conditions of an occupation and so
      often becomes the principal defining boundary between an occupier and the local community

      After discussing in detail the role of zero-sum conflict, demonization and the legitimacy of martyrdom . . . .

      Together, these effects of religious difference can increase mass support for suicide terrorism in three
      direct ways:
      by increasing people’s willingness to support rebellion; by increasing support for killing any
      members of the enemy community, even those who would otherwise be considered innocent; and by
      convincing some individuals that they have a duty to kill as many of the enemy as possible even at the cost
      of their own lives.

      The fact
      that the United States and its allies are predominately non-Islamic societies makes it easier for al-Qaeda’s
      leaders to exploit their own religion to justify the use of martyrdom operations as the main weapon for
      national liberation.

      Of course, we cannot say with certainty that this detailed argument is the main impetus for the
      individuals who volunteered to carry out suicide missions. This would require not simply collecting the
      last statements of these individuals, but subjecting them to cross-examination, obviously impossible for
      dead terrorists. What we can say is that the pattern of who ultimately decides to die for al-Qaeda’s cause
      is remarkably consistent with the argument that al-Qaeda leaders make.
      Above all, this suggests that the
      United States can only bolster al-Qaeda’s appeal if it pursues military policies that actually confirm the
      group’s portrayal of American intentions.

      Overall, analysis of al-Qaeda’s suicide terrorists shows that its most lethal forces are best understood
      as a coalition of nationalist groups seeking to achieve a local change in their home countries, not as a truly
      transnational movement seeking to spread Islam or any other ideology to non-Islamic populations.
      Religion matters, but mainly in the context of national resistance.

      Further, although religion was a recruiting tool, examination of
      the logic of martyrdom articulated by Hezbollah and other Lebanese political leaders overwhelmingly
      justified suicide terrorist acts, commonly called “self-martyr” operations, as an extreme measure
      necessary to end foreign occupation of the homeland, while explicitly ruling out such acts as an end in
      themselves or for other, even religious, goals.

      Al-Qaeda ran a dozen training camps in Afghanistan, most located in Paktia Province near the border
      with Pakistan. . . .

      Like all major religions, Islam prohibits the
      killing of innocents, a principle that Islamic fundamentalists have “reinterpreted” in order to justify
      precisely such acts. The purpose of the two weeks of religious lectures was to ensure that the recruits had
      a common justification rooted in Islam for the acts they were already intent on committing.

      On the Hezbollah and other Shia groups in Lebanon:

      The main purpose of this public
      discourse by leaders of Hezbollah and other Shia groups is to persuade the local community at large to
      accept that acts normally qualifying as suicide and murder should be re-defined as martyrdom and
      legitimate self-defense, and to encourage some community members to volunteer for these operations.
      Although religion plays a role, the main theme of these speeches is that martyrdom operations are a
      justifiable response to the specific circumstance of a foreign occupation.
      In speech after speech, by leader
      after leader, it is the real-world circumstances of foreign occupation that define how religious norms
      should be interpreted, not an individual’s desire for personal salvation independent of this context
      . The
      argument is often made at considerable length, and for good reason. Islamic societies have strong norms
      that strictly prohibit suicide, so Lebanese leaders must work hard to create broad support for suicide
      terrorism. This is reflected in the volume and length of their discourse on the subject.

      >Religion plays a role in suicide terrorism, but mainly in the context of national resistance. Moreover, the
      effects of religion that matter do not lie mainly in Islam or in any other single religion or culture. Rather,
      they lie mainly in the dynamics of religious difference.
      In Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Punjab the presence of
      a religious schism—different in each case—between the occupying power and the occupied community
      produced a common set of mechanisms that enabled resistance leaders to mobilize significant levels of
      popular support for “martyrs” who carried out suicide terrorist attacks. By contrast, the absence of a
      religious clash in Turkey limited Kurdish support for the PKK’s suicide terrorism. This does not mean
      that religious difference is a hard, necessary condition for suicide terrorism. The growing coercive power
      of suicide terrorist attacks to compel modern democracies to alter their policies may tempt many kinds of
      national resistance movements to use suicide terrorism in the future. However, the important role of
      religious difference in the campaigns of suicide terrorism over the past two decades suggests that the risk
      of suicide terrorism is higher when a foreign occupation by a democratic state also involves a religious
      difference.

      And many more along the same lines . . .

      (Did Jerry Coyne actually say he had read Pape’s book?)

      • 2015-08-19 11:30:14 UTC - 11:30 | Permalink

        … but no-one who studies the lives of those involved could ever conclude that their desire for a heavenly reward was a root motivator of their murderous crimes.

        We need to distinguish between it being “a” root motivator and “the” root motivator. I would argue that the heavenly reward is indeed *a* root motivator for lots of suicide-recruits in the Islamic world. Why do the recruiters make such a big deal of the heavenly reward if it doesn’t (at least partially) motivate the recruits?

        Here is a link to a document written by Mohamed Atta shortly before 9/11. I defy anyone to read it, and then conclude that the religious side of things and the idea of a heavenly reward played no part in his motivations.

        Another point is that it is wrong to treat all suicide bombers as a coherent group. It is not the case that one set of such people (say Tamil Tigers) have the same motivations as another (say ISIS recruits). It is thus fallacious to say that because the Tamil Tiger suicide bombers were not motivated by a heavenly reward, therefore nor are the ISIS suicide bombers.

        Another point about your comments is that you’re quoting Pape’s *assertions*, you are not, most of the time, quoting the evidence with which he backs them up.

        However, to ascribe al-Qaeda’s suicide campaign to religion alone would not be accurate.

        Agreed. No-one would ascribe it to religion alone. But to say that religion plays no role is just as absurd.

        The critical question is a counterfactual one: would
        these religious or ideological provocations suffice if the United States and European allies did not also station troops in the Middle East?

        Well sure, that’s a critical question against the idea that religion alone is the issue, but that’s a strawman.

        Equally relevant is a different counter-factual: Would the political provocations suffice if there were not also religious differences, or if Islam were a very different religion?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-19 12:09:05 UTC - 12:09 | Permalink

          Oi, be fair. No, I have not quoted the evidence because that would mean quoting most of the book. I can only hit the highlights, point to where I have addressed these arguments, including the evidence, in other posts, and hope that others might read some of the works for themselves. Coyne seems not to have bothered reading Pape himself yet he dismisses his work with false assertions about his actual argument and methods. Pape addresses what the terrorists themselves say contrary to what Coyne asserts.

          This is my problem with Coyne. He is a scholar and should be familiarizing himself with the scholarship of his peers in areas not of his special interest before pontificating false information.

          As for your final question, the evidence Pape supplies in abundance is Yes. Political provocations alone do suffice. Notice Pape says religious differences make tensions more likely. Not that they are necessary for tensions. Notice what Pape said about the number of non-religious suicide bombers.

          • 2015-08-19 13:09:43 UTC - 13:09 | Permalink

            Suppose someone waved a magic wand and everyone stopped believing their religion overnight. Would you assert that this would make no difference at all to ISIS-style extremism?

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-08-19 20:59:25 UTC - 20:59 | Permalink

              If you read anything about the murderous thugs gaining international attention for their barbarity and learn about their lives then you will see how many of them were thugs and criminals before finding a home in the opportunities the violence of the “new order” in Iraq offered. Religion for such people very often is a latecomer to their makeup and becomes another tool by which they can justify their actions in their new context. Ditto for so many such terrorists.

              Recall from my quotations the evidence we do have: that since the 1980s for a long time most suicide terrorist attacks were carried out by Marxist-Leninists opposed to religion. The same was found to be the case in Lebanon, — most were socialists, one even a Christian.

              Similar terrorist extremism was rampant in Russia in the late nineteenth century, carried out overwhelmingly by people with not the slightest interest in religion — nihilists, anarchists….

              Recall that Bin Laden’s camps only gave the religious training to ensure that those already committed to violence all had the same rationale.

              Recall that the one common rationale in all terrorist attacks is political and religious rationales vary widely or are non-existent.

              Recall the terrorist extremism of the Jews in Palestine prior to 1947. Even when I say it was “Jewish” terrorism I expect many of us to be upset because that would seem to implicate all Jews. But my point is that we make the same mistake when we speak of the extremism of “the Muslims”.

              Read the lives of terrorists and note just how often religion is a very late addition to the mix that led them to terrorism and in many (most?) cases of terrorism in history does not feature at all.

              I think it is therefore reasonable to conclude that if we took away religion now that the terrorism would continue but with a more overtly political (and honest) front.

              Do you think Jerry would be interested in reading any of the scholarly research into the causes of terrorism? He seems to have strong views about Pape and the point of my quotations above were to point out that Pape does not say religion has no role at all and has indeed listened to what the terrorists themselves say.

            • 2015-08-22 04:13:30 UTC - 04:13 | Permalink

              “Would you assert that this would make no difference at all to ISIS-style extremism?”

              I would. Take the religion out of a bully, and you’ll be left with a bully.

    • 2015-08-24 10:26:44 UTC - 10:26 | Permalink

      Hi Coel,

      I had started writing a long, detailed reply to address the various comments you made in response to my last comment, but having followed your exchanges I see little point in continuing this conversation (Neil’s been extremely patient and has already tried). Your continued assertion that Coyne and others merely say “Look, religious beliefs DO matter!” is so clearly false – as Neil and I have pointed out, rubbishing the scholarly research on radicalisation is another step entirely, and then. For some reason, which other commentators are trying to uncover, you’re dead set on removing Coyne and others from any kind of criticism on this topic. You say we’re creating a straw man, that Coyne never said, explicitly, “Religious beliefs are the only causal factor in religiously motivated violent extremism”.

      OK, he never said that. And yes, he has given small – very small – hints that maybe religious beliefs are not the WHOLE story. (Although, seriously, show me some instances where he actually engages substantively with some other processes of radicalisation beyond religious beliefs.) Yet you seem incapable of seeing that the entire context of his discussion – and yours – is in tension with acknowledging the complex, multi-causal nature of violent extremism. As I suggested, no one who had read widely in radicalisation research would write that it’s almost impossible to pin the blame for Charlie Hebdo on anything other than blind adherence to religious faith. So to the extent that Coyne (and you) glibly acknowledge that there is more to violent extremism than beliefs, religious or otherwise, he (you) then go on to talk as if religious beliefs WERE all that mattered! (To put it another way, you want to have your cake and eat it, to be able to say, “Yes, I have a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of radicalisation – but then now I’m to talk about this phenomenon as if it can be boiled down to one factor.” If you’re then criticised for your narrow focus, you’ll say, “No, I acknowledge the points you make, so you’re attacking a straw man! And in any case, I was only responding to those ignoramuses who said ‘It’s nothing to do with religion”’ – even though you (or Coyne) then go on to rubbish the experts who DO NOT SAY THIS. It really seems that you only pay lip service to the multi-causal nature of extremism so you can lamely claim afterwards, “I accept the full spectrum of causal factors”, before carrying on like there’s just one. This is a game I’m not willing to play: I know what’s being said, and I’m not going to be bullshitted out of my criticism.)

      In essence, you’re trying to exploit the lack of clarity and precision in Coyne’s writing, which admittedly gives him some wriggle room, as a virtue of his position! It’s not really not one. But I know I’m banging my head against a wall in trying to get you to see this.

      This narrow engagement with religious radicalisation is then used as a springboard for a wider indictment of Islam and the social ills it creates, and some extremely spurious ideas about what’s needed to improve the lot of people living in societies in which Islamic beliefs are widespread. In fact, it’s not just spurious, but completely removed from what serious people write about the challenges facing the Arab world and the Middle East more generally. This is where my intellectual energies are directed – not debating amateurs on blog posts (the only reason I’m writing this is that it was my essay that kicked this off, and Neil has been left doing most of the heavy lifting in defending the ideas it presented. I’m just lending a helping hand.)

      In a couple of weeks I’ll be attending a 3-day seminar on extremism, where I’ll be presenting alongside Scott Atran and other leading researchers. I was invited to attend by Lord John Alderdice, one of the key figures in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. (Alderdice co-directs the Oxford Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict with Atran, so, you know, he likes his work.) Shall I tell Lord Alderdice that if, in the future, he writes about the history of the Troubles, he should follow the lead of, say, Richard Dawkins and characterise them as an essentially religious issue, a conflict between the theologies of Catholicism and Protestantism? That whatever else he might think was going on, religion was the real problem – after all, without religious labels, how could communities have defined themselves in opposition to each other? Would you like to make a prediction about how convincing and helpful Alderdice will find that?

      The bottom line for me is this. There’s an important and serious conversation to have about radicalisation and extremism, and the challenges of social reform that could improve the lives of millions around the world. You’re pose as been interested in all this, but it’s clear that you’re really NOT interested in understanding radicalisation per se, or in getting to grips with psychology and human behaviour more generally. That’s problematic enough, but then you start tossing out ideas about social reform that are so empty as to be laughable. You’re talking about changing beliefs and behaviour in relation to reforming Islam, but yet you never invoke any particular models of attitude change and persuasion (a massive literature, of which people like Robert Cialdini are leaders), and how on earth your glib recommendations would work in practice. You’re gesturing towards reforming the beliefs of societies and the behaviour of people within them (presumably in conjunction with improving legal systems, reducing corruption, creating better healthcare systems and so on), but I’ve yet to hear anything serious about the nature of social change, the importance of institutions, how they can be created to promote economic and political inclusivity (which sow the seeds for liberal democracies), as discussed in fascinating detail in Why Nations Fail, by Darren Acemoglu and James Robinson. (Incidentally, they have some interesting and relevant things to say about whether Islam is a useful explanatory factor in understanding why so many countries in the Arab world are poor and dysfunctional. It offers no solace at all to your perspective, but sits very comfortably with the one I, Neil and others have been defending. Of course, Acemoglu and Robinson are merely an MIT economist and Harvard professor of government, respectively, and perhaps don’t have the deep insights you do, but they may be worth listening to.)
      You and Coyne and Harris and Dawkins are welcome to stand on the sidelines while serious scholars grapple with these crucial issues, and shout at other non-serious people who have no part to play in the grown-up conversation I’m interested in having. That’s your prerogative. But it’s a waste of my time debating at the kiddie’s table like this. So I’m out. I’ve got serious work to do.

      • 2015-08-24 13:33:44 UTC - 13:33 | Permalink

        FYI y’all, this is worth watching – it’s a debate between a retired high-level US Army guy, and Mehdi Hasan, about ISIS, the war on Islam (as the military guy calls it), and fighting extremism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG3j8OYKgn4

      • 2015-08-24 21:10:18 UTC - 21:10 | Permalink

        Shall I tell Lord Alderdice that if, in the future, he writes about the history of the Troubles, he should follow the lead of, say, Richard Dawkins and characterise them as an essentially religious issue, a conflict between the theologies of Catholicism and Protestantism? That whatever else he might think was going on, religion was the real problem – after all, without religious labels, how could communities have defined themselves in opposition to each other?

        Certainly, anyone who tried to write the religious divide out of the explanation of The Troubles, and who regarded it as unimportant that the community was split into two by religion, with all the kids of one religion educated in one set of schools, and all the kids of the other educated in another set of schools, would — in my opinion — be going very wrong.

        Heck, even dividing school kids into blue-eyed versus brown-eyed is enough to cause trouble. The division into separate religious groupings is just asking for trouble.

      • 2015-08-24 21:17:10 UTC - 21:17 | Permalink

        And yes, he [Coyne] has given small – very small – hints that maybe religious beliefs are not the WHOLE story. (Although, seriously, show me some instances where he actually engages substantively with some other processes of radicalisation beyond religious beliefs.)

        The point is that his blog is not primarily about terrorism. He’s not exploring the many factors relevant to terrorism because that’s not what his blog is about.

        Rather, his blog is about effects of religion in the world. One of those is the role in terrorism. Another is “healing by prayer” and the denial of medical care to children. Another is the war on science education from creationists. Et cetera.

        And, as I’ve said, his main point is not about or in reply to research on terrorism, his main point is a reaction to all the people who knee-jerk excuse religion from any blame whenever anything bad happens.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-24 22:46:49 UTC - 22:46 | Permalink

        Thank you for your very patient and well considered response, Dan. Much appreciated.

        Coel, how about reading one of the books in Dan’s list and learning a little about how terrorism really works and then maybe you can share the ideas with Coyne. “Friction” is an easy read introduction and it’s available on Kindle. Or you can even download Scot Atran’s book “Talking to the Enemy” for free at http://bookzz.org/book/2474127/c6340d

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-08-19 04:36:47 UTC - 04:36 | Permalink

    Selected quotes from Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What It Means to be Human by Scot Atran:

    In their haste to redeem humanity by saving it from religion, many of the new atheist scientists . . . . often studiously avoid science in their apparently willful ignorance of the facts. In one of the world’s best selling works of so-called nonfiction, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins . . . writes as fact his fantasy of the slavish gullibility of jihadis, which he also finds in children and Bible believers, though not in exceptional scientists:

    Suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools….. And they were taught that lesson not necessarily by extremist fanatics but by decent, gentle, mainstream religious instructors . . .

    p.417

    Atran follows this by pointing out how few suicide terrorists attended religious schools and the evidence that shows terrorists tend not to be recruited from those “graduates” because they lack the skills required to carry out operations in hostile territory.

    Dawkins cites and even praises a number of serious scientific works on the cognitive and evolutionary origins of religious belief, but simply chucks their main findings when he claims, for reasons only Freud would know, that grown people seek religion because they miss their fathers. Earlier in life, children allegedly believe because “natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal leaders tell them.” Children, like “computers, do what they are told: they slavishly obey any instructions given in their own programming language.”

    What’s the scientific evidence presented for Dawkin’s own science fiction that children or jihadis are robotic learners? None. Now, it’s almost a sworn duty of any scientist to cite any serious counterevidence to one’s own claims. In this case, the counterevidence is overwhelming. . . . pp. 418-419

    A little later in the chapter:

    The scientific ignorance and tomfoolery of many of the new atheists with regard to religion, and history, makes me almost embarrassed to be an atheist. But when foolishness is promoted as a course of political action, then it becomes potentially dangerous to everyone’s health. A sentiment that only feeds into the current wave of violence is Harris’s suggestion in The End of Faith that a total war on Islam may be inevitable.

    Islam and religious ideology per se aren’t the principle causes of suicide bombing and terror in today’s world — at least no more than are soccer, friendship, or faith for a better future. What is the cause of the current wave of terrorism, then? Nothing so abstract or broad as any of these things, but bits of all of them, embedded and acting together in the peculiar sorts of small- and large-scale social networks that are emerging at this time in history. . . .

    Even a superficial examination of studies and experiments in human cognition and reasoning demonstrates unequivocally that ideas do not “invade” and occupy minds, or spread from mind to mind like self-replicating viruses or genes, as Dawkins and company maintain. However simple and appealing may be the notion of an ideology as a self-replicating high-fidelity “meme,” psychologically that’s pretty baseless and unrelated to how the mind actually works — almost as distant from reality as the claim that religion itself is the greater cause of human group violence. . . .

    I certainly don’t criticize the Four Horsemen [Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens] and other scientifically minded new atheists for wanting to rid the world of dogmatically held beliefs that are vapid, barbarous, anachronistic, and wrong. I object to their manner of combat, which is often shrill, scientifically baseless, psychologically uninformed, politically naive, and counterproductive for goals we share. pp. 425-427

    • 2015-08-19 11:12:45 UTC - 11:12 | Permalink

      What’s the scientific evidence presented for Dawkin’s own science fiction that children or jihadis are robotic learners? None.

      How about the fact that the vast majority of the world’s ten-year-olds believe the religion of their parents?

      Islam and religious ideology per se aren’t the principle causes of suicide bombing and terror in today’s world — at least no more than are soccer, …

      Which is the sort of ridiculous statement by such as Atran that is not at all supported by the evidence. Is he really trying to say that Islamic ideology plays no more role in ISIS-style terror than soccer does? OK, where is his evidence for that?

      Even a superficial examination of studies and experiments in human cognition and reasoning demonstrates unequivocally that ideas do not “invade” and occupy minds, or spread from mind to mind like self-replicating viruses or genes, as Dawkins and company maintain.

      Err, yes they do. At least, if one properly understands what Dawkins et al are saying there, then one understands that yes they do.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-19 11:25:59 UTC - 11:25 | Permalink

        Studies — including those by Atran himself — demonstrate that a child’s religious thinking and concepts are different from an adult’s. (Anyone who has had children knows Dawkins’ statement is nonsense anyway!) You are misreading the words I quoted and missing their point.

        As for the other “ridiculous statement”, that’s the whole study and research of Atran set out in “Talking with the Enemy”. The title of the book kind of tells us that this scholar does actually listen to what the terrorist themselves say, contrary to Coyne’s sweeping dismissals of such scholarly research. I cannot repeat the entire book here, but I have posted outlines of the argument elsewhere. I suggest you try to understand what the research shows about the causes of terrorist violence and not pre-judge such work the way Coyne does.

        (I suggest you read more carefully what the quoted passage actually says, by the way, before falling into Coyne’s trap of assuming he’s saying “soccer breeds terrorists”. Why are we so quick to jump on misinterpretations and not even bother to learn what the alternative arguments are?)

        As for the way the mind works and processes beliefs and ideas there is not one shred of evidence to support Dawkins’ image. I studied post grad educational psychology and taught for many years in high schools. Every trained teacher knows — or at least ought to know — that Dawkins’ portrayal of how ideas take over the mind is rubbish. All the research contradicts it.

        Have you had a chance to read Dan’s detailed comment yet?

        • 2015-08-19 11:39:09 UTC - 11:39 | Permalink

          Studies — including those by Atran himself — demonstrate that a child’s religious thinking and concepts are different from an adult’s.

          Which is irrelevant to Dawkins’s claim.

          The title of the book kind of tells us that this scholar does actually listen to what the terrorist themselves say, contrary to Coyne’s sweeping dismissals of such scholarly research.

          What Coyne et al say is not so much that Pape doesn’t talk to the terrorists, but rather that whenever they talk about a religious motivation he re-interprets it as having underlying political motivations, and thus excuses religion.

          I suggest you read more carefully what the quoted passage actually says, by the way, before falling into Coyne’s trap of assuming he’s saying “soccer breeds terrorists”.

          I wasn’t assuming he’s saying “soccer breeds terrorists”, I was reading him as saying that neither soccer nor religion breeds terrorists, in other words that neither was of any relevance to terrorism.

          As for the way the mind works and processes beliefs and ideas there is not one shred of evidence to support Dawkins’ image.

          There is **oodles** of evidence for Dawkins’s meme idea. As just one example, the fact that most children speak the language of the community around them. If you don’t understand why that amply supports Dawkins’s point, then you’ve not understood what he’s trying to say (many people don’t, by the way, they interpret it as a much more radical thesis than it actually is).

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-08-19 12:18:47 UTC - 12:18 | Permalink

            I will try to give you the full discussion when I get the time to show that Atran really is addressing Dawkins’ point. It really does make a huge difference to the claim that children learn robotically if what adults believe is not what a child believes. Children believe in the literal stories etc, but tend to treat these as metaphors when they get older. Dawkins’ statement about the way children learn is patently absurd and has been to teachers for generations now.

            Your statement about Pape’s reinterpreting what the terrorists say about religion is simply false. No one who has read Pape could say that with any justification. You’re just making up that assertion or following Coyne without any evidence. (I have posted some of the evidence in earlier posts I have written on Pape’s work, by the way.)

            No psychologist accepts Dawkins’ “memes” as psychological realities. Anyone who has studied how languages are learned knows it’s nothing like a meme/gene concept in the remotest.

            I am disappointed. I thought for a while you were seriously trying to engage and understand and exchange views but now you are just spouting off the top of your head popular myths without any basis of fact in any of the relevant scholarship and researched evidence.

            • 2015-08-19 14:00:31 UTC - 14:00 | Permalink

              Children believe in the literal stories etc, but tend to treat these as metaphors when they get older.

              Maybe, but plenty of religious adults do retain the literal acceptance of stories they learn as children. For example, young-earth creationism and the literal creation of Adam and Eve as the first humans is believed by about a third of American adults.

              Dawkins’ statement about the way children learn is patently absurd and has been to teachers for generations now.

              If you think his statement is absurd then you’re simply not interpreting it correctly. Children do often believe things simply because they’re told them by adults.

              No psychologist accepts Dawkins’ “memes” as psychological realities.

              Anyone who does understand the concept does accept them. The word “tree”, used to refer to trees, is an example of a meme.

              [Wikipedia: “A meme is an idea … that spreads from person to person in a culture”.]

              Any newly coined word is a meme and spreads as a meme. The claim that memes don’t exist can only be made by someone who doesn’t understand the concept. Of course memes exist!

              The problem is that many people completely over-interpret the concept and then reject the over-interpretations.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-08-19 23:56:43 UTC - 23:56 | Permalink

                replying in a new thread below to avoid the narrow column problem

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-08-20 00:42:06 UTC - 00:42 | Permalink

    Coel, I know what the popular meaning of ‘meme’ is and I read Dawkins’ introduction of the word in The Selfish Gene and thought it was a nice metaphor. It’s a nice poetic idea but it has no basis in the psychology of learning except as a handy figure of speech.

    I do know a little about the psychology of learning and would be surprised if you can find any serious study that supports Dawkins’ description of how we learn. Most parents come to learn that their efforts to teach their children do not always survive their teenage years in tact. More important as an influence on us than our parents are groups, social circles outside the home. Many parents have been saddened to find their children do not follow their faith; but of course many others are proud when they do. The differences, speaking generally, are well understood and they have to do with socialization and where different people find acceptance and others they like to bond with.

    People embrace new ideas when their supports for their old ways of thinking tend to break apart and they are looking for some new meaning and fulfillment. Much has been written about the processes involved — and why some people and not others turn to terrorism is largely understood — and why political issues are far more prevalent than any “religious” attachment. That’s why it’s so depressing to find people like Coyne who should know better ignoring the scholarship available to them.

    I get the impression you are ready to defend Dawkins, Coyne, Harris at every turn and will interpret any criticism of their views as not understanding them. That doesn’t sound like a very informed or independent mind but more like the mind of a fan, a devoted follower.

    But sometimes when very smart people speak outside their fields of specialty they can get things terribly wrong, and if those wrong things are what many other in the general public also think without having any awareness of the scholarly research then those ignorant ideas can gain more credibility than they deserve.

    • 2015-08-20 09:55:09 UTC - 09:55 | Permalink

      Neil, you are totally, totally over-interpreting the “meme” idea, turning into a strawman version. The “meme” idea is actually very limited, and indeed almost trite. It was never intended to be a deep theory explaining everything about human learning, and it is just wrong to regard it that way.

      But, in the very limited way it was intended, it is *true*. Children *do* learn words and ideas by copying others in their social circles. That’s just a fact. The child in London comes to use the word “tree” for a tree owing to absorbing that meme from its family and peers. The child in Bangkok uses a different word for “tree” for the same reason. That’s just so obviously true that anyone who regards the meme theory as wrong simply doesn’t understand that that is all it is trying to say!.

      The point of relevance here is that children in much of the Islam world tend to grow up as Muslims, and children in much of the US tend to grow up as Christians — not because they have different genes, not because they are judging on evidence — but simply because they are absorbing from the culture around them. They tend to end up believing it because the society around them largely believes it.

      (And yes, we do all know that it’s not 100%, plenty of people do come to reject the belief of their parents. But, as an overwhelming fact: for the majority of believers, the prime reason they hold to their particular faith is because it is the one their parents believed.)

      Are you really trying to deny that? If you accept that then you agree with Dawkins about memes. Now, if you want to say that meme ideas are rather trite and rather limited, then yes indeed, and that critique would be fair. But to interpret it as supposedly some deep theory that explains everything about human learning is just a complete misunderstanding of the idea.

      Most parents come to learn that their efforts to teach their children do not always survive their teenage years in tact

      Do you really think that Dawkins doesn’t know things like that? Do you really think that you, in your greater wisdom, need to patiently explain things like that to Dawkins? Which bit of that conflicts with anything that Dawkins has actually said?

      More important as an influence on us than our parents are groups, social circles outside the home.

      Do you really think that Dawkins doesn’t know things like that? Do you really think that you, in your greater wisdom, need to patiently explain things like that to Dawkins? Which bit of that conflicts with anything that Dawkins has actually said?

      Ditto ditto for much of the rest of what you say. It’s not that I disagree with your next couple of paragraphs, it’s that nothing there is in any way a counter to anything that Dawkins has said.

      This is getting very frustrating. I keep asking you to actually quote Coyne and Dawkins et al. The point is that if you actually did that you might see that they are not actually saying what you think they are saying, and thus that most of your supposed rebuttals entirely miss the point.

      I get the impression you are ready to defend Dawkins, Coyne, Harris at every turn and will interpret any criticism of their views as not understanding them. That doesn’t sound like a very informed or independent mind but more like the mind of a fan, a devoted follower.

      And I get the impression that you are far too ready to simply sneer at people. You don’t actually want to discuss this with Coyne, you simply want to sneer at him and expect him to meekly accept your greater wisdom. And I don’t just defend them at every turn; for example, as I’ve said, I’ve made oodles of comments on Coyne’s blog disagreeing with him over free will. Further, I totally disagree with Harris on several things, including free will and his vision of morality.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-20 11:32:48 UTC - 11:32 | Permalink

        Coel, just for now I will address one part of your reply. Those who attribute much of today’s terrorism, in part at least, to something fundamentally sinister or violent inherent in the Islamic religion itself sometimes speak of these Islamic ideas as “memes”. The message they convey is that Islam is an evil idea (or at least potentially evil or unhealthy) and that children embrace it and grow up into it because that is the idea, the meme, that they have been injected with. And with this idea in them — if they take it seriously — they will act on its evil and become terrorists. Fortunately not every Muslim takes their religion that seriously so they don’t (yet) become terrorists.

        In other words, the process is pretty much the way Dawkins explained “memes” work on page 192 of The Selfish Gene:

        When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.

        Is that how you understand the process works? The meme of Islam parasitizes the brains of its hosts and if those hosts take it seriously enough they become terrorists.

        Do I understand you correctly here?

        (P.S. — I do hope you can respond to Dan’s comment where he quoted in detail and analysed Coyne’s words some time. I also said I might go over Coyne’s old posts and I did comment on one in particular — his words — by the way. Perhaps there have been too many comments and you have missed some of these replies.)

        • 2015-08-20 13:03:00 UTC - 13:03 | Permalink

          Those who attribute much of today’s terrorism, in part at least, to something fundamentally sinister or violent inherent in the Islamic religion itself sometimes speak of these Islamic ideas as “memes”. The message they convey is that Islam is an evil idea (or at least potentially evil or unhealthy) and that children embrace it and grow up into it because that is the idea, the meme, that they have been injected with.

          Yes. And among the bad ideas are the ideas that blasphemy and apostasy are sinful, that Mohammed and the Koran are perfect exemplars of good conduct, beyond human scrutiny or reproach, but rather that the Muslim’s duty is to submit to them. Indeed, Mohammed is so sacred, so beyond human questioning, that even drawing him is blasphemous.

          Those are all bad ideas (in “Heretic” Hirsi Ali also outlines other bad ideas prevalent within Islam), and they are responsible for a lot of violence and strife in the world. They conflict directly with the Western ideals that questioning and skepticism and openly criticising ideas are moral goods.

          Is that how you understand the process works? The meme of Islam parasitizes the brains of its hosts …

          Yes, one can use such “meme” language if one wants to.

          … and if those hosts take it seriously enough they become terrorists.

          Well *obviously* humans are a lot more complicated than that, and any few-sentence account will only be one part of the overall picture. But, if the question is whether I think that Islamic memes, such as the ideas that questioning of Islam and blasphemy and apostasy are morally wrong, are very harmful and are among the factors leading to a lot of violence and dysfunctional societies today, then yes I do.

          I do hope you can respond to Dan’s comment where he quoted in detail and analysed Coyne’s words some time.

          I did reply to that in my comment addressed to Dan and Greg.

          • Al
            2015-08-20 16:15:34 UTC - 16:15 | Permalink

            ‘Those are all bad ideas (in “Heretic” Hirsi Ali also outlines other bad ideas prevalent within Islam), and they are responsible for a lot of violence and strife in the world. They conflict directly with the Western ideals that questioning and skepticism and openly criticising ideas are moral goods.’

            Indeed, over the past seventy or so years, ‘Muslim countries’ have continually invaded, intervened or attacked ‘Western states’. ‘Western states’, on the other hand, have seldom intervened in, attacked. bombed, or invaded any ‘Muslim countries’ at all.

            • 2015-08-20 17:27:15 UTC - 17:27 | Permalink

              If your point is intended to be some sort of rebuttal of the complete strawman that “politics plays no role at all in any of this”, then note that no-one is saying that.

              By the way, you’ll find that Coyne and Dawkins are generally opposed to the sorts of wars you point to, so I don’t see the relevance.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-08-20 22:28:28 UTC - 22:28 | Permalink

                I listed a swathe of quotations from Pape demonstrating that he (Pape) does not discount the role of religion in terrorism and that he also clearly listens to what terrorists themselves say — the very things Jerry Coyne said Pape did not do — so Coyne’s dismissal and put-down of Pape was evidently a complete misunderstanding. If you point this out to Jerry I’m confident that in any future reference he will be citing the scholarly research of Pape to support his own argument that religion is one of the several factors involved in current terrorism and that it is important to listen to what the terrorists themselves say.

                (Coyne should also be further heartened when he gets to read Pape for himself and sees that he is offering advice to the US government on how to maintain their dominance in the world while lessening the hassle of terrorist attacks, so he is not some lefty america-bashing loonie.)

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-08-20 22:21:52 UTC - 22:21 | Permalink

            That model flies in the face of all scholarly understanding and research. It is a model that has been with us in one form or another for generations, centuries even, and has been debunked over and over. I and Dan have listed many scholarly works that have applied current scholarly understanding of human behaviour to terrorists and have produced very consistent and evidence-backed results. That was how this whole discussion got started. Coyne says the scholarship I cite ignores what the terrorist themselves say and trying to deny any role of religion. (Am I correct here? Am I misrepresenting Coyne?)

            My point has been to try to show that religion is not ignored in this work at all, and its role is clearly studied and explained. The point is, however, that the same research produces evidence demonstrating that religion is not a necessary factor and is not the one consistent factor in all terrorist attacks, and that there are well understood factors (based on scholarly research) that do lead one to become a terrorist and religion generally has a relatively superficial place among these.

            I have also tried to demonstrate to you that the suggestion the research Coyne rejects listens very carefully and fully to what the terrorists say, sometimes at the risk of those researchers’ lives.

            As for your reply to Dan, I may have missed it but I did not see where you addressed his quotations and analysis of Coyne’s words. Dan was talking about Coyne but you seemed to ignore that and keep turning the discussion back to your interpretation of what “Neil said”. I’d be interested in knowing your responses to Dan’s analysis of Coyne’s quoted words.

            • Lowen Gartner
              2015-08-21 00:35:00 UTC - 00:35 | Permalink

              > he is offering advice to the US government on how to maintain their dominance in the world while lessening the hassle of terrorist attacks

              Is this advice dependent on accepting religious motivation as a secondary or tertiary cause of terrorism or will it apply equally well if religious motivation is primary?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-08-21 03:14:39 UTC - 03:14 | Permalink

                The advice is based on the evidence uncovered by the research. What more is needed?

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-08-21 03:31:14 UTC - 03:31 | Permalink

            Those who attribute much of today’s terrorism, in part at least, to something fundamentally sinister or violent inherent in the Islamic religion itself sometimes speak of these Islamic ideas as “memes”. The message they convey is that Islam is an evil idea (or at least potentially evil or unhealthy) and that children embrace it and grow up into it because that is the idea, the meme, that they have been injected with.

            Yes. . . .

            Is that how you understand the process works? The meme of Islam parasitizes the brains of its hosts …

            Yes. . . .

            … and if those hosts take it seriously enough they become terrorists.

            Well *obviously* humans are a lot more complicated than that, and any few-sentence account will only be one part of the overall picture. But, if …… then yes I do.

            Coel, I think I can see why we are not making any progress in our exchanges.

            You have said that you do not understand what I am saying. What I am trying to point out with the arguments and the evidence I have raised is that this model that you are convinced is the way Islam produces terrorists is without any support in the scholarly research into human behaviour generally and into terrorism specifically.

            Is it possible that your responses to my comments have been from the point of view of trying to make me see that your understanding of Islam’s role in producing terrorists should be “so obvious” if I wasn’t so blinded by some sort of pro-Islamic prejudice?

            Can you admit the mere possibility that this explanation for the relationship between Islam and terrorism is wrong and that there might exist research demonstrating that is not ideologically motivated (trying to defend Islam, anti-American, etc) that supports the case against this understanding of Islam and terorrism? If so, can we discuss that research, those arguments?

            • 2015-08-21 10:16:56 UTC - 10:16 | Permalink

              What I am trying to point out with the arguments and the evidence I have raised is that this model that you are convinced is the way Islam produces terrorists is without any support in the scholarly research into human behaviour generally and into terrorism specifically.

              You retreat into generalities here. What do you mean by “this model” and exactly what evidence has shown it is wrong?

              Let me ask a question.

              Currently, Imams in Gaza and Syria and similar places tell the young that if they engage in violent jihad and die as a martyr, then they will go immediately to paradise (whatever their past sins) where they will live forever among the most esteemed.

              Now, let’s suppose that Islam really were a religion of peace, and that all Imams and religious leaders told the young that anyone deliberately killing another, even if the other were the worst sort of infidel, even in war, would be condemned to torture in hell forever with no possibility of mercy.

              Is it your opinion that that would make no difference whatsoever to the number of recruits for suicide bombing and other ISIS violence?

              If you accept that that would make a difference, then you are basically in agreement with Coyne and Dawkins, that this sort of theology can be influential and can have bad consequences.

              That is the basic point they are making; all else is secondary.

              • AU
                2015-08-21 11:55:35 UTC - 11:55 | Permalink

                Your argument makes no sense.

                People from Western secular democracies kill – they believe it can be legitimate to go to war and kill people.

                Now, let’s imagine that Western secular leaders said that anyone who kills someone else, even a bad person if in a war, would be imprisoned forever and tortured and never released. Even if it meant that the enemy would overrun us and destroy us, we were never allowed to kill someone.

                Do you agree that this would mean that the number of Western soldiers killing others around the world would decrease if this law was implemented? If you do, then you’re basically agreeing that Western secular democracies that allow war can be influential and have bad consequences.

                Therefore, let’s all blame Western secular democracies for Vietnam, Iraq, Hiroshima, Nagasaki etc etc.

                See how silly your argument is?

              • 2015-08-21 12:14:00 UTC - 12:14 | Permalink

                Your argument makes no sense.

                Yes it does.

                Do you agree that this would mean that the number of Western soldiers killing others around the world would decrease if this law was implemented?

                Yes, it sure would. Of course it would!

                If you do, then you’re basically agreeing that Western secular democracies that allow war can be influential and have bad consequences.

                Yes! Exactly! That is, of course, true.

                Therefore, let’s all blame Western secular democracies for Vietnam, Iraq, Hiroshima, Nagasaki etc etc.

                Iraq, yes indeed. The Western countries that deposed Saddam do have a large measure of responsibility for Iraq’s current state.

                As for Japan, well yes, the US did indeed decide to drop atom bombs on it, and is indeed responsible for that. You can indeed argue about the morality of that.

                See how silly your argument is?

                Nope.

              • AU
                2015-08-21 12:58:57 UTC - 12:58 | Permalink

                Great.

                So considering Western seciular democracises have killed far more people than Muslims have this past century, should we say secularism is terrible?

              • 2015-08-21 13:14:35 UTC - 13:14 | Permalink

                Secularism was not the motive (not even part of it) for those killings.

              • AU
                2015-08-21 13:36:51 UTC - 13:36 | Permalink

                Secularism was not the motive (not even part of it) for those killings.

                Don’t try and change the topic. The argument you laid out was very clear – if someone does an action that they would not have done if their belief had told them explicitly not to do it, then their belief is responsible for that action. Which is complete nonsense.

                Now you are talking about motive. However, as already pointed out, nearly always the driving motive isn’t religion, it is other factors too.

                Anyway, let’s imagine that there was a threat to American secularism because of Iran getting nukes. Imagine that America decided to nuke Iran because they were afraid that if Iran got more powerful, they might impose Islam on America. So to defend secularism, America “wipes out” Iran, killing 10 million people in the process. So protecting “secularism” is the motive. And as secularism doesn’t say that you should never kill anyone, according to your logic, it means that secularism is to blame for all those dead Iranians, that it is “influential and can have bad consequences”!

              • 2015-08-21 14:01:13 UTC - 14:01 | Permalink

                The argument you laid out was very clear – if someone does an action that they would not have done if their belief had told them explicitly not to do it, then their belief is responsible for that action.

                No, sorry, I did not say that.

                … nearly always the driving motive isn’t religion, it is other factors too.

                That sentence is confused. It being other factors too is not the same as religion not being a factor.

                So protecting “secularism” is the motive.

                Yes, in that scenario, the desire not to have Islam imposed and thus to “defend secularism” would indeed have been “influential and can have bad consequences”.

              • AU
                2015-08-21 14:17:51 UTC - 14:17 | Permalink

                Yes, in that scenario, the desire not to have Islam imposed and thus to “defend secularism” would indeed have been “influential and can have bad consequences”.

                So if defending secularism can have bad consequences, and if secularism doesn’t have a check in place to stop these bad consequences from happening, is secularism a bad thing?

              • 2015-08-21 14:35:16 UTC - 14:35 | Permalink

                First, your question is confused. Are you asking whether “secularism” is a bad thing or whether “desire to defend secularism” is a bad thing?

                Now, if desire to defend secularism (1) did have bad consequences, and (2) did not have mechanisms to prevent those consequences, then, yes, the desire to defend secularism could indeed be a bad thing.

                But please note that your consequences, in your imagined scenario, have not actually happened. Thus you cannot conclude that desire to defend secularism *is* a bad thing, because those consequences have not happened.

              • AU
                2015-08-21 15:43:33 UTC - 15:43 | Permalink

                The desire to defend secularism which is based on the secularism pricniple that secularism is better than a theocracy.

                Ok, so as secularism is all about secularism being better than theocracy, and as secularism doesn’t state that you are not allowed to kill millions of innocent civilians to defend secularism from religion being imposed on you, then this means that secularism allows the killing of millions, and therefore, secularism is” bad”.

                But please note that your consequences, in your imagined scenario, have not actually happened. Thus you cannot conclude that desire to defend secularism *is* a bad thing, because those consequences have not happened.

                That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Have you never come across hypothetical scenarios and thought experiments? Let’s say I am the richest man in the world, and I follow a religion called Killricher, which has just ine belief – kill anyone who is richer than me. Because I am currently the richest person in the world, I have not had the need to kill someone. Does this mean that Killricher is a good religion because it hasn’t yet caused me to kill someone?

                Anyway, I think your whole argument is nonsense. If Iran threatened the secular way of life in the West, we had to go to war with them to defend our way of life, and millions got killed, it isn’t secularism’s fault that there are no checks in place which say “you cannot kill people who attack you at no costs”, just like it isn’t Islam’s fault that it doesn’t say that anyone who kills anyone else, even if it is in war, will be in Hell forever. The simple reason is that humans have, and probably always will have to, kill others to protect themselves.

              • 2015-08-21 17:29:37 UTC - 17:29 | Permalink

                That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Have you never come across hypothetical scenarios and thought experiments?

                Why sure I have, but your argument is akin to this:

                Suppose Obama tomorrow launched a nuclear strike on Brazil and killed millions. Would he then be a mass murderer? (Answer, “Yes”).

                So is, then, Obama a mass murderer? (Answer, “No”, because he hasn’t launched that strike).

                Similarly, you’re asking, if the desire to defend secularism had led to a nuclear strike on Iran, would desire to defend secularism be a bad thing with bad consequences? (Answer, “Yes”.)

                So, is, then a desire to defend secularism a bad thing? (Answer, “No”, since it hasn’t led to that nuclear strike on Iran.)

              • AU
                2015-08-21 18:12:55 UTC - 18:12 | Permalink

                No. I think you are not understanding the point, so let me try again.

                People often say that practising Muslims are doing this bad action and that bad action, and therefore, Islam is bad. This isn’t a straw man, this is said ad nauseum, this is why Sam Harris has said if he could rid the world of rape or religion, he would get rid of religion.

                I, and many others, argue that it is silly to say a religion/belief/ideology mjst be bad because it’s followers are doing bad things at a certain time.

                The argument often goes that religious people are killing for religion, secular people are not killing for secularism, therefore secularism is better. However, if secular people felt under threat that their secularism might be replaced by theocracy, then secular people WILL kill to protect their secularism. So if in 2050, America, to defend itself from a perceived attack on it’s secularism, killed 3 million people in the Middle East, should we be able to look at this in isolation and say “secularism is bad because it is killing far more people than religion”? Of course not, that would be nonsensical.

                Yet this is exactly how the arguments of Dawkins, Harris and Coyne are. They look at the bad done by people in the name of their religion, and use that to argue that we would be better off without religion.

              • 2015-08-21 19:22:05 UTC - 19:22 | Permalink

                You are rather overlooking the point that many Muslims *are* doing bad things because they believe it to be mandated by their religion.

                Whereas it is not the case that people are doing lots of bad things “in defence of secularism”.

                Now, if they were, then you’d have a point about the defects of secularism.

                But they are not.

              • AU
                2015-08-21 22:01:35 UTC - 22:01 | Permalink

                You are rather overlooking the point that many Muslims *are* doing bad things because they believe it to be mandated by their religion.

                Whereas it is not the case that people are doing lots of bad things “in defence of secularism”.

                Now, if they were, then you’d have a point about the defects of secularism.

                But they are not.

                Again, your logic is completely flawed and I don’t know why you cannot understand something so simple.

                So let me spell it out to you again – just because at a certain time some followers of ideology A are committing crimes and followers of iedology B aren’t committing mass crimes, it doesn’t mean that ideology A is bad and ideology B is better.

                What about 1794 and the French Revolution? What about the massive reign of terror against Catholics in the name of secularism?

                http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2015/jan/16/france-much-vaunted-secularism-not-neutral-space-claims-to-be

                You want to talk about beheadings, yeah, a lot of catholics were beheaded in France.

                Or how about this:

                http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/08/19/making-a-state-by-iron-and-blood-isis-iraq-syria/

                In the early 1790s, at least 150,000 other unfortunate French citoyens were shot, burned to death, hacked to pieces, or deliberately drowned in France’s Vendée region. “I crushed the children under the feet of the horses,” French Gen. François Joseph Westermann is said to have written after one particularly brutal campaign. “[I] massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands…. I have exterminated all. The roads are sown with corpses.”

                So, yes, the French, who wanted secularism and wanted to destroy Catholicism in France, were committing much worse crimes than Muslims in 1794. Does this mean we can say Islam is better than secularism because Muslims were not using their religion to commit mass crimes on the scale the French were in 1794? See how stupid, illogical and contradictory your argument is if you use the logic “They are committing more crimes than us at this moment, therefore they are worse than us”, because at different periods of history, people commit different levels of atroicities, and it isn’t the ideology which is the driving factor behind the atrocities, it is the cirumstances of the time – this is why even Buddhism has a violent side, look at the Buddhism in Sri Lanka as compared to the Buddhism in Tibet, the one in Sri Lanka actually justifies war, this is because Sri Lanka had a past where there was more conflict with neighbours than Tibet did.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-21 08:38:56 UTC - 08:38 | Permalink

        This is getting very frustrating. I keep asking you to actually quote Coyne and Dawkins et al. The point is that if you actually did that you might see that they are not actually saying what you think they are saying, and thus that most of your supposed rebuttals entirely miss the point.

        You will notice I quoted Dawkins previously, and here I want to quote Coyne from his most recent post relating to Islam, The Islamist theology of rape.

        Coyne writes:

        I’m constantly inundated with emails and attacks by people who claim that the perfidies of militant Islam are due to the West, not to Islam itself. Religion is largely exculpated. And yes, I’ll admit that some terrorist attacks by Muslims have been exacerbated by Western activities, but I can’t exculpate religion itself as a cause of this divisiveness.

        and

        it’s hard to pin the rapes on colonialism. You may say that these rapists are merely using the Qur’an as an excuse, but what would happen without that excuse?

        and

        I’m demonizing its most extreme efflorecence, which is to some extent enabled by not only more moderate Muslims, but those misguided Westerners who completely exculpate religion.

        and

        Say that the theology is just a cover for the natural tendency of men in war to rape their captives (but notice that this is not always official policy). Say that exactly the same thing would happen if ISIS weren’t a religious organization, but merely some xenophobic group lacking any religion. I don’t believe those claims, but I’m sure some will make them. But what you cannot credibly say is that this is the fault of the West for unfairly maligning Islam or invading Islamic lands.

        Here we see a refrain throughout the entire post where Coyne is “sure” that there will be Westerners who will “exculpate religion” from these atrocities. See all the words I have highlighted. Coyne is attacking Westerners who, he believes, blame the horrors of rape (war-crimes) on the West and leave religion itself blameless.

        Can you tell me why Coyne might be stressing these accusations so much? Can you ask Coyne — or supply the names yourself — of a single scholar or critic of Coyne who has ever argued that these rapes by ISIS members have nothing to do with their religious beliefs?

        According to the judges trying Nazi war criminals at the end of WW2 any country that initiated a war of aggression was responsible for all the evils of everything that followed:

        The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which followed World War II, called the waging of aggressive war

        “essentially an evil thing…to initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

        So in that sense the Bush-Blair led coalition that waged a war of aggression against Iraq is indeed responsible for ISIS atrocities since ISIS has clearly arisen as a result of the chaos caused by that war. But at the same time the Nuremberg judges were holding accountable others who more directly committed crimes, and by the same principle ISIS rapists are responsible for their own crimes as well.

        I don’t know of anyone who denies that ISIS rapists should be held to account for their acts. Nor do I know that anyone denies that ISIS believes they have a religious right to rape.

        So who are these people that Coyne is attacking in his post?

        I suggest that what Coyne is doing in this post is to suggest (without evidence and falsely) that those who analyse (by means of serious scholarly methods) the reasons for the rise of ISIS and Islamic extremism are somehow trying to shift the blame from the criminals and on to the West for these rapes. He is trying to suggest that these scholarly researchers are “letting off the hook” the real culprit — passages in the Muslim holy book.

        In short, Coyne is seeking to remove from the debate all serious scholarly research from the modern sciences of human behaviour and political actions and accordingly return us to the same level of understanding human behaviour (blaming and punishing) as we saw in the pre-scientific era.

        I suggest that what Coyne is in fact doing without realizing it is reducing the responsibility of these criminals by shifting much of the blame to a book as if the book has the power to pervert their behaviour.

        Coyne appears to be equating the words in a book with the same culpability he assigns to rapists.

        This line of reasoning eliminates all need to study the findings of anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, and requires us to step back to the pre-Enlightenment era before any of these sciences of human behaviour existed. It follows that Korans should be removed from society (burned? pulped?) just as much as the criminals. Anyone who resists or defends the freedom of the Koran should also be restrained and restrictions placed on their reading of the Koran. Certainly the teaching of Islam and the Koran to all children should be banned. Once that is done the same would need to follow in the case of the Bible given the crimes that have been committed by Christians and Jews by following its teachings — Is not that the logic that follows from Coyne’s position?

        (P.S. — I am not saying that Koranic verses play no role at all. Of course they do — that goes without saying. See, for example, How Radical Islamists Justify Killing Civlians… )

        • 2015-08-21 10:06:08 UTC - 10:06 | Permalink

          Can you ask Coyne — or supply the names yourself — of a single scholar or critic of Coyne who has ever argued that these rapes by ISIS members have nothing to do with their religious beliefs?

          You don’t get it. Coyne is not primarily arguing in reaction to scholars or to his critics. He is primarily reacting to all the politicians and media soundbites who, as a near knee-jerk reaction, say that such things are “nothing to do with religion” because Islam is “a religion of peace”.

          I can provide quotes from Obama, Francois Hollande, Tony Blair, David Cameron, and lots of others saying that. As I’ve stated twice already, 120 UK MPs wrote to the BBC asking it to stop calling Islamic State the “Islamic State” because (they claim) ISIS is “not Islamic”.

          Islamic reformers such as Maajid Nawaz have called this the “Voldemort effect” and have criticised the refusal of many to face up to the bad ideas within Islam, which he sees as a necessary step to reforming them .

          It is those things that Coyne is responding to. *That* is why he emphasizes the role of religion in ISIS-style extremism.

          He is not primarily trying to respond to people like Pape. But the conversation goes something like this:

          Media: This lastest ISIS atrocity is of course nothing to do with Islam, which is a religion of peace.

          Coyne: No, that atrocity had a lot to do with religion, and their interpretation of Islam is a major part of their motivation.

          Critic: No, you’re wrong. Pape has shown that religious beliefs have no role in such things.

          To which Coyne replies that, no he hasn’t.

          Nor do I know that anyone denies that ISIS believes they have a religious right to rape. So who are these people that Coyne is attacking in his post?

          He is attacking the people who say that ISIS is “nothing to do with Islam” because Islam is “a religion of peace”. He is attacking those who want to pretend that ISIS is not in any way linked to the Islamic religion.

          Anyone who resists or defends the freedom of the Koran should also be restrained and restrictions placed on their reading of the Koran. Certainly the teaching of Islam and the Koran to all children should be banned. Once that is done the same would need to follow in the case of the Bible given the crimes that have been committed by Christians and Jews by following its teachings

          It really is amazing the edifices people construct out of what Coyne says!

          Is not that the logic that follows from Coyne’s position?

          Nope.

          I am not saying that Koranic verses play no role at all. Of course they do — that goes without saying.

          Well good! Now, will you please realise that Coyne’s main target is people who argue exactly that!

          • AU
            2015-08-21 12:09:48 UTC - 12:09 | Permalink

            If you have religion X, and 99% of the followers of X interpret it peacefully, and 1% of the followers of X interpret it violently, then is X a peaceful or violent religion?

            The people who say ISIS are not Islamic are saying it because the vast majority of the followers of Islam, whilst using the same Quran and Hadiths as ISIS, come to a different interpretation than ISIS.

            And therein lies the hypocrisy of people like you and Coyne. You are selective. You choose the ISIS interpretation of Islam as being Islam, even though the vast majority of Muslims reject that interpretation. Why? Why do you not choose the interpretation of Islam that the vast majority of Muslims choose as Islam?
            I mean, if 99% of nationalists are peaceful, and 1% of nationalists are violent, would you say nationalism is bad? Would you say the nationalism the 1% represent is the true nationalism? Of course you wouldn’t, you would say the 1% are nationalistic extremists. They are not representative of other people who are followers of nationalism.
            So when it comes to Islam, why do you not refer to the Islam of ISIS as “fundamentalist Islam”? Why refer to it as Islam? Why use the bad things that ISIS do in the name of Islam to say Islam is bad, instead of saying fundamentalist Islam is bad?

            You see, this is the point that people like Neil seem to be making – religion is malleable, it can have many interpretations, and it is wrong to choose the worst interpretation and shout “LOOK, EVIL RELIGION”, especially when the overwhelming majority of people have a different, more pacifist interpretation.

            • 2015-08-21 12:51:49 UTC - 12:51 | Permalink

              If you have religion X, and 99% of the followers of X interpret it peacefully, and 1% of the followers of X interpret it violently, then is X a peaceful or violent religion?

              I’d say it is 99% peaceful.

              But, if we’re talking about Islam, then far more than 1% make violent and extreme interpretations of Islam. That’s shown by Pew polling.

              As one example, 63% of Muslims in Egypt favour the death penalty for any Muslim renouncing the Islamic faith. In my opinion that makes them violent and extremist.

              There are laws criminalising apostasy in 21 countries, and I think all of these are majority-Muslim nations. It is simply not the case that only 1% of Muslims hold to extreme versions of it.

              You choose the ISIS interpretation of Islam as being Islam, even though the vast majority of Muslims reject that interpretation. Why?

              There is no such thing as what “is Islam” or what is “true Islam”, there are only the various versions of it around the world. Extremist versions are very prevalent, perhaps a third of Muslims worldwide hold to views I would consider violent and extreme.

              Further, the totalitarian attitudes that lead to the extremism are also present in many of the less-extreme mainstream versions.

              Why refer to [ISIS] as Islam?

              I’ve called it IslamIC, I haven’t said it “is Islam”. It is a version of Islam, and thus is Islamic.

              Why use the bad things that ISIS do in the name of Islam to say Islam is bad, instead of saying fundamentalist Islam is bad?

              Partly because much of mainstream “less extreme” Islam contains many of the totalitarian attitudes that lead to extremism.

              The prohibitions of blasphemy and apostasy are symptomatic.

              … people like Neil seem to be making – religion is malleable, it can have many interpretations, …

              Really? You don’t say! Well I never! This really is the very first time I’ve ever encountered that suggestion!

              … and it is wrong to choose the worst interpretation and shout “LOOK, EVIL RELIGION”,

              Well, let’s see. Are the Organisation of Islamic States calling for the abolition of blasphemy and apostasy laws across the Islamic world?

              Well, no, they’re not, quite the opposite. They make repeated demands to the UN that they be extended to the non-Islamic world also.

              Thus *mainstream* Islam is not moderate. Sorry, but it just isn’t. A peaceful and tolerant religion would have no problem with blasphemy and apostasy. They are very symptomatic of the intolerance and the totalitarian streak within mainstream “moderate” Islam.

              • AU
                2015-08-21 13:21:33 UTC - 13:21 | Permalink

                As one example, 63% of Muslims in Egypt favour the death penalty for any Muslim renouncing the Islamic faith. In my opinion that makes them violent and extremist.

                People can be violent and extremist when it comes to one thing, and not violent and extremist when it comes to another.

                A secular American who believes people can be any religion isn’t violent and extremist when it comes to freedom of belief. If he however thinks America should be going around the world fighting wars with Russia and China, he is violent and extremist in that respect.

                Similarly, an Egyptian Muslim who believes apostasy is punishable by death is violent and extremist when it comes to freedom of belief. If however he thinks wars are bad things, and money should instead be diverted to social projects, he isn;t violent and extremist in that respect.

                Yes, I agree that freedom of religion is a problem within the Muslim communities. There are many Islamic scholars in the West who I have seen say that people are free to choose any religion, and there are many in Muslim-majority countries that say apostasy shouldn’t be tolerated. The question here is, can Islamic texts be used to justify freedom of religion? If they cannot, then you can say that Islam is intolerant towards freedom of religion. If they can, then you can say that Islam can be tolerant of freedom of religion.

                Thus *mainstream* Islam is not moderate. Sorry, but it just isn’t. A peaceful and tolerant religion would have no problem with blasphemy and apostasy. They are very symptomatic of the intolerance and the totalitarian streak within mainstream “moderate” Islam.

                I think you are confused. Religions are a product of their times. They are not static. The majority of the followers of a religion might act in one way with reghards to X, then 200 years later, they might act a totally different way with regards to X – in both instances, it isn’t the religious text that has changed, it is the circumstances they face.
                At one time the followers of Islam might say suicide bombing is wrong, because suicide is a sin in Islam. A century later, when they are militarly very weak, and suicide bombing is one of the few ways to hurt their enemies, they might sytart to justify suicide bombing. So if someone asks you “does Islam allow suicide bombing or not?”, what is the answer? The answer is “Islam can both allow and not allow suicide bombing”. Similarly, “Islam can both allow and not allow religious freedom”.

                This is the problem with people like you and Coyne. Your view of religion is a very simplistic one. You choose a bad action done by someone following a religion, and use that as an example of why the world would be better off without that religion.

              • 2015-08-21 13:54:18 UTC - 13:54 | Permalink

                Similarly, an Egyptian Muslim who believes apostasy is punishable by death is violent and extremist when it comes to freedom of belief. If however he thinks wars are bad things, and money should instead be diverted to social projects, he isn;t violent and extremist in that respect.

                Err, yes. Is there some sort of point you’re trying to make?

                Religions are a product of their times. They are not static.

                Really? You don’t say! Well I never! This really is the very first time that I’ve ever encountered that concept. There I was thinking that Christianity was exactly the same after the Protestant Reformation as before it!

                The question here is, can Islamic texts be used to justify freedom of religion? If they cannot, then you can say that Islam is intolerant towards freedom of religion. If they can, then you can say that Islam can be tolerant of freedom of religion.

                Islam might be a lot of things if it were reformed and changed. But, the point is we have to deal with Islam today as it is today.

                So if someone asks you “does Islam allow suicide bombing or not?”, what is the answer?

                The answer is that many versions of it today do indeed allow suicide bombing.

                This is the problem with people like you and Coyne. Your view of religion is a very simplistic one.

                The problem with people like you is that you strawman your opponents by attributing to them highly simplistic notions, and then accusing them of being simplistic.

                Do you really think that we didn’t already know that religions change with time?

              • AU
                2015-08-21 14:13:53 UTC - 14:13 | Permalink

                Your sarcastic comments aren’t witty or clever, they just make you look silly.

                I think you think that throwing in “straw man” blindly in every post somehow adds value to your argument, when in fact it makes you look pretty silly.

                Anyway, if you really want an example of straw man, here’s one from your beloved Coyne, where he rants about why the Left dislike Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

                https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/ayaan-hirsi-ali-why-is-a-role-model-reviled/

                Oh, and not to mention the ad hominem against Blumenthal – Islamophile? Or the bit where he quotes Mael’s article, which he says “demolished” Blumenthal, where it is suggested that Blumenthal is taking the Kremlin’s side – now THAT is a straw man if I ever saw one, considering Blumenthal has done absolutely nothing of the sort.

              • 2015-08-21 14:56:12 UTC - 14:56 | Permalink

                Your sarcastic comments aren’t witty or clever, they just make you look silly.

                In your opinion. Anyhow, they weren’t supposed to either witty or clever, it’s just a reaction to how feeble and confused your arguments are.

              • AU
                2015-08-21 15:27:09 UTC - 15:27 | Permalink

                In your opinion. Anyhow, they weren’t supposed to either witty or clever, it’s just a reaction to how feeble and confused your arguments are.

                Ad hominem!

                Anyway, I am awaiting your defence of Coyne – why is he calling Max Blumenthal an Islamophile, why is he parroting the pathetic claim that Max Blumenthal is on the side of the Russians, and why is he making those silly claims about why “the Left” doesn’t like Ayaan?

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-08-22 20:32:53 UTC - 20:32 | Permalink

            You don’t get it. Coyne is not primarily arguing in reaction to scholars or to his critics. He is primarily reacting to all the politicians and media soundbites who, as a near knee-jerk reaction, say that such things are “nothing to do with religion” because Islam is “a religion of peace”.

            You apparently did not notice my response to this claim earlier.

            If this were true then Coyne has no reason to dismiss the scholarship (e.g. Pape) by accusing it of saying the same things as the politicians. I have set out extensive quotations showing you that one such scholar, Pape, actually says all the same things you are trying to tell us Coyne argues — that religion is not let off the hook but is one of several factors. So why does Coyne rubbish this scholarship instead of using it to support his point about the mistakes politicians are making if what you say is true?

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-08-22 20:46:55 UTC - 20:46 | Permalink

            Coel, here is another blogger making the same point you say Jerry makes — that is, that it is nonsense to say certain terror attacks have “nothing to do with Islam”. It is by Dan Jones, Explaining violent extremism.

            But hang on, Coyne disagrees with Dan Jones. But how could that be if Coyne is also simply trying to refute the same point the politicians are making? I also agree with Dan Jones point about Islam and how the politicians have it all wrong. So if we all agree and Coyne is making the same point, what is the problem?

            • AU
              2015-08-23 00:25:53 UTC - 00:25 | Permalink

              That’s a good article, but I am disturbed at how easily “Islamism” and “Jihadism” have become synomymous with violent, evil terrorists. There are many people who believe in Islamism and who believe in Jihad, who would never ever want to attack and kill civilians.

  • anon
    2015-08-21 04:11:36 UTC - 04:11 | Permalink

    Since not all human beings are Muslim…blaming “Islam” does not explain HUMAN behavior…that is why “Islam” as a factor in understanding human behavior is mostly useless…(unless it is used broadly and generally)

    In wars, rape occurs…for example…the Japanese soldiers used “comfort women” and its an issue that still causes tensions, ….as did the Serbian soldiers
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/mar/21/warcrimes.balkans
    “….individuals who rounded up innocent women and girls, then raped them or sexually assaulted them, tortured them, enslaved them and then… exchanged, sold or transferred them to other soldiers.”

    Those non-Muslims who claim “Islam” as a unique factor in bad behavior are basically comforting themselves that “we” would never do such a thing because “we” are not Muslim—and thus implying that Muslims are not as human as they are…
    It is good to have high expectations of what it means to be human, and it may be a necessary safety mechanism to distance oneself from those who do evil by presuming that “they” have lost their humanity…So Muslims may claim that ISIS is not “Muslim” because they do not adhere to the high standards one expects of humanity and of Muslims….

    If Human beings have the potential for good as well as potential for bad, then it is in our own interests to encourage factors and systems that promote the potential for good and to prevent or at least beware of, factors and systems that may lead to bad, harm…

    • 2015-08-21 09:47:47 UTC - 09:47 | Permalink

      Since not all human beings are Muslim…blaming “Islam” does not explain HUMAN behavior…that is why “Islam” as a factor in understanding human behavior is mostly useless …

      You could say the same about “communism” or “fascism” or “racism” or any other idea-system that has been influential. The truth is that such ideas *are* part of the explanation of how people behave. Of course they are not the whole story (but nobody claims they are).

      Those non-Muslims who claim “Islam” as a unique factor in bad behavior …

      Whereas New Atheists such as Coyne and Dawkins don’t regard Islam as “unique”, and indeed also criticise other religions.

      … are basically comforting themselves that “we” would never do such a thing …

      Except that “we” in “our” Christian past, have done as bad. That doesn’t alter the fact that Islam is the most problematic religion *today*.

      and thus implying that Muslims are not as human as they are…

      How typical of those wanting to criticse people like Coyne. Utterly nasty slanders about them that bear no relation to what they’ve said or how they think.

      it is in our own interests to encourage factors and systems that promote the potential for good and to prevent or at least beware of, factors and systems that may lead to bad, harm…

      Why yes, at last you say something sensible. Now, would it be fair to say that Islamist theology and ideology is one of the factors that tend to lead to bad? Or are we not allowed to ask that question?

  • David Ashton
    2015-08-21 11:05:53 UTC - 11:05 | Permalink

    Why lean to single alternatives for the Islamist-“West” clash?
    Islamic belief and tradition has an in-built hostility towards non-Muslims. This has been revived in militant form by the provocation of Israel and its American support. Both factors are involved, not just one or the other. There is now a concurrent propaganda war, including mirror images – Zionist Conspiracy and Jihad Caliphate. Constructive discussion is handicapped not only by information problems but by triple ideological taboos: critics of Zionism are labelled “anti-Semites”, critics of Islam are labelled “xenophobes”, critics of both are labelled “racists”. The Reductio ad Hitlerum is then invoked by all parties.

  • anon
    2015-08-22 05:41:01 UTC - 05:41 | Permalink

    @Coel
    “Why yes, at last you say something sensible. Now, would it be fair to say that Islamist theology and ideology is one of the factors that tend to lead to bad? Or are we not allowed to ask that question?”
    —Exactly—question—not accuse—to question leads to the pursuit of knowledge….and if we are to make attempts to understand, we need to pursue knowledge. And Yes, a world-view, whatever the label, does influence behavior because it influences the way we think (our presumptions) —However, Atran and such scholars do not need to be scholars of Islam or Muslims….or communists or anything else…because it is not the details of particular ideologies…rather the group dynamics and group behavior arising from identifying with a group (any group) that promotes actions and patterns….But such dynamics/mechanics also work in positive ways—so what leads to bad….can also lead to good. Nationalism/Patriotism can be used for good or for bad just as any other ideology…as can Democracy, Modernity…etc….

    A Dawkins quote
    “I’m reasonably optimistic in America and Europe. I’m pessimistic about the Islamic world. I regard Islam as one of the great evils in the world, and I fear that we have a very difficult struggle there.”
    A Sam Harris quote
    “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.”

    For more see
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/03/sam-harris-muslim-animus

    If there are faults in Islam that are being exploited by violent extremists—Islamic scholars and the community at large have to address them and work to restore the good and the right. But this type of abstract theo-philosophical exercise should be an ongoing process regardless of the presence/lack of extremism.

    Policies that go against human nature are going to fail—Human beings are social creatures and we need identities—any solutions that advocate for an erasure of identity and group affiliations will not work. Solutions that we come up with need to work within the constraints of our Human nature to be successful. The fact-based studies of Pape , Atran and others are the first step to the path that can lead to improvements and perhaps eventually to more peace and less violence…

    In the above quotes of Harris and Dawkins….the word “Islam” can be substituted with America and it would make the statement more factual….the 14 Muslim-majority countries bombed or invaded by the U.S. since 1980
    https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/11/06/many-countries-islamic-world-u-s-bombed-occupied-since-1980/

    “Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

    Bacevich’s count excludes the bombing and occupation of still other predominantly Muslim countries by key U.S. allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, carried out with crucial American support. It excludes coups against democratically elected governments, torture, and imprisonment of people with no charges. It also, of course, excludes all the other bombing and invading and occupying that the U.S. has carried out during this time period in other parts of the world, including in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as various proxy wars in Africa.”

    ….are ALL Americans a “unique” hazard to global health and “civilization”?…. are they the “great evils in the world”?…or would such statements show some prejudice?…..

    As our climate changes and effects our resources—there are going to be more misunderstandings, tensions, discord which could lead to wars…. and wars destroy land and people—which are resources….we need to find better ways to share, to reconcile, and to respect….

    @ David
    The “built in hostility towards non-muslims” is incorrect but comparing Zionism and Caliphate is interesting—others have also pointed out that the whole Caliphate stuff seems Zionist….

    here are the views of one extremist Zionist…Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh
    “… the seminary published Torat HaMelech, a book which advocates the murder of Palestinian babies (because they will undoubtedly grow into adults who will kill Jews).

    Ginsburgh endorsed the book wholeheartedly. But it doesn’t stop there. Wikipedia summarizes his views thus:

    Ginsburgh advocates the reinstitution of Jewish monarchy in the Land of Israel.…He advocates “Hebrew labor” − the idea that Jews should only employ other Jews — and believes that Gentiles should not be allowed to live in the Land of Israel, unless they become the “righteous of the nations,” accepting Jewish dominion.

    Ginsburgh also supports the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, believing that this would facilitate spiritual elevation and hasten redemption. He favors the practice of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, the site of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

    In his Kabbalah-inspired universe, Jews are part of the divine order. They are above nature. Non-Jews are part of nature. But not just any part of nature, they are animals. That is, they are not human. For this reason, Ginsburgh goes so far as to say that theoretically, if a Jew needed a liver transplant (p. 134) and a non-Jew could provide a matching organ, it would be permissible to seize the latter and take the liver “by force.”

    The commandment prohibiting murder does not apply, in this rabbi’s view, when a Jew kills a non-Jew, since God intended this to apply only in the case of human beings and, as we’ve seen above, only Jews are human. In case you non-Jews were wondering, there’s a way for you to become human. You just have to accept the laws of Moses and Jewish sovereignty. Then you too become part of Jewish divinity.

    for more see
    http://www.richardsilverstein.com/2015/08/07/terror-rabbis-and-the-triumph-of-the-judean-will/

    I hope I don’t need to point out that such crazy ideas are NOT part of mainstream Judaism….

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-08-22 20:16:59 UTC - 20:16 | Permalink

    Coel, you wrote

    What I am trying to point out with the arguments and the evidence I have raised is that this model that you are convinced is the way Islam produces terrorists is without any support in the scholarly research into human behaviour generally and into terrorism specifically.

    You retreat into generalities here. What do you mean by “this model” and exactly what evidence has shown it is wrong?

    Sorry for the vagueness. By “model” I meant your explanation for how terrorism works when you agreed to the following, with some important qualifications:

    Those who attribute much of today’s terrorism, in part at least, to something fundamentally sinister or violent inherent in the Islamic religion itself sometimes speak of these Islamic ideas as “memes”. The message they convey is that Islam is an evil idea (or at least potentially evil or unhealthy) and that children embrace it and grow up into it because that is the idea, the meme, that they have been injected with. And with this idea in them — if they take it seriously — they will act on its evil and become terrorists. Fortunately not every Muslim takes their religion that seriously so they don’t (yet) become terrorists.

    In other words, the process is pretty much the way Dawkins explained “memes” work on page 192 of The Selfish Gene:

    When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.

    ….. The meme of Islam parasitizes the brains of its hosts and if those hosts take it seriously enough they become terrorists.

    What I have attempted to demonstrate in a wide range of posts on terrorism in the past (not addressing Coyne, by the way) is the evidence that this way of understanding and explaining how terrorism and religion work is false. It does not explain the evidence research has uncovered as a result of speaking with the terrorists themselves and with studying a vast number of their terrorist acts over many years. It also does not explain the evidence researchers in human behaviour and religion have shown us is the way religious beliefs work in people.

    I have tried to set out much of this evidence in a wide range of past posts on terrorism and religion and have referred to the evidence a few times in this thread. I think we need to step back to see why we are talking past each other.

    Let me ask a question.

    Currently, Imams in Gaza and Syria and similar places tell the young that if they engage in violent jihad and die as a martyr, then they will go immediately to paradise (whatever their past sins) where they will live forever among the most esteemed.

    Now, let’s suppose that Islam really were a religion of peace, and that all Imams and religious leaders told the young that anyone deliberately killing another, even if the other were the worst sort of infidel, even in war, would be condemned to torture in hell forever with no possibility of mercy.

    Is it your opinion that that would make no difference whatsoever to the number of recruits for suicide bombing and other ISIS violence?

    If you accept that that would make a difference, then you are basically in agreement with Coyne and Dawkins, that this sort of theology can be influential and can have bad consequences.

    That is the basic point they are making; all else is secondary.

    You asked this question, or at least a very similar one, earlier and I answered it above. You did not reply so perhaps you did not see it.

    As for your specific version of your question here, I believe it would be helpful if we identify what it is that the Imams really do say — all of it and not just the selected words that attract news headlines and support our prejudices — and to compare what the Imams say with what the terrorists say, and get our facts set out clearly first. I fear otherwise we will just be relying upon vague general beliefs about what is being said on the basis of a few repeated headlines and soundbytes that are sent to us to attract audiences and ratings.

    I have tried to show you if Coyne would only read for himself the scholarship he rubbishes (e.g. Pape) he would find he has a completely false idea of what it is all about. It really does listen to the terrorists and knows more about what they say than he does, and it really does not let religion off the hook entirely, either.

    • AU
      2015-08-23 00:27:55 UTC - 00:27 | Permalink

      I think that poster has a habit of not replying when he knows what he is saying isn’t really correct (if I am being harsh, I apologise, and am hapoy to stand corrected).

      I have two posts where I have shown Coyne’s dishonesty, and have had no replies to either.

    • 2015-08-23 07:55:32 UTC - 07:55 | Permalink

      By “model” I meant your explanation for how terrorism works when you agreed to the following, with some important qualifications:

      Well hold on. The bit I agreed to started (added bolding):

      Those who attribute much of today’s terrorism, in part at least, to …

      It was not a “model” of terrorism or an “explanation for how terrorism works”, it was merely one aspect that is pertinent.

      All along you over-interpret what people like Coyne and Dawkins say. What they say is actually correct (but only one limited part of the picture). You then interpret that as a claim of an over-arching model, and then reply that it is horribly simplistic. Well, yes, your criticism would be fair if they had actually meant what you suggest.

      What I have attempted to demonstrate in a wide range of posts on terrorism in the past (not addressing Coyne, by the way) is the evidence that this way of understanding and explaining how terrorism and religion work is false.

      No it isn’t false — or, at least, it is only “false” if it is claimed to be a complete explanation. But there is no such claim! The things you quoted are true and are one part of the picture. Of course the entire picture is way more complicated.

      You say things like, if members of a person’s close social circle become radicalised, then others in that circle are far more likely to become radicalised. Well yes, sounds sensible. But, do you really think that Coyne would disagree?

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-23 10:12:43 UTC - 10:12 | Permalink

        I quoted in full what you said “yes” to — I modified or deleted nothing. I even pointed out where you had qualified your “yes”. That explanation is demonstrably wrong.

        If that explanation is demonstrably wrong then what other explanation- — or other aspects lf that explanation that you say now that I did not cover — are true and explain Islamic terrorism? And all scholarly research in anthropology, psychology, etc etc have proven that explanation is wrong. That explanation belongs to the Dark ages, to the ages of bigotry and ignorance.

        You agree with Coyne’s and Dawkins’ understanding of how Islamic terrorism originates and I am overinterpreting nothing. The fact is that Coyne is not the least interested in learning what the scholarly research into human behaviour demonstrates through peer-reviewed and field research if it contradicts his personal view.

        Again, if all Coyne is doing is responding to politicians who say Islam has nothing to do with terrorism then why does he not appeal to the scholarship of Pape and others who say exactly the same thing and prove it. Why does Coyne instead falsely accuse these scholars (including Pape) of letting Islam off the hook and not listening to terrorists?

        Yes, of course Coyne disagrees with the socialization explanation (it is not as simplistic as you have distorted it) — he has mocked it in his posts: that’s what his references to “soccer teams” are about. I am sure you will recall his mockery of those who say playing soccer leads to terrorism. He is having a sarcastic put-down of Scott Atran, anthropologist who went out into the field to talk to the terrorists themselves, when he says that.

        • 2015-08-23 11:03:54 UTC - 11:03 | Permalink

          I quoted in full what you said “yes” to — I modified or deleted nothing.

          What I said yes to included the phrase “at least in part”, I was agreeing that it was part of the explanation. It was not “the” explanation, nor a “model” of how terrorism originates, it was merely one relevant factor.

          That explanation is demonstrably wrong.

          No, it is not demonstrably wrong, it is only demonstrably not the whole story. But then no-one ever claimed it was. You seem to struggle badly about the concept of multi-factored explanations, the idea that more than one factor can be relevant and part of the cause.

          … or other aspects lf that explanation that you say now that I did not cover — are true and explain Islamic terrorism?

          All sorts of political, social, personal and economic factors.

          You agree with Coyne’s and Dawkins’ understanding of how Islamic terrorism originates …

          No, no , no. Saying that something is part of the explanation is simply not the same as saying it is their “understanding of how Islamic terrorism originates” as though it were the only factor.

          … and I am overinterpreting nothing.

          All along you mistake “this is part of the explanation” is being equivalent to “this is *the* explanation”.

          Yes, of course Coyne disagrees with the socialization explanation (it is not as simplistic as you have distorted it) — he has mocked it in his posts: that’s what his references to “soccer teams” are about. I am sure you will recall his mockery of those who say playing soccer leads to terrorism. He is having a sarcastic put-down of Scott Atran, anthropologist who went out into the field to talk to the terrorists themselves, when he says that.

          The soccer part is irrelevant, it could be replaced by baseball or ping pong or any other social activity. Yes of course close social groupings are highly important in radicalisation. So is religious ideology. Soccer is not.

          • AU
            2015-08-23 12:56:30 UTC - 12:56 | Permalink

            You are being silly. Very silly. So let me spell it out to you.

            Smoking kills people. It can cause their arteries to clog up, and die of a heart attack. Now of course there are many other reasons people can die of a heart attack too.

            Now imagine this hypethetica scenario: suppoe I loathe smoking. I think the world would be a better place if people didn’t smoke. So I try to campaign against smoking and have a blog that is against smoking.

            Now suppose every time someone died of heart disease, who was a smoker, I write an article saying how smoking causes people to die of heart disease. Even though the doctors, who actually have a lot more knowledge than me on the topic, say “It’s a lot more complicated than this”, I still sit there writing articles saying how smoking kills people of heart disease.

            Bob dies of a heart attack. He was a smoker. I don’t know much about Bob, I don’t know much about his life, all I know is that he was a smoker and he died of a heart attack. So I write an article on Bob and smoking, and how smoking has terrible consequences. A doctor, who is an expert, says that although Bob smoked, his smoking wasn’t the main cause of his heart disease – it was his actual lifestyle, of eating junk food, and not exercising, that caused him to perish. I however don’t listen to the doctor – even though I am a scientist, when it suits me, I refuse to analyse things with scientific rigour, and I continue saying “smoking is bad, look, it killed Bob”. Alison comes to my blog and shows how my argument is weak, but I don’t let her post through because I don’t want opposing views that logically show my dishonesty on my blog. Ewan comes to my blog and agrees with everything I say, he says “smoking is terrible, we should ban it”, and I let his post through.

            A day later Neil sends me an email, he criticises me, he points out how it is seldom just one thing that causes heart disease, that whilst it is true that in some cases smoking WAS the main cause of someone dying of heart disease, in most cases it isn’t and so we shouldn’t simplify things, that it IS possible for people to smoke and not get heart disease if they do it in moderation, that there are millions of people who smoke and don’t get heart disease. I reply to Neil that I know that, I never said only smoking causes heart disease, I never said if someone smokes they will end up dying of heart disease.

            A week later Dawn dies of a heart attack. She smoked 5 cigarettes a day. I immediately write a post saying “smoking causes heart disease in another person again”. People write to me saying I don’t even know Dawn, I don’t know what her lifestyle was like, therefore it is wrong to say smoking killed her because of heart disease, smoking might not have had a part. I start citing examples of where smoking has killed peoole because of heart disease, and I start accusing people, who accuse me of being unfair in my assessment, of being apologists of smoking.

            So would I be a dishonest person? I would. The reason would be that I am not interested in an open, honest debate. I have a bigoted view, and I am only concerned with championing my view. I am a hypocrite, I only care about scientific rigour when it suits me, when it doesn’t suit me, I am happy to jump to all sorts of conclusions.

            Look at this blog, Neil allows comments which are critical of him. It’s because Neil is interested in honest, open debate. Coyne doesn’t allow comments which are critical of what he has written. He didn’t let my comment through when I replied to his pathetic attempt to smear Blumenthal (and this wasn’t the first time). I was very civic in my response, there wasn’t anything vicious in my comment, but he didn’t allow it. And many others have said the same thing – their comments which are critical of his articles aren’t allowed through. Therefore, it is pretty clear that Coyne isn’t interested in an honest, open debate.

            You are simply so blinded by your tribalism that you cannot see this, and you must defend the likes of Coyne in a religious like manner.

            • 2015-08-23 13:22:44 UTC - 13:22 | Permalink

              You are simply so blinded by your tribalism that you cannot see this, and you must defend the likes of Coyne in a religious like manner.

              No, I can see quite clearly that Coyne is picky about what comments he allows on his blog. That, of course, is up to him.

              And maybe it’s the snide way you put things (“… must defend the likes of Coyne in a religious like manner”; “… your beloved Coyne, …”, etc) that makes him less likely to engage with you.

              • AU
                2015-08-23 14:31:08 UTC - 14:31 | Permalink

                And maybe it’s the snide way you put things (“… must defend the likes of Coyne in a religious like manner”; “… your beloved Coyne, …”, etc) that makes him less likely to engage with you.

                You’re defeinding him again in a religious-like manner.

                I made it clear that I was civic in my posts. He doesn’t even know me. So how can it be because of “the snide way” I put things, when I said I was civic.

                Is Neil also snide? Is that why Neil’s comments aren’t allowed?

                How about Paxton, who comments on Heather’s blog and is one of the most diplomatic posters I have ever seen in my life – why aren’t his comments allowed?

                There is a common denominator when it comes to comments being censored on Coyne’s blog – that common denominator is comments which rebut his article. However, if you want to continue believing that Coyne isn’t letting comments through because they are snide, then that is your prerogative.

              • 2015-08-23 15:41:30 UTC - 15:41 | Permalink

                Is Neil also snide? Is that why Neil’s comments aren’t allowed?

                Well Neil does repeatedly strawman Coyne, and accuse him of a willful disregard for scholarship. They aren’t the friendliest way of striking up a conversation.

                How about Paxton, who comments on Heather’s blog and is one of the most diplomatic posters I have ever seen in my life – why aren’t his comments allowed?

                How am I supposed to know, when I don’t know the poster and haven’t seen the comments?

              • AU
                2015-08-23 15:55:50 UTC - 15:55 | Permalink

                Well Neil does repeatedly strawman Coyne, and accuse him of a willful disregard for scholarship. They aren’t the friendliest way of striking up a conversation.

                Nope. You clearly do not understand what “straw man” is if you think Neil does that. You’re just going to try and come up with any sort of excuse to defend your hero Coyne. It’s called cognitive dissonance.

                How am I supposed to know, when I don’t know the poster and haven’t seen the comments?

                You make my point for me – you have not seen the comments that Coyne hasn’t allowed through, yet you’re trying to defend him. If you were intellectually honest, you would have asked to know what kind of comments Coyne hasn’t allowed, and then formed a conclusion based on whether Coyne has good reason to not allow them, or whether he doesn’t. You however immediately jumped to his defence, and started suggesting that the reason Coyne doesn’t allow comments is because they are either “snide” or “strawman” or have you what. In other words, instead of asking for facts to be presented before you, looking at them, and then coming to a conclusion, you form your conclusion first and then try and fit “facts” around them.

                You have exposed yourself for the intellectual fraud you are – thanks.

              • 2015-08-23 16:26:07 UTC - 16:26 | Permalink

                … you have not seen the comments that Coyne hasn’t allowed through, yet you’re trying to defend him.

                No, not so, in response to your question (why weren’t the comments allowed) I said “how am I supposed to know?”.

                But yes, I did say that in your case it might be because you are snide — and I have ample evidence for that since your comments are full of that.

                And I said that in Neil’s case it might be rampant strawmanning, and I have ample evidence of that all over the place.

              • AU
                2015-08-23 17:49:13 UTC - 17:49 | Permalink

                I made it clear that my comment was perfectly reasonable. I wrote:

                I was very civic in my response, there wasn’t anything vicious in my comment, but he didn’t allow it.

                Of course, just thinking about it logically, even if I am snide here, if I want to post on someone else’s blog where they are the moderator, and previous posts have not got through, then I would obviously try and be as civic and diplomatic as possible, so that the person allows my post. And I was. I wrote I was civic. You however chose to ignore it, and started trying to find an excuse for why Coyne rejected my post, therefore, you came up with that it might have been that I was being snide.

                So, yes, it is true for all to see – instead of asking for facts, analysing then, and then coming to a conclusion, you form your conclusion, and then try and mould things to fit around it.

                You are nothing but an intellectually dishonest person, in fact, I would go as far as saying I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if you are Coyne’s sockpuppet considering the religious frevour with which you are defending him.

                And BTW, Neil hasn’t been “strawmanning”, if anyone has, it’s been you.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-08-24 09:10:47 UTC - 09:10 | Permalink

            Coel, you are being most unfair with my own comments. If you re-read them you will see that I pointed out that I do understand you and Coyne do not say Islam is the “ONLY” factor. I could not have made that clearer. The normal process when people want to have a discussion is to take care with what each other actually says and strive to understand the other’s point of view.

            The point is that both you and Coyne argue strenuously that Islam is a critical factor and without Islam in the mix then there would not be ISIS or other terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam and by Muslims. My point — if you make the effort to read it in order to understand it — is that what Coyne, Dawkins (and you) say is the way THAT PARTICULAR CAUSE (one of several causes!!!!) works is contradicted by all modern sciences of human behaviour.

            Let’s compare a non-Islamic terrorist group for comparison.

            In November 1944 a Jewish terrorist gang assassinated a top British official in Egypt — and this was a culmination of many other terrorist actions carried out by the same group. They believed that Britain had no right to rule Palestine any more and that the whole land should be handed over to the Jews. This belief was taken ultimately from the Bible. No one could have been more sincere in their Bible-based beliefs.

            But notice something. You may have heard of names like Weizmann and Ben-Gurion. These were the major leaders of the Jewish Zionist movement to return Jews to Palestine and create a Jewish state there. The same two persons later became key leaders in the new Jewish state. No-one — not even the terrorists — could have been more sincere in their Bible-originated beliefs.

            Now Weizmann and Ben-Gurion and their many thousands of followers — all fervently believing in the Jewish right to have an independent state in Palestine — were extremely opposed to the terrorist actions of the gang that assassinated the British official and other murders. They flatly deplored and condemned these terrorist activities. They believed terrorism was doing far more harm to their cause than any good.

            Now how is it possible to say that the Jewish terrorists “took the Bible promises” “more seriously” than the likes of Weizmann and Ben-Gurion and their followers?

            No, no-one can explain why some Jews chose terrorism while most Jews rejected it. It is no explanation to say that the terrorists took their beliefs “more seriously” than the others.

            Now — do we think Muslims are different from Jews? Is there something about Islam that, if taken seriously, will cause people to carry out terrorist acts? Is it true to say that other Muslims would do the same if they ever took their religion just as seriously?

            If we say yes, then are we prepared to say the same about the Jews and Judaism?

            While you’re thinking about that, how about explaining to us why you have so far failed to respond to the following point I have made more than once now:

            Why does Coyne pour scorn on scholarly research into Islamic terrorism that points to multiple causal factors and does not let Islam off the hook? Example, Pape — Pape argues both of these things and you keep telling us that these are the only points Coyne is trying to get across — so why does Coyne dismiss Pape and other scholarship saying the same thing?

  • David Ashton
    2015-08-22 21:24:09 UTC - 21:24 | Permalink

    So how do we know who is telling the truth and what is being said, given our own lack of Arabic, Urdu and Farsi, and the possibility of taqiyya? Do we discount the quotations from e.g. MEMRI because it has “a Zionist agenda”?

    When I was acquainted with the Muslims who attended the Norwich mosque, they were mostly attached to the al-Murabitun sect, which quite clearly denounced terrorism as un-Islamic, but eventually when regarded as a sympathetic inquirer I was given a pamphlet which said, for example, that, after world victory, Jews would be forced to engage one another in gladiatorial combat as a TV entertainment. And have we forgotten the fatwa against Salman Rushdie?

    Let’s sample what some Imams actually say regarding jihad against infidels on video: the Independent Sentinel, August 2, 2014, on-line.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-22 23:15:07 UTC - 23:15 | Permalink

      Much of the information is not restricted to scholarly works but is indeed found in much of the mainstream media as well as in scholarly books available to the public. (Coyne erroneously accuses these books of not listening to what the terrorists say; in fact they can tell you far more about what the terrorist say than Coyne has ever tried to convey.)

      The problem is that the media reports get mention in passing, too often, and are not repeated on Fox News as the main story etc etc. The full story is not registering with large sections of media audiences in large part because of the way the media presents certain details — governed, usually, by the need for ratings and audiences. (I recall first hearing Bin Laden’s goals and reasons for the attacks he sponsored, for example, in the mainstream media. Every one of them was political. Then I heard Bush tell us what his aims were and not one of them coincided with anything I had read Bin Laden himself having said — all from mainstream media.)

      What is relevant in Imams’ teaching is what is what can be shown to influence the terrorist’s thinking and what the terrorists say, that is the behavioural extremists as distinct from the cognitive ones. The latter far outnumber the former and would never follow in the footsteps of the behavioural extremists.

      As for MEMRI, that is not a terrorist organization so I don’t see the relevance. I am currently reading a book about Jewish terrorists up to 1947 and I find it useful to learn what they themselves said were their reasons and goals.

      • Lowen Gartner
        2015-08-22 23:29:56 UTC - 23:29 | Permalink

        Do cognitive extremists provide monetary and social support along with cover to behavior extremists? I’m thinking of the abortion bombings conducted in the name of evangelical Christians and whose cause was supported by many who didn’t actually plan and implement the attacks.

        • Lowen Gartner
          2015-08-23 01:01:41 UTC - 01:01 | Permalink

          My takeaway on all of this is that where there are necessary and sufficient political, social and economic circumstances, the situation is ripe for radicalization. For radicalization to gain momentum, an ideology is required (or at least extraordinarily useful) to be the conduit. The ideology may or may not be based on revealed truth founded on supernatural belief (religion). Communism, Nazism, Maoism, nationalism, ethnic identity have all been viable conduits. However some ideologies are better suited to be efficient conduits. The relative efficiency of the ideologies changes over time depending on the political, social and economic circumstances and its critical mass. At this point in time Islam has more scale than the others and seems to be more virulent than others right now, but at is foundation (the revealed texts) is not particularly more pernicious than other WMT branches.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-23 06:40:09 UTC - 06:40 | Permalink

          To refer once again to the book I’m reading at the moment about Jewish terrorists (Stern Gang, Irghun, Lehi) — the fact that terrorists share the ultimate aspirations of many others in their community is what gives them their political clout.

          But at the same time those who share their political aspirations, and even see the targets of terrorism as their enemies, do not necessarily support terrorism itself. In fact they can deplore it and work with their “enemy” to root out the murderers from their midst because they see them as damaging their cause rather than helping it.

          Sometimes these cognitive extremists will remain silently or passively protective of their behavioral “brethren” because of fear of reprisals from their behavioral extremists in their midst.

          There are among us white English-speaking Westerners those who share the same criticisms of US and European policies in the Mid East as expressed by Islamic extremists but who would do anything in their power to remove those extremists from the scene. Same with the “cognitive extremists” among Muslims, no doubt.

          So we see instances where the cognitives have, when they can, turned over their behaviorists to the authorities — this was what sometimes happened among the Jewish settlers in Palestine prior to 1947 and we see happening from time to time since among various Muslim communities today.

          • Lowen Gartner
            2015-08-23 15:48:12 UTC - 15:48 | Permalink

            There is a difference between sharing political aspirations and being a cognitive extremist. Surely one would expect a percentage of cognitive extremists to “aid and abet” the behavior extremists. So would not a society that has 30% cognitive extremists be more dangerous than one that has 5% cognitive extremists?

            I wonder when comparing the Muslim and Zionist populations, which has a greater percentage of cognitive extremists?

      • 2015-08-23 08:21:50 UTC - 08:21 | Permalink

        Neil,

        I recall first hearing Bin Laden’s goals and reasons for the attacks he sponsored, for example, in the mainstream media. Every one of them was political.

        While it is true that some of the aims had a political nature, that political nature was always bound up with religion. In Bin Laden’s theology, politics is not separate from religion, and thus to claim that his aims were political rather than religious is misconceived.

        Yes, he wanted things like American troops (infidels) out of Islamic lands, but that was religious as much as political.

        Let me quote from his Letter to America, highlighting some of the blatantly religious aspects:

        “In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,

        “Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory” [Quran 22:39]

        “Those who believe, fight in the Cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Taghut (anything worshipped other than Allah e.g. Satan). So fight you against the friends of Satan; ever feeble is indeed the plot of Satan.”[Quran 4:76]

        “Here we wanted to outline the truth [about why we fight] – as an explanation and warning – hoping for Allah’s reward, seeking success and support from Him.”

        [After a whole lot about Israel]

        “You attacked us in Somalia; you supported the Russian atrocities against us in Chechnya, the Indian oppression against us in Kashmir, and the Jewish aggression against us in Lebanon. ”

        [The “us” here is clearly Muslims (rather than any national or ethnic grouping]. Thus the “political” aspects is underpinned by the religious identity. ]

        “These governments prevent our people from establishing the Islamic Shariah, using violence and lies to do so.”

        “As for the second question that we want to answer: What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?

        (1) The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam.

        (a) The religion of the Unification of God; of freedom from associating partners with Him, and rejection of this; of complete love of Him, the Exalted; of complete submission to His Laws; and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories and religions which contradict with the religion He sent down to His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Islam is the religion of all the prophets, and makes no distinction between them – peace be upon them all.

        It is to this religion that we call you; …”

        [Does that sound purely political to anyone?]

        “You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator.”

        “You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on Usury. As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your economy, …”

        “If you fail to respond to all these conditions, then prepare for fight with the Islamic Nation. The Nation of Monotheism, that puts complete trust on Allah and fears none other than Him. The Nation which is addressed by its Quran with the words: “Do you fear them? Allah has more right that you should fear Him if you are believers. Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them and heal the breasts of believing people. And remove the anger of their (believers’) hearts. Allah accepts the repentance of whom He wills. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” [Quran9:13-1]”

        “The Nation of Martyrdom; the Nation that desires death more than you desire life:

        “Think not of those who are killed in the way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive with their Lord, and they are being provided for. They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them from His bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind (not yet martyred) that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a grace and a bounty from Allah, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers.” [Quran 3:169-171] ”

        “The Nation of victory and success that Allah has promised:

        “It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad peace be upon him) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam), to make it victorious over all other religions even though the Polytheists hate it.” [Quran 61:9]

        “Allah has decreed that ‘Verily it is I and My Messengers who shall be victorious.’ Verily Allah is All-Powerful, All-Mighty.” [Quran 58:21] “

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-23 10:22:50 UTC - 10:22 | Permalink

          While it is true that some of the aims had a political nature, that political nature was always bound up with religion. In Bin Laden’s theology, politics is not separate from religion, and thus to claim that his aims were political rather than religious is misconceived.

          I’m tired of this conversation, Coel. If you had read only half of my responses you would know damn well by now that of course everyone knows Islamic goals are couched in religious language. I’ve either said that repeatedly or assumed it in just about every reply. No one denies that. That’s what we’ve been saying all along. It’s what Pape says — so WHY DOES COYNE RUBBISH PAPE when Coyne, according to you, argues exactly the same as Pape — that religion, Islam, is NOT let off the hook, it does have a role.

          It’s what all the scholars Coyne rejects say. Yet Coyne says they deny it. Coyne hasn’t read them yet he rejects them. Coyne is not interested in scholarly understanding of terrorism but in Dark Age bigotry when it comes to anything to do with Islam — As Dan Jones’ showed very clearly by his close attention to and clear analysis of Coyne’s own words and as I also showed by my analysis of Coyne’s latest post on Islam.

          But the idea of Dawkins’ meme (that ideas when taken seriously decide behaviour the way parasites do — remember I quoted Dawkins to show this is his view of how a meme works) contradicts all modern psychology and sociology studies. Coyne and Dawkins would on the one hand promote science but on the other promote medieval bigotry and ignorance when it comes to Islam.

          • 2015-08-23 11:06:47 UTC - 11:06 | Permalink

            But the idea of Dawkins’ meme (that ideas when taken seriously decide behaviour the way parasites do — remember I quoted Dawkins to show this is his view of how a meme works) contradicts all modern psychology and sociology studies.

            I think your very sentence there contradicts itself. If an idea is “taken seriously” then indeed it will be very likely to affect behaviour.

            Which studies of psychology contradict that idea?

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-08-24 06:51:11 UTC - 06:51 | Permalink

              Which studies of psychology contradict that idea?

              Pretty well all of them since the middle of the twentieth century. (Your selection of two words out of context changes the meaning of what I said, by the way. I’m not sure you understand what I’m arguing and I wish you’d try to ask for clarification if you don’t.)

              Ideas are not “things” like viruses that change behaviour. Trying to change behaviour of people is a lot more complicated than just putting ideas into their heads. You don’t act on every idea that comes into your head — even ones that you find yourself seriously believing. People are free to follow through on what they believe or find a way to rationalize doing something different from what they believe.

              Religions are not “things”, either. They don’t even exist in books. No-one can tell you what “Christianity” or “Judaism” or “Islam” are just by reading the holy books. Social communities each construct their own religions according to their own interests and needs. There is no such thing as “Christianity” or “Islam” by which all communities can be judged or compared. There is no “true Islam” with every Muslim being closer or further from that one Truth. There are only different communities each with their own interpretations and constructions of Christianity and Islam.

              And the overwhelming evidence from world-wide polls is that most Muslims who believe the same sorts of political ideas as terrorists also reject utterly terrorism itself. So it is clear that ideas do not themselves cause terrorism. And yes, other factors are involved, and Islam must have some role — but Islam does not “cause” terrorism and we know that because the overwhelming majority of Muslims — according to worldwide polls — deplore terrorism.

              • David Ashton
                2015-08-24 11:43:59 UTC - 11:43 | Permalink

                This deconstruction has a little whiff of overstatement. Ideas and religious doctrines are not tangible entities, but one can make rational distinctions between, for example, Judaism and Shintoism, Greek Orthodoxy and Lutheranism, Sunni and Shia, &c. Red and yellow merge on a rainbow, but we do not abandon the color differentials. Personally I am a splitter rather a lumper, especially when “terms” like “fascism” and “racism” are thrown about.

                “Islam must have some role” – agreed. The question is in what way, and to what extent, especially given the respect throughout the Arabic and Persian ummah for clerical decision. Most Muslims (a term you have to use, and rightly so) deplore terrorism, but those we call terrorists can find quotations to support their activities, however unjustifiably, which is not so easily the case with all these Quaker, Parsi and Buddhist suicide bombers worrying cities around the world. The fact that Lesser (i.e. violent) Jihad is seen as a defensive or retaliatory act against the US-Israel alliance, perhaps understandably, does not alter the impact or use of specific Islamic texts and traditions.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-08-24 15:31:09 UTC - 15:31 | Permalink

                My point was “things like parasites” — I was attempting to respond to Dawkins’ notion of certain ideas acting like parasites to change the behaviour of hosts, and secondarily I was trying to stress they are ideas constructed by communities and don’t stand independent of communities as objective realities.

                I do not understand your last sentence. There is no question that Islamic texts are used to justify terrorism. Islamic passages are obviously used by terrorists. The “impact” of their use has been widereaching — they have led many Westerners to see the religion of Islam itself as some sort of “thing like a parasite” that infects a host and makes it do evil things.

                Terrorism is not unique to Islam, by the way. But most westerners are happy to let their own religious traditions — Judaism and Christianity — off the hook when the terrorists claim to act on the authority of the Bible.

  • David Ashton
    2015-08-23 10:22:25 UTC - 10:22 | Permalink

    Islam (unlike modern Christianity in general) has always been “political” in its detailed prescriptions for social behavior, its “kingdom” being very much of “this world” as well as the “next”. In its “sociopolitical” aspect it has some resemblance to ancient Judaism, while in its universality of “faith” it has more resemblance to Christianity. The Qur’an is a militant document, its “quieter” passages having been abrogated. A theocracy on earth, although its sects are divided over its administration.

    • David Ashton
      2015-08-24 19:51:23 UTC - 19:51 | Permalink

      You HAVE understood my previous “last sentence” because of your own 2nd & 3rd sentences. The texts are quoted usually to support resistance to the Great Satan, to western values and in some cases to rival sects.

      I don’t know the extent of “Christian terrorism” (except in civil conflicts with Muslim forces and church-burners in Africa) or to what extent the churches “let such ‘Christians’ off the hook”; maybe you can oblige with recent data. The western ecclesiastical establishments have often seen too much “good” in the oppressors, Communist, Muslim or Hindu, to worry about rocking politically correct boats.

      Ideas do have consequences. We can hardly blame “white supremacy” ideology or “white nationalist ‘hate speech'” for violent attacks on Afro-Americans in church, and exculpate “Islamic supremacy” ideology in the Qur’an and Hadith or “radical cleric ‘hate speech'”. Perhaps we should call ISIS just “some unpleasant people who have nothing to do with Islam”?

      In fact, ideas can be quite powerful, if and when they “catch on” – for whatever reasons. No philosopher, inventor, composer, explorer, artist, medical researcher or mystical autobiographer is an island, but ideas and ideologies are not simply socioeconomic constructs. This is the paradox of the superstructure theory of the non-proletarian Marx and capitalist Engels. Would the Soviet system have been quite the same if Fanny Kaplan had succeeded? Or the world, if Hitler had not been rescued from drowning as a boy, or had been permanently blinded in WW1, or suffered his feared throat cancer fatally before WW2? Would we have the psychoanalysis racket and its practitioners without Freud? Or 15 million Mormons without Joseph Smith and his fakes? Or the “Church of Scientology” without L. Ron Hubbard?

      To be sure, ideas often get special-interest promotion – Constantine’s sword or Marcion’s money – and Ayn Rand was left wondering why the “business men” did not fund her intellectual revolution. Nevertheless, human beings do not “live by bread alone” although the “words out of the mouth of God” have also “caused” a lot of deaths.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-24 21:52:00 UTC - 21:52 | Permalink

        Isn’t the real question “why” ideas take hold among particular groups at particular times? The Koran has been around a long time but the sort of Islamic terror we are seeing today has not, nor do we fear the majority of Muslims today because they read the same holy book.

        • 2015-08-25 07:12:59 UTC - 07:12 | Permalink

          Isn’t the real question “why” ideas take hold among particular groups at particular times? The Koran has been around a long time …

          Your wording about “the” real question reveals that you want *a* answer about *a* cause.

          Again, you always want causes to be 100% or 0%. You just don’t get the concept of multi-factored causation, even if politics and social factors are hugely important, religion is *still* part of the cause!

          • Neil Godfrey
            2015-08-25 07:20:22 UTC - 07:20 | Permalink

            Okay Coel, I’ve been too patient too long. It makes no difference whatever we say or how often we grapple with your questions you simply keep repeating your same old lines and accusations without giving the slightest indication that you have attempted to understand what the view opposing yours actually is. You fail repeatedly to answer direct questions and you fail to respond to our own comments that do address the actual words of Coyne as you have requested.

            I am always willing to take time to try to explain things for those without the background reading or education but when someone repeatedly indicates they have no interest in any genuine two-way discussion then there comes a time when it is pointless continuing any exchange even for a “benefit” of third parties.

            How much of Dan’s comment did you actually read? Or did you lose concentration after the first few lines that you responded to and not bother with the rest?

            You’ve turned yourself into a troll.

            • AU
              2015-08-26 01:18:05 UTC - 01:18 | Permalink

              You must have the patience of a saint – I would have stopped replying after 10 or so exchanges.
              It is clear that Coel has no intention of engaging in a debate, his position is fixed, not because he analysed things and came to that conclusion, but because he just seems to like Coyne and so must defend him at all costs, and I frankly have no interest in debating with somone who tries to fit “evidence” around their conclusion instead of forming their conclusion on evidence.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2015-08-26 04:07:56 UTC - 04:07 | Permalink

                I love it when once every few or many years someone compliments me for being patient. I print out these comments and show them to my wife to prove she is so wrong about me in this department. Actually, I was inspired by Dan’s efforts to produce such thorough explanations and I wanted to impress such a guest by looking like I was worthy of his standards.

              • AU
                2015-08-28 17:44:06 UTC - 17:44 | Permalink

                Message to Neil’s wife: He didn’t pay me!

                Well, both you and Dan have gone into great depth, and have provided some very insightful information. Thanks.

  • 2015-08-24 20:44:03 UTC - 20:44 | Permalink

    Neil,

    Ideas are not “things” like viruses that change behaviour.

    Well, they are “patterns” rather than material objects, but yes they do change behaviour. Indeed I find it baffling that anyone would argue that the ideas we hold have no effect on our behaviour.

    Trying to change behaviour of people is a lot more complicated than just putting ideas into their heads.

    Well, yes, it depends on other factors also. Why has denied that?

    You don’t act on every idea that comes into your head …

    True, but you do act on some of them. And others of them can be part of reason for you acting.

    People are free to follow through on what they believe or find a way to rationalize doing something different from what they believe.

    Yes, and the rationalisation is in terms of other beliefs. Thus we all have a whole set of interacting beliefs, and the interacting set determines what we do.

    There is no such thing as “Christianity” or “Islam” by which all communities can be judged or compared. There is no “true Islam” with every Muslim being closer or further from that one Truth.

    You say such things as though they were news, or as though they amounted to some sort of argument about something. Yes, we do know such things!

    And the overwhelming evidence from world-wide polls is that most Muslims who believe the same sorts of political ideas as terrorists also reject utterly terrorism itself. So it is clear that ideas do not themselves cause terrorism.

    Every so often you say something that suggests you simply don’t understand how multi-factored causation works. One *cannot* conclude from the fact that most Muslims reject terrorism that “the ideas do not themselves cause terrorism”, you can only conclude that they are not the only factor. Other factors must also be relevant.

    Try this: “The majority of smokers do not die of lung cancer, so it is clear that smoking does not itself cause lung cancer”. See anything wrong there?

    And yes, other factors are involved, and Islam must have some role — but Islam does not “cause” terrorism and we know that because the overwhelming majority of Muslims — according to worldwide polls — deplore terrorism.

    “Smoking does not “cause” lung cancer, and we know that because the majority of smokers will never get lung cancer.”

    Islam **does** cause terrorism. No cause is ever complete and sufficient on its own. In the real world causes are always multi-factored. Thus “X causes Y” means that Y is more likely given X than given not-X. And being a terrorist *is* more likely in the world today if the person is a Muslim than if they are not a Muslim.

    No-one ever said it was the only factor, or that 100% of Muslims are terrorists. The real world of multi-factored causes is not like that.

  • 2015-08-24 21:02:02 UTC - 21:02 | Permalink

    Hi Neil,

    The point is that both you and Coyne argue strenuously that Islam is a critical factor and without Islam in the mix then there would not be ISIS or other terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam and by Muslims.

    Well that one is almost tautologically correct: if there were no such thing as Islam there would indeed be no attacks carried out by Muslims or “in the name of Islam”.

    But, none of myself, Coyne or Dawkins have said that the only possible cause of terrorism is Islam. All we’ve said is that Islam makes terrorism more likely in the world today.

    My point — if you make the effort to read it in order to understand it — is that what Coyne, Dawkins (and you) say is the way THAT PARTICULAR CAUSE (one of several causes!!!!) works is contradicted by all modern sciences of human behaviour.

    The trouble is, you always misunderstand what we say about “the way that particular cause works”. At least, you’ve never been specific about exactly what we say that is contradicted by modern sciences.

    Now how is it possible to say that the Jewish terrorists “took the Bible promises” “more seriously” than the likes of Weizmann and Ben-Gurion and their followers?

    All your example shows is that there were other relevant factors in addition to the Bible in determining who turned to terrorism. Again, has anyone suggested otherwise?

    Now — do we think Muslims are different from Jews? Is there something about Islam that, if taken seriously, will cause people to carry out terrorist acts?

    There is not one religious belief that, if one holds it, one is 100% likely to commit terrorism, and if one doesn’t hold it, one is 0% likely. But who has claimed that? Other factors are of course relevant!

    Neither Coyne nor Dawkins nor I are claiming that: “If X takes this line of the Koran seriously then he is 100% likely to commit terrorism”.

    That is not how the world works. Causes are usually multi-factored! Try this one:

    “If X smokes twenty cigarettes a day for 20 years then he is 100% likely to get lung cancer”. That sentence is obviously false, isn’t it? But can one then conclude that smoking does not cause lung cancer? No.

    A correct statement would be that if X smokes twenty cigarettes a day for twenty years then he is N times more likely to get lung cancer. And similarly if X takes certain verses of the Koran serious then he is NN times more likely to be a terrorist.

    In those senses, cigarettes cause cancer and the Koran causes terrorism. Pointing to healthy smokers and non-violent Muslims does not refute that.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-24 22:21:24 UTC - 22:21 | Permalink

      Why does Coyne attack Pape and other scholarship that in fact also acknowledges Islam is one of several factors motivating terrorists and that does not let Islam off the hook? You know he does attack Pape and others so why does he do that if his point is the same as theirs? Something is missing in your argument.

      In Coyne’s latest post attacking a Kecia Ali arguing for multiple causes to the ISIS problem reads into her words claims that are simply not there in her article. You insist on quoting the exact words. Where does Ali try to “exculpate” the perpetrators of crimes and shift blame entirely to the West?

      But as for “laying the groundwork” for ISIS, I notice that Coyne calls the invasion of Iraq “dumb”. Others have stronger words for a war of aggression. The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which followed World War II, called the waging of aggressive war

      “essentially an evil thing…to initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

      Sounds like the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg would lay the blame for creating the conditions that led to ISIS squarely on the West. Notice that does not mean the ISIS criminals are somehow “exculpated” as Coyne seems to bizarrely think.

      (Ideas do not work on minds like nicotine works on bodies. No psychologist would say that.)

      • Al
        2015-08-25 08:41:13 UTC - 08:41 | Permalink

        If you’re interested, there was a recent exchange between Coyne, Maarten Boudry and Neil Van Leeuwen.

        https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxtYWFydGVuYm91ZHJ5fGd4OjRlMTdiMTM4ZTM1Y2M2MmY

        http://www.academia.edu/15058087/Beyond_Fakers_and_Fanatics_a_Reply_to_Maarten_Boudry_and_Jerry_Coyne

        Have to say that I don’t think Coyne understands Van Leeuwen’s argument too well nor has he really thought through what he is saying.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-25 08:54:51 UTC - 08:54 | Permalink

          They look interesting. Thanks. Jerry’s most recent post critical of Kecia Ali’s cannot demonstrate any more clearly Coyne’s inability to handle ambiguity, complexity and nuance when it comes to Islam. His anti-religious crusade lacks any subtlety but I have not yet read much of his Faith versus Fact.

          • Al
            2015-08-25 09:23:16 UTC - 09:23 | Permalink

            It might be worth reading some of Van Leeuwen’s other work first.

            Coyne’s attack on Kecia Ali is little more than a crude smear and a complete distortion. Sadly, though, this sort of behaviour is pretty typical of Coyne these days.

          • 2015-08-25 12:05:34 UTC - 12:05 | Permalink

            I read Coyne’s attack on Ali’s piece, after reading Ali’s essay and having read the relevant NYT story a short while back. Coyne has blown a fuse. I’m quite taken aback at just how unhinged it is. It’s not that I think Ali’s piece is so excellent. I don’t agree, for example, that the reason the story about Yazidi sex slaves made the front page of NYT is that it’s a comforting confirmation of Muslim barbarity; it’s an important news story per se. But neither did I find the main message – that there’s less controversy about the status of slavery among Muslims than one of the comments in the original NYT piece suggested – objectionable. I certainly could not see what on earth prompted Coyne to write his screed, in which he simply invents idiotic points and attributes them to Ali. As we’ve been trying to show Coel, who I don’t want to bad mouth here, Coyne’s very biased approach to any topic that involves Islam in any degree blinds him, and causes him to write things that have little contact with reality. This latest post is a classic example.

            One other aspect of Coyne’s post really caught my eye. But first a bit of backstory. After I published my essay on radicalisation, eminent evolutionary biologist David Sloan (who has clashed with Coyne in the past) published a supportive post of his own:

            https://evolution-institute.org/blog/when-scientists-become-demagogues/

            After saying that I’d quite clearly shown Coyne to have no grasp of the radicalisation literature, Wilson wrote:

            “What gave Jones such a decisive advantage? Very simply, he did his homework on the subject of political radicalization, and Coyne did not. Also, Jones approached the topic from a scholarly perspective, but Coyne was speaking from his gut. Coyne’s humiliating defeat illustrates a very serious problem. The social institutions of science and academic scholarship do a pretty good job of holding people accountable for their factual statements. If scientists or scholars don’t do their homework, then their work is rejected, their reputations plummet, and they get washed out of the system. When distinguished scientists and scholars write for the general public, there is an implicit assumption that they have proven themselves and can be trusted to do their homework on the topics that they write about, including topics that are outside their area of professional expertise. When they betray that trust, they are falsely trading on their professional reputations.”

            Now, in his most recent post, Coyne has essentially taken that criticism and simply recycled it against Ali!:

            “I have to say that I find Ali’s argument truly revolting—not just because it’s intellectually weak and actually deceptive, but because it debases the entire realm of university scholarship of which I’m a member. When I see pieces like hers—lame apologetics that are meant from the outset to reinforce an opinion already held—I thank Ceiling Cat that I am a scientist: a member of the guild in which using your scholarship to reinforce emotional commitments is considered a sin.”

            This isn’t the first time Coyne has taken criticisms applied to him and just turned them round on others. For a long time, the New Atheists were chided for their tone, and the snide way they spoke about others (e.g., calling Michael Ruse a “glueless gobshite” (PZ Myers), or hounding down Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney, whom they dubbed “The Colgate Twins” for their smiling publicity photos). Coyne et al, when challenged on tone, were always really dismissive, sometimes quoting Christopher Hitchens as saying that complaints about tone were the last refuge of the intellectually bankrupt. But now COyne complains about tone all the time, and in the most inappropriate contexts (e.g., in response to a reasonable philosophy paper by Massimo Pigliucci, but in many, many other places too). The lack on insight into his own double standards or contradictory attitudes is remarkable.

            But it’s not unique. I mean Dawkins recently Tweeted “I do not attack Islam” – this from the man who says “I regard Islam as one of the great evils in the world”. It’s as if Dawkins either has no memory of what he’s said in the past, or he doesn’t care if people who do can see he’s talking nonsense. Dawkins knows that among his adoring fans, he won;t get pulled up, and he’ll have another opportunity to say, if charged with bias or Islamophobia, “No, look, I say that I don;t attack Islam!”. Or his fans will do it for him, like Coel does with Coyne. (Here’s another example of contradictory claims that give people Dawkins wiggle room to deflect criticism – but it comes at the cost of saying anything coherent at all.) It really does seem as if Dawkins, and Coyne and Harris too, have no shame about the incoherence of the arguments they routinely peddle.

            I only point this out as the thin end of the wedge of bad thinking, and to me unethical argumentation, that turned me off the New Atheists between about 2006 and 2010. (I’d previously been a massive fan of Dawkins – almost something of a PR man for him, especially with regard to the ideas presented in The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype)

            • AU
              2015-08-26 01:40:07 UTC - 01:40 | Permalink

              I come from a scientific background, I work with people who come from a scientific background, but it seems that when the topic of religion comes up, so many of my colleagues judge it without applying any rigour whatsoever and just blindly quote people like Dawkins.

              I find scientists like Dawkins and Coyne going around giving opinions on subjects on which they are no experts very dangerous. People assume that because they are prominent scientists, if they give an opinion on something, they have come to that conclusion after applying the scientific rigour, they are simply not aware that this isn’t the case. It’s really good that people like you are exposing this myth and bringing the truth into the public sphere.

        • 2015-08-25 12:22:49 UTC - 12:22 | Permalink

          I’ll check these out, so thanks for the heads up.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-08-26 22:03:50 UTC - 22:03 | Permalink

          Coyne has since posted a somewhat curious article about his newfound status as “A Philosopher” on the strength of this article: I’m a philosopher! I haz a paper with Maarten Boudry on religious belief

          • 2015-08-27 08:15:54 UTC - 08:15 | Permalink

            From the pathetic and dated down-with-the-kids title “I haz a paper…” to the equally pathetic and desperate claim to legitimacy “I maintain that I do have street cred in philosophy!”, Coyne comes across as a really sad specimen. (This is an impression reinforced by the a lot of the daft content of his blog, including his refusal to call his blog a blog or write the word Twitter.) I’m sure, however, with this paper he’ll earn himself a position in the philosophical canon along with Descartes, Kant and Hume.

            FYI, Coyne’s subsequent post starts with “Now that I’ve established my philosophy cred, I want to talk about “rights”.” https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/lets-stop-talking-about-rights-or-at-least-dont-assert-them-as-unquestionable-givens/

            I can’t believe that his readers don’t find this guff monumentally embarrassing – but then again, looking at the comments left on his posts, I’m not sure I have much in common with his readers. Either way, I’m now finding Coyne almost entirely insufferable.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-08-27 19:57:13 UTC - 19:57 | Permalink

              Coyne in his latest book, Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible, demonstrates his ignorance of the scholarly research into the nature of religious thinking (even the title demonstrates this ignorance), but also reveals a somewhat inflated expectation of his personal influence in the wider society. He says he wrote his new book because his first one (the only one of its kind, he believes) failed to make a dent in the national statistics of how many Americans continued to reject evolution:

              I decided to address the problem of creationism in the only way I knew: by writing a popular book laying out the evidence for evolution. And there were mountains of evidence, drawn from the fossil record, embryology, molecular biology, the geography of plants and animals, the development and construction of animal bodies, and so on. Curiously, nobody had written such a book. Practical people, I figured— or even skeptical ones— would surely come around to accepting the scientific view of evolution once they’d seen the evidence laid out in black and white.

              I was wrong. Although my book, Why Evolution Is True, did well (even nosing briefly onto the New York Times bestseller list), and although I received quite a few letters from religious readers telling me I’d “converted” them to evolution, the proportion of creationists in America didn’t budge: for thirty-two years it’s hovered between 40 and 46 percent.

              Coyne, Jerry A. (2015-05-19). Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

              • 2015-08-28 10:35:28 UTC - 10:35 | Permalink

                This is unintentionally funny stuff.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-08-28 06:00:05 UTC - 06:00 | Permalink

              FYI, Coyne’s subsequent post starts with “Now that I’ve established my philosophy cred, I want to talk about “rights”.”

              When I first read that I wasn’t sure if he was being tongue-in-cheek but quickly decided to give the benefit of the doubt and think that he was indeed being facetious. Since then I have been preparing for another post on his and Boudry’s exchange with Neil Van Leeuwen and was reminded of his concluding sentence in the previous post where it is very difficult to think he is tongue-in-cheek. . . .

              I’d welcome the thoughts of any readers, philosophers or not, who have the tenacity to plow through the entire exchange. But I maintain that I do have street cred in philosophy!

              Someone please assure me he really is speaking in jest.

              • Bee
                2015-08-28 12:32:10 UTC - 12:32 | Permalink

                When it comes to fellow atheists and agnostic, I usually do not criticise any of them. Because that also augments and aids attacks from religionists. Who are all too eager to create dissention among atheists; to “Divide and conquer” them.

                Caesar knew that when you can make your many enemies fight each other, that’s one way to help defeat them. By weakening their unity among themselves.

  • AU
    2015-08-25 01:01:09 UTC - 01:01 | Permalink

    Hi Neil,

    I have a question for you.

    I think you are saying
    * religion isn’t the only reason for violence, it is just a factor within the bigger picture
    * a religion can be interpreted in many ways, so it is wrong to say a religion is violent

    My question is, do you agree that in some cases, religion is such a large factor that it can be considered the only factor? For example, an al Nusra fighter who is fighting for an Islamic Capliphate, I think most of us can agree that there will be other factors that are driving him and not only religion – like the atrocities he has seen, his anger at what he perceives oppression of Muslims, etc.
    However, what about the 14 year old child sent by the Taliban to do a suicide attack, and told he would go to Heaven? For this child, religion is basically the only factor that caused him to do it. He isn’t really old enough yet to start getting angry and feel he must fight in a war, and it was religion that made him do it. Agreed?

    Therefore, do you agree that in some cases, religion can cause people to do atrocities that they would not have done without religion?

    Thanks.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-25 05:02:28 UTC - 05:02 | Permalink

      I am relying upon what I read in the scholarly research into terrorism. They explore the evidence to find out why some people turn to extremist violence and not one has put it down to “religion” as if that explains all there is to know. Something happens to people that leads them to the path of violent jihad.

      For Jerry Coyne the answer is very simple, even obvious, but the research does not share his view. Many people have the same religious beliefs and political grievances as terrorists but at the same time deplore and denounce terrorism. So what is it that causes a few to kill others and themselves?

      I can’t make any definitive comment on a scenario I don’t know the details of, but I can say generally that from my reading of Palestinian extremism 14 years old is far from being “too young” to feel despair, hate, and suicidal — that this life has no meaning as a consequence of the horrors they have experienced by that age. Lots of teenagers and children, many of them younger than 14, have thrown rocks at Israeli soldiers and some of them have been shot and jailed for their efforts. Last night I was listening to an account of a 12 year old who committed suicide.

      I have heard second hand from a friend who for a time lived in the West Bank that in the years of the Hamas suicide bombings Palestinian parents hated Hamas for the way they were recruiting and exploiting some of their children. Both parents and children are Muslim and hate the occupation, so what’s the explanation here? The simplistic answers of Coyne, Dawkins, Harris and co are not helpful.

      • 2015-08-25 07:21:42 UTC - 07:21 | Permalink

        Troll comment removed. — Neil

        Coel — I will only permit comments from you that demonstrate you have actually read and attempted to understand earlier comments in exchanges here.

      • AU
        2015-08-26 01:20:24 UTC - 01:20 | Permalink

        Thanks Neil – you have a lot more knowledge than me in this area, so I’ll be back later on this week to further explore this if that’s ok with you, my position is actually quite similar to yours, I’m just not sure about a few things and it would be nice to bounce ideas off you.

      • Al
        2015-08-28 10:18:02 UTC - 10:18 | Permalink

        I think the less said about Coyne and Harris’ views on the Palestinians the better.

      • AU
        2015-09-14 23:27:41 UTC - 23:27 | Permalink

        Hi Neil,

        Now I agree with you that there are often many reasons that cause a Muslim to become a suicide bomber (or anyone for that matter but as New Atheists talk a lot about Muslims, I shall discuss Muslims here). The question I am interested in is whether you think in some cases suicide bombers have been brainwashed in a cult-like manner, and therefore, we can place the blame almost solely on religion?

        The example I have in mind is when the Pakistani military were fighting the Pakistani Taliban, and they drove them out of an area. In one of the Madrassas they found piantings by children of going to Heaven after dying in a suicide bombing attack (or something similar, I forget exactly). The way I look at it is that these kids were probably isolated from the outside world – this was a remote area in North-West Frontier. Therefore, I don’t think we can say that they personally had any experience of hating Americans or Brits or have you what. To me it seemed that if they were to carry out a suicide bombing, it would be because they genuinely believed they would go to Heaven.

        Now I am sure you would think this is a complete waste of life – these kids did not have any grievenace against the Allies, yet they ended up dying (assuming some managed to be suicide bombers) because someone brainwashed them into thinking they will go to Heaven. Therefore, would you not agree that in some instances, cult-like religious brainwashing can cause innocent children to die?

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-09-15 01:12:25 UTC - 01:12 | Permalink

          I don’t have quick and easy access to my reference material to respond with the detail I’d like, but for now two points come to mind:

          1. My understanding from the research is that very few suicide bombers have come from madrassas. These people are thought to lack the skills necessary to carry out successful operations. (Atran?)

          2. What we call brain-washing is known to involve a complex of factors. I’m thinking of older people, late teens and on. People join cults that said to “brainwash” people (though strictly brainwashing I think should apply to the sort of torture etc that was used on POWs in Korea etc) but they are put in that position of mental re-think for a range of reasons — need to belong, etc etc.

          Okay — three points:

          3. I don’t know how many young children hold on to the sorts of teachings you describe right through to adulthood and act on them in the way you indicate here. From what I’m reading about religious beliefs (and I know I’ve only scratched the surface so far) there are differences between the way children conceptualize such things and the way adults go, and the relationship between those beliefs and actions is not a simple cause-effect one.

          Do we know how many suicide bombers were trained from very early childhood in madrassahs in the way you depict?

          I’m trying to think of what I was taught to believe about going to heaven as a child.

    • Mark Erickson
      2015-08-28 03:16:25 UTC - 03:16 | Permalink

      I would like to know the median age of suicide bombers. I think age 14 would be a small percentage. And why did you choose the Taliban? Of all the Muslims who oppose the U.S. or our “allies”, they have done the least suicide bombings.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-08-28 03:39:53 UTC - 03:39 | Permalink

        Not the median age but this is from Pape’s “Dying to Win” covering the years 1980 to 2003:

        The average age of suicide attackers also varies notably across terrorist groups. Lebanese suicide terrorists were the youngest, averaging 21.1 years old, followed by the Tamil Tigers at 21.9 years, Palestinians at 22.5 years, PKK at 23.6 years, al-Qaeda at 26.7 years, and Chechen rebels at 29.8 years. What accounts for the variation in age across groups is not clear. However, it is unlikely that culture alone does, since the groups with the youngest and oldest average are both from Muslim societies.

        Altogether the age range is said to be from 15 to 52 for this period.

        • Mark Erickson
          2015-08-28 13:43:17 UTC - 13:43 | Permalink

          Thanks. I should say I meant Afghan Taliban, not Pakistani Taliban or the Haqanni Network.

      • AU
        2015-08-28 17:49:20 UTC - 17:49 | Permalink

        I chose the Pakistani Taliban because I felt that the kids, in one particular instance, were being driven not much my any grievenaces but by being brainwashed. It almost felt like they were part of a cult. So I want to discuss this with Neil, as he has much more knowledge on this topic than I do, and so I would like to bounce some ideas off him. I just want to gather my thoughts and write them down properly so that I don’t waste his time, I am just tied up at the moment to be able do this, but will get back when I have some time in a few weeks or so.

  • anon
    2015-08-25 05:46:52 UTC - 05:46 | Permalink

    Afghanistan—Russian invasion (Dec 1979-1989)–Afghans were fighting the Russians. U.S./NATO invasion 2001-…Afghans were fighting the new invaders and inbetween these two invasions the Afghans were infighting for power (power vacuum) and the Taliban emerged…by 1998 the U.S. was bombing Bin Laden bases and by 2001 there was war again. The Afghans have known nothing but war for generations….

    Child soldiers—this phenomenon occurs in warfare.
    http://www.unicef.org/sowc96/2csoldrs.htm

    …there are many factors involved…..(from the linked article)

    “…Many current disputes have lasted a generation or more—half of those under way in 1993 had been going on for more than a decade. Children who have grown up surrounded by violence see this as a permanent way of life. Alone, orphaned, frightened, bored and frustrated, they will often finally choose to fight. In the Philippines, which has suffered for decades from a war of insurgency, many children have become soldiers as soon as they enter their teens. When schools are closed and families fragmented, there are few influences that can compete with a warrior’s life.

    Indeed, in these circumstances, a military unit can be something of a refuge—serving as a kind of surrogate family. In Uganda in 1986, the National Resistance Army had an estimated 3,000 children, many under 16, including 500 girls, most of whom had been orphaned and who looked on the Army as a replacement for their parents.

    At a more basic level, joining an army may also be the only way to survive. Many children joined armed groups in Cambodia in the 1980s as the best way to secure food and protection. Similarly, in Liberia in 1990, children as young as seven were seen in combat because, according to the Director of the Liberian Red Cross, “those with guns could survive.” In Myanmar, parents volunteer their children for the rebel Karen army because the guerrillas provide clothes and two square meals a day; in 1990, an estimated 900 of the 5,000-strong Karen Army were under the age of 15.

    Finally, children may also have active reasons to want to fight. Like adults, they too may see themselves fighting for social justice—as was often the case in Central America or South Africa—or they may want to fight for their religious beliefs or cultural identity. In more personal terms, they may also be seeking revenge for the deaths of their parents, brothers or sisters.

    Many children, therefore, want to become soldiers and offer themselves for service. Others are deliberately recruited. This was true in Liberia, where a quarter of the combatants in the various fighting factions were children—some 20,000 in all. Indeed, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia had its own ‘small boys unit’, ranging in age from 6 to 20 (Panel 2).

    Armed groups will often aim their propaganda specifically at young people. In Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been particularly active in the school system, indoctrinating children.

    In these circumstances, children can be expected to join up. But even if they do not volunteer they may be recruited forcibly. Over the past decade, government forces in El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Myanmar, among others, have all conscripted children. In the 1980s, the Ethiopian army would kidnap boys of 15 or younger from the villages and the poorest quarters of the cities, as well as from schools. Opposition movements in many countries have also seized children—as in Angola, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and the Sudan.

    The Renamo forces in Mozambique, in particular, systematically practised forced recruitment. Renamo had at least 10,000 boy soldiers, some as young as six years old. Similarly, in Angola, a 1995 survey found that 36 per cent of children had accompanied or supported soldiers, and 7 per cent of Angolan children had fired at somebody.”

    another reason why we must prevent wars from occurring.

  • Hannu
    2015-09-07 22:55:36 UTC - 22:55 | Permalink

    “Various polls, often cited by writers like Harris as well as radicalisation researchers, suggest that a minimum of 15–20% of Muslims globally accept an Islamist or Jihadi ideology — making for somewhere between 240 million and 320 million cognitive extremists. One obvious question is why just 15-20% accept this ideology, while the vast majority reject it. Saying ‘Jihad is the product of beliefs derived from Islam’ doesn’t even engage with the question, let alone provide an answer”

    Really, this is the level we’re on? You might as well be asking that if belief in forgiving one’s enemies has to do with core Christians ideology why do so few Christians forgive their enemies? We’ve now using your logic argued that Christians forgiving their enemies doesn’t come from Christian dogma. Except it’s a totally incorrect conclusion, there’s clearly a connection between Christians forgiving their enemies and Christian holy text even if few Christians do this. Did this honestly need to be explained to you? Stupefying.

    “The problems for this simplistic refrain are even more evident when it comes to behavioural radicalisation. A report published in July 2014 by the RAND Corporation estimated that there were 100,000 Jihadists active at the time — a terrifying number — but even if we assume that there are twice as many, that translates into just 0.06–0.08% of cognitive radicals (240-320 million) becoming behavioural extremists.”

    Harris constantly points out that there’s a difference between muslims who, say, would vote killing infidels into law and muslims who would actually kill infidels and that the latter is smaller than the former. How major is this difference? Not one that constitutes a refutation of the man’s views. You don’t even appear to know what his views are. How consequential is the difference? Not one that helps you get where you want to go in any way.

    “If Harris is right — that ‘as a man believes, so he will act’, and ‘certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder’ — why aren’t the millions of people who hold extreme beliefs going round killing people? As Charles Kurzman puts it, where are ‘the missing martyrs’? Is it really that they simply haven’t been asked to carry out an act of terrorism, or just lack the means to launch one themselves? If not, what might differentiate between those who hold extreme beliefs who refrain from violence, and those who embrace it? Pointing out that ‘some Muslim terrorists are actually motivated by religion’ is of no help.”

    This might be the the most uninformed paragraph in this entire article and yet you write it as if you’re making your strongest point. Harris has never said only beliefs matter. He’s saying they matter significantly. You’re taken one simplified sentence and reduced the man’s argument to that. I don’t know if you follow what Harris says, it doesn’t look like you do, but to think the man is saying only beliefs matter and nothing else about human psychology does is a total misconstrual of what you’re arguing against.

    If a doctrine of jihad reliably leads to oppression and murder then why aren’t there more people who believe in jihad doing it? You offer this as some kind of refutation yet it’s like asking that if a secular humanism reliably leads to peaceful cooperation why aren’t there more people cooperating peacefully. Guess secular humanism now has nothing to do with enshrining attitudes that reliably lead to more peaceful cooperation.

    These criticisms of Harris make no sense whatsoever. That you thought this is some kind of serious rebuttal of Harris is just amazing. Harris attracts clueless rebuttals like a fire moths.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-08 08:04:41 UTC - 08:04 | Permalink

      I quite agree with you when you point out that only a few Christians truly forgive their enemies even though they believe they should forgive them. So we know that Harris is quite wrong when he says that “as a man believes, so he will act”. So we can agree that Harris is mistaken on this point?

      Then in commenting on the paragraph you say is the worst of all in the post you say that Harris “has never said only beliefs matter” and then in the next sentence you point out that “he’s saying they [religious beliefs] matter significantly”.

      So is Harris right or wrong when he says that “as a man believes so he will act”? And if Harris says religious beliefs are a significant factor [though not the only one] in motivating terrorists, are you suggesting that they are not always a factor at all? We can agree that there are several factors motivating Islamic terrorists, but does that mean that religion never plays a role or only “sometimes” plays a role? When Harris says other factors play a role, does he mean that sometimes Islamic terrorists don’t follow their own beliefs and that religion sometimes plays no role or only a very superficial one?

      But no, you said religion is always a significant factor. So I’m confused. Why are you objecting to a post that says it is not helpful to say “some Muslim terrorists are actually motivated by religion”? Is it the “some” you object to? Do you want me to say that “all Muslims are actually motivated by religion — but that this is sometimes one of several other motivations”? Would that be more correct?

      But we have already established that beliefs don’t motivate actions for most people. So I am afraid you will have to be a little more patient and explain exactly what your objection is to the post.

      How many Muslims, by the way, say they would vote killing infidels into law?

      • David Ashton
        2015-09-08 21:02:59 UTC - 21:02 | Permalink

        Impossible to guess how many Muslims would vote killing infidels into law. Probably not many, but a secret ballot on this, after free public debate, seems unlikely in most Muslim states. There has been some poll support for “terrorism” in the west and several attacks on infidels in the Umma have been locally “democratic”. Also, most Muslims would support and/or participate in resisting armed attacks on their countries by infidels, “Christians” or “Jews”, since Islam is more of a political construct than modern Christianity and such resistance would be comparable to (say) British resistance to a Nazi landing in 1940 with prompt execution of suspected fifth-columnists.

        Apostasy is different, but relevant. There was considerable support for the fatwa demanding the assassination of Salman Rushdie for infidelity, including public demos in “England”. I do not know if the Wikipedia “Apostasy in Islam” entry has been corrected or refuted, but it appears that laws against apostasy with the option at least of capital punishment operate in Brunei, Mauritius, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates (if not other states).

        One book, for now, from my forthcoming private-library list: Roland Challis, “Shadow of a Revolution: Indonesia and the Generals” (2001). The CIA did not actually do all the dirty work themselves. Sufficient “popular” sympathy existed for this horrific “Muslim” massacre of communist infidels.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-09-08 21:53:53 UTC - 21:53 | Permalink

          I’d be interested in the research done in surveys and polling. I’m pretty sure the data exists but it’s not my priority to take the time to dig it out right now.

          • David Ashton
            2015-09-08 22:53:23 UTC - 22:53 | Permalink

            The Daily Express has pulled a silly article on GB Muslim support for ISIL, but there are some poll results at
            http://my.telegraph.co.uk/danielpycock/956/what-do-british-muslims-think-of-the-uk/

            • Neil Godfrey
              2015-09-08 23:43:01 UTC - 23:43 | Permalink

              That link gives me a 404 error but the heading indicates it is only re the Brit scene. What about global Pew polls?

              • David Ashton
                2015-09-09 04:16:49 UTC - 04:16 | Permalink

                You can try Google search “What do British Muslims think of the UK?” which gives a 2006 Pew Survey on 9/11 skepticism (not confined to Muslims!). I don’t have any time to do a global search.

              • AU
                2015-09-09 15:04:44 UTC - 15:04 | Permalink

                http://my.telegraph.co.uk/danielpycock/danpycock/956/what-do-british-muslims-think-of-the-uk/

                I think these polls can be slightly misleading – people often say things that they actually might not want to happen when faced with it. I wonder how many Muslims who say blasphemers should be killed would actually want a friend of theirs who blasphemises to be killed.

                Also, the answers are often taken out of context. For example, if p % of Muslims say killing civilians can be justified, it is taken to mean they support terrorism. However. even Sam Harris and most Westerners also believe killing civilians can be justified, if they didn’t, they’d be speaking out against Hisroshima or other acts of violence we have perpetrated.

    • Dan Jone
      2015-09-08 15:51:09 UTC - 15:51 | Permalink

      Oh look, it’s another paid-up member of the Cult of Harris who pisses their pants any time someone criticises their idol. I find responses like yours hilariously stupid and infuriatingly ignorant at the same time. (I’m normally pretty polite in debates, but if you come at me with this sort of rubbish along with a large dose of condescension, then as far as I’m concerned anything goes.) Hannu, if you want to bring it to me, you’re going to have bring it a lot stronger than this.

      Before we get going on this, I want to address your complaint

      “Really, this is the level we’re on?”.

      First, it is Harris who has brought us to this level with his bold statements about belief and behaviour. He has said some very misguided and demonstrably false things, and then I set out to correct them – and in doing so I have to make some very obvious points. It’s very frustrating for me to have to make these points at all, but even more so when someone turns around and says that I’m the one operating a low level of discourse by doing so, when I’m trying to raise it! Of course, you’re going to maintain that Harris never brought the conversation so low, or invited the kinds of objections I raised. I think that’s impossible to maintain if you’ve got anything approaching a fair mind, or the capacity to read and think for yourself.

      So let’s review, once more, some of the things Harris says on the link between belief and behaviour, and pause to consider whether there’s anything amiss in his statements that is worth responding to:

      “As a man believes, so he will act”

      – not true, and in fact completely untrue, so blindly untrue it’s almost unbelievable. It’s outrageous to then complain, when I point out that in fact beliefs and behaviour are not in a one-to-one relationship, that others factors matter (and often much more so than beliefs), that I’m the one making pathetically obvious points. If that’s the case, surely Harris is guilty of uttering a pathetically simple falsehood. That, however, clearly doesn’t bother. My responding to him does. You’re saying nothing, but you’re telling me everything.

      You say

      “Harris has never said only beliefs matter. He’s saying they matter significantly.”

      If you think the claim “As a man believes, so he will act” is merely the claim that beliefs matter significantly, then you have a severe problem comprehending simple words. If a man acts as he believes, then there’s no need to invoke anything else to explain his behaviour. The sentiment Harris is expressing is as clear as can be: beliefs determine behaviour (not influence, not matter significantly, but determine so that as a man believes, so he will act). That you cannot see this is just a sign of how blinkered you are in your evident infatuation with Harris.

      But wait, you’ve got a get-out for this, haven’t you (apologists always do!):

      “You’re [sic] taken one simplified sentence and reduced the man’s argument to that. I don’t know if you follow what Harris says, it doesn’t look like you do, but to think the man is saying only beliefs matter and nothing else about human psychology does is a total misconstrual of what you’re arguing against.”

      What’s so funny about this is that it’s evident that you don’t read Harris very closely. In The End Of Faith the sentence about people acting as they believe sets up what’s supposed to be a discussion about the links between belief and behaviour, but which actually doesn’t review any evidence about this link, or consider it in much detail at all. Instead, Harris simply uses rhetorical tricks to bring people round to the view that beliefs are what matters in explaining behaviour (not that beliefs are among the many factors we might want to consider in explaining behaviour, but to make beliefs the sole focus). Again, that you can’t see this is evidence of your massively tendentious reading of Harris. (On this score, would you care to show me some excerpts where Harris takes a more nuanced and realistic approach to the links between belief and behaviour?)

      You’ll surely say it’s me that’s being tendentious. But what makes me think that Harris thinks that beliefs determine, not just influence, behaviour? Because he says just that!:

      “The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous”.

      The only problem with this claim is that is simply untrue. Or do you now want to defend this claim too, or explain it away? (Presumably it’s my fault he wrote such a simple, bold and profoundly wrong claim – and if I reply to it, I’m unfairly reducing Harris’s arguments to his own words. Oh boy…).

      Let’s keep going. At other times, Harris writes

      “Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? …. In drawing a connection between the doctrine of Islam and jihadist violence, I am talking about ideas and their consequences … Now can we honestly talk about the link between belief and behavior?”

      Reliably? Is that a scientific measure? Just how reliably? My car reliably starts when I turn the key in the ignition, in that it’s to date never failed to do so. If it only worked 1%, 5%, or even 30% of the time, I’d hardly characterise that as reliable. How often do the beliefs that Harris mentions lead to the behaviours he cites? Way less than 30% of the time, and in fact way less than 1% of the time. That’s the significance of the polls I cited, and the numbers of people who actually engage in violent extremism. Of course, your warped mindset just cannot see the relevance of my argument to refuting Harris’s daft claim about the reliable link between extreme beliefs and extreme behaviour. Again, I think you’re suffering from a profound comprehension problem.

      I’m not done. Harris says, at the end of the paragraph just quoted, that he wants to have an honest discussion about the links between belief and behaviour. Yet his writes demonstrable falsehoods such as

      “As a man believes, so he will act”,

      “beliefs determine behaviour”,

      and

      “The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total”.

      Either these are dishonest claims, or they’re absurd simplifications (I’d suggest the latter).

      Again, Harris says

      “Believe that you are the member of a chosen people, awash in the salacious exports of an evil culture that is turning your children away from God, believe that you will be rewarded with an eternity of unimaginable delights by dealing death to these infidels — and flying a plane into a building is scarcely more than a matter of being asked to do it.”

      This is off-the-top-of-head nonsense, with zero empirical support. And again, this is why the polls showing how many people hold similar views, and the statistics on how few people act on them, are relevant. But you cannot accept this, can you?

      If you actually read Harris’s entire output, it’s absolutely clear that he’s putting belief front and centre in thinking about behaviour, while relegating everything else to mere background noise. You’ll disagree. You’re tripping.

      On the basis of simple assertions about the essentially iron-clad (or at least “reliable”, whatever that means) link between belief and behaviour – which is implied by everything quoted here – Harris then goes on to make some very strong and ethically dubious claims, most notoriously:

      “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.”

      Note that he doesn’t say here that the link is somewhat tenuous (or, in many cases, very tenuous), and is mediated by lots of other factors, but builds on his earlier claim that as a man believes so he will act and everything else cited here. He doesn’t really argue for this link in any detail, and all we have to go on are the simple claims he does, in fact, make – the very ones that I’m criticised for criticising! (At this point I don’t know what plane of reality you’re operating on.)

      And let’s consider the logic of this amazingly fatuous argument, which is actually presented in reverse order. If there’s someone or a group of people that wants to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others, and there’s no way to dissuade them, or capture them to prevent their violence, then there may be an ethical justification in killing them. I agree: on a more prosaic level, if someone comes at me on the street with their fists raised saying they’re going to beat my brains out, I feel justified in taking pre-emptive action and putting them down before they can harm me. (In fact, I train in a reality-based defense system that delves deeply into the psychological, ethical and legal aspects of the pre-emptive strike, and the use of reasonable force.)

      On Harris’s logic, because beliefs determine behaviour, we don’t have to wait until the behavioural threat becomes manifest – it’s going to erupt at some point, because the beliefs are going to lead to the violence sooner or later. (Remember, beliefs determine behaviour, or reliably lead to behaviour, or whatever daft formulation of this mistaken claim you prefer, all of which are variations of “As a man believes, so he will act”.) So just as we can take pre-emptive action, which may involve killing, when we’re faced with an immediate threat, so too are we when we’re confronted with someone/people with beliefs that advocate violence, as we’re just making the justified pre-emptive strike a bit earlier.

      Can you really not see that such an argument only makes any sense whatsoever if you believe that beliefs really do determine, not just influence, behaviour? If not, let me clarify for you. If, for the sake of argument, that holding a certain belief led to violent behaviour 100% of the time, then perhaps it would make sense to take action against that person solely on the basis of that belief, before they had actually done anything. If, on the other hand, a given belief only led to violent behaviour 30% of the time, then surely it would be unethical to kill someone for holding that belief?

      So here’s a case where a close reading of Harris doesn’t refute my claims about his obsessive focus on beliefs and THE causal determinant of behaviour. No; it supports my reading, especially when taken alongside all of the other things I’ve quoted here. You’ve got a lot of work to do to show that I’ve got Harris wrong on this score.

      And it’s worth noting that in defending this remarkable claim, Harris takes exactly the approach you do and cries “I’ve been misunderstood and misrepresented!”. It’s really lame. In fact, his defense, as published online after The End Of Faith came out, is so silly as to defy belief:

      “To someone reading the passage in context, it should be clear that I am discussing the link between belief and behavior. The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous. When one asks why it would be ethical to drop a bomb on Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qaeda, the answer cannot be, “Because he killed so many people in the past.” To my knowledge, the man hasn’t killed anyone personally. However, he is likely to get a lot of innocent people killed because of what he and his followers believe about jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc. A willingness to take preventative action against a dangerous enemy is compatible with being against the death penalty (which I am). Whenever we can capture and imprison jihadists, we should. But in many cases this is either impossible or too risky. Would it have been better if we had captured Osama bin Laden? In my view, yes. Do I think the members of Seal Team Six should have assumed any added risk to bring him back alive? Absolutely not.”

      The implication, as stupid as it is, is that if we dropped a bomb on Ayman al-Zawahiri, which many people would endorse on ethical grounds, it would be because of what he believes, not because of what he has done:

      “To my knowledge, the man hasn’t killed anyone personally”.

      I trust you can see that this is ridiculous. When someone hires a hitman to kill someone, and the hitman carries out the job, the person doing the hiring is not free from legal guilt and culpability merely because they did not personally kill someone. They’re guilty of conspiracy to murder. So the case of al-Zawahiri, who is the head of a loose organisation that plans, supports, and finances acts of terrorism (conspiracy to murder), in no way supports the idea that we’ve already accepted that it’s OK to kill people for what they believe. If al-Zawahiri had merely sat at home thinking about how great it would be to carry out acts of terrorism, and never actually got involved in plans to carry them out, then the ethics of killing him would be very different indeed.

      As for you own arguments in your comment – well, I don’t know where to start as they’re either completely off target, or are grist for my mill. You write

      “You might as well be asking that if belief in forgiving one’s enemies has to do with core Christians ideology why do so few Christians forgive their enemies? We’ve now using your logic argued that Christians forgiving their enemies doesn’t come from Christian dogma. Except it’s a totally incorrect conclusion, there’s clearly a connection between Christians forgiving their enemies and Christian holy text even if few Christians do this. Did this honestly need to be explained to you? Stupefying.”

      Let’s get clear on what’s going on here. Harris says that “As a man believes, so he will act”, and that “beliefs determine behaviour” and “reliably” lead to certain behaviours. I think these are stupid claims, and set out to show why – which involves me making some quite obvious points. That’s not a reason to scold me, however, but Harris! What you write is in complete agreement with me, and contrary to what Harris says. So of course this doesn’t need explaining to me – I’m the one explaining this stuff! But again, you switch things up, and say

      “there’s clearly a connection between Christians forgiving their enemies and Christian holy text even if few Christians do this”

      (yes, a very weak one as you’re implicitly acknowledging) – but I never said there wasn’t a connection between Islamist ideas and Islamist behaviour. I’m questioning the nature of that connection as proposed by Harris. Does this really need explaining to you? The stupefaction is all mine.

      You also say,

      “If a doctrine of jihad reliably leads to oppression and murder then why aren’t there more people who believe in jihad doing it? You offer this as some kind of refutation yet it’s like asking that if a secular humanism reliably leads to peaceful cooperation why aren’t there more people cooperating peacefully. Guess secular humanism now has nothing to do with enshrining attitudes that reliably lead to more peaceful cooperation.”

      Good grief. This is historically ignorant rubbish. This paragraph suggests you don’t know the first thing about the historical and cultural processes that have led to the norms and institutions that underpin peaceful cooperation. I simply cannot write a book-length reply to correct the level of ignorance and confusion implied by your comment.

      You also say,

      “These criticisms of Harris make no sense whatsoever. That you thought this is some kind of serious rebuttal of Harris is just amazing. Harris attracts clueless rebuttals like a fire moths.”

      That you think my rebuttals lack any force is utterly stunning, but given the very odd lens through with you clearly view all this it’s little surprise: Harris attracts mindless, uncritical and ignorant followers like shit does flies.

      Your response to my/Neil’s post, far from showing that I’ve gone off on an irrelevant rant, shows just how deep the problem is. No matter how clearly Harris’s position is spelled out, and then shown to be mistaken, his fawning acolytes will jump up and say,

      “No, he’s super smart and would never say anything wrong and simple-minded! He’s actually nuanced and, on every important point, correct!”.

      The whole point is to try to show people that, in fact, Harris does make some very bald and bold claims that are easy to refute – and in doing so, you encounter some ideas that really do offer some insight into the nature of violent extremism, a topic that Harris is ostensibly interested in (though it’s clear that he’s only interested in extremism to the extent that it gives him a stick with which to beat religion, especially Islam – which, I should add, I have no love for).

      I suspect that none of this is going to have any impact on your views whatsoever. You’re going to say that, despite his written words and repeated formulations of the same basic idea that when it comes to explaining extremist behaviour beliefs are where it’s at, I’m misrepresenting him, that he’s actually offered a much more sophisticated argument than I claim. Well, stick with that narrative if it makes you feel better about Harris’s intellectual and moral stature. Or pause to think whether maybe he’s got himself into a rut on this topic, one that he cannot get out of.

      (One final thing: I’ve been reading atheists like Dawkins, and older, more philosophical ones like Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer, since the early 1990s. I’ve also read a lot of Dan Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, and welcomed the rise of the New Atheists in the mid-2000s. However, over time I had to come to accept that on some really important issues, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens simply had no real grasp of the relevant sciences of human behaviour to engage with them in any serious way. It’s been a major disappointment for me – I had hoped that these would be the voices of rational and empirical enquiry into things like religious extremism, but they’ve become like populist columnists, rather than scientifically informed intellectuals. It’s a painful truth to come to recognise that you’ve invested a lot of time and emotional energy in their ideas – I used to be like a one-man PR firm for hard-core atheism until I realised that, when it came to explaining human behaviour (rather than just criticising the emptiness of theology), these guys had nothing to offer, and what they did say was just so wrong that I felt embarrassed to have thought so highly of them in the first place. It took me a good 5 years to shake off this feeling, so maybe you’ll have had a change of mind by 2020.)

    • Al
      2015-09-11 13:44:54 UTC - 13:44 | Permalink

      ‘Harris has never said only beliefs matter. He’s saying they matter significantly. ‘

      ‘The truth that we must finally confront is that Islam contains specific notions of martyrdom and jihad that fully explain the character of Muslim violence’

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/bombing-our-illusions_b_8615.html

      • 2015-09-11 14:43:20 UTC - 14:43 | Permalink

        That’s a great illustration of the totalising role Harris gives to beliefs – I can’t believe I’ve overlooked it in everything else I’ve written. (Though I think what I’ve cited captures the same view anyway).

        • Al
          2015-09-11 16:59:46 UTC - 16:59 | Permalink

          You will also notice his claim:

          “Nothing explains the behaviour of Muslim extremists better than what these men and women believe about God, paradise, and the moral imperative of defending the faith against infidels and apostates”.

  • AU
    2015-10-11 13:38:22 UTC - 13:38 | Permalink

    I by chance came across this post about Jerry Coyne banning people from him blog (whilst looking for something else):

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/03/31/why-is-jerry-coyne-blocking-scientific-discussion/

    But I guess coel and Jerry’s fanboys will tell us that we are all just being snarky…

    • Al
      2015-10-11 17:28:23 UTC - 17:28 | Permalink

      Coyne is always banning people; often for doing little more than expressing views he disagrees with. And he still claims to be a ‘hardliner’ on free speech.

      http://vereloqui.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/jerry-coynes-silly-accusation-that.html

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/09/shame-on-jerry-coyne.html

      http://www.freethought-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=28356

      • Neil Godfrey
        2015-10-11 20:38:31 UTC - 20:38 | Permalink

        Coyne wrote me the following;

        On 25 July 2015 at 10:20, Jerry Coyne < .....@uchicago.edu> wrote:
        Hello, . . . .

        . . . . .

        You do not have any “right” to respond on my own site, especially since you have your own site. I’m sure your many readers will be delighted to hear your denigration of my intellectual rigor on that site.

        . . . . .

        yours,
        jac

        The above was in response to the following email of mine:

        From: Neil Godfrey [……@gmail.com]
        Sent: Friday, July 24, 2015 6:47 PM
        To: Jerry Coyne
        Subject: response

        Hi Jerry

        I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to respond to both your post and a number of the more outrageous and false comments made about me. My comment about genocide has been violently ripped out of context and original meaning; I am not a Marxist at all — I do not agree with the Marxist view of human nature of the economic model it is founded on; nor have I ever said politics is the only and exclusive way to explain terrorism but that religion (not just Islam) does have a significant part to play with rationalizing acts.

        I am dismayed that you have taken an email I sent to you directly and without responding courteously and professionally as I naively expected of you, you posted it and invited comments without any opportunity for me to respond.

        This is not appropriate, surely. I really look forward to a cordial exchange in future.

        Surely we can disagree without being disagreeable.

        Neil Godfrey

        I confess that in publishing the extract of Jerry’s response above despite Coyne denying me permission to publish the full response of his email, — I did subsequently ask him for permission to publish our correspondence, he said no — in CAPS and bold font — so I have broken protocol and stretched the rules by quoting the single line of one of his emails to me above. That will be the end of it.

        • AU
          2015-10-11 22:04:38 UTC - 22:04 | Permalink

          I think the major problem I have with Coyne isn’t that I consider him (quite often) intellectually dishonest, bigoted, narcissist, arrogant, rude, or insecure – I mean, sure, I consider him all of those, but that isn’t the biggest problem I have with him – instead, it is that he claims that he believes in free speech and debate, when this is clearly not true.

          The argument that his blog is like his home, and he can decide which comments he wants to allow (just like one can decide who they want to let inside their home), and one which is repeated by his friends like Heather, is IMHO quite pathetic and apologist. A blog where you write about issues that affect the public, and where you allow people to comment, isn’t like your home – you do not use your home for talking about public issues. Instead, it is like a public hall, where you give a speech and then invite questions afterwards – banning people who criticise what you have written is like getting someone who criticised something you said in your speech ejected from the Q&A.

          I also found some of the commenters raised the same concerns as me:

          http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/03/31/why-is-jerry-coyne-blocking-scientific-discussion/comment-page-1/#comment-927037

          While Coyne is free to moderate his blog as he sees fit, by preventing comments from someone qualified to contribute useful information he’s denying his readers that information, potentially leaving them ignorant of why that person is wrong. For a scientist hoping to educate the public, that’s bad form.

          http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/03/31/why-is-jerry-coyne-blocking-scientific-discussion/comment-page-1/#comment-927254

          It is somewhat ironic, though, that Jerry otherwise claims that discussion is good and so on. What really annoys me is the silent banning. Most readers won’t notice it. By allowing comments only from those who agree with him, or who don’t but are obvious jerks, Jerry is using one of the oldest propaganda tricks in the book: It’s much more effective to tell only part of the truth than to lie.

          I exchanged a couple of emails with Jerry which I won’t reproduce here, in which he basically told me to shut up and mind my own business. I asked him to at least have the guts and say publicly that he had banned me and why. He didn’t. The moderation then disappearing is exactly what happened to me.

          http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/03/31/why-is-jerry-coyne-blocking-scientific-discussion/comment-page-1/#comment-927456

          Then there’s the aspect regarding Coyne’s apparent hypocrisy, being a free speech hardliner but banning people at his blog; being against college safe spaces, but for having his blog be a safe space; purporting to be against rude and uncivil discussion, but allowing it when he agrees with the position and disallowing civil comments when it disagrees with his position; and so forth.

          And therein lies the problem – Coyne’s blog becomes an echo chamber, where they keep hearing the same views amongst themselves, and end up believing them.

          • 2015-10-11 23:03:18 UTC - 23:03 | Permalink

            I think the major problem I have with Coyne isn’t that I consider him (quite often) intellectually dishonest, bigoted, narcissist, arrogant, rude, or insecure

            -I don’t consider him any of these, and consider all these descriptions of him baseless name-calling.

            you do not use your home for talking about public issues

            -Uh, yeah, you do.

            And quoting Pharyngula’s comments section, one of the most censored on the Internet. Hypocrisy, much?

            And how can Coyne’s blog be an “echo chamber” when its whole point is to skewer the very real echo chamber of the bigoted, anti-atheist mainstream media of every persuasion?

            • AU
              2015-10-12 11:38:58 UTC - 11:38 | Permalink

              I don’t consider him any of these, and consider all these descriptions of him baseless name-calling.

              Well of course you don’t consider him any of those, you display cult-like behaviour in the way you revere those from your tribe, so of course you will not equate negative attributes with him.

              -Uh, yeah, you do.

              No, you do not – you do not invite random people from the street to come to your home to listen to your speeches. The analogy of his blog being like his home is an apologist one to try and justify him banning opposing views.

              And quoting Pharyngula’s comments section, one of the most censored on the Internet. Hypocrisy, much?

              This must be amongst the dumbest comments I have ever read on the Internet in my entire life, and trust me, I have read a few.

              To know that Pharyngula is one of the most censored blogs on the Internet, you must know about the censorship of the hundreds of thousands of other blogs out there so that you can compare Pharyngula with them. As it is obvious you cannot possibly spend your time monitoring the hundreds of thousands of blogs out there, there must therefore exist some place which keeps track of censorhip at the hundreds of thousands of blogs for you to be able to compare Pharyngula with them and come to the conclusion that it is amongst the most censored on the Internet. However, no such place exists, which shows that you are talking absolute nonsense.

              Secondly, at least PZ Myers, when deleting a comment, makes it clear that he deleted it – it is part of his policy. Jerry Coyne however does no such thing, so no one has any idea of exactly how many comments he is censoring. Therefore, there exists no way in which we can compare who is deleting more comments, considering we have no idea how many Coyne is deleting, Yet, somehow, you are trying to suggest that PZ Myers deletes more.

              Your tribalism means you must protect Jerry Coyne at all costs. Even if Jerry is doing something “wrong”, you have to try and find someone else that is doing worse, and then say “LOOK, LOOK, LOOK AT HIM OVER THERE!” to deflect any wrong-doing off Jerry. This is why, instead of admitting that there is a serious problem with Coyne’s censorship, you have to try and say PZ Myers is worse.

              BTW, for the record, I am not a tribalistic supporter of PZ Myers, I admire his social justice, but I criticise him for his obnoxiousness, the way he handled the Michael Shermer/Nugent incident, and … his censorship of certain comments.

              And how can Coyne’s blog be an “echo chamber” when its whole point is to skewer the very real echo chamber of the bigoted, anti-atheist mainstream media of every persuasion?

              Hyperbolic, tribalistic nonsense, so I won’t bother any further.

  • AU
    2015-10-21 15:34:29 UTC - 15:34 | Permalink

    A rather absurd post by Jerry regarding the latest violence in Israel:

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/palestinians-kill-and-terrorize-israelis-world-studiously-ignores-it/

    The headlines in his article aren’t ambiguous to me – it’s clear the Palestinians killed were the attackers. It’s also absurd that he says no world leaders have been condemning the attacks – well, no world leaders have been sitting there condemning the multiple Israeli attacks over the past year that has killed many Palestinians. And the US State Department did actually condemn the Palestinians for terrorism …

  • j f d'auria
    2016-08-16 13:43:45 UTC - 13:43 | Permalink

    well that post sure put the firecracker among the pigeons.
    as a subscriber to WEIT of coyne, and having “come out”in favour of Harris et al recently, such postings demand pause for [second?] thought.

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