October 01, 2011

Carl Sagan

I never met Carl Sagan but in addition to being a good scientist, prolific writer, great popularizer and advocate for science, he had the reputation of being a really nice person, which is probably why so many of us mean and nasty new atheists are urged to be more like him.

Neil deGrasse Tyson relates an anecdote that reinforces that last characteristic.

The true character of a person is revealed in the way they treat people who, by the usual standards of society, are of no importance to them whatsoever.


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this post made me think. i know lots of people who are atheists, who are very nice, kind people. i'm an atheist myself, and i think i'm a nice, kind person. none of these people, including myself, spend much or any time promoting atheism or skepticism. many of us do political activism such as human rights work, peace work, and class war.

when i've interacted with people whose main activism was promoting atheism, such as the various speakers at the humanist society at my old university, i've found they're not so nice. not that they're mean people, just that they're self-important, elitist and dismissive of other people's opinions and tastes. i'm not talking about attitudes towards superstition - it doesn't bother me when that is treated dismissively. i mean attitudes based on cultural differences.

i particularly remember one invited speaker lecturing on classical music and speaking contemptuously of rock music. i remember thinking that if the organization's hero, bertrand russell, had attended one of these meetings, he would probably leave and join a group of political activists on campus instead. which is just what i did.

these experiences left me with the impression that among people who are strong advocates of atheism, there is a tendency to arrogance similar to that of many religious evangelists. that's why i was not *too* surprised by your post on sexism in the atheist community.

hopefully i'm wrong and my limited experiences do not generalize.

Posted by Uri on October 2, 2011 10:17 AM

One may be able to argue that there is a lot of brusqueness, arrogance and confrontation from atheists towards the religious (e.g. Christopher Hitchens).

But what you DO NOT hear is calls for the religious to be controlled or watched (re: Mike Stahl calling for an "atheist registry", similar to how jews had to once register) or to be violated (re: Randall Terry's call for a "wave of intolerance") or blame falsely laid upon religious groups (re: Pat Roberston blaming gays for 9/11 and hurricanes).

Compare the average behaviour of atheists to that of the religious and it's not even close.


Posted by P Smith on October 2, 2011 02:07 PM

Atheists skepticism and arrogance pales in comparison to religion's intolerance and general attitude of exclusion.

Posted by Louisville Real Estate on October 2, 2011 03:54 PM

Wow. What a beautiful story about Carl Sagan. And how fortunate for Neil deGrasse Tyson to have met him.

Posted by Tim on October 2, 2011 08:42 PM

P Smith and Louisville,

Quote: Compare the average behaviour of atheists to that of the religious and it's not even close.

Quote: Atheists skepticism and arrogance pales in comparison to religion's intolerance and general attitude of exclusion.

I dunno!!!!

Stalinism and Maoism were both atheistic ideologies, and those guys murdered TENS OF MILLIONS......more than Hitler even!

So much for tolerance and good behavior on the part of THOSE atheists!!

The truth is, in every basket of apples, you'll find a few rotten ones, so don't assume that a basket of atheistic apples is different from any other.

Posted by MAJ Ryon F. Adam on October 3, 2011 01:15 AM

What a beautiful story about Carl Sagan, indeed.
As a teacher, I am humbled.

Posted by Peggy on October 3, 2011 04:49 PM

Wonderful and inspiring video.

I'd like to invite Uri to some meetups of The Cleveland Skeptics or the Cleveland Freethinkers (just google us!) and just hang out and have a good time with some atheists and skeptics and broaden your experiences. I think it would be the intellectually honest thing to do.

Posted by G on October 3, 2011 11:23 PM

This makes it all the more appropriate that Neil is working on the next Cosmos series. I'm looking forward to it.

Posted by Ray V on October 4, 2011 12:33 AM

Yawn. More typical religitard ignorance and dishonesty from a never-was pretending to be a soldier.

Communism is an ideology. Religion is an ideology. The reason they hate each other so much because they are so similar, doing the exact same things and having the exact same goals.

Atheism is an absence of ideology, in case the religitard is too educationally and mentally challenged to grasp the concept. Uncountable numbers of crimes have been committed in the name of ideologies, but no one has ever committed crimes in the name of atheism.


Posted by P Smith on October 4, 2011 05:48 PM