Other minds

After some further conversation yesterday, I actually ended up better understanding what the latest spate of anti-gnu atheism was getting at. After yet another look, I still think Berlinerblau’s piece is terrible. It annoys me five paragraphs in, and that’s with having skipped the first two paragraphs. I’m not saying I think the piece is not so bad, but I am saying I can see why he might be riled. I always thought Hoffmann’s piece was a much better read, and now that I also see why he might be riled, well there you go.

They’re both academics, you see; they teach; they teach undergraduates. Need I say more? You know how young people are. (For any readers who are young: you know how you are.) Young people in the US, at any rate, which is the relevant category here.

Once you isolate that variable, it all becomes clear. They teach undergraduates, so they get smart-ass ducklings who think they know everything already and refuse to read anything denser than a Facebook update.

They get “new atheist” undergraduates like that. They get “new atheist” undergraduates like that who grew up on self-esteem classes. Ohhhhhhhh – now I get it.

Is that the fault of “new” atheism? Hmmm. I would say mostly no, but I wouldn’t say that none of it is. In fact I would agree that some of it probably is. On the other hand, I would add, if it weren’t gnu atheism it would be something else.

Yes but if you teach history of religion, for instance, callow lazy undergraduate gnu atheism interferes directly with what you teach. The same is probably true if you’re the Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization.

You can see it, right? You can see how it might go? Gnu atheist students age 20 or so, who think they already know whatever they need to know on the subject and express lofty contempt for things they can’t even spell. Why do they think this? They picked it up from PZ Myers, or Richard Dawkins – that’s the thinking. Actually it’s a lot more likely that they picked it up from commenters at Pharyngula or the RDF site, but still – that’s “new” atheism in some sense (though it’s always better to make it clear which sense is in play).

I can sort of see how gnu atheism could seem like just another version of anti-intellectualism, and I can pretty easily see that it’s at least compatible with anti-intellectualism for followers. I say “for followers” because it’s absurd to think of any of the Name “new” atheists as anti-intellectual, much less incurious, which was Berlinerblau’s wild charge.

I said on Facebook yesterday that I was tempted to work up a little statement to append to every post I write –

Nothing here is to be construed as permission to refuse to read any history or philosophy of religion. There is no merit to ignorance.

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