Dave Silverman is on a Roll August 20, 2010

Dave Silverman is on a Roll

Dave Silverman, the spokesperson for American Atheists, is all over the media the past couple days.

A couple appearances stand out in particular:

He appeared on FOXNews yesterday to discuss the recent Utah Memorial Crosses. It took a while before he could get some words in opposite Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff but Dave nailed him toward the end (7:45 mark):

Dave also appeared in a Nightline webcast on the subject “Is Atheism A Positive Force in America?

(There’s Nightline for you: they know atheist-themed episodes generate way more hits to their website than other topics, so they’re going straight to the Internet with this one.)

Dave was informally debating Jeff Field, Communications Director for Bill Donohue‘s Catholic League. Field was completely out of his element:

This is what a good communicator can do — make our points strongly and cleanly without allowing the opponents’ crazy talk steer you off course. Dave responds to what they say but always brings it back to the points he wants to make.

Kudos to Dave for the strong showings. Here’s hoping we see more atheist spokespeople like him in the future.

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  • Hitch

    Interesting to see both of these because they are very different. In the first David hardly got a word in, but that showed he can handle that and he did manage to get his key point in when it matters most, which is the most important.

    The other is different. Frankly Jeff Field should not be communications director for any organization. He doesn’t have a straight story or a way to deliver it. It’s actually sad to see. David really dominated that one and the moderator had to step up to play the opposite side.

    In any case David is excellent. He delievers key aspects in a very clear way, makes good demarkation of intolerant things (“In no god we trust”) and pluralist tolerance and so forth. Really good to have as a spokesman.

  • Sackbut

    Dave nailed him toward the end

    Dave nailed him on the crosses, eh? 🙂

  • gettingfree

    This was nice to see. I am a regular donor to SCA, SSA and FFRF right now. I think I will add American Atheists to my donation list because after seeing this I have confidence in Dave Silverman being able to represent my views. Very impressive.

    (Agree with previous poster, Jeff Field was embarrassingly bad. Hard to watch.)

  • Steve

    Those crosses are indeed ridiculously oversized. Of course it’s hard to draw a line somewhere, but I think the court was right to note that size does matter in this case.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Host: “But people put up roadside crosses all over the country…

    People, yes on private land. The government, on public land, no. That’s a very important distinction on constitutional questions.

  • Neruda

    WOW. I actually felt very sorry for Jeff Field – not for his ideas – still not sure what those are. But that was hard to watch. SOOOO uncomfortable. Please, get this man some media training, and some experience. To send him out there like that was just cruel.

  • Justin

    Communications Director? The guy is a failure at it. he can’t coherently outline a point (not too sure he has one), he tries to speak fast (and trips over himself in the process) and has a weak voice.

    In contrast, Silverman makes solid points, regardless if you agree with him or not (I do), he is sticking firmly to his position, doesn’t give in to provocation and doesn’t loose his cool, acts confidently and calmly, and has a tv anchor voice. In other words – a real pro. Thumbs up to the American Atheists.

  • Syliathin

    This may not be the appropriate spot but my hometown is in a Ten Commandments on the town square debate and the local paper has a poll. I thought maybe some of the horde might help me swing the vote. Thanks all in advance.

  • Wow. That was great. I actually felt a little sorry for Jeff Field as well. It sucks to be just completely owned (oh, so owned!) in any argument, let alone one put forth for public consumption. I gotta wonder if maybe he’s the second stringer or something like that. Maybe the first guy got sick, they pulled this dude out of the mail room and stuck him on Nightline. A hearty pat on the back to Dave Silverman. He spoke strongly, clearly laid out his points, and just…well, owned. Count it!

  • Being a resident in Utah, I’ve had my issues with Mark Shurtleff on various cases that have come across his desk. He doesn’t get the issue. He’s part of the majority party and religion here and he’s simply missing the point. It’s government sanctioned of a religious symbol. And as David Silverman points out (rather nicely, I might add) that Jewish symbols are used in place of the cross, which means that the cross doesn’t need to be used and can be replaced with a secular symbol (like a rock monument used in other states).

  • I’ve just watched the debate with Jeff Field. I want to get something straight … Jeff Field is the Communications Director for the Catholic League? He’s the person in charge of communicating their message with the public? So why did he come over as a babbling buffoon? Not saying he is, but that’s how he appeared in the debate. Surely your Communications Director should actually be good at communicating. Don’t get me wrong, put me in-front of a camera that’s broadcasting to millions and I’d be a gibbering wreck, but I’m not a Communications Director. Oh well, at least David completely beat him.

  • Benoit

    Amazing… David is essentially saying “I dare you to read your own holy book – we win”, and the other side doesn’t even try to challenge him.

  • JSweet

    Please call Jeff Field and let him know what a terrible job he did and to please consider resigning his position:

    Jeff Field, Director of Communications, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, 212-371-3191, catalyst@catholicleague.org

  • The Fox News talking head tried to scare people about how this will have national implications, because a lot of people put up those crosses. Yes, they do–and if they’re private citizens, go right ahead. I have no quarrel with that. If you use government funds for it, then I have a problem with it.

  • In the first clip, the guy is actually arguing that the cross—the f-ing cross—is not a religious symbol. Wow. Isn’t it, like, the most recognizable religious symbol on the planet? If that’s not the universal symbol for Christian belief, then what is!?

  • sc0tt

    Agree – Silverman is excellent.

    I’m afraid Fox won’t invite him back if he’s too good.

  • Oh, and I hereby declare Jeff Field to be the most defenseless creature I’ve seen that wasn’t an actual baby seal. Yeah, really formidable organization you have there, Mr. Donohue.

  • ckitching

    Jeff Field should cut back on the coffee (or crack cocaine). He looked and talked like he was trying to jump out of his skin.

  • A Portlander


    Are you kidding? We want that kid to stay in the saddle! Don’t listen to these people, Jeff, they just don’t understand the subtleties of your crushing, undefeatable debate style.

    Jeff Fields: the Wimp Lo of televised rhetorical fisticuffs.

  • Aj

    I was impressed by Dave Silverman’s composure, clarity, and succinctness. Fox News doesn’t phase him! I don’t agree with him on everything there, such as that the Catholic Church excommunication of members is illegal or should be.

    Many people, including atheists, seem to have a problem with “missionaries” or “proselytism”, basically aggressive evangelicalism. It seems like trying to persuade people to change their opinions is a forbidden, at least in the realm of faith.

    In an extreme form, I saw an atheist comment on another site that they felt shame for mentioning that they are an atheist in front of “someone else’s children”, and the mother of the children gave the atheist a “look”. There are a few ideas that surround this behaviour, one is that tradition is a justification for belief, and another is that it is right for parents to control their child’s beliefs by censoring information, indoctrination, and assumed membership of a religion. A child is lied to by omission, made to repeat phrases, and told they’re a member of a religion and “this is what we believe”.

    There are differences to how atheists operate in their attempts at persuasion that should inhibit comparisons between atheists and the religious, but those with agendas against rationalism will not pay attention to this:

    a) Religions offer unsupported claims of authority, in the form of people or books, use tactics that are designed to impede reasoned consideration, appealing to emotion and taking advantage of our evolved psychology, and they target children because of their ignorance and lack of critical thinking ability. Atheists hopefully use logical arguments and evidence to persuade people, sorry to tell people this but reliable knowledge of reality isn’t based on a democracy, authority, or what you want, it’s based on evidence and logic.

    b) Religions can be intrusive or coercive in the way they push their claims. Some forms of proselytism border on harassment, such as door-to-door preaching. Religions often inject themselves into public services like a virus, such as schools, hospitals, charities, and militaries to pressure individuals and create captive audiences. Atheists use books, blogs, and public events such as conferences.

  • Actually, mr. Fields lends credence to the popular rumor that the Catholic League really is Bill Donohue with a laptop, a fax machiine and a telephone. This guy was simply a paid actor and Bill didn’t give him enough time to read the script.

  • raisedbybadgers

    Caffeeine’s point makes sense. I’ve always suspected that Shoutin’ Bill (Donohue) /is/ the Catholic League. If that poor bastard in the video is anybody’s Communications Director, I’m a friggin’ Whale Whisperer.

    But what’s up with the assertion that it is, or should be, illegal for the Catholic Church to excommunicate members who reject its doctrines? I /must/ have heard that wrong.

  • Dan W

    Wow, those are ridiculously large crosses on the sides of road there. They really didn’t give Dave Silmerman much chance to state his views in the first video, and the Utah Attorney General made a lot of ridiculous logical fallacies. Meanwhile, in the second video Jeff Field was pathetically bad, and Dave Silverman dominated in that discussion.

    Nice to see Dave Silverman managed to get his points across calmly, despite the ridiculous comments made by his opponents.

  • Anonymous

    Mark Shurtleff happily promotes/funds a Scientology detoxification program called Utah Meth Cops.

    Sharron Angle is getting a lot of publicity for attempting to promote that quackery, but Shurtleff’s actually got it up and running.

    Great to see Shurtleff challenged.

  • muggle

    Silverman was impressive. And thank him very much for the comment that, no, an endorsement of religion would be one nation under no god or in god we don’t trust on national TV. I am so sick of having to explain this to people.

    And, yes, I would oppose the government adding those things just as adamantly. Jesse Ventura pissed me off when he was in office because he kept using his office to say things like religion was a crutch. I absolutely agreed with him but felt it was wrong of him to use his office to make statements like that.

  • blueridgelady

    Silverman did a great job.

    I do like that he called the Catholic church exactly what it is (near the middle/end of the 2nd clip) and still stayed polite, and kept his cool.

    I do not agree with the moderator that atheism has tenants like religion. The best phrase I have heard about this topic I believe came from Sam Harris- “being an atheist is as much a religion as being a non-stamp collector is a hobby”.

    Not trying to coddle Jeff Field at all, but I would bet he was just really nervous that day. It’s also hard to debate a camera lens (instead of a real person).

    I know I get really nervous (quickened heart rate, thoughts get muddled) when people try to proselytize to me in public (I live in the South), maybe he feels that same way about defending his indefensible religion. Don’t cut him any slack, just saying.

  • Claudia

    That’s a communications director? Wow, I wonder what the socially inept members are like.

    @Aj I agree that different people have different approaches to nonbelief. I don’t think Silverman was trying to assert that no atheists wish to convince others of their worldview but rather that American Atheists as an organization has no such goals. This is a perfectly reasonable position, as working on getting the millions of closeted atheists Out is plenty of work all by itself.

    As for the excommunication thing being illegal, I think here he failed to communicate clearly. What I think he was trying to say is that religious organizations are not legally allowed to tell you how to vote and still keep their tax-exempt status. This is tricky of course because they are allowed to speak out on their churches position on a political issue (in this case abortion) but they cannot attack specific political figures in such a way that it would be clear that they encourage voting against them.

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