Welcome to ‘The Argumentium’! (There’s something bound to get someone’s back up, somewhere in here).
I try to keep the atheist:anti-atheist content in as even a ratio as I can, to help balance the energy constant of the Universe…
I had two of these books on the train with me recently; Dawkins’ Unweaving The Rainbow, and Markham’s Against Atheism.
I sat reading Unweaving The Rainbow, when some clod got on the train, saw the book in my hands and naturally having as much evidence as they needed, proceeded to tell me (and people like me) off for my (our) intolerance.
No questions asked. No ‘why are you reading that?’
No reference to the actual content.
Then, at a later point, I switched to Against Atheism. After a while, some other clod got on the train, saw the book in my hands and naturally having as much evidence as they needed, proceeded to tell me (and people like me) off for my (our) intolerance.
No questions asked, yadda, yadda…
The message is that whatever you do, don’t discuss religion. Someone will be offended. Which is bad. They’ll wave fingers at you on trains. Which you deserve, you bad intolerant person.
Like most sane people, I like a laugh and I like to share it. If you orient your moral compass along the lines of human well-being, then a good laugh amongst friends is a moral imperative.
Moreover, as oddly controversial as it may be in some circles, I think many people deserve to be laughed at. Or at least, they don’t deserve immunity to ridicule.
Parliamentarians may have a hard job, and I can respect them for it even when they make honest mistakes, but putting up with bad policy can be pretty bloody stressful for some people as well, particularly those on the pointy end. The stress is spread to others when there is any serious degree of empathy for people’s fellow human beings; obviously so in instances of inequality of rights.
A good laugh is at least a palliative in these situations, if not effective critique.
Take for example, Penny Wong, the ALP Minister for Finance and Deregulation. The argument de rigueur has been between those that argue with great condemnation, that as a lesbian, Penny Wong is a hypocrite for opposing gay marriage, and those taking the opposing view that homosexuality does not necessitate support for gay marriage.
‘You can’t divine Penny Wong’s views on the institution of marriage from her sexuality alone’, we are told, which is of course, quite correct.
She could really, sincerely oppose gay marriage on religious, or other grounds. She may not be a hypocrite. She may be giving no thought at all to what effect dissent may have on factional branch stacking*.
It’s easy to give Penny Wong the benefit of the doubt on these charges. What isn’t so easy, is to defend her as a politician against charges of political and ethical bankruptcy. Or as Dave puts it, it’s easy to consider her for the role of ‘Roving Minister for Disingenuous Statements‘.
If she can be passed of as innocent and naive, she can be charged with, must be charged with, ignorance. One necessitates the other.
Civic ignorance in out politicians, where funny is well worth a laugh. Deservedly so.
If you were to begrudge GLBTs and the people who love them, the opportunity of a little happiness at the expense of Penny Wong’s self-esteem, I’d call you cruel.
On the matter of laughter…
It’s incongruous, accepting as in any way meaningful, a view on gay marriage (or any marriage), from She Who Would Not Marry. It’s like asking for crib notes on cunnilingus from the Pope; ample grounds for comedy.
‘I’m told the man has a wicked tongue, but has difficulty getting to the point.’
(And yes, He Who Would Not Marry is talking about marriage. But I’m in empathic, live-and-let-live mode. I’m not pretending to have the spiritual insight into the institution needed to guide, much less coerce, other people’s experiences. Don’t ask me about that, I don’t have a clue. I’m just making a point of staying out-of-the-way.)
I used to enjoy Michael Moore. At least up until 2002.
I could tolerate his lack of serious analysis because at that stage, by and large, I didn’t have to take him seriously. He was a political clown and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Bring on The Awful Truth.
Michael Moore isn’t good at making sound inferences from his facts. He’s downright bad at it. Bowling for Columbine, as an example, was a hodge-podge assortment of facts that ultimately didn’t have much in the way of a conclusion.
We got to the admission that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, when we saw how little violence occurred in gun-loving Canada relative to America. Then that’s it. The rest is pointing the finger and righteous indignation.
As much as I have little-to-no respect for Charlton Heston, the climactic stunt was cheap and uninformative; insensitive, ignorant, senile man says insensitive, ignorant things! (Surprise!)
If you can overlook the vain posturing, the movie is funny though and at times meets a needed humanity. I was given the DVD as a Christmas Present some time ago, and I have no inclination to bin it.
The crux of my beef with Michael Moore is that if you’re going to make a serious allegation against someone, anyone, if you want to move beyond comedy, then you need to do the necessary rigor.
You have to employ research methods, even if informally, to counter your own confirmation biases. You need to do more than spout random facts in favor of your case; you need to tie them together in a series of valid, sound arguments. You need to seek and consider dis-confirmatory evidence.
Michael Moore seemingly doesn’t do the first at all, and does the rest poorly.
If he were just a political clown it wouldn’t matter. Comedy doesn’t make the same demands, ethically or epistemologically.
(Of course, really good political comedy can achieve all of this while making you laugh).
By 2003, I was beginning to tire of Michael Moore. He’d become less and less funny, and demanded more and more to be treated like a moral authority. All without an improvement in rigor.
Yes, George Bush Jr. said to an, ‘impressive crowd’ of the ‘haves and have mores’, ‘Some people call you the Elite, I call you my base.’ This is a fact. But this segment, featuring in Fahrenheit 9/11, was from a speech where the former President of the United States of America was roasting himself – it was intentional self-parody.
Michael Moore wasn’t joking when he insinuated otherwise
All you need with some people, is to speak a keyword or two and then they’re off with the insinuations about motives.
Say ‘selfish gene’ in the wrong tone, and you’re a social Darwinist.
Say ‘Wahabbist’ in the wrong tone, and you want to kill all Muslims. Point out that someone’s rendition of the facts concerning Muslims is wrong, or express that you aren’t anti-immigration, and it’s Dhimmitude.
Criticise Michael Moore for his misreading of George Bush Jr’s words, and you’re a Bush-loving warmonger (I’m neither).
I don’t object to a laugh. What I object to is flippancy when intelligence is needed. Much of what passes as political discussion seems blighted by this ad libitum, tribal righteousness, and it extracts both the quality of analysis, as well as any joy you may otherwise have obtained, out of the process.
‘No, I don’t disagree with point A, but I think you’re off the mark here with point B.’
‘Ha ha! Being serious?’
‘It’s a serious matter. Point B is often misunderstood, or misrepresented, and there are consequences.’
‘Oh pfft. What consequences?’
‘You are aware of the suffering of X?’
‘Oh you’re just being a middle class drama queen.’
‘No. Here, look at the stats.’
‘Well what are you going to do about it? Despised laws! Marginalize people! You’re just a bigot looking for an excuse!’
How often is it, that you’ve started off a conversation that at least for your part has started out friendly, even jovial, only to have your interlocutor go off the deep end at you for no good reason, usually manifesting some axe they’ve had grinding for a good long time?
How often have you had these conversations start of with your interlocutor having a little laugh at everything that’s said? How often does it start with seemingly easy-going laughter?
You start out tolerating the apparent light-heartedness, because you know nobody knows everything. Your friend may not have heard about the cost of AIDS denial in South Africa, or the cost in violence for the developing world brought by the rare earths industry, the statistics for polio in India, or whatever detailed, but largely overlooked concern you’re being serious about.
You assume a realistic best; your friend is innocent, not just some myopic, middle class, first-world wanker (or whatever else). And hey, they’re the kind of person to be open to this kind of thing, right? They espouse all the right values.
But soon their jokey ignorance turns to empty-mindedness of the mean-spirited kind, and you’re up on a charge of some kind of fashionable offense. Fashion according to the political persuasion of your accuser, of course.
The shitty part is, you don’t know for sure until they’re spat their venom. Up until them, they’re at worst feckless.
The charge brought against you, whatever it may be, whatever motive it ascribes to you, is empty. Your interlocutor has spent too much time joking around instead of considering facts in a calm, rational, fair-minded way to be able to flesh out the accusation.
Naturally, they see themselves as fair-minded, and there’s the grind. They can’t let themselves admit that first of all, as a fair, supposedly like-minded person, they couldn’t understand what you were talking about. Further to this, as supposedly fair-minded people, they can’t admit to themselves when they’re being a right shit with the way they’re treating you.
If there’s anything in this part of the cycle that I could call a warning, it’s that the flippancy of the early stages seems to have an anxious, preemptive-defensiveness about it; a fake confidence; a hint of bluffed bravado.
It’s when this seemingly casual, faux-erudite veneer is ruptured, that the bile flows out.
Let me go out on a limb and suggest that the political left has a bigger problem with this than the right.
This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen more or less equally on either side (it may or may not), but that it presents a bigger problem for the left. This if only because this problem is one of reactionary anti-intellectualism; something the right has a greater affinity for.
Leaving aside religious-right creationists, who are often merely opportunistic in such attacks, rather than seriously concerned, from where yields the most hair-triggered response when it comes to attaching supremacist motives to evolutionary biology**? The left.
How is the left served by such sanctimonious witch-hunting? Not at all.
You can apply this formula to various issues the left struggles with. It’s both that repetitive, and that predictable, if only because it sticks out, whereas for the right, tribe-loyalty is a long tradition.
I think it was John Laws (I may be verballing him) when appearing on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton, who claimed the Australian left have a better sense of humor than conservative Australia. I agree with this sentiment as you may well expect.
I enjoy a laugh. Especially since not being of the most jovial of sorts for the first half of the last decade; my own laughter being more anxiety than amusement.
But to me, as far as humour goes, the Australian left has to get its shit together.
The confident puncturing of absurdity that was practiced by Paul Keating, and typified by political comedy of the late eighties and early to mid-nineties, has been replaced with nervous giggles. The nervousness that comes of criticising a political opponent one isn’t prepared to engage with.
Premature dismissals, accompanied by unconvincing haughty preening, is practiced in the face of dissenting left intellectuals and serious conservative thinkers alike; interlocutors not to be toyed with as if they’re Andrew Bolt or Miranda Devine. This, followed by a reality where these intellectuals still have to be dealt with.
It’s neither funny for anyone on, or sympathetic with the left, nor intellectually productive, nor politically effective.
I think what ‘s needed, if the clowns of the left aren’t going to do their homework, is for them to stick to clowning. No more superior laughter hiding intellectual intimidation. No more dismissive flippancy when faced with the anxiety of having to think about the unthinkable; the left’s tribal taboos.
‘If I get caught reading Paul Berman with an unprejudiced mind, someone may call me a ‘neo-con’, and I don’t want that! So if anyone passes by, I’ll sniff and snigger like it’s all beneath me!’
Of course, the left doesn’t have a monopoly on any of this, and I’m not abandoning my left-wingedness over it – that would be spiteful.
I came to this problem with the view that you purchase seriousness with a drab boring lack of happiness, or something like it. I’ve worried that if I become ‘too serious’, I’ll lose my sense of humour again. It’s conventional wisdom after all.
But I’m leaving this stage in my consideration believing that the maximum of joy, as well as the best political thought, are to be attained via the same means; overcoming political-intellectual anxiety. Joy and seriousness can coexist.
No more failure to look a serious intellectual in the eye, no more nervous laughter over desperate attempts at ‘pwning’; confidence is the linchpin.
* Which in the South Australian ALP, is heavily influenced by the socially conservative (anti-gay rights) Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. I’m sure Penny Wong doesn’t want to be rolled for the sake of maintaining a cynical factional alliance like Chris Schacht was.
** And it gets truly horrible, often masquerading as history of science, claims to show the value-laden nature of scientific theory, and hence scientific truth. The problem being, that the ‘revealed’ values often aren’t the ones assumed by scientists and any attempt to deny them are seen as sanitising, thus confirming the original allegation; ‘only the Messiah would deny his divinity! He is the Messiah!’
I’ve had quite a lot of email in response to the recent post I wrote about not being attracted to the ‘sceptic movement’. A ‘lot’ by the piddly standards of this piddly little blog, at any rate.
None of it is hate mail mind you, and there’s no hint of yet another groan-inducing flame war brewing in this quarter of the blogosphere. I take it as an in-road to meaningful discussion.
There does however seem to be an over-arching kind of confusion, one that ties into something else I’ve been subjectively observing of late; the creeping erosion of the concept of ‘respect’.
Before you go all Professor Crystal on me, and propound the reality of the changing nature of language; I already accept that as fact. This does not detract from my concern.
It’s not that ‘respect’ is changing, and that as some kind of conservative I’m digging my heels in and huffing, ‘it’s gone too far!’ Change per se, does not bother me. I’m not a conservative. There’s no nostalgia for old values here.
There is a risk I think, in the careless use of the appearance of respect for short-term gain.
The risk not being that the term ‘respect’ is changing from denoting one kind of respect, to some newer, progressive, more articulate re-valuing of respect, so much as a change from denoting an important concept, to denoting little if anything other than cliché.
This post has been moved here…
(Photo Source: William Cheselden, Osteographica, 1733.)
Mr Palmer has installed some new software since last time; M-Tron Pro. Naturally it’s for mellotron freaks.
He runs it in with a cover of Rupert Hine’s ‘Dark Windows’.
Some things just don’t need to be spelled out, not if they happen between intelligent, capable adults.
Back in 2004, I had $500 cash sitting idle, along with other funds that I’d allocated for other things. As a lumpenprole-about-to-be-science student, this was nothing to sneeze at.
Saving it for a rainy day, or for unforseen costs, was the plan.
Then along comes my flakey mate.
“I’ve got a credit card debt. If you leave that $500 in my account I can save on the interest, and give you the money back when you need it. That’ll stop you from spending it on rubbish!”
Seems like a plan, right?
So not long after, I find that I’ve vastly underestimated my textbook costs. (First year science students beware!)
I call up my mate, to find that…
When I gave him the $500, his credit card was maxed out, and…
His credit card was again, maxed out.
He had to use his next pay packet to give me the money so I could get my textbooks, and I got the rest of my money back off of him quick smart. Never again.
For my part, the was the usual tone of voice. For his part, there was the hung head. I knew he’d done wrong, he knew I knew and he knew I was right.
It was obvious from the act itself, it was obvious from the tone in which I expected all of my money back as soon as possible.
I was told at the time, that something had popped up that he needed to spend the money on. Even if rather than saving him interest, I had effectively extended his credit limit, there was necessity.
It’s important to note that the time between my giving him the $500, and my needing it back, was small. Important because…
In 2005, I found out that in that short time, my mate had been on a road trip to Canberra for a chess tournament. A pre-planned road-trip to Canberra for a chess tournament.
Pre-planned and on such a time scale so as to reveal that when he told me I could leave my $500 with him, he knew…
That his credit card was maxed out.
That he needed money to go to Canberra.
This demonstrates that the whole scheme was a fib from the beginning. Naturally, the man’s character went down in my estimation.
It’s not that there weren’t warning signs, it’s just that none of it up until that point, not even the sum total, pointed to actual guilt. Call me naive.
Dude’s lucky I’m still talking to him, although admittedly, he has been helpful since.
The problem is though, that the crackpot schemes still come in one form or another; what is obviously beneficial to him, is risky for you and can only be seen as helpful if you undertake some pretty impressive mental gymnastics.
Short version: It’s obviously only beneficial for him, but that won’t stop him from telling you you’re wrong for not taking up his offer. Incessantly.
The inevitable matter is raised, for which he groans and gnashes his teeth.
“How dare you call me untrustworthy, or dishonest! I consider myself very honest!”
He’s good at a lot of other things as well as honesty; logic, understanding people. Things in which he takes a certain amount of pride.
This is where the memory comes in.
Despite the obvious shame he felt during the $500 fiasco, despite the oft-repeated response to crackpot schemes since; “no”, he seems unable to recall any incident that may make people doubt his sincerity.
Yes. He’s forgotten the $500 incident. He always forgets. Forgetting is his latest get out of jail free card.
And he can be quite indignant about it to, as if being told that he’s dishonest is an affront after his track record.
I know, I know… How can he judge himself on the merits of his track record if his memory of the track record is selective?
Let me reply with a question. How can he claim that his word is worth something if by his own admission he’s incapable of remembering the content of his word? (He’s actually weighed his word against mine, 50-50!)
Knowing that you’re not at all good at keeping your story straight (his usual defence), at precisely the same time as claiming to be honest (a regular plea), is dishonest. Case closed!
Despite this, and despite my recollection, he denies responsibility. How can he be responsible if he can’t remember, right?
It’s his word versus mine. Therefore he’s right!
Strangely enough, he manages to remember all the good things he’s done for me. Indeed, he occasionally takes pleasure in telling people about it just out of the blue, without anyone having to remind him.
Is it too harsh of me to assume that whatever good he’s done since, it’s tarnished not just by his past duplicity, but also by his inability to even consider someone else’s account of events?
I haven’t been so silly as to have given him money again. I’m not that kind of rube. But I’m beginning to think my having anything to do with him since 2004-2005 may have been a mistake. If only for the headaches.
Former priest. Author. Philosopher.
Chums with Alain de Botton, and teacher at his School of Life giving lessons on how to be a good friend.
Author of a book on how to be a good friend.
Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve associated agnostic theists with an honest epistemic meekness, even when I think they’re wrong (which naturally is often). At the very least it’s been a default assumption, from which I only depart when reason and evidence is such that I can’t continue recognising the virtue.
This together with the attendant virtues of good faith, tolerance and so on.
I’d assumed this of Mark Vernon some years back. Even when reading his After Atheism (2007), where he demonstrated quite a few misconceptions about atheists, particularly claiming that Julian Baggini is exceptional in admitting a degree of uncertainty about the non-existence of deities. Which is garbage.
Dawkins and Hitchens have both on repeated occasions made a point of not being certain of such matters (Dawkins did so in The God Delusion), and it’s not exactly uncommon to find atheists online who don’t adopt the same mentality. Julian Baggini is in no way an exception in this respect.
Vernon uses a 1996 Channel 4 appearance by Dawkins, as source to buttress this claim.
“Science offers the best answers to the meaning of life; science offers the privilege of understanding before you die why you were ever born in the first place.“
(Richard Dawkins, 1996)
The bolded portion is however, missing from Vernon’s quotation of Dawkins. It’s important to note that Dawkins was making an aesthetic claim about the experience of doing science, not an epistemological claim. The claim would foreshadow Dawkins’ 1998 book, Unweaving The Rainbow which argued against the notion that science and the arts were natural academic enemies.
“‘Is there more to life than this?’, asks the evangelical Alpha Course – and you know they are not going to say no.” [Emphasis added.]
(Mark Vernon, 2007)
They being atheists of course, the implication being at best a lack of belief in the supernatural. Or perhaps depending on the reader, a lack of recognition of non-scientific meaning, such as in the arts; there have been suggestions (from Mark Vernon’s quarter no less) that the “New Atheists” are anti-arts, anti-humanities, robots.
Specifically, in alleging that the “New Atheists” are against human flourishing…
“The theist looks at phenomena like the fine tuning and thinks, amazing. The (old) atheist looks at phenomena like the fine tuning and thinks, amazing. The New Atheist looks at phenomena like the fine tuning and thinks, well that’s that answered then.”
(Mark Vernon, 2010)
This of course presupposes that fine tuning is an actual phenomena, which is by no means established. Vernon’s fanciful, faithful, not at all agnostic take on “fine tuning” aside, it tells us something more interesting about Vernon’s understanding of the people he’s fond of writing about.
If you think that Unweaving The Rainbow, or its author, should in all honesty be seen as endorsing a view of scientific achievement able to be summed up as “well that’s that answered then”, then you need to see a neurosurgeon; someone’s dropped an armoured van on your head!
The fact that these two representations of “New Atheism” are entirely at odds with each other; that Dawkins thinks “science offers the best answers to the meaning of life” (and that’s supposedly a bad thing), and that supposedly as a New Atheist, he thinks that science just describes and catalogues phenomena, shows us that Vernon can’t keep his story straight.
And yeah, I get this response all the time; “maybe he’s changed his mind!”
It’s one thing to change your mind, and another to take a contrary position without retracting the first, leaving you open to use either position at a whim. Which is it? Science as aesthetic experience, or science as (yawn-inducing) naturalist accounting?
Vernovacillation has him looking as someone who shouldn’t be taken seriously.
But of course he is. By The Guardian. By the readers of his blog and his books.
It’s why I’ve taken him seriously, with his “work” misrepresenting atheists forming a good part of the research into this book I’ve been trying to write.
If you’re anything like me, at this juncture you’re probably saying that Vernon’s probably a bit wobbly on atheists, not thinking clearly and what-not. He’s not right, his reading is fun to laugh at, but he’s not a nasty piece of work.
That’s what I thought up until more recently. The title of this post is “venomous”, so I’ll get to the venom.
Here’s an article written by Richard Dawkins, praising Christopher Hitchens as his hero for 2010 (as a part of a series), for his lively engagement largely in the face of his own mortality. It’s a case of, as Russell Blackford points out, someone writing about his dying friend.
It’s the usual dry Dawkins stuff, but not inappropriate I wouldn’t think.
Maybe it’s not your thing. Maybe Dawkins isn’t your cup of tea, much less Hitchens. But even so, would you begrudge Hitchens having this written about him, by his friend? (The sappiest I’ve read this year on Hitchens, was Michael Shermer writing for Scientific American, and heaping praise as if to apologise for not pulling punches, David Hollier flirted with twee at New Matilida earlier in the year).
It’s not as if points of contention (e.g. the Iraq War) are being chucked out the window on the sly, while you’re being distracted by a short homage.
But seeing the motivation of the cold “New Atheist” android behind everything a “New Atheist” does, Mark Vernon just has to highlight the shortcomings, diverting from a critique of the festive season.
“It seemed appropriate that the Guardian should launch it’s (sic) Advent calendar with a piece from that now most hysterical of writers, Richard Dawkins. Ostensibly it celebrated the moral courage of Christopher Hitchens, which I don’t doubt is worth admiring, only 50% of the piece was against the Pope, and 25% of the piece was about himself.”
(Mark Vernon, 2010)
Ophelia Benson points out why this is misleading.
Of course maybe, just maybe, Vernon’s having a laugh; like a joke by The Chaser that fell flat.
I couldn’t buy such an explanation, personally. Vernon wants to be taken too seriously to be identified as a deliberate comedian.
Mark Vernon’s participation in the public discussion about atheism, staggers from point to vexatious contrary point, with no regard for context, reminiscent of the angry drunk who careens and stumbles into funeral goers, looking to persecute a grudge without regard for the setting.
The odd thing is that Vernon’s a part of what Ophelia Benson is right to sarcastically call the “party of nice”; one of those who constantly point out the incivility of the “New Atheists” without accounting for their own vituperative posture.
Much like the black and white of the “think of the children” sentiment, if you have any imperative other than being nice to religious people, such as the critique of religious ideas, then you can be freely caricatured by the “party of nice” as being against niceness to religious people. You bigot!
“Oh no, we can handle criticism! It’s the disrespectful tone of the New Atheists!”
Sure. Disrespectful tone is easy to find when you’re used of being privileged, or prone to justifying tantrums.
“New Atheist” is a grouping that critics like Mark Vernon are yet to give an explicit demarcation they can stick with. The matter of certainty does not segregate “old” atheists like Julian Baggini from Richard Dawkins, or Chris Mooney from Christopher Hitchens, whatever misquotes Vernon may conjure.
“New Atheist” isn’t used to denote a philosophical or political position, it’s just a name used to smear political opponents, and it needs to avoid pinning itself down in order to remain usable. Who would have known Polly Toynbee or even Paul Kurtz were “New Atheists”?*
The demarcation implicit in the term “New Atheist” is of course this; “New Atheists” like Dawkins and Hitchens aren’t prostrating themselves before those people prone to having their egos tickled, and their privilege in the public square tolerated. This has the Mark Vernons of religious apologetics spitting venom.
Literary envy, professional pride or whatever, I’m not sure of the specifics. But not even all the ad hoc critique, vacillation and straw man argument in the world is capable of masking the bilious stench, or hide the Tumortown gallows leering evident in Vernon’s sneering at Dawkins’ tribute to Hitchens.
(I don’t know if it’s that atheists like Chris Mooney and Julian Baggini place an emphasis on being so nice and cooperative with the likes of Mark Vernon so as to avoid being caricatured, or instead to actually capitalise on these caricatures to help market their competing content. One wonders how they can go on ignoring cases like these if “being nice” is as important to them as they claim.)
Invoking the sentiment of Oscar Wilde, Mark Vernon tells us…
“For the really good friend is the person who can say the really difficult thing to you, and thereby change your life, or at least shatter a delusion or two.”
(Mark Vernon, 2010)
Mark Vernon needs a good friend to tell him he has a problem.
Whatever the specifics, I’m satisfied that Vernon the “agnostic theist” isn’t nearly as meek as his theology suggests, nor that he is merely innocently mistaken by way of pure cognitive bias. Where atheists are concerned, those that are as affirmative as you could expect in a healthy pluralism, the man’s driven by animus.
It’s precisely the kind of animus, whatever the target, that needs to be opposed.
* See Tina Beattie and Robert A. Morey’s books on “New Atheists” respectively (2007 and 1986).