Picking the Boring Fight

[UPDATE: I've just started a hopefully non-boring fight with a couple Dominicans reading Edward Feser's defense of Aristotle and Aquinas. You can keep track of all posts in that series here: The Last Superstition Index Post]

In the comment thread for my Hitchens post, Lukas complained that he found god is Not Great unreadable and linked to a critique from First Things.  David Bentley Hart has a number of complaints about Hitchens’s book and a collection of essays titled 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, but the first seems to be that all the objections are pedestrian and unmoving.  (I’ll interject that it can’t be very surprising to find that an essay collection is shallow).

I have some sympathy for Hart’s plaint.  I picked up Hitch-22 rather than god is Not Great after Hitchens’s death because I’ve found most of the New Atheist canon boring.  It ends up tackling very boring, obviously-in-contradiction-to-the-visible-world religion.  Hart writes:

“A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.”

I won’t deny that the New Atheists are going after the intellectually easy targets, but that’s because the anti-intellectual evangelicals are much more politically threatening than the Aquinas-reading theologians.  We have to fight all of them on gay marriage, but it’s the boring ones who tend to make trouble when it comes to evolution, global warming, and medicine (HPV vaccinations don’t increase promiscuity, btw).

Since we atheists think we’ve only got this world, we focus more of our efforts on the people who we think are actively harming themselves or others.  Plus, a lot of the most active people in the movement (the scientists under threat) have backgrounds that are much better suited to rebut the anti-empiricism crowd.  (The crash course in evolutionary biology in The God Delusion is good, the rest is more meh).  The criticism of Hart and others is more a complaint about the New Atheists choice of targets than a claim that we’re using the wrong tactics for the targets we’ve chosen.

Do the Catholics who complain expect that there is really an interesting critique of Young Earth creationism waiting to be written?  What would an ideal attack on the theology of Scientology look like?  These are mop-up jobs, and I’m not surprised they don’t exactly make the imagination catch fire.  It’s possible to dress these books up a bit, but making them witty tends to blur easily into making them condescending.  You have to get someone on your side before they’ll enjoy the joke.

I’m an atheist who prefers having the other kind of fight, but I’ll admit it feels a lot more low-stakes than the kind the other folks are having, even if it’s intellectually sharper.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as a statistician for a school in Washington D.C. by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Ben Crosby

    So, like, sure, I get it, the evangelical right is important to oppose politically. I’m obviously not going to disagree there. But that isn’t the stated project of the New Atheists – to hear them tell it, they’ve vanquished religion as such (which they never bother to define) in the name of Reason and Science and Morality. And it is poorly done – that’s an important part of Hart’s critique: not just improperly aimed, but often entirely incoherent. The treatment of morality in Dawkin’s God Delusion is an example of this – a certain moral system is just sui generis, self-evidently “there,” and happens to correspond with liberal bourgeois values perfectly. Even if the primary purpose of these books is political in an immediate, “contemporary American politics” sense of the word, that sort of shoddy argumentation is just embarrassing. Insofar as these folks represent your “side,” are these the people you want representing you?

    Moreover, I think there is a real question as to whether it’s best to fight this particular political dispute on this particular metaphysical plane. Now, I’m too much a Marxist to argue that there’s no connection between base and superstructure, and that ones political and ones metaphysical commitments can be entirely separated, but is writing books of a sort most likely to be read by other nonreligious elites really the best way to win that war? Yes, the New Atheists have brought atheism to the public sphere, but a sort of atheism that is strident, profoundly uninteresting, and also anti-religious in a way that precludes forming coalitions with liberal religious (or even those conservative religious who believe in things like the separation of church and state, etc.). Is that the best way to get the things you want politically?

    • http://cumrecordaremursion.wordpress.com Kevin

      If the New Atheists were saying nothing more than “Evangelicals are dumb” or “understanding the physical world is useful and morally acceptable,” their works — however deficient in style or historical scholarship or philosophical learning — would provoke little argument in literate circles.

      The problem is that they consider their critique of the more vulgar forms of religion to be adequate to put paid to the rest of the thing. Leah is not the sort to sneeringly mutter something about “courtiers’ replies” whenever someone suggests that religion is more than their caricature, or steers one of this newly-arisen herd of freethinkers in the direction of — say — David Bentley Hart’s works. But the New Atheists are. Leah’s defense of them is legitimate, but it’s premised on something most of that tribe would deny.

      • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

        As a New Atheist myself, I would offer a twofold reply:

        1. The beliefs we criticize the most often are the ones that are held by the vast majority of believers. The allegedly more sophisticated and literate theologians are such a tiny minority that, proportionally, they’re scarcely worth spending time on at all.

        2. Even those allegedly more sophisticated and literate theologians have no better evidence that their beliefs are true than even the crudest evangelicals have to offer.

        • http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com Eli

          And, I would like to point out, Hart’s essay is only convincing insofar as one is impressed by his prose. The actual content is simplistic at its best and outright question-begging at worst. I’m actually a little annoyed that Leah has bought into the specious distinction between sophisticated and, let us say, bourgeois religious belief that Hart pushes, because Hart’s working definition of bourgeois religion is “any religion that is coherent enough to be disproven by reality.”

        • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

          But by virtue of Sturgeons law Nr.1 is an universal argument against any belief system.

          For example, at one point a majority of American Democrats claimed to think the Bush administration was involved in organizing 9/11. That is pretty stupid but not much of an argument against liberalism.

          (I’m not trying to bash your politics or your country here. Both most conservatives and most Germans believe equally stupid things. The point is the majority of any sufficiently large group believe stupid things.)

          • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

            If it were indeed true that a majority of American Democrats believed that (which I’m highly skeptical of), that would be a valid argument against voting for the Democratic party.

          • http://www.allourlives.org TooManyJens

            “For example, at one point a majority of American Democrats claimed to think the Bush administration was involved in organizing 9/11. That is pretty stupid but not much of an argument against liberalism.”

            If a majority of American Democrats thought that, it would be a great reason to go after that particular belief.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            (I’m replying slightly out of place because of the nesting limit.)
            First, here is my reference for that datum. They may have been lying (and you might note my comment hedged for that possibility) but that is hardly better.

            Adam Lee, not that I want to argue you back to voting for Democrats, but if this is a reason for not doing so, what are you gonna do, vote for Republicans? They believe Obama will bring you sharia law. And again, this is nothing special about your country. With Germany’s proportional representation I usually have the choice of five viable parties. If my jingoism can be excused, I do think five is better than two. But it doesn’t change the fact that all five are are quite large subsections of the larger society and thus all five have majority beliefs that are rather hard to reconcile with empirical observations. Like I said, it’s just Sturgeon’s law. If that is a good reason not to vote for a party it means we either should all abstain or all vote for chanceless outsiders.

            TooManyJens, yes it is, though I admit I’m too lazy to actually do so. But my point is, it is not an argument against the larger ideology because if it was it would be an universal argument against all ideologies.

          • http://www.allourlives.org TooManyJens

            Gilbert: The article says 22.6% of Democrats said it was “very likely” that the Bush administration *either* helped organize the attacks *or* knew something was coming but decided to let it happen as a pretext for war. Another 28.2% called it “somewhat likely,” which is not a statement of belief so much as possibility.

            That’s a far weaker claim than “a majority of American Democrats believed the Bush administration was involved in organizing 9/11.”

            It’s a side point, but I’m pedantic that way.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            @TooManyJens
            OK, I was sloppy in forgetting the or part, though it is an equally absurd conspiracy theory even with it.

            I think interpreting the “somewhat likely” as “not a statement of belief so much as possibility” makes it too harmless, because it’s the standard four-point scale that also has “somewhat unlikely”. I think it’s usually fair to lump the two halves of the scale together as the yes and no sides. For comparison, someone who selected “somewhat likely” on young earth creationism would rightly be classed as a creationist.

            But yeah, I probably should have stayed as vague as the creationist label does and just have called them 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    I’ll say something more substantial later, but right now I want to go for the easy target:

    There is no reason for global warming being in your list of areas where fundamentalist Christianity causes political positions you dislike.

    I will admit some vague connection. In the US anthropogenic global warming (AGW) denial and Christianity probably correlate because they are both tenets of conservativism. Many Christians are very uncomfortable about some radical environmentalists being into Gaia mysticism, but then atheists aren’t all that sympathetic to that either. And where Christians have moral objections to the typically proposed fixes (as e.g. I do, even though I think the problem is most likely real) they will phrase those objections in the same Christian framework they phrase all their moral points in.

    But almost all Christians will admit that Christianity is entirely silent on the question of anthropogenic global warming. And as far as I can see, AGW-deniers who actually care about that issue are mostly of the atheist libertarian variety.

    I can illuminate this by comparison to the other issues you named:
    If you convert evolution denying Christians into atheists you will get evolution supporters. And if you convert a Christian who rejects HPV-vaccination to the permissive sexual morality typically associated with modern atheism you have a good chance of them supporting such vaccination. The connection is getting a lot more tenuous here, but it is still significant. But if you convert an AGW-denying Christian to all of your philosophy you get someone who agrees with all your philosophy and still denies AGW.

    I think you are conflating your political enemies qua atheist with your political enemies qua liberal where there isn’t much of an intrinsic connection. That’s an ideological Turing failure.

    • Patrick

      My local Christian radio stations, in every city I’ve lived in, have actively promoted denialism of anthropogenic global warming. And they’ve done so in expressly religious terms. Its part of the same world view that undergirds denialism of other forms of science. You can’t so easily separate these matters.

    • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

      In the US anthropogenic global warming (AGW) denial and Christianity probably correlate because they are both tenets of conservativism.

      Actually, they correlate because many prominent Christians explicitly take the view that the only way the Earth will be destroyed is the way described in their apocalyptic interpretation of the Bible, and any alternative scenario is just a Satanically-inspired distraction meant to blind us to God’s end-times plan.

      • Thomas R

        A good many of those most interested in the apocalyptic desire it rather than fear it. And to some extent all Christianity, I say this as a Christian, desires the Second Coming in some ways.

        I’m not sure I’ve seen much in the way of “I deny it because it doesn’t fit Bible prophecy.” I don’t think it’s that hard to imagine AGW leading to some “war over water” in the Middle East that causes a “final confrontation” in Israel. However that the end of the world is something undesirable I think is an idea many Evangelicals/Fundamentalists would reject. This might actually feel deeply and profoundly “weirder” but it fits my experience with Fundamentalists more.

        Although I think the greater reason would likely be that Evangelicals/Fundamentalists emphasize that “Man has dominion over the Earth.” Other Christians do too, but Catholics or Orthodox or Anglicans or Lutherans might be more likely to see this in terms of “stewardship.” For many Fundamentalists the emphasis is probably more on us being in charge and doing what we need to do for our needs. AGW could seem to require/imply we should sacrifice our needs, not for spiritual enrichment or the poor, but for soulless “Fallen” Nature. Or they equate all environmentalism to a Deistic or Pantheistic worship of Nature.

      • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

        Hmm. I can theoretically imagine someone making that argument against global warming. And if it’s possible to believe someone always turns out to actually believe it.
        But do you have any evidence of that argument being more common than, say, the analogous possible argument against social security? I have some admittedly non-decisive reasons to doubt it:
        - I haven’t heard that argument though I have heard lots of other weird millennial stuff.
        - Apostates commonly grovel about Christianity having made them wrong on evolution and all the pelvic issues but I’ve never yet heard this cited as an example of harmful-stuff-Christianiy-made-the-speaker-embrace.
        - In all bluntness, your opinions of believers’ internal psychological processes have so far been so reliably wrong that I’m counting your assertion as a counter-indicator.

        So it’s a possibility and I’m in principle open to being convinced on it but I would like to see some non-anecdotal evidence before I would consider believing you.

        • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

          One example of the kind of thing I’m talking about is a 12-part (!) DVD series called Resisting the Green Dragon, which is being promoted by a constellation of religious right groups as a “biblical response” to the environmental movement. See this page for an illustrative press release:

          Resisting the Green Dragon is therefore particularly timely because it not only refutes the scientific case for dangerous manmade warming and other “crises,” but also exposes how environmental organizations use sophisticated media campaigns and even seek increased global governance to promote their agenda among policy makers, religious leaders, and youth.

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            It’s moot, because g had something real further down, but no, this doesn’t seem to be an example of what you said. Basically the marketing materials say it goes at “radical environmentalists” for idolizing nature and instead advocates “Biblical creation stewardship”. That’s very different from saying we can’t harm nature because apocalypse. If fact it’s an argument I would be rather sympathetic to. That doesn’t mean it necessarily delivers on that promise, and actually my inner cynic rather suspects it’s just a baptism of the usual Lombergian claptrap. But it doesn’t seem to be making any eschatological arguments. In other words, it’s a total non sequitur with regard to your actual claim.

            If this had been the best your side could come up with, I would have been fully justified in dismissing it as the usual New Atheist hysteria.

        • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

          OK, here’s some non-anecdotal evidence. This is John Shimkus, one of the representatives for Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives, explaining to a House subcommittee why he isn’t worried about man-made climate change: because Genesis 8 says that “summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, will never cease”, and Matthew 24 says that God will decide when the world will end. I am not kidding about this. (I so wish I were.)

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_7h08RDYA5E

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            Yikes! OK, the House of Representatives is presumably representative of American political discourse.

            I concede the point.

            Also, apologies to Leah whom I accused of an ideological Turing failure that was actually my own.

    • leahlibresco

      As some of the commenters already said, there is a subset of evangelicals who don’t believe mankind has the power to damage God’s creation and see global warming as prima facie false. That’s not the only subset I’m talking about, though.

      People who see a direct conflict only between evolution or carbon dating and their theology are prone to be distrustful of science generally, particularly on high profile, politicized issues. They already believe scientists are mislead en masse or actively perpetuating one fraud, a second is not implausible.

  • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

    I think the bigger point: For all the blather about New Atheism being intellectually honest, New Atheists pick low fruit. Choice of targets is certainly an apropos complaint against the posturing and posing of such empty men, and these criticisms very well deflate any assumption that what they’re saying is as universally true as they say. An atheist who rejects Catholicism “just as he rejects Scientology” or other absurd fanfictions is not one who knows much about the former.

    • Patrick

      How ya doin’ with that Shroud of Turin thing?

      Religious fanfiction abounds.

      • Thomas R

        The Shroud of Turin isn’t the basis of Catholicism. The basis of Scientology is the writings of a pulp-fiction author who wasn’t even one of the best-regarded of John W. Campbell’s crew.

        Maybe Swedenborgianism is vaguely comparable as it’s also based on the writings of an unusual guy who claimed visions of going to other planets. But not too close as Swedenborg was at least brilliant. Not simply “because he said he was brilliant” but because he did invent things and do valid research. (Although I think Swedenborgianism is a tad odd)

        • Patrick

          I don’t think we’re likely to agree on this subject because I, as a non believer in Catholicism, do not accept the religious essentialism to which you, as a believer, are bound.

          • Thomas R

            I’m not saying one can’t reject Catholicism or anything like that. I’m saying different religions are different. The skill-set needed to dismiss Scientology is not the same as you might need for Catholicism or Buddhism for that matter.

            If I said some Buddhist relic was fake, this wouldn’t really tell us much on the Truth or Validity of Buddhism. Saying that is not saying I think Buddhism is True or Valid. I just recognize that Buddhism is more than chanting or relics. And I would say Buddhism is more than Scientology. That it has a depth and richness Scientology doesn’t.

            I’d like to think if I were an atheist, something I did sort of consider at points in my life, I’d still be able to recognize that different religions are in fact different. That they’re not some monolithic blob that can all be dismissed the same way for the same reasons.

            Note: And apologies to all the Swedenborgians, I actually think they/you are kind of a fascinating group.

        • Will

          Hi there from the New Church in New York. I believe our doctrines not because “Swedenborg said so”, but because they make sense. (From this angle, I feel that I was a “Swedenborgian” all along.) And no, the basis of my religion is not descriptions of Selenites.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

        Even if it were a malicious moss, the standing rock would stand all the same.

    • http://whatloveteaches.blogspot.com/ Slow Learner

      I’m afraid I disagree.

      I reject Scientology because it makes empirically nigh-impossible claims, that don’t stack up logically even if you grant their premise. The fact that it’s a science-fictiony religion founded by a bad science fiction author who talked about how founding a religion would be a great money-spinner is just icing on the cake.

      As such, I reject Catholicism on the same grounds. It makes empirically nigh-impossible claims: Transubstantiation, Virgin Birth, etc; it has aspects which don’t stack up logically, such as the Trinity; and the fact that I have read some of the very human history behind the early church, and how it came to take the form it has, making clear to me how very human the church is and has always been, is just the icing on the cake.

      You can’t say it’s unreasonable to reject Scientology and Catholicism on the same grounds until you know that my reasons for rejecting the one do not also apply to the other.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

        It is of course true that I cannot say such a thing is unreasonable until I know your reasons. I readily concede this. I had assumed that a reader would know that I’m talking about folks who haven’t even met the bar of doing their homework, sometimes not even the lower standard of “coming up with a lame excuse.” But calling the Trinity illogical even on its own terms? There’s something missing here.

        If you reject Christianity for the reason that you can never understand it completely and that it is untestable, then you reject this religion not on its terms but your own. You are free to choose your own terms, but that does not mean your terms are correct. Most damningly, you set yourself to trust only in things that are iron-clad constant. This will, by force of actual logic, grant you a mechanistic view of All Things That Exist or Ever Will when it comes to things you haven’t personally seen, and questions even this, and such a reductionism sets you up to lose not only your humanity. To wit, girls must love you.

    • Keith

      “An atheist who rejects Catholicism “just as he rejects Scientology” or other absurd fanfictions is not one who knows much about the former.”

      Seriously? Let’s start with believing a priest transforms a cracker into Christ’s literal body — no, that’s not crazy at all.

  • Lukas Halim

    The half of God is Not Great that I managed to read was mostly a description of wicked actions and stupid beliefs heald by Christians, Jews, and other believers. It seems like Hitch thinks that these beliefs and actions constitute a case against faith, but I don’t see that that follows at all. As Hart points out, one could construct a similar charge among non-believers. It might be a bit of a different case, because their are fewer godless nations to choose from (are their any besides communist? Maybe the Czech republic?).

    Also, I personally don’t think the argument about whether believers are better or worse than nonbelievers is ever going to go much of anywhere. There is no way of isolating the ‘believer’ variable, our ideas of what constitutes ‘better’ are too complex, and there is too much of a tendency to focus on whichever parts of the data tend to make one’s own case look good. For example, a believer might argue that communist regiemes were more brutal in part b/c they were atheistic, but argue that the European wars of religion after the reformation were more about different nobles trying to sieze power than the were about religion. I don’t think that sort of debate is going to be fruitful.

    • Will

      Then there are all the village-atheist types who employ the “Communism is REALLY a religion” dodge — reducing “religion” to “anything I dislike”.

      • Patrick

        Granted that communism isn’t a religion.

        But if the reason you reject religion is because you’re not a fan of dogmas unsupported by evidence and believed with fanatical zeal, then you are perhaps likely to reject communism and religion for similar reasons.

        Meanwhile…

        Believers don’t like the “religion MURDERS PEOPLE” line of attack, for obvious reasons. But its relevant. If you claim that you have access to divine inspiration from a transcendentally flawless being, but you’re a vile human being by my ethical standards, this is relevant to how I evaluate the truth of your claims. This is practically impossible to get away from. For example, many Catholics like to laud their historical connection to early Christianity, and their long term fidelity to Christian principles, as evidence of their sect’s validity. But if so, then Catholicism’s behavior in ancient times is relevant to our evaluation of Catholicism today. By making that argument, it was MADE relevant.

        Now of course there are tons of different (and of course contradictory) reasons why someone might be Catholic. And when you’re in the business of offering undercutting defeaters, you can always be sidestepped by someone willing to abandon the support you undercut (or someone who never used it). But that doesn’t mean that they’re not relevant.

        • Will

          The thugs who beat me up claimed they were doing it in the cause of “peace”. But I never encounter anyone who considers this a relevant ground for condemning the “peace movement”.

          • Patrick

            Has someone claimed that the good behavior of these thugs was evidence of the peace movement’s good will? If so, the fact that they beat you up is a data point in opposition to that claim.

            This isn’t hard. You’ll just have to get over your insistence on seeing this as only about whether we “condemn” a group, and instead recognizing that this is about whether claims made about the group are factually supported.

            If John Doe claims that he believes Scientology to be true because it cured him of his rage problems without the use of medication or psychological therapy, then whether John Doe still has outbursts of violent rage is relevant to supporting or undercutting his claim.

            The point isn’t to vilify John Doe. Its to evaluate whether the things he says are true.

            The same is true for claims made about religious groups. If someone says “by their fruits you shall know them,” then I get to take a look at their fruits and see what I can learn.

        • Thomas R

          An issue I have with it is oddly not that supportive of my religion.

          It’s more “What about the Hutterites?” Or Quakers or Moravians or Christadelphians or, beyond Christianity, the Jains or whatever. Groups that never had political/state power often do not have the things you mention. We can find anti-clerical non-Communist violence in Mexican and French history, because there was times anti-clerical non-Communists had power. The Christadelphians, or whoever, never ruled anyone.

    • http://bigthink.com/blogs/daylight-atheism Adam Lee

      It seems like Hitch thinks that these beliefs and actions constitute a case against faith, but I don’t see that that follows at all. As Hart points out, one could construct a similar charge among non-believers.

      Perhaps you should have read the second half of God Is Not Great, where Hitchens addresses this very argument in great detail.

      • Lukas Halim

        I probably won’t bother unless someone hands me a copy – I just got too bored of reading things which did not seem like arguments at all. I might try to see whether any of his debates are recorded, though.

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    I have two points to offer:

    Point one:
    While going only after the easy targets is a part of Hart’s complaint against New Atheists, it isn’t the whole complaint. He is complaining not only what they are fighting against but also what they are fighting for. The alternative to Christianity the New Atheists are trying to sell us is as shallow as the version of Christianity they are fighting. I’ll agree with him there.

    Most of them don’t understand the traditional Christian metaphysical arguments and therefore have no insights to offer on how I could rearrange my metaphysics to be coherent without assumptions I now think necessary to a coherent metaphysics.

    Most of them have a model of history that casts “religion” as the evil side of every conflict and totally ignores the good side. Besides being about as respectable a view of history as the Evangelical view is of biology (and here particularly the critique goes beyond their choice of target) that also frees them from having to offer any alternatives to the positive functions specific religions have so far served.

    They all tell me they are good people despite not believing in God as if that was the question, and maybe for some Evangelicals it is. But I want to know how they can have a coherent moral philosophy and how they propose to make it independent of the cultural conditioning by a culture shaped by the force they propose to dispense with.

    And not only do they have no answer to our not being at home in the world, they don’t even get that there is a question there. I can respect the lack of an answer Kafka, for example, was suffering from. To some degree I can even respect a wrong answer like the one of Marx. But not getting the question is, well a failure to get the question.

    There’s a common theme to all of this: Cheapening what they are fighting against is just the flip side of cheapening what they are fighting for. It totally fails on delivering the freethought instead contending itself with turning narrow-minded Christians into narrow-minded atheists.

    Point two:
    The story of the New Atheists focusing on Evangelicals only because they are the most dangerous politically doesn’t ring true to me.

    For example in Britain Evangelical evolution deniers don’t pose a serious threat to biological science. Animal rights terrorists do. Yet we see Richard Dawkins fighting against the first and not against the second. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with that. Bigger fishes to fry would be an universal argument against anybody fighting against anything. And of course everyone is free to talk about what they want to talk and not to talk about what they don’t want to talk about. But if I’m expected to believe the maximum threat level is the reason of the focus then I would expect them to coincide. And while that might be true in large parts of America, New Atheism just isn’t that different where it is. I mean, I have read many of the evangelical-focused New Atheist stock arguments in German.

    Also, it seems to me, that historically evolution becoming a shibboleth issue for both evangelicals and atheists was a bit of a cultural co-evolution. For example, “old” atheists were using evolution as a stick against Christianity very soon after The Origin of Species was published, before evangelicals even existed.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

      … and likely before The Origin of Species was even about evolution, or was whatsoever tenable. Reminds me of how people today have this impression that rejecting to Galileo could not have been principled or scientific but was dogmatic fundamentalism. “Any stick will do to beat the dog,” we hear, “so who careswhat actually happened?”

    • Chet

      And not only do they have no answer to our not being at home in the world, they don’t even get that there is a question there.

      Consider me one who “doesn’t get that there is a question there.” And I certainly don’t see the relevance of a nonsense question to the existence of a putative “God.”

      And maybe I’m not being “shallow”, maybe I’m simply rejecting your deepities. That something sounds mysterious doesn’t make it profound. Some things sound mysterious because they’re grammatically correct but utterly devoid of meaning.

  • Heartfout

    The main reason I tend not to get into the “other kind of fight” is that, quite frankly, often there is no point. I don’t mean there’s no point like we all agree with each other or anything like that, but rather just that chances for me to argue it as an atheist rarely come up, since the arguments are generally based on their terms; assuming that a God exists, which sort of defeats the point of being an atheist. Rather, I am asked to become a sort of temporary theist, assuming that God exists just long enough to question this bit of theology, before dropping back off and not discussing the fact that I don’t believe that God exists and if you want me to start debating the Trinity in a proper way, you have to first convince me there is a God to be a Trinity of three beings. At least with the `lower brow` arguments, I can actually argue as an atheist.

    Another objection I have to these kinds of discussions is summed up nicely by Hart’s essay, in which he assumes, repeatedly, that Christianity is some kind of magically, mystical thing, which, even if you don’t believe in it, blew away the storm clouds of the pagan era and gave us morals, philosophy, reason and art, as if none of these existed before then. The level of arrogance of some of these arguments when looking at their group is scary.

    • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

      If someone’s asking you to argue about soteriology for the sake of the argument itself, then I agree with your complaint. The concern, I think, is where the theological gradients have a bearing on the arguments used in the New Atheist’s critiques. When Dawkins disproves miracles, for instance, I am entirely apathetic because what he describes is not what I think a miracle is. He’s disproven /something/, sure, but not what I believe. Or when people talk about God’s cruelty in damning people, I’m once again unimpressed; I’m a universalist, and so his argument is irrevelent to me. I don’t necessarily want a New Atheist to have a conversation about the merits and weaknesses of the popular Christian soteriological options, but in order to claim that religion has been thoroughly debunked, then that New Atheist needs to make arguments that apply to the soteriological option I have chosen. If my choice is a more “sophisticated” one (I dislike that word, though), then that New Atheist needs to be able to talk about that sophisticated choice. I might need you to be able to imagine my position in order to do so, which is where your suspension of atheism comes in. In order to get me to a place where I can see the cruelty that you see in God, you might need to be able to argue like a Christian. (I fully anticipate that the same is true in all directions; I’d need to be able to think like a Buddhist to refute Buddhism, or think like a Neo-Pagan in order to refute Neo-Paganism, or think like a nihilist in order to refute nihilism. But I’d also need to be able to think like a non-Buddhist, non-Neo-Pagan, etc.)

      One of the reasons I dislike the word “sophisticated”, though, is because it is a part of the language of the arrogance you describe. I agree that a lot of my fellows betray the same arrogance they (often rightly) accuse the New Atheists of, and I suspect that arrogance lies at the heart of most failures to debate/converse effectively. To honestly think that you are the most sophisticated of all options usually means that you’re not actually engaging the position of your interlocutor. (There are exceptions, of course. The Fred Phelps of the world come to mind.)

      • Heartfout

        Ah, my apologies. I had changed the subject of debate slightly, from the new atheists to my own personal experiences in these kinds of arguments. I agree that quite a lot of people, including people like Dawkin’s and Myer’s, don’t change their arguments based on who they are talking to, which is silly.

        I also hate that they try to disprove religion by saying that God is evil, or something like that, since it doesn’t really prove their point. Now, some religions, if I was convinced their God exists, would make me a misotheist (Is that the right term? I’ve heard maltheist before), but I’d still be a theist not an atheist.

        • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

          My apologies, then, if my response wound up being off point as a result.

          The OED has an instance of misotheist being used in 1881. The word is marked Obs. rare., but it’s in there. Theophobia is listed as an occasional synonym, though usually it means fear of God rather than hatred of God.

          Incidentally, as much as I don’t hold that position myself, it’s one I can respect. It reminds me of Richard Beck’s Winter Christian (http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2007/04/summer-and-winter-christians.html).

      • Chet

        If your religion is just a process of making virtues out of necessities – “miracles” in the conventional definition being disproved, so you re-define “miracle” to mean something that hasn’t been disproved yet – then I don’t see that you merit any attention from atheists. You’ll simply be pushed along by the inevitable tide of rationalism.

        But surely that kind of spineless, “finger-in-the-wind” belief isn’t what Hart is referring to, is he? Hart seems to be referring to a case for faith that is so overwhelmingly compelling that atheists are sure to break against its bulwark. But your faith seems to be more about maintaining the sort of rhetorical agility that’s possible when you’re not weighed down by any actual content.

    • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

      Do you think atheists don’t ask Christians to try on the atheist shoes to see if they fit better? Do you think Christians qua Christian principles don’t accede to this request for any reason but because ultimately God commands it? Since we’re not arguing strictly logically but rather emoting this is no tu quoque, remember: Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

      • Heartfout

        I have no issues “Trying on Christian shoes”. Being told that if I wish to participate in “intellectual” discussions on the matter, I must not only be wearing Christian shoes, but be sitting in my sunday best in church, is a different matter.

        • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

          Took me a while to recognize what you mean. I won’t extend the metaphor yet. I perhaps incorrectly translate your comment as: “I have to take the thing hook, line and sinker to get any answer to my questions about things like the Trinity, and I’ll only grant the hook.” Making no comment about your worth as a person — I mean this — but only about your ability to in any sense appreciate what we present, the only answer is “pearls before swine.” You may get your feet wet splashing in puddles, but are you thereby prepared to swim the Channel?

          If you are set on discussing Christianity but have already decided firmly to remain an atheist, you are going to be dissatisfied, and it is useless to you. Know that you aren’t going to refute Christianity by means of an “internal inconsistency,” and certainly not without a great deal of instruction. We spend enough time in doubt, believe me on at least that, so your objections early on are likely the common ones. (Funny that XKCD, typically hostile to the supernatural, featured comic no. 675. It could have a few key phrases changed and be something from the other side of our question.)

          Entry-level, low-commitment explorations of Christianity — the oyster, if we’re talking about swine; the shoes, to continue the previous metaphor — always begin with deciding if this Jesus guy has any authority. From there, the rest follows, and suddenly dressing up is a lot more important. Until then, men without pants shouldn’t mess with cummerbunds, and men wearing jeans shouldn’t complain that it would look funny.

          • Chet

            Entry-level, low-commitment explorations of Christianity — the oyster, if we’re talking about swine; the shoes, to continue the previous metaphor — always begin with deciding if this Jesus guy has any authority.

            And where are you getting the idea that atheists are ignoring the question of the authority of Bible’s account of Jesus? Isn’t that exactly the theological question you’re dismissing as the low-hanging fruit?

            It’s funny how, when you delve into the supposedly “sophisticated theology”, it turns out to be nothing more than the simple theology dressed in a funny hat.

          • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

            Actually, he was objecting to the Trinity. That sure isn’t simple theology in a funny hat.

            Proving Jesus has authority is necessarily a separate question than showing how that authority works.

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  • Tim

    I for one don’t buy that the new atheists take on “soft” targets because these targets are more influential, and thus more worthy of one’s time and energy in debunking. I think it’s pretty clear they do it simply because it is the easier thing for them to do. What takes more training and intellectual rigor: getting an atheist analysis published in the latest Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion volume, or writing a blog post taking down that dude who runs a Museum based on the idea that the earth is 6000 years old? The problem is that doing the easier thing is often rewarded with lots of readers (try comparing the number of Amazon reviews for “The God Delusion” with Jordan Sobel’s much more carefully and objectively argued “Logic and Theism”, and you’ll see what I mean). So then it becomes the natural thing to do over and over.

    The number one thing as an atheist is to be honest with yourself. Don’t pretend there’s this noble motivation when there isn’t one. It’s sad.

  • Chet

    The reason that atheists take on the “simple” theology rather than the “complex” theology is that the simple theology is, apparently, the only theology that exists. The “complex, sophisticated” theology that is apparently atheist-proof is only ever referred to, it’s never presented. Challenge someone like Hart to actually present the theology we’re supposed to take aim at, and invariably he’ll refer you to someone else – Alvin Plantinga, perhaps, or “Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace, or Moltmann on hope”. But go look up those sources and you’ll find that the supposedly “sophisticated theology” is just the same simple faith, papered over with philosophical deepities.

    It’s a circle game. Every sophisticated theist believes there’s an intellectual case for faith, but ask them for it and they’ll direct you to the sophisticated theist to the left. The reason that atheists have come to ignore “sophisticated theology” is that there’s no such thing. There’s nothing there to address. It’s a reference to a work that doesn’t exist.

    • Tim

      Your opponents are so simple and you are just so complicated. More boringness.

      • Chet

        See what I mean? No “sophisticated theology” presented, just the unerring faith that it exists.

        I can think of nothing more facile than Terry Eagleton asking “What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus…does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case?” Ignoring the fact that the “epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus” is not a case for the existence of God, it’s also not the case that just because an argument is ignored, it should be considered the “toughest case.” Frequently the arguments of “sophisticated theologians” are being ignored because they’re irrelevant. “Eriugena on subjectivity” is not a case for the existence of God. So why should Dawkins address it? Why should any atheist?

    • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

      Now have you actually read all that stuff or just some New Atheist comments on it? I for one haven’t read Plantinga, so I can’t comment on that particular piece. But I have read some other stuff Coyne has been dissing on other occasions and there his commentary is clearly inconsistent with him actually having understood it. In this piece, too, some of the literal quotes seem to allow for interpretations very different from the ones Coyne gives them, so I would tend to give the benefit of the doubt to Plantinga rather than Coyne.

      If the complaint is that you don’t get it all explained in a comment on a blog I would say your expectations are a bit on the high side. Some arguments actually don’t fit in 4096 characters. You will notice that scientists also sometimes refer to books. Sometimes even to books with references which indirectly refer back to books by the author you started with.

      • Chet

        Now have you actually read all that stuff or just some New Atheist comments on it?

        All what stuff? The question under discussion is whether there’s anything actually there to be concerned about. It’s up to theists to demonstrate that their homework assignments are actually relevant to the discussion, and Eagleton certainly doesn’t do that with his insipid invocation of “Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope.”

        Not all arguments fit into 4000 characters, no, but 4000 characters is quite a bit of room to do more than just handwave in the direction of someone who may or may not have something to add to the debate. If theists want atheists to address “sophisticated theology”, its incumbent on them to actually present some. Not just refer to it.

        • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

          Fine. Then, assuming me hostile, please give me an argument for radio-carbon dating being reliable in less than 4000 characters. Oh, and if that argument should mention “atoms” you’ll have to convince me those exist in the first place. And I’m not so sure if the radio of the radiocarbon method is tuned to AM or FM. But carbon frames sure are shiny. Also, please no hogwash about the “scientific method” they always use that code when they want to sell us incomprehensible junk. I never took any science classes and you should be able to do this without reference to anything else I won’t read. Everything else is a courtier’s reply! When you’re done, I’ll give you a case for God, which on equal conditions will be equally, umm, convincing.

          • Chet

            Rather than answer your question in a meaningful way, I’ll do so in the manner of a “sophisticated” theist: “Poincare, Eighmy/Sternberg, Stanley.”

            There, now doesn’t that answer all your questions? Remember, you have to read every single book by every author who shares those last names, because otherwise you’re being “lazy” and only attacking “the opposition’s weakest arguments.”

  • Tim

    So if I direct you to something by a theist, you’ll say it’s a circle game. If I don’t, you’ll say I’m not directing you to anything to read. It seems like you’ve just set things up in your head so you don’t have to do any further research. This is what most new atheism does: it attacks the weakest stuff, and then claims it’s won the whole battle.

    If you are sincere about looking for legitimate theism to debate, you could consider Norman Malcolm, Elizabeth Anscombe, Peter Geach, Richard Swinburne, Peter Van Inwagen, and many others. If nothing else this will rid you of nonsense about all your opponents being simpletons.

    • Chet

      Well, the third option, which you omit, would be for you to actually do the hard work of presenting the “sophisticated, intellectual” case for the existence of God that you claim atheists are ignoring.

      It doesn’t take a “bumptious young barrister” to know that you’re not actually required to address the opposition’s strongest case; you’re simply obligated to address the strongest case the opposition is actually making. If “sophisticated, intellectual” theists are keeping all their best stuff under wraps, how can atheists be blamed for failing to address it?

      If you are sincere about looking for legitimate theism to debate, you could consider Norman Malcolm, Elizabeth Anscombe, Peter Geach, Richard Swinburne, Peter Van Inwagen, and many others.

      Oh, for God’s sake. More “theist to the left” reading assignments. And what am I to do when Norman Malcolm tells me that he believes on the basis of faith, but that Elizabeth Anscombe is who to go to if I want the sophisticated intellectual case for God? What am I to do when Elizabeth Anscombe says the same thing and points me to Peter Geach, who says the same thing and points me to Richard Swinburne, who says the same thing and points me to Peter Van Inwagen, who says the same thing and points me to Alvin Plantinga, who then says the same thing and points me back to you?

      You’re simply proving my point. Why should any atheist feel obligated to address a “sophisticated theism” that amounts to nothing more than pointing to some other theist who has the secret sophisticated case for the existence of God?

      • Tim

        So basically, Chet, your whole argument is that you don’t want to read anything. You make your lack of literacy about the whole debate into some kind of badge of honor, and construct the most elaborate arguments in order to justify it. It’s just boring even having to point this out to people like you, over and over again.

        • Chet

          No, that’s exactly wrong. I do very much want to read someone, like you, present the exact “sophisticated case” for the existence of God that you claim atheists are ignoring. But you and every other theist refuse to even entertain the notion of doing so.

          You’re simply trying to change the terms of debate from whose position is best-supported to who has the largest library, and its dishonest. Atheists are under no obligation to respond to cases that theists aren’t even making.

          And the reason for the shell game is simple – you know that your own reasons for belief in God are the same as any unsophisticated evangelical, you’re just ashamed to admit it, and you believe that invoking “Anscombe, Geach, Swinburne” like a mantra is sufficient to maintain your credentials as a reasonable person.

          • Tim

            After your homophobic comment below, I think I’m done talking with you.

          • Chet

            “Homophobic comment”? You quoted the film “Ghost World”, and I couldn’t resist the funny rejoinder. Did you not notice that it was quoted and linked to the film it was from?

            You’re just seizing on a flimsy excuse to poison the well and retreat. That’s fine, but don’t call it anything other than what it is or pretend I have some animus against homosexuals. Of course I don’t.

  • BABH

    because the anti-intellectual evangelicals are much more politically threatening than the Aquinas-reading theologians.

    Wow, no. Thomists (and Aristotelians in general) are THE enemies of liberal democracy. Anti-intellectual evangelicals are just clowns. Their educated authoritarian leaders (Protestant and Catholic) are a threat to civilization.

  • Joe

    Boring or not Christ won’t take the role of pacifist in any fight!!! His Charity cuts like a knife and it aims to conquer hearts as well as minds. Only wounded hearts bleed compassion for sinners.

  • deiseach

    Chet, I’ve just read an article that spent 99% of its entirety trying to put the case that free will does not exist, choice does not exist, there is no such thing as the “I”, criminals can’t help being criminals (but we can still use imprisonment as negativereinforcement, so that’s okay as regards the law!) then in the last few lines, said “With that under our belts, we can go about building a kinder world.”

    Never mind that he’s just got done arguing that the “I” is an illusion, so that “we” don’t in any meaningful sense exist, and “we” certainly can’t make any conscious choices because “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” – oh, sorry, mixing up my religious pre-destination and my determinism of physics there; of course it should be because we are “collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics”.

    Also, since we cannot make choices due to lack of freedom, there is no sense in defining categories such as right and wrong, or better and worse, so there’s no sense in trying to build a “kinder world” since we are incapable of deciding what “kinder” means and making the choices to bring about that kind of world. Not unless our molecular meat-computer programming by the laws of physics which must be obeyed inputs that we should generate the output of a kinder world, and we have no control over the input which was formulated back when the Big Bang happened and the “the regularity of those laws, which determine the behavior of every molecule in the universe” was set going.

    Now, this was the populist, dumbed-down, simple version. At least, that’s what I’m assuming, and that there is a more complicated, sophisticated argument that can be made here. Because if I were to be as dismissive of neurological science (or whatever Jerry Coyne is basing his argument upon) as you are regarding “all that so-called sophisticated theology is sophistry, it’s the simple version that counts”… well, let’s say I’d be going around denying evolution like my separated brethern of the Six-Literal-Days persuasion.

    • Chet

      You read it, but you certainly didn’t understand it.

      But observe the difference between Coyne’s article in USA Today and the Eagleton/Hart/Tim style of argumentation. Coyne’s article actually lays out the case against free will, presents the evidence, argues from it, and tries to anticipate as many objections as possible (including, strangely, all of the objections you’ve just made, yet you don’t respond for some reason). An article on the same subject written by Eagleton, Hart, or Tim would be nothing but a list of authors of whom ignorance of would be asserted to be disqualifying from the debate.

      I don’t expect you to agree with Coyne’s case, but at least he made the case.. Coyne didn’t simply chant “Harris, Mamonides, Conway” and expect you to do all the work of actually assembling the other side’s case. You can’t dismiss what has never been presented, and the only homework atheists are responsible for is their own. Theists either need to present the “sophisticated” case for theism or shut up about it.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

        Our point is that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Yes, the courtier’s reply is a wrong reply, but that’s an informal fallacy for a reason: We can make the case that he’s a specialist speaking out of specialty.

        And rather than introduce the pseudoproblem of induction to disprove your generalized attack against theist persons never responding with content, I’ll disprove it. (All it takes is one example to disprove the universality of a your proposed rule.)

        Not that I’d have to. I can pretty easily show that deiseach did not, in fact, say anything whatsoever like “Harris, Mamonides, Conway” to prove his point, nor did any other theist do anything like merely chant a list of names.

        • Chet

          How are you “disproving” it? You’ve not supplied content, just another reading assignment.

      • http://prodigalnomore.wordpress.com The Ubiquitous

        *theist here

      • deiseach

        “Coyne’s article actually lays out the case against free will, presents the evidence

        What evidence? What Professor Coyne did was say “We’re all made up of atoms”. Well, yes, even us nutjob religious types agree with that one. “Atoms move according to the laws of physics.” Yep, following you so far. “Physics means we don’t have free will.” Er – what? How did you get from A to Z there?

        What “evidence” he provided was “Neuroscience proves this!” How? From a study (I think just one study, he didn’t actually reference how many, by whom, or where) that shows a measurement of something happening in the brains of volunteers which may indicate that decisions are made before they come to the notice of the conscious mind.

        Or it may indicate that what is being measured is the anticipation of action, since the volunteers are wired up for an experiment asking them to randomly move something; could it possibly be that they are, oh, tensing their muscles in anticipation of the task, or rehearsing in their minds “Will I make the dot go left or right? It’s supposed to be random, right? Maybe I should make it go left first and then right”, or there is a reflex at work here.

        I’d like to see a bit more work on this before agreeing that no, there is no “I”, just a bunch of electrochemical signals zapping around at random in the brain material for purposes unknown, save to physical laws laid down at the emanation of the universe.

        Chet, you seem to be trying to eat your cake and have it. If there is a simple expression of faith such as “God is eternal”, that’s too simple. Prove it! Then when a more complex statement defining the terms and explaining how the reasoning comes about, that’s too complicated and is only a shell-game.

        No, you don’t have to read everybody. But when someone refers you to the classic work on the subject, or a book that explains in depth and in a better way what is involved, then you cannot object that you are not getting good answers. Jerry Coyne’s article was a short piece in a newspaper that was populist science for a mass audience unfamiliar with the topic. Do you really think he’d hand the same piece in to a peer-reviewed journal? Or would he write it up as a technical paper – and if you recommended that paper to me so that I could understand what he meant, would you accept me saying “Typical atheist shellgame, it’s the same reasons as written in the unsophisticated newspaper but you’re trying to foist a mantra of references to ‘Libet, Freeman, Sutherland’ on me to maintain your credentials as a reasonable person”?

        • Chet

          “Physics means we don’t have free will.” Er – what? How did you get from A to Z there?

          I don’t follow that it’s from A to Z, because it seems to me like it’s A to B – that “free will” has to mean that at least some of our choices are unconstrained (the “free” ones, specifically) but that physics means that all of our choices are fully constrained, and that therefore there can be no free will.

          Like I say, A to B. Your compatibilist position seems to be little more than asserting that you define “free will” such that it is not incompatible with determinism, but then not actually supplying that definition.

      • Daniel A. Duran

        “Coyne’s article actually lays out the case against free will, presents the evidence, argues from it, and tries to anticipate as many objections as possible…You can’t dismiss what has never been presented, and the only homework atheists are responsible for is their own.”

        I’ll put it bluntly; if you are impressed by Coyne’s sophomoric article then you’re as incompetent with philosophy as he is. I’ll just quote the first paragraph of his article:

        ‘ Perhaps you’ve chosen to read this essay after scanning other articles on this website. Or, if you’re in a hotel, maybe you’ve decided what to order for breakfast, or what clothes you’ll wear today.

        You haven’t.’

        Even if you’re determined to act a given way and lack libertarian free will you still choose to do these things. (bangs head against keyboard.)

        And that is just the start of Coyne’s messy article; he ought to stick to biology and leave philosophy alone.

        “Theists either need to present the “sophisticated” case for theism or shut up about it.”

        Well, if Coyne’s article is your idea of sophisticated, what that say about you? uh, oh.

        • Chet

          More of the same boring tripe. You don’t, of course, present anything by way of of what I’m supposed to consider “sophisticated”; I’m just supposed to take it as a given that my perspective isn’t sophisticated enough.

          How tiresome.

          • Daniel A. Duran

            “More of the same boring tripe. You don’t, of course, present anything by way of of what I’m supposed to consider “sophisticated”; I’m just supposed to take it as a given that my perspective isn’t sophisticated enough.”

            I did tell you: ‘I’ll put it bluntly; if you are impressed by Coyne’s sophomoric article then you’re as incompetent with philosophy as he is…. if Coyne’s article is your idea of sophisticated, what does that say about you?’

            Can’t you figure out by yourself that the above means that not taking in faith the advice of coyne will make you look more thoughtful? Or that studying about free-will from a reliable source will spare you embarrassment?

            If you cannot figure that out, chalk it up to your thoughtlessness or lack of sophistication.

            “How tiresome.”

            I agree, repeating myself and spelling out in tiresome detail what most people would grasp consciously or intuitively is both aggravating and tiresome.

          • Chet

            Can’t you figure out by yourself that the above means that not taking in faith the advice of coyne will make you look more thoughtful?

            Implied, here, is the notion that Coyne’s analysis is somehow substantially less philosophically sophisticated than the standard US News editorial, but again – you’ve not presented any argument to that effect, just told me what a dullard I am for endorsing it.

            Just like a theist, in other words, to substitute the invocation of “it’s so unsophisticated!” in lieu of any argument that it actually is.

            You want to talk about “intuition”? Then let’s talk about your own failure to intuit what a boring and pretentious ponce you’re being right now.

  • Daniel A. Duran

    “I won’t deny that the New Atheists are going after the intellectually easy targets, but that’s because the anti-intellectual evangelicals are much more politically threatening than the Aquinas-reading theologians. “

    Leah, tell it how it is; atheist by far and wide are incompetent when it comes to religion and that includes Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Coyne. I am amazed that you would try to defend the new-atheists as somehow choosing not to show their amazing intellectual skills for the sake of the common good.

  • Daniel A. Duran

    “More of the same boring tripe. You don’t, of course, present anything by way of of what I’m supposed to consider “sophisticated”; I’m just supposed to take it as a given that my perspective isn’t sophisticated enough.”

    I did tell you: ‘I’ll put it bluntly; if you are impressed by Coyne’s sophomoric article then you’re as incompetent with philosophy as he is…. if Coyne’s article is your idea of sophisticated, what does that say about you?’

    Can’t you figure out by yourself that the above means that not taking in faith the advice of coyne will make you look more thoughtful? Or that studying about free-will from a reliable source will spare you embarrassment?

    If you cannot figure that out, chalk it up to your thoughtlessness or lack of sophistication.

    “How tiresome.”

    I agree, repeating myself and spelling out in tiresome detail what most people would grasp immediately is both aggravating and tiresome.

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