1/25/11

The Emperor's Gnu Clothes

I'm always trying to figure out how it could be that I liked the first books of the new atheists so much, but I'm so thoroughly not on board with the so-called "gnus"--the contingent that makes fun of the way new atheists are criticized for militancy by adopting a militant name. (Think gays calling themselves "queer.")  Finally, a moment of clarity.  Jerry Coyne and Ophelia Benson have posts today that make it crystal clear why I've gotten off the train.

But first, let's have a story--"The Emperor's New Clothes."  The emperor marches along the parade route stark naked [ignore the green underwear in the picture], and the adults ooh and ahh about his finery.  One brave girl speaks up and says, naively "The emperor has no clothes!"  Good for her! Hurray!

I saw Dawkins and Harris, in the early days of new atheism, as that girl.  We're not supposed to speak openly about religion, and what's wrong with it, but they did.  I liked their books in just the way I like that girl.

Now we have the sequel:  "The Emperor's Gnu Clothes."  Other kids were impressed with the brave girl.  They started saying the same thing--"The emperor has no clothes!  The emperor has no clothes!"  Soon just saying he had no clothes lost its appeal.  They shouted louder and louder, and called the emperor a fatty and laughed uproariously.

Some of the adults said: "Children. You're right he's naked. The brave girl was perfectly right to say so.  But you've gotten carried away. It's time to think this through. Maybe the emperor actually enjoys being naked. Maybe he really doesn't know he's naked, and he can't figure it out when you're yelling at him.  Maybe when he looks at you, your clothes look ridiculous to him, too!  Control yourselves, think about how you're communicating!"

This made the children very, very angry. They wanted to believe they were just like that first brave girl. They didn't want to see themselves as rude and insulting.  So the children went after the adults who had chided them, and called them names, and derided the whole idea of Communicative Restraint and Politeness, which they called crap for short.

Now, you may or may not like my second story.  For you, the history of new-gnu atheism may be all girl, no follow-up kids.  And so you may think the adults really are out of line.   Yet, at least in general terms, the adults are right, and the "gnu" crowd doesn't even agree in general terms. They are downright dismissive toward the whole topic of communication.

That's where today's clarifying posts come in.  Jerry Coyne chides Chris Mooney for boldly insulting Birthers, but then not being as forthright about religion.  Well of course, it's a different communicative situation.  Different topic, different tone.  You couldn't both chide him for this and take the issue of how/when/why we communicate the least bit seriously.

Ophelia Benson offers a reason why communicative restraint on the subject of God is not required. It's because the non-existence of God is so obvious.  Right, like the emperor was obviously naked.  But obviousness is not a reason to dispense with communicative care. Lots of things are obvious (to me) but the way I communicate about them rightly varies from topic to topic, situation to situation. Of course.

Moral of the stories: be the girl, not the crowd. You have to take the issue of how/when/why we communicate seriously to make that distinction.

47 comments:

1000dead said...

this was very refreshing... what a great analogy.

Andrew said...

This is all true, but I think for many of us Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens are also in the "yelling abuse at the naked king" camp (I exclude Dennett, because I think he does take great care to be forthright and honest without jeering or insulting).

Felix said...

You have a quiet word with the Master of the Kings Wardrobe.
Meanwhile, since about 6 billion people haven't got the message yet, we'll keep making some noise.

We ain't going to stop shouting, so if it annoys you ignore it. Spending your time being fed up about people you agree with is a major waste of time.

Faust said...

"Spending your time being fed up about people you agree with is a major waste of time."

This made me laugh. I'm pretty sure "not agreeing with" is the whole point of the post, but maybe I'm just confused.

Jean Kazez said...

Faust, Indeed.

Andrew, My reaction may be due to the fact that I read Harris and Dawkins waaaaay back in 2006. At that time, I had never read a single blog, didn't have a blog, paid no attention to "new atheism" as a movement. I just read these two books in the privacy of my own home. Actually, I listened to Dawkins read the book on my ipod. Even his tone of voice is "brave girl," not angry ridicule. Taken on their own, I think these books are A-OK. Dennett's fine too...I just thought his book was long-winded and boring, apart from a few good concepts (like beleif in belief).

Andrew said...

Perhaps it's a cultural thing. I get the impression that until quite recently public discussion of atheism was a no-no in the USA, whereas it has been quite commonplace in Europe for a long time (which doesn't mean everyone agrees with atheists, but we're well past the stage where people are astonished by others daring to say "there is no God" in public, because at the very least a substantial minority of us, maybe even a majority, agree). Dawkins just comes across as a less witty, more irritable version of Russell, kicking viciously against a religious establishment which is on the ropes rather than being in a position of dominance as it was in Russell's day.

Ophelia Benson said...

You left out the second step in what I said, though. It's not just "because it's so obvious" - it's "because it doesn’t seem to us even a remotely serious possibility" and "it’s supposed to be rude or intolerant etc of us to think that and to say it, yet that doesn’t apply to other obviously preposterous claims or beliefs or stories." It's the asymmetry. It's the different rules. As Andrew says - in Europe those different rules are gone, they're dead. Here they're very much alive. We think that impedes honest public discussion and all sorts of other things, so we think it's worth putting pressure on the different rules.

amos said...

Hello Ophelia (and Jean),

I just want to listen in to your conversation. Thanks.

Best to you both.

Jean Kazez said...

Andrew--20 years of living in Dallas Texas might have skewed my sense of what is brave and what is not.


Ophelia, OK, there are two elements--(1) God's non-existence is "beyond a reasonable doubt," as Georges Rey puts it, AND (2) that would be seen, if it weren't for the social protections. I think I had both in there originally, but edited one out.

I actually did incorporate both elements in my stories. The emperor's nudity is "beyond a reasonable doubt" AND that would be admitted by all, if it weren't for the social protections. Despite both elements, there's still a real question what people along the parade route should say, especially after the brave girl has spoken up. So "gnu" laissez faire is not really adequately supported by (1) + (2).

Ophelia Benson said...

Jean,

Oh well no, of course not - I don't claim that gnuism is adequately supported by that brief little post. It wasn't meant to be! The post was just a small item on a small observation.

I do have reasons for gnuism, that aren't covered by the emperor story, because for that we'd have to say a lot more about the emperor and about the consequences of thinking or pretending to think he was wearing a gorgeous new outfit.

Jean Kazez said...

I was reacting to the sentence where you say "That's exactly it, and that's what puts the 'gnu' in 'gnu' atheism--the fact that it doesn't seem to us even a remotely serious possibility that such a God exists and that we don't feel inhibited about saying so in public discourse."

It's sort of an interesting fact (I think) that you can be on board with both of those things (I like that Georges Rey essay a lot too) but not on board with some aspects of recent new atheism--like the intense anti-accommodationism, the disdain for communication issues, and various other things. To be really "gnu" you need all that as well.

Ophelia Benson said...

Hmm. That's a definitional issue, I guess. I wasn't thinking of it that way. I agree that that describes some gnus, including me, but I wasn't thinking of that as constitutive of - well of "New" atheism at any rate; it may fit all gnus!

I think that stuff isn't central, though, because it's a product of reactions to "New" atheism itself. There was a reaction to putative New Atheism before some new atheists were reacting to accommodationism and framing and the like.

So criticism of Glenn Beck, say, isn't really central to liberalism, and criticism of Obama isn't really central to conservatism (to put it in US terms). Essentials and accidentals, so to speak.

For the record, I, at least (but I would guess also other gnus) don't disdain all communication issues. I wouldn't spend so much time typing if I did. I'm very interested in communication; I just dislike certain versions of or claims about certain kinds of communication. In fact I dislike them in large part for reasons that have to do with communication. I don't think I'd thought of that before, but it's true.

I also really don't support getting in people's faces and calling them "fatty," and I don't think many News or gnus do either.

Ophelia said...

Ick; four iterations of "communication" all right on top of each other. Not aesthetic!

Jean Kazez said...

"I also really don't support getting in people's faces and calling them 'fatty' and I don't think many News or gnus do either."

Of course not. The stories are just making a general point--they illustrate how a likeable sort of brave truthfulness can turn into something else. I don't expect you to agree that this has happened in the new/gnu atheist movement, but that's how it seems to me.

Tea said...

You've left out a very important part of the story. After the girl proclaims the emperor naked, the majority of people don't go "Good for her! Hurray!" Instead, they get very angry, they start laughing at her accusing her of being blind and/or naked herself. They start publishing angry books entitled "The Girl is Wearing No Clothes" and "The Childish Blindness." There's a swarm of articles making fun of the little kids' inability to see the sublime beauty of those fine garments, visible only to the enlightened. There's a whole new movement of Miss Manners' guide on how to teach those kids to take it slowly and carefully proclaim that the emperor has only forgotten to don his cape, but is otherwise fully dressed; the last thing you want is get the emperor's fans to get mad at you; if you have to lie to keep them tame, then lie.There's also a lot of condescension in terms of "us, adults" and "them, little kids that need to be taught some manners".

Yeah, it's a real wonder why the "kids" got angry.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, but I think you're also leaving out some things. There were some adults who were against the girl and tried to silence her (with the book 'The Girl is Wearing No Clothes' as you say). The other kids didn't like that. But the truth is, they were ramping up anyway, because that's just what crowds do. And then a different set of adults didn't like the ramping up, even though they had liked the girl. And to rebel against them, the kids deliberately mixed up the first set of adults and the second. They accused them of having exactly the same agenda, when in fact they didn't. And they used both sets of adults as an excuse to ramp up even more, until the emperor was being ridiculed mercilessly, and the adults even more...

That's the super-complicated version. There's something to said for the simplicity of the original which captures what I see as a real dynamic. What starts as candid truth telling can change character over time, especially as things are repeated, a bigger crowd joins in, they goad each other on, etc. It can change over time on its own, whether or not there's external provocation.

Tea said...

It's very convenient for your "simple" story that you leave out such important parts. Like the fact that the emperor's supporters have been forever shoving their fashion sense down everyone else's throat, for example. Or the fact that already the girl's initial pronouncement resulted in so much wrath and ridicule.

Also, the completely made-up (and counterintuitive) mantra of "If you laugh at people's nudity, they will *never* put their clothes on!" which some of you have been frustratingly repeating until you've managed to convince yourselves against all evidence that it's an immutable fact of human nature.

And here now you tell us to "control ourselves", although you're not really all that surprised at our behavior, because "that's what crowds do", apparently.

How incredibly condescending.

Jean Kazez said...

Tea, I didn't tell you (singular or plural) to do anything. All can keep doing whatever they want, and I'll keep doing what I want--which is making observations, to the best of my ability.

Faust said...

Ophelia writes:

"I do have reasons for gnuism, that aren't covered by the emperor story, because for that we'd have to say a lot more about the emperor and about the consequences of thinking or pretending to think he was wearing a gorgeous new outfit."

I think this is crucial and missing from the story as presented here. Both Harris and Dawkins (particularly Harris I think), aren't merely concerned with pointing the Emperor has no clothes, but are pointing out the consequences of not recognizing that the Emperor has no clothes (suicide bombers, child abuse). There are then, 2 important issues here:

1. The fact that the Emperor has no clothes and that this fact is not being adequately recognized. (Call this "The Epistemic Problem.")

2. The fact that The Epistemic Problem has one or more negative consequences of varying severity.

It is, however, entirely possible to imagine a case (many cases) where people might be in the grip of a vital illusion. That they might believe something to be a "fact" and that this false belief might sustain them in a helpful and productive way. Where such beliefs obtain, it may well be that calling out that The Emperor has no Clothes is actually a destructive act and not helpful at all.

Nevertheless these two items are frequently conflated in the "new atheist" conversation. "Good epistemology will always produce the best consequences" is probably one way to characterize this view and I think it is fair to say that this is a principle Harris has recently sought to "prove" in his Moral Landscape.

But as a great deal of discussion has shown, Harris's Landscape is not without its difficulties. And I believe these difficulties are really at the heart of many of the disagreements inter-atheist discussion (indeed, the reason Harris was driven to write The Moral Landscape in the first place).

A related note: Coyne writes, in the article that Jean links to:

"But isn’t there another set of beliefs that is just as untenable, but even more harmful, than the claim that Obama is an alien?"

Coyne is clearly calling out the fact that he sees grave CONSEQUENCES issuing from the fact that "religion" is given a free pass.

I would say that the obvious rebuttal here would be to suggest that some aspects of religion furnish vital illusions while "Birthirism" has no helpful benefits.

In any case I do think that in the end it must come down to a disagreement about consequences. The consequences that ensue from The Emperor Having No Clothes and the consequences that result from how we respond to this pleasant/unpleasant fact.

Jean Kazez said...

Faust,

I think you're reading this in a different way than I intended it. "The emperor's new clothes" is a parable about speaking the (obvious) truth, in defiance of social pressure. It's illuminating, regardless of what obvious truth might be on the reader's mind. I wasn't saying that truths about the emperor's garb are just like truths about God's existence.

"The emperor's gnu clothes" is supposed to capture a different truth--about how initial bravery can evolve into crowd nastiness and unreflectiveness. And how after you express an obvious truth candidly, there might be reasons to reflect more about communication, and about how/when/why you should repeat it.

I see insufficient reflection in new/gnu atheist circles. It's as if the fact that something is true is automatically a reason to shout it from the rooftops. Yes, there's is talk about the harm done by religion, but I think the sheer truth of atheism is the driving motivator. If you really wanted to be serious about harm, obviously you'd have to be serious about benefit too, and I find many new atheists not very interested in that topic.

J. J. Ramsey said...

And as you hinted at already, there's also the matter that crowd nastiness can lead to shouting things from the rooftops that aren't quite true. (For example, is the emperor really a "fatty"?) IMHO, this is more of a problem than tone itself, although the desire to maintain what might charitably call a "forceful" tone can and has led to exaggeration and distortion.

Faust said...

I may be reading this a bit differently than you intended it, but only because I'm rather willfully pushing those elements that I think are most vital.

But your response here emphasizes precisely those elements:

"And how after you express an obvious truth candidly, there might be reasons to reflect more about communication, and about how/when/why you should repeat it."

This is a concern about the consequences of communication. Communicating in such and such a way leads to outcome X and communicating in such and so a way leads to outcome Y. My closing point was

"In any case I do think that in the end it must come down to a disagreement about consequences. The consequences that ensue from The Emperor Having No Clothes and the consequences that result from how we respond to this pleasant/unpleasant fact."

You then go on to note

"It's as if the fact that something is true is automatically a reason to shout it from the rooftops."

This is exactly what I meant when I noted that The Epistemic Problem and the Consequences problem are conflated in typical "new atheist" discourse, the premiere example being Harris's Moral Landscape.

In the exchange between Mooney and Meyers, Meyers basically came right out and said (paraphrase): "the truth is where it's at and damn the consequences." (I don't have the transcript in front of me but I think that's not an unfair characterization. Someone will surely correct me if I'm wrong here).

You continue:

"If you really wanted to be serious about harm, obviously you'd have to be serious about benefit too, and I find many new atheists not very interested in that topic."

Again this is what I meant by references to "vital illusions" and the like. It seems clear that in some cases it may be that false beliefs (e.g. "we have free will") are helpful to society or to particular ideologies (e.g. libertarianism and the notion of homo economicus).

So I think we are very close on this. But I think that you need to layer into your story (or make more explicit) that there is

1. An epistemic problem (people are confused about the actual state of the Emperor's clothing).

and

2. The consequences that ensue from a) being mistaken about the Emperor's clothes and b) the way this fact is dealt with by the society that must come to terms with this fact.

We admire the bravery of those who speak out about the reality of the Emperor's lack of clothing. We become concerned when we think that obsession over the Emperor's lack clothes (The Epistemic Problem) is a distraction from other important problems in the neighborhood (The Consequences that ensue not only from the lack of clothes but from all the various issues surrounding that lack).

What is not really debated (among Emperor-Have-No-Clothesists) is the fact that the Emperor has no clothes. What IS debated is whether or not it is a problem that he has no clothes (is the Emperor’s lack of a wardrobe a problem for people who go to Emperor Fashion School?), and in what way the fact that he has no clothes should be communicated to those who persist in thinking that he does (insult people who think he has no clothes or not?).

Ophelia Benson said...

I see insufficient reflection in new/gnu atheist circles.

Well, with all due modesty and all due recognition of self-serving bias, I think I engage in a fair amount of reflection. I even sometimes acknowledge error. I sometimes acknowledge saying too much or speaking too hastily.

"new/gnu atheist circles" is general, of course, but since this post starts with a post of mine along with one of someone else's, I think it's fair to treat the claim as at least including me. It may be true that I don't do sufficient reflection (but then who does?), but I think I do a fair amount.

Aeolus said...

If I remember the story of the emperor's new clothes correctly, no one -- not the emperor and not his subjects -- can see the new clothes, but no one wants to admit it because they have been told it will prove they are too stupid to see them. When the child speaks out, people realize that their perception is really the truth.

But most people who claim the God exists really believe it. They perceive God in a myriad of ways: in nature, in the goodness of life, in prayers they believe have been answered. If someone says, "God does not exist," they don't say, "By Jove, she's right!" They say, "What a stupid person, not to see what is obvious to the rest of us." And if this person then starts insulting believers, they think, "This person, besides being stupid and rude, must be up to some mischief."

Jean Kazez said...

Yikes, I forgot about that aspect of the story. Now it all comes back.... My renditions assume the girl is brave to speak out, whereas in the original, she just hasn't heard that if you're smart, you'll see the clothes. However you tell it, in the story the adults do see that the emperor is naked--it's obvious. So does that make the story unsuitable for talking about atheists and religious folk--because the religious folk really do believe, and the atheists don't? Well....I wasn't really drawing a tight analogy. I was just thinking about the girl's candor, and how it could change into something else if a crowd chimed in.

As to whether religious people really do believe-- Well.....probably. But here's an online version of the article Ophelia was talking about, which is at the very least interesting and provocative.

http://stairs.umd.edu/236/meta-atheism.html

The final version is in Philosophers without Gods (Antony).

JP said...

The parable is most appropriate - just not in the way Jean thinks. The strikingly salient feature of the story as she tells it - a feature she seems oblivious to - is that that Emperor is still an emperor, and the mocking children are still subjects of his rule. The tone-monitors are clearly monarchists who see nothing wrong with, and certainly nothing profoundly offensive to human dignity, about the fact that there is an emperor placed above them to begin with. And all the while, the children would be perfectly happy with a republic won peacefully - they're hardly calling for the Emperor to end up like Charles I, for all his naked portliness.

Jean Kazez said...

Think parable. It's not actually about kids, it's not actually about emperors. The "gnu" version isn't about kids and emperors either. It's about how initial candor can gradually evolve into something else.

JP said...

Parable, indeed - one originally about the exercise of social power (at least in part), and still about the exercise of social power in your retelling (even more so, in fact, however unintentionally). The parable would never get off the ground if the Emperor wasn't an emperor, since no-one would have had a reason to ignore his nudity. The upright and ever-so-considerate adults would have been the first to cart off a naked prole for public indecency.

The fact that you did not immediately recognise the salience of the unintended reading of your version (and did not perhaps choose to make your point with a more fitting parable in consequence), is rather revealing of your own monarchistic tendencies. Which - surprise! - isn't actually about your political position on monarchy.

Jean Kazez said...

JP, You think the story, on my retelling, is only unintentionally about social power? Of course not! It's entirely about social power. It's social power that limits the brave girl. We rightly admire her because she stands up to it.

It's also social power that turns the other kids into a mob--because they become a little society of their own, reinforcing each others excesses and suppressing the dissent of the adults.

I have the feeling you didn't understand the post. As for my being a monarchist...if you mean I'm a theist, no you're wrong.

JP said...

No, I don't mean you're a theist - you've attested to the contrary many times. But your revealed preference is also for the social status quo regarding religion. So I don't believe I am misunderstanding your original point; you thought your parable was a good one for your purposes because the children who have followed the girl in denouncing the Emperor in his nakedness are, supposedly, clearly in the wrong. But they only appear to be clearly in the wrong - in the context of the story - when one forgets that they are children, that the people admonishing them are adults, and that their target is an emperor. And only a monarchist could side with an emperor and his cronies against the children who mock them. Similarly, only an apologist for the continued social domination of religion can so consistently and insistently stand against its rather mellow fiercest popular critics. Dawkins and Coyne are not exactly Robespierre and Saint-Just, that one should perhaps oppose them on humanitarian grounds.

Jean Kazez said...

One of the things you're missing is that the post makes it clear that I'm a fan of Dawkins and Harris. I'm saying there's a difference between their books and what you often see at some of today's atheist blogs. Their books are candid, but not contemptuous. Think about it--I actually could be right!

JP said...

Well, Richard has never struck me as one short on imperiousness, in his writing, or (even less so) in person. And even if Harris' writings were full of contempt for the faithful, that would be the least of their intellectual problems. But you liking them, or even you disliking the writings of Coyne and Benson in particular (for all their possible foibles), is at least somewhat independent of whether repeatedly decrying the vituperation directed specifically against an overwhelming social power like religion amounts to reactionary apologism. And of whether your parable is more naturally read in support of your point, or in evidence against it.

Eric Dutton said...

I'm a bit late here, but I only just found this post through Butterflies and Wheels.
I think that this parable doesn't quite work in its retelling for this reason:
We (the mob) are not shouting that the emperor is naked simply to embarrass him. We aren't doing it because we see how much fun the little girl is having or because we wish we could be just as observant and witty as she is. We're "shouting" because, even after the brilliant little girl has chanted, we've noticed that, still, no one in our little village can win an election unless they campaign nude; and that if we go to work fully clothed, we could lose the respect of our emperor-loving bosses; but mostly because we still see our loved ones wandering barefoot through blizzards and blaming their swollen and bleeding feet on their lack of faith in the thick, warm, invisible boots their loving emperor has all but demanded they wear--maybe vowing to prove their devotion by staying outside until their feet are healed.
We're just trying to help that little girl because, even though she's doing a good job, people we care about are still losing their toes.

Jon Dreyer said...

The emperor may enjoy being naked, but most people still seem to think he's not and happily accede to his rule. So there's still a problem here. The first girl's work isn't done, however unpleasant it may be.

Jean Kazez said...

I agree that the girl's work is not done, but I think some of her successors are doing the work in the wrong way, and the parable gets at some of the dynamics behind that.

anthrosciguy said...

But the crowd in your story was right. They were saying something that was true, and others demanded they stop saying something that is true. Doesn't that have any bearing on whether or not they should be told to shut up?

Eric Dutton said...

I'm always nervous about disagreeing on blog comments because it's easy to read dissent as bilious dissent.

I disagree that this parable gets at some of the dynamics behind the behavior of the new atheists. It makes an assumption about our motivations and simply illustrates that assumption with a clever parable. That said, it works rather beautifully if you accept that assumption.
But...
We are not motivated by admiration or schadenfreude so much as by a passion for what we see as an important cause. We are fighting against a set of ideas that does more that spread bad information; it ruins people's lives. Embarrassing others or feeling superior to them is not the point.

Deepak Shetty said...

Some of the adults said: "Children. You're right he's naked. The brave girl was perfectly right to say so. But you've gotten carried away. It's time to think this through.

Perhaps if this was all that was being said , you might have a point. But surely even you recognize this is a watered down , sanitized version of events.
And Im curious How many accomodationists actually say Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins were the brave little guys who spoke the truth and were right?

Jean Kazez said...

Eric--my story doesn't spell out what is "gnu" excess and what is just a continuation of likable "new" candor. There's definitely plenty of the latter out there--don't take me to be saying there isn't!

Deepak--Watered down and sanitized...yeah, there's something to that. I've made so-called accommmodationists (the "adults" in story #2) say what they ought to say (by my lights) not what all really do say. But some do have this set of attitudes--I can think of a few prominent people who object to gnastiness but not to the original new atheists.

Deepak Shetty said...

say what they ought to say
But they don't. They think they are saying this.
But some do have this set of attitudes
I gknow one(gnot you). Do you have any other gnames? gnote that everyone from Dawkins to Denett have been called gnasties - so its hard to gknow which gnastiness is being complained about.

Philboid Studge said...

jean, the Emperor's New Clothes analogy is
so 2006
.

Eric Dutton said...

It's not that I think you believe there isn't any likable "new" candor, it's that I think this parable exaggerates the prevalence and relevance of the "excess" out there.

Jean Kazez said...

Phibold, Oh come on, I love that story--I get to use it too.

Deepak, I'm not a huge expert, but examples might be (hmm)...Paul Kurtz, Jennifer Michel Hecht, Phil Plait.

Adam said...

The problem with gnu and new atheists alike is that they spend all of their time banging on about nothing at all. Can someone please point me to a rigorous argument by Ophelia Benson, or even Dawkins or Harris before I just accept that all theists are worthy of is mockery.

I'm not even asking for an argument to back up the claim that theism is so obviously false that nobody is in the epistemic position to rationally believe it. I assume this is the kind of proposition that Ophelia Benson was hinting at - it's sometimes hard to work out what the hell she is babbling on about.

I just wan't a good argument. How about one of the Gnu's start with an attack on one of the modern arguments from contingencey (you guys don't always have to go after the medieval versions of arguments you know?). I jst want something from a gnu/new atheist that isn't all rhetoric.

Jean Kazez said...

Adam, Please do read the comment policy. You're violating it with all that mud-slinging.

Adam said...

I apologise if I got a bit carried away. I'll try to refrain from slinging mud in the future. Let me make my point another way though.

Popperian pictures of science are particularly popular (especially amongst those paragons of rationality that are the new/gnu atheists, ironically), they are also wrong beyond any reasonable doubt. Popper’s cultural influence, however, far exceeds that of his critics.

Despite all of this I (and many others) have somehow managed to refrain from coming to the conclusion that anybody who adopts a popperian picture of science is an absolute idiot who deserves to be mocked at every opportunity. I can’t speak for all of my fellow gnu-quinians, but I have managed to refrain from such behaviour through the realisation that not everyone is in fact in the same epistemic position as myself, coupled with the fact that to behave in this kind of way would make me a massive… well… I don’t want to sling too much mud at this hypothetical version of myself.

Sometimes I will even manage to offer an argument to show why this view of science is wrong. This is perhaps the kind of thing gnu-atheists could think about doing themselves. But I do tend to find that “well it’s just so obvious you are wrong – you idiot!” doesn’t really work. Furthermore, this kind of response makes it look like I haven’t really considered the arguments fully myself, and that the confidence I have in my own position may be misplaced.

James Sweet said...

Excuse me if I have trouble working up much sympathy for a guy getting called a "fatty" when he is also an all-powerful emperor with unimaginable wealth and power. In fact I actually think this is quite a good analogy to the deference shown to religion in the public square.