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Biologist and philosopher Pigliucci won’t renew membership in new atheists?

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New atheism is the basis of schoolbook Darwinism, of course.

And it turns out, Massimo Pigliucci, the defender of falsifiability, is not a fan of the new atheist cult:

The Harris-Chomsky exchange, in my mind, summarizes a lot of what I find unpleasant about SAM: a community who worships celebrities who are often intellectual dilettantes, or at the very least have a tendency to talk about things of which they manifestly know very little; an ugly undertone of in-your-face confrontation and I’m-smarter-than-you-because-I-agree-with [insert your favorite New Atheist or equivalent]; loud proclamations about following reason and evidence wherever they may lead, accompanied by a degree of groupthink and unwillingness to change one’s mind that is trumped only by religious fundamentalists; and, lately, a willingness to engage in public shaming and other vicious social networking practices any time someone says something that doesn’t fit our own opinions, all the while of course claiming to protect “free speech” at all costs.

Let me give you some examples and name some names of big boys who can take the criticism and who will keep doing what they have been doing regardless of what I write anyway.

I have already mentioned Harris, who writes about ethics with little acknowledgment (or understanding, or both) of just how complex a topic it is, and how much literature there is out there to engage with. As he infamously wrote in the first footnote of chapter 1 of The Moral Landscape, “Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy … [but] I am convinced that every appearance of terms like ‘metaethics,’ ‘deontology,’ … directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe.” Why are we taking such a brazen display of anti-intellectualism as anything more than a clear mark of an overinflated ego? But far from that, Michael Shermer then builds on Harris’ point (or perhaps simply restates it, at much greater length), coming out with yet another “revolutionary” book about the science of ethics, predicated on an argument that had so many holes in it that I felt a bit embarrassed having to explain them in a public forum a couple of years ago [15].

Then we have Neil deGrasse Tyson. Great science popularizer, but also prone to anti-intellectualism in the form of dismissing an entire field (philosophy) of which he knows nothing at all [16], not to mention his sometimes questionable behavior when it comes to intellectual fairness, as even my colleague (with whom I often disagree) Jerry Coyne has firmly pointed out [17]. That particular episode had to do with yielding to the whims of yet another physicist/anti-intellectualist who has become a darling of SAM: Lawrence Krauss [18].

Yeah. News here remembers Krauss. News was at a science writers’ gig in 2009 at Science North (where else?)

Liked his presentation but wrote later that it isn’t strictly true, as he claimed, that Hollywood films harm science by presenting alternative realities as fiction. (= If it’s called fiction, including science fiction, it’s fiction. If you want serious science, try MOOCs.)

Well then, that guy was soon raising hell,with my editor at Salvo, a mag I write for. Fortunately, the editor was used to the type, so I still write there.

So one can guess what Pigliucci doesn’t like.

From Salvo: My series Data Basic, An intro to info theory.

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4 Replies to “Biologist and philosopher Pigliucci won’t renew membership in new atheists?

  1. 1
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Massimo is upset because he’s a philosopher first and the neo-atheists like to pretend they’re scientists of some kind (and therefore have no need for philosophy). But the philosophers did it to themselves. Here’s one rare case where I agree with Harris:

    I am convinced that every appearance of terms like ‘metaethics,’ ‘deontology,’ … directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe.

    He’s right of course. Post-modernist philosophy is a comedy of academic new-speak. It’s almost impossible to parody it. But Massimo claims that a failure to get interested in unreadable volumes of that nonsense is “anti-intellectual”.

    He still hasn’t come to grips with the fact that when you try to reconcile materialism (Darwinism and its offshoots) with reason and humanity itself, you end up with incompressible gibberish. Say hello to contemporary philosophy. 🙂

    But give him credit for being willing to name names (and try to make a name for himself?) and carve out a new position — a neo-new-atheist of some sort.

  2. 2
    JT75 says:

    To: Silver Asiatic

    You have conflated “post-modern philosophy” with “contemporary philosophy.” Most contemporary philosophers have as little time for post-modern thinking and also see it as absurd (to your point).

    E.g. Alvin Plantinga has written: “postmodernism is a kind of failure of epistemic nerve.” (Warranted Christian Belief, Oxford, 2000), 437.

    Philosophy, like many other academically rigorous disciplines, produces volumes that are “unreadable” only to the laity. This does not make it unintelligible per se, only unintelligible to those new to the ideas. Pigliucci’s point, with which I agree, is that some of the New Atheists (e.g. Harris/Shermer) blithely traipse into an issue in philosophy wholly unconcerned to engage with the professionals writing in that area; an attitude they would find wholly illicit if done in the sciences.

    Pigliucci’s claim, then, is not that one’s failure to be interested in post-modern philosophy displays anti-intellectualism. His claim is that non-philosophers writing in areas of philosophy should not display the kind of insouciance toward the discipline that, e.g. Harris, displays. When they do, it is a mark of anti-intellectualism.

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:


    I understand.

    I’ll say though, that it’s a problem to say (although true) that contemporary philosophers have little time for post-modern philosophy, and then also insist that other academics should be very familiar with contemporary philosophy.

    My point is that Pigliucci’s own philosophical position is anti-intellectual. That’s the problem with atheist-materialism, it’s ‘conflicted’ when it comes to understanding what rationality and human life really are.

    Beyond that, Harris (and the neo-atheist scientists) are usually pretty openly opposed to philosophy of any era.

    They’re also irrational in this, since you can’t draw any conclusions without a philosophical position, but they argue that everything is reducible to chemistry and physics.

    So, philosophical problems and questions are merely questions of physics, in the reductionist view.

    Pigliucci has never really come to grips with that. He likes to fight for the humanities (protecting his own academic discipline) but unless he’s willing to defend a non-physical-reductionist view (which I don’t think he is), Harris and company will win this one.

    In any case, I agree with much of what you said – and yes, I did incorrectly conflate post-modern with contemporary. I’d agree that Plantinga is a example of good work by a contemporary philosopher, and I also think his writing is rigorous, but very accessible to the educated layman.

    Great philosophers are like that (in my opinion). They’re interested in communicating wisdom – and that often (not always) speaks with a simple, universal language.

    Yes, at the same time, there is need for academic rigor and specialized vocabulary. Post-modernism took that, however, to absurd excesses.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    semi related:

    Darwin’s Robots: When Evolutionary Materialists Admit that Their Own Worldview Fails – Nancy Pearcey – April 23, 2015
    Excerpt: When I teach these concepts in the classroom, an example my students find especially poignant is Flesh and Machines by Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT. Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine — a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But, he says, “When I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.”
    Is that how he treats them, though? Of course not: “That is not how I treat them…. I interact with them on an entirely different level. They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.” Certainly if what counts as “rational” is a materialist worldview in which humans are machines, then loving your children is irrational. It has no basis
    within Brooks’s worldview. It sticks out of his box.
    How does he reconcile such a heart-wrenching cognitive dissonance? He doesn’t. Brooks ends by saying, “I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.” He has given up on any attempt to reconcile his theory with his experience. He has abandoned all hope for a unified, logically consistent worldview.
    Losing Total Truth
    This is the tragedy of the postmodern age. The things that matter most in life, that are necessary for a humane society — ideals like moral freedom, human dignity, even loving our own children — have been reduced to nothing but useful fictions. They are tossed into the upper story, which becomes a convenient dumping ground for anything that a materialist paradigm cannot explain.
    Tragically, over time those humane ideals will inevitably lose their hold. After all, we are made in God’s image as logical beings; thus we tend to follow the logical consequences of our premises. It is psychologically impossible to accept concepts that we regard as fictions, no matter how useful. If someone like Brooks genuinely thinks his children are just mechanisms operating by whirring gears, that conviction will eventually erode the “unconditional love” he feels for them.

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