In Defense Of Curiosity Against The Religious Barnacles

PZ Myers takes on the latest insufferable nonsense from Stanley Fish, this which advances the thought of regressive religious thinkers who, as religious thinkers have always done, attack curiosity as a threat to their superstitions.  Myers’s whole piece is great and worth your time, but for those of you who don’t read it at least take a moment to savor Myers’s post’s elegant metaphor:

Barnacles are arthropods hunkered down in stony shells attached to a substrate, and what they do is unfurl feathery legs like ostrich plumes (called cirri) and wave them about in the water to catch small particles of food. They’re very pretty, but also very skittish: a shadow passing over, a splash, the klunk of a rock sending vibrations through the substrate, and they instantly withdraw their limbs and slam the plate-like doors to their home shut. There isn’t much variation in their response; they can’t get up and run away, they can’t leap out use kung-fu on an interloper, all they can do is hide behind their armored shells, and that’s what they do as a reaction to any stimulus.

Barnacles are completely lacking in curiosity. It makes sense; they have very tiny brains, and all they want is to be left alone to strain the water for nutrients. For a barnacle, curiosity would be a dangerous vice. Any intrusion on their routine is a risk, and they don’t need to analyze…just slam the doors shut.

and then Myers’s key argument against the anti-knowledge theologians past and present whom Fish quotes as though they are thought-provoking:

I would have been shocked that an academic would condemn curiosity as a “vice”, as “destructive and offensive”, as “superficiality and constant distraction”, since exercising our curiosity, and fostering curiosity in our students, is supposed to be one of our jobs. However, the barnacle gave us advance warning: it’s not just an academic, it’s a professor of divinity. Oh, well then, point taken. I can understand why a professor of nothing would resent the possibility of other human beings poking into his little niche and discovering what a hollow lie it all is.

and then his reply to Fish’s inane conclusions:

Wow. Curiosity as a mental disorder: are these people not primates? It’s a behavior that practically defines us naked monkeys! There is no greater joy and no more satisfying experience than exploring new avenues and discovering new ideas. It’s what makes us civilized humans and not cows or jellyfish or barnacles. It’s how Stanley Fish ends up clucking over our insatiable desire to learn more and do more…on the internet, with his computer, from his position as an academic at a university. It’s a bit hypocritical, don’t you think? He should at least be living in a cave, draped in animal skins, and scrawling his treatises in charcoal on flat pieces of rock.

Or better yet, his ideal life of the mind would be better spent sessile, locked in a limestone shell, with his only interaction with the world being the gentle scraping of his environment for little slimy gleanings of food. He could worship god as he did so, as well.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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