Sam Kriss really doesn’t like me, or any atheists, for that matter. He name-checks me in a recent essay, Village Atheists, Village Idiots, in which he simultaneously makes the claim that the premises of atheism are obviously true, but that atheism induces dementia, which is slaughtering all prominent atheists in grisly ways.
Something has gone badly wrong with our atheists. All these self-styled intellectual titans, scientists, and philosophers have fallen horribly ill. Evolutionist faith-flayer Richard Dawkins is a wheeling lunatic, dizzy in his private world of old-fashioned whimsy and bitter neofascism. Superstar astrophysicist and pop-science impresario Neil deGrasse Tyson is catatonic, mumbling in a packed cinema that the lasers wouldn’t make any sound in space, that a spider that big would collapse under its own weight, that everything you see is just images on a screen and none of it is real. Islam-baiting philosopher Sam Harris is paranoid, his flailing hands gesticulating murderously at the spectral Saracen hordes. Free-thinking biologist PZ Myers is psychotic, screeching death from a gently listing hot air balloon. And the late Christopher Hitchens, blinded by his fug of rhetoric, fell headlong into the Euphrates.
Richard Dawkins seems to be doing quite well after his minor stroke, and is going to tour the US this Fall. “Wheeling lunatic” has never been a very good description of his behavior; he’s always calm, even as he says things I disagree with.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is also doing fine. As we’ll see, he still criticizes basic errors, which turns out to be Kriss’s real objection to him.
I rather agree with his description of Harris. He is a kind of paranoid racist Vulcan.
I don’t think I’m psychotic, but then, if I were, I probably wouldn’t think I was, would I? Again, “screeching death” is also terribly inapt, and why has he put me in a hot air balloon?
Christopher Hitchens is still dead. It wasn’t a fug that killed him, or even his own rhetoric, but cancer.
Speaking of rhetoric, though, isn’t it bad form to begin an essay that’s going to accuse people you don’t like of being hysterical and excessive with such excessive histrionics of your own? Not to mention howling about how they’re all diseased and dying.
It isn’t just the beginning, either. He’s just getting warmed up. The whole dang essay is Sam Kriss doing a war dance and screaming about those awful atheists.
Critics have pointed out this clutch of appalling polemic and intellectual failings on a case-by-case basis, as if they all sprang from a randomized array of personal idiosyncrasies. But while one eccentric atheist might be explicable, for all of the world’s self-appointed smartest people to be so utterly deranged suggests some kind of pattern. We need, urgently, a complete theory of what it is about atheism that drives its most prominent high priests mad.
But wait, Sam: you’ve just shrieked that all those atheists are insane and mad and deranged, but you haven’t actually made the case that we are. Applying extravagant adjectives and adverbs to people doesn’t make them more true. Fortunately, he’s going to give us his “complete theory” of what drives atheists mad, and it’s going to explain a lot. A lot about Sam Kriss, that is, but not really anything about those atheists.
His theory, which is his, is that atheists are saying things which are true and obvious too often. No, really, that’s the entirety of his complaint.
Whatever it is, it has something to do with a litany of grievances against the believoisie so rote that it might well (or ironically) be styled a catechism. These New Atheists and their many fellow travelers all share an unpleasant obsessive tic: they mouth some obvious banality—there is no God, the holy books were all written by human beings—and then act as if it is some kind of profound insight. This repetition-compulsion seems to be baked right into their dogma.
Weird, huh? And to make his case, he goes on and on about Neil deGrasse Tyson and his mockery of the rapper BoB, who claimed that the Earth was flat, and then Tyson pedantically explained multiple times that we can show that it is actually round, which Kriss found so annoying because isn’t it so obvious the Earth is round? And shut up Neil deGrasse Tyson, you think you’re so smart and that question is so easy and I know how to use a thesaurus so how come you’re so famous, and I’m not? And Bill Nye sucks, too.
There, you’ve got the gist of the whole thing, and unless you’re really into seeing people name-drop Kierkegaard 11 times, you can skip the rest.
It’s an odd performance. You know, I think creationism is obviously false, but that doesn’t mean everyone can or should shut up about it — it’s still an active political and theological force, even if all (and I mean all — even the latest bluster from the Discovery Institute is rehashing ancient arguments) of its arguments were demolished almost 200 years ago. We have to keep plugging away against ignorance, even if it is obviously wrong. To the person promoting it, it isn’t.
I’m currently teaching cell biology, as I have been since 1993. I wouldn’t be a very good teacher if I started yelling at a class of 19 year olds that “Jesus, the chemiosmotic hypothesis is so obvious! You never heard of proton gradients before? I’m not going to waste time teaching you about them, but they will be on the exam, because you should already know it!”
This seems to be how Kriss would run my class (he clearly knows everything there is to know about proton gradients and all the details of electron transport, because it’s all obvious, so I’m sure he could step right in to the job), because apparently calm repetitive didacticism that addresses the ignorance of different individuals is a sure sign that you’re dying of some fatal form of obsessive dementia.
It’s also strange that he would hate on Neil deGrasse Tyson for publicly refuting a flat-earther, when Kriss himself has written,
I’ve always been mildly obsessed with the flat-earth truth movement. Is this just professional jealousy, that the criticisms of an astronomer against flat-earthers get more attention than the criticisms of…whatever the hell Sam Kriss is?
It’s curious, too, that Kriss would say that it’s obvious that “there is no God, the holy books were all written by human beings”, but not notice that there’s a substantial majority of people in the United States, and elsewhere, who would vigorously dispute those claims. And if repetitively addressing ignorant claims is a hallmark of insanity, what are we to make of Sam Kriss? This isn’t the first time he’s raged at Neil deGrasse Tyson for explaining something obvious, which makes him guilty of exactly the same thing, only with more hyperbole.
It’s also not the case that he reserves his squawking for atheists; you should see what he has to say about Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton, a blinding-white astral demon made of chicken gristle and wax-paper, doesn’t even pretend that she’s running for any reason beside her own personal hunger for power. She wants to rule the world; it’d be hers by birth, only she wasn’t born, she emerged like a lizard out its egg from the cold undeath of money, fully formed.
Even his word salad is grossly unappetizing.