We Need Better Atheists: The Smug Humanism of Lawrence Krauss

Categories: Film and TV

krauss-photo-by-Dan-Tabar.jpg
Dan Tabár
Lawrence Krauss
Among the many transgressive elements in the 1974 American film classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the character Franklin, played by actor Paul A. Partain -- still possibly the most offensive portrayal of a disabled person ever committed to film. Franklin's infantile selfishness is best encapsulated by this moving soliloquy:

If you replace "disabled person" with "atheist," and "expelling slobbery raspberries into the air" with "displaying open contempt for misinformed people," you'll get how offended I am as an atheist by the character Dr. Lawrence Krauss, portrayed by Dr. Lawrence Krauss in the documentary The Unbelievers.

See also: The Unbelievers review

Krauss is an accomplished cosmologist and theoretical physicist who is capable of speaking eloquently on the areas of his expertise, such as quantum mechanics and, presumably, dad-khakis. But this isn't a film about science; it's a meta-conversation about unwelcome religious intrusions into science. The film documents a joint tour with Krauss and zoologist Richard Dawkins, who give a series of talks about the importance of rationality, skepticism, and atheism.

The difference between Dawkins and Krauss is that Dawkins can be funny. Krauss doesn't use humor; he openly mocks people who disagree with him in front of audiences who do. Dawkins effortlessly demonstrates his expertise to his philosophical opponents; Krauss shouts his expertise at people he could be trying to persuade. Where Dawkins is cranky about the intrusion of superstitious religious belief into the public sphere, Krauss emanates wavy, cartoon stink-lines of smugness with his own superiority.

"While you mentioned quantum mechanics," he sneers at a polite young Muslim scholar during a debate, "I actually understand it." We don't have a clip; it helps if you picture Franklin from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre reading from a transcript of Krauss's dialogue.

Like Franklin -- or, really, any villain -- Krauss has the extremely uncharismatic tendency to view himself as a victim, referring to his "fight against evil" and describing his work as "under attack." Let's be clear: Krauss is a wealthy member of a highly educated and privileged class. He's influential and well regarded in his field. He travels around the world, he goes on The Colbert Report and gets retweeted by Miley Cyrus. Other than self-satisfaction and the menswear department at Kohl's, Krauss isn't a victim of anything, and it's ironic that an avowed skeptic and atheist would adopt the same rhetorical ploys as the white men on Fox News who describe themselves as victims of poor people with access to health insurance.

So yes, he's got the Boomer-defining lack of self-awareness; that's obvious from his "cool" wardrobe and his open confusion about why people call him "strident." But at one point -- after stridently bitching about polls that show atheists are as unpopular as rapists -- he draws a rhetorical parallel between believing in religion and believing it's OK to have sex with animals. For baby Mohammed's sake, this is one of the arguments often leveled at atheists by smug Christians.

Just as a disabled person would rightfully object to being viewed as a Franklin figure, I would be horribly embarrassed to be viewed by religious people as a Krauss figure just because I'm an atheist. I'm not saying he's a villain, but he has a villain's smugness. They're always sure that their righteousness overcomes their unpleasantness. They lash out at straw men instead of regarding the human beings right in front of them. And they do things like invoke "science" to publicly defend their billionaire friends who confess to child rape. Poor old Franklin didn't think of himself as a villain, either, but he still ended up with a chainsaw in his gut. I think we can all learn an important lesson from him.


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15 comments
tejr
tejr

we need better journalists !!


you have added nothing to the world with this article.


well done!

fgfm
fgfm

Why do guys like Krauss get to lead the atheist parade and not Chomsky?

caduceusmedia
caduceusmedia

How much more petty can a person be, to even think about writing an article like this?

Peculiarman
Peculiarman

Packham seems only concerned with shooting the messenger.

I'd like to remind Pachham that his ad homonym attacks on Krauss about his smugness could easily be made against the likes of Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, Joel Osteen, Ken Ham, and of course Billy Craig. The difference is that Krauss has actual evidence for what he says while the afore mentioned have only a book of fairy tales to justify their smug rhetoric. Krauss has every reason to be smug. 

gold
gold

So, what did you get when you used Google and looked up "SV-40" and "Henrietta Lacks tissue contamination?" Let me give you more homework, rather than polemics, by using Google: "Bill Gates polio vaccine in mosquitos."  The atheism/religion debate is a distraction from what is right in front of you.  All parents should read the inserts of vaccines and do some research. Ignorance is hardly bliss and skeptical parents are not engaged in magic ( the ace ad hominem of post modern cognition).  I see no one has explained how multi dose  bottles of vaccine are preserved.  Homework: it is on the inserts which are on the web.  Fun homework assignment: read Edward Bernays' books - apply them to religious faith.  Look around you. See what the author of DSM 4 has to say about DSM 5.  See how DSM 5 defines "autism."Go on the web and find the decisions of the US Vaccine Court.  Good luck. Under post modern semantics, personal responsibility merits derision, yes? Or does the ad hominem emphasize personal responsibility?  Does a post modern intellectual insist on conversion to the new elevation of man or is dissent (theology) to be allowed?

Jeanette Trumeau
Jeanette Trumeau

There is a semi-famous novelist who does the same thing, hiding behind admins...

frishberg
frishberg

Atheists ought not be angry or mean when it comes to those who believe, just because we're right doesn't allow us to tease or demean.  

Faith has evolutionary benefits, that's shown by the fact that 70-90% of humans, worldwide, have faith in a "higher power" or what have you.

Faith has survival benefits.

And since faith is belief without evidence, Believers and Atheists MUST agree: No Reason For God.

hbcook86
hbcook86

We live in a world where people believe that this entire universe was built solely with them in mind. Additionally, they feel they are entitled to another life after this one while telling people they are going to burn in hell for not sharing their worldview. With that in mind, it seems rather childish to complain about how smug you think Lawrence Krauss is. His work actually contributes to society. Perhaps Chris Packham could follow suit....

Joseph Raffanello
Joseph Raffanello

judging solely from this article I'd have to doubt that chris packham knows anything at all about lawrence krauss other than what he saw in one documentary. The irony here is that the article detests the very thing it reeks of.

gold
gold

Was that last paragraph about Obama and his pals at Martha's Vineyard, you know, the uber-rich guys who paid for his campaign for, uh, the people - right? Is that why communists in power always live sans limitations - no, wait - what happens when global warming collapses in its own dung 9 (the horror of actual fact this weekend) ; what does the modern communist do then?  Soyons serieux! Who gets attacked next?  We have to know to get the "correct" rhetoric, right?  See, no one really understands quantum mechanics,  God, chaos mathematics or why Mandlebrot made a hit with fractals (which come from whence?). Babel is a place in Cambridge, Mass. It straddles a river. It distills anarchy, herds cats, and divines confusion. And takes government money to do it. Atheism, like baseball stats, is defined by the very localized zealot and then, like a religion (yipes) becomes food for idolatry's grand appetite.  What was it they said in the gulags - "If only Stalin knew!"  Exactly where is the charming C. Hitchens these days?  Is he E=mc(squared of course), or is he floating about?  Would that answer why taxes keep going up, why everyone is subject to electronic stop and frisk - or, in the end, is all this noise a distraction from the obvious: man is an idiot with a screwdriver (toolmaker) intellect.  Thus, God gave man booze and tobacco and atheists took it away to help (control) man.  Having fun in this circus of distraction issues? Hey, whatever  happened to the old "nuclear scientists for peace" organization that used to meet in Helsinki and Stockholm? Was it really just soviet money stolen from dead gulagers?  What's Cambridge Mass cooking up these days? I miss Hitchens. He was fun. The rest are just your average droll athiests. What's for lunch?

claxamazoo
claxamazoo

Dr. Krauss appears to be a sub par messenger trying to share an important and accurate message.  There is a reason that Mass Communications and Public Relations are majors unto themselves.  You may not like to be informed of your ignorance, but it's not condescending when someone informs you that you are ignorant about a subject if you happen to be ignorant of that subject.  

Is a doctor being smug when they explain your illness to you?  Some humans engage in magical thinking when trying to explain physical phenomena (geology, physics, astronomy, etc..), and to people who actually understand physical phenomena, this magical thinking is frustrating and depressing.  As a nurse, I work with clients who engage in magical thinking in relation to their health (vaccines cause autism, cancer can be cured by prayer, crystal therapy, etc..), and this magical thinking bewilders me.

Your complaint does not seem to be that Dr. Krauss is incorrect, but that his messaging requires improvement.  He is a PhD Physicist, not a public speaker, and from what I have seen from his videos, his focus is lecturing, not persuading.  Theists rely on hucksters and used car salesmen tactics to peddle their ideology.  Dr. Krauss and other lecturers in his cohort base their premise on facts and expect that the facts, more or less, speak for themselves.

gold
gold

@claxamazoo Vaccines - use Google - "SV-40" and then "Henrietta Lacks Tissue contamination"  If vaccine is so harmless why isn't it just put in the water or sold in Costco in capsule form for easy daily doses?  C'mon, it's harmless, right?  How is the vaccine in multi-dose bottles preserved, shelf life extended? What is used?  See the insert.  Think politicians take a shot from a multidose bottle? Think again. THey get single use, single dose.  Know why? Read what is in a vaccine.  Why not use vaccine preservative to preserve canned peas or frozen zucchini? Not a chance. Vaccine goes to the vaccine court, frozen zucchini goes to an article 3 court and a jury:  big, big difference.. Magical thinking? Parents reading inserts and using Google are not magical. They are pragmatic.   How many kids die from vaccines each year or are maimed? Answer: no one knows. WHy is that?  Research what is in the bottle. Let's see an adult politician take the same shots as a baby and then track their health. Harmless, right? So the politician could take it every day; just redundant, right? If so, why aren't they doing it over and over to show how harmless, say 30 doses in 30 days. Read the literature about the possible effects and dangers and decide for yourself. Why do vaccinated populations get the underlying disease?  Maybe Costco should sell it, maybe you should take it every day.  Couldn't hurt, right? Safe, right? Use the Google references above and do your own research. Why did big pharma get its own vaccine court with no jury?  Lazy? Don't want to read up on vaccines?  Look in the mirror - what do you see? That's what big pharma sees.

lh.82
lh.82

@claxamazoo You sound like a materialist pseudo skeptic. You do not seem intelligent enough to be on here.

claxamazoo
claxamazoo

@gold

Your pseudoscientific ravings are a credit to conspiracy theorists everywhere.  

If you are able to form a cogent or salient sentence I will be happy to reply in kind.  There are aspects of immunology that I, with only a BSN, am unable to completely articulate, but I will do my best to educate you within my scope of knowledge.  



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