Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Cult of Gnu Advances

Given a questionable definition of "Advance", anyway. More below.



On the one hand, we have the fallout from Krauss' book. Atheists outside of the Cult have been piling on - Pigliuicci only being the latest one to argue that Krauss (and, due to his bold endorsement, Dawkins) makes an ass out of himself, hot on the heels of David Albert absolutely shredding Krauss in the New York Times. No, it seems, physics has not dealt a blow to the "Why is there something rather than nothing?" question, or the cosmological arguments related to such. Indeed, science is incapable of doing this even in principle.

Krauss' response has been sad. At this point he's been reduced to saying, 'Well, okay, science maybe doesn't show the answer to that question. But I wasn't saying it did! Why would anyone think I was trying to argue that physics gave an answer to the question of why there's something rather than nothing?' The reply has been, summed up: "Anyone who read your book title. Also, Dawkins, who really looks like an idiot if you make this move."

On the other hand, we have the Cult of Gnu doing what they do best: attacking atheists and agnostics who would otherwise be their allies. Bart Ehrman's entire public career has basically been one of being the most visible NT scholar who's been critical of Christian claims about the bible, particularly inerrancy. But, he made the mistake of directly calling out Carrier and - in spite of praising him as being smart and even credentialed - he took the position that Carrier's mythicism isn't credible, and that his arguments for mythicism are bad.

Carrier's response was to absolutely freak out over this, and scream to high heavens that Ehrman's book was rotten, utterly mistaken, and basically attack his credibility as a scholar. Par for the course - Carrier's a drama queen and will ferociously attack anyone who calls him out for making bad arguments. (The sole exception coming to mind is when the McGrews laughed off his attack on their Bayesian arguments for Christ's resurrection. He shut up quickly there.) But then PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne both decided they'd have Carrier's back - and the Cult of Gnu, sensing direction from their leaders, turned against Ehrman en masse.

Apparently, it wasn't enough for the Cult of Gnu to brand themselves with being loud, obnoxious assholes. No, they're trying to pick up the coveted 'suckers' and 'crackpots' titles too.

For anyone who reads this post, this is all probably old news by now. But really, it's a sight to behold, and I recount all this to put it in perspective. Krauss' cock-up was tremendous, and public. He didn't merely make some claim that was just controversial, and thus he can make the move of saying "Well, my opinion may be in the minority, but I still think I'm right." He made a major claim that could be - and was, repeatedly - refuted in a paragraph, and is in damage control mode. Dawkins seems to just be keeping his mouth shut, because his idiotic foreword made him out to be the biggest loser in a very public exchange.

At the same time Coyne and Myers - pretty much the most prominent Cult of Gnu leadership online - have hitched their cart to Carrier's horse, and have goaded NT scholars (atheist and agnostic scholars no less) into spinning around and giving Carrier, and by extension themselves, a very public spanking. They could have simply ducked the entire conversation, and their decision to enter into it on Carrier's side is breathtaking. You couldn't ask for a better way to damage their reputations short of their coming out for homeopathy or Raelians.

I'm trying to figure out what they're going to do for a followup act. Maybe Myers will decide to come to the defense of Alex Rosenberg's book, endorse it entirely, and insist that the claims of the book are all scientific rather than philosophical.

7 comments:

Brian said...

Excellent. Documenting the "Cult of the Gnu" is very important, I think. Maybe someone with talent will take all of this documentation and film a video on the history of "new" atheism. If no else will do it, I will.

Crude said...

I should gather up the links I've been reading. I wrote this assuming 'hell, anyone here has probably read them all already'.

I think what's really funny is that if there's one thing the Cult of Gnu doesn't like, it's being laughed at and regarded as crazy. Unfortunately for them, the Jesus mythicism and the Krauss move are both giving people ample reason to mock them.

Ephram said...

I'm trying to figure out what they're going to do for a followup act.

You and me both. The prominent feature here (for me, at least) is that Coyne and Myers' injection of themselves into this particular scuffle seems to have come completely out of left field.

I mean, it's understandable for them qua biologists to continuously make bad philosophical judgments and bad judgments on philosophy in general, since philosophy serves as the backdrop of all forms of rational inquiry. No big deal. I've gotten used to it. But sudden public forays into professional ancient history, in which they attempt to declare who is and who isn't a proper ancient historian on the basis of what they take to be the correct investigative methodologies of ancient history? Bloody hell. What's next, pronouncements on Number Theory? Japanese? Art history?

Talk about scientism run amok.



On a lighter note, have you ever given thought to writing a small book on the New Atheism as a societal phenomenon? Your critiques of them - since they draw on concrete, on-the-ground examples, whilst being brutally honest - are some of the best I've read.

Cale B.T. said...

To paraphrase Arthur Michael Ramsey, one cannot be part of the glory of the Gnus without being part of the scandal.

Now, about that glory part...

Crude said...

Ephram,

But sudden public forays into professional ancient history, in which they attempt to declare who is and who isn't a proper ancient historian on the basis of what they take to be the correct investigative methodologies of ancient history? Bloody hell. What's next, pronouncements on Number Theory? Japanese? Art history?

Yeah, it's a sight to behold. I like how they just dove right in there - I mean this is a subject neither Coyne nor Myers know anything about. They don't show any evidence of even having a passive interest in the field. But - boom - there they are, with Coyne declaring the state of Ehrman's credentials, and Myers... well, Myers just yells something like "Oh yeah, coldcocked!" and hoots a bit.

What's crazy here isn't that these guys disagree with Ehrman. Hey, I disagree with Ehrman about plenty too. But they're slinging around charges about Ehrman's credentials being wrecked and Carrier being correct in his claims (presumably according to the standards of inquiry in the field) from a position of ignorance. I think the best note I've seen about this is that if it's permissible to just blow past both the academic consensus in a field AND ditch the standards of inquiry for said field, well, good luck arguing against ID and creationism.

Talk about scientism run amok.

At this point, I don't even think it's rightly called scientism. That term bothers me, because it implies that those it applies to have some particular reverence for science that is, for one reason or another, excessive or misapplied. These guys don't even care too much about science. In the case of Myers and Dawkins, they both had careers that were supposed to involve doing science - and in both cases, they gave it up.

On a lighter note, have you ever given thought to writing a small book on the New Atheism as a societal phenomenon?

Hey, high praise, thank you. I've thought about putting a book together. I don't know about "New Atheism as a societal phenomenon" - that sounds like a scholarly project. If I were to write anything, I think it'd be more ground level and personal. Kind of a Jane Goodall thing, except with atheists instead of chimps.

The Deuce said...

This is really unfair, Crude. You have totally failed to address their main argument for the nonexistence of Jesus:

P1) Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth existed.
P2) Damn it, I hate those Christians so much!
C) So Jesus didn't exist! Take that, jerk-ass Christians!

So whaddya have to say to that, Crude? Hmm? HMMMMM?

Syllabus said...

I wonder whether any book written on the sordid subject might be written in a "compare and contrast" style, contrasting Christian fundamentalism and the new atheists. I'd be willing to bet that the origins would be worth comparing. While the stimuli for both may have been somewhat different, there's no question that the methods and mindset of both is extremely similar. Additionally, one might find some interesting shared traits between the instigators and founders of both schools. Worth a look if nothing else, I'd say.