My Two Cents

Intellectual Heroism?

I stumbled across a blog that is promoted as a “civil discourse to better understand atheism.” A few clicks later and I realized that was a misleading statement. But among these clicks I came across one commenter applauding the genius of another by referring to his “intellectual heroism.”

The phrase ‘intellectual heroism” is new to me. I have some trouble wrapping my thoughts around it though. Exactly how is someone expressing his opinion to others who agree with him heroic?

I am more familiar with the often parroted term “intellectual honesty.”  Or, “intellectual dishonesty” used  by atheists when debating a religious commenter. I have mixed reactions to the use of this phrase. Sometimes I am rather amused and find it laughable. Other times I am annoyed with the blatant falsity of it and the arrogance to promote it as a cleverness that is certainly deluded.

I have formed the opinion that some atheists, usually antitheists trolling the blogosphere, worship their own perceived intellectual prowess. How else would I explain lengthy comments peppered with verbiage of uncommonly used words to describe a simple idea?

Dr. at the November 29, 2005 meeting of the NA...

Dr. at the November 29, 2005 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council, in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my personal circle of friends a few are atheists who are becoming uncomfortable labeling themselves as such. Just as many religious people are trying to distance themselves from the fundamentalists in religions, some atheists are trying to ensure that they are not grouped into the extremism of obnoxious atheism. In the recent past, noted astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson has also distanced himself from unpleasant atheists much to the dismay of those who have used his image and notable intellectual credentials in streams of memes to promote their brand of antitheism. Reasonable people do not want to be associated with insufferable windbags, religious or not.

The commenter also referred to the professing agnostic as an “intellectual coward” for refusing to acknowledge that they agree with the atheist philosophy and lacking the courage to directly take a stand against theism.  I think that is an extremely arrogant statement to make considering that in reality neither the atheist nor the theist has any more qualified insight than the person who simply admits that there is no evidence for or against the existence of a supernatural god.

But that is the unpleasant nature of the blogosphere. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone wants to be right. And the surest way one can be comforted in being considered right is by persuading other people to agree. A compliment flattering another’s intellectual heroism probably does that very well.

As I write this post the thought occurs to me why I am writing it. What motivated me to pen these thoughts?

I dislike the assumption made by many atheists that they are intellectually superior to their religious opponents. I define intellectual dishonesty as the propagation of reasonable speculation as a quantifiable truth, especially when it is bolstered from the arrogance of one who personally insults those who disagree rather than choosing to have a constructive dialogue.  To carry it further and suggest that this perceived grander intelligence is somehow heroic is a bit absurd to my way of thinking. But that being said, I am reminded of some advice given to me some time ago which was:  “It is what it is, and all that babbling of yours is not going to change it. Why waste time and energy on what you cannot change?”

Yes, true, but…Sometimes it just feels good to babble.

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18 thoughts on “Intellectual Heroism?

  1. In general, I don’t like the use of the word hero to define what people normally do. A hero is a person who goes far beyond the call of duty. Here in America, we are free to say what we want,and while contrary views may cost us, our words are hardly heroic.

    That said, I also don’t buy into the notion that there is this intellectual equivalence between atheists and the religious. Is not faith believing without or in spite of evidence? The evidence tells me dead people stay dead, virgins don’t have babies, humans don’t walk on water or through walls, and evolution is true. Religious people believe all kind of things that are not intellectually supportable. (As do some atheists. Many atheists are woefully ignorant of religion)

    In general, I agree some atheists are fundamentalists. However, their numbers pale when compared to the millions of people who are religious fundamentalists. Fundamentalist atheists are, for the most part, annoying and irritating but quite harmless. Fundamentalist religionists can be and are quite dangerous. We have much more to fear from religious fundamentalists than we do godless fundamentalists.

    • We have much more to fear from religious fundamentalists than we do godless fundamentalists.

      I daresay the survivors of the Khmer Rouge would beg to differ on that.

      Also, you are just as dead when you are starved or denied medical care by the policies of neo-liberal fundamentalist as you are when you are suicide bombed by a religious fundamentalist. I bet the body count is higher for the former than the latter in any one year.

    • Hello Bruce. As a long time reader of your blog it was a nice surprise to see a comment from you. I agree with the overall gist of your response. I think there is comparative evidence which aptly demonstrates that much of Christianity’s central doctrine is mythology and folklore and not historical fact. Faith, as I would have defined it when I was a Christian, would have been more the belief that following the teachings of Jesus was the correct spiritual path rather than thinking of it in terms as an analytical assessment of the evidence on Christian origins and factual history. So I am not someone who gets hung up on the definition of faith as atheists understand it since to me it represented an acceptance of moral teaching more than a willing suspension of disbelief. (But then again, I was never a deeply invested bible thumper.)

      For me, the evidence that you reference disputes Christianity and the Christian God, but no so much the possibility of a supernatural intelligence or consciousness that may or may not exist.
      I agree that religious people believe all manner of things which are not intellectually supportable. My irritation is aroused when anti-theists claim empirical evidence which proves that something supernatural exclusive of the deities of religions cannot exist. Especially when they are trite and condescending to those not willing to adopt the atheist philosophy. Being intellectually “dishonest” in my definition is claiming something that can not be proven as an absolute fact, whether it is that an ancient manuscript is the infallible word of God, or that science has proven the origins of the universe.

      • Any atheist that says…he is CERTAIN that no god of any sort exists is speaking beyond the what he can possibly know. Even Richard Dawkins is agnostic on the god question. Is it possible a god exists? Sure. Is it probable? No. For me, it is all about probabilities. I can say that the Christian God of the Christian Bible does not exist. The Bible is a mythical book written by fallible men who were, at best, trying to understand the world they lived in.

        I explain myself this way. I live my day to day life as if no god exists. This makes me an atheist. However, when asked do I think it is possible a god of some sort exists, I say I am an agnostic.

        Generally, I am an accommodationist. I don’t think the world would necessarily be a better place if everyone was an atheist. There are so many sociological and cultural things to consider…so the hardcore atheist who demands everyone be like him…is actually quite intellectually lazy. He needs to consider the implications of such a view.

        Religion is not the problem…fundamentalism is, be it religious, economic, or political. I am disheartened by how divisive, acerbic, and hateful many in the atheist community have become. I have pretty much distanced myself from any of the organized groups, focusing on humanism rather than atheism. I get frequent emails from atheists upset that I am too friendly with religion and people of faith. Their scorched earth approach has no appeal for me. They remind me of the fundamentalism of my past and I want nothing to do with such close minded,arrogant thinking.

        Bruce

  2. I like your “babble”! True, we all babble, either on our own blog, someone else’s blog, verbally in private groups or public forums, or in the many other numerous means of communicating with each other.Sure, we tend to compliment those who we agree with and argue with those that we don’t agree with. That’s life. That’s socializing. That’s fun! Babbling is also a very good learning tool.

  3. The commenter also referred to the professing agnostic as an “intellectual coward” for refusing to acknowledge that they agree with the atheist philosophy and lacking the courage to directly take a stand against theism. I think that is an extremely arrogant statement to make considering that in reality neither the atheist nor the theist has any more qualified insight than the person who simply admits that there is no evidence for or against the existence of a supernatural god.

    I first got that about a year and a half ago and have been called a coward by professed atheists another three or four times since. I guess Professor Dawkins would call insulting agnostics in such a manner ‘a successful meme’.

    Frankly I don’t think there could ever be enough evidence to definitively conclude there is no god and I doubt there could be enough to conclude there is one either (presumably a sufficiently sophisticated being could convince me it is a god whether or not that is so).

    My agnosticism is based on the recognition that I don’t pretend to understand everything about the universe so I suppose the only way it would ever change would be if I discovered I was an omniscient god (as Dawkins apparently has).

    • I have had remarks equivalent to “intellectual coward” directed at me as well. I think you are correct in saying that there will never likely be any evidence which will conclude beyond all doubt that there is no god.
      It seems you and I agree on Professor Dawkins. I tend to think him much the same as a televangelist, just another snake oil salesman peddling his wares.

  4. “Reasonable people do not want to be associated with insufferable windbags, religious or not.” I loved this particular comment. “I think that is an extremely arrogant statement to make considering that in reality neither the atheist nor the theist has any more qualified insight than the person who simply admits that there is no evidence for or against the existence of a supernatural god.” I’ve also tried to make this point several times and have basically been told I’m ignorant. Generally when the insults start flying I bow out… (Generally… but not always…)

    • I think sometimes it is necessary to attempt to show someone that they are failing to see their own reflection in the mirror, especially when they are being excessively rude and belligerent. I’ve followed some of your arguments on Chi’s blog, but with some folks you may as well spit in the wind.

      • Yeah… Like I said, I generally try to bow out when the insults start to fly, but sometimes it takes me a bit to realize I’m angry and have sunk to that level with them…

  5. Reasonable people do not want to be associated with insufferable windbags, religious or not.

    I like the way you said that. I hesitate to label myself as anything anymore.

  6. I find myself pretty much in agreement with the ideas expressed by the bloggers here. I find hardcore atheists as obnoxious as religious fundamentalists. I personally choose to believe an eternal spirit is animated in the physical body and there are other spirits on other planes which is a progression of these spiritual essences. I tend to agree with certain postulates that speak of the next level of existence vibrating at higher frequencies. In my “belief system”, there is a Universal Consciusness. Some mIght refer to this consciousness as God, others might deny Its existence altogether. Either way, it’s ok with me. I enjoy to discuss ideas of meaning and existence and I am not frightened nor am upset if you have different views (mostly). Because at the end of the day, you get to make sense of the world for yourself. As Bruce says, dead people seem dead is self evident, and walking on water or Virgins having babies is hard to believe; I can generally agree. I find myself similar to Unconventional as to find the Jesus teachings of love and compassion as of paramount significance. I do think the bible does have manipulations as part of their doctrine. I still find some evidence of wisdom there as Bruce says,”men trying to understand the world”. I also think Science is invaluable in learning about the world around us. Although, I think some theories are continually being updated. Evolution is good, but I tend to accept the concept of a top down principle; Consciousness having existed prior to physical manifestations. Proof of that? Nothing empirical only anecdotal. Science postulates that a possible beginning of the universe was brought about by a quantum fluctuation (virtual particles popping into existence without known cause). If I’m not mistaken, Quantum Physics also allows the possibility, speaking of probabilities, of walking through a wall. A very, very small probability but possible. As Cabrogal says, we shouldn’t “pretend to know everything about the universe”, but it’s interesting talking about it.

    Well, that’s my babble. Ultimately, like my other bloggers, regardless of your belief system it comes down to how well do we do make life work together as humans on a planet thriving with other species of life. And, eventually with other species from our galaxy or universe, multiverse or… Maybe not.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. A Universal Consciousness, or perhaps an intelligent force yet undefined would fit more my definition of what most think of as “God”. Whatever we choose to believe, and it is a choice each of us make knowingly or not, it should be beneficial to our own lives without harming the lives of others. If we would first be humanists in promoting social justice and advocacy first and foremost I think we would find that regardless of our personal beliefs we have more in common than we have not.
      sorry for the delay in posting your comment and responding, but last week was a very hectic time for me. Thanks for sharing your point of view, words well said.

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