Good morning on this the thirtieth day of November, in the year of our Lord 2016.
So I came across a decent example of how internet atheists seem to be astonishingly ignorant. My friend Eve Keneinan posted this:
Which then resulted in some atheist coming in and saying this:
There are several things to unpack here, the first of which is the assertion that one can believe anything one wants without needing any reason for it. While technically true, this is just unrelated to real human beings, who in the push-and-pull of real life with other people who demand reasons if you want them to cooperate with you need to have either reasons or superior force. And if you’re getting your way by superior force, it will not be in a middle ground between individualism and collectivism. This is an appalling ignorance of how human beings actually work. It is technically true that you can hold the principle, “everyone should have exactly three teaspoons per day of icecream, no more and no less” without any sort of justification for it. But the moment you try to actually make people conform to your idea—or even just live by it yourself—you will rapidly find people demanding a good reason why they should be thus limited or compelled (depending on how much they feel like eating icecream) and in short order you’ll find them doing whatever they feel like. Yourself very much included, as people on diets so often find to their chagrin.
And if the atheist in question is trying to claim that people just naturally feel like running governments in a balance between extreme individualism and extreme collectivism, this is purely delusional. Just try to find someplace without people who don’t care what others want, they just want the government to impose stability. And just try to find someplace without people who don’t care what the rules are, they just want to do what they want to do.
Yet again we come across someone who looks around at what people largely raised in a religious setting tend to do as adults, without ever realizing that people tend to behave as they were raised, but don’t tend to raise their own children as they were raised if they differ in dogma from their own parents. And people really under-estimate just how powerful the impulse to be selfish is in children. Let’s just say it takes way more effort to produce, “OK, you can have it” than it does, “I want it.”
And then there’s “regression to the mean applies.” Pro tip: if you’re going to use technical terms, first learn what they mean. Regression to the mean is a biological concept, not a behavioral concept. It refers to things like height and intelligence and speed. A tendency among living things is for the offspring of extreme individuals to tend closer to the mean. This is because the genetic and environmental factors which lined up by chance to produce an extreme phenotype probably won’t randomly line up as well in the extreme individual’s offspring. You can kind-of-sort-of extend this concept to behavior, but behavior is often too complex to even define a “mean behavior”. More importantly, this means “mean” in the sense of, “mean of the population”, not “mean of the trait”. Thus while you might occasionally get unusually large elephants or unusually small elephants, their children will tend to be more average-sized for an elephant. It does not mean that elephants in general are trending towards a not-too-big-not-too-small size for an animal, so elephants are getting smaller while mice are getting bigger.
Secondly (or is this thirdly?) regression to the mean is in all cases only a heuristic. It is literally the opposite of evolution, where changes accumulate and children are more extreme than their parents until one eventually gets an entirely new species. (And there’s also just random mutation where maybe your child just has a membrane between its fingers and you didn’t.) Regression to the mean only applies to cases where there is some complex set of coincidences required to achieve an extreme effect and there is no selective pressure favoring the extreme effect.
Then of course the final three tweets mostly just demonstrate some combination of an inability to read and an inability to think. What kicked this off was stating that absent a force which pushes people to a mean between individualism and collectivism, they will naturally gravitate toward the extremes, which extreme depending on a personality trait which I specified. His last three tweets only state that if people naturally gravitated toward the middle, then that’s where they’d tend to end up. No kidding. The entire point of what I said was: that’s not what people gravitate towards. People gravitate towards license or protection, i.e. individualism or collectivism, depending on whether their ambition or their fears are stronger. Balancing the two requires something capable of saying yes to ambition some of the time and no to it other times; yes to fears some times and no to fears sometimes. Only dogmas can say to inclinations, “this far and no farther, here your proud waves shall break”.
There is of course a selective pressure involved. Dimwits who don’t know what they or anyone else are talking about have an easier time writing because there’s no requirement for it to be related to a complex environment (human beings, biology, what was said, etc). So it’s a mistake to draw from the multitude of insipidly ignorant, thoughtless atheists one encounters on the internet that all atheists are insipidly ignorant and thoughtless. And especially not that insipid ignorance is limited to atheists. It certainly isn’t, but in organized religions there is a check on ignorance which helps keep it from becoming insipid, specifically the organization where people who don’t know recognize that there are people who do, and will defer to them. Humble ignorance is a very different thing from arrogant ignorance; it is only the latter which is insipid. Since atheists have no organization (unless, I suppose, one is in a cult like Richard Dawkins’ cult), they tend to be left on their own. They can of course cultivate humility, but if they do it is all on them to do so, as there is no structure given to them which will tend to inculcate humility. (This is of course a thing railed against by ignorant fools, “religion teaches you to not think for yourself!” they cry, as if somehow thinking badly for yourself is superior to deferring to others. Most of the time this is probably not even sincere; it’s usually of the implicit form, “don’t let someone else tell you what to think, let me tell you what to think”.)