Biology is considered quite a technical field – with many areas of it that are quite impenatrable, or even uninteresting to your average layperson atheist.
I say this because there is a staggeringly interesting thing I have noticed – Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers don’t spend an awful lot of time complaining about how New Atheists are ignorant of biology.
Instead, they spend a lot of time putting forward interesting knowledge about biology that we didn’t know before. They rail against the religious – but they don’t whine about the choir all that much.
And so every now and then something they say becomes a meme or a commonly used argument in larger atheist circles, a bit like how Bertrand Russel’s teapot has been updated to the Flying Spaghetti Monster and invisible pink unicorn.
You see a big part of their success is quite simply this – they don’t come out swinging with how even the people who agree with them can’t stand sitting through one of their lectures.
It is not about solidarity, its about how when even the people who should like you don’t, it sends a message.
If you are a historian and you complain about how these New Atheists aren’t interested in the history of atheism – you aren’t saying they are ignorant of history, you are just saying they find you boring so they don’t listen.
If you want to present your “Better arguments for atheism” then go ahead and do so. If it works, then your results will speak for themselves, and if it doesn’t, well at least you are arguing about the subject rather than your audience.
Now a final note here on the whole foofarah over new atheists not knowing much atheist history – I have been kind of looking for some good books on early Indian atheism and its interplay with the rise of Hinduism – anybody got any recomendations?
this was a hole lot of nothing. I happen to enjoy reading and watching, Dawkins, Coyne, and all the others. I wouldn’t call myself educated in the sense that a have an impressive background in some educational field, But i spend a lot of my free time learning about the things that interest me. I dont need to be an expert at biology. there are plenty of them out their, and even the little pieces i learn from these people are usually enough to stop a religious person in their tracks and render them speechless in an argument. as a matter of fact, i dont think there is one person alive that needs to know one thing about biology to have a solid argument against religion.
“Instead, they spend a lot of time putting forward interesting knowledge about biology that we didn’t know before” Yes, that’s what you do when you want to get people interested in biology. You write books for them to read and become inspires to learn more.
I dont even know what point you are trying to make with paragraphs 5-7. as a matter of fact i really dont know what to say about this whole article. So you say most people dont understand biology. O.K. and that lectures can be boring. That Dawkins and crew should address this with their audience, and that there success in their field is do to not addressing these issues with their audience. Kind of like how the success of most religious authority’s are probably do to them not pointing out the shortcomings of their religion to their audience.
the more i read this, the more pointless it seems to get.
Well said. It is a point that I have made myself. I run into people who criticize my approach (I consider myself a gnu atheist as well) but who simply refuse to put their perspective in the ring. They don’t like how we are doing it, but they do nothing. Almost makes me want to say “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game!”, but that would be dumb…
Are you saying that “new” atheists are just parroting soundbites from the “big guys” like Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and not really paying attention to their examples of biological and other scientific evidence? This suggests we are just following a trend that will soon pass; that none of us have done a thorough examination of our beliefs or researched the evidence presented to us. It suggests that neither science or religion has any real interest for us.
It is the religious right who insist on forcing us to believe what they say or burn in hell forever that don’t have an interest in science or anything else. Ignorance of history is usually due the false or obscured information in schools who skim over biology for fear of the wrath of parents who don’t want their children exposed to the theory of evolution by natural selection. “New” atheists have learned to question their beliefs and not hide from evidence.
I would like to know your evidence for claiming that the average lay atheist finds science too complicated and uninteresting.
I’m sure that Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers would be perfectly happy to hear from an atheist that they were boring and tedious and give them a courteous and reasonable reply.
I have seen a lot of people falling asleep in churches… and when they woke up, they all had white hair.
atheists who say there is no God, open your eyes and just look at the stars. then use your bit of grey matter. Jesus died for all sinners
…and your point is…
Is there a point here ?
March 25, 2011 at 11:09 pm
The point is this: Lately there has been a whole lot of demanding the audience do research into various fields before getting to make its own arguments.
We had had John Shook at CFI arguing that atheists should read more atheology and current theology for example. Michael Ruse recently complained about how the “New Atheists” are a threat to American intellectual life – mainly because they echo jokes.
Jean Kazez recently even argued that there are fields simply too technical to be popularised in the public square – essentially saying the public square was too thick to get moral error theory.
And this sort of pre-bashing of your own base kind of needs to stop.
The average New Atheist has generally thought through their position, it is not one free of stigma or social consequences – but this demand that we all act like total scholars the whole time and be clued up on every possible scholarly field related to atheism, isn’t realistic.
You are going to get your dumbasses, and as atheism becomes more acceptable you will get more of them. Its not a threat to intellectual life – and nor is it the rise of some sort of orthodoxy.
This demand for greater scholarly seriousness is coupled with complaints about dumbing down, which lets face it is about expressing an unwillingness to write things in a way that is clear to your average person.
I have read a lot of theology out of my own interests and out of my own interest I read a bit of history – but that is my own interest. It is unreasonable to expect that every person who calls him or herself an atheist have those same interests.
In decrying “EZ Atheists” for creating an orthodoxy as one critic does, we have a group of people who look like they are trying to browbeat in their own orthodoxy where atheists have to be serious all the time.
My suggestion with that group of people is this: If you think people are ignorant stop complaining and present the information you want people to know in a clear manner.
You can’t force people to be interested, you need to make the information interesting.
Its much like on a gaming board – you can complain about how newbies act and everything and get a name for being a community killing troll, or you can be friendly and help the newbies improve.
I suggest the old atheists stop complaining about the very existance of newbies and start providing resources open to those newbies.
One tiny niggle: Ambrose Bierce, not Pierce
I agree very much with what you are saying here.
My wife is an Animal Scientist and we go to some zoological conferences. A few have ended with the scientists all talking about the need to market their ideas to a wider audience. It seems that scientists are good at research, but not great at the soundbite sell. This is sad to me, because some of this research could really use the coverage. One particular piece of research on the effects of microplastics (we are finding them in the flesh of sea animals) really hit me a few years ago.
In saying that however, it always strikes me that when a scientist or academic does attempt to do the sell, they get accused of being too popularist. It seems like we might be handicapping ourselves by not speaking out, and I think in this way the New Atheists have the idea.
Have I missed something? Dawkins has written over half a dozen best selling books on biology! Of coure, as I have not studied biology at a university level I cannot be expected to have the same grasp as he might, yet I can still generate significant understanding and interest in it. Many people do go to Dawkins’ lectures on biology. Just look at his website – a lot of the posts are about science – they are well commented on.
“atheists who say there is no God, open your eyes and just look at the stars.” The religious observed the stars for millenia and discerned nothing. After several centuries of scientifc research, we now know they are collosal fusion reactors. And the fact we can study and uncover more of their mysteries makes them even more fascinating.
The very first comment was right on! Whenever someone talks about god i say just replace it with the flying spaghetti monster. The flying spaghetti monster gives me strength and whenever i feel down the flying spaghetti monster is there to comfort me. remember he boiled for your sins!
Bottom line on all these kinds of articles is the argument is always the same but not with science. Every time there is new evidence it is screened checked and double checked unlike the bible. Just like greek mythology it is all stories that people in power believe because they like belonging to the group even though the group all believe in various interpretations of the story. Mormons have a great one. science does not care if there is or is not a god just facts. Why do you think the more people are educated the less they believe.
I think it’s really the “old” athiests trying to convince the new atheists that the oldersters are still relevant – much in the way that 70′s feminists are mad that the modern feminists ignore the history to be their own kind of feminists.
revolutionaries rarely like what direction the next generation of revolutionaries has change the revolution to
and the old ones want to continue being revolutionary, when really, they are now part of the convention being rejected by the new athiests
via la revolution
and to whatever the next new athiests will bring
Actually, that there’s a plethora of religions currently and historically practised is enough to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the idea of religion, any religion being real.
when you can dismiss religion on the face of it – the details of each do not matter,
demosntrating reality to people who have rejected reality in favour of religion isn’t going to make them leave religion – they have already rejected reality
what’s needed is to deal with their mental illness – and using an either or framework of religion or reality is not going to compell them to do anything but to cling to their religion more
we need to convince them that their meaning is defined by what is real – their job, their hobbies, their family and friends – that there is meaning in the real world around them
once they accept that the real world is where their meaning lies and it it what is real – then they can set about learning more about the real world
but, forcing the real world on them, without understanding why they clung to the unreal framework of religion
you have to wonder, how many really do learn to swim by being thrown into the water vs just develop more phobias about swimming?
‘This demand for greater scholarly seriousness is coupled with complaints about dumbing down, which lets face it is about expressing an unwillingness to write things in a way that is clear to your average person. ”
You can actually state that about Myers and Dawkins…they are scholarly about biology, but I have noticed they really don’t seem conversant with basic ideas in other fields…
Recently, somebody posted a video on RD.net and transcendence was mentioned, but Dawkins did not understand what it meant. The idea of the transcendent is basic to religion, but Dawkins had never been exposed to it it seems. That is not a scholarly atheist.