Peter Boghossian’s Silly Article

New Atheist activists Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Phil Torres have a solution to the problems posed by radical Islamists:

Solutions are hard to come by. But there is a way to counter extremism that’s potentially as effective as it is unpopular. It’s a social and intellectual strategy that aims to undermine the religious beliefs that motivate jihadists—and one of the most controversial set of ideas to emerge in the West in the last quarter century: New Atheism.

Ah yes, fight extremism with extremism.  In response to ISIS, let’s label all Muslims as mentally ill child abusers and really double down on the mockery of Mohammed.  Another brilliant Gnu idea.

What’s really telling here is the admission – New Atheism is a social and intellectual strategy that aims to undermine the religious beliefs.  This explains the “ends justify the means” approach to New Atheism.  It’s a “strategy.”  We’ll have to explore this more in the future.

New Atheism emerged in direct response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks executed by al-Qaeda,

Indeed.  In other words, New Atheism emerged as an emotional reaction.  Muslim extremists commit horrific acts of terrorists and New Atheists like Richard Dawkins bravely respond by mocking Catholic grandmothers.

which demonstrated that acting upon certain religious beliefs could lead to catastrophe.

And it also demonstrated that acting upon certain socio-political beliefs could lead to catastrophe.  Let’s not forget the terrorists not only had religious motivations, but also had anti-American and anti-Western views that are not all that uncommon among Western campuses.

The movement offered a heretofore unwelcomed perspective: That every religion has negative consequences, and that even religious moderates contribute to the problem because, by affirming that faith is a legitimate reason to hold beliefs, they enable religious extremists.

Ah yes, the Rambow Effect.  I previously noted the logic of this perspective:

a moderate concern for animal welfare fuels animal rights terrorism.   Do you support your local Humane Society?  Then, according to Harris/Rambow logic, you are helping to legitimize extreme animal rights organizations and their acts of terrorism.

Boghossian continues:

In making this case, the New Atheists famously broke one longstanding taboo against criticizing a person’s faith.

Y’gotta love that self-inflated sense of revisionism.  In the Bubble of Gnu, nobody ever criticized a person’s faith until Sam Harris came along with his book.  That New Atheists continue to ignore people like Madalyn Murray O’Hair doesn’t exactly help diminish the perception that New Atheism is linked to sexism.

Look, religious people who were alive before the rise of New Atheism can tell you that no such taboo existed prior to the Gnus.

Does the Boghossian et al. article ever become something more than irrational Gnu talking points?  We’ll have to see in the next posting.

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25 Responses to Peter Boghossian’s Silly Article

  1. Korver says:

    Ah yes, I bet ISIS militants are quivering at the thought of Boghossian and Dawkins emerging over sand dunes on the backs of camels, with bushels of The God Delusion in tow.

  2. Dhay says:

    Looking back, I had a bigger nibble than I remembered:

    * A prod at Jerry Coyne for foolishly taking Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres to task with “Seriously, how many New Atheists call the faithful “delusional”? I don’t often hear that. Boo!” — there are many examples, including Coyne himself:

    * I criticised Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres for being two-faced and hypocritical:

    The two links in the response above are respectively:
    * The article is propaganda in the New Atheist war of myths.
    * Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres linked to a tweet containing a picture of someone holding up a copy of The God Delusion while overlooking Mecca — exposing that person to “draconian penalties for doing so—ranging from ten years imprisonment to death” (as the article put it.)


    There’s so much twist in the article, the problem is not whether there’s anything to criticise, it’s where to start; and it’s also where to stop. Michael’s made a start, and I’ll chip in with my own thoughts.

  3. Dhay says:

    The Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres article starts by pointedly looking at an Islamic Apocalyptic myth and how that myth has had the power to enthuse ISIS fighters to fight very fiercely indeed to retain control of … of what’s a little village in the middle of nowhere, and of no strategic value … but it’s the supposed site of the Islamic Apocalypse’s final battle.

    So the authors are very well aware of the power of myth to inspire action.

    After that comes the keynote paragraph setting the scene and tone for the remainder, and including (Do read the whole article):

    … there is a way to counter extremism … undermine the religious beliefs that motivate jihadists …

    The way to do that comes soon after; and it’s not just a way to undermine jihadists:

    … every religion has negative consequences, and that even religious moderates contribute to the problem because, by affirming that faith is a legitimate reason to hold beliefs, they enable religious extremists.

    The solution is to undermine religious moderates — religious moderates in general, of every religion. That’s to say, the article says it’s going after Islamic extremism (and immediately invokes ISIS as the exemplar) but quickly sneaks in moderates, indeed moderates in all religions — Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres are using bait-and-switch tactics to actually attack religion in general instead of just Islamic and justify their attack .

    That religious moderates “enable” religious extremists, that is a New Atheist myth; it’s in Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, and it’s in his later The Virus of Religious Moderation blog post, originally a The Times article, both of these badly argued, and basically relying on the alleged truth that moderate Christians (etc) are only moderate because they are ignorant of the Bible (etc) — the Only True Christian is a fundamentalist. Yeah, yeah, tell your readers a story they want to hear, and they’ll lap it up uncritically and then go on and enthusiastically criticise those stupid, stupid Christians themselves. It’s myth, it’s mere noise, but it’s what they want and it keeps them going.

    I note in passing that moderate Christians in the USA and in even more moderate Britain are violently opposed to ISIS — that’s violently by bombing, proxy armies etc. Er, “enabling”?

    There’s also:

    The way ahead requires being able to speak honestly about religion,

    Not just Islamic extremism, not just Islam, not extremism in general — now the problem to be solved “honestly” is religion in general. Bait and switch.

    And they propose to “speak honestly about religion” to the religious — but actually, I think, dishonestly to their own peanut gallery, it being New Atheist propaganda that New Atheists speak honestly about religion — in:

    candid dialogue about deep-rooted conflicts between reason and faith

    Ah, the New Atheist myth of “deep-rooted conflicts between reason and faith”, which relies upon misrepresenting faith as fideism — which misrepresentation keeps the peanut gallery feeling good and feeling spuriously superior, but is misrepresentation — and upon maintaining ‘doxastic closure’ (as Boghossian calls it) when the error is pointed out. A candid dialogue (ie two-way) would severely criticise the arrogance and ignorance — pig-ignorance — of anyone making such a claim.

    And again, this is aimed not at Islamic extremists (who are hardly going to enter into dialogue with New Atheists), it’s not aimed at Islam, it’s not aimed at extremism in general (same problem) — now the problem to be solved by “candid dialogue” is religion in general. Bait and switch.

  4. Dhay says:

    The Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres article title, How to Fight Extremism with Atheism and the subtitle, How a new form of atheism can combat jihadists who wish to end the world might or might not have been chosen or approved by the authors, or even imposed with their pre-knowledge, so I’ll comment on them briefly, including noting that Jerry Coyne’s review of the article found no fault in the title and subtitle worth mentioning, and presumably approved; and from the absence of any comment showing up in Google, neither did the authors take issue with the title or sub-title either.

    “How to fight extremism …”, “… can combat jihadists … — that’s openly fighting talk, suggesting Korver’s delightful Lawrence of Arabia type image above.

  5. Dhay says:

    Let’s combine and paraphrase that title and subtitle: How New Atheism can fight Islamic extremism. Presumably we are meant to read, can and will, and will triumph; it will triumph because although the authors acknowledge that …

    Solutions are hard to come by.

    … they then immediately tell us:

    But there is a way to counter extremism that’s potentially as effective as it is unpopular. It’s … New Atheism.

    Wow! Going by the unpopularity polls (of mere atheists — I cannot imagine New Atheists having anything but a worse reputation), and also by the article’s internal evidence of how New Atheists behave and are perceived, New Atheism has to be very effective indeed! **

    Well, they’re talking up its effectiveness but … is it? Perhaps not: having (merely) asserted it is effective, the article goes on to tell us:

    New Atheist ideas … have percolated into closed, traditional Muslim societies … New Atheist writings … have helped sow seeds of doubt and dissent.

    Ah, merely “percolated”, and “helped” merely sow “seeds” — seeds which have thrived? Probably not:

    New Atheism may have inched into the Islamic world, but it has not found deep roots.

    Got that, merely “inched” into the Muslim world. And it has “not found deep roots” — the Parable of the Sower comes to mind: “… since they had no root, they withered away.” New Atheism is, on their own account, ineffective.

    And its current approach isn’t well-suited to further penetrate Muslim societies.

    New Atheism is not just ineffective, it’s doomed to remain ineffective unless it changes its ways.

    Is atheism (let alone New Atheism) a potent force for change in Islamic societies?

    Atheism, Ali points out, is a logical step that comes after Enlightenment values like rationalism and tolerance, and the liberties of a free, open and secular society are in place.
    [Emphasis original.]

    No, it is a “step that comes after” change is already “in place.”

    Oh, and it’s not the current New Atheism (the “current approach isn’t well-suited to further penetrate Muslim societies”) that’s needed:

    A matured New Atheism is needed …

    Looks like atheism is a logical step that comes after the needed matured (ie changed, revised) New Atheism has come about.

    But there is a way to counter extremism that’s potentially as effective as it is unpopular. It’s … New Atheism.

    There is a way? No, this article functions as a call for New Atheism to change before it has a hope of becoming “effective” in dialogue with religious people in general; and it won’t be effective at promoting change in Muslim societies in particular until change has already taken place; its claimed hopes or expectations (“potentially effective”) of deconverting the Islamic apocalyptic extremists in ISIS are, I suggest, a mere pipe-dream, and would fail to get a pass from the Advertising Standards Authority.


    ** Oh, and New Atheists are now probably utterly hated by that atheist guy at Mecca they linked to, who promptly deleted his Twitter post.

    Digressing a little on that topic, I reflect that Sam Harris would regard whatever “draconian penalties” — ten years to death — might or did happen to that guy as a result of the Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres article, those draconian penalties would be just collateral damage in the well-intentioned New Atheist war against Apocalyptic ISIS; that guy just happened to be too close (2,088.6 km via Route 5, says Google) to Dabiq, Syria, the supposed site of the apocalyptic battle, he was just asking for it, wasn’t he; and the good intentions of Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres make the collateral damage fully OK, with or without a Harris type token nod of regret, eh.

  6. Dhay says:

    Note that the Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres article proposes that apocalyptic Islam should be opposed by … yes, you guessed it, by the Four New Atheist Horsemen of the apocalypse:

    Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer

    OK, it’s three and a wannabee, the fourth having died, and I’ve never seen any explanation of this strange idea of Four New Atheist Horsemen of the apocalypse — or is it Four Horsemen of the New Atheist apocalypse; but the authors made the three up to Four, so the image projected of apocalyptic battle between ISIS and New Atheists is both obvious and surely intentional.

    Add in the authors’ idea that New Atheists have got things wrong and need to change, and you have another Biblical image: “Repent, for the Kingdom of New Atheism is nigh.”

    To which the obvious rejoinder is: “You brood of vipers! … Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” I’ll personally believe New Atheists have repented of their bad ways — “calling religious people delusional, for example” — when they change; can you, for example, honestly envisage Boghossian ceasing to call religious people delusional.

  7. Dhay says:

    New Atheist Hemant Mehta acknowledges and accepts the Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres accusation of New Atheists using condescending speech, but then doubles down:

    They’re not necessarily wrong about condescending speech, but as we’ve heard many times before, there’s no nice way to tell people their sacred beliefs have no basis in reality. Given the alternatives, saying the beliefs are “delusional” is probably one of the kinder ways of putting it.

    And this is only a day after Jerry Coyne, commenting on this same Time article, wrote, “Seriously, how many New Atheists call the faithful “delusional”? I don’t often hear that. Boo!” Coyne evidently doesn’t get out much.

    Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres also double down: “The next chapter in New Atheism will require a more nuanced, if not gentler, pen.” Ah yes, more nuanced — what they mean in practice is left unclear — but not gentler.


    The way ahead requires being able to speak honestly about religion, and New Atheism has been the most effective cultural effort to broker this conversation. Its endeavors going forward, however, must recognize the humanity in religion while maintaining a candid dialogue about deep-rooted conflicts between reason and faith.

    Doesn’t that just drip with condescension.

    No hope of the required changes then, no hope of the advent of the “matured New Atheism [that] is needed more today than ever before”: they’re stuck in their old, their immature ways.

  8. Dhay says:

    > The Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, for example, has been downloaded ten million times

    Perhaps. Yet I note that famous and infamous books get read simply because they are famous or infamous. The God Delusion certainly falls in that category. And if you are a Muslim wanting to know how those nasty New Atheists are attacking your religion, beliefs and culture, what better book to buy — or even better, to download for free. Here’s a link which downloads the free pdf.

    Its in Arabic, of course, and you download as soon as you click, so it may be that some downloads were accidental while seeking more information about the Arabic translation, rather than from seeking out the translation itself:

    I confess to having bought the book, in curiosity, and still have it for reference. But when I am dragged into charity shops, where now-unwanted clothing, furniture, books etc are recycled for the profit of a charity, and I idly wait at the bookshelves, prominent by frequency of appearance among the books are those in the outgrown Harry Potter series, the apparently badly written Fifty Shades of Grey series, and The God Delusion.

  9. Dhay says:

    The bottom line, once you discard the condescending bluster about having a “candid dialogue”, is that the strategy to combat jihadists/ISIS/apocalyptic extremists, and which they claim can combat jihadists etc, is to create ex-Muslim New Atheists:

    To that end, New Atheists have begun reaching out to collaborate with moderate Muslims and, arguably more importantly, ex-Muslims. Many of those former Muslims have become New Atheists and gone back into their communities to advocate for reform.

    There’s a token nod to collaboration with moderate Muslims, no nod at all to ex-Muslim mere atheists — who are probably not vociferous enough to advocate/agitate strongly enough for the authors’ liking — it’s ex-Muslim New Atheists the authors want, and on whom they pin their hopes.

    It’s ironic that Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres and other New Atheists should be “saying there are unique dangers associated with jihad, such as martyrdom.” An advocate/agitator for New Atheism in a traditional Islamic country is like an advocate/agitator for market capitalism in a communist country — think Stalin’s USSR. I would say that one result of New Atheist ‘advocacy’ is quite likely to be New Atheism martyrs.

  10. Dhay says:

    Not that the Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres are targeting ISIS or other Islamic extremists; as pointed out above, they are against all religious people, including moderates, and including those moderate Muslims they would “collaborate” with.

    Personally, I reckon moderate Muslims are far more likely to collaborate with moderate Christians and moderate atheists, rather than with those other extremists, the New Atheists. Ex-Muslim New Atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali is on record as very clearly and unambiguously and emphatically stating she wants to “crush” Islam — see several paragraphs near the bottom at:
    And New Atheist Sam Harris tells us — 2006 Edge Question response — “Science Must Destroy Religion.”

    This is not the language of “can combat jihadists who wish to end the world”, this is the language of eradicating religion — all of it — immoderate and moderate alike..

    Jerry Coyne takes this blanket targeting of moderates to an extreme, hating and opposing accommodationists™ and accommodationism™, ie anyone and everyone who reckons religion is OK to rub along with — especially when said accommodationists™ are atheists.

  11. Dhay says:

    > The [New Atheist] movement offered a heretofore unwelcomed perspective: That every religion has negative consequences, and that even religious moderates contribute to the problem because, by affirming that faith is a legitimate reason to hold beliefs, they enable religious extremists.

    It’s a shame that some prominent New Atheists have so quickly forgotten the Joseph McCarthy era, and McCarthy’s communists and ‘commie-sympathisers’ witch hunt; or perhaps they want to copy it, with themselves as the witch hunters and with religious and ‘religion-sympathisers’ substituted.

  12. Dhay says:

    > > The Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, for example, has been downloaded ten million times

    Apparently the book has now been in publication for ten years. In his 02 October 2016 blog post entitled “Atheists Reflect on the Impact of The God Delusion Ten Years After Its Release” Hemant Mehta solicited puff pieces from the usual suspects.

    Jerry Coyne tells us:

    Dawkins’s fame as a writer and scientist, combined with his accessible and lyrical prose, made millions of people re-examine their beliefs in the supernatural — with many of them then rejecting it. The evidence can be seen on Richard’s “Converts Corner” website, where hundreds of people have written to say …

    And as evidence he links to the RDF “Converts Corner” page. I followed the link, and found that there’s a mere four convert letters for 2016 so far:

    Four. I call that damned by faint praise.


    I seem to be the only person responding here. Is there a Shadow to Light convention going on, and nobody invited me?

  13. TFBW says:

    Sorry, Dhay, I found that article to be so full of self-admiration and so devoid of actual substance that it’s beneath critical analysis. You’ve done a fine job of pointing out its many obvious flaws, though.

  14. Dhay says:

    > found that there’s a mere four convert letters for 2016 so far

    A longer glance tells me it’s four convert letters in the last 13 months. Richard Dawkins is hardly getting many, is he.

    There are five letters for the last 12 months in the separate “Fan Mail” section. I note, though, that the 22 December “Kindest regards from Australia” letter from a Jack Holmes, which states that Dawkins and other New Atheists “inspired me to pursue life as an academic at the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia).” Academic my foot, the guy’s a student there, academia a spotty-faced kid’s distant dream; you just cannot take letters to the RDF/Richard Dawkins at their face value:

    Not that the RDF/Dawkins is getting many letters: the last Converts’ Corner letter was May 2016, the last Fan Mail letter March 2016, the last Disagreement and Oddities letter February 2014, the last Ugly letter September 2013 (not found via the menus, but buried at and the last Hate Mail letter was received as far back as May 2013 — do remember this three-year dearth of obnoxious mail, and do remember to question Dawkins’ veracity and integrity when he puts out his next Hate Mail video reading his, er, new hate mails.

  15. Dhay says:

    Hemant Mehta got replies from a number of people to fill out his “Atheists Reflect on the Impact of The God Delusion Ten Years After Its Release” post. He did get snubbed by one person, though:

    Dawkins himself did not respond to interview requests, but he’ll soon be going on a U.S. tour to discuss his career and books. We wish him the best.

  16. Dhay says:

    TFBW > Sorry, Dhay, I found that article to be so full of self-admiration and so devoid of actual substance that it’s beneath critical analysis.

    “Devoid of actual substance” is bang on; but is to be expected: Street Epistemology (following Peter Boghossian as inventor) emphasises focusing relentlessly and solely upon discussing the method (epistemology) by which the interlocutor reached their conclusions; the Guide (P.20) tells the Epistemologists to “Guide the dialogue away from:” (various things including) “facts” and “apologetics”, which can be re-phrased as, don’t get entangled with evidence and reason.

    Boghossian is the guru of the idea of focusing on “epistemology” instead of evidence and reason, and from the scattering of “epistemological”, “good epistemology” to be found in Phil Torres’ recent articles, Torres is evidently a disciple. Non-disciples talk in the time-honoured way about having plain, old-fashioned good reasons, not in Boghossian-speak about having a good epistemology.

  17. Dhay says:

    Time has now published a direct response by Qasim Rashid, entitled “A Strong Muslim Identity Is the Best Defense Against Extremism” to the Boghossian/Lindsay/Torres “silly” article which has been the subject of this thread. It starts:

    Since 9/11, “reforming” Islam under the guise of combatting extremism has become increasingly financially lucrative. More than $57 million has been spent to promote fear of Islam and Muslims. And it seems like everyone’s an expert—including those who have no actual education or scholarship on Islamic jurisprudence. … … For example, a recent TIME piece argues that New Atheism, which emerged post 9/11, is the solution to extremism and violence in the Muslim world because it allegedly speaks “honestly about religion.”

    Rashid links to “a 2012 study analyzing the top 25 most popular anti-Muslim activists in America”; none of those “top 25” activist self-proclaimed “experts” has a degree-level academic qualification in Islamic Studies or similar, it seems.

    The top 25 most popular anti-Muslim activist self-appointed “experts” interestingly do not include the New Atheists Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Richard Dawkins — perhaps they are not considered popular enough; and it is no surprise at all that they do not include New Atheists Boghossian, Lindsay or Torres, who are, well, nobodies.

  18. Dhay says:

    Interesting: I’d say there is more evidence and reason in the Muslim response than in the New Atheist original article.

  19. stcordova says:

    “New Atheists like Richard Dawkins bravely respond by mocking Catholic grandmothers.”


    And a little known fact about Boghossian reported by Constance Emerson Croocker:
    in a two-star review of Boghossian’s “Manual for Creating Atheists”.

    “I’m an atheist who recently heard Peter Boghossian speak and read from his book, Manual for Creating Atheists. I was underwhelmed.

    I asked the author [Boghossian] if it is always appropriate to challenge people of faith. He said there are no exceptions. I countered that I live among sick and dying people, and not only is it not my job to try to disabuse them, but that it would be cruel to upset their belief in a promised afterlife, just as it would be cruel to deny those in pain their end-of-life morphine. Only then did the author [Boghossian] admit he remained mum while his mother clutched her statue of Jesus when she was dying of cancer.”

  20. Dhay says:

    The ‘Top Customer Review’ of New Atheist Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature includes:

    In the first half, Pinker undertakes a monumental survey of the available evidence concerning the rates of violence (war, genocide, assault, murder, judicial killing, etc.) and exclusion (slavery, disenfranchisement, discrimination, etc.) from prehistory to the present, and across most parts of the globe. The tide of statistics tells a consistent, overwhelming and frankly uplifting story of progressive and accelerating improvement. As a tiny example, homicide rates in Europe have declined steadily by 100-fold over the last seven centuries, are continuing to decline rapidly, and are estimated to have been orders of magnitude higher in earlier millennia. World Wars, industrial genocide and regional famines notwithstanding, the trend that we are all likelier – much likelier – to live socially and economically engaged lives and die naturally in our beds than were each of the preceding generations.

    Ah, that’s reassuring news from Pinker, we are all much likelier than preceding generations to live socially and economically engaged lives and die naturally in our beds. Contrast it with a fairly typical quote from a fairly typical article by New Atheist Phil Torres:

    Consider the unsettling claim that biotechnology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and robotics will, by nearly all accounts, become not only exponentially more powerful, but ever more accessible as well. The result is that smaller and smaller groups will be able to manipulate the physical world in increasingly significant ways. At the extreme, these fields of research will empower single individuals by providing them with a multiplicity of levers that, when pulled, could obliterate society. Just imagine a world in which every citizen has his or her own doomsday machine.

    Imagine a world in which a lone wolf working beneath the surveillance horizon could ruin the party for everyone – maybe without us ever knowing that he or she was a threat. Not that long from now, it may take only one bad apple to effectively relocate Homo sapiens (the “wise ape”) from the category of “extant” to “extinct.”

    Just imagine, we’re gonna die, we’re gonna DIE, WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE.

  21. Dhay says:

    In a Phil Torres article I found a footnote telling the reader that “Phil Torres is a scholar at the Future of Life Institute and founder of the X-Risks Institute.” (

    A scholar? A professor, perhaps? Wondering what sort of institute the Future of Life Institute might be, evidently one that one could be scholarly at, and wondering what scholarly role Torres might play there, I looked up its personnel. (

    No mention of Torres on the “Team” page, not as a Founder, not on the Scientific Advisory Board, not in the Core Team, not a Volunteer, not a Top Donor.

    (“Sam Harris, Project Reason” is listed, as a Top Donor, complete with a link to the now defunct Project Reason website. Very out of date, then.)

    I did find Torres on an “Author” page ( “Phil Torres is an author, Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and founder of the X-Risks Institute.” So Torres is not a scholar at the Future of Life Institute, after all; this site’s different claim is that Torres is an “Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies”.

    The IEET website: “Phil Torres is an author, blogger at the Future of Life Institute, Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, founder of the X-Risks Institute, and freelance writer” (

    Torres is just a blogger (not scholar) at the Future of Life Institute, on this account; the stories contradict, except for the IEET “Affiliate Scholar” bit. So just what sort of exalted creature is an “Affiliate Scholar”?

    The list of his publications for the IEET seems to tell me that “Affiliate Scholar” is a grandiose title for someone who is just a journalist. Torres has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, which sounds scholarly, but the journal seems to be the in-house magazine, so probably not.

  22. Dhay says:

    Peter Boghossian is becoming prolific as a source of silly articles, the latest of which didn’t get accepted by any magazine or news source, so was only published the RDF site. It’s entitled We Must Trust Science or Die Like E.T. and was co-authored by usual culprit James Lindsay.

    Their thesis is that the Fermi Paradox points out we see no advanced civilizations elsewhere in the universe, we are unlikely to be the first such, they should be common, so where are they all? The Boghossian/Lindsay answer is, “perhaps we don’t see aliens because the incremental process of evolution generates intelligent life not quite smart enough to avoid its own destruction.” That’s to say, they’ve all of them wiped themselves out.

    But we don’t have to wipe our own civilization out, they claim, because there is “a solution. We have thoughtful, informed experts who have marshalled our resources and cracked open the atom, doubled the average human lifespan, and built our society to the point where it could annihilate itself or prove itself resilient and intelligent enough not to.” That is, their solution is those nice guys and gals in their white coats in their science labs — the article starts with a picture of one such looking through a microscope — they are proposed as the means of our salvation.

    “But not everyone is an expert, and so another social force—trust—is the crucial ingredient. To survive we have exactly one option. We must trust science. We must listen to experts.”

    Ah, “we have exactly one option” — exactly one and only one option — a claim which should make any intelligent person instantly suspicious, for there’s very little that’s binary black-or-white as this issue is portrayed.

    The obvious thing to do here is to apply Boghossian’s criterion for critical thinking, “if A then B unless C” and seek defeaters C1…Cn to the Boghossian/Lindsay claim to know if (A) our civilization is to survive then (B) we must trust scientists. Implied in their claim is that they know that countless advanced civilizations before us wiped themselves out — how do they, how can they know this, what valid or otherwise epistemology underlies that claim.

    Slightly more subtle (and ridiculous) is their implied claim that countless advanced civilizations before us wiped themselves out because they (100% of them) didn’t trust scientists — how do they know this, how can they know this, what valid or otherwise epistemology underlies that claim.

    Boghossian and Lindsay cannot possibly know that as a fact, indeed they have no way of knowing whether or not 100% of previous advanced civilizations (if there ever were any) wiped themselves out because they failed to trust scientists, or whether, on the contrary, 100% of previous advanced civilizations wiped themselves out because they did trust scientists — perhaps the Fermi Paradox tells us that trusting scientists is the worst possible thing to do — and they have no way of knowing or whether there was a (to my mind) more plausible distribution of 50% (or some other percentage) which did trust scientists, and 50% (or whatever) which didn’t scientists, in which case the (presumed, very presumed) extinction of every single (presumed existing) previous advanced civilization indicates we ourselves are doomed to extinction whether we trust or not.

    Like Torres, Boghossian and Lindsay are peddling the message (see above), “Just imagine, we’re gonna die, we’re gonna DIE, WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE.”

    Don’t Boghossian and Lindsay just love to spout alarmist bluff and bullshit. The article is in effect an advertisement for the urgent replacement of democracy with a variety of scientism, scientocracy.

  23. Dhay says:

    Sorry to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched the film: E.T. didn’t die.

  24. Dhay says:

    Between New Atheists there’s interesting differences of approach to understanding science and to how it should feed into public policy; Sam Harris’ new paper’s Introduction starts:

    Few things are as fundamental to human progress as our ability to arrive at a shared understanding of the world. The advancement of science depends on this, as does the accumulation of cultural knowledge in general. Every collaboration, whether in the solitude of a marriage or in a formal alliance between nations, requires that the beliefs of those involved remain open to mutual influence through conversation. Data on any topic—from climate science to epidemiology—must first be successfully communicated and believed before it can inform personal behavior or public policy. Viewed in this light, the inability to change another person’s mind through evidence and argument, or to have one’s own mind changed in turn, stands out as a problem of great societal importance. Both human knowledge and human cooperation depend upon such feats of cognitive and emotional flexibility.
    [My emphasis.]

    It’s “any topic”, though only “any topic from climate science to epidemiology”, so for Harris it’s science topics, with climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers getting special mention, rather than the very wide spectrum of other political matters; Harris is here quite narrowly focused on how to ensure scientists lead politics — but that’s fine because Peter Boghossian is equally narrowly focused on the same, so we can compare and contrast.

    What Harris wants is for scientists to get their messages across by persuasion. We are to believe scientists because they have persuaded us.

    What Boghossian and Lindsay want is:

    To survive we have exactly one option. We must trust science. We must listen to experts”; that is, we are to believe scientists simply because we trust them.

    Boghossian seems to be telling us we should discount Harris’ approach that scientists should persuade us by evidence-based argument, telling us that we should instead have trust, and believe and act (“listen”, cf “shema”) without evidence — this sounds like he is advocating “faith” as he himself defines it.

    (I note that if we take Boghossian’s recent exhortations on critical thinking seriously, where arguing from evidence is to be avoided in favour of seeking “defeaters”, Boghossian is telling us to disbelieve without evidence; I wonder, why disbelieve one thing without evidence, but not another (eg the “defeaters”), indeed why not disbelieve anything and everything without evidence: it quickly gets absurd.)

    Er, shouldn’t we be seeking out defeaters for what scientists claim rather than merely trusting their claims; shouldn’t we be applying critical thinking instead of just trusting. Boghossian is displaying a lack of intellectual consistency here.

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