Ray Comfort takes on Billy Joel with William Paley (again)… oh and also Billy Joel is stupid too.
Several sites have posted blurbs about Ray Comfort’s new blog taking on a new popular atheist every week, and last week it was Billy Joel. Here’s a link to Pharyngula, because I don’t want to link directly to Comfort’s place.
Basically, Comfort argued that the song “Piano Man” was authored by Joel, all art has an artist, therefore nature has an author and by the way it’s the Christian God. Pardon the ridiculous paraphrasing, but that’s essentially what Ray Comfort said – it’s what Ray Comfort always says. I don’t really find it necessary to go over that old, tired ground with Ray, it’s so played out and beyond futile.
I think what more interests me about this “story” is that Billy Joel seems to be a non-believer and that he might not be the right kind of non-believer. Based on some comments from atheists about the epic Comfort/Joel battle, I infer that a lot of people think Joel doesn’t have the atheist credentials to be taken seriously, or even engaged in a debate by Ray Comfort. PZ’s somewhat dismissive tone of his description of Joel as “that giant of the atheist movement” would be one such dismissive comment. I’m not admonishing PZ and others for this sort of insular atheistic attitude. I actually support it and have defended it to others that say that Freethought Blogs and PZ Myers’ type of atheist “fundamentalism” is hurting the cause.
But there is an enormous “BUT” in there. I think this type of insular attitude is a necessary but not sufficient aspect in non-believers gaining access to the social/political culture at large. Exclude no one. If non-believers are going to have a “voice”, then I believe that voice needs to have the opportunity to be as varied and representative as any other group of people. I don’t think one can categorize any group of people as having 100% overlap in ideology, approach, opinion, etc. Is that kind of not what we want to avoid in society?
This is not an accommodationist argument I’m trying to make here. On the spectrum of “militant atheist” to “accommodationist” I personally and unequivocally fall well on the side that is not-accommodationist in nature. This isn’t even an argument that falls somewhere in between those two groups (the accommodationists and not-accommodatists). The main point I want to make is that coming to the philosophical and/or practical decision to be a non-believer comes in so many varieties, it’s best not to assume anything about anyone and certainly not exclude them from what I see as a process.
I have personally made the very long journey from believer whose life revolved around my Christian beliefs (it wasn’t my fault, I was a poor kid!), to an atheist who believes that religion is intellectually, socially, psychologically, and culturally destructive. But that didn’t happen over night, and I’ve heard atheist testimony after atheist testimony that they had to make a similar journey. All along the way to make that journey, I was in a different place in my thinking. Some people stop short of where I landed, some perhaps go beyond where I landed, and still others may unfortunately retreat back to religion.
I, for one, am glad the atheist and/or skeptical community even has enough people and voices to have such a spectrum and diversity. I’m glad for all the following people (and more!), even if they do sometimes (often) shit on each other: *PZ Myers, John Loftus, Rebecca Watson, Chris Mooney, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Victor Stenger, Chris Rodda, Abbie Smith, Jerry Coyne, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Novella, Hemant Mehta, Paula Kirby, Michael Shermer, Massimo Pigliucci, Reginald Finley, Ophelia Benson, Sam Harris, Jay Novella, D.J. Groethe, Penn Jillette, Bob Novella, Dan Barker, Evan Bernstein, Derek Calunduno, Phil Plait, Daniel Dennett, and yes… Billy Joel also. Especially Billy Joel.
I’m guessing Billy Joel doesn’t have the same flavor of atheism I have, but I think that’s okay. The guy is such a superstar (150 million albums!) and reaches such a broad audience, the fact that someone, anyone of his magnitude is out there even willing to commit to atheism in a public way has value. Yeah, so he may or may not make sophisticated, philosophical atheist arguments (I don’t know that he doesn’t or can’t it’s a preliminary assumption shared by some of us based off these comments in an interview). Guess what? Popular culture isn’t sophisticated and the reality of the situation is atheism needs a deep and wide reach into popular culture if it is eventually going to have an impact on that culture. I’m not concerned if Billy Joel isn’t sophisticated in his atheism we’ve got other folk for that. There are valuable cultural roles to be played by everyone. People live and travel at different times and different places on the belief spectrum and different flavors of atheism can speak to different people at different times.
Again, I’m appreciative of all the voices and all the diversity we offer. No exclusion.
*Note: This list totally quick and off the cuff, apologies for all the omissions. There are dozens and dozens of more names I could have listed off the top of my head, and dozens more if I actually thought about it for awhile. That’s the point! We have people now, we have numbers, we have diversity, that’s something to be celebrated!