Sunday, 28 December 2014

Five reasons against being an Amazing Atheist

It's time.

On the whole, I try to avoid ad hominem arguments: I prefer to critique the product, not the artist. I make an exception for Charlie Brooker, because of his years insulting various TV puppets personally. And I am going to add The Amazing Atheist to this list of two, because it is just too tempting to laugh at his bellowing coupon. 

This isn't an argument against atheism - the ontological category of the divine is beyond my remit. It is a click-bait list of good reasons why some people ought to spend less time videoing themselves and more time thinking.

1. Atheism is not a badge of intelligence.
The Amazing Atheist is convinced he is rational. Let's take his analysis of a small group of Christians who are trying to address their worries about pornography use. 

Over forty minutes, in which he debunks every post on one of their discussion threads, TAA makes public his own use of pornography (not a surprise, I suppose), and demonstrates how the absence of God means that pornography is okay. There is no sense of doubt, only the constant damning of the opposition, with natural selection evoked every so often as a specious excuse for TAA to spend his life in wankorama. 

Taking a group of young Christians is hardly an intellectual challenge - there are coherent arguments against pornography elsewhere, that include statistics and all sorts of scientific evidence. Bellowing profanity does not make TAA the heir to Aristotle, and this sort of tilting at weak windmills is probably something TAA copied from The Blind Watchmaker itself. 

2. Shouting at a video is not dialectic.
It is not any sort of accepted intellectual argument. TAA's strategy is to take a video that disagrees with his position, take it personally, play bits of it and shout at them. That sounds pretty entertaining, in the same way that watch a tramp slug cider, claim that the government are reading his mind, piss himself and fall over. 

My favourite example is during one of his countless tirades against feminism. He gets angry that his description of a blogger (in one of his other tirades) as 'a stick with tits' has been construed as sexist.

If you need it explained why that is sexist, you are reading the wrong blog. 

3. Natural Selection does not explain everything.
In a masterful essay, Stephen Jay Gould (not always an impeccable
source, but a professional biologist and a life-long rationalist) explore the bizarre reasoning that allowed evolutionary biologists to ascribe adaptive meaning to the colour of flamingo's feathers. The reductionist version of natural selection - which TAA appears to accept - is that everything must be determined by its use for either survival or reproduction.

Turns out that the feathers are pink because they eat shrimp, and the colour has no evolutionary meaning. It must be possible to find one, given enough imagination on the part of the investigator. But that's not scientific method.

When TAA justified pornography using natural selection (we are driven by the need to have sex, so masturbation), he drives his golf-buggy of science into the dunes and sandpits of unreason. Frankly, the opposite argument - that masturbation is bad because he ought to be saving his sacred sperm for reproduction only - is stronger. But equally stupid.

4. You are part of the patriarchy.
There's a picture of Nietzsche on the wall behind TAA is a few of his rants. Nietzsche once pondered why, after the death of God, people are still using grammar.

His point is - why hasn't the shift in theological perspectives led to a change in the way humanity communicates. The idea of God has dominated the way that humanity thought about itself for thousands of year (at least in Europe). Isn't the death of this idea an opportunity for new ways of thinking?

Sadly, patriarchy is a tougher stain to shift. I don't share the conspiracy theory that the patriarchy is still in full effect - there is a dialectic tension between feminist and patriarchal models that is shaping contemporary British society - but I do believe that the dominant modes of communication owe a great deal to traditional masculine privilege. 

Again, while some of the claims against prominent atheists may be malicious, the sheer number of complaints against male atheists in the 'atheism plus movement' keeps TAA in rants against the woolly minded feminist conspiracy. Seriously, dude, it might be worth thinking that the women have a point.

5. A bit of humility would not hurt.
I just read his meme page. He is worse than I thought.

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