What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Dalrymple has written hundreds of articles
About this forum
Dalrymple has written a lot of articles. We suggest that in order to comment on a particular article you first run a search for it. If you find it, comment there. If not, please begin a new topic with that essay title.

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Connor » 18 Sep 2012, 12:46

Check out his essay on the folly and impossibility of trying to "explain" what morals are naturalistically for a good overview of how the New Atheists go wrong without even realizing it.


Michael - thanks for introducing me to Mark Anthony Signorelli. I read through a few of his articles on the New English Review website, and I think they've helped me move farther from atheist territory and more firmly into the agnostic camp.

In fact, he somewhat reminds me of David Bentley Hart, who is another thinker that I've recently discovered. As a sample, here is an article of Hart's from First Things in which he takes the New Atheist Daniel Dennett to task. He also manages to weave in literary references to Lewis Carroll throughout - pretty Dalrymplian, if you ask me!

There is a relatively recent book of his entitled Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, which I have not read, but it seems like it would be worthwhile to check out. It's funny, though: just a couple years ago, I would have no patience for a book with a title like this...but now my interest is piqued.
Connor
 
Posts: 113
Joined: 30 Aug 2012, 03:54
Location: New York, NY, USA

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Rachel » 19 Sep 2012, 19:51

I find it strange how after the mid/late 90's these "new atheists" suddenly came to exist. In the 80's I remember some people were athiests and some people weren't.
No one cared. It was live and let live.
There were no televised debates on it and people like Dawkins didn't make a fuss about it.
Debates about teaching evolution in schools were seen as an hysterical Americanism in Britain. In the 80's they taught Christianity as fact in my Primary and Middle school. The whole attitude was that we teach Christianity now and you can decide what you like as an adult.
Douglas Adams the author of "Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" would only occasionally talk about his atheism, and you could spot it in his books. But it wasn't an obsession like it is with Dawkins.
Now after his death, if you type in "Douglas Adams" and "Atheism" in google you get a ton of results and quotes as if he was some sort of activist.
I don't understand why it's suddenly become important and why/how these "New Athiests" came to exist.
It used to be a uniquely British thing to not care.
Rachel
 
Posts: 292
Joined: 03 Aug 2011, 10:14
Location: Israel

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Heather » 20 Sep 2012, 17:33

One reason for the rise of New Atheism might have to do with the fact that in America there are many areas where it is socially unacceptable to not be religious. I remember some of my more devout cousins would ask kids on the playground if they were Christians, and refuse to play with anyone who wasn't. Their parents thought this was both right and proper, and looked on proudly (even smugly). So imagine growing up in that climate and being a little too reason-based to really believe. It can feel oppressive if you haven't fully thought through the implications of having a culture with no religion.

I suspect that the change to New Atheism in America occurred when Dawkins (the ultimate cynic) came along at the right moment to fill an unrecognized void in mature cynical Gen Xers and coming-of-age narcissistic Millenials. It makes them feel special to be so Reasonable compared to the rabble of Christians surrounding them, it gives them a Cause (mainly just making fun of the religious, but still, everyone needs something I guess), and it replaces the sense of community they lost when they stopped going to church. I also think that a lot of people have a need to follow a leader, not that any New Atheist would admit that. They like to brag that atheists are like stray cats, unherdable, but that doesn't change the way they cling to and follow men like Dawkins.
Heather
 
Posts: 132
Joined: 28 Apr 2012, 23:05
Location: The American South

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Gavin » 20 Sep 2012, 19:06

Rachel wrote:I find it strange how after the mid/late 90's these "new atheists" suddenly came to exist. In the 80's I remember some people were atheists and some people weren't.


Well, I think the "new" atheists mainly came about with Sam Harris' book The End of Faith, which I read when it came out and liked a lot, actually, though it became a little mystical for my tastes towards the end.

Dawkins was speaking out against religion for many years. I'm not sure I like him very much. For many years I was a great admirer of his outspokenness, but the more I got to know about him (and the more I read TD) the more I went off him (I believe he is quite left-liberal and PC). I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of motivations though and say that he is strongly against religion because he simply doesn't like people (in particular schoolchildren) being told that falsehoods are truths. He also believes science is more useful and fascinating than religious explanations. I must say I share those views.

Where he fails is perhaps in just not recognising that all people are not like him. Some simply cannot bear to face life's trials and tribulations without faith. For them, it satisfies a need that science never can, whether it has any foundation in truth or not. Perhaps Dawkins finds solace in faith in left-liberalism instead.

In further answer to your point, Rachel, with regard to his increased criticism of religion in recent years -

Richard Dawkins wrote:"Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!"


Just further to what you said also, Heather, my wife, who is from America, said exactly the same thing. As an atheist she objected to having to pretend she was a Christian or else be ostracised as if she were immoral. Actually, that's how we met - over a discussion of this issue, on a forum. This is definitely a serious concern in itself, because of course not all atheists are immoral, but we have both softened our take on religion (except Islam) since this time. I suppose we have seen so many people who have no religion and who seem to become hedonistic narcissists without it. The question is, could some people ever really appreciate "the Moral Landscape" or how to behave, or is religious belief the best guide for them, even if it isn't founded in any truth?

I share the "new atheists" concern over nonsense being taught (and believed) as truth, but at the same time I'm pragmatic and I want to see civil behaviour on our streets!

It's hard to tell whether, on aggregate, religious belief does more harm than good. To be honest I am still undecided on the matter. But I am pretty sure will be a very bad thing if the religion of Islam gains any greater hold in the UK, which of course it will before there is any reversal.
Gavin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3432
Joined: 27 Jul 2011, 18:13
Location: Once Great Britain

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Elliott » 11 Oct 2012, 14:20

Here is an example of the point-missing smugness of New Atheists. It comes from Ricky Gervais - not an intellectual by any means, though like all comics, talented or not, he thinks he has wisdom to impart...

Comic Genius wrote:Since the beginning of recorded history, which is defined by the invention of writing by the Sumerians around 6,000 years ago, historians have catalogued over 3700 supernatural beings, of which 2870 can be considered deities.

So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I'll say "Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra? ..." If they say "Just God. I Only believe in the one God," I'll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don't believe in 2,870 gods, and they don't believe in 2,869.


This is a great example of "New Atheist thinking", derived from the scientific method: it uses facts (actually, attempts to intimidate with facts - was there really any need for the reference to Sumerians or was he just showing off that he could use Google?), then deduces logically from only those facts, with a minimum of thought involved, certainly a minimum of reflection, contemplation or respect for human nature. That is great in the field of science - no other method would work in science - but with regards to "people" it is woefully inadequate and dehumanising.

However, since what Gervais said is true (2870, 2869, etc.), it must (logically) be true that every religious believer is a fool, religion laughable, science triumphant, and nihilism "the logical next step".

I would also say that the quote above displays something which is so, so typical of New Atheists, which is that they seem to get pleasure from ridiculing and humiliating people and making them look stupid, before walking off with a smug grin.

Somebody quoted Gervais's wisdom online, and I commented:

New Atheism is largely motivated by a jealousy of people who have faith and the comfort it brings. And remember, I say that as someone without religious belief.


That was perhaps going too far. The original person replied:

and your basis for this sweeping generalisation is...?


Here we run into one of the problems with ultra-rationalist thinking, which is that, as with all orthodoxies, nothing can be said until it has been said by a panel of experts. If any comment I make about New Atheists will be shouted down as a "sweeping generalisation", from where should I get sufficient evidence to support it? Has the study been done on New Atheists that questions their motivation? Has a really hot-shot psychologist brought out a bestseller that we can all quote from with a clear conscience? No. And yet, New Atheists are as shrill as the worst of religionists in their insistence that they, and only they, are entitled to make sweeping generalisations. Faith heads and sky fairy, anyone?
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Michael » 11 Oct 2012, 17:07

So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I'll say "Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra? ..." If they say "Just God. I Only believe in the one God," I'll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don't believe in 2,870 gods, and they don't believe in 2,869.


Edward Feser, one of my favorite living philosophers, ably deals with this facile line of argument in his article "Who Wants To Be An Atheist." Feser's essential point is that atheists are able to self-congratulate themselves like Mr. Gervais does because they do not attend to fundamental distinctions: God, as conceived by a theologian like Aquinas or Ansem, is closer to a metaphysical principle than a supernatural being. In fact, God as conceived by sophisticated theologians or philosophers of religion is closer to Being/Existence itself, the source from which all beings borrow their existence. The atheists can only congratulate themselves because they shoot their arrows at a Straw Man Fallacy.

This is not, of course, to deny that many, many religious believers conception of God is composed just such crude caricatures as atheists criticize. One place where I disagree with Feser is the idea that lay Christians and theologians can be said to believe in the same God.

He makes an argument in his book The Last Superstition about how multiple people can understand and talk about the same thing, though not all have the same conceptions. Compare talk about God to talk about a house: Sam has only seen the north side, Bill has only seen the light from its windows at night as he walked through a rainstorm a mile away, and Carol has only seen a photograph. Clearly we can allow that all three are speaking of the same house when they wonder "who lives in that house" or "I wonder whether that house is very valuable", though none has the knowledge of the house that the others have The same, Feser says, takes place with regard to talk of God, from the crude conception of the child up through the more sophisticated conception of the adult, all the way to the theologian. Note that I am paraphrasing Feser's argument, not having the book immediately at hand.

I find this argument unconvincing because there seems such a great disconnect between the conception of God believed in by most religious believers I have met and the conceptions of philosophers of religion and theologians like Feser. The difference is not one of partial knowledge of a clearly identified thing, but of different degrees of knowledge. Compare talk about a scientific discipline - compare the conceptions of physics of a child, a high school student, and a physicist employed at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The child believes that 'physics' is the magical force that makes the rockets in Star Wars work, while the high school student and the physicist have common ground in understanding it deals which studies matter and its motion through space and time. What I'm saying is that I think many religious believers (perhaps most) have a conception of God equivalent to that of a child's conception of physics - a magic force that makes things happen.

Still, it is a vain, smug move on the part of the New Atheists to believe that in disposing of caricatures they have disposed of the thing itself, and can freely label all religious believers stupid, ignorant, deluded, or all three.
Michael
 
Posts: 304
Joined: 01 Aug 2011, 21:28
Location: Canada

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Elliott » 17 Oct 2012, 20:57

Here's another example of why I hate New Atheism:

Image

Gervais is like a boy who's been taught a naughty word by the big kids at school and can't stop trying to shock everyone with it.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Elliott » 15 Mar 2013, 15:00

This article is quite good at describing my objection to Richard Dawkins.
Elliott
 
Posts: 1800
Joined: 31 Jul 2011, 22:32
Location: Edinburgh

Re: What the New Atheists Don’t See (2007)

Postby Gavin » 15 Mar 2013, 17:00

I think we may differ on this, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Kant, Hegel and Wittgenstein are three philosophers whom I don't especially admire. They're not the clearest of writers, Hegel being notoriously inscrutable. Kant seemed to create whole elaborate "systems" to which nobody really had to subscribe, and his categorical imperative doesn't seem very convincing. He's another who seemed to take 200 words to say what could be said in twenty, if it was anything truly meaningful.

Maybe I'm too hard on them, but thus far I have preferred the analytic tradition. Russell, Moore, Ayer and others. The empiricism of Hume, too. For what little Dawkins does involve himself in philosophy, he would be of this school.

I didn't really think that article struck any big hits against Dawkins in this respect. My main problem with Dawkins is his liberalism, and sometimes his rudeness, but I don't think I can fault his reasoning on religious belief. (Maybe Dawkins underestimates the utility value of religion too, regardless of its truth value.) If we are supposed to believe in another path to knowledge than science, I wonder what that is supposed to be. I'm open to it, I just suppose I haven't seen it yet.

That brief article mentions both knowledge and wisdom. This is a good distinction to make, I think, but again it seems to me that wisdom (having good judgement, we might say) need not require us to invoke anything supernatural.

We don't fully understand the human mind, reality, or the "soul", as Dalrymple sometimes calls it. We might never. There is no reason to suppose science will indeed manage to tell us everything. But it seems to me that on current evidence there is no reason to suppose that any other method will be more successful than the scientific method (at least in the field of facts, if not of values).

After all, we on the forum are aware of others who harbour all manner of vague "mystical" beliefs, voice their "spiritual truths" etc and I for one find it very difficult to take any of them seriously. Like Kant and Hegel, they often seem to make sense only to themselves. I can even understand Dawkins' frustration with their apparent total disregard for the value of evidence and of the scientific method.

But like I say, unlike some of these people who believe without evidence (and will sometimes even continue to believe in the face of strong contrary evidence), I'm open (I hope) to being convinced away from this position.
Gavin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 3432
Joined: 27 Jul 2011, 18:13
Location: Once Great Britain

Previous

Return to Articles

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

cron

Login Form

Who is online

In total there are 2 users online :: 0 registered, 0 hidden and 2 guests (based on users active over the past 5 minutes)
Most users ever online was 175 on 12 Jan 2015, 18:23

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests
Copyright © Western Defence. All Rights Reserved.