“Why Are Big Name Atheists So Bad At Taking Criticism?” – (Patheos)

In my journeys today, I found yet another Atheism related (oriented?) article that caught my eye. Written by Adam Lee and published on Daylight Atheism, it is essentially a critique of the way that big name atheisms handle . . . critiques. I often enjoy Adam’s pieces, because, like me, he is not afraid of holding atheists to account when the action is warranted. He and Neil Carter (Godless In Dixie) are my 2 favorite Atheist Patheos contributers.

This piece begins it’s exploration with the elephant in the room 0f these recent times . . . Sam Harris’s spat with Ezra Klein. The spat that was supposed to have been settled over a week ago already (if memory serves).

But not in the eyes of Sam Harris, it would seem.

I wrote last week about Sam Harris’ feud with Vox and Ezra Klein, and I want to follow up on that. As a reminder, Harris gave a friendly, softball interview to the racist eugenicist Charles Murray, casting him as a persecuted victim of political correctness. When he was criticized for it in an article on Vox, Harris blew up, claiming that the criticism was a “hit job” and a bad-faith attempt to smear his reputation.

After several rounds of argument and reply, Harris agreed to have Ezra Klein on his podcast, and the two of them had a long, occasionally tense, but civil conversation. In that conversation, Harris acknowledged, “My fuse is pretty short,” and conceded that he’s been “very quick to attribute malice and bad faith… when it wasn’t warranted”.

I thought that that would be the end of it. But it seems Harris just can’t let it go, because in his latest podcast, he went back to angrily denouncing Klein:

I was laboring under the delusion that I should be able to reach the far left… At no point in my day or in any one of my podcasts do I wonder what can I say to convince a neo-Nazi that he’s wrong… I don’t consider neo-Nazis to be part of my audience. It’s now clear to me that I need to view the far left that way as well.

Sounds like someone has been in the presence of right-leaning individuals for so long that the whole scale is beginning to blur. Not to mention the implications of such a high profile rationalist so casually yanking the Overton window to the right.

Way to go.

If Harris seriously thinks Ezra Klein and Vox.com represent the far left fringe of American politics, I can suggest a list of people he should get acquainted with. I have a feeling he’d be unpleasantly surprised. But on a more serious note: Hasn’t Sam Harris basically just said that he’s never going to interview a liberal again? If his view of the far left is so broad, who’s not part of it?

The rest of the article explores first how even many of Harris’s disciples (FINE . . . fans. I embraced my inner Micheal Brooks) are raising an eyebrow to this seemingly intolerant and pig-headed behavier.
A man of reason behaving like like an overzealous theist? I still like him and think he’s smart, but I think he may be on the wrong side of this (to paraphrase a seemingly common viewpoint within the Harris fandom).
The rest of the article focuses on other big name atheists that have demonstrated similar behavior after being questioned over things ranging from seemingly sexist remarks (Richard Dawkins) to sharing the stage with a potential sexual predator (Matt Delehunty, when questioned about the Lawrence Krauss situation previous to an event where they were to share the same stage).
Why are big-name Atheists so prone to stubbornly digging in their heels rather than giving legitimate queries the consideration they deserve?

The first thing that I can tell you is that it is not just the big names that have this attitude. For years now, I have had off and on spats with atheists over perceived overreliance on the word (namely, its definition) in shaping their worldview. My Atheist Criticisms category records this journey right from my angry exit from the Atheist community in early 2014, to now.  A decision that I am now glad I made because had I stayed in that trajectory, I would likely not have pursued many of the fascinating topics that I have found since (such as the progression of AI).

That has been one of my most prominent criticisms of the atheist community, actually. To much time spent trying to grow that community whilst pissing away the growing cohort that is non-religious (but not atheist, as self-described) individuals.
The only prominent atheist that I have really seen deviate from this so far is Dusty Smith. While he is not without criticism (even on this blog at different times), I see few others taking non-Atheism related threats with much seriousness.

There is a reason why I have recently taken to calling Atheists some of the most annoying people on the face of the earth. Few cohorts display as much condescension as you see in that one. If they don’t have the theists beat then I suspect that it’s a close call.

Why has been a question that I have pondered for a while. I have a few suspicions.

The article, in its highlight of rampant doxastic closure at the top of the pyramid, could yield one clue. That is, appeal to authority. However, while I don’t doubt that is a piece of the puzzle, I suspect there is far more to it than that.
I suspect a combination of past religious dogmatic experiences in combination with the confidence that comes from approaching problems from a reasoned perspective, along with the confidence that comes from being within an ideological echo chamber.

Though one may abandon the ideology of religion, sometimes the behaviors or mental ticks don’t necessarily go out with it. Which can lead one to do things like citing as fact, ridiculous assertions like “All babies are born Atheist” or otherwise doubling down on so-called Shoe Atheism (the notion that everything, even inanimate objects, is atheist).
Add in a false understanding of what it means to approach a given situation from a standpoint of Logic, and we find ourselves with another possible piece.
And finally, take the habit (really, business model) of social media platforms encouraging birds of a flock to fly together, and you often end up with giant cohorts of almost hopelessly doxastically closed ideolouges of every variety.

So closed is the loop that many of these people likely think that they are open-minded. I was there once. I was just lucky enough to have someone call me out on my bullshit. Unfortunately, they themselves later went WAY off of the doxastic deep-end (how I don’t miss facebook), but such is life. If these people are good for anything, it’s observation and study.

Pig headed atheists are yet another unfortunate by-product of the age we live in. I suspect that cultural changes far beyond the invisible borders of that community are the only long-term answer to addressing this problem. Which is unfortunate, because the commons needs a united secular community as of decades ago.

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