Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Prophet Dawkins and the Cultists of Gnu

I see Feser chimed in on the Dawkins-Craig debate fiasco. And at this point it really is a full-fledged fiasco, at least in an intellectual sense. Anyone who'd stumble on this blog doesn't need a recap of the events - but what may be necessary is a convenient distilling of what's been going on since William Lane Craig's UK tour.

Here it is: Dawkins is afraid of debating Craig because all odds favor he'll get his clock cleaned, which will harm both his reputation and his cause. He's tried to think up multiple excuses why he's ducking Craig - none have been even remotely believable, and some have actually been inconsistent with his other statements.

Now, the reflex is to say that the above is a biased view of the situation. I'm a theist, I'm a Catholic - shoddy of one as I am - so I'm giving Team Theism's version, which is in conflict with the current dogma of the Cult of Gnu. But frankly, I don't think that holds up. Except for the real slow-wits among them - not to be discounted - most of the Cult of Gnu realize the summary I gave is correct as well. They just see it as strategically unwise to admit it.

There's a line from a Steven Seagal movie which differs from all the other lines from Steven Seagal movies in that it's actually worth repeating: "Guangzhou is a chemical weapons plant masquerading as a fertilizer plant. We know this. The Chinese know that we know. But we make-believe that we don't know and the Chinese make-believe that they believe that we don't know, but know that we know. Everybody knows."

That's the line that keeps coming back to me whenever I see atheists and theists discuss Dawkins ditching Craig. The theists know that Dawkins is ducking Craig to avoid an assbeating. Atheists know that Dawkins is ducking Craig to avoid an assbeating. And the theists know the atheists know, and the atheists know the theists know that they know. But the theists make believe they don't know, and the atheists make believe they don't know. But, as the quote says... everybody knows.

Now, there are a few reasons why theists - even reflexively - would make believe they don't know. For one, it involves psychoanalysis. And even if you have good reason to believe the psychoanalysis is true, it's bad form to bring it up in debate. It's a conversation stopper, and it gets the discussion nowhere. And for some of the Cult of Gnu, there's always the possibility that they really are just that credulous. (Remember, the prime effect of the appearance of the Cult of Gnu has been to pick up some of the slower, less stable individuals from Team Theism.) Also, these debates tend to be carried on by people who just plain have an addiction to arguing at length, and the one thing deemed most important is to just keep the conversation going at all costs.

Of course, the Cult of Gnu has their reasons for pretending they don't know as well: Dawkins is the closest thing the Cult particularly, and atheists generally, have to a leader right now. Certainly he's a, even the, figurehead. (Dennett's a philosopher embracing ideas which sound nutty if they get drawn out, Hitchens isn't respectable beyond being a good trash-talker, and Harris is too much of a punk and controversial besides.) If Dawkins is viewed as losing to a theist, or almost as bad, avoiding any particular theist in an intellectual capacity, it's a defeat for the most central idea of the Cult of Gnu: that theism is not only wrong, but irrational to believe. As Dinesh D'Souza noted, the Cult of Gnu has framed the question such that if theists or religious people so much as argue atheists to a draw, the Cult loses badly. Theism, period, in any form, is supposed to be irrational and crazy. Lunatics shouldn't be able to pull a draw in discussion. And if they actually make the better case? Disaster. I congratulate D'Souza for noting this, which is impressive since really - I can't help but look upon the guy as the Scrappy Doo of Christian Apologetics.

There's more to this - hey, humans are complicated and psychology is multifaceted - but the short of it is, what you have here is an opportunity to see the cultier aspect of the Cult of Gnu in full play: the protecting and attempted promulgating of a pious lie for a certain brand of atheists. Everyone knows why Dawkins is ducking Craig. But the Cultists of Gnu, God bless 'em, have to pretend they don't know why, and that no one else knows why either. And little demonstrations like this are educational - they let you see how supposedly secular, irreligious and even atheistic groups can, easily can, take on the nastier modes of thinking and behavior that are normally attributed to the worse forms of "religion".


Ephram said...

Great post, though I'm not sure in what precise sense the Gnus *know* that Craig would trounce Dawkins. As you probably know, the human mind's capacity for self-deception is colossal, to the extent that, when they undergo the process of self-deception (by reconfiguring the world in accordance with their most cherished emotions), they can come out seriously doubting any proposition that doesn't accord with their emotions and also believing virtually any proposition that does, e.g., "Craig is a crass, filthy genocide-apologist who is not worthy to share the stage with our wise and gentle Lord Dawkins!" How can they know if they've thoroughly deceived themselves?

Crude said...

I was actually going to get into that - that the slower Gnus can get into a situation where it's so important that Dawkins be thought of as some unstoppable juggernaut-of-atheism that they have to rationalize whatever he does. I can only imagine how some of them reacted to what went down over Dawkins' atheist-in-an-elevator situation. Panic attacks, maybe.

Some gnus have shown signs of downgrading Dawkins. My anecdotal experience is that, while Dawkins was hailed as a kind of atheist philosopher-king early on, his reputation for many atheists is now closer to "Atheism's answer to Ted Haggard". Or put another way, "Yeah, once you get past the wordsmithing, his arguments and thoughts actually kind of suck. But that's okay, because he's supposed to be compared to Christians whose arguments and thoughts are equally shoddy."

Cale B.T. said...

Crude, I find your blog posts to be most insightful. However, I think you may have underestimated, "the possibility that they really are just that credulous".

In my opinion, it is a combination of ignorance and arrogance which fuels this particular subculture and, more generally, secularism in the Western world. What really worries me is the extent
to which these two elements are perpetuated, not only in popular culture but within the education system, even at a tertiary level.

Have you listened to Craig's debate with John Shook? I imagine that many in the audience are the lawyers, professors and politicians of tommorow, but just listen to some of the points they applaud.

Incidentally, I was a Gnu from 2006-2009. I fluctuated between theism and agnosticism in 2010 and converted to Christianity earlier this year.

Crude said...


Thanks. For the record, I don't regard all atheists or irreligious as Cult of Gnu members - they're a particular, if internet-popular, group in my eyes. There's a gulf between them and the merely irreligious, agnostic, etc.

You're probably right that I underestimated them in the post - the type you're talking about may even be in the majority. I've run into more than a few gnu sorts, though, who really do put up a front. Where any God/god's existence is irrational, insane, delusional... unless you catch them with their guard down in not-quite-public. Then there's concessions to the reasonableness of deism, or a broad theism, or... etc. But outside of that setting? It won't happen, because by then it's political. And I think in the Dawkins case, we're seeing that show up in a more obvious way. Fewer think 'Ohhh, Dawkins, he'd take Craig down and the only reason he won't is...' They know better.

But yeah, it's more common than I'm crediting here. Especially in the areas you're highlighting - for a while I thought 'Bearded god in the Sky' was just conscious mockery, an example of knowingly mangling the idea to make fun of it. It eventually finally sank in that no, for many CoG sorts, that's not mockery. That's really what they think what God not only is, but has to be. Literally that.

Cale B.T. said...

"There's a gulf between them and the merely irreligious, agnostic, etc."

Oh, undoubtedly. However, I live in Australia, and get the feeling that the great gulf ain't fixed so wide. E.g. There was a compendium of Gnu-ish essays called The Australian Book of Atheism released earlier this year which I recommend you purchase for its humour value.

In one of the essays, I could swear the treatment of cosmological argument was ghost-written by an undercover religious agent cribbing their fallacies from Feser's blog post "So You Think You Understand The Cosmological Argument?".
And yet, disturbingly, these comments weren't made by an angry teenager late at night on a forum, but by someone with an MA in philosophy who apparently teaches, "critical thinking" in the state of Queensland.

Also, I'm surprised more commentators haven't picked up on the concessions to the reasonableness of deism.

Crude said...


Well, Feser points out that a lot of those manglings of the cosmological argument come straight from philosophy professors. I remember years back going to... I think Colin McGinn's blog, only to see him going off on how he was learning that "Jesus as a historical person probably didn't even exist!" I'm pretty skeptical of academics in general.

I think the concessions tend not to be picked up on because neither of the two extremes want to deal with it. The Cult of Gnu generally is locked in the mode where no religion or religious thought can ever be called reasonable on its own terms ever, at least in public. When Dawkins was reported was conceding the reasonableness of Deism in his debate with Lennox, I saw a lot of Gnus at the time breathe a collective sigh of relief and start to come out as having deist leanings and sympathies - which shut up immediately once Dawkins denied the reports. On the other end, Christians for some reason seem to think of deism or mere theism as in competition with Christianity, so it's either uninteresting or a distraction.

Go figure.

The Deuce said...

If Dawkins is viewed as losing to a theist, or almost as bad, avoiding any particular theist in an intellectual capacity, it's a defeat for the most central idea of the Cult of Gnu: that theism is not only wrong, but irrational to believe. As Dinesh D'Souza noted, the Cult of Gnu has framed the question such that if theists or religious people so much as argue atheists to a draw, the Cult loses badly.

This is absolutely key to understanding them. Everybody who has a position on anything needs an explanation for why, if their views are the truth, and more rational than all competing views, everyone else doesn't agree with them.

For Christians, our explanation is that mankind is fallen and sinful, and as such is at war with God in his heart. People don't *want* to be beholden to God, and they don't want to be judged for their thoughts and deeds. Hence, they look for reasons to not believe in God, or at least to not believe in what Christianity says about God. It by God's grace, and not our own merit, that our hearts are changed through recognition and repentance of our sin, and our minds freed to seek Him.

For atheists, this sort explanation is not available. Furthermore, the atheist finds himself in a distinct minority that doesn't believe in any sort of transcendent being whatsoever. The *only* explanation he can possibly give for this state of affairs, provided that he is committed to the objective truth and rationality of atheism, is that atheists are atheists as a result of being smarter and more rational than everyone else.

Hence atheists tend to be deeply upset by the notion that a theist is more intelligent or knowledgeable than they are. It's *especially* important to them to believe that the leaders they defer to are more rational and knowledgeable than anyone else. So the idea that someone like Dawkins might lose an argument over atheism to someone like Craig bothers them immensely. It threatens their confidence in their worldview in a much deeper way than it does for a Christian. When they do lose, it *must* be put down to rhetorical trickery on the part of the theist, and not on the quality of the argument.

I agree with you that atheists know deep down that Craig would beat Dawkins, or at least they're terrified that this is probably the case. But I agree with the other commenters that, on the surface of their consciousness, they have persuaded themselves that Dawkins' nutty excuses are true, because they *must* make themselves believe it.