Words I Thought I Would Never Say

Dinesh D’Souza is right.

His article today criticizing Peter Berkowitz‘s take on “The New New Atheism” in today’s issue of The Wall Street Journal is on the money.

First, some facts from Berkowitz:

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, in less than 12 months atheism’s newest champions have sold close to a million books. Some 500,000 hardcover copies are in print of Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon“; and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger’s “God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does not Exist” (2007).

Now, let’s start ripping apart Berkowitz’s arguments:

Unlike the Enlightenment atheism of the 18th century, which arose in a still predominantly religious society and which frequently went to some effort to disguise or mute its disbelief, the new new atheism proclaims its hatred of God and organized religion loudly and proudly from the rooftops.

“Hatred of God?” How could any of the atheists hate something they don’t believe even exists?

So Messrs. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and the rest have some fair claim to novelty. But not where it really counts. They contend that from the vantage point of the 21st century, and thanks to the moral progress of mankind and the achievements of natural science, we can now know, with finality and certainty, that God does not exist and organized religion is a fraud.

But [Hitchens'] arguments do not come close to disproving God’s existence or demonstrating that religion is irredeemably evil.

Not a single atheist says God does not exist. If they do, they’re mistaken. Even Richard Dawkins titled one of the chapters in The God Delusion: “Why There Almost Certainly is No God.” God is improbable. Highly unlikely. But God is not completely out of the picture, even in these atheists’ eyes. You can’t prove a negative.

D’Souza sees the problems as well:

While accusing atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens of setting up a straw man, Berkowitz begins with a couple of Goliath-size staw men of his own. He accuses the atheists of claiming that “we can now know, with finality and certainty, that God does not exist.” Of Christopher Hitchens he writes, “His arguments do not come close to disproving God’s existence or demonstrating that religion is irredeemably evil.” Actually none of the atheists claims that we know “with finality and certainty” that God does not exist. Dawkins and Hitchens merely proclaim God’s existence extremely improbable, and on this point Berkowitz has no answer. Moreover, Hitchens can easily satisy his thesis short of showing that religion is “irredeemably” evil. He merely has to show that it is mostly evil.

Berkowitz spends most of the article trashing Hitchens.

… yet Mr. Hitchens shows no awareness that his atheism, far from resulting from skeptical inquiry, is the rigidly dogmatic premise from which his inquiries proceed, and that it colors all his observations and determines his conclusions.

With that, he’s wrongly implying that atheism is a religion.

Nor is [Hitchens'] case bolstered by his observation that 20th-century totalitarianism took on many features of religion. That only brings home the need to distinguish, as Mr. Hitchens resolutely refuses to do, between authentic and corrupt, and just and unjust, religious teachings. And it begs the question of why the 20th-century embrace of secularism unleashed human depravity of unprecedented proportions.

Do all Christians agree on which religious teachings are authentic…? Since when is it incumbent upon Hitchens to separate what even theologians have problems doing?

As for the last sentence, you wonder whether Berkowitz has even read the books he criticizes. Secularism was not the cause of the death and destruction in many bad regimes. Most of the authors (Dawkins, Harris, etc.) address this issue in their books.

D’Souza finishes his article with the following (emphasis mine):

Eventually it becomes clear what Berkowitz is up to. He doesn’t particularly care about Christianity or even Judaism for that matter. He simply wants to unite Jews, Christians and atheists to fight “militant Islam” which for him seems to mean Islam in general. Now we see why his arguments in defense of theism are so bad. The whole project is political. I suspect that the atheists are laughing uproariously at Berkowitz’s sophistries, and I for one am on their side here. With friends like Berkowtiz [sic], does religion really need enemies?

I doubt there’ll be many pieces by D’Souza that atheists can appreciate, but this is definitely one of the better ones.

(Thanks to Colin for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism, Dinesh D’Souza, Peter Berkowitz, The New New Atheism, The Wall Street Journal, Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Victor J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does not Exist, Enlightenment, God, Christian[/tags]

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    I’ll denounce D’Souza happily any day, I’ve been writing against him since he was one of Jeff Hart’s little band of bigoted thugs at Dartmouth. The man is garbage in my eyes.

    So, you guys are still entirely happy with Hitchens? I’d like to hear some of you on his war advocacy, his support for George W. Bush.

  • http://prosthesis.blogspot.com macht

    “”Hatred of God?” How could any of the atheists hate something they don’t believe even exists?”

    Perhaps he is using the term “God” in the same way that Nietzsche’s madman used the term.

  • Logos

    So, you guys are still entirely happy with Hitchens? I’d like to hear some of you on his war advocacy, his support for George W. Bush.
    there aren’t any atheist popes! We don’t have to follow everything Hitchens says or even like him.

  • Raghu Mani

    Regarding Hitchens: I think he is great. Not because I agree with him – in fact, I find myself disagreeing strongly with what he says quite often. I certainly did not agree with anything he said on the Iraq war – I’ve opposed it from day one. The reason I like him is that he is one of the only truly independent opinionated individuals in the media today. Almost everyone else is either hopelessly partisan or, in the guise of being ‘independent,’ too scared to express an opinion on anything. He’s a superb writer and (when sober) an effective speaker. Whether I agree with him or not, I always find him thought-provoking.

    Regarding D’Souza, I never cared much for him but this latest article is a pleasant surprise. If I see more such articles from him, maybe I’ll start reading his stuff on a regular basis :-).

    Raghu

  • Maria

    there aren’t any atheist popes! We don’t have to follow everything Hitchens says or even like him.

    true enough! most atheists I’ve talked to have described him as “an entertaining ass”

  • David

    I’m picking up Hitchens tomorrow. Looking forward to reading it, and passing, er, Judgment!

    I have seen him on Bill Maher (a great man!) a few times, and have to say his personality and views on the war are repugnant. At one point he actually flipped off the audience…and I thought, you Fucker, you will never get anyway to agree with you with those kinds of gestures. May as well wave the red flag in the bull’s face (think about Maher’s audience….) Anyway, I’ll try to read it objectively. Should help that I’m agnostic, but we’ll see if I can get over feeling like he’s a Royal Pompous Prick.

  • http://fivepublicopinions.blogspot.com AV

    there aren’t any atheist popes!

    I thought Dawkins was our pope. There is no god, and Dawkins is his prophet.

  • http://scientianatura.blogspot.com Shalini

    Yummy! I’ll have to read D’Souza more often…

  • anti-nonsense

    wow, I never thought I’d agree with anything Dinesh D’Souza said, but he’s right, maybe for the first time ever.

  • http://kellygorski.blogspot.com Kelly

    And it begs the question of why the 20th-century embrace of secularism unleashed human depravity of unprecedented proportions.

    I have a really difficult time containing myself when I hear people claim that somehow atheism and atheistic ideologies were the cause of death and destruction throughout history, as if atheism and morality are mutually exclusive.
    The problem isn’t so much religion as it is faith. When someone has belief without reason (i.e., faith), it doesn’t matter what object, person, or concept the faith is directed toward: it ceases to be anything other than corrupt, and it ceases to be atheistic. Why?

    Atheism has an entire context surrounding it which incorporates humanism, education, free thinking, open discourse, and a goal to eradicate willful ignorance (i.e., faith). We didn’t see this in any other society.

    I think it was Harris who said (something to this extent) that: “No society ever collapsed from thinking too much.” I probably have that somewhat wrong, but I’m sure you get what I’m saying. I’m tired of people thinking these strawmen and false compositions are somehow accurate representations of atheists and atheism.

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  • Mark

    Actually, depending on what someone means by “god”, I believe it can be proven that no god exists, but this is done by showing the meaning of the term to be nonsensical. Many people probably don’t believe this is an argument for nonexistence, but I don’t look at it in that, perhaps typical, way. What I do most of the time, however, is try to show that there is no reason to believe in the existence of a god. I give extreme importance to definitions.

    But regarding Berkowitz, he’s just another person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Instead of actually giving atheists the time of day to tell him how they actually are, he instead mischaracterizes them and the atheist position. I’ve never read anything from D’Souza, but I liked the sound of this article.

  • Darryl

    I hardly ever share Mr. D’Souza’s views, but, unlike most of the talking-head conservatives, he doesn’t lie. Hitchen’s is great.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Hitchens is great? D’Sousa doesn’t lie? Yeah, right. And Sam Harris is a great scientist too, huh?

  • Amissio

    So we atheists don’t claim that God exists, but rather that He is improbable? I take a bit of exception to that, as I’m pretty sure that would make us all agnostics.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Amissio, a better reason to avoid arguments of that sort based on probability is that is it an irrational misapplication of the math of probability. There is absolutely no basis for applying probability to proposed things outside of the physical universe. It is one of the most absurd applications of math since some Bayesians tried to apply probability to proving that God existed. That attempt was rightly and roundly ridiculed by non-believers, to turn around and do the mirror image of it and claiming that it is in some way a scientific exercise is even more laughable.

    Atheists who stick to just stating that they, personally, don’t believe are in a much more secure position, in terms of argument. Who can deny that they are the best witness as to what they believe?


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