Amazing Science?

Atheist Jaclyn Glenn rewrote “Amazing Grace” and performed it (HT Hemant Mehta):

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In this instance, I really don't find the new song at all appealing (lyrically speaking, I mean – Glenn sings nicely). I have no objection to “Amazing Grace” being rewritten. And I don't always disagree with atheists, even about their criticism of Christianity. But in this case, the message of the song overall, such as the suggestion that because people have science, all fear vanishes, all tendency towards hatred or abuse disappears, is simply not at all persuasive. Picking the worst anti-science and anti-rational examples and using them as the target standing in for “religion” is taking the easy shots, and avoiding the more challenging ones. Anyone can do that with any worldview.

I actually found myself talking about this very topic at a party yesterday evening. When asked what I think of the “new atheists” I said that I prefer the “old atheists.” The ones who can say “I think Christianity has contributed some great music and some important values to the world, and I still don't think the God they depict exists” are a serious challenge, while those who paint with broader strokes and say things like “religion poisons everything” are easier to dismiss.

In church today, I'll be involved in a slightly modified but still fairly traditional rendition of “Amazing Grace.” But are there other versions, perhaps with significantly modified lyrics, which neither simply reproduce the old nor satirize it in an uncharitable and lyrically unsatisfying way? And if we broaden beyond this one hymn, would anyone – religious or atheist – really choose the atheist “Amazing Science” over something like this?

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Below I'll share another song, a blast from the past, that relates to another topic that came up in my conversation yesterday. One of my favorite contributions to the forthcoming book Time and Relative Dimensions in Faith: Religion and Doctor Who is about the notion of endless life, using Doctor Who to challenge the common religious notion that subjective life without end is something appealing. And as musical accompaniment to your reflection on that topic, here's Alphaville's “Forever Young”:

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  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    When asked what I think of the “new atheists” I said that I prefer the “old atheists.”

    -I am reminded of the words of jesperbothpedersen1-

    Is that all you have to do for the faith heads to like you? Get dead?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Umm, is there some particular reason that, when I wrote about “old atheists,” even providing a link to illustrate the sort of atheists I was referring to, you decided I meant “dead atheists”?

      • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

        Dawkins is old, but he is a “New Atheist”. Hitchens, another “New Atheist”, is dead. Therefore (so I reasoned), the “old atheists” must all be dead. So, just to be clear, you do consider Andre Comte-Sponville an example of an “old atheist”? The phrase “old atheist” is simply not used in the post you linked to.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          So if one of the so-called “new atheists” is dead, then the “old atheists” must be dead? I am talking about the older approach to atheism, and to Christianity from an atheist perspective, of which Comte-Sponville is an example. Is it really that hard to grasp that I am making a contrast to those to whom the label “new atheists” has been applied?

  • http://irrco.wordpress.com/ Ian

    Dawkins, as the poster-boy for new atheism, has said that things about the bible that might surprise some: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/may/19/richard-dawkins-king-james-bible

    He also has admitted to leading prayers in college, iirc.

    But, yes, the kind of hymn rewriting that is thinly disguised “we’ve rewritten your song to rub your nose in our superiority” doesn’t do much for me.

    There are some good atheistic resettings though. I’ve sung this one in a UU church and I found it moving and expressive:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtZUM0JhLvc

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Hello James, this post of yours really spoke to my heart!

    I also feel a deep respect and awe for great atheistic thinkers of European history such as David Hume, Nietzche, Sartre, Camus and so on and so forth.

    The New Atheist arguments are only good against fundamentalism but they fall infinitely short of proving that there is no God, or even worse, that everything which exists can be comprehended by a human brain.

    What makes them sound convincing to many people is their heavy use of rhetorics, ridicule, insults and emotional bullying.

    Like religious fundamentalists are dishonoring the God they pretend to serve, they are dishonoring the very rationality and Reason they pretend to cherish so much.

    The claim that science can provide us with MEANING and MORAL VALUES is truly an extraordinary one. As David Hume pointed out, there is a gigantic gap between what IS and what OUGHT to be. To bridge it, the New Atheists need much more than nice songs or books such as „the Moral Landscape“ which completely beg the question.

    Most New Atheists were former fundamentalists and I am sure that militant atheism is a legitimate child of religious bigotry.

    One of the main reasons I created my blog https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/
    was to point out the similar irrationalities of religious and atheistic fundamentalists and provide a progressive Christian answer to the challenges they raise.

    Let me now finish with something positive: I believe that Jaclyn Glenn is a clever, witty and gorgeous young lady who knows how to emphasize the nice features of her body in many of her videos.
    Were she not so arrogant and narrow-minded, I could rapidly fall in love with her :=)

    • Brian Westley

      The New Atheist arguments are only good against fundamentalism but they fall infinitely short of proving that there is no God

      Most arguments I’ve seen aren’t attempting to do that; rather, they attempt to show that belief in a god isn’t justified by the evidence.

      or even worse, that everything which exists can be comprehended by a human brain.

      I’ve never heard of any atheist arguing this. Got a reference?

      The claim that science can provide us with MEANING and MORAL VALUES is truly an extraordinary one.

      Some atheists like Sam Harris promote that, but that’s not true of all atheists. I’d argue that religion is not very good at moral values, and that the meaning it tries to provide isn’t justifiable as real.

      Most New Atheists were former fundamentalists

      I’d really like a citation for that claim.

      and I am sure that militant atheism is a legitimate child of religious bigotry.

      Assuming “militant atheism” amounts to writing about atheism, I assume you routinely refer to Christians who write about Christianity as “militant Christians”?

      • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

        Hey Brian,

        “Assuming “militant atheism” amounts to writing about atheism, I assume
        you routinely refer to Christians who write about Christianity as
        “militant Christians”?”

        Not at all! Militant atheists are those believing that all other worldviews ought to be utterly destroyed and that the use of ridicule and emotional bullying is permissible and often even very desirable.

        A Christian believing this is a nasty fundamentalist.

        “or even worse, that everything which exists can be comprehended by a human brain.

        I’ve never heard of any atheist arguing this. Got a reference?”

        This is what the New Atheists should believe for many of their arguments to work.

        Dawkins once openly denied this, but he was completely inconsistent in that respect.

        Most New Atheists are former fundamentalists

        I’d really like a citation for that claim.”

        Between 90% and 95% of all Antitheists I have interacted with are former fundies.
        And many other Christians and agnostics report similar experience.

        Cheers.

        • Brian Westley

          Not at all! Militant atheists are those believing that all other worldviews ought to be utterly destroyed and that the use of ridicule and emotional bullying is permissible and often even very desirable.

          So Christians who are certain they’re right are “militant Christians”?

          “or even worse, that everything which exists can be comprehended by a human brain.

          I’ve never heard of any atheist arguing this. Got a reference?”

          This is what the New Atheists should believe for many of their arguments to work.

          “Should believe”? So you’re admitting you’re just making up stuff and dishonestly ascribing them to strawmen atheists? Did you ever think they might disagree over what you think they “should” think?

          Most New Atheists are former fundamentalists

          I’d really like a citation for that claim.”

          Between 90% and 95% of all Antitheists I have interacted with are former fundies.

          Anecdotal evidence is worthless as a cite. And I asked for “atheists”, not “antitheists”.

          • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

            Everything I’ve written concerned ANTItheists.

            Most atheists in France and Germany are really not like that.

            • Brian Westley

              Everything you’ve written is also nonsense.

              By the way, instead of writing “antitheists” in your first post, you wrote “atheists”. Way to move the goalposts.

  • PNG
    • PNG

      Should have noted, turn on your sound for this.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Thanks. I think I’ll share that in a blog post!

  • newenglandsun

    Too bad the first thing you learn in a lower level science class is that science ≠ truth. Oh, and by the way, science gave us the atomic bomb and machine guns…and tanks! And all other weapons you can think of.

    On the other hand, the Catholic Church gave us modern day astronomy (big bang theory, not the show, :( ) and modern day genetics. This “scientism” movement is fraud.


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