In his speculation on whether public intellectuals matter, AC Grayling somehow manages to avoid noticing the giant elephant voiding its bowels in the room.
Can one give a catch-all definition of what it is to be a “public
intellectual”? Consider this list: Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein,
Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, Stephen Jay Gould, Norman Mailer, Susan
Sontag, Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, indeed anyone on Prospect’s
list of people who merit or are thought to merit the label. They have
very little in common other than intelligence and engagement, and the
fact that they speak out. Those three things, accordingly, might be
taken to capture the essence.
Very little in common other than intelligence, engagement, and the fact that they speak out? I don’t know, my highly developed pattern recognition skills suggest to me that there just might be something else these notable public intellectuals all have in common. Let’s look over his list one by one and see what the Internet has to say about their religious beliefs.
Bertrand Russell = atheist
Albert Einstein = agnostic
Edmund Wilson = atheist
Lionel Trilling = agnostic
Stephen Jay Gould = atheist-leaning agnostic
Norman Mailer = atheist (during his years as a public intellectual)
Sontag = atheist
Noam Chomsky = atheist
Richard Dawkins = atheist
My goodness, isn’t that an astonishing surprise! It goes without saying, of course, that A.C. Grayling is himself an atheist. This failure to note this common point is so massive, and so glaring, that it is either intentional, or worse, an indication of the very small scope of the so-called public intellectual’s perspective. Of course, we should probably keep in mind that Grayling is known for his convenient memory lapses, having once falsely accused William Lane Craig of a false claim to have debated him.
This leads me to conclude that the correct answer to Grayling’s question is that public intellectuals matter very much to other public intellectuals. As to their importance to the vast majority of the rest of the world, who don’t give a damn what a few self-important, self-promoting, godless individuals may happen to think about anything, they clearly don’t matter at all.
As I have previously shown, despite the statistical overrepresentation of the irreligious among the highly intelligent, there are still far more highly intelligent religious individuals than there are highly intelligent irreligious individuals. To be precise, the ratio of theists with +2SD IQs to atheists with +2 SD IQs is more than 10 to one. The more significant question, therefore, is why are all of these much more numerous highly intelligent religious individuals so few and far between on this year’s list of celebrated world thinkers? Why are so few of them invited to give TED talks?
Do their religious beliefs somehow negate their intelligence? Or could it be that there some other mysterious factor at work? This is all so very inexplicable in light of the fact that GSS studies over the past 40 years show that the MAJORITY of atheists have IQs of 100 or less.