Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bonfire of the Strawmen

This is one of the stupidest fucking things I have ever read. Take it from the top:

Atheists like to think of themselves as free thinkers whose take on the world is more intelligent than that of those who are religious. Often they hold up sketchy studies as proof that their skepticism of a higher power has somehow made them smarter than the paranoid idiots who believe there might be something beyond themselves.

And religious people love to quote Psalm 14 as if they thought of it themselves, the fool hath said in his heart there is no God, neener neener. We're all big fat meanies, so what?

"Often" we hold up sketchy studies. As soon as I saw this, I knew what she was referring to, so let's scroll down a bit and...yep. That is indeed what she's talking about:

Yet just a few weeks ago when Professor Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics announced research showing those identified as atheists had higher IQs, atheists smugly held up the data as proof positive that people not confined by the dogmatic structure of a religion are best able to soar intellectually. Never mind that the differences in IQ were too small to draw sweeping conclusions.

Given that she started off this essay making broad, unsupported claims about what atheists supposedly think, I must say that I'm even a little more suspicious now that she doesn't name or link to any of these atheists crowing about this study, because one of the most famous ones I know of had this to say about it:


Show me the error bars on those measurements. Show me the reliability of IQ as a measure of actual, you know, intelligence. Show me that a 6 point IQ difference matters at all in your interactions with other people, even if it were real. And then to claim that these differences are not only heritable, but evolutionarily significant…jebus, people, you can just glance at it and see that it is complete crap.
And then look at the source: Satoshi Kanazawa, the Fenimore Cooper of Sociobiology, the professional fantasist of Psychology Today. He's like the poster boy for the stupidity and groundlessness of freakishly fact-free evolutionary psychology. Just ignore anything with Kanazawa's name on it.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. So unless Ms. Emling can cite someone more influential than a commenter on a blog somewhere or the voices at the bottom of a bottle, I'm going to have to conclude that even if these arrogant atheists in love with their I.Q. tests didn't exist, she would invent them.

And back to her earlier non-sequitur: like every atheist I've ever known, I have no problem accepting that there is "something beyond" myself. There's a helluva lotta "something" beyond myself, in fact! It's just that none of it is a personal, loving, anthropomorphic deity who cares about you and your petty wants and needs and your favorite sports teams, which is really the only kind of "God" anyone cares to believe in, or else Deism would have never died out. Methinks she's confusing - and probably not by accident - atheism and solipsism. In fact, I'm really beginning to doubt that she is operating in intellectual good faith here! But let's move on:

I'm no religious zealot, but I do like the idea of atheists being introduced to another perspective. After all, there are plenty of smart people who also are religious. And there also are plenty of highly acclaimed scientists - Francis Collins, to name just one - who have found faith after achieving great academic success and who are outspoken defenders of the compatibility of science and religion.

While you're at PZ's blog checking out the post I linked to, you can do a search for Francis Collins and see what he's already had to say about his "high acclaim". I'll just concentrate on what she apparently thinks is some counterintuitive insight, that atheists should spend time getting acquainted with what the other side thinks.

When it comes to my family and circle of close friends, I am the only one who calls myself an atheist. Some of them are devout Christians, and one in particular is one of the smartest and most inquisitive guys I know. Some are touchy-feely New Agers. Some would agree with most anything derogatory I'd say about religion but would still prefer some vague, amorphous label like "spiritual", or at least "agnostic", to outright atheism.

I'd bet that my experience is not unusual in the slightest. We live in a country that is anywhere from 80-90% Christian, depending on which polls you believe, and even those who shy away from the label "organized religion" hold to some inchoate belief in something sort of like God, even if they don't name it as such. There is almost no way for someone to become an atheist without having been exposed from childhood to religious concepts, beliefs, metaphors, and relatives determined to save your soul for your own good. Religion permeates pop culture as well as highbrow art. Atheists have had to fight an uphill battle for intellectual independence every step of the way while choosing their battles carefully. If we insulted and argued with every believer we know, we'd never get anything else done at all.

And yet, I'd also bet that the majority of believers don't personally know any atheists, and the ones they do know probably keep it to themselves for the reason I just mentioned. In modern times, atheists have had no choice in presidential elections but to vote for one Christian or another, but atheists are still the one group that a majority of voters would never consider voting for at all. We need to get over our preconceived stereotypes and assumptions? Get back to me when people stop imagining atheists as some freakish hybrid of Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Marilyn Manson who can't possibly be moral since they don't believe in divine reward and punishment.