Philosopher/biologist Massimo Pigliucci has decided to separate himself from the atheist movement.
Apparently, this has been something that has been happening gradually, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the embarrassing behavior of Gnu activist Sam Harris:
My disengagement has been gradual and not really planned, but rather the result of an organic change of priorities and interests. It has, however, also been accelerated by a number of observations and individual incidents. The most recent one, which finally prompted me to write these reflections for public consumption, was a private email exchange between Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris, which was eventually made public by the latter .
So I began reading the exchange with trepidation, and gradually my stomach got more and more turned by what I was seeing. I invite you to put down your iPad or Kindle, or whatever you are using to read this post, and go read the exchange in full to make up your own mind about it. If your reaction is that Harris was trying to have a genuine intellectual discussion and that Chomsky was unfairly dismissive, then there probably is no point in you wasting time with the rest of this essay.
If however, like me, you come out of the reading with the impression that Harris was looking for easy publicity, that he displays an astounding combination of arrogance, narcissism and rudeness, and that Chomsky simply did what many of us perhaps should do more often, which is to not suffer fools gladly, then you may enjoy what I’m about to say next.
Pigliucci then notes that the problem is not specific to a celebrity like Sam Harris, but extends to the rest of the New Atheist movement:
The Harris-Chomsky exchange, in my mind, summarizes a lot of what I find unpleasant about SAM: a community who worships celebrities who are often intellectual dilettantes, or at the very least have a tendency to talk about things of which they manifestly know very little; an ugly undertone of in-your-face confrontation and I’m-smarter-than-you-because-I-agree-with [insert your favorite New Atheist or equivalent]; loud proclamations about following reason and evidence wherever they may lead, accompanied by a degree of groupthink and unwillingness to change one’s mind that is trumped only by religious fundamentalists; and, lately, a willingness to engage in public shaming and other vicious social networking practices any time someone says something that doesn’t fit our own opinions, all the while of course claiming to protect “free speech” at all costs.
This analysis is spot on accurate. In fact, for those who read this blog, there is nothing new here, as I have been highlighting examples of such “unpleasantness” ever since Dawkins encouraged a large crowd of his followers to mock and ridicule religious people. Of course, it has been always easy for the Gnus to dismiss my observations because I am an eeevil Christian. How do they dismiss the same observations independently coming from a highly educated atheist?
As for Pigliucci, I think there is one other factor involved in his disengagement – I think he wants to distance himself from the Gnus for the simple reason that the Gnus are embarrassing. Pigliucci seems to recognize that the Gnus are entrenching a public perception of atheists – the perception where Madalyn Murray O’Hair lives on.