Apparently Victor Stenger doesn’t get it

Over on Friendly Atheist, they reviewed this guy’s book and he didn’t like what they had to say about his neglect of blogs. His responses:

I am sorry I did not give bloggers and some organizations more recognition. I guess I am an old-time physicist who takes published works more seriously than informal,unedited, exchanges that are mostly soundbites rather than deep discussions. Read the article in a recent Atlantic about how bloggers are killing the old, respectable journalism where reporters worked hard to dig out the truth and are replacing it with advocacy of little substance and no middle ground.

What really gets my goat here is the condescension and sarcasm. [Haughty accent] “I guess where I come from, somewhere better than you of course, I have the luxury of ignoring the social significance of blogs in the atheist community. I also feel it’s appropriate to compare blogs to a completely different form of writing, news journalism, to make my point.” It’s one thing to discuss the criticism in a rational manner, it’s another to act as if the criticism is beneath him.

I’m sorry, but I have looked all over the internet and never found anything on the New Atheism that comes close in intellectual merit or maturity to the six N Y Times bestsellers and other books I mention. I am a very experienced computer user. I wrote my first computer program exactly 50 years ago when a graduate student. I love my grandchildren but don’t refer to their scribblings in my books.

“I’m sorry, but I base the importance of everything on academic intellectual merit, neglecting any other purpose or function and forgetting that there are other ways to share intellect. Also, bloggers are akin to preliterate children.” Not everyone communicates academically or reads books. Many people, maybe more than he’s comfortable with – but welcome to reality – use blogs as their main source of news and information. People also use blogs for their social benefits.

Blogs may not be the height of intellectual discourse, but who does he think is out there gathering resources to fight against real life wrongs? It’s all well and good to have books to discuss the hard issues and the theoretical and academic concerns within atheism, and they certainly have their place, but there are real civil rights issues that are fought every day that are organized with, guess what, BLOGS. Blogs and books are different mediums with a different purpose. Ignoring one because its purpose doesn’t suit some preconceived notion of intellectualism is misrepresenting the atheist “movement” and is insulting to the really smart and sometimes highly educated atheist bloggers out there.

OK, I promise to mention blogs in my upcoming talks on The New Atheism and say more about them in any next addition. I am sure they are influential. Perhaps I can be fed some exemplary cases to use.

“I’m sure you can’t come up with one so I’m going to continue to be a pompous blowhard.”

However, I still insist I googled every subject discussed in my book and have referred in numerous places to URLs. I still think the medium has not superseded books and journal articles that are carefully reviewed and edited before being published and where you can develop arguments in detail. Point me to a blog that picked up the Hawking quotation abut the universe not beginning in a singularity and turning it meaning completely around. Point me to a blog that recognized the theological significance of this.

First of all, there are many good quality blogs that are carefully edited and referenced. Science Based Medicine, for one (I am using that as an example because he’s referencing blog media in general here; I know it is not an atheist blog). Second, he’s missing the point of what blogs are for. He’s assuming that to be valuable, they have to be exactly like books. False. As I said above, they have different purposes and maybe even different audiences. By being this hostile towards blogs, he is alienating a good portion of atheists who use this medium to communicate with other atheists.

I also find it highly ironic that he was able to use a blog to read and respond to criticism of his book in a timely manner. He is experiencing the function of blogs, but devalues them at the same time. “Some upstart blog [said as though it’s a swear] has criticized my book. Since they are intellectually void, I should go insult their intelligence and tell them their medium is worthless.” Can you say “hubris”?

He may have a good book, I don’t know, I haven’t read it (although I do read, even though I’ve lowered myself to writing a blog). But he is not responding to this criticism well – which, it should be noted, was the only major criticism of the book that was discussed on Friendly Atheist. Blogs are here, they are useful – ignore their social significance at your peril. If he’s talking about “taking a stand” (the subtitle of the book), he’d do well to remember where that stand often gets organized.


2 responses to “Apparently Victor Stenger doesn’t get it

  1. “This television thing is just a fad. In five years, we’ll all be back to reading newpapers, the way it SHOULD be.”

    I’d wanted to write about Stegner’s reaction, but hadn’t had the time… But you hit the nail right on the head.

    Stegner says, “I still think the medium has not superseded books and journal articles…”

    Who is saying that they have? None of these things need to “supersede” any others to be of value. There is certainly great value in books like The God Delusion and God is Not Great, and indeed they are excellent books… But they don’t serve the same purpose as blogs. Blogs, on the other hand, bring immediacy and powerful social aspects to… well, to the atheism movement, but really to ANYTHING.

    The number of people I know who got turned to rationalism from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe (not an atheist podcast, but…) or Pharyngula is about equal to the number who came to it through the God Delusion. That’s an anecdotal number based on a sample of about 10, of course, but I think Stegner is doing a great disservice to what is a growing segment of atheist media and social groups.

    Even something as seemingly trivial as Facebook is having an impact, and not just online but in the real world. I know in my area, I’ve been able to meet or even attend or organize events with local people I’ve met through Facebook.

    I have to say, I’m a bit less-inclined to read Stegner’s book after his indignant dismissal of media that many, many of us use to learn and to connect with others.

  2. Stenger’s blind-sightedness of blogs (and forums and podcasts and videos) in relation to the ‘new atheist’ movement is akin to someone writing about the future of encyclopedias, and neglecting to mention Wikipedia because it’s not edited by paid professionals. I’m surprised Stenger could miss the boat so badly. He should be ashamed of his self-righteous ignorance on this.