Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Stupid! It Burns! (rottweiler edition, part 1)

the stupid! it burns! Normally, I reserve The Stupid! It Burns! for stupidity so egregious and obvious that no commentary is necessary. Where I feel commentary is necessary to highlight the errors of some work, it's hard to support the notion that the stupidity is actually burning. But in this case, I'll make an exception. I feel that I have a duty to be more explicit in criticizing my fellow atheists.

In her elaborately titled post, Play A Perfect Circle’s Version of “Imagine” in the Background While You Read This… What? I Like It Better Than Lennon’s Original, nocenslupus sharply condemns the "New Atheists" and its notable intellectuals, especially Dawkins. Her condemnation is not only inaccurate, the author simply fails to justify her judgment. The only meaningful point is that she doesn't like the New Atheist approach to the criticism of religion. That's all well and good: she's under no obligation to identify with the New Atheists. But if she's going to do more than simply disagree with New Atheists and Dawkins, if she's going to condemn them, then a sound justification is necessary. She utterly fails to do so. She exhibits the worst feature of the religious: how dare anyone disagree with her!? It really is true, as I've noted time and again: sometimes an atheist is just someone with one fewer stupid idea than a theist.

She starts off not just comparing but equating Dawkins' speech condemning the Pope to the Pope's equation of atheism and Nazism.
Naturally, I was appalled at comments by Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Kasper effectively comparing atheism to Nazism, among other slanders. Of course I was.

However, I found Richard Dawkins’ response speech to be equally as frustrating:

Let me detour for a moment to something I find extremely frustrating in the modern mixed-media environment: posting videos as evidentiary support for one's assertions. This technique is not always bad; naturally I want some evidence that someone actually said what someone alleges he said, and I want the whole context of their remarks. On the other hand, to post an almost nine minute video as the only description of the statements one is criticizing is as intellectually indefensible as posting only the title of a book and saying some parts of it are bad. Which parts are bad? Which parts does the author think are bad?

Our author gives us no clue. Some unspecified parts of Dawkins speech are "snide comments and vicious attacks," some parts are factual. Well, which parts? What statements constitute snide comments? Which are vicious attacks? Which are factual? I've watched the speech and I found nothing objectionable, but maybe I'm missing something. All I know is that the author doesn't like Dawkins, but I have no idea specifically what she doesn't like; if I don't even know what she doesn't like, how can I figure out why she doesn't like them? If she is trying to persuade me — since I definitely do self-identify as a New Atheist, and I admire Richard Dawkins — she has to fail, since I have no idea what she would like me to actually change.

Even if her evaluations were accurate, why is Dawkins' speech equally as frustrating as the Pope's? Atheists condemn the Pope's comparison of atheists and Nazis not because it is a vicious attack — the Pope obviously thinks atheism is dangerous and evil; he therefore ought to viciously attack us — but because it's not just factually incorrect, it's so deeply and obviously incorrect that it goes beyond mere slander to a level of contempt and indifference to truth itself. Our author does not even allege that Dawkins is in any way factually inaccurate, much less as egregiously inaccurate as the Pope. In essence, our author is saying that a group's defense against outright aggression is "equally as frustrating" as the aggression itself. It is not always true that, "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger." (Proverbs 15:1) Sometimes a soft answer signals nothing but weakness and encourages more wrath.

Remember: the Pope is the member of a conspiracy — a conspiracy that would be blatantly criminal had it been committed by subjects of an ordinary democracy — to cover up the despicable physical, emotional and sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children. To say so out loud is indeed a "vicious attack"; a vicious attack entirely justified by its actual truth. Indeed the Pope's only defense is not on the facts but on standing: the sovereignty of the Vatican* — established by Mussolini, since we're on the subject of 1930's and 40's era fascism — grants him immunity from prosecution unless it can be shown that his actions are not just illegal under national law but constitute a crime against humanity in international law.

*I am not a lawyer.

The author from there makes her own attack against the New Atheists, an attack that if it were true would constitute blatant hypocrisy. The author asserts that
"Darwin’s Rottweiler" has inspired the New Atheist "movement that demands that atheists take a less accommodating stance toward religion and instead call them out, criticize, and attack their beliefs whenever possible." The New Atheists do not demand that atheists take a less accommodating stance, we merely ourselves take this stance. Even were her assertion true, the author is entirely hypocritical since she is in effect demanding that atheists take a more accommodating stance. Indeed the New Atheist criticism of accommodationism is not that accommodationists want individually to take a more conciliatory stance towards the religious, it is precisely because accommodationists demand that the New Atheists exempt religion from accurate criticism. If you want to play good cop to my bad cop, more power to you. But I really am — intellectually speaking — a cop, and part of my job is to charge people with crimes against the truth, a vicious attack no matter how you slice it. You can condemn me for not doing my job, you can condemn me for doing it wrong, but if you condemn me for actually doing my job then you are saying that my job does not need to be done, that the truth needs no defense.

(Damn, I'm only up to the second paragraph of a rather long post, a post that actually gets stupider as it goes on. Further criticism will have to await another post.)

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