Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Well, that's pretty culty

Just saw a New Atheist (complete with the self-description of "gnu atheist") over at Valicella's blog. The cult-like behavior practically glowed off his responses.

* Constantly talking about "we". As in "what we, gnu atheists, believe". You know, because he's a representative. Because he's even conducted a single scientific poll. Not only making use of this word and imagined position, but doing so incessantly - practically every other sentence is "we gnu atheists believe" or "we gnu atheists want".

* As mentioned, he was pretty much pulling gnu beliefs out of his ass. "Gnus are against pseudoscience!" Well, every person thinks they're against pseudoscience. Even the timecube guy. The idea that gnus are - as a group - against eugenics though? That's laughable.

* Defending the idea that anyone or anything lacking a belief in God is an atheist, expressly including spark plugs. So, you know, apparently I flushed an atheist down the toilet this morning, and Magic Johnson became ill when his body was adversely affected by various atheists invading his body. Anything at all in order to avoid being put on the defensive, it seems. Including sounding creepy and crazy.

* Insisting that most people understand evolutionary theory adequately, then admitting he has no data on this. Remember, science is important, but don't let that stop you from making claims about whatever you want when the data is lacking. Likewise for the 'gnu atheists focus on arguments for theism that are bad and popular because that's why most people believe in God'. Right, because - given Dawkins' mangling of Aquinas' and other's beliefs in his own book, we can trust gnus not to construct strawmen? We can trust them to even be aware of them?

But really, the whole thing was just freaking culty. In my anecdotal experience, the creepier religious people I've ever come into contact with communicated much like this. The irrationality, the droning, the hivemind attitude. I get the impression that the one benefit of someone coming up with that 'gnu' label is you'll be able to identify a nutjob and/or a supreme asshole far more easily now.


Ilíon said...

"Insisting that most people understand evolutionary theory adequately, then admitting he has no data on this ..."

According to the Holy Talk Origins "science" site, 'modern evolutionary theory' is simultaneously:
1) quite simple and easy to understand;
2) misunderstood by nearly everyone, including even most trained/degreed biologists.

Ilíon said...

"I get the impression that the one benefit of someone coming up with that 'gnu' label is you'll be able to identify a nutjob and/or a supreme asshole far more easily now."

I had assumed that some non-gnu had come up with that label to mock their attitudes, but, apparently, they came up with it all on their own.

Ephram said...

Nice little blog you've got here. I appreciate your blunt, down-to-earth writing style.

Concerning a point in your post, one thing that's been on my mind lately that I haven't been able to figure out is why New Atheists are so adamant to redefine "atheism" to mean nothing more than "an absence of belief in God." Maybe the explanation is that many of them first thought this was the correct definition, and now act on a desire to save face, seeing as how well-read theists and (to a lesser extent) atheists alike have been directing them towards the correct, formal definition of the term presented in scholarly dictionaries and encyclopedias, especially dictionaries and encyclopedias of philosophy.

(Just as an interesting example of this sort of retrospective justification, consider the following response I received today from one of my "atheist" acquaintances on Facebook after I'd posted an article which presented a list of definitions of the term "atheism" from reputable philosophical dictionaries and encyclopedias:

"The most modern definition listed in that article is nearly a decade old with several others being 20-40 years old. The meaning of words and the ideas behind arguments change. Science and belief are not as they were half a century ago, and these arguments no longer are restricted to the those focused on philosophy. While the formal definition may remain as such, the vernacular is often the vehicle with which ideas are spread. Realistically I would advise you to get on board with the rest of the populations word usage if you hope to be even remotely relevant in any discussion rather than just dismissing them all as informal." )

But originally, what was the motivation for redefining "atheism" in this way? Is it simply the anti-God, anti-religious, and generally rebellious allure of the word "atheism" that attracts them to the term, whose meaning they then try to transform to match their own psychological states?

I ask because I can find hardly anything explanatorily inadequate about the classic "theist/agnostic/atheist" schema (unless one is a rare variety of non-theist such as a logical positivist), and am left wondering why "atheists" are so eager to introduce a whole new conceptual framework that includes such unsightly classifications as "weak atheist," "strong atheist," "agnostic atheist," "agnostic theist," and so on.

Crude said...

Thanks for the compliment. Just a little place to vent my thoughts.

A number of reasons, in my opinion:

* First and foremost, because the Cult of Gnu want to be on offense, not defense. An atheist who says 'there is no God' is making a claim, and is open to skeptical replies. This is awkward at best, a nightmare at worst, for atheists. So they're looking for a way to redefine 'atheist' so they can make a claim without making a claim. It's tactical, and inane tactics at that.

(On this note: Just think for a moment about what it means that few atheists - even Dawkins plays this card - want to be saddled with making a positive case for atheism's truth. My view of the reason why: Because a positive case for atheism sounds very bit as presumptive and magical as the most outlandish, crazy polytheist theism. One more reason to stay on offense, especially since the NAs are interested in tangible political results more than anything.)

* Under the classic framework, atheists have depressingly few numbers. Even with the irreligious growing in the US, numbers for 'atheists' specifically remain anemic. As Vox Day has noticed, the word 'atheist' has not just changed, it's malleable even now. Irreligious are counted as atheists when it's convenient ('atheism is growing!'), disregarded when it's not ('that guy convicted of rape wasn't an atheist, he's just irreligious').

* "The rest of the population" does not agree with your acquaintance - it is, in fact, a matter of ongoing dispute, with the atheist redefinition flat out being called dishonest, evasive, and so on in some quarters.

Short story: The redefinition is for shoddy tactical reasons and psychological reasons in my view. Not principled. Nothing too new here, just yet another instance of language warfare.