Media me

By Razib Khan | February 19, 2011 10:22 am

I’ve been rather busy this week, so few posts. But, I did a with Milford Wolpoff. We talk Out of Africa, Multiregionalism, and such. Second, The New York Times profiled Secular Right, where I’m a contributor. The quotes were accurate, though I do find it amusing that the reporter refers to me as an apostate, but not John Derbyshire (who until ~5 years ago was a confessing Christian). I suspect that in this day and age the term “apostate” only has strong valence in relation to Islam. For the record, several ex-Muslims have disputed my apostasy, since I barely ever believed in the Islamic religion.


Comments (30)

  1. John Emerson

    We’ll still gonna stone you.

  2. onur

    Feeling of apostasy is conditioned on the culture you live in. I left Islam for atheism in my early teens, but I have never felt like an apostate in Turkey, but only as an ordinary atheist. Things might have been quite different if I were an ex-Muslim atheist living in Saudi Arabia.

  3. onur

    Things might have been quite different if I were an ex-Muslim atheist living in Saudi Arabia.

    or entirely different, indeed… 🙂

  4. What do you call it if an atheist becomes a religious believer?

  5. onur

    What do you call it if an atheist becomes a religious believer?

    Who do you ask? Me?

  6. I posted once didn’t come through.

    Both links interesting; did not know about the Madrassa, have you written on that experience?

  7. It’s funny you write this. Just the last two weeks, I’ve had at least three major posts (on my very atheist blog) for which I put apostasy/apostates in the title (referring to Christian apostates such as myself) and expected much more resonance with readers than I got the impression there actually wound up being. I started to wonder if ex-Christians typically identify with the label as strongly as I do.

  8. onur

    The term “apostate” has a nostalgic feel to it; it takes us back to the times when religion ruled supreme. “Atheist”, on the other hand, is apathetic and too descriptive and has a modern flavor. I prefer “godless”.

  9. omar

    btw, the currently fashionable Islamist term for a convert to Islam (from another religion or from atheism) is “revert”. The notion is that everyone is born a Muslim, they are just made something else by their parents or teachers. If they accept Islam, they “revert”….I have heard the term used more and more as modern Islamism tightens its grip on the international orthodox….I had never heard it 30 years ago in Pakistan (though the notion of everyone being Muslim by nature was always there in orthodox theology..its why Islam is “deen e fitrat”, the way of nature)

  10. Paavo

    I’m baffled how big thing atheism is in the internets. I’m an atheist, but I’ve never had an urge to read any blogs or reddit threads about atheism. My parents and some of my siblings are religious, but I’ve always felt that atheism is the default position.

    But I guess for Madrassa or Jesus Camp people it’s a different thing. But mentioning atheism is usually a sign that the mentioner or his family is or has been some sort of religious fundamentalist. Average non-believer with moderately religious family members usually don’t think it’s worth mentioning.

    Derbyshire was a confessing christian, but five years ago, at the age of 60, he became an atheist? Wow that’s weird. I wonder what was the new information that changed his mind.

  11. There seems to be preferred terms for the fallen based on religion. “Apostate” for Muslims, “Non-observant” for Jews, “Lapsed” for Catholics. I guess for Protestants, it hardly matters:)

  12. rimon

    congrats on the ny times article! that’s exciting! also, I was always curious how old you were 😉

  13. dave chamberlin

    response to #8, Razib’s two weeks in a Madrassa at age eleven.


    and I thought my one hour a week of Sunday School was a painful pile of shit. the only thing I learned was you never ever color Jesus purple. they gave us christian coloring books and so I made the son of God purple. seriously, my heart goes out to those poor kids stuck in that awful place for five to seven years, such a bleak sad story.

  14. onur

    I’m baffled how big thing atheism is in the internets. I’m an atheist, but I’ve never had an urge to read any blogs or reddit threads about atheism.

    Exactly the same feelings I have. I don’t normally think about my atheism; it just doesn’t come to my mind in daily life as it is not a big deal for me as to come to my mind in daily life. Even writing now about my atheism seems like a waste of time to me. My siblings are all atheist, my father atheist, my mother moderate and non-practising Muslim never wearing a headscarf, so atheism is certainly the default position in my family (my mother raised me and my siblings as moderate and non-practising Muslims but couldn’t prevent us from becoming atheists early on).

  15. Sandgroper

    A popular term in my part of the world when I was a kid was “free thinker” (derived from this I think it was used as a kind of a euphemism because “atheist” was such a dirty word which caused such shock and revulsion. Or maybe it was just a term used among a largely Anglican community – but certainly it came across as less shocking than “atheist”.

    Maybe a lot of lapsed Christians don’t think of themselves as apostates because they just grow out of it naturally and gradually. Maybe Derbyshire is an apostate because he swore off as a conscious act at a specific time and at an advanced age, but I just grew out of it in my teens, as I believed less what people in authority told me and began figuring everything out for myself.

    I think that happens to a lot of people. At 12 I was faithfully going off to church every Sunday by myself while the rest of my family stayed in bed. By 15 I just couldn’t believe any more. Part of that was total disenchantment with the “club”, so how much of my religiousness when I was 12 was just enthusiasm for club membership I can’t say – some. And some was participation because it was expected of me, and because I was afraid of offending. That’s a common adolescent track – you go from being enthusiastic about the rules at 11 to a real pain in the arse at about 15 or so.

    Are Muslim teenagers equally so, or are the punishments for openly rebelling worse?

    Dave, if you think Sunday School was a painful pile of sh*t (with which I agree), what about Anglican Communion? Believe me, when you are 12 years old, the last thing you need on an empty stomach at 7.00 a.m. on a Sunday is a mouthful of altar wine mixed with samples of saliva from the rest of the congregation.

  16. onur

    Are Muslim teenagers equally so, or are the punishments for openly rebelling worse?

    It depends on the culture, country, district, family, etc. you live. There are a lot differences between Muslim-majority countries in terms of attitudes towards religion and Razib covers some of them in the thread “Culture differences matter (even within Islam)”:

    My country Turkey is apparently one of the few Muslim-majority countries coming close (and more and more as time passes) to the European and American range of country averages in terms of attitudes towards religion, so Turkey isn’t representative of the average Muslim-majority country. As I said above, my turning atheist was no big deal for me, but it could be quite different in another Muslim country.

  17. Sandgroper

    onur, yes, it was a dumb question.

  18. dave chamberlin

    Milford Wolpoff is a class act. He very humbly blamed himself for not communicating better that he was in the minority in promoting multi regionalism. I am older, 58, and have have been following the battles in Anthropology for a very long time. Wolpoff was right and a lot of pompous mean people went after him in a personal and vindictive way back in the day of raging political correctness. He stood his ground and never got bitter about it as I would have. As that lovable old war criminal Henry Kissinger said “In acedemia the fights are so vicious because the steaks are so small.”

  19. The academics may be underfed in their steak-based diets, but we shouldn’t overlook the low stakes they are fighting over as well 🙂

  20. JL

    Someone should buy Prof. Wolpoff a headset. I couldn’t listen to it.

    I am gobsmacked by that madrassa story.

  21. MD

    It looked like you were biting your toungue for a bit in the middle of the interview Razib!

  22. The Bloggingheads was very, very interesting, and covered a lot of ground, or at least covered the multiregionalism/OOA thing very thoroughly. It helped that both talked very quickly and fluently. I forgave Wolpoff his sound levels: he seemed a lot more sensible than I’d realised, and it also became clear he’d somehow had his mulitregionalism position overstated. Or at least that’s what he’s saying now.

    Interesting that Ann Gibbons didn’t clarify things with him as much as he’d like before one of her recent write-ups, and it’s also interesting that Wolpoff and Stringer are even now clearly not a typical beer-sharing couple after all.

    W said repeatedly that palaeo. is very political. Who knew? 🙂 – but still useful, coming from him, for those of us who claim the social effect hugely distorts the science, decreasing of course the trustability of authorities. He said clearly enough that it would be risky career-wise to express some view or other – not because he’d disapprove, but because of others.

    W didn’t seem keen to leave the subject of multiregionalism vs OOA. RK went straight to the point on many important qs, including, after a tactful delay, “Date for Split?” Answer – 4!! Just plain 4, just like Hawks. And unlike Stringer who is still saying 5 or 6.

    Great show. Bit of a pity the Bloggingheads sesarch window finds nothing under “Wolpoff”.

    Off now for my steak… sorry, lentils.

  23. My comment above was meant to poke gentle fun at a certain class of militant atheist. Not a serious question. Derbyshire’s apostasy is interesting. As are the sudden conversions of atheists to religion. I am trying to imagine what sort of new information or thought process would lead an intelligent person, long confirmed in a particular belief system, to suddenly throw it over.

    Perhaps simply erosion.

  24. Sandgroper

    Militant atheists are tiresome, like militant anything. OTOH I don’t blame people like Heather MacDonald for getting sick of blatant hypocrisy.

    Sudden conversion – people do have ‘spiritual experiences’. Seriously.

  25. Apostate is a life endangering label in some parts of the world, e.g. Afghanistan. Is that true in Bangladesh? Do you ever worry about that?

    The Roman Catholic church makes a distinction between “heathens” and “heretics” in Christianity. People like me, who were baptized and confirmed Christians and are now atheists are heretics, while people like my children, who have never been baptized or otherwise been Christians and are secular are “heathens.” The former, apparently, are cut less slack in the afterlife than the latter.

  26. John Emerson

    ohwilleke: In some places believers don’t baptise their children for that reason. They figure that their kids will have no chance at all of making Heaven, and will be better off in Limbo than in Purgatory.

  27. Is that true in Bangladesh? Do you ever worry about that?

    not a major issue if you don’t become a public figure.

  28. dave chamberlin

    There is a lot of meat in this thread and I would like to make one more comment on it. Intellectuals just love to hammer on religion, and why not, it is more often than not full of logical holes. But I want to defend something within religion, spirituality in it’s most general sense. The feeling we are part of something greater than ourselves. Many of us love science, and not just for the sense of wonder it can leave us with, but the feeling we are all in it together beating back the fog of complexity. Science begets practical inventions which then raises mankind out of it’s malthusian misery. When religion is rotten, when acedemia acts childish, it is when we lose our sense of spirituality, our sense of being apart of something greater than ourselves and let our selfish ego take over. Ghandi had one of the coolest quotes which I want to throw in here because it makes my point. “I like Christ, I don’t like Christians, why can’t Christians be more like Christ.” To me Christ is likable because he was humble, Christians or Muslims or any religious group are full of shit when they lose their humility and think they and they alone are holders of the truth. Likewise scientists who are fighting the good fight of expanding human knowledge lose their way and become salesmen of pet ideologies when they lose their humility and let their ego get the better of themselves.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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