Gnu Atheists is a pun on the label New Atheists that quickly took on a life of its own. As a pun, it is equivalent in meaning to New Atheists, and the two can be substituted for each other anywhere they occur.
While gnu and new are meant to be equivalent when it comes to atheism, usage of the modifier gnu tends to make any discussion about atheists or atheism more comical and less imposing--even when the subject matter at hand is very serious.
Gnu has the added benefit of allowing atheists to reclaim the label new imposed on them by theists. In addition, the gnu (aka, the wildebeest) serves as a sort of mascot around which some atheists might choose to rally, though there are several such mascots already (e.g., IPU , FSM , Ceiling Cat , Cthulhu , and cephalopods ).
Atheists who enjoy using the label Gnu Atheist for whatever reason might want to look into joining either one of the two Gnu Atheism Facebook groups: Gnu-Atheism or gnuatheism . Additionally, a separate wiki on Gnu Atheism is also being maintained at Wikispaces.
Coinage of the Meme
The satirical term Gnu Atheists began its life as a pun on the term New Atheists by Hamilton Jacobi in a comment he tried to publish at The Intersection. This comment would have presented an accurate and insightful timeline of the Wally Smith debacle as it played out there. Jacobi preempted the comment being lost by the strict moderation policy in place at The Intersection at the time and recopied his timeline using the word gnu in place of new at atheist blogger Ophelia Benson's Butterflies and Wheels:
|“||Critics point out that Chris and Sheril’s most controversial thesis in the book — namely, that the Gnu Atheists’ unapologetic criticism of religion is damaging the public acceptance of science (hereafter referred to as the MK thesis) — is merely an opinion unsupported by evidence.||”|
One day later, Jerry Coyne, on his website Why Evolution Is True (WEIT), promoted the meme with a LOLcats-esque graphic that depicted a theist gnu and an atheist gnu quarreling about attending church. Usage of gnu over new seems to have taken off from there as the meme spread throughout the online atheist community from Benson's and Coyne's popular websites to PZ Myers' Pharyngula and beyond.
That pun allows the gnu with all its iconic properties to be so easily swapped with the faddish label contemporary atheists have come to be known by. This coincidence has lent itself to many
gnu new good puns. Some of the earlier ones include:
- Atheism - the choice of the Gnu generation!
- Well, there’s good gnus, and there’s bad gnus…
- I think a lot of them just follow the herd.
- Grumpy, Nasty, Unaccommodating
The Gnu Atheist Symbol
Aratina Cage took the gnu meme further on his own blog by using it to satire Richard Dawkins ' Out Campaign logo, the Zapfino-stylized scarlet A , which he did by placing the outline of gnu horns over a Pump Demi Bold A that vaguely resembles the rear-end of a gnu, giving it a similar color to the one created by Dawkins; the intent was not to make fun of Dawkins' A, but to produce a funny vanity symbol for Cage's blog reflecting the recently created Gnu Atheist meme.
When Jerry Coyne learned about Cage's satirical symbol (probably via Physicalism's blog post on it ), he declared it the official Gnu Atheist symbol by scientific fiat. According to Cage , the symbol itself is free to be used or modified in any way by anyone (preferably atheists) for any purpose including commercially with no need to request permission or provide attribution.
New & Modified Versions
With the symbol being released freely for any use by any atheist (or non-atheist), several variations have appeared:
- WEIT commenter sputnik has already contributed a hi-res, sninier version of the symbol (as shown on this page) that is available for anyone to use as an alternative to Cage's version.
- Cage, following sputnik's footsteps, replaced the original graphic with a higher resolution version.
- Atheist pundit Sigmund put together his own version that includes a tail and tapering legs on the letter A.
- Pharyngula regular Jadehawk combined a more rounded Gnu A with the woman-power emblem to produce the Feminist Atheism symbol that you might see used on Pharyngula.
- The Gnu Atheism Facebook group posted a large size and small size ASCII-art Gnu Atheist symbol on the group's wall on September 11, 2011.
Spotted in the Wild
Some creative and talented people have taken the Gnu Atheist symbol from the virtual world to the real world:
- On October 10, 2010, a forum member at Nirmukta named unsorted announced that he had used an online t-shirt printing service to create a tee with sputnik's version of the Gnu Atheist symbol printed on the front.
- On Darwin Day 2011 (February 12), a WEIT regular named Doug sent Coyne a photo of the Gnu Atheist symbol stitched onto a white flag being proudly flown from a post on the front of his house.
People fond of the coinage have noted that New Atheists is a bit of a misnomer since there is nothing new about atheists or even about confrontational or vocal atheists; in that sense the substitution of gnu for new has a certain utility to it in how it skewers the concept of atheism being new. However, many atheists disapprove of its usage and some even dislike both the term gnu and the term new as descriptors for the word atheist.
Following Jerry Coyne's promotion of the symbol, some commenters complained that the symbol was not good enough from a graphics designer's perspective, and others pointed to different symbols for atheism that they preferred, sometimes greatly. Still others felt that the term gnu and the symbol might infringe on similar trademarks including symbols with an uppercase A with horns and/or the name of fellow atheist Richard Stallman's free operating system. Aratina Cage has reviewed US trademarks and not found any other A-symbol using the same font and same color with gnu horns. The use of the homophone gnu in place of new also has nothing to do with the GNU operating system; in fact, the "g" in the GNU operating system is generally enunciated whereas the name of the animal is gnot.
- Gnu Atheist Urban dictionary