Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Atheist vs. Atheist, Evangelical vs. Agnostic.

The same spectrum of epistemic challenges, responses and moral attitudes can
be foundwherever you are. I think I know where I fit in this rough schematic! 

I have been aware for some time that all isn't well within the atheist sector andits not exactly a peaceful bed of roses. I haven't followed the squabbling in any detail but crudely speaking it seems to be the old left vs right split, with the former erring on the side of a "cultural" view of humans as social animals and the latter wanting to factor in what they consider to be the firmware of evolved biological realities; it is almost as if the row revolves around a software/hardware fault-line. According to the New York Times the biological hardware school of thought have come out and identified themselves as the "Intellectual Dark Web".  Once again I owe my news to PZ Myers' blog. Myers, needless to say, waxes lyrical about this atheist sub-group with his inimitable line in anti-superlatives:

They aren’t particularly intellectual, they’re not part of some “web” of something or other, but they are rather dark. Can we rename them the Dark Dorks? The list of members consists mainly of people who are demonstrable assholes.

Myers then lists some of the "Dark dorks":

Sam Harris
Eric Weinstein
Christina Hoff Sommers
Dave Rubin
Jordan Peterson
Heather Heying
Ben Shapiro
Douglas Murray
Joe Rogan
Maajid Nawaz
Bret Weinstein
Michael Shermer
Camille Paglia
Steven Pinker
James Damore

This list isn't 100% pure atheism: I believe Jordan Peterson has some kind of regard for Christianity. The New York Times article has melodramatic pictures of some of these protagonists in atmospheric darkened surroundings with deep contrasts between light and shade. Thus, the article gives them all the mystique of a group of radical, edgy anti-heroes, swooping in from the margins to save us from the grip of mean left-wing delusions. They are, it seems, the latest "cool-set". This glorification of the "intellectual dark web" is bound to go down like a feather sandwich with those who think they themselves are the heroes bulwarking the advance of evil! Myers goes on to say this about the "Intellectual dark web":

You know, if you really wanted to compile a list of the worst people in America, the shallow populists who poison the discourse with conservative toxins and Libertarian lies, that wouldn’t be a bad start. These are not particularly smart or interesting people — they are good at inflaming other assholes and acquiring a following, but that’s about it. And now they’ve got a great big long article in the New York Times, with grimdark portrait shoots of them standing about in the shrubbery at night.

My general impression of Myers is that he is basically an upstanding citizen and good person, but he is incredibly cantankerous and abrasive - you wouldn't want to be his carer when he gets old and grumpy, (no make that "old and grumpier") especially if you vote republican. He's posted a long running critique of Sam Harris. See here for a sample: 

I'm not getting into this fight in any depth: It's just an indication that humans take their epistemic and moral weaknesses with them wherever they go, no matter what "ism" they get into. The evangelical atheists are far from ushering in a brave new world any more than are the Christian fundamentalists. All in all, it just looks to be more of the same but with some different knobs on. 

However, let me just comment on the following taken from Myers blog which includes a quote from the New York Times: 

And just what is the dark intellectual foundation they’re trying to promote?
 Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women.
 Yes? So? No one argues against that. What we argue against is the idea that you can find consistent, biological differences in their minds, or that one gender is the lesser to the other.

As far as I can tell this quote gets close to the nub, if anything does, of the issue that divides the atheist left and "intellectual dark web"; in a word, the question of human nature. Although I haven't studied the subject hard my guess is that there is a mental skew between male and female although it is very likely to be highly statistical and the boundaries fuzzy.* Therefore there is no absolute justification for straight jacketing individual genders and/or channeling them against their natural grain.  People are very individual and unique in make up, just as are the planets:

39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. 1 Corinthians 15:39-41

God made them male and female, but inevitably like many natural language categories the boundaries between male and female are fuzzy and provide no basis for doctrinaire and sectarian attitudes. The question of the nature of human nature, the most complex thing in the cosmos, still has so many uncertainties that it isn't sufficient justification for vicious infighting. But then I suppose it's true that where facts are scarce rows reign and political & religious interests move in to fill the gaps; that's part of the human epistemic predicament.  Moreover: 

Polarisation passion feeds. 
Passion polarisation breeds. 
Polarisation is passion's cause, 
for crusade and holy wars.

The voice of the crowd
is nothing but loud;
the nod and the wink
supports a group think.
Beware the crony.
It may be baloney.

* The cognitive differences between male and female may have less to do with intrinsic capability differences than intrinsically different motivating interests which tend to push males and females, statistically speaking, in different directions of endeavor. Or, if we don't want to even admit this different starting point and maintain that there is no statistically significant difference between the cognition of males and females, it could be that the human mind is set up to drift in alternative directions if nurture should give it a little push, thus fixing in statistically significant differences between male and female minds with age. The possible combinations here are many and I'm not going jump on the polarised band-wagon.


Chris Erskine said...

Read and seen a lot of Jordan Peterson. Just finished his book twelve rules for life. He is not an atheist and would define himself as religious. A lot of people are calling him the gateway drug to Christianity. He talks all around an issue and then at the end points to something the bible says hailing it as a profound work of thought. He would talk for hours then say Jesus summarised this in the sermon of the mount for example. I have found a lot of wisdom in his book and a lot of daring in his counter radical left talks that he gives. His intellectual capacity can be challenged the same as anyones. Some of what he says is not right but the vast majority is good and also useful especially as a message for those with no faith. Speak the truth and more then that inhabit it, is a primary message. Not original but still maybe the most worthwhile message of all. He has somehow got to the top of best seller lists and international fame by copying what Christ said. I find it hard to find fault in that.

Chris Erskine said...

I just finished twelve rules for life by Jordan Peterson. He seems wise to me. I have my suspicions that he is a Christian. Either not sure he wants to identify as such or with a strategy to seem as something other to help point people in that direction. Many people describe him as a gateway drug to Christianity! It's interesting what is happening there and not so easily dismissed. Anyone can be dismissed as psuedo intellectual.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Funnily enough only yesterday, just before I discovered your comments Chris, I thought to myself "At some stage I'd better get up to speed on this Peterson guy"! So thanks very much for your helpful scene-setting comments. So far I'm not sure what to think of Peterson. Looks as though I'm going to have to get off my butt and do a little research on him!