What Do You Dislike About the New Atheists?

Julian Baggini is the author of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction so you would think he supports anyone who defends the idea of atheism.

And you would be wrong. Baggini feels the whole New Atheism movement — and its proponents/authors Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchensis destructive.

So in my book, I tried to articulate the grounds for this [atheist] view with as little reference to the religious alternative as possible. The new atheism, however, is characterised by its attacks on religion…

This antitheism is for me a backwards step. It reinforces what I believe is a myth, that an atheist without a bishop to bash is like a fish without water. Worse, it raises the possibility that as a matter of fact, for many atheists, they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity.

The new atheism has also, I think, created an unhelpful climate for atheism to flourish. When people think of atheists now, they think about men who look only to science for answers, are dismissive of religion and over-confident in their own rightness. Richard Dawkins, for example, presented a television programme on religion called The Root of all Evil and has as his website slogan “A clear thinking oasis”. Where is the balance and modesty in such rhetoric?

For me, atheism’s roots are in a sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us. That means the real enemy is not religion as such, but any kind of system of belief that does not respect these limits on our thinking. For that reason, I want to engage with thoughtful, intelligent believers, and isolate extremists. But if we demonise all religion, such coalitions of the reasonable are not possible. Instead, we are likely to see moderate religious believers join ranks with fundamentalists, the enemies of their enemy, to resist what they see as an attempt to wipe out all forms of religious belief.

We’ve all heard those claims before — that Dawkins, for example, is militant or angry, when in fact he is nothing of the sort. Of course, if you’re looking for a reason to criticize someone, you can always find it.

But Baggini doesn’t stop there. He has a lot of other problems with the authors.

For one, they aren’t giving people an alternative to religion. If you lose your faith in God, you still may want that emotional high you get every week, and the sense of community you get with a church, and a safe place to go when things aren’t going well for you. The New Atheists don’t touch on these subjects in too much depth.

As for ripping on religion, that’s part of their schtick. They wouldn’t have been bestselling authors if they didn’t ruffle a few feathers and make people uncomfortable. I think it may have been a wise move to criticize all forms of religion rather than just the fundamentalists, but I hope we can move on from that now and focus on other aspects of living an atheistic life.

I’m not a huge fan of the tone in their books (except for Dennett), but I would argue the books have helped. They have begun a number of discussions between religious and non-religious people and they have inspired a whole lot of people to leave their faith. For that, we should be grateful to the authors.

I’m guessing most of this site’s reasons on on the side of the authors. Obviously, no one is suggesting the authors should stop writing. But even atheists who love the authors must find some faults in their styles and messages. What are they?

What other concerns do you have about the New Atheism?

What do you wish the authors would do differently?

Are they doing more harm for atheists than good?

(Thanks to Even for the link!)

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com Cannonball Jones

    I wholeheartedly disagree with the criticism of Dawkins, I see him as nothing but rational. He may not always be entirely respectful but I do not think that respect for insane and dangerous ideas is exactly a good thing. I’ll respect a person’s right to hold whatever beliefs they want but part and parcel of that right is the right of others to criticise and ridicule those beliefs.

    I do think Sam Harris is a bit OTT though, he lets his anger shine through his writing too often.

  • Zach P.

    I think it’s important to make the distinction between antitheism and atheism. It’s easier to take a position when there is an “enemy” against which you are fighting, but the goal of the atheist should be to spread the merits of atheism, not attack what is a self-created adversary – religion. My own past life as a young Catholic lasted longer than it should have in part because, living in the Bible Belt, I was constantly attacked by conservative Protestants for my beliefs. These attacks strengthened my resolve, and made me less receptive to anything they had to say. If the atheist message is legitimate and clear and presented in the form of discussion, not accusation, then it can’t help but take hold, however slowly. In the meantime we have to protect ourselves in practical (political) ways, but overly-aggressive refutation of a persons belief system will only assure their alienation from the atheist cause.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    I always enjoyed that one of the benefits of atheism is that you didn’t have to go to church. Surely for those that want that stuff there’s the Unitarians?

  • http://www.wayofthemind.org/ Pedro Timóteo

    Just curious, Hemant, why don’t you like about the tone other 3 horsemen’s books? I find Dawkins’ delicious (but then, I love science), and as for Harris’ and Hitchens’, while they show some anger, I think such anger is absolutely justified (unless you believe — which I don’t — that *no* anger is ever justified, because it makes us just as bad, etc. etc..)

    Haven’t read Dennett yet, but I have “Breaking the Spell” at home, and it’s next on my list, and I loved him in the “Four Horsemen” video.

  • Don Sinclair

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the Dawkins documentary was called ‘The Root of All Evil?’. The question mark makes a difference.

  • Jesse

    What annoys me about Dawkins is that he overstates his case when he states that giving a child a Christian education is tantamount to child abuse. I agree that certain doctrines can be harmful, but the term child abuse should be reserved for serious crimes like circumcision.

  • Jonathan Simmons

    And “The Root of All Evil?” wasn’t his title. His producers made that decision while ignoring input from him.

    Dawkins is criticized, not because of how he presents himself, but because he doesn’t show religion any respect. He actually goes out of his way to show “believers” respect, but that’s not enough for the religious. You also have to tiptoe around their beliefs.

    “Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it.”
    – Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

    Anyway, I’d like to see more attention given to philosophical problems by the New Atheists, such as demarcation.

  • http://www.wayofthemind.org/ Pedro Timóteo

    Don: also, the title of that documentary was forced on him. He says so in the first chapter of TGD.

    Jesse: male circuncision is not that bad; if you’re referring to the female version, then I agree, that’s child abuse of the worst kind. However, don’t underestimate what teaching a child about the horrors of hell can do to a psyche.

  • http://www.embiggenbooks.com MrEmbiggen

    I’m a big fan of Baggini, he’s written some great books on philosophy and critical thinking and the atheist short intro book is one of the best atheism books out there in my view. I understand the argument he makes, though I’m not entirely convinced by it.

    In essence he says a strongly stated point of view will only serve to polarise a debate. This is often true in my experience on a one to one basis, and the 4 horseman authors themselves admit that their methods aren’t necessarily the best way for people to engage in face to face dialogue with believers. I believe their intent has been to put these well formed and often uncompromising arguments into the public arena in such a way as to begin a more definite public discussion of belief and nonbelief. There is no doubt from this perspective this has been effective, because before them there was little public or political discussion, in fact there was even (and still is to a lesser extent) a fear about critically evaluating religious belief and fear of examining any belief or behaviour is obviously dangerous to a society.

    Ultimately his main beef seems tactical rather than about the arguments they present. This being the case perhaps evidence of from a science of communication, negotiation and persuasion could help form the method of dialogue just as reason, rationality and various forms of scientific evidence help form the content of the atheist argument. This I suspect would reveal that many methods should be taken of which Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett and Baggini’s would prove useful. Which is something they would probably believe to be true.

    • So my only real concern about the new atheists is about the effectiveness of strategy – how do we get better at it? Who is exploring this possibility? Or are we waiting for a messiah of brilliant communication skills that will sweep all before her?

    • No doubt some harm has been done by the new atheists actions (as with all action even inaction), but I would argue that it has be largely if not overwhelmingly positive.

    Sorry for the longish post.

  • RG

    How many books will Julian Baggini because of people like Dawkins. Atheism is much stronger today because o the “new atheists”. She should be thanking him.. To me she represents how atheists were before Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. started gaining popularity. A lot of people with no real voice or influence.

  • http://www.bottle-imp.com Daniel

    I, for one, love the new atheism. The idea that people like Dawkins stunts the popular growth of atheism is ridiculous, especially considering the statistical rise in the non-religious in the U.S. I think this new atheism is helping atheists come out of their shells.

  • Meenakshi

    I am a long time lurker, I hope you don’t mind if I add my two cents!Though I have not read Julian Baggini yet, I conclude from your tone, that she disapproves the way the ‘icons’ of atheism approach the problem of religion. I wonder then if the author does not fall into the same category of the said icons! Is it the fault of the views expressed by these said icons, that it gives rise to anti theists? Does the blame not fall on the readers, who are ready to use a view as tool for their own aggressive agenda? Is that not where religion is also going wrong? When one starts to use a chair as a support, it is not as dangerous as when one starts to use it as a weapon to start a fight. Should the blame fall on the creator of the chair? Or on the person who makes it a weapon?

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Hemant Mehta:

    But Baggini doesn’t stop there. He has a lot of other problems with the authors.

    For one, they aren’t giving people an alternative to religion.

    MrEmbiggen:

    In essence he says a strongly stated point of view will only serve to polarise a debate.

    Where does Baggini say either of those things? Quotes please.

    What I see Baggini say is this:

    * Atheism (well, naturalism, actually) should be treated as a worldview that stands on its own, not as something defined with respect to its enemy, religion. Quote: “It reinforces what I believe is a myth, that an atheist without a bishop to bash is like a fish without water.”

    * The New Atheists encourage cockiness rather than a sober understanding of where reason and evidence can take us. Quotes: “With its talk of ‘spells’ and ‘delusions’, it gives the impression that only through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist”; “You cannot, on the one hand, put forward a view that says great intelligence is easily over-ridden by psychological delusions and, on the other, claim that one unique group of people can see clearly what reason demands and free themselves from such grips.”

    * The New Atheists do a poor job of understanding what makes religion tick. Quote: “However, there is much more to religion to the metaphysics. To give a non-exhaustive list, religion is also about trying to live sub specie aeternitatis; orienting oneself to the transcendent rather than the immanent; living in a moral community of shared practice or as part of a valuable tradition; cultivating certain attitudes, such as gratitude and humility; and so on. To say, as Sam Harris does, that ‘religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time’ misses all this.”

    * The New Atheists discourage working with religious moderates even when doing so benefits atheists. Quote: “For example, in the UK, the Accord Coalition has been formed to resist the spread of religious schools. Its member include the Hindu Academy, a Christian think-tank, Ekklesia, and The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.”

    I certainly don’t see Baggini saying that one should not state one’s beliefs with all the certainty that reason and evidence allows. He is suggesting, though, that the New Atheists are promoting atheism at the expense of critical thinking and other practical goals.

  • Spurs Fan

    I have some mixed views as well, though I’m hard pressed to define criticism of theism as “anger”. If you’ve ever seen Sam Harris speak, he’s entirely calm, rational, and thoughtful. You wouldn’t know that from his critics’ claims.

    I definitely don’t agree with all of the ideas of the “New Atheists”, but it helps to have some folks who make noise on these issues. If James Dobson (who has a daily radio show with millions of listeners) and host of others can do it on the fundamentalist side, I’m not sure how it is harmful to have the skeptical folks make just as many waves (who write an occasional book and sometimes appear on TV). It breeds good, analytical discussion and allows issues to be presented that might not have been offered at all (Is indocrinating your children into a religious viewpoint child abuse? Does moderate religion do more harm than good?). No matter your answers to these, they are damn good questions. Questions, which, might not be asked at all if not for the likes of Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens.

  • Miko

    I think some of the criticism is overly harsh, but I’ll agree completely with:

    For me, atheism’s roots are in a sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us. That means the real enemy is not religion as such, but any kind of system of belief that does not respect these limits on our thinking. For that reason, I want to engage with thoughtful, intelligent believers, and isolate extremists.

    Now, if I had a choice of waving a magic wand and ending either extremist Islam or extremist astrology, it wouldn’t be a difficult choice. That being said, it’s worthwhile to pursue atheism in the name of reason and rationality, and a wave of newly-deconverted yet unreasonable atheists won’t be much of an improvement (and might makes things even worse).

    But overall, we shouldn’t be sticking to just one message. We have detailed and deep philosophical justifications of atheism and we have light-weight pot-shots like the books of Dawkins et al. (which is to say the arguments in the books are light-weight, not that the authors are). For those who have a deeper well-thought-out faith, we can recommend the deeper treatises. For those with superficial understanding of their faith, such deeper expositions would be providing arguments against ideas that they’d never even considered and so the back-on-the-envelope “here’s a quick sketch of why your beliefs are stupid” approach is more appropriate.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    If you have a child who’s having nightmares about going to hell through indoctrination that they’re a bad person and deserve to go to hell, then that surely must be abuse?

    Or if they have issues with their sexuality through a indoctrination on the sins of sex, that must also be abuse?

  • Tony Boling

    I’m rarely thrilled with the Freedon From Religion Foundation. The whole deal with the atheist plaque last Christmas really turned me off. I understand the point they were trying to make, but it was never made. It just got people more angry with atheists. Dan Barker, while I enjoyed his book, seems to be hurting the cause and not helping it.

  • Kela

    I have mixed feeling about it. In one respect I think that the idea that it is okay not to believe in God or gods is one that need to be reinforced. But on the other hand, I am just over it and see no reason to continue to engage the simpletons that continue to believe such myths. The only time I find it necessary to have any reaction to it at all is when they attempt to use their beliefs to affect legislation and judicial outcomes. In all other ways, it effects me no more than the people who in the power of crystals or that garden gnomes are real. This adversarial relationship that the ‘new atheist’ are fostering are giving the religious more power than they deserve or we want them to have. (The post-theological argument was described best by David Noise in “The Post-Theological Umbrella” in the Jan/Feb 2008 Humanist.)

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    PrimeNumbers, are you willing to have parents arrested for teaching kids that hell exists or that homosexuality is wrong? “Child abuse” is not a phrase to be thrown about lightly, and it is typically used not for just any parental offenses but for those so egregious that we are willing to have parents punished and separated from their children on account of them.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Kela:

    But on the other hand, I am just over it and see no reason to continue to engage the simpletons that continue to believe such myths.

    “Simpletons”? I hope that you believe that these “simpletons” are a subset of those who believe these myths.

  • 7

    the so-called ‘new atheists’ are doing NO harm at all. awareness of all kinds is necessary…from books to billboards to bus ads. documentaries and movies and comedians and TV shows are great too. the ‘new atheist’ authors mentioned are all well known and respected intellectuals…prominent in their respective fields. they are not spouting hate nor violence, but reason and logic…TRUTH. if this ruffles a few feathers along the way, then so be it. it’s past time to tell the children there is no Santa Claus.

    besides, i don’t think any of their agendas is bashing or having/needing an ‘enemy’ to validate their/our cause. i think most atheists are OK with theist’s superstitions as long as they keep it in it’s proper place and OUT of government and lawmaking and medicine and other world decisions. to have powerful world leaders basing decisions on or repective to these superstitions is absurd and outrageous…RIDICULOUS.

    if you want proof of religious brainwashing and indocrination…child abuse…see the movie Jesus Camp. have a barf bag handy!

  • Jen

    I enjoyed A Short Introduction to Atheism (and all the other Short Introduction books I have read) but if I never read the phrase “New Atheists” again, it will be too soon.

    Greta Christina said (and I agree) that atheism now is similar to where the GLBTs were thirty years ago. There were GLBTs who were of the in-your-face variety, and others who were more subdued, and that there was room for both. Sounds fair to me. There is room for the friendly atheists, British atheists, scientific atheists, drunk misogynistic atheists, etc, etc. If we only approach our issues in one way, we lose out.

  • mikespeir

    For some reason, some people need to hate. They’re always looking for socially acceptable enemies to hate. Which those are depends upon with what society they align themselves. Toward that end, they demonize others; exaggerate the perceived evils of others, and invent evils where evils inconveniently don’t exist.

    Yes, there are evils that need to be condemned; and sadly, it’s not always possible to “hate the sin but not the sinner,” because sometimes the sin defines the sinner. Still, I wish we’d focus more on finding the good in people and common ground rather than scatting about for reasons to hate.

  • Tony

    Religion is a failed evolutionary holdover from previous societies and will eventually be weeded-out from the social fabric as long as science and society have the chance to progress. I have no problems at all with the “New Atheists” and their methodologies. Meeting the foolishness of religion head-on is the best way to deal with it, and its destructive memes, long-term. Building coalitions with “weak” theists won’t benefit us as much as pointing out the silly parts of theism and the harmful effects it has on women, children and simple human dignity.

    Moving the world towards rational thought and reason is much more likely to produce the world we want, with much reduced emotional dependence upon supernatural, superficial, and superfluous beliefs. Bill Maher and Sam Harris are my fav’s but I don’t speak ill of any atheists, unless they are nihilistic. That’s just crazy and bad for everyone.

  • http://cheerfulatheist.ca/ cheerfulatheist

    I think we need them. Although I don’t always support everything they say, I do see the need for them to say it. People with religious beliefs need to see that they – and their beleifs – are not above criticism. The “New Atheists” are getting the message heard – it may not be the exact message that we want out there but at least people are beginning to see that they are not alone, that there are other atheists out there and that saying “I am religious” should START a conversation, not end it. I think for every person that Dawkins et al alienates, they get another 10 people to at least think about it. And that is important.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    I have no goals as an atheist. I don’t believe in God. I don’t care if anyone else does. I was never interested in apologetics when I was a Christian and I’m not interested in anti-apologetics now as an atheist. I think the “New Atheist” books were good because they started a dialog and got a lot of atheists to come out of the closet. I know they made me feel less alone when I read them. Dennet’s book is the only one that has staying power, I think. I would like to see Sam Harris write more about non-superstitious contemplation or spirituality. Hitchens is an entertaining ass and a damn good writer, but I really don’t think there’s much beneficial is his rants against religion. It’s time to move past the negativity and religion bashing and move on, as others have mentioned, to talking about how atheists live moral and meaningful lives without god, to educate the religious majority (at least here in the US) about the realities of living as an atheist. I don’t want to see atheism become evangelical because that’s one of the things I hate most about religion.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Of course atheism is characterised by its attacks on religion or rather its opposition to religion. Atheism is not+theism, it is literally a view that is not religious. If it were not for theism then atheism would be meaningless.

  • Erik

    They are preaching to the choir and unlikely to convince anyone who isn’t already on their side or leaning that way. But then again, if the non-religious are their target audience then they are right on key. If they really want to change people’s minds, they need a more measured and considerate tone.

  • http://www.DailyScallop.com The Scallop

    I think we should just believe in a magical sky god and then everyone will love us.

  • Polly

    they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity.

    Well, don’t we all? If there were no god-religion, we wouldn’t be talking about it here or identifying ourselves as infidels. I don’t go around calling myself an afairyist.

    Having said that, my identity actually comes from a lot more than my answer to this one question, but breaking free from the delusion has affected my whole way of thinking. Had I been born into a rational society, I think what I am now is what I would’ve been from the beginning and I wouldn’t have felt the need to adopt any extra label.

  • David D.G.

    Oh, please, not another student of the Nisbett and Mooney School of Framing!

    The so-called New Atheist writers and their aggressive styles have been absolutely essential to the cause of getting atheism out of the social gutter and into the mainstream, or at least a heck of a lot closer to it. There will come a time when such confrontation is no longer needed, but we’re nowhere near that point yet.

    By all means, we certainly can use writers of all styles, placid and reasonable as well as cantankerous and confrontational. There’s a niche for everybody. But Baggini is an ingrate with a very short memory if he thinks that the aggressive writings of the “four horsemen” and their ilk haven’t done a lot of very useful bulldozing to clear our path toward being socially mainstreamed. They deserve his respect and his gratitude for the progress made to date.

    ~David D.G.

  • Brooks

    I don’t disagree with the New Atheists for criticizing the liberal believers but for how they criticize them. Instead of arguing the facts, they build strawman arguments about how liberal Christians are enabling fundies simply by existing but don’t really back it up with evidence. I also think they don’t seem to quite understand liberal Christianity with how they claim that fundies are the only true believers and liberal Christians are just phony Christians that are cherry picking the scriptures, as if fundies never cherry pick. They also seem to ignore biblical scholarship that disagrees with this view like the Jesus Seminar. At the same time, I think it’s important for them to ask these questions and to get people to think by raising awareness and for that, I think the New Atheists books are succeeding in that purpose. While I may disagree with some of their approaches to religion, especially of the moderate variety, at the same time, I wouldn’t change anything about their books because while I may disagree, I think it’s important to raise these issues. The books of the New Atheists’ also helped me a lot when I was in the process of deconverting from Christianity.

    As for my favorite and least favorite of the New Atheists, so far Dawkins is my favorite. I agree with him that religion should not be automatically given some sort of special respect over other beliefs. I also enjoy watching his videos where he debates with Christians because to me he seems to be trying to understand the mindset of the religious believers and not just trying to preach a new gospel. Christopher Hitchens is my least favorite author but mainly because I disagree with his political views about the Iraq war although I enjoy his debating style and reading his book, God Is Not Great, helped me to finally embrace atheism. I also agree that I would like to see Sam Harris write about his views on an alternative to spirituality than religion because I think that’s also an important issue to raise. I still haven’t read Dennet but I’ve seen him in debates and interviews and I keep meaning to read him sometime.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/guitarsean SeanG

    I have no issues with new atheists. Before the new atheists we were largely invisible in the public eye. Sometimes things need to get started with a ruckus. And sometimes when you feel threatened you have to stand up for yourself. I was never what you’d call a militant atheist or antitheist until the Bush administration.
    I don’t think new atheism is as harsh as everyone thinks either. It’s just perceived that way because atheism stems from rational thought and the construct of religion, by its nature, is irrational. The collision between the rational and irrational is going to appear violent because they are opposites.

  • Skunque

    “Worse, it raises the possibility that as a matter of fact, for many atheists, they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity.”

    Having an enemy != having a need for an enemy.

    That is, just because you have a disagreement with someone, it does not mean you are automatically a disagreeable person. Sure, the disagreeable will have lots of disagreements, but what the alternative, to be a dormat in the hopes of avoiding any appearance of being disagreeable?

  • Leanstrum

    Maybe more moderate atheists need a group of hardliners to be seen to be looking down on. Perhaps they’ve gained more access to open conversation with religious moderates simply by saying “I’m not like those guys – they give atheism a bad name”. Much like religious moderates say about fundamentalists. It’s the old trick of union against a common enemy – like the end of Watchmen, or something…

    I disagree though. I like Sam Harris’ idea of ‘conversational intolerance’. It means you can be vocal about how disgusted you are by a notion without being seen as a suppressor of rights. I think it’s vitally important that we have a culture in which bad ideas are called what they are. To hell with the sensibilities of those who hold them. If you aren’t open to reason, then neither strategy will get you to listen to another view. If you are open to reason, there’s no use in sugarcoating the pill.

  • Siamang

    This anti-new-atheism is for me a backwards step. It reinforces what I believe is a myth, that an anti-new-atheist without a Dawkins to bash is like a fish without water. Worse, it raises the possibility that as a matter of fact, for many anti-new-atheists, they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity.

  • skinman

    but if I never read the phrase “New Atheists” again, it will be too soon.

    Thank you Jen. That was my exact thought while reading through this post.

  • Ender

    What annoys me about Dawkins is that he overstates his case when he states that giving a child a Christian education is tantamount to child abuse

    Just to point out, Dawkins does NOT say this. He has had to point this out to Christians every time they accuse him of this. He says the labeling of children as a certain faith is tantamount to child abuse, not raising them in a faith. He says parents have the right to raise their children in whatever faith they are apart of.

    As to the topic, I think the latest statistics showing the extreme rise of atheism/agnosticism in America in the past decade is a testament to the effect the New Atheists have had on our country. I think they are all brilliant, not always right, but brilliant.

  • mvanstav

    I very much agree that New Atheists are doing damage. They’re out to sell books, not convert people. Granted, they’re succeeding at their chosen endeavour, but they’re not doing us any good.
    I was raised Catholic but fell out of the fold in high school. Most of my extended family is still Catholic, and many good (intelligent and thinking) friends of mine are very serious in their faith. I sat shaking with anger watching a Dawkins documentary where he called all of these people stupid, gullible, and talked as if it was okay to insult them because they believe these ‘fairy tales’. I’m not the only non-theist I know who has reacted this way. Imagine how many theists who are questioning their religion react.
    There’s a reason I read this blog: the name. You’re way more understanding of theism than most atheists out there, and so I can stomach what you put here. I don’t wish to be seen as part of any club that calls theists stupid. It shows a gross oversimplification of the subject, or a willful misunderstanding.
    Yes, I think it was good that the New Atheists got the word out. I try to remember to appreciate them for that. I very much think it’s time now for a more mature discussion of the subject, and I’d like to see more moderate books written. Right now, ‘our’ leaders are hardly better than a lot of the religious leaders we so openly scorn.

  • Tom

    One thing I just realized is that atheist does not seem to be that useful a term within the atheist community. It makes sense that I am just realizing this now instead of earlier because there has never really been a large community of atheists.

    Thing is, there are so many other differentiating factors between us, that it is not useful to simply call us all atheists. Names that inform others about one’s stance towards theists themselves are more helpful, like antitheist. I find names that explain one’s values (especially in a secular perspective) the most helpful.

    I am a humanist. I am an atheist, but I disagree with (a lot!) of you!

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    I very much agree that New Atheists are doing damage. They’re out to sell books, not convert people.

    If they were out to convert people, how would they be any different than evangelists from any (other) religion?

  • Larry Huffman

    I think it a better question to say, “are these authors wrong?”

    No…they are not. Over the top or too aggressive for your own tastes…maybe. But are they wrong? Is what they say about religion and the religous incorrect? Nope.

    These men all state quite clearly why we have a need to be so vocal. Sam Harris, in particular, shows that faith and all it’s trappings centered in monotheism are harmful to us. He illuminates it quite clearly. In his follow up letter to christians he addresses their gripes quite lucidly.

    Everyone needs to remember that any “in your face” response from ahteists to christians is simply us meeting the same level of attack we have gotten for years. There was a time when they were so in an atheist’s face they would lop their head off or burn them at the stake…so I can hardly feel bad for the christian ideology that atheists are becoming more and more vocal about the harm that the ideology has created. No harm no foul….well christianity has caused plenty of harm…and still does, just ask people dying of aids in africa…or a gay couple in California who have had their rights taken away by the religious imposing their views on state…successfully to our shame.

    Atheists come from all walks of life. Many are atheists without any thought to it. Others are former believers and so they have thought a great deal about it…as I have. Many buddhists are technically atheists…and yet you would not see them in much agreement with these new atheists at all.

    Perhaps the real admission here is that we need to stop viewing atheists as some sort of group that is capable of lock stepping. We are not.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    I find that I care less and less about how “angry” or “mean” atheists might be, and more and more about how accurate they might be. I would very much prefer a “sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us” as Baggini suggested. Too often, Dawkins et al. do not give it. I think J. J. Ramsey provided some pretty good examples of what I mean.

    Of course, Richard Dawkins is only one person; the four horsemen are only four people. They cannot be everything we want them to be.

  • Jim

    “… if we demonise all religion, such coalitions of the reasonable are not possible.”

    Oh, I don’t know. Doesn’t seem like the demonization of rape has prevented coalitions of reasonable people.

    =

    “… many good (intelligent and thinking) friends of mine are very serious in their faith.”

    They are either intelligent and thinking (regarding their faith) or they are serious in their faith. Referring to delusional behavior as “intelligent” is unfair to those you call your friends; unless you’re of the opinion that lying to your friends is “friendly.”

    =

    “I hope that you believe that these ‘simpletons’ are a subset of those who believe these myths.”

    If someone believes in a god, s/he is, by definition, a simpleton. If you perceive the term pejoratively, that’s tellingly on you.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Larry Huffman: “I think it a better question to say, ‘are these authors wrong?’”

    And if you had read the article, or at least paid attention to what it was saying, you’d note that Baggini asked that question and answered it, ‘yes.’ Nowhere did he complain about atheists being “in-your-face.” He did complain about the new atheists misunderstanding religion and misrepresenting religious people, and the consequences of doing so, e.g making “coalitions of the reasonable” impossible.

  • Aerik

    “new” atheism doesn’t exist. It’s bullshit and you need to stop enabling it.

  • Secular Humanist

    The New Atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett show up on the talk shows and give atheism more public exposure. That is a good thing.

    I personally give atheism more exposure when I go on the blogs at the local newspaper Web page. I look for posts from other people that “look to Jesus as the answer” for all of life’s problems and show how religion has always been part of the problem rather than the solution. Ridicule is so effective.

    Each of us in our own way can put our philosophy out there. Every little bit helps to free future generations from the shackles of religious dogma.

    Keep it up, folks.

  • David D.G.

    Larry Huffman wrote:

    Everyone needs to remember that any “in your face” response from ahteists to christians is simply us meeting the same level of attack we have gotten for years. There was a time when they were so in an atheist’s face they would lop their head off or burn them at the stake…so I can hardly feel bad for the christian ideology that atheists are becoming more and more vocal about the harm that the ideology has created.

    Exactly. Well said.

    ~David D.G.

  • rcn2

    I have found the new atheists extremely helpful in providing a space in the public sphere in which atheism is tolerated, if not accepted.

    Those that claim these authors are ‘wrong’ or misunderstand religion project too much of their own reasonableness on the religion of others. Growing up in a Christian household and family, and understanding the average Christian worldview, the attack of the ‘new atheists’ is, if anything, too mild.

    And, for the record, being shown and described hell, being told that all your loved ones will go there if they make some stupid errors, is far worse than something as simple as circumcision.

    I think Dan Barker gets it completely right. I find atheists that didn’t have a fundamentalist upbringing, for the most part, have absolutely no idea, and no clue, how deep and nasty Christianity is in its intolerance.

  • Feshy

    “I was raised Catholic but fell out of the fold in high school. Most of my extended family is still Catholic, and many good (intelligent and thinking) friends of mine are very serious in their faith. I sat shaking with anger watching a Dawkins documentary where he called all of these people stupid, gullible, and talked as if it was okay to insult them because they believe these ‘fairy tales’.”

    I certainly haven’t seen all of Dawkins’ work, but I find this to be something of a hyperbole. I don’t recall him ever saying or even implying you could or should call someone ‘stupid.’ Gullible, maybe. Is there another word that would describe someone who, despite x-rays, chemical analysis, and a host of other tests, would believe a cracker can turn into human flesh in some undetectable way?

    I, as I suspect the vast majority of atheists do, also have intelligent, caring, good friends and family who are also religious. These are people whose opinions I respect on a great number of topics. I still think they are wrong on the one topic though; but hardly because they are stupid. I’ve never seen Dawkins put forth the hypothesis that they are. Maybe I’ve just got a thicker skin when it comes to these sorts of things.

  • Duane

    What is the line between reacting to a crooked man and becoming a reactionary? What were the inspirations for “new atheism”? Could they have primarily been the autocratic religion of GBII and his tools?

    If those tools were manipulated until disaster, wouldn’t a reaction be easily foretold? Do you want to be herded in your reaction?

    Divide and conquer, my friends.

    Be comfortable in your atheism but look for the real source of division. There is where your efforts should be.

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  • Joseph R.

    Overall I have enjoyed the “New Atheist” books that have been written in recent years and some older texts as well. However, I find myself feeling defensive because of the implication that is made all to often that religious people are stupid or deluded or any variation there of. Sam Harris says that all religion is bad because even though every religious person is not an extremist, the religious moderates are enabling the extremists by encouraging religious thought and belief. I could not disagree more. I know many religious people. I was one once. For the most part, they are not hurting me or encouraging extreme behavior. Their religion is not hurting their children either. I am not saying that there is no harmful aspect to religions, because I believe there is to a certain extent. But, what I am saying is that there will always be extremists no matter what their cause might be and religious moderates are not fueling their fire any more than Star Trek enthusiasts are. And furthermore, I don’t see religious people as less intelligent than atheists. I think that we just have a fundamental difference in opinion and as long as the religious keep their opinions out of my government then we will get along just fine.

  • mvanstav

    Gullible, maybe. Is there another word that would describe someone who, despite x-rays, chemical analysis, and a host of other tests, would believe a cracker can turn into human flesh in some undetectable way?

    When I say that atheists often show “gross oversimplification of the subject, or a willful misunderstanding”, that is the sort of talk that I mean. Very few Catholics, and probably no Protestants, will tell you that the Eucharist is actually physically Christ. They’ve tasted it, afterall, and it tastes like bread. Opinions vary on just what it means to say it is the body of Christ, but they’ll tell you it still looks and tastes like bread.
    I guess my point is this: don’t criticize what you don’t understand. If it seems like totally bananas to you, but you here tell of very intelligent people out there who believe it, go talk to them and try to figure out why it is that they feel it’s a sensible thing to believe. It might not make sense to you, but you might find that they’re not as crazy as you think.
    At some point when I’m not at work (and therefore on a computer with sound) I’ll try to find the quotes I was speaking of that angered me so much.
    Joseph R., love your icon and your opinions.

  • Brooks

    I think it a better question to say, “are these authors wrong?”

    No…they are not. Over the top or too aggressive for your own tastes…maybe. But are they wrong? Is what they say about religion and the religous incorrect? Nope.

    Having been raised as a fundamentalist Christian who is now an atheist, yes, I think some of their arguments are wrong. Most of their arguments are right but some of them are just dead wrong. One example is as I mentioned before, is their criticisms of liberal believers that are just minding their own business and not hurting anyone at all. The New Atheists all parrot this line about how the liberal believers are fundie enablers but they don’t explain how they are other than that they simply exist. For those who think liberals are enabling fundies, they should try reading the works of Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, and Chris Hedges. They’ve also bought into this lie spread by the fundies that fundies are the only true Christians because they say so and liberals are phony Christians that are just cherry picking the scriptures when in reality there’s no such thing as a true Christian anymore than there’s no such thing as a true believer in Santa Claus. Again, the problem I have with the New Atheists is not that they criticize the liberal believers, but they’re making up claims about them that simply aren’t true.

  • rcn2

    “They’ve also bought into this lie spread by the fundies that fundies are the only true Christians because they say so and liberals are phony Christians that are just cherry picking the scriptures”

    No, they noticed that the liberal Christians pick and choose what they believe from the Bible and ignore what they think is icky.

    Then they point out that liberals cherry pick.

    Liberal Christians are nicer, but dishonest at the core about their beliefs. Fundamentalists are scary, but at least they’re honest.

    And when the fundamentalist tries to impose creationism in the classroom, or mouths off about ‘special gay rights’, by and large they support them. Twenty years ago our church preacher spoke out against the ‘homosexual lifestyle’. Many in the church disagreed. To date nobody has ever bothered to suggest to the preacher he might not be preaching the gospel. That is the danger of the liberal Christian. I know it’s not all, but it is apparently the vast majority or we would have a very different public discourse on religion. Preachers wouldn’t last long if their congregations walked out on them.

    I too was raised as a fundamentalist Christian, and there’s a difference between what liberal Christians read and what they actually do. There’s a basic level of cognitive dissonance that occurs in the mind of a liberal Christian when a fundamentalist speaks, and it’s normally resolved by either softening the fundamentalist’s intent, or deciding that it’s okay. Almost never do they tell them that it’s wrong.

    The new atheists don’t have the same problem, and for that I thank them.

  • Russ

    Baggini is being grossly dishonest with us about why he has not read any of the books he cites, and why he is taking the stance he asserts here.

    He asks the question,

    “Why on earth would I devote precious reading hours to books which largely tell me what I already believe?”

    which he must think reflexively and satisfactorily answers itself.

    But, in the “References and further reading” section of his own book, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction under the first entry, “What is atheism?” no less, he says,

    I avoided reading Daniel Harbour’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism (London, Duckworth, 2001) so I wouldn’t be writing this book in its shadow. However, I have heard many good things about it and shall be picking it up as soon as I finally put down my mouse.

    [emphasis added]

    Why, indeed, would he devote precious reading hours to books which largely tell him what he already believes? Yet, he states here that he intended to do exactly that.

    Beyond that the section titles from that same “References and further reading” section in his book constitute more than adquate justification for why he himself finds value in devoting precious reading hours to books which largely tell him what he already believes: they look at the same topic from differing perspectives. Some of those section titles are “What is atheism,” “The case for atheism,” “Atheist ethics,” “Meaning and purpose,” “Atheism in history,” and “Against religion.” That’s right. We often read many different books addressing a specific subject, exactly because the author considers the topic in a way distinct from how we have previously considered it ourselves.

    But, wait! There’s more! He actually used Dawkins and Dennett as sources for his book! In the “Against religion” section he says, “Anyone still impressed by the argument from design should read Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker.” And, in his “Conclusion” he states, “For a look at how science challenges many of our long-standing beliefs, try Daniel C. Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.” So, he’s read some of their previous work and notes that they call belief into question, but he’s decided that their work concerning religion can justifiably be ignored as “books which largely tell me what I already believe.”

    Now, put your mind around this. In writing his book he used as sources many books which largely tell him what he already believes. Each chapter of his book provides great reasons why someone would want to read books telling them what they already believe. He even uses as sources a couple of the authors whose newer works he refuses to read. This is such blatant dishonesty that you might think that it couldn’t be made any more obvious, but it surely can!

    On page 99 of Baggini’s book, in the chapter titled “Against religion?,” he says, concerning believers who are absolutely certain,

    I personally have little interest in trying to destroy these convictions, except when the holding of them leads to unpleasant and bigoted actions and proclamations, as can be the case with fundamentalist believers of all religions.

    If we parse this out a bit, this author, the same man who wrote the article above criticizing these New Atheists, actually has “interest in trying to destroy these [religious] convictions” “when the holding of them leads to unpleasant and bigoted actions and proclamations, as can be the case with fundamentalist believers of all religions.” Baggini is so dishonest. He wants to destroy fundamentalist convictions.

    Anyone who has read these New Atheist’s books – I myself have read all four of them, as well as Baggini’s – knows very well that the primary focus and concern for the four authors was the same: the unpleasant and bigoted actions and proclamations, espoused by the fundamentalist believers of all religions. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens are the public face of “trying to destroy these convictions” “when the holding of them leads to unpleasant and bigoted actions and proclamations.” These four authors, the object of his ire, his disdain, are doing his bidding. He should be enthusiastically urging them on or, at very least, offering a positive constructive critique of their methods.

    Whereas these four writers have courageously put a much-needed public face on trying to destroy, or at least restrain, the dangerous convictions of fundamentalists, this man, Julian Baggini, reveals himself a coward; a turncoat who denounces his allies; a traitor to a cause he himself succinctly delineated with one sentence in his book; a father disowning the child who does not fulfill his dreams.

    Baggini wrote a book on atheism, which, by itself, to many religious people, deserves a death sentence. While writing it he read many books about atheism, another offense to many believers worthy of a death sentence. Undoubtedly, he has spoken to others about atheism, another trangression which many a religious person would also gladly punish with death. Does this man not understand that his very right to express these ideas are, right this very minute, under harsh attack?

    At this very moment many members of the UN want to pass a resolution suggesting that every member nation outlaw the offending of religion in any way. This is extremist religious fanaticism writ large. This is precisely Mr. Baggini’s convictions the holding of which leads to unpleasant and bigoted actions and proclamations. Religion is observably not an inherent good, and I, for one, join, support and endorse the efforts of the likes of Dawkins and company in openly and, when necessary, stridently proclaiming our right to say just that.

    Does Baggini not see that whatever form it takes, atheists must have a public voice? If he doesn’t like the sound it currently has, he could augment the choir by adding a harmony part of his own, instead of making a caustic distracting whine from offstage. If he likes to write, he could write “positive atheism” articles that complement what he denigrates with this piece. Especially now, this choir needs help up and down the scales from bass through soprano.

    The current higher profile of atheists serves a important function distinct from that of religious secularists. It informs the public that not being a religious believer is acceptable and that there lots of other non-believers too. Despite their clamoring against secularism and separation of church and state, the religious know that to give religion a hand in governing would lead to the relatively quick demise of almost all religions.

    If Mr. Baggini has any real concerns in this atheist uprising, the New Atheists, this army of four – count ‘em, 1..2..3..4 – individual persons, have lots of influencial, loud, well-connected and well-financed critics. In Oklahoma, the state legislature put up a resolution to condemn Professor Dawkins and now wants to in some way punish the University of Oklahoma for having him there at all. This governing body used state resources and put their time and effort into maligning one man, and are now out to censure his host, a public university. Mr. Baggini’s priorities regarding liberty and the right to free expression have been severely compromised.

    For some reason in this article Julian Baggini is being dishonest. Perhaps he does not see past the margins of the material that he does choose to read to the wider world beyond. There are intellectuals like that. Perhaps he harbors the notion that all persons religious are good, so he can’t conceive of their posing a threat. A glimpse at the daily news should dispel that idea, but he may be among those who are psychologically bound to the notion that religious inhumanity will always reside in places far away. Perhaps he is simply a “make nice” type of person who will continually give ground until so much has been ceded that he becomes irrelevant. Some feel good by doing so.

    Regardless of what those reasons might be, he is not being open with us about his interests or motives regarding this outburst. There is clearly some factor of which we are not being made aware playing into why this article has the stance and tone that it does. I hope that those who read this might see Baggini’s article in a new light.

  • http://www.myspace.com/deadjerusalem Brian’s A Wild Downer

    In fact, I think atheists who have read these books have more of a responsibility to account for their actions than I do my inaction. As the posters on the sides of British buses rather simplistically put it, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” God’s non-existence is a fact atheists live with, not something that they should obsessively read about.

    How do I account for my actions of reading their books? Because i’m not so ignorant as to think that i already know everything. I learned a lot reading from Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins.

    What an idiot.

  • Brooks

    No, they noticed that the liberal Christians pick and choose what they believe from the Bible and ignore what they think is icky.

    Then they point out that liberals cherry pick.

    Liberal Christians are nicer, but dishonest at the core about their beliefs. Fundamentalists are scary, but at least they’re honest.

    I didn’t meant to imply liberal Christians never cherry pick. My point was that fundies are also guilty of cherry picking the bible and so are all Christians because it’s logically impossible to follow a collection of contradictory ancient mythology whose original meaning has been lost to time correctly. The bible itself says that anyone who thinks they’re doing it perfect is a liar and we should not believe them. When was the last time you saw a fundie literally sell all their possessions to the poor? When was the last time you saw a fundie stone somebody to death for eating shellfish? I think the fundies are the ones who are being dishonest because they’re claiming to have the true interpretation of the bible but they barely follow it themselves. If you want to better understand the liberal mindset, I recommend watching this video by the liberal bishop John Shelby Spong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZM3FXlLMug It’s a bit lengthy but I found it to be rather inspiring and thought provoking.

    And when the fundamentalist tries to impose creationism in the classroom, or mouths off about ’special gay rights’, by and large they support them.

    What examples do you have of liberal Christians supporting creationism? I haven’t heard of any such thing. Don’t liberal Christians accept evolution as a scientific fact? And what about LGBT Christians sites like ex-gaywatch.com and http://www.gaychristian.net/ ?

    To date nobody has ever bothered to suggest to the preacher he might not be preaching the gospel.

    What about in cases where Christians do speak out for gay rights though? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omnUW9z-o_s

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    I think I’m going to join all of those who are sick to death of this New Atheist nonsense. The only thing “new” about them is they’re out there in plain sight and refusing to shut up about who they are. That’s what really scares the pants off the faction that thinks we should stay quiet and in the closet so religion can maintain its stranglehold on the world.

  • rtechie

    I take sharp objection with the notion that if one wants atheism to spread they should maintain the “intellectual high ground” and not rely on emotional arguments.

    This is asinine. Reasoned debate will not win the argument against religion and to say so is both terribly naive and stupid. Most atheists have abandoned religion (if they were raised in one) in part for emotional reasons. They were angry about church crimes or hypocrisy. They were sad about the way people lied to them. They FEEL that secular explanation present a more compelling view. etc.

    The other thing that has a big affect on atheism is new scientific discoveries, like evolution, Big Bang cosmology, etc. These aren’t philosophical “arguments”, but facts that contradict religious dogma. Because science is so economically useful, it’s tough argument for religious leaders to argue against scientific facts because it makes the people poor (people in the Middle East are starting to figure this out).

    Secularism became dominant in Europe NOT because of “reasoned intelligent debate” but because European monarchs didn’t want to share power with the Catholic Church and played various religious factions against each other. They also wanted money. The monarchs, being smarter than most Europeans, quickly figured out that science made them lots of money so they were pro-science and defended it against religious dogma.

  • Jim

    Brooks writes: The New Atheists all parrot this line about how the liberal believers are fundie enablers but they don’t explain how they are other than that they simply exist.

    (Plenty of us skeptics were “parroting” that line long before these “new atheists” showed up.)

    “Liberal believers” promote the same irrational foundations for their weak kneed brand of theology that fundies do, which enables fundies by affirming the premises for their own delusions. Certainly in most cases it’s not a conscious enabling, but it’s enabling nonetheless. One need not look far to see this phenomenon at work. A prominent example comes to mind when one recalls how often the Anthony Flew card was played by fundies when he fell victim to his fear of death in his old age and blew it all out of proportion by uttering that he had come to believe in a “god.”

    “See? Another atheist converted!” many of us heard countless times from fundies. If you don’t think that’s enabling, there’s likely nothing anyone can tell you to convince you otherwise.

    It ain’t rocket science. It’s elementary psychology: “An enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Just as psychologically telling is the ironic use of the same reasoning in defense of “liberal believers” by non-believers with an emotional stake in maintaining their relationships with the deluded “liberal believers” in their lives.

  • Aj

    But if very intelligent people are so easily led astray by such things, then shouldn’t the new atheists themselves be more sceptical about the role reason plays in their own belief formation? You cannot, on the one hand, put forward a view that says great intelligence is easily over-ridden by psychological delusions and, on the other, claim that one unique group of people can see clearly what reason demands and free themselves from such grips. Either many religious people are not as irrational as they seem, or atheists are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves.

    Not more post-modern truth relative rubbish. If we are not entitled to assume we are rational then how is he entitled to claim that fundamentalists are doing harm? This is clearly an irrational position, which I highlights that this guy clearly doesn’t understand how to differentiate. How can he claim this and then say anything about fundamentalist Christians doing harm? If they want to apply this standard to themselves then great, they can sit down and shut the fuck up. We’re applying the same standards to everyone, ourselves, all religion.

    We don’t give religion that doesn’t motivate harm a pass, and try to rationalize that decision. It doesn’t work, having moderate religion that protects wishthinking, means that all wishthinking is protected. This is what is meant by moderates giving cover to extremists. Relativism and talk about worldviews as if they’re equivalent is just a way for the non-religious to give cover, whether it’s because they’re spineless, lunatics, or belief in belief’ers.

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~writetdrange Ted Drange

    My main gripe with the new atheism is its involvement with religion. Properly defined, as “the belief that God does not exist,” atheism has no direct connection with religion. There could be atheistic religions (such as Buddhism) and there could be religious atheists (like George Santayana).
    The issue is one in metaphysics (specifically ontology), not philosophy of religion. The problem is: “What kinds of things really exist?” And, specifically, should God be included in the list? Theists say “Yes” to that, while atheists say “No.”
    The new atheists are best when they are putting forward arguments for the conclusion “God does not exist” or “Probably, God does not exist.” A close second is when they are refuting theists’ arguments for the opposite conclusion. Everything else that they do, which includes anything that they say about religion, is irrelevant to atheism.

  • Ender

    It’s amazing the different viewpoints of those who were raised in liberal households and those raised ultra-conservative, fundie Christian. I am in the latter group and I agree that the “New” Atheists (Not new as in atheism is a new thing BTW, new as in latest upsurge) are exactly what we need. Maybe if the people who think they are too rude were raised with the ultimate TRUTH of “a lake of fire and torture and screaming where you will go if you don’t believe in bullshit” in their brains since the age of 5 they would understand. My parents, like many fundies, thought they were doing what was right. These people need to have their beliefs scrutinized with an in-your-face attitude, because that’s all that will wake them up. And 90% of the time, even that won’t do it.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj: “Not more post-modern truth relative rubbish. If we are not entitled to assume we are rational …”

    Ahem, what Baggini said is NOT “or atheists are not entitled to assume they are rational” but rather “or atheists are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves.” The first is obviously silly, while the second is garden-variety falliblism.

    Aj: “We’re applying the same standards to everyone, ourselves, all religion.”

    Really? Then explain why we don’t see more atheists lambasting the pseudohistory in The God Who Wasn’t There. Explain why atheists–including Dawkins–quote John Adams out of context to make it appear as if he genuinely thought the world would be better without religion. I don’t see the same standards applied across the board. What I see is the usual human pattern of an in-group–in this case, those who self-identify as atheists–being more forgiving of its insiders and subjecting them to less scrutiny than those outside the group.

  • http://zeroanaphora.wordpress.com/ Abbie

    Everything else that they do, which includes anything that they say about religion, is irrelevant to atheism.

    Unless you happen to care about such esoteric subjects as women’s rights, suppression of science, etc, etc, etc.

    THAT is the reason so many “new atheists” are anti-theistic. The DIRECT, REAL HARM religion is causing REAL PEOPLE every day on earth.

    Moderate theists don’t deny this is going on, but here’s the issue:

    The moderate demands we respect his faith. But at the same time, he points to another faith, and says “but don’t respect them, they’re mean and wrong.”

    To the atheist, both positions are equally vacuous. But we’re supposed to respect the one that’s ‘nicer’. As if niceness had some relation to truth.

    Why are we forced to pick the lesser of two evils? It’s dishonest to feign respect for the moderates’ beliefs just because we have a common enemy.

    And kowtowing to the moderates also robs of us our strongest argument against fundamentalist religion: The “You are wrong” argument. We can’t use that, because flat-out denial of faith is offensive to moderates. We have to tiptoe around and argue based on consequences. Which, again, is not rational.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    It’s dishonest to feign respect for the moderates’ beliefs just because we have a common enemy.

    And again, where does Baggini talk about respecting beliefs? Quoting him:

    It is sometimes argued that this kind of desire for engagement with moderates is dangerous, since the liberals merely provide cover for the extremists. I find this as unpersuasive as the argument that talking to democratic socialists only encourages the communists, or that negotiating with Fatah is a sop to jihadists.

    Does this imply that he respects the beliefs of either democratic socialists or Fatah?

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    To take things in a direction nobody seemed to touch in the thread, Dawkins’ scholarship took quite the plunge when he left his area of expertise in TGD. The hypocrisy of Dawkins’ unreserved bashing of quote-mining creationists while he quote-mines John Adams just a few paragraphs later is hilarious and telling. I can only pity those whose unquestioning embrace of Dawkins’ writing misses simple factual errors like this, for they make the same mistake as the ignorant fundie.

    The commenter who said “New” atheism is bullshit was right; the phrase “New Atheists” itself is just a marketing ploy to sell books IMO. These guys aren’t adding anything new to the conversation. Should we call Lee Strobel and WLC the “New Apologists?” Based on the questions I saw floating around here a few weeks ago, I sure wouldn’t.

    How do atheists respond to fire and brimstone preaching? How do atheists feel when creationists deny evolution on account of the second law of thermodynamics? Usually, the creationist is told that they are misunderstanding evolution, and rightly so. Yet so much as even raise the idea that Dawkins or the others misunderstand religion, and you get slapped with the rhetorical device known as the Courtier’s Reply as you enrage their steadfast devotees.

    I agree with Baggini, and I’m actually surprised that more atheists don’t feel the way Baggini does. The commenters who note that the New Atheists have spurred the popularity of atheism are only half-correct. But as with anything, quality, not quantity, is key. Emotionally-charged button-pushing usually only serves to further obfuscate the issues. For example, the first commenter in this thread defends Dawkins as rational, but that’s not a defense I can make with zero clarification. People who are emotionally-controlled are seldom rational while in that state, and the authors Baggini criticizes all read very emotionally-controlled to me. For example, though milder than Harris’, Dawkins’ tone very often is militant and angry; people don’t just pull that out of thin air. And you can try to justify disrespect all you want, but to those with no pre-committment to atheism, these men still comes across as the converse of a rude, arrogant, insensitive preacher. If you actually want to communicate with the members of your audience you wish to persuade, such is a foolish strategy. So I conclude that Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al. only serve to strengthen party lines as opposed to further the intellectual issues, and strengthening party lines is always politics in my book, never freethought.

    Baggini said,

    For me, atheism’s roots are in a sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us. That means the real enemy is not religion as such, but any kind of system of belief that does not respect these limits on our thinking.

    Exactly. Ted Drange made a similar remark. By focusing unduly on the irrationalism of religion, these “New Atheists” ignore many other patches of fertile ground. The same irrationalism also fuels politics, medicine and commerce, for example, and all these men show is their angry, irreligious bent.

    And Feshy – Dawkins most certainly has implied that people who do not share his beliefs are stupid.

    Brooks and Duane had relevant points as well, I thought.

  • Herk

    I’m a “New Atheist.” Or, would like to be categorized that way.

    IF there were no Christianity, would we not still be atheists? But as long as they exist, they are an influence. None can ignore recent ludicrous proposals by religionists in legal areas. None can ignore the Mormons’ influence in Utah politics (as well as Idaho politics). None can ignore such idiocy as Prop 8.

    As long as these things exist – as long as the potential exists for worse – I must speak out against damage done by religion. Child abuse? Subverting a mind that is too young to have any defense is indeed child abuse. It’s no different from mind control, except perhaps that it’s done “for the good of the child.”

    I am the enemy of willful ignorance. Perhaps I need more tact to deal effectively with others. But I think there is enough of that to go around.

  • Jim

    J.J. wrote: What I see is the usual human pattern of an in-group–in this case, those who self-identify as atheists–being more forgiving of its insiders and subjecting them to less scrutiny than those outside the group.

    Atheists are human. Up next, water is wet.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    cl: “the phrase ‘New Atheists’ itself is just a marketing ploy to sell books IMO.”

    Actually, the phrase came from a writer from Wired magazine and sort of stuck.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.co.uk Lex Fear

    I’ve heard Sam Harris speak, but didn’t detect anger.

    However passive aggression oozes out of every sentence made be Dawkins.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    The only thing I dislike about them is the way other atheists constantly attack them for not shutting up and heading for the back of the bus.

  • Aj

    J.J.

    Ahem, what Baggini said is NOT “or atheists are not entitled to assume they are rational” but rather “or atheists are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves.” The first is obviously silly, while the second is garden-variety falliblism.

    Fallibilism refers to knowledge, Baggini refers to the rational. I don’t think any methodological naturalist that advocates science can fault Dawkins, Harris, or Dennett on their approach to knowledge. Questioning the rational outside of the rational is a bit like doubting your own faith, nonsensical babble from lunatics. Now lets calm down and be skeptical of our skepticism.

    Explain why atheists–including Dawkins–quote John Adams out of context to make it appear as if he genuinely thought the world would be better without religion. I don’t see the same standards applied across the board. What I see is the usual human pattern of an in-group–in this case, those who self-identify as atheists–being more forgiving of its insiders and subjecting them to less scrutiny than those outside the group.

    I don’t think Dawkins was doing that, that clearly wasn’t his point in the paragraph quoted, so its quite ironic that he’s being accused of taking liberties in this regard. Sure, it’s an unfortunate oversight, but Dawkins strikes me as someone not particularly skilled in avoiding misinterpretation of his message. This is a recurring theme, and I’m far more interested in how he responds, which on others subjects involves an apology and clarification.

    I’ve seen this many times with people who have an axe to grind against Dawkins, I guess they have their own in-group and subject people like Baggini to less scrutiny and Dawkins to more. Sam Harris didn’t get less scrutiny, if anything he got more. I’m wondering who this “in-group” is because it’s certainly not all atheists, even like-minded atheists pick apart what each other write and argue endlessly, I think its an endearing quality.

    What does this actually prove? How does this relate at all? Why is this important? Are atheists after being enlightened about the full quote refusing to accept that John Adams expressing a favourable opinion on religion? How are atheists behaving differently, or irrationally, in regard to these quotes? I’m sure there are mistakes in the God Delusion, perhaps some quotes aren’t even authentic (he’s not a historian, he’s fallible, and relying on other fallible people), that doesn’t really bother me or add fuel to your fire at all.

  • rcn2

    From cl

    How do atheists respond to fire and brimstone preaching? How do atheists feel when creationists deny evolution on account of the second law of thermodynamics? Usually, the creationist is told that they are misunderstanding evolution, and rightly so. Yet so much as even raise the idea that Dawkins or the others misunderstand religion, and you get slapped with the rhetorical device known as the Courtier’s Reply as you enrage their steadfast devotees.

    Yes, I’m sure that the only real difference between the sides is emotional investment. It’s not at all like an astronomer and an astrologer arguing over who has more accurate interpretation of the heavens.

    It is certainly possible that Dawkins et al. have misinterpreted religion, but I even granting that I fail to see how that’s relevant to the issue. Even if one did misinterpret astrology, one has just confused one type of BS for another. It’s still just BS.

    The real reason we feel exasperation and anger when the second law of thermodynamics is misused, is because it doesn’t reflect reality. When religion is misunderstood, we’re just confusing fantasies. There’s a difference.

    If you actually want to communicate with the members of your audience you wish to persuade, such is a foolish strategy.

    Actually, it’s about the only strategy that I see works. If you aren’t inducing severe cognitive dissonance, you’re not going to change their minds. The greatest mistake is that you’re confusing a rhetorical fight with an intellectual one. Fundies aren’t convinced by facts and reasonableness. If they were, they wouldn’t be fundies.

    I am very thankful for the people, including Dawkins, who pointed out that my Christian beliefs were focused on death, destruction, and immoral at their very foundation. Without them I wouldn’t have trod the path of fundie to liberal Christianity until my final deconversion.

    We need reasonableness, but we also need a strong hammer blow of rationality to insure atheists are not ignored or legislated against.

    What is amazing is that calmly and rationally pointing out that human sacrifice and death makes a poor foundation for ethics and religion is considered disrespectful and rude. If that’s rude, then so be it. I’d rather be rude than passively allow such evil to flourish.

    Cheers,

    rcn2

  • Brooks

    A prominent example comes to mind when one recalls how often the Anthony Flew card was played by fundies when he fell victim to his fear of death in his old age and blew it all out of proportion by uttering that he had come to believe in a “god.

    And fundies claim Einstein was one of them even though he was a pantheist and was just as vocal in his views about religion as any atheist is. Does that mean Einstein was enabling fundies? What about Thomas Paine? Fundies lie about him too even though he was a deist and was also vocal against religion. What about Darwin? Fundies claim he reconverted at his deathbed even though he didn’t, so did he enable the fundies just because he fell victim to their lies?

    Fundies will always find some lie about you to claim because they don’t care about truth and won’t be satisfied until the world agrees with them. The New Atheists are just repeating that same mentality that unless the world agrees with everything they say, then they’re stupid and inferior and to me it sounds like you’re using a blame the victim argument just because some fundies will claim people as part of them even if they aren’t. I find this attitude to be more enabling to fundamentalists than liberal Christianity is. There’s a reason why Jesus said that instead of an eye for an eye to turn the other cheek and it looks like neither fundies nor the New Atheists have learned that lesson.

    The only thing I dislike about them is the way other atheists constantly attack them for not shutting up and heading for the back of the bus.

    I think a more accurate analogy is that the New Atheists are like saying since some white people are racists and some whites aren’t, that must mean the white people who aren’t racist are enabling the white racists people, so the solution is to just get rid of all white people. Now do you see why this kind of thinking can be potentially dangerous?

  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikayla

    I dislike how Dawkin’s sometimes refers to relgious people as “faithheads.” Just because it makes the nominally religious that must more likely to resist his reasoning.

    Other than that, I think they are all brilliant.

  • rcn2

    I think a more accurate analogy is that the New Atheists are like saying since some white people are racists and some whites aren’t, that must mean the white people who aren’t racist are enabling the white racists people, so the solution is to just get rid of all white people. Now do you see why this kind of thinking can be potentially dangerous?

    No. Your analogy is misleading, as New Atheists have not advocated for getting rid of anybody. By implying the threat of violence where there is none is counter-productive to put it mildly.

    Your analogy could work if you cleaned it up a little though.

    Since some white people are overt racists and some whites simply watch and support racists, this makes them implicit racists.

    Notice how free of hyperbole it is, and that nobody’s getting rid of anybody else?

    There’s a reason why Jesus said that instead of an eye for an eye to turn the other cheek …

    Yes, because somebody made it up. You’re going to start quoting Jesus as an authority in the middle of your post to an audience of atheists? It doesn’t even make sense in context of what you’re talking about, and at it’s logical extreme is just telling the victim to shut up and take it. Jesus is a terrible source for moral guidance.

    Cheers,

    rcn2

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj: “Fallibilism refers to knowledge, Baggini refers to the rational.”

    Fallibilism is about humans being, well, fallible. Yes, it is about claims of knowledge possibly being mistaken, but humans’ imperfect rationality is a big part of why those claims can be mistaken.

    More to the point, you have to stretch Baggini’s words like taffy to get postmodernism out of “Either many religious people are not as irrational as they seem, or atheists are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves.”

    Aj: “I don’t think Dawkins was doing that [quoting John Adams out of context]”

    Dawkins quoted Adams as saying, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it,” period. Considering that the full quote from Adams indicates that he almost endorsed that sentiment but decided instead that “Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell,” it’s pretty obvious that Dawkins’ quote of Adams does not reflect what Adams really meant.

    Aj: “Sure, it’s an unfortunate oversight”

    Yes, it is an oversight. Dawkins probably picked up the misquote from somewhere else and didn’t consider the possibility that someone supposedly on his own side would have engaged in quote-mining.

    This kind of oversight, though, goes against your claim, “We’re applying the same standards to everyone, ourselves, all religion.” If we were applying the same standards even to fellow atheists, that quote mine would have either not been made or scrutinized and put in the dustbin well before Dawkins even got a chance to use it. It survived because atheists share the same faults in their rationality as the religious. The quote mine looked like support for atheism from a respected figure, so it wasn’t scrutinized as closely. Christians have done the same with their own quote mines.

    Aj: “Sam Harris didn’t get less scrutiny, if anything he got more.”

    From fellow atheists? Depends on the claims that he made. His mysticism has been held in suspicion, as has his modest proposal that atheists go under the radar and no longer label themselves anything. On the other hand, his claims that moderates enable extremists? Widely swallowed, lack of evidence not withstanding.

    I find it telling that people here are accusing Baggini of saying things that he didn’t say: that he’s promoting postmodernism, that atheists should get in the back of the bus, that we should respect beliefs. The religious get irrational when defending their idols, and too many of us aren’t acting any differently.

  • Daniel B

    I recently discovered a new book written by Erik Maisel entitled, ‘The Atheist’s Way, Living well without gods’. Maisel puts forth a compelling view of living a purposeful atheistic life that doesn’t focus on simply reacting to religion. I have found Maisel’s book very uplifting and made me even prouder of calling myself atheist.

    I would highly recommend Maisel’s book to everyone on this site who has ever wondered, “okay, I don’t believe in gods, now what?”

    If you’ve ever wondered about how to fill in the holes that a religious life leaves behind then this book is for you.

  • Jim

    Brooks writes: And fundies claim Einstein was one of them even though he was a pantheist and was just as vocal in his views about religion as any atheist is. Does that mean Einstein was enabling fundies?

    You answered your own question before you even asked it. The fact that fundies claim he was one of them demonstrates that Einstein’s (et al’s) religious/theological utterances enable fundies.

    Brooks writes: The New Atheists are just repeating that same mentality that unless the world agrees with everything they say, then they’re stupid and inferior…

    Pardon my objectivity, or probably not, but superstitious people are demonstrably “stupid and inferior,” at least in regard to their superstition.

    Brooks writes: … and to me it sounds like you’re using a blame the victim argument just because some fundies will claim people as part of them even if they aren’t.

    I’ll remind you where I pointed out that enabling doesn’t have to be, and most often isn’t, especially in this context, intentional. Leaving my car doors unlocked enables the thief to burglarize my car. It sure as hell wasn’t my intention to enable the thief, but that doesn’t change the fact that I enabled him.

    Brooks writes: I find this attitude to be more enabling to fundamentalists than liberal Christianity is.

    Pointing out how idiotic it is for fundies to (selectively) appeal to, for instance, Einstein’s religious/theological utterances as a means of supporting their religion/theology is anything but enabling. That’s just absurd.

    Brooks writes: There’s a reason why Jesus said…

    Not that there was any doubt that I was speaking to an enabler (if not an outright theist) in denial or anything…

    … that instead of an eye for an eye to turn the other cheek and it looks like neither fundies nor the New Atheists have learned that lesson.

    Doesn’t appear that you’ve learned that lesson either. Doesn’t even appear you understand what that lesson actually was.

  • teammarty

    It’s just another call to sit down and shut up.

    By the way I thought “The God Who Wasn’t There” was brilliant and funny. I saw the producer at an American Atheists Convention a couple of years age and he also had a short video that was all of the whipping, kicking, etc from “The Passion of Christ” spliced together. That was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen, even if it didn’t have the famous crow picking out an eye scene.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Jim:

    The fact that fundies claim he was one of them demonstrates that Einstein’s (et al’s) religious/theological utterances enable fundies.

    That’s like saying that scientists who explain evolution are enabling creationists by providing material for them to quote-mine.

    teammarty:

    By the way I thought “The God Who Wasn’t There” was brilliant and funny.

    Considering how factually challenged it is, I’d hardly call it brilliant.

  • Aj

    J.J.

    …but humans’ imperfect rationality is a big part of why those claims can be mistaken.

    No, it refers to being mistaken even when rationality is flawless.

    More to the point, you have to stretch Baggini’s words like taffy to get postmodernism…

    Projection, just because you’re willing to stretch the concept of fallibilism doesn’t mean that I am doing the same. I interpreting that as an attack of rationality from a postmodern perspective, from my experience of listening to and reading self-defined postmodernists.

    Dawkins quoted Adams as saying, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it,” period. Considering that the full quote from Adams indicates that he almost endorsed that sentiment but decided instead that “Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell,” it’s pretty obvious that Dawkins’ quote of Adams does not reflect what Adams really meant.

    True, and again I’ll restate my opinion that its clear from the context of the quote from Dawkins that his point wasn’t about the opinion of Adams on the utility of religion. It doesn’t really matter how you or I interpret it, its up to Dawkins to clarify.

    This kind of oversight, though, goes against your claim…

    I wasn’t sure what you meant before. I think it’s hilarious that Adams opinion on religion should be considered so important that inaccuracy in quoting him would add anything to your claim. Atheists can be lazy, irrational, or deceptive, that doesn’t add anything to your claim. You have in no way given any support to your claim that Dawkins scrutinized less these quotes than others.

    From fellow atheists? Depends on the claims that he made.

    Thank you for conceding your point because if we’re not talking about group of people anymore, then that’s your point gone.

    On the other hand, his claims that moderates enable extremists? Widely swallowed, lack of evidence not withstanding.

    You have opinions on combatting harm from religious nuttery? The protection that all religion recieves from a large moderate block enables really batshit or harmful religious beliefs. Where as untolerated views not under this protection do not flourish. Where as secular bigots are often marginilized and maligned, criticism of religious bigotry is often met with attempt to silence and defend. Dawkins and The God Delusion is an obvious example, although for you its probably a bit too close to home, and to rise to your own expectations you must abandon rationality because of this.

    You somehow think that you’re outside of your cynical view, that everyone is biased, everyone is irrational, when they disagree with you. Which is probably why you can identity with the likes of Baggini.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj:

    just because you’re willing to stretch the concept of fallibilism

    Take a look at the IEP’s entry on “fallibilism,” especially the section on “Empirical Evidence of Fallibility.” The existence of fallacious reasoning is definitely part of the warrant behind fallibilism.

    Aj:

    I interpreting that as an attack of rationality from a postmodern perspective

    Except that what Baggini wrote is easily consistent with him being merely fallibilist.
    Indeed, if you Google “Baggini postmodern,” you’ll find that he doesn’t think much of postmodernism. Your interpretation is an overreach, period.

    Aj:

    I’ll restate my opinion that its clear from the context of the quote from Dawkins that his point wasn’t about the opinion of Adams on the utility of religion.

    And it is equally clear from the context that Dawkins, regardless of the point that he was trying to make, misquoted Adams.

    Aj:

    Thank you for conceding your point

    No, thank you for missing it. :) When Sam Harris says stuff that goes against what most atheists believe, that is, when he stops acting like a member of the in-group, then he tends to get heightened scrutiny from fellow atheists.

    Aj:

    You have opinions on combatting harm from religious nuttery?

    Of course, but how does that question answer my claim that there is insufficient justification for the claim that moderates enable extremists?

    Aj:

    You somehow think that you’re outside of your cynical view …

    It’s cynical to acknowledge human fallibility? Ok, sometimes it can be. That said, no, I don’t think I’m outside of it.

    Aj:

    … that everyone is biased, everyone is irrational …

    Well, to some degree, everyone is that, yes. This is even acknowledged as part of science, which is why we have peer review, experiments, and very high social penalties for scientists who falsify results. Why is this even controversial?

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-4275-DC-Secularism-Examiner Paul Fidalgo

    I tried to post this comment before, but I don’t think it went through for some reason.

    Anyway, I had said that I am, in fact, a huge fan of the tone of the New Atheists’ books (excepting Hitchens, only because I have not yet read it!), and find their open, unabashed call for inquiry, study, and hard looks at reality to be refreshing and desperately needed. Indeed, how anyone could quibble with the tone of the utterly-polite Breaking the Spell is totally beyond me.

    But Baggini’s article is, at best, the waste of precious time he claims the New Atheists; books to be. That has not stopped me, however, from wasting my own time in dissing it. :)

  • Aj

    J. J.

    Take a look at the IEP’s entry on “fallibilism,” especially the section on “Empirical Evidence of Fallibility.” The existence of fallacious reasoning is definitely part of the warrant behind fallibilism.

    True, it is part of the “warrant”. That wasn’t what you said, that wasn’t what I was disagreeing to, you know this, I know this. The definition clearly fits the definition I am using, fallibilism is about knowledge not rationality.

    Except that what Baggini wrote is easily consistent with him being merely fallibilist. Indeed, if you Google “Baggini postmodern,” you’ll find that he doesn’t think much of postmodernism. Your interpretation is an overreach, period.

    Oh it’s consistant but it can’t in itself explain the claim in question. Perhaps we have different ideas about what postmodernism is, or I’m mistaken about what he means by “once again implying that reason and evidence are strangers to religion” and “are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves”.

    And it is equally clear from the context that Dawkins, regardless of the point that he was trying to make, misquoted Adams.

    I wouldn’t call that a misquote, I’d call it an unfortunate failure to communicate. I accept that its an oversight that leads people to conclude Adams opinion incorrectly.

    No, thank you for missing it.

    No, it’s called moving goal posts. If your point was that people don’t scrutinize other atheists as much, accept when they do. I can’t disagree with the self-defeating claim.

    When Sam Harris says stuff that goes against what most atheists believe, that is, when he stops acting like a member of the in-group, then he tends to get heightened scrutiny from fellow atheists.

    Insufficient justification, shouldn’t you be describing how atheists act differently, claiming something that could potentially be refuted?

    Of course, but how does that question answer my claim that there is insufficient justification for the claim that moderates enable extremists?

    More than I hoped it would. Call it an opinion, you’re not void of them or resolute in nonexpression of them. Even better a hypothesis that makes reasonable sense. If it turns out that social studies strongly support no difference, or more “extremism” in societies with less religion, or less tolerance of faith then I’m willing to accept I’m wrong. Baggini has the opposite opinion, I guess that’s sufficient justification? I’m pretty sure you disagree with Harris, which isn’t the neutral position.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Aj:

    True, it is part of the ‘warrant’. That wasn’t what you said, that wasn’t what I was disagreeing to

    Oh, please. Fallibilism is about the fallout from humans being fallible, period, and that includes fallibility coming from imperfect reasoning. Until you disagreed, I’d never seen “fallibilism” used any other way.

    Aj:

    Perhaps we have different ideas about what postmodernism is

    I’m used to thinking of postmodernism as the idea that there is no truth, science is a language game, etc., the sort of stuff that Alan Sokal mocked so thoroughly in his hoax on Social Text. There is a huge difference between that and simply acknowledging the existence and prevalence of human irrationality.

    Aj:

    If your point was that people don’t scrutinize other atheists as much, accept when they do.

    My point was that your claim, “We’re applying the same standards to everyone, ourselves, all religion,” just isn’t true. If it were true, atheists (especially those atheists who have been called “militant” or “fundamentalist,” for lack of better adjectives) wouldn’t be as prone as they are to spreading misinformation and bad arguments when it tickles their biases. Sam Harris isn’t that good a counterexample, as he has gotten scrutiny from “those atheists” when he said things that went against their biases.

  • Aj

    J. J.

    Sam Harris isn’t that good a counterexample, as he has gotten scrutiny from “those atheists” when he said things that went against their biases.

    No justification. I’m guessing this tickles your biases. You could claim that about anyone disagreeing about anything without justifying it one bit.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    rcn2,

    It is certainly possible that Dawkins et al. have misinterpreted religion, but I even granting that I fail to see how that’s relevant to the issue.

    It’s called scholarship and it does atheism little good to bitch about scholarship and integrity then turn around and quote-mine.

    The real reason we feel exasperation and anger when the second law of thermodynamics is misused, is because it doesn’t reflect reality.

    Of course, that’s why I used it as an example. Much of what Dawkins says about religion “doesn’t reflect reality.”

    The greatest mistake is that you’re confusing a rhetorical fight with an intellectual one.

    I try not to fight rhetorically, because those who do confuse an intellectual fight with a rhetorical game.

    J.J. Ramsey,

    If we were applying the same standards even to fellow atheists, that quote mine would have either not been made or scrutinized and put in the dustbin well before Dawkins even got a chance to use it. It survived because atheists share the same faults in their rationality as the religious. The quote mine looked like support for atheism from a respected figure, so it wasn’t scrutinized as closely. Christians have done the same with their own quote mines. (bold mine)

    Thank you, this healthy dose of cross-examination is very appreciated, and unfortunately, very few atheists are able to follow suit. “It’s them that are wrong, never us!”

    The religious get irrational when defending their idols, and too many of us aren’t acting any differently.

    Again, thank you. I think the evidence for your claims is found conveniently in the resistance they’ve received in this thread.

  • http://mrgood1000.blogspot.com Judd

    I don’t like Hitchens. He just seems to go out of his way to make fun of believers. Really, what reason could he have for never capitalizing the “G” in “God” except to make believers mad?

  • Feshy

    When I say that atheists often show “gross oversimplification of the subject, or a willful misunderstanding”, that is the sort of talk that I mean. Very few Catholics, and probably no Protestants, will tell you that the Eucharist is actually physically Christ.

    They would not use the word “physically” (nor did I) but “substantially” (“actually” as you state, might be used.):

    in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue” and anyone who “saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood – the species only of the bread and wine remaining

    I do understand what that means. What it means is that you should ignore everything that is telling you that the thing in question is bread, and know that it is really flesh. This is regardless of the methods used; taste, x-ray, whatever. This makes philosophical sense, in a way; a sports car doesn’t cease being a speed machine when it is in park, for instance. In a very real way, though, it makes no sense — as every aspect of the bread remains bread. Perhaps Borland was right, and the problem is that the word “is” (or rather specific uses of it) suffers from linguistical problems. After all, what does “is” even mean, in this context?

    Still, if I where to buy a significant other glass jewelry, and tell them that it was “substantially” a diamond despite all the glass-like characteristics (including price) chances are good I’d be back at the jewelry store making a more informed decision tomorrow.

    Maybe I was in fact overly simple in my earlier description. But it is substantially correct ;)

  • Feshy

    Really, what reason could he have for never capitalizing the “G” in “God” except to make believers mad?

    Because god is sometimes a concept, and not a proper noun? When Christians say they believe in God, they are referring to a specific being with traits and characteristics they have defined. When non-Christians refer to god, as a concept, it is not always a specific God, as described by Christians or anyone else. It is, in some contexts, synonymous with “deity” not “Yahweh.” Not capitalizing it is the correct usage in those instances.

    If you think the capitalization thing is bad, check out over on Unreasonable Faith, where there is a brief article about the Malaysian government banning the use of the word “Allah” by non-muslims even though it just means “god” in the local language.

  • Bruce Gorton

    My big criticism with the four horsemen, is I think they picked the wrong horsemen.

    Dawkins and Dennet are okay, science and philosophy, but Hitchens and Harris are both columnists and thus redundant – one of the two has to go and make room for a fourth horseman.

    My suggestion would be to go for a comedian.

    One of the most powerful influences I found on my atheism was the effect of comedy. I wasn’t won over by Hitchens, Harris, Dennet or Dawkins, I was won over by George Carlin.

    It isn’t just that New Atheists show zero respect for religion that I admire, it is that they do it – while being genuinely funny.

    The God Delusion, don’t let the prose fool you, is one of the funniest essay books I have read – and we aren’t capitalising on that enough.

    If we want to be taken seriously, we need to focus on making people laugh, and hopefully get them to laugh at themselves.

    Really, what reason could he have for never capitalizing the “G” in “God” except to make believers mad?

    God, is a noun. It is very Christian-centric to capitalise it – it is like capitalising unicorn. If you do capitalise it, you are refering to a specific god known as Yahweh, or if you are Arabic, Allah.

    Uncapitalised, god can refer to a whole class of beings that includes Zeus, Vishnu, Odin etc…

  • Pingback: It’s like reading John Haught sans…you know, the whole Christian thing « Theology Senior Seminar: The New Atheism


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