The Gnu Virus

John Loftus recently summarized the “Core Brilliant Argument in Boghossian’s Book.”
Boghossian’s “brilliant argument” begins with “The Proper Diagnosis”:

The disease is the faith virus. He argues: “Faith is an epistemology. It’s a method and a process people use to understand reality. Faith based conclusions are knowledge claims.”

So the “brilliant” argument is to cast religion as a disease and then proceed to build on a straw man. Faith is not an epistemology nor is it a “method.” Faith is a choice, an expression of will, and is built on an honest acknowledgement of the limitations of human reason and perception.

Loftus continues:

The faith virus produces what Boghossian calls “doxastic closure,” that is, belief closure. People of faith are less likely to have doxastic openness, that is, to be aware of one’s own ignorance and open to the idea they are wrong. They are less likely to revise their faith-based conclusions. They feel certain about their conclusions because that’s the nature of this virus. Faith, he argues, “taints or at worst removes our curiosity about the world, what we should value, and what type of life we should lead. Faith replaces wonder with epistemological arrogance disguised as false humility” (p. 43). He rightly argues: “When someone suffers from a doxastic pathology, they tend to not really listen to an argument, to not carefully think through alternatives, and to lead with their conclusions and work backward. The moment we’re unshakably convinced we posses immutable truth, we become our own enemy…Few things are more dangerous than people who think they’re in possession of absolute truth. Honest inquiry with sincere questions and an open mind rarely contribute to the misery of the world. Passionate, doxastically closed believers contribute to human suffering and inhibit human well-being”

Whoa! What an amazingly perfect description of New Atheists.

New atheists are typically unaware of the own ignorance and are not open to the idea they are wrong. They feel certain about their anti-religious convictions and show little curiosity about the world. They not only don’t listen to arguments, they don’t read them, yet feel confident they still have something important to say in response. They are unshakably convinced they possess truth and misguidedly purchase this sense of certainty by mislabeling their beliefs as “scientific.” Honest inquiry with sincere questions is discouraged and their minds are clearly closed.

Look, if we are to play this game, then let’s play. The problem here is not some “faith virus.” The problem is the Gnu virus. Anyone who has ever tried to dialog with a New Atheist will immediately recognize the symptoms laid out by Loftus and Boghossian are incredibly common among those infected with the Gnu virus. What’s worse, is that the Gnu virus seems to disable some aspects of the brain needed to maintain intellectual consistency. Those suffering from the Gnu virus thus often display magnificent bouts of hypocrisy, whether it be accusing others of having a closed mind or insisting that they rely solely on reason and evidence (as documented on this blog).

What Boghossian has come up with is a method to spread the Gnu virus. The “treatment” he outlines is this:

In a word, deprogramming, by creating doxastic openness within the believer. “Among the goals of the Street Epistemologist are to instill a self-consciousness of ignorance, a determination to challenge foundational beliefs, a relentless hunger for truth, and a desire to know……. The cure, Boghossian writes, produces a liberated mind: “Wonder, open-mindedness, the disposition of being comfortable with not knowing, uncertainty, a skeptical and scientific-minded attitude, and the genuine desire to know what’s true–those are the attributes of a liberated mind” (p. 138).

Once again, we see the mentally disabling effects of the Gnu virus. There is no evidence that Gnu atheists have the attributes of “a liberated mind.” On the contrary, they often come without any self-consciousness of ignorance, a determination to challenge foundational beliefs, a relentless hunger for truth, and a desire to know. Recall that according to one recent survey and analysis, “among all atheist types, the New Atheists scored highest for Narcissism, Dogmatism, and Anger. What’s more, they scored lowest when it came to agreeableness and positive relations with others.”

So how can someone who lacks the attributes of a liberated mind hope to liberate another mind? Clearly, the Gnu virus is an insidious virus, tricking its host into infecting others while deluding the host into thinking it is curing others.

So what do we have when it comes to Boghossian’s “brilliant argument?” We begin with an assertion that closed-mindedly insists on a straw man reality and then supplement it gobs of delusion and hypocrisy. That’s it.

BTW, there is one more interesting aspect of the Gnu virus (thought I would mention it before I forget). The Gnu virus causes its host to believe it is being “scientific.” This delusion is partly enabled by the manner in which Gnu leaders water-down the definition of science and partly from the need to feel superior. What this means is that the Gnu virus often leads its host into pseudoscience, which can be detected when the host misuses scientific terminology in order to sound sciencey. Loftus provides a nice illustration. Consider two of his claims:

1. “To administer the proper vaccination to the faith virus the Street Epistemologist should not attempt to change the particular beliefs of the host, but rather change the way they form their beliefs.”

2. “It will draw a lot of fire from faith-heads. But until they base what they think on sufficient evidence and quit pretending to know things they don’t know, there is no reason to do otherwise than what the good doctor has prescribed to heal our society from our faith pandemic.”

The error in #1 is in invoking a “vaccination” to treat someone already infected with a virus. Vaccinations are given prior to infection as they prevent viral infections instead of curing them.

The error in #2 is in invoking a “faith pandemic.” A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic and an epidemic is a rate of infection that exceeds what has been previously experienced. Since humans have been religious since the beginning of history, there is no evidence of any “faith epidemic.” On the contrary, if we are to take all the chest-thumping of New atheists seriously when it comes to their growing numbers, what we have is a Gnu virus epidemic.

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2 Responses to The Gnu Virus

  1. Crude says:

    The funny thing is, the recent survey actually shores up your claims here.

    If Boghossian and Loftus were sincere here, the recent Harris poll showing the people who are ‘Absolutely certain God does not exist’ should be ripe for condemnation by them. I have the funny feeling ‘doxastic openness’ isn’t really the concern at that point.

    Good catches on L’s ignorance of scientific terms he’s throwing around too.

  2. eveysolara says:

    Recall that according to one recent survey and analysis, “among all atheist types, the New Atheists scored highest for Narcissism, Dogmatism, and Anger. What’s more, they scored lowest when it came to agreeableness and positive relations with others.”

    i think you meant the “Anti-Theist typology”, i don’t think any of the participants identified as “new atheist”.

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