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Christine Maggiore Doesn’t Stand a Prayer with the Atheists

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Introduction

The following exchange is between Christine Maggiore and Stuart Bechman, President of Atheists United (AU). Maggiore wrote to Bechman after reading his report in the AU news journal "Rational Alternatives" on the controversy that erupted following her 10 minute presentation, "AIDS: Faith or Science?" given to Bechman's group.

Christine Maggiore

Hi Stuart,

It appears from your article in the October issue of Rational Alternatives (Controvery Erupts Over AIDS Walk) that there was quite a response to my brief presentation. I thought your comments calling for a commitment to knowledge and reason in areas of opinion outside atheism showed a great degree of integrity.

I wonder if the angry and upset people visited any of the web sites to learn more about the topic.

I also wonder with all the furor my introduction to this topic inspired if I am still on the books to speak for Atheists United in January. Will you please confirm when you have an opportunity?

It may be of interest to know that I just returned from a speaking engagement at the Concord School of Philosophy near Boston. The audience there--mostly students and professors of philosophy, literature and economics--had a resoundingly positive reaction to my talk which continued on at a local pub well into the night. You might also be interested to know something I learned during the post-presentation chats: most people in attendance considered themselves Christians.

I would have expected the more open minds to be found among those in your group. Do you have any thoughts on this?

With thanks for taking a brave stand for rationality,

 

Christine

Stuart Bechman, Atheists United

Hi Christine,

Thanks for your comments to my article.

I will be frank with you and say that the board has stepped in with a pending motion to overrule me and rescind the invitation to you for the January meeting. The voting is not yet completed, but I am not optimistic that it will be defeated. But at least you had the opportunity to raise some questions at our last meeting that many of our members had no idea were being asked.

I have personally struggled with how to evaluate the claims you presented. I have looked at the websites that were included in your handouts, as well as conducted a Google search on the matter. I will say that I was impressed with the credentials of some of anti-HIV skeptics mentioned in the articles. On the other hand, since your presentation, I have been inundated with websites and articles from our members on the, what would we call it, the "pro-HIV" side?

I have also contacted members of our Independent Investigations Group (IIG), a group which specializes on separating fact from error. They, too, tell me that while the controversy might have had some merit in the 1980's when we seemed to make absolutely no effort in combating AIDS, none of them feel like the issue of AIDS being caused by HIV is really open to question anymore. They point to the number of articles over the past couple of decades in medical journals and popular science magazines that brought this controversy to light, as well as the progress that has been made in reducing mortality and improving the quality of life in AIDS patients; and while one might argue whether the authors of those articles gave a fair presentation of the controversy, the IIG people remind me that had there been any validity to the arguments you presented, we would have expected to see a cumulative building of studies and supporters since the controversy first surfaced in favor of your arguments. Yet this hasn't happened: The group of anti-HIV skeptics has basically remained static since the controversy first arose. In addition, the anti-HIV articles and websites that I read did seem to primarily rely on 1980s data, I did not note any new research that lent further credibility to the anti-HIV side.

I tell you all of this so you can make appropriate plans and won't be caught off-guard if/when I call to cancel the January presentation. At the very least, I had hoped that this would have provided an opportunity for our members to understand and practice how to evaluate both sides of a claim. It doesn't look like this is going to be the opportunity to have that happen.

 

Stuart

Christine Maggiore

Hi Stuart,

Thank you for your reply and again for taking an stand on the importance of skepticism and truth seeking. While I find your personal stance encouraging, I am disappointed that members of your group do not embrace this process outside the context of atheism.

I had heard years ago that the official atheist position agreement with general consensus on AIDS, something that surprised me given that atheism, like science, is supposed to be about questioning preconceived notions and looking beyond popular ideology. I think it's interesting to consider that using popular opinion as a guide to what's correct would make atheism itself an invalid view.

I am also surprised by your remark that the web sites you visited have information from the 1980s. Going through the links I listed for your group, I see very recent items. For example, just about everything at the Rethinking AIDS site is new (including the site itself). References to the 1980s there are in articles from the archives section. One recent item posted is "Correcting Gallo," a very informative paper from June 2006 which responds to critics of a highly publicized article on the failure of AIDS research. The original article (AIDS and The Corruption of Science) appeared in the March 2006 issue of Harper's and the November issue contains a new letter on the continuing debate.

Similarly, the Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society's home page begins with a September 2006 news item on how orthodox AIDS science now acknowledges that viral load testing has no predictive value, something AIDS skeptics pointed out many years ago. This is followed by seven items from August 2006.

At the site of The Perth Group, one of the first papers to pop up is a 2006 response to a 2006 article by Nathan Geffen of the Treatment Action Group in South Africa.

The news at the Alive & Well site was updated just last month, and scrolling down one finds a very recent piece from a UK business journal on HIV testing.

The articles I copied for your group are also from 2006, including the one I wrote on AIDS in Africa which was recently requested for inclusion in a newly printed college text.

There is also a direct and recent rebuttal to the claims about AIDS “denialism” made by the US government, an entity I thought more atheists would regard with some skepticism–especially given recent revelations about how faith in unfounded claims led to the war in Iraq.

If being current is the atheist standard for judging the validity of view point, it may be worth noting that the most recent HIV tests cite findings from 1984 as validation of their alleged specificity. It would be interesting to hear from atheists why the use of 22 year old information is acceptable in this case.

It seems to me, and sadly so, that despite gathering under the masthead “Rational Alternatives”, there is a remarkable lack of willingness among atheists to consider rational alternatives to consensus views on AIDS.

I will be interested to know if enough of a collective open mind exists to allow the January talk to occur as planned. Please keep me posted.

With appreciation,

 

Christine

Stuart Bechman

Hi Christine,

OK, it's official. It is my profound regret to inform you that the board of Atheists United did vote to rescind my invitation to you to come speak to our group at Center for Inquiry / West on Sunday, January 28, 2007.

Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me and to speak at our August AU meeting. Good luck in your ongoing ventures to seek and promote the truth.

 

Stuart Bechman
Atheists United co-president

© Copyright May 18, 2009 by Rethinking AIDS.