Sean Illing interviewing John Gray:

I see you as someone who enjoys exposing the hypocrisies of people who enjoy exposing the hypocrisies of others. Is that how you see yourself?

Indeed. I’m a skeptic by nature, so I’m resistant to claims by anyone to have complete answers to intractable human problems. I’m particularly annoyed by what’s now called “New Atheism,” and I react strongly against those who debunk the beliefs of others in a way I find bullying and shallow.

The New Atheists — Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others — attack religions in the sublime confidence that these religions are myths and that they themselves harbor no myths, but that’s not true.

In many cases, the New Atheists are animated by 19th-century myths of various kinds: myths of human advancement, myths of what science can and cannot do, and all kinds of other myths. So yeah, I’m compelled to attack anyone who is debunking others for their reliance on myths when the debunkers themselves can’t see how their own thinking is shaped by myths.

I feel like that myself. Then again, perhaps we all do. Hypocrisy is that special trait which no one will speak for but everyone will practice. I recall an interview with the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers in which he claimed that even wasps, birds and monkeys react angrily to deceit. Unhappily for the human ego, however, he also suggests that attacking the deceiver is motivated by a desire for dominance rather than a disinterested concern for truth. Not everything reduces to biology, of course. Evolution means endless adaptation, after all, and there’s no reason to be ashamed that our higher yearnings don’t have angelic origins. What began as a competitive drive among our fellow hominids may well morph over eons into something very different. Still, I’ve noted before that Gray seems to take particular pleasure in judging other perspectives against his own and finding them lacking; it’s not difficult to get the impression that he just enjoys the thrill of intellectual pugilism for its own sake. That kind of combative skepticism certainly could be a sign of intellectual independence and clear thinking, or it could just be another symptom of fashion-obsessed individualism and the desire to differentiate oneself in the marketplace of ideas. Only we can know our own motivations, but even so, we might just prefer our more attractive rationalizations.