PZ Digs the Hole Deeper

PZ Myers tried to do some damage control concerning the whole A+ fiasco. He was asked, “Can someone explain to me what is A+?” Given all the drama, you might expect this to be a softball question.  Guess again.  PZ replied:

Nope. Lots of people can give you their opinions, but it is only starting to coalesce. There are no leaders, no organization behind it, no money, no coercive power at all. It’s entirely spontaneous. Currently it’s little more than a label.

This is hilarious.  The Gnus brag about their supposed commitment to reason and evidence, but I see no such commitment here.  I see someone coming up with a spontaneous label, probably because of emotion.  The label is put out there and people like Richard Carrier demand atheists either swear allegiance to this new symbol or consider themselves banished as immoral outcasts.  So what does this lightening rod actually mean?  The reality-based community is still trying to figure it out.  In other words, emotion took the lead, emotion divides the community, and it is up to reason to come along afterwards and rationalize it all.  And reason, in all its impotence, will simply allow the “in-crowd” to think they are right, while the outcasts will think they are right.

All of this helps to demonstrate why I think Gnu atheism is morally and intellectually bankrupt.  Yes, I know there are many Gnus who are very intelligent and can write lots of pretty sentences and fancy arguments.  They can even put this skill on display when justifying their opinions about what happened on that infamous elevator.  But so what?  I focus on how they live.  Can they practice what they preach?  Nope.  I see no commitment to reason apart from using it as a tool to rationalize what they already feel and believe.

Myers then proceeds to dig the hole deeper with his next comment.

Someone wrote:

Im in that awkward position where i do agree with most of the values and dislike the misogynist idiots but see no value or reason to mix atheism and the other values. For me atheism just is the simple disbelief and my political values stand apart from it.

That makes sense.  In fact, dozens and dozens of atheists have told me the same thing throughout the years.  You would think this would be another softball slowly lobbed to PZ.  But what does he do?  He attacks the person for being stupid:

Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.

If there is no god, if religion is a sham, that has significant consequences for how we should structure our society. You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would — but to pretend that atheism is just an abstraction floating in the academic ether is silly.

Holy smokes.  According to Myers, atheism is not simply a disbelief in God.  What PZ is telling us is that atheism is a worldview, an ideology, a set of beliefs, that all tell us how to “shape our culture.”

This is going to get very interesting.  PZ and his allies are going to tell all atheists what to think about issues with political and social consequences.  Do you think he can do this by relying on atheism?  Or will he have to smuggle in auxillary hypotheses?  And if he and his allies are unable to generate consensus among all atheists, what does that tell us about the power of reason and science?

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12 Responses to PZ Digs the Hole Deeper

  1. The Deuce says:

    A+ is that happy, magical feeling deep down inside, when you don’t believe in God!

  2. The Deuce says:

    PZ:

    Now you see, that’s just stupid. There are lots of atheists who take this blinkered stance that atheism is just one specific idea about rejecting god-belief, and it has absolutely no philosophical foundation and should have no political or social consequences. And that’s nonsense. This commenter is deluding himself as thoroughly as any god-walloper.

    What that commenter did was repeat the standard atheist response whenever someone points out the enormous crimes against humanity committed by atheists, and suggests that the penchant for such atrocities among atheist leaders might have something to do with their atheism. And PZ went and trashed it. Btw, I’d be very surprised if PZ hasn’t used the argument he just trashed himself a few times.

  3. Michael says:

    Nice connection. You’ve inspired my next posting.

  4. Bilbo says:

    You could argue over how we should shape our culture — a libertarian atheist would lean much more towards a Darwinian view, for instance, than I would….

    Irony in so many ways for so many different reasons.

  5. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    A small proportion of atheists participate in the blog-o-sphere time sinkhole. Most of us are engaged in fun and productive activities instead. See for instance the 1% rule http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%25_rule_%28Internet_culture%29

    I haven’t seen the term “Gnu atheism” before, and from what little I read of “A+” it seems to be a recent idea that some early-20s blogger had, someone who seems to have no knowledge of philosophy or any subject outside of science. This isn’t something that most atheists are going to care about.

    Acquiring an education in moral philosophy would be a good place to start for someone wishing to understand how atheists view moral issues. From there, secular humanism would be another topic to cover. There is a long tradition of thought which has nothing to do with the recent phenomenon of ignorant blabbering do-nothings on the Internet.

  6. Crude says:

    Nikolaj,

    A small proportion of atheists participate in the blog-o-sphere time sinkhole. Most of us are engaged in fun and productive activities instead.

    Perhaps, but Mike’s been pretty clear that the targets of his criticism are the New Atheists/Gnus/A+, and that he knows there’s a difference between an atheist, period, and a New Atheist.

    That said, there’s some problems with your estimation of the situation. More below.

    I haven’t seen the term “Gnu atheism” before, and from what little I read of “A+” it seems to be a recent idea that some early-20s blogger had, someone who seems to have no knowledge of philosophy or any subject outside of science. This isn’t something that most atheists are going to care about.

    Gnu was a term developed by and passed on among some pretty prominent leaders* of thew New Atheists – Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, etc. A+ is being promoted and passed around among those same groups and leaders. So it’s not like Mike is targeting the rantings of FSM1982, regular forum contributor at AtheistOutpost.com (or whatever). To put another spin on it – Richard Dawkins doesn’t seem to have knowledge of philosophy or any subject outside of science (and EO Wilson may argue, his science knowledge is out of date.) But he’s still got a sizable audience.

    There is a long tradition of thought which has nothing to do with the recent phenomenon of ignorant blabbering do-nothings on the Internet.

    No doubt, though let’s be honest: secular humanism comprises the views of a fraction of atheists. I mean, that seems to be a situation where the 1% rule is far more applicable – in some quarters it’s discussed, but by and large most don’t care about the topic.

    (* I know some dispute whether atheists have any “leaders”, but I think – given guys like PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, various atheist groups, etc, and the behavior of regulars among their sites, it’s pretty clear there’s leadership, however convoluted.)

  7. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Crude, that’s a weird construing of what I said. I mentioned secular humanism in passing as “another topic to cover”. The point was “acquiring an education in moral philosophy”. Moral philosophy is a huge subject.

    The nature of blogging and blog commenting is typified by bickering and misconstruals, one after another, back and forth, ad infinitum. Most people avoid such nonsense. The behavior of some group of Internet-addled fools has no bearing on atheism as it actually exists in real life. See for example http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

  8. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Crude, that’s a weird construing of what I said. I mentioned secular humanism in passing as “another topic to cover”. The point was “acquiring an education in moral philosophy”. Moral philosophy is a huge subject.

    The nature of blogging and blog commenting is typified by bickering and misconstruals, one after another, back and forth, ad infinitum. Most people avoid such nonsense. The behavior of some group of Internet-addled fools has no bearing on atheism as it actually exists in real life. See for example http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Zuckerman_on_Atheism.pdf

  9. Crude says:

    The behavior of some group of Internet-addled fools has no bearing on atheism as it actually exists in real life.

    …And once again, Mike and others (myself included) differentiate between the “New Atheists” and atheists in general. Believe it or not, quite a lot of these atheists don’t disappear in Real Life – they show up there.

    Take a look at the Reason Rally held this year. PZ Myers was there as a speaker, among various other Gnus. Said Rally also invited, explicitly invited, Westboro Baptist Church to attend. The footage of what went on there, the attitudes that prevailed, match these internet atheists pretty closely. As do the actions of other atheist groups (American Atheists, etc) that were in existence before the appearance of the Gnus on the scene. See the sponsors of Blasphemy Day.

    Which is why this…

    The nature of blogging and blog commenting is typified by bickering and misconstruals, one after another, back and forth, ad infinitum.

    ..is not so simple. I’ll grant you that the internet contingent isn’t representative of the whole, but at the same time the groups in question aren’t negligible.

  10. Nikolaj Mikkelsen says:

    Crude, the distinction was, as I said, between Internet-addled fools and atheism as it exists in real life. It is beside the point that you or anyone else differentiates between “New Atheists” and atheists in general.

    Also note that Sam Harris regards PZ as a “shepherd of Internet trolls”, and Harris has primary claim to the label New Atheism since its roots began with his first book.

    You weren’t specific about what was so abhorrent in this “footage” or the “actions of atheist groups”, so I am skeptical.

    The blog-o-sphere is typically about drama (this blog seems dedicated to it) and is far removed from the discipline of philosophy. The only valid way to argue against New Atheism — if that’s what you want to do — is to address the actual arguments put forth in the various books associated with New Atheism.

    I generally recommend to people that they cut back the online hours, read books, and be more constructive with their time. Blog drama may be the most fruitless activity devised by man. This is my last response.

  11. Crude says:

    Crude, the distinction was, as I said, between Internet-addled fools and atheism as it exists in real life.

    If there are large groups of atheists who strongly reject the antics of PZ Myers and company, not to mention Richard Dawkins – who expressly endorses the sort of behavior you’re complaining about, the disrespect and tone, as a means to an end – they are doing a fantastic job of hiding.

    Also note that Sam Harris regards PZ as a “shepherd of Internet trolls”, and Harris has primary claim to the label New Atheism since its roots began with his first book.

    Let’s also note that Harris said that only very recently, and he largely said it in response to Myers going on the attack against him personally. And Harris himself is pretty legendary for nasty attacks – see his attacks on Francis Collins, including in his own writings. Then compare them to the diatribes of these online atheists. Pretty damn similar.

    You weren’t specific about what was so abhorrent in this “footage” or the “actions of atheist groups”, so I am skeptical.

    “Abhorrent”? Not an appropriate word. “Acting like assholes”? More appropriate. And to start with, PZ Myers’ very presence there as a speaker goes some ways towards showing that there’s more overlap between New Atheists and those “internet-addled fools” than you seem willing to accept.

    On top of that, I pointed out that the Blasphemy Challenge was promoted by one of the major atheist groups – and it’s yet another iteration and endorsement of the same kind of behavior we find on these sites. I notice you passed by that without comment.

    The only valid way to argue against New Atheism — if that’s what you want to do — is to address the actual arguments put forth in the various books associated with New Atheism.

    This has been done to death, so much so that the Cultists of Gnu themselves rarely bother referring to those same arguments anymore – they have been obliterated. Dawkins couldn’t even understand Aquinas’ arguments enough to accurately represent them, to say nothing of the other arguments. Hitchens largely engaged in a rant, as did Harris. Dennett didn’t offer much argument either, so much as a suggestion of a way to analyze religion – and he’s fallen off most people’s radars.

    I think it’s entirely valid to discuss the behavior of the Cult of Gnu’s leadership – to see how they argue, how they act – and to question whether it’s exemplary of rationality, an adherence to reason and science, etc. It’s not very pretty.

  12. Michael says:

    Gnu was a term developed by and passed on among some pretty prominent leaders* of thew New Atheists – Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, etc. A+ is being promoted and passed around among those same groups and leaders. So it’s not like Mike is targeting the rantings of FSM1982, regular forum contributor at AtheistOutpost.com (or whatever).

    LOL!

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