August 04, 2011

#PZMyers ... not all thought is equally free

Gnu Atheist grand poohbah P.Z. Myers is welcome to leave Scienceblogs and go to FreethoughtBlogs. (I still wish National Geographic would make a clean break of things and replace him, or what's left of his scienceblogging, on Sciblogs.) Beyond his scientific field of evolutionary biology, he has little insight into philosophy in general or philosophical skepticism in general. Beyond that, he has little insight into atheism.

His attempts to claim Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens aren't conservatives is laughable.

And, now, he's making a mish-mash of allegedly liberal politics, his interpretation of skepticism, and Gnu Atheism into one big stew of dreck.

The header says that atheism is an essential part of skepticism.

First, it absolutely isn't, philosophically. What he is saying is, in essence, that atheism is logically necessary for skepticism. Well, it simply isn't, neither for modern "scientific skepticism," nor for ancient philosophical skepticism, in either of its main branches. In fact, an insistence on atheism runs directly counter to the tenets of Pyrrhonism.

When you're this wrong, you're, per Wolfgang Pauli (no, Feynmann didn't say it first), you're not even wrong.

Certainly, a Gnu Atheism that isn't skeptical of itself isn't in a point to be pontifical. But, no surprise that it is. Now, PZip, would those atheist be ALL atheists, or do the conservatives that you want to exclude from "true atheism" not count? (Unless they're like the neocon Sam Harris, whom you antiskeptically claim isn't a conservative.)

Later in the post, it's clear that PZ wants to politicize skepticism, too, just like atheism. He does, on paper, extend an equal hand to both sides:
Liberals and conservatives can join, but only if they don’t demand that their beliefs be exempt from skepticism. You want to oppose same-sex marriage? Sure, let’s argue about it! You show me your evidence that homosexuality is bad, or that gay marriages will damage heterosexual marriages.
But, in reality, given the Daniel Loxton column he criticizes, the fact that all the "expand skepticism" bloggers he cites clearly self-identify as liberal, AND P.Z.'s expressed desire to ban conservatives from "true atheism," that's just window dressing.

And, yes, he does believe that about who the real atheists are:
It is entirely true that one can be an atheist, in the very narrowest sense of the word as someone who does not believe in gods, and a conservative.

However, one cannot be a rational, intelligent human being and contributing member of society and hold the conservative views you do.
And, yes, he denies wanting to define "truth atheism," but he takes away with one hand what he gives with the other.

Freethought blogs? Well, only for a subsegment of thinkers, or "thinkers." Or for the "cadre of vocal atheists" Dear Gnu Leader would like to see.

Beyond that, Myers' post is stupid in many other ways.

There are millions of beliefs that have bupkis to do with skepticism. Like whether the Phillies or the Rangers will win the World Series this year. Or whether Obama will be re-elected or not.

Seriously, as Loxton notes, skepticism needs to have a certain focus. It can have that focus and set politics aside while yet being inclusionary. And, taking the scientific focus of modern skepticism at face value, many political beliefs are little more amenable to scientific review than are who will win the World Series -- or, per the old Latin, "de gustibus non disputandum," whether Beethoven or Mozart was "better." Sure, some specific politics-based claims can be examined, such as claims that abortion increases cancer risks. But, something like "what variety of feminism is best," or "is a third-party vote 'wasted,'" or "are conservatives not true atheists," are not amenable to scientific and skeptical study. Period.

Of course, this is the same insightful thinker who took an unscientific poll, uncritically accepted some of its claims at face value while ignoring others, and essentially lied about guilt-free sexual superiority of atheists.

Add to that the hypocrisy of someone like Myers, who wants atheism to have smaller tent, claiming that skepticism should have a bigger tent, and the circle is complete.

Finally, in terms of classical definitions, this is part of why I'm a "soft" atheist and not a "hard" one.


Alan Mairson said...

>> I still wish National Geographic would make a clean break of things and replace him, or what's left of his scienceblogging, on Sciblogs.<<

I couldn't agree more, and have been making that argument for months, to no avail:

Problem is, his act — a PhD who profanely insults people of faith — has a huge audience. And audience is why NG acquired SciBlogs in the first place.

Gadfly said...

Alan, on Google Plus I suggested a couple of ways of snagging more "audience," such as a nanotech blogger. Maybe a "futurist" blogger would be good too.