Sometimes, when I complain about certain kinds of rhetoric used by atheist leaders, I think I’m not being clear enough. When I complain about people who are tarred as ‘angry atheists’ I don’t have a problem with feelings of frustration and urgency — there’s a lot to be upset about.
So instead getting sucked into condemning anger — a rhetorical trick that delegitimizes any strongly expressed critique of the status quo — let’s say I have a problem with choler.
Choler was one of the four humors. It’s also known as yellow bile and biliousness, wrath, and irascible bad temper are exactly what it was thought to produce. What I’m trying to speak against is the practice of just venting our spleens and then patting ourselves on the back as though we made an impression or any kind of argument at all. Let me give an example.
P.Z. Myers is an excellent biologist and is very good at presenting cogent debunkings of anti-evolution arguments, but his confrontational reputation and the attention it draws seems to push him to pick dumber fights. I thought one of his recent twitter fights (pasted below) was a puerile waste of time, and then Myers compounded the fault by promoting it to his followers as though he scored a coup.
I’m not posting about Quinn’s tone because I don’t care about it. If Christians want to be have unproductive fights on twitter, I’ve got no skin in the game. As an atheist, I am personally affected by the rhetoric used by the most prominent atheists and the expectations they create.
Although a reply to Quinn’s question was certainly in order, I can’t fathom what the point of the rest of the conversation was. I doubt Myers thought that Quinn was being persuaded and the glib, character-limited back and forth doesn’t read as though it’s meant to appeal to fencesitters. It seems like Myers is sticking with the fight for the pleasure of getting to call someone stupid in a public forum. That kind of indulgence alienates the people who might otherwise be inclined to listen to Myers’s substantive arguments.