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An Agnostic’s Assessment Of New Atheist Attitudes

john-humphrys

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens—these are the posterboys for what some have called the “New Atheists”.

What’s new about the New Atheists? In his book, Gunning For God, Oxford mathematician John Lennox says it’s their tone and emphasis.

The tone of today’s New Atheists is one of intensity and aggression. They are not out to merely inform. They are out to convert—to de-vangelize. In the The God Delusion, Dawkins admits:

“If this book works as I intend, religious leaders who open it will be atheists when they put it down.” (p. 28)

The fearless polemicist, Christopher Hitchens, visited the University of Toronto in 2006 and—to the roaring applause of the crowd—he rallied his troops with these words:

“I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right.”

In Letters To A Young Contrarian, Hitchens writes:

“I’m not even an atheist so much as I’m an antitheist”.

These words reflect precisely the intention and emphasis of the New Atheists and their disciples: to put an end to religion, or as Sam Harris has put it:

“To destroy the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.” (Letter To A Christian Nation, p.ix)

But the New Atheists are not the only atheists out there today. Indeed some modern atheists object rather strongly to the tact of their counterparts. Atheist Paul Kurtz, founder of the The Center For Inquiry (a secular humanist organization), is cited as giving the new atheists the following assessment:

“I consider them atheist fundamentalists,” he says. “They’re anti-religious, and they’re mean-spirited, unfortunately. Now, they’re very good atheists and very dedicated people who do not believe in God. But you have this aggressive and militant phase of atheism, and that does more damage than good.” (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, “A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists”)

Another skeptic who has given a critical assessment of the “anti-theist” division of popular atheists, is BBC Radio personality, John Humphrys, an agnostic. Here is how he responds to seven common New Atheist attitudes in his book, In God We Doubt (I have reconfigured the statement/response format for easier reading):

1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, they’re not as clever as atheists.

To which Humphreys responds:

“This is so clearly untrue it’s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his best selling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a “study” by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Somebelievers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but I’ve met one or two atheists I wouldn’t trust tochange a light-bulb.”

2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.

To which Humphrys responds:

“Don’t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesn’t prove anything about either.”

3. They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.

To which Humphrys responds:

“Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards.”

4. They have been brainwashed into believing. There is no such thing as a “Christian child”, for instance—just a child whose parents have had her baptised.

To which Humphrys responds:

“True, and many children reject it when they get older. But many others stay with it.”

5. They have been bullied into believing.

To which Humphrys responds:

“This is also true in many cases but you can’t actually bully someone into believing—just into pretending to believe.”

6. If we don’t wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.

To which Humphrys responds:

“Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we’ve survived monotheist religion for 4, 000 years or so, and  I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.”

7. Trust me: I’m an atheist.

To which Humphrys responds:

“Why?”

He adds:
“I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with a little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.”
 
 
(Image credit: Wales Online)

Matt Nelson

Written by

Matt holds a B.Ed from the University of Regina and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto, Canada. After several years of skepticism, he returned to the Catholic Church in 2010. Now alongside his chiropractic practice, Matt is a speaker and writer for FaceToFace Ministries and Religious Education Coordinator at Christ the King Parish. He currently resides in Shaunavon, SK, with his wife, Amanda, and their daughter, Anna. Follow Matt through his blog at ReasonableCatholic.com.

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  • Lazarus

    Just as an aside, I think it's also time that we update the list of "militant atheists". Read some Michael Sherlock, Wenke, CJ Werleman, Brucker. Now that is "militant". Of course they hardly sell the same number of books, or draw the same level of attention, but that's a different story.

  • Peter

    There is a difference between atheists and atheist fundamentalists. Atheists see no reason to believe in a God, while atheist fundamentalists have arisen in order to counter the growing tide of Christian fundamentalism.

    One feature of Christian fundamentalism is its opposition to the Catholic Church in matters concerning creation. Insofar as fundamentalist atheists are able to refute the arguments of Christian fundamentalists, they are in some way doing the Church a favour.

    • Galorgan

      I don't know if the term "fundamentalist" literally applies, but I do see value in what you're saying.

    • Mike

      you mean debunking creationism?

      • Peter

        The fundamentalist notion of it.

        • Mike

          what's the non-fundie notion of it?

          • Peter

            That God created the world but not in the way Christian fundamentalists believe.

          • Mike

            ppl get so hung on the how of life that they lose sight of all the rest!

          • Adrian Johnson

            Observation: I've known lots of geologists (mostly in the oil industry) and many are Christians, several Catholics. I once had a conversation over a beer with a couple of them about geology and Creationists-- the guys had a good-natured smile about the Fundys, and the general consensus for the scarcity of Fundy geologists is that the geologic record is just so "in your face" you have to believe what you see.
            --Although even seeing is not believing, if you're close-minded and afraid to leave the world-view of your ignorance.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      There is a difference between atheists and atheist fundamentalists. Atheists see no reason to believe in a God, while atheist fundamentalists have arisen in order to counter the growing tide of Christian fundamentalism.

      What exactly is an atheist fundamentalist?

      • Peter

        One whose raison d'être is to debunk fundamentalist creationism.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Name one such atheist.

          • Peter

            Dawkins, of course. Without fundamentalist creationism to debunk with his books on evolution, the man would be nowhere.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That is a really odd way to define atheist fundamentalism. It does not really have much to do with what we ordinarily mean when we say someone is a fundamentalist. It is really quite an equivocation to use the world so misleadingly.

            However, Dawkins was somewhat successful academically before he ever wrote a book debunking evolution.

          • Peter

            The theme running through his most popular books is Darwinian evolution versus literal creationism, particularly new-earth creationism. He saw the rise of the creationist movement and used his knowledge and position to debunk it in a series of books. His academic success became commercial success.

            His fundamentalism arises from conflating the refutation of creationism with the refutation of religion. Inasmuch as he associates religion with literal creationism, it is he rather than those he ridicules who is the fundamentalist.

          • Adrian Johnson

            Remember Madeline Murray O'Hare? I'd call her the poster-girl for Atheist fundamentalism. She was a rabid anti-Theist.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            According to Peter, an atheist fundamentalist is someone who is mainly concerned with debunking creationism. While I think this is a misleading definition, under it, O'Hare is not a fundamentalist. She became famous for contesting compulsory bible reading and prayer in public schools.

          • Lazarus

            John Loftus

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Not really familiar with him, but after glancing at his blog, debunking creationism does not seem to be his first and foremost concern.

          • Lazarus

            He focuses a lot of his articles on that. Ken Ham is one of his favorite targets.

  • Galorgan

    “Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards.”

    Ok, let's count them.

    “I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with a little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.”

    I mean, Ok fine, I guess that's fair. But if the "New Atheist" arguments are so poor, why would you need to?

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with a little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.

    So the fact that these atheists do a sloppy job gives you license to do a sloppy job as well? That is an extremely poor excuse and I am surprised to see it here on Strange Notions, which usually aims for serious dialogue.

    • Galorgan

      I'd also have to question if the "New Atheists" (let's always remember this a term not coined or even liked by them) actually did oversimplify views. They certainly did pick the most simple views to argue against, but did they specifically misattribute those views to anybody specifically (could be, I honestly don't remember)? Here, Humphreys is basically admitting that he is doing so.

      As a quick example, in The God Delusion, Dawkins argues against the Junkyard Tornado 747 idea. Just yesterday I saw a video of Presidential Hopeful (second in the polls) and famed Neurosurgeon Ben Carson use that argument sincerely in refuting the Big Bang. He also said that Darwin was influenced by "The Adversary" when coming up with the theory of evolution.

      • ClayJames

        I'd also have to question if the "New Atheists" (let's always remember
        this a term not coined or even liked by them) actually did oversimplify
        views. They certainly did pick the most simple views to argue against,
        but did they specifically misattribute those views to anybody
        specifically (could be, I honestly don't remember)?

        The answer is a resounding YES. I would even go a step further in saying that they are oversimplifying views is being quiet charitable. A lot of the time, they are outright distorting them.There are many examples to chose from, let me give you one:

        The new atheists truly believe that when it comes to Judeo-Christian religions, there is an inverse relationship between scientific discovery and and religious fundamentalism. In other words, as we begin to explain the world through science, there is less need for religion, because after all, that is why most people believe in god, in order to explain things. This is why people were religious in the 1,800 years of Christianity before the emergence of the formal sciences, because they had no other explanation for what they perceived. The problem is that this completly flies in the face of the history of these faiths and the fact that fundamentalism is a fairly modern trend within these religions. These ¨thinkers¨ do not even have the slightest understanding of the history of religion.

        I could write a book about examples such as this one. I could take about their views on religious inspire violence, prayer, child indoctrination, morality (Sam Harriss book is a joke), miracles, etc. Once again, I think saying this is simply an oversimplification is way too charitable. Most of these guys lack basic philosophical knowledge to even get off the ground.

        • Galorgan

          Ok cool, you're probably right, but could you give me a specific example of either: 1. where they are arguing against or criticizing a belief that doesn't actually occur or 2. where they misappropriate a belief to a group of people (saying all Christians are young earth creationists or something of that sort)?

          • Adrian Johnson

            I can give an example of 1):
            "Catholics worship statues" ; "Catholics adore the Virgin Mary" ; Catholics believe the Pope is "infallible about "everything"; "Annullments are just "Catholic Divorce" : "Catholics don't believe in evolution." --- I get so tired of this.

          • Galorgan

            When did Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens say (one of) these things?

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          I sort of agree with you. Their critiques seem to focus on a very fundamentalist strain of religion. Which is real, so I don't know that they are misrepresenting that view... but they seem to gloss over other forms of Christianity and dismiss it all based on the fundamentalists.

          • ClayJames

            No, they are using a fundamentalist strain of religion and assuming that this strain represents the first 1,800 of Christianity and that now, liberal Christians, are this way because they have had to denounce their prior fundamentalist beliefs because of science.

            This is absolutely false.

            This would be the equivalent of me saying that all atheist believe that it is a mother´s moral responsibility to abort their fetus if it has down syndrome. Just because some atheists believe that (like Dawkins), does not mean I am suddently off the hook.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I agree. They criticize fundamentalists, which is fine. But they assume it represents a much broader part of faith, which is not fine. Not gonna let them off the hook for that one.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            No, they are using a fundamentalist strain of religion and assuming that this strain represents the first 1,800 of Christianity and that now, liberal Christians, are this way because they have had to denounce their prior fundamentalist beliefs because of science.

            That is not the claim. The claim is that things that used to be explained supernaturally are now explained naturally. For instance, epilepsy is not demonic possession, and the Black Plague was caused by germs on rats and not God's anger. We also would not think that 9/11 was not God's punishment for homosexuality and abortion

          • Galorgan

            How explicitly do they do this? It's been forever since I've read any of them, but what I remember being a key idea of theirs is that fundamentalist religion is bad, and moderate religion isn't as bad, but gives fundamentalist religion shelter by validating the overall idea of faith/religion.

            Now of course, I can think of a very specific example of what you and Clay are talking about: Bill Maher with the end of Religulous. It's exactly what you are talking about and incredibly stupid. He also got the Richard Dawkins award for that movie, so that's certainly counts. However, I can't remember anything from the three mentioned here specifically, where they oversimplified the views or explicitly stated that it applied to all Christians. As I said, it's been a while, though.

          • ClayJames

            So when they say that religion is a crime agaist childhood or that it is a mental illness, should we take this to mean that they are talking about all religion (like they seem to be doing) or some religion?

          • Galorgan

            I think "they" are in the wrong here (also did they all say that or just Dawkins?) and either oversimplifying the problem or talking about some religions without being careful enough to explain that its not all religion.

            However, this is oversimplifying their own point of view, if anything. Humphreys said that they oversimplify the views of believers* and used that as an excuse to do the same. If he oversimplified or overstated the dangers of atheism and then said he won't apologize because they do the same, it would be a valid point.

            Also, I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just looking for an example when they've (at least one of the three mentioned here) done so.

            Edit: Changed religion to believers.

          • ClayJames

            To say that religion is a mental illness, you need way more than oversimplification, you need to have a skewed, illinformed, unsophisticated and uneducated view of religion. This is no different than saying that all atheists are bad people because they do not believe in god.

            I gave you a couple of examples and there are many many more. I guess I just don´t know exactly what you are looking for.

            I don´t really care about Humphrey´s views in this piece since I too find his ¨you hit me first¨ mentality a little childish.

          • Galorgan

            I disagree with a lot that Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens say, including Dawkins saying that religion is a mental illness (only just discovered this thanks to you).

            My point only has to do with Humphreys' idea that they oversimplified the actual beliefs of people, or that they misapplied the beliefs of people, which is what he did here.

            Yes, I agree, even if he's correct it's still childish and I'd say hypocritical. If it's "ok" to oversimplify a persons beliefs because they oversimplify somebody else's beliefs (assuming he's right), then doing so by the "New Atheists" was ok in the first place because there are some Christians who do this to atheists. However, if it's an improper practice, then it's an improper practice.

            As an aside, does my icon look like a G rotated 90 degrees? I didn't change anything from the default, but I'm seeing this. Weird.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Yea your icon is a rotated G.

            It might be that the image file you used has a metadata entry telling it to display it rotated (this is commonly used in photos to rotate pictures that were taken with the camera sideways.) Unfortunately, not all porgrams recognize that entry.

            Try to open your picture in MS paint... rotate it within paint and resave.

          • Galorgan

            No I didn't upload anything haha! I didn't try to change my profile picture form the default one at all. So weird.

          • Michael Murray

            It's the Gravatar default I think. Have you ever used them ? I think it was (maybe still is) the way the Dawkins site set avatars.

            http://en.gravatar.com

            EDIT: Just checked and Disqus support Gravatar. So maybe something in your Disqus profile got corrupted and it's pulling in the Gravatar icon.

          • Galorgan

            I've never heard of Gravatar, but that does seem to be the picture. I also don't think I've ever posted on Dawkins' website.

          • Adrian Johnson

            It looks like the "on / off" power button on a TV remote.
            (Is somebody pushing your button ? ;-)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            To say that religion is a mental illness, you need way more than oversimplification, you need to have a skewed, illinformed, unsophisticated and uneducated view of religion.

            However, it is certainly the case than some mentally ill people have religious delusions. Religion can be a vehicle for mental illness.

          • ClayJames

            This is a nonsensical comment. So what? Mentally ill people have all sorts of delusions.

          • Adrian Johnson

            I've even known some mentally ill scientists. Their mental illness didn't affect the quality of their work, even if it made their personal lives shambolic. Just because some believers are mentally ill says nothing about the nature of religion itself.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Religion encourages those delusions.

          • ClayJames

            That is just stupid. Sorry for the strong language, there is no other way to put it.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Only:

            Religion can act as both a risk and protective factor as it interacts with the schizophrenia symptoms of hallucination and delusions. Cultural influences tend to confound the association of religion and schizophrenia. Adherence to treatment has a mixed association with religiosity.

            In some people religion is a risk factor and in other people it helps them cope with the illness.

            http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0920996410016348
            If someone has the delusion that the devil is oppressing them, they are not helped by exorcisms or prayers. And they are certainly not helped by religious leaders who think such oppressions are real.

          • 3All

            If it helps them cope, isn't that aspect of religion good? On exorcism, I have not really heard or seen one. I read/watched (a lot) of news about teenagers who were reportedly "possessed" but were not entertained by priests and instead referred those cases to psychiatrists. However, I do not think that such would be the case if it was handled by a fundamentalist christian which is a very small minority (priests from our country tend to be liberal christians).

          • Doug Shaver

            If it helps them cope, isn't that aspect of religion good?

            I spent several years coping with my problems by getting drunk every night.

          • 3All

            Good for you. On the other hand, watching sitcoms and reading helps me cope with my problems. So I guess that's as bad as alcoholism too.

          • Doug Shaver

            Some way of coping are good, some are not.

          • Zachary Bower

            The problem is that all of your examples boil down to simply asserting that the critic is ignorant, without really proving the criticism wrong. So while I don't agree with "hurr durr religion is a mental illness," I don't think that's even remotely a good argument against it. Actually, it's kind of the SAME argument. "You don't agree with me, therefore you're mentally deficient in some way."

            For the record, I disagree with the argument because it glosses over the difficult question of how exactly we determine "healthy" mental functioning, assumes that mental illness & irrationality are the same thing, & ignores the potentially dangerous precedent of labeling different beliefs as "insane," something which has ironically been done with atheists in the past.

          • ClayJames

            No, I can give example of idiotic beliefs without having to show why those beliefs are false because invalidating them is not what I was trying to do, specifically because some of these are so ignorant that they invalidate themselves . And yes, I can criticize these examples of ignorance without arguing against them in the same way that I can criticize young earth creationism without showing why it is wrong. If you really don't understand why some of these are ignorant, I would be glad to explain it to you.

          • Zachary Bower

            I'm not going to assume your reasoning is a fact that I need to be taught before I even hear what it is.

          • ClayJames

            Are you really asking me to explain why it is wrong to say that religion is a crime against childhood or that a mother is morally obligated to abort a fetus with down syndrome?

            You are doing the equivalent of calling someone out because they claimed the earth is not flat without proving it.

          • Zachary Bower

            No, I made no comment on either of those examples, & you know it. That's sort of part of the problem, you're clumping all of these different claims together, & acting like if I don't immediately accept every single 1 of them, it's equivalent to believing the earth is flat. But what does Dawkins even MEAN when he says "crime against childhood"? What about the fact that the church DOES have a fairly dubious relationship with science?

            Also, in some contexts, I would call out someone for not supporting their belief that the earth is round. It contributes to the belief that it's just something people believe because they were told, & encourages the argument from incredulity.

          • ClayJames

            Also, in some contexts, I would call out someone for not supporting their belief that the earth is round. It contributes to the belief that it's just something people believe because they were told, & encourages the argument from incredulity.

            That is silly and I would not call someone out for claiming that the earth is round because it is very obvious to me why that is the case. I don't have to ask "why" after every question like a child if I know why these things are the case. It also saves a lot of time and energy focusing on the important things. If you believe that I misrepresented some of these views, by all means explain. If you really do not know why these views are ignorant, then we should just leave it at that, I really do not feel like stating the obvious.

          • Zachary Bower

            If they're just talking about it with me or other skeptics, it's 1 thing. If they're arguing against flat earth "theory," then no, they shouldn't be appealing to common sense. That's precisely what they're trying to get the flatties to STOP doing.

            I don't need justification to not accept your opinions, but I guess if you're fine with me thinking this is a "not agreeing with me is stupid" thing, I can live with you thinking I'm ignorant.

        • I'm not sure I understand your criticism here about religious fundamentalism and scientific discovery. Perhaps you can elaborate. Yes, I know many atheists criticize fundamentalism in the present because it presents the largest obstacle to scientific literacy, but this does not mean that impeding science is restricted to only fundamentalist versions of religion. I don't think I've heard that claim being made.

          I'm also interested in why, specifically, you find Harris's book on morality such a joke. I understand that his position is in conflict with religious understandings of morality, but I think he makes his case rather well.

    • Alexandra

      Who do you mean by "you" in "gives you license"? It was the agnostic who made the statement. The OP is presenting various athiest points of view only.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Yes, I do mean Humphrys the agnostic. He seems to not care if he is oversimplifying the atheist's views. This is no way to do a serious critique.

        • Alexandra

          Thank you. I agree with your critique of Humphries, in part, but don't understand your basis for criticising SN. I think it good to present various points of view, and in this case that it is all athiests. I don't think it detracts from serious dialogue, in fact I think it's an interesting twist.

          Edit: added words

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            The atheist view presented are, as admitted by Humphrys, oversimplified and probably do not accurately reflect those actual atheist's views. I would think that SN would not want to publish oversimplified and inaccurate views. Doing so is just unfair.

    • Is there zero time and place for responding in kind, to give the other person/​group a taste of his/​her/​their own medicine? Sometimes people don't realize when they're doing 'the bad thing' to others, but do realize when 'the bad thing' is done to them. I would suggest this as the only strategy to employ, but it seems to have its place, as does satire and other genres.

      It is my observation that an carefully reasoned response to stuff like god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is not always the most effective response. For example, it might get one labeled a "Sophisticated Theist". People who revel in witticisms frequently mock and disparage attempts to raise the level of conversation. One promising way to deal with such people—and given the sales of the new atheist books, there seem to be a lot of them—is to begrudgingly respond in kind.

      If you have a better way, I'm all ears. If it's just an appeal to personal experience that's fine (I have provided nothing better), but if you have more than just personal experience, I'd be interested to see it.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Is there zero time and place for responding in kind, to give the other person/​group a taste of his/​her/​their own medicine? Sometimes people don't realize when they're doing 'the bad thing' to others, but do realize when 'the bad thing' is done to them. I would suggest this as the only strategy to employ, but it seems to have its place, as does satire and other genres.

        When Christians polemicists are witty and thought provoking like Hitchens we will be amused by their ridicule. This article is by no means giving atheists back whatever it is you think they do to Christians, because amidst the justified ridicule they heap upon the fundamentalists and those who thought Katrina and 9/11 were God's punishments for homosexuality they also gave substantial criticisms of theism in general. Their controversial claim, which they usually defend quite well is that religion will always by its nature cause some sort of fundamentalism.

        While apologists and these agnostics may think they are being delightfully just when they ride on their high horses and give atheists a taste of their own medicine, in reality they are just being trite, boring, and tedious.

        It is my observation that an carefully reasoned response to stuff like god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is not always the most effective response.

        You are short-changing Hitchens here.

        For example, it might get one labeled a "Sophisticated Theist". People who revel in witticisms frequently mock and disparage attempts to raise the level of conversation.

        I first came across the term "sophisticated theist," when I was told here on SN that often atheists were atheists because they had rejected an unsophisticated theism that was taught to them in their youth. I have been told quite a few times that I left Catholicism because I did not understand her sophisticated theology. If apologists are going to use arguments like this than they should expect ridicule. It is what happens when you make silly arguments.

        One promising way to deal with such people—and given the sales of the new atheist books, there seem to be a lot of them—is to begrudgingly respond in kind.

        Any suggestions? I for one must say apologists are not doing a very good job of responding in kind.

        • When Christians polemicists are witty and thought provoking like Hitchens we will be amused by their ridicule.

          A non-Christian, David Berlinski, seemed pretty witty and thought-provoking with his The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. However, it had a fatal flaw: he actually gave some credibility to intelligent design (which Thomas Nagel also did in Mind and Cosmos); this is an unforgivable sin among just about every atheist I've encountered on the internet. Anyhow, I'm not sure how much amusement actually resulted, which begins to put your claim in question. In my experience, internet atheists prefer laughing at others much more than laughing at themselves. Then again, many humans do.

          This article is by no means giving atheists back whatever it is you think they do to Christians, because amidst the justified ridicule they heap upon the fundamentalists and those who thought Katrina and 9/11 were God's punishments for homosexuality they also gave substantial criticisms of theism in general.

          But any valid things that Dawkins et al did would not qualify as 'the bad thing', and thus wouldn't be targeted by my comment. I've never said there is nothing valid in The God Delusion and other New Atheist literature. Any such validity does not excuse the oversimplification they have done.

          Their controversial claim, which they usually defend quite well is that religion will always by its nature cause some sort of fundamentalism.

          Where do you think this is best defended? I'm also curious as to whether they assert that one gets less fundamentalism without religion. I have never, ever, seen the claim defended with evidence, that "if you remove religion, then statistically, people become better". I've seen a lot of correlation that wasn't causation. But I've never seen anything that would get even close to "defend quite well". I have challenged many atheists to provide such a defense; I will ask you to do so as well, if you hold to the possibly stronger version of the claim. (This "controversial claim" is quite boring if atheists have their own characteristic failings which cause as much damage as fundamentalism in religion.) By the way, I care only what has actually supplanted 'religion', not mythological stories about what will happen when 'religion' is removed.

          You are short-changing Hitchens here.

          You're welcome to provide examples of Hitchens taking well-reasoned criticism of his book and responding in a way that would make a truly critical thinker proud. That being said, I was talking more about the masses of internet atheists with whom I interact. Suppose that Hitchens is really the paradigm of critical thinking: if he did not effectively spread it into the population at large, our democratic nature would seem to greatly dilute his supposed righteousness.

          I first came across the term "sophisticated theist," when I was told here on SN that often atheists were atheists because they had rejected an unsophisticated theism that was taught to them in their youth. I have been told quite a few times that I left Catholicism because I did not understand her sophisticated theology. If apologists are going to use arguments like this than they should expect ridicule. It is what happens when you make silly arguments.

          Do you have empirical evidence that such ridicule is the maximally best known strategy for truth-seeking in such circumstances? After all, you are a self-professed skeptic who alleges to only believe things based on the evidence, excepting perhaps an alleged very small set of uncontroversial foundational axioms.

          Any suggestions? I for one must say apologists are not doing a very good job of responding in kind.

          Other than Berlinski's book, no. I don't read apologetics books these days, nor their atheist counterparts. Both are exceedingly boring IMO. I'm mostly stuck reading rather dry academic literature (such as Theism and Explanation and Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles); it seems that humor and erudition are not a common combination.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            A non-Christian, David Berlinski, seemed pretty witty and thought-provoking with his The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions

            Haven't read it, so I can't comment.

            Anyhow, I'm not sure how much amusement actually resulted, which begins to put your claim in question. In my experience, internet atheists prefer laughing at others much more than laughing at themselves. Then again, many humans do.

            Perhaps some do. Personally, I don't mind if someone satirizes my position. I just don't think Christians have done a very good job of it lately.

            But any valid things that Dawkins et al did would not qualify as 'the bad thing', and thus wouldn't be targeted by my comment. I've never said there is nothing valid in The God Delusion and other New Atheist literature. Any such validity does not excuse the oversimplification they have done.

            By oversimplification, do you mean that they overgeneralize? (I.E. rightfully criticize certain aspects of some Christianity and then claim all Christianity is like that?) Or is it something different?

            Where do you think this is best defended?

            I would have to look around for the Hitchens video. I actually haven't read any of the four horseman's books on atheism. I have read a lot of Hitchens, but I have not read God is not Great. My impression of the four horseman is largely from debates and talks that I have seen on youtube. Perhaps if I read their books, I would have a different impression.

            I'm also curious as to whether they assert that one gets less fundamentalism without religion. I have never, ever, seen the claim defended with evidence, that "if you remove religion, then statistically, people become better". I've seen a lot of correlation that wasn't causation. But I've never seen anything that would get even close to "defend quite well". I have challenged many atheists to provide such a defense; I will ask you to do so as well, if you hold to the possibly stronger version of the claim.

            I'm sure that they would hold that you get less fundamentalism without religion, but people will still find ideologies to fundamentalize whether it is a political party or the state.

            Regarding the morality of atheists, I would point out that atheists are 0.07% of the prison population. I do not think religion universally makes people better. I am not even sure that religion usually makes people better. I can think of numerous historical and present day examples when religious beliefs have been the cause of unhappiness. Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. - Voltaire

            You're welcome to provide examples of Hitchens taking well-reasoned criticism of his book and responding in a way that would make a truly critical thinker proud.

            I am not aware of any well-reasoned criticism of his book. Not that I have looked for it. What I meant though is that Hitchens articulates certain arguments, such as Poor Design arguments very well. These are arguments that are problematic for anyone who holds to Christianity, not just the fundamentalists.

            That being said, I was talking more about the masses of internet atheists with whom I interact.

            Are we really that bad? I see some crazies in the youtube comments, but most atheists that I have seen in disqus blogs are fairly reasonable. I would point out, that Christians have been poisoning the well long before Dawkins et al were even born, with their threats of hell and accusations of immorality.

            Do you have empirical evidence that such ridicule is the maximally best known strategy for truth-seeking in such circumstances?

            I did not claim that it was. What I said was that if you are going to open yourself up to ridicule by making arguments that are silly, you should be prepared for the ridicule that follows. I think we can have reasoned arguments and ridicule at the same time.

            Other than Berlinski's book, no. I don't read apologetics books these days, nor their atheist counterparts. Both are exceedingly boring IMO. I'm mostly stuck reading rather dry academic literature (such as Theism and Explanation and Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles); it seems that humor and erudition are not a common combination.

            It seems we have something in common. Although, I usually read literature more than I read any non-fiction.

          • I just don't think Christians have done a very good job of it lately.

            Something tells me that you are more biased toward seeing New Atheist writing, or at least lecturing/​debating, as humorous, then Christians are.

            By oversimplification, do you mean that they overgeneralize? (I.E. rightfully criticize certain aspects of some Christianity and then claim all Christianity is like that?) Or is it something different?

            I tried to mean whatever Humphrys means. There are multiple kinds of oversimplification and they're all bad. Someone who claims to use scientific credentials should be scientific. In an interview with The Atlantic, Lawrence Krauss said, "If you're writing for the public, the one thing you can't do is overstate your claim, because people are going to believe you." Now he goes on to do precisely that with the title of A Universe from Nothing, but there is this: hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue.

            I would have to look around for the Hitchens video.

            Well, I would love to see the claim "religion will always by its nature cause some sort of fundamentalism" defended, especially in the sense that subtracting religion results in less fundamentalism, where 'fundamentalism' is understood by the kinds of effects produced, not as a strictly religious thing. (If you want to see how a word has been illegitimately defined or not defined at all, see William T. Cavanaugh's The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.)

            I'm sure that they would hold that you get less fundamentalism without religion, but people will still find ideologies to fundamentalize whether it is a political party or the state.

            If the result of subtracting religion isn't better, via some reasonable totalistic metric, that would seem to be a problem.

            Regarding the morality of atheists, I would point out that atheists are 0.07% of the prison population.

            (A) I'm not sure that number is trustworthy. Is there a peer-reviewed source? (B) Atheists tend to come from better socioeconomic situations, which itself is correlated with lower per capita prison presence.

            Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. - Voltaire

            This is nigh meaningless, because what is considered 'absurd' will be hugely influenced via the accident of birth; see the term plausibility structure. Shall we go through the science that at one time was considered 'absurd'?

            I am not aware of any well-reasoned criticism of his book. Not that I have looked for it.

            I'm not really sure what you mean by "You are short-changing Hitchens here.", then. An excellent test of a person is to see how his ideas stand up under cross examination, and how he comports himself during the cross examination. While in-person repartee can be fun (of the kind you see in debate), there is also a gap which is only filled by the more carefully reasoned version that one finds in print.

            Are we really that bad?

            My standards are quite high; I don't think "fairly reasonable" is sufficient. I don't think moral mediocrity is sufficient. When an atheist claims to always reason based on the evidence, I expect his/her words to be rendered true, not false. Why? Because precisely that reasoning is used to dismiss interpretive stances suggested by the Bible. And yet, if the atheist actually is employing an interpretive stance that is no less inferable from the evidence, then his/her argument can easily be flat wrong. It is my experience that it takes considerable effort, considerable diligence, to tease these things out.

            I would point out, that Christians have been poisoning the well long before Dawkins et al were even born, with their threats of hell and accusations of immorality.

            Jesus predicted antichrists for a long time, so I'm not at all surprised at whatever poisoning of the well they may have done. (I do not accept your specific criticism here, definitely not in full.) What many Christians have said, throughout time, is that this behavior wasn't determined, that individuals are culpable for it because they could have chosen otherwise. The excuse of "he made me do it!" is laughed at. The excuse of "circumstances made me do it!" is likewise laughed at.

            What I said was that if you are going to open yourself up to ridicule by making arguments that are silly, you should be prepared for the ridicule that follows.

            But what establishes that I am ever properly "open... to ridicule"? What rational principle, what truth-seeking principle establishes this? What evidence-based reasoning establishes this? If you have no answers that is fine, but you would have just admitted that sometimes, truth-seeking, rationality, and the evidence aren't what guide you.

            It seems we have something in common. Although, I usually read literature more than I read any non-fiction.

            If you're René Girard, you can find scientifically valid things by examining great literature.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Something tells me that you are more biased toward seeing New Atheist
            writing, or at least lecturing/​debating, as humorous, then Christians
            are.

            I think I am in general more disposed towards finding things humorous (look at my name and avatar). Life has challenges enough without trying to find the amusement in it. I do remember a South Park episode that brutally satirized Dawkins and the idea that free thinking and peace would reign on earth once religion was gone. Personally, I thought it was hilarious.

            I tried to mean whatever Humphrys means.

            I don't think Humphrys made a very good defense of anything. I think it would be best to leave him aside.

            Someone who claims to use scientific credentials should be scientific. In an interview with The Atlantic,
            Lawrence Krauss said, "If you're writing for the public, the one thing
            you can't do is overstate your claim, because people are going to
            believe you." Now he goes on to do precisely that with the title of A Universe from Nothing, but there is this: hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue.

            I haven't read the book, but I'm sure anyone who does read the book will have it clarified exactly what Krauss means by nothing.

            Well, I would love to see the claim "religion will always by its nature cause some sort of fundamentalism"
            defended, especially in the sense that subtracting religion results in less fundamentalism, where 'fundamentalism' is understood by the kinds of effects produced, not as a strictly religious thing.

            I do think religion will always have fundamentalist adherents. I would bet that we would still have fundamentalism without religion, but it would be from causes like environmentalism, nation-states, and politics. Whether or not it would be less is something that would be very difficult to know. I'm not sure how we would start trying to figure it out.

            If the result of subtracting religion isn't better, via some reasonable totalistic metric, that would seem to be a problem.

            The propositions that we believe are true would be evidenced better.

            (A) I'm not sure that number is trustworthy. Is there a peer-reviewed
            source? (B) Atheists tend to come from better socioeconomic situations,
            which itself is correlated with lower per capita prison presence.

            Fair enough.

            This is nigh meaningless, because what is considered 'absurd' will be hugely influenced via the accident of birth; see the term plausibility structure. Shall we go through the science that at one time was considered 'absurd'?

            An absurdity is something contrary to existing evidence.

            I'm not really sure what you mean by "You are short-changing Hitchens here.", then.

            I think some of his arguments a very strong and address all of Christianity not just the fundamentalist stripe.

            My standards are quite high; I don't think "fairly reasonable" is sufficient. I don't think moral mediocrity is sufficient. When an atheist claims to always reason based on the evidence, I expect his/her words to be rendered true, not false.

            Just because an atheist tries to reason based on the evidence does not mean that the atheist will always succeed. I think a true test honesty and critical thinking is whether or not an atheist will reconsider a position not reasoned on the evidence.

            Because precisely that reasoning is used to dismiss interpretive stances suggested by the Bible. And yet, if the atheist actually is employing an interpretive stance that is no less inferable from the evidence, then his/her argument can easily be flat wrong. It is my experience that it takes considerable effort, considerable diligence, to tease these thingsout.

            could you give me an example of an interpretive stance?

            The excuse of "circumstances made me do it!" is likewise laughed at.

            Sociology has something to say about this.

            But what establishes that I am ever properly "open... to ridicule"? What rational principle, what truth-seeking principle establishes this? What evidence-based reasoning establishes this?

            People who say absurd things tend to get ridiculed. This has been observed throughout western societies. If you have the temerity to claim that those who reject Christianity must have rejected unsophisticated theism, than yes you are going to be ridiculed and called a sophisticated theist. It is what humans do.

          • I don't think Humphrys made a very good defense of anything. I think it would be best to leave him aside.

            Then we can leave my point of 'oversimplification' aside. The only place to really go from here is to compare concrete specific to concrete specific. It's not clear that we are up for that level of investigation, especially since you haven't read any of the four books. (I've read The God Delusion and glanced at god is not Great.)

            I haven't read the book, but I'm sure anyone who does read the book will have it clarified exactly what Krauss means by nothing.

            False advertising remains false advertising. Krauss is not outlining how one gets creatio ex nihilo and yet that is precisely what he advertises.

            I do think religion will always have fundamentalist adherents. I would bet that we would still have fundamentalism without religion, but it would be from causes like environmentalism, nation-states, and politics. Whether or not it would be less is something that would be very difficult to know. I'm not sure how we would start trying to figure it out.

            If there is absolutely zero empirical evidence that a decrease in religious belief would lead to a decrease in fundamentalist activity, then it seems utterly foolish to target all religious belief. Furthermore, the New Atheists certainly project the aura that "less religion" = "good thing". Are they arguing this without evidence from one side of their mouths, while arguing that one should only believe things based on the evidence out of the other side?!

            The propositions that we believe are true would be evidenced better.

            Do you have evidence that all people ought to be treated equally? If not, I suggest that the kinds of things you are most interested in demonstrating to be likely true are quite different from the kinds of things religionists are most interested in demonstrating to be likely true. It's not that there is no overlap, but instead that the methodology you are pushing seems valid only in a certain domain, while you are attempting to expand it well past that domain.

            An absurdity is something contrary to existing evidence.

            How about things neutral with respect to existing evidence? Take, for example, causation. Hume argued that it is not delivered via the senses. Is it also absurd to believe in causation?

            Furthermore, quantum physics is absurd when interpreted under a classical physics paradigm. It may also be absurd when interpreted under a successor paradigm. Is absurdity a timeless truth, or a relative judgment?

            I think some of his arguments a very strong and address all of Christianity not just the fundamentalist stripe.

            Okay. When you're ready to present such an argument, with a semblance of cross examination (an example of where this does not happen: Answers in Genesis), do let me know.

            Just because an atheist tries to reason based on the evidence does not mean that the atheist will always succeed.

            I frequently do not see any indication of 'tries' in such claims. Furthermore, I question to what extent 'the evidence' can take priority, given the theory-ladenness of all observation.

            could you give me an example of an interpretive stance?

            Different research paradigms, as described by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

            Sociology has something to say about this.

            The Christian does not deny that circumstances have a powerful impact on the will. The Christian denies that they have complete control of the will. I am aware of stuff like William Ryan's Blaming the Victim.

            People who say absurd things tend to get ridiculed. [...] It is what humans do.

            Why should I care? If the person doing the ridiculing is claiming to be truth-seeking in that act, I want evidence and reasoning to support this truth-claim. If a person admits to not being truth-seeking in that act, then I want that on the record for all to see. I don't care if it's "what humans do"; my atheist interlocutors claim to be rising above their cognitive biases and whatnot. If they're actually no better than religionists when measured by total effect and not some arbitrary rationalistic measure, then that should be made clear instead of obscured.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It's not clear that we are up for that level of investigation,
            especially since you haven't read any of the four books. (I've read The God Delusion and glanced at god is not Great.)

            Should I? I've always had a feeling that they are not very good. I'm sure Hitchens is hilarious

            False advertising remains false advertising. Krauss is not outlining how one gets creatio ex nihilo and yet that is precisely what he advertises.

            There is a difference between what philosophers term nothing and a physicist terms as nothing.

            If there is absolutely zero empirical evidence that a decrease in
            religious belief would lead to a decrease in fundamentalist activity,
            then it seems utterly foolish to target all religious belief.

            I think target is an unfortunate choice of words. Atheists think religious belief is incorrect. It is often interesting to debate, discuss and write about such things. Now, there are certain expressions of religiosity that some atheists think are harmful. It makes since to criticize those belief systems.

            Furthermore, the New Atheists certainly project the aura that "less
            religion" = "good thing". Are they arguing this without evidence from
            one side of their mouths, while arguing that one should only believe
            things based on the evidence out of the other side?!

            In certain instances, less religion would be a good thing. For instance, when it comes to distributing birth control in aids ravaged countries, reducing unwanted pregnancies, and equal rights for homosexuals, many Christians impede progress. However, I suppose to a certain extent they are beneficial in this regard. I think society always needs a loyal opposition to counterbalance mainstream beliefs.

            At the same time, religion can answer the existential questions and provide community and comfort in times of distress. Personally, religion usually provided me with more angst than the existential question itself, so I do not think it is best for everyone, and there are definitely some people who are worse off for religion.

            One way I think Christianity could be consider harmful to society is that it has promoted tribalism. However, at the same time it has also promoted the idea of everyone being your neighbor. It is a mixed bag. It would be difficult to decide whether the good outweighs the bad on a scale.I do not think it is obvious that religion, overall, has been good for society.

            These really aren't things that I have set beliefs on. I have some intuition and arguments that I tend to think are correct, but nothing to take to the bank.

            Do you have evidence that all people ought to be treated equally?

            Principle of utility. Rawls thought experiment. I have a more expansive view of evidence than most. I include good arguments and even things based on intuition, although the later can be very misleading.

            If not, I suggest that the kinds of things you are most interested in
            demonstrating to be likely true are quite different from the kinds of
            things religionists are most interested in demonstrating to be likely
            true.

            Historically, I doubt equal treatment was a thing that religionists were trying to demonstrate. How would they go about demonstrating it?

            How about things neutral with respect to existing evidence? Take, for example, causation. Hume argued that it is not delivered via the senses. Is it also absurd to believe in causation?

            Not absurd, but it is something that we should be careful about.

            Furthermore, quantum physics is absurd when interpreted under a
            classical physics paradigm. It may also be absurd when interpreted under
            a successor paradigm. Is absurdity a timeless truth, or a relative
            judgment?

            Technically, quantum mechanics wouldn't be absurd. It would give the same predictions about slow moving large masses as classical physics. However, there would be no evidence in favor of the predictions it makes for small objects. Relative judgment when we consider the evidence that we possess.

            Okay. When you're ready to present such an argument, with a semblance of cross examination (an example of where this does not happen: Answers in Genesis), do let me know.

            He often argued this one:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_poor_design

            I frequently do not see any indication of 'tries' in such claims. Furthermore, I question to what extent 'the evidence' can take priority, given the theory-ladenness of all observation.

            Perhaps. I really don't frequent many boards like these.

            Different research paradigms, as described by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

            That one is on my book list.

            Why should I care? If the person doing the ridiculing is claiming to be
            truth-seeking in that act, I want evidence and reasoning to support this
            truth-claim.

            I have to run. I'm going to get back to you on this one.

          • Should I? I've always had a feeling that they are not very good. I'm sure Hitchens is hilarious

            Well, the OP seems to be about the New Atheist views not... aiding in truth-seeking, shall we say. Whether or not you wish to investigate the truth of such a claim is up to you. It would take a decent amount of effort.

            There is a difference between what philosophers term nothing and a physicist terms as nothing.

            Equivocation is an excellent way to deceive people. When a person thinks 'nothing', does [s]he really mean to allow for a field ripe with potential for generating entire universes? I have to believe the answer is "No!", for most people.

            Atheists think religious belief is incorrect.

            I understand this. But they play on the truth-claim that belief in false things tends to lead to bad consequences. Indeed, this is a powerful way to know that something is false. If a religion promises peace and yet brings war, one starts to suspect something insidious is afoot. However, if it is not demonstrable that religious belief brings about more bad consequences than the thing with which it is replaced, the very force behind the atheist's arguments is diminished—probably very greatly. After all, one can start suspecting that maybe the atheist's conception of truth isn't to be preferred, if it comes with no superior consequences.

            It is often interesting to debate, discuss and write about such things. Now, there are certain expressions of religiosity that some atheists think are harmful. It makes since to criticize those belief systems.

            I agree that it is interesting. I agree that some religious folks have done terrible things, just as some atheist folks have done terrible things. But just like when I was a creationist, the onus was on me to provide something better, to replace the theory of evolution, the onus is on the atheist to provide something better than the theism [s]he is attacking. After all, the distinction between "false" and "an approximation, valid in some domains, for some purposes" can fade to nothing. If the atheist has nothing better, the theist can easily be justified in continuing to believe what [s]he believes. No philosophical system is without problems; no way of looking at reality is without problems.

            In certain instances, less religion would be a good thing.

            In certain instances, less atheism would be a good thing. For example, much of the brutal torture carried out by Communists in the USSR could have been reduced by then-existant Christian belief in eternal justice.

            One way I think Christianity could be consider harmful to society is that it has promoted tribalism.

            I would need evidence that sans Christianity, there would be less tribalism. Take, for example, Christian Smith's The Sacred Project of American Sociology. He notes that an ideal of sociologists is to create an unstratified society without many of the terrible things which exist now: abuse of power, tribalism, etc. He also notes that sociologists exhibit these very traits within the discipline of sociology, and don't really seem to care enough to take the necessary steps to appreciably reduce it. Sociologists are highly likely to be atheist and liberal (for prejudicial reasons; see that book and the new website Heterodox Academy).

            These really aren't things that I have set beliefs on. I have some intuition and arguments that I tend to think are correct, but nothing to take to the bank.

            Ostensibly, you have set beliefs on nothing but that your senses are sufficiently accurate and that an external world exists, right? Nevertheless, you do appear to have prior probabilities which are not clearly based 100% in the evidence on matters like this. It seems that these priors could easily impact how you navigate reality, such that they would be reinforced. It seems like you're basing your beliefs on what I have called "Enlightenment mythology", and even "Enlightenment dogma", treating the word 'dogma' in terms of the effects of it and not some stipulative definition.

            Principle of utility. Rawls thought experiment. I have a more expansive view of evidence than most. I include good arguments and even things based on intuition, although the later can be very misleading.

            I think you violate natural kind distinctions to stretch the word 'evidence' this far. It looks like you want to include values and intuitions into the category of 'evidence', which seems extraordinarily specious and prone to special-pleading. Instead, I suggest you look at "expansive naturalism", from James Griffin's Value Judgement, although I learned of the term in Fiona Ellis' God, Value, and Nature.

            Historically, I doubt equal treatment was a thing that religionists were trying to demonstrate. How would they go about demonstrating it?

            They wouldn't demonstrate it with 'the evidence', as if nature can generate oughts. If you want to study the issue, I suggest a look at Joshua A. Berman's Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought, Nicholas Wolterstorff's Justice: Rights and Wrongs, and Peter Berger's A Far Glory.

            Not absurd, but it is something that we should be careful about.

            What shouldn't we be careful about? :-p

            Technically, quantum mechanics wouldn't be absurd.

            It would, if I insist on interpreting reality as a classical physicist would. If you don't like that example, we can start talking about wave/​particle duality.

            [Hitchens] often argued [the Argument from poor design]

            Optimal design is not predicted, given the fall. It also needs to deal with Robert M. Adams' Must God Create the Best? It also seems under-cut: if humans have poor design, how can they know good design?

            I have to run. I'm going to get back to you on this one.

            Sounds good. The discussion about ridicule and whether the evidence establishes that it aids in truth-seeking (vs. being neutral, or detrimental) fascinates me. The atheists I come across generally assert that they are better equipped to seek the truth than I am. Usually I fail to find this to be the case. A principle reason is that ridicule and other forms of emotional manipulation are very common, and I see them as antithetical to truth-seeking. What I think they really do is threaten people with a man-created hell: nobody wants to be labeled 'irrational'. That is death to the life of the mind; it locks people out from the halls of scholarship and science. It is a means of social control.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Well, the OP seems to be about the New Atheist views not... aiding in truth-seeking, shall we say.

            That is a very charitable reading.

            Equivocation is an excellent way to deceive people. When a person thinks
            'nothing', does [s]he really mean to allow for a field ripe with
            potential for generating entire universes? I have to believe the answer is "No!", for most people.

            This is true.

            I understand this. But they play on the truth-claim that belief in false things tends to lead to bad consequences

            It can. I'm not sure it is always the case though.

            However, if it is not demonstrable that religious belief brings about
            more bad consequences than the thing with which it is replaced, the very
            force behind the atheist's arguments is diminished—probably very
            greatly. After all, one can start suspecting that maybe the atheist's
            conception of truth isn't to be preferred, if it comes with no superior
            consequences.

            I think these are separate arguments. It is one to think that religion is false. It is another to think that religion is harmful.

            I agree that it is interesting. I agree that some religious folks have done terrible things, just as some atheist folks have done terrible things.

            But not in the name of atheism? While there are immoral atheists and immoral theists, it seems that people do horrible things in God's name, but not in the name of atheism. Usually, when atheists do horrible things it is in the name of a state of ideology.

            the onus is on the atheist to provide something better than the theism [s]he is attacking.

            I think first we would have to decide what religion does or what its purpose is, so we can decide if some atheistic philosophy is better at that purpose. The purpose of evolution is to explain the diversification of species. The purpose of religion depends on who you ask. In reality it has many purposes. I would name three as primary: social cohesion, answers existential questions, personal and general happiness. Most theists would probably think that man's relationship to God and ethics are more important that what I listed. Obviously, if atheism is true, it is trivial that it does a better job of explicating God than theism.

            If the atheist has nothing better, the theist can easily be justified in
            continuing to believe what [s]he believes. No philosophical system is
            without problems; no way of looking at reality is without problems.

            What do you have in mind by better? Better in what way?

            In certain instances, less atheism would be a good thing. For example, much of the brutal torture carried out by Communists in the USSR could have been reduced by then-existant Christian belief in eternal justice.

            Less totalitarianism and more liberal democracy would done wonders as well. Christians can commit atrocities as well, but they would think they are doing God's will and not be on the wrong side of eternal justice. Similarly, the communists could have thought they were right simply because they were furthering communism, or they could have been doing it for personal gain and power. Probably depends on the communist.

            I would need evidence that sans Christianity, there would be less tribalism.

            There was a lot of animosity between Catholics and Protestants throughout the past few centuries. In the United States, you have people from the same country, speaking the same language, with similar values, who were divided by their religion. England and Ireland would be another more powerful example. I think it is very safe to say that the middle east would be much less tribalistic without religion.

            Ostensibly, you have set beliefs on nothing but that your senses are
            sufficiently accurate and that an external world exists, right?

            There is always the possibility that I am wrong about something. I have quite a few beliefs that I hold with quite a bit of confidence.

            Nevertheless, you do appear to have prior probabilities which are not
            clearly based 100% in the evidence on matters like this. It seems that
            these priors could easily impact how you navigate reality, such that
            they would be reinforced.

            I tend to think that religion is and was a significant force for evil in the world. It has also been a significant force for good.

            I think you violate natural kind distinctions to stretch the word 'evidence' this far. It looks like you want to include values and intuitions into the category of 'evidence', which seems extraordinarily specious and prone to special-pleading.

            I agree.

            Optimal design is not predicted, given the fall. It also needs to deal with Robert M. Adams' Must God Create the Best? It also seems under-cut: if humans have poor design, how can they know good design?

            This would be a long conversation by itself. I'll leave it for now. We can always come back to it. We have a ton of conversational threads going right now :-)

            The atheists I come across generally assert that they are better equipped to seek the truth than I am. Usually I fail to find this to be the case.

            That is a rather bold assertion. I think there is a strain of thought within atheism that holds that since atheists have been able to overcome the indoctrination and brainwashing of religion, they are better critical thinkers. This does not mean that they are smarter or even better at reasoning in general. It just means that they have been able to get over childhood and societal indoctrination. I do not think these atheists are correct. I think when you assert your will over years of brainwashing, there is a tendency to think you lost your faith and found your reason.

            A principle reason is that ridicule and other forms of emotional
            manipulation are very common, and I see them as antithetical to
            truth-seeking. What I think they really do is threaten people
            with a man-created hell: nobody wants to be labeled 'irrational'. That
            is death to the life of the mind; it locks people out from the halls of
            scholarship and science. It is a means of social control.

            I think we first have to decide if we mean the same thing by ridicule. Does Candide count? I think satire can definitely help in truth seeking. Calling another person stupid or irrational does not.

            Satire on the other hand can effective expose absurdities in one's position. I would submit that this does aid in truth seeking.

            As an aside, I would argue that ridicule is effective at convincing others that you are right. I think you will agree,

          • It can. I'm not sure it is always the case though.

            Only if there is moral knowledge can falsehood always lead to bad consequences. Now, some will say that morality is a fiction, but the problem is that there are rules for fiction, which eats away at its fictional nature. And so, I suspect that the resistance to belief in falsehood always leading to bad consequences is that it threatens the desire to avoid the specter of true, objective, moral knowledge.

            I think these are separate arguments. It is one to think that religion is false. It is another to think that religion is harmful.

            Academically, we can call them separate. Do you think the New Atheists want their audience to believe that there is such a separation, or to believe the very opposite? Consider whether their bestseller status was driven by a careful acknowledgment of this separation, or the belief that there is no clear separation.

            But not in the name of atheism?

            I don't care; atheism simpliciter only exists as a never-reified abstraction; the same goes for theism simpliciter. When we start talking about extant particular reifications, some are atheist and some are theist. I have zero tolerance for the argumentative shield which throws up its hands and says, "Atheism doesn't involve any beliefs!" Here's an example of why. I can formulate anti-'climate change' as having as few beliefs as a-'theism' does. And yet, you surely believe that anti-'climate change' can be treated as a thing which causes damage.

            Usually, when atheists do horrible things it is in the name of a state of ideology.

            True. The same is true of Christians. For example, Quakers haven't perpetuated much in the way of violence, even though the Crusaders were also 'Christians'. Indeed, Quaker Pennsylvania is the only state to not have broken a treaty with Native Americans, IIRC.

            I think first we would have to decide what religion does or what its purpose is [...]

            That's fine. It still remains true that "the onus is on the atheist to provide something better than the theism [s]he is attacking." In my experience, the atheist rarely actually does this, unless scientism is considered a good replacement, or unless arguing that many things the theist claims have truth-values simply are meaningless, in the tradition of the logical positivists. The logical positivists did not fare well with their 'truth deflation', as it were.

            What do you have in mind by better? Better in what way?

            There are many, conflicting conceptions of 'better'. I frequently treat 'better' as a free variable in conversation.

            Christians can commit atrocities as well, but they would think they are doing God's will and not be on the wrong side of eternal justice.

            True, to an extent. But also false to an extent: if there is enforced moral order in the universe, that demands a kind of consistency, a kind of coherency, which is otherwise not guaranteed to exist. I understand that people can still perform rationalistic pirouettes, but I'm still inclined to think that the consistency that would be enforced by a deity-figure changes one's thinking in crucial ways.

            There was a lot of animosity between Catholics and Protestants throughout the past few centuries.

            That doesn't answer my request that you demonstrate that "sans Christianity, there would be less tribalism". Indeed, we could work with stuff like David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, and investigate how much of the Thirty Years' War was due to religious differences, and how much was due to the State powers [successfully] vying to break away from Rome. The fact that sometimes Protestants fought with Catholics against others threatens the "religious differences caused the brutality" thesis.

            LB: Ostensibly, you have set beliefs on nothing but that your senses are sufficiently accurate and that an external world exists, right?

            IR: There is always the possibility that I am wrong about something. I have quite a few beliefs that I hold with quite a bit of confidence.

            Would you be shown that you are wrong only via (i) logical contradiction; (ii) additional sense-experience? Or are there other ways, as well? I would also like an answer to the first question; I'm attempting to clarify this:

            IR: I have a more expansive view of evidence than most. I include good arguments and even things based on intuition, although the later can be very misleading.

            For example, I wonder if intuition can be corrected in any way other than (i) and (ii).

            That is a rather bold assertion.

            It is. But it is less surprising than perhaps appears: I have spent over 10 years and over 10,000 hours talking to mostly atheists online, mostly about atheism and theism. I have learned many things, learned to carefully say things with the right warranted confidence, etc. I routinely have long-running, high-effort conversations like you and I are having. The result of doing this is that I have quite the advantage over many others who debate online. My rough edges have been sanded by many, many atheists.

            I think there is a strain of thought within atheism that holds that since atheists have been able to overcome the indoctrination and brainwashing of religion, they are better critical thinkers. This does not mean that they are smarter or even better at reasoning in general. It just means that they have been able to get over childhood and societal indoctrination. I do not think these atheists are correct.

            That is a very interesting observation; I was surprised by the word I underlined.

            I think we first have to decide if we mean the same thing by ridicule. Does Candide count? I think satire can definitely help in truth seeking. Calling another person stupid or irrational does not.

            'satire' ≠/⇎ 'ridicule'; I'm not acquainted with Candide.

            As an aside, I would argue that ridicule is effective at convincing others that you are right.

            I don't think 'convincing' is a helpful word, here. I think 'bullying' is a better one. And yes, ridicule is very good for bullying people. I think one of the most dangerous consequences of the current attack on the Christian doctrine of hell is that we will forget what it is to have a "man-created hell". We will lose the words to describe what is happening. There will be no even-possibly-just 'hell', to which an almost-certainly-unjust hell can be compared. It will merely be "reality", socially constructed or no. People will learn to navigate it, to do the best they can to avoid going to hell.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            And so, I suspect that the resistance to belief in falsehood always leading to bad consequences is that it threatens the desire to avoid the specter of true, objective, moral knowledge.

            Perhaps. I don't think so though.

            Academically, we can call them separate. Do you think the New Atheists want their audience to believe that there is such a separation, or to believe the very opposite? Consider whether their bestseller status was driven by a careful acknowledgment of this separation, or the belief that there is no clear separation.

            I'm not completely sure what the new atheists want people to believe. I have always thought that unifying aspect of new atheists is the belief that religion is not only false, but that it is also harmful. They that religion is both harmful and false. I do not think they believe that religion's harmfulness and falsity necessarily go together. Regardless, we do not need to be beholden to the what the new atheists believe and don't believe. These sorts of academic distinctions are necessary in an honest conversation about religion. After all, the one criticism of the new atheists that I think really is to the point is that they do not make enough of these distinctions.

            I don't care; atheism simpliciter only exists as a never-reified abstraction; the same goes for theism simpliciter.

            I agree with you here. It is better to talk about belief systems rather than atheism or theism.

            I have zero tolerance for the argumentative shield which throws up its hands and says, "Atheism doesn't involve any beliefs!"

            I don't think it is always used as a shield though. It is usually used when someone begins a sentence "You are an atheist so therefore you also believe...."

            Here's an example of why. I can formulate anti-'climate change' as having as few beliefs as a-'theism' does. And yet, you surely believe that anti-'climate change' can be treated as a thing which causes damage.

            Climate change is rigorously and well defined. It is also well-evidenced. Belief in deities is unwarranted, and the deities are often ill defined. Anti-climate change is wrong, because the evidence is against it.

            A belief system with fewer assumptions that are nearly certain is preferable to a belief system with many assumptions, some of which are tenuous. I do have a preference for fewer assumptions, but that is not why I call myself an atheist.

            In my experience, the atheist rarely actually does this, unless scientism is considered a good replacement, or unless arguing that many things the theist claims have truth-values simply are meaningless, in the tradition of the logical positivists. The logical positivists did not fare well with their 'truth deflation', as it were.

            I think most atheists would offer some form of humanism as a replacement.

            Would you be shown that you are wrong only via (i) logical contradiction; (ii) additional sense-experience? Or are there other ways, as well? I would also like an answer to the first question; I'm attempting to clarify this:

            A logical contradiction would definitely cause me to rethink my belief system. Additional sense-experience that seem to contradict what I believed previously would cause me to question my beliefs. Or I may see a flaw in reasoning that I thought was solid and that would cause me to question the conclusion.

            LB: Ostensibly, you have set beliefs on nothing but that your senses are sufficiently accurate and that an external world exists, right?

            Mathematical propositions, rules of logic, and a preference for as few assumptions as possible.

            For example, I wonder if intuition can be corrected in any way other than (i) and (ii).

            Sometimes you just see that your intuition is likely wrong. The other day I had a mathematical intuition that I realized was wrong.

            It is. But it is less surprising than perhaps appears: I have spent over 10 years and over 10,000 hours talking to mostly atheists online, mostly about atheism and theism. I have learned many things, learned to carefully say things with the right warranted confidence, etc. I routinely have long-running, high-effort conversations like you and I are having. The result of doing this is that I have quite the advantage over many others who debate online. My rough edges have been sanded by many, many atheists.

            This may just make you the better sophist.:-)

            'satire' ≠/⇎ 'ridicule'; I'm not acquainted with Candide.

            Than we agree. I do not think ridicule is effective at discovering truth. Candide is famous for satirizing the idea that our world is the best of all possible.

            I don't think 'convincing' is a helpful word, here. I think 'bullying' is a better one. And yes, ridicule is very good for bullying people.

            I agree.

          • I'm not completely sure what the new atheists want people to believe.

            That's... kind of disturbing. You would think their love of science would include learning how to effectively communicate. (I know in fact it doesn't, which damages the idea that they love science simpliciter. I'm sure they love some science; I wonder if they take a piss on other science.)

            I have always thought that unifying aspect of new atheists is the belief that religion is not only false, but that it is also harmful.

            Sure, but I have simply never seen evidence that demonstrates, with causation and not just correlation (c'mon, we're doing science, right?), that theists cause more harm than atheists, ceteris paribus. They can show theists who have caused harm and I can show atheists who have caused harm and we can play that game for hours on end.

            Regardless, we do not need to be beholden to the what the new atheists believe and don't believe.

            Absolutely correct. But if they have enough of a following, if they have enough influence (and this need not be counted in raw numbers; some people's opinions have more influence than others), then understanding them is important.

            I don't think it is always used as a shield though. It is usually used when someone begins a sentence "You are an atheist so therefore you also believe...."

            In that case it's a problem, but I don't think I got within a mile of such a statement.

            Climate change is rigorously and well defined.

            Ehhhh, I worked with some of the world's top Mars climatologists, who also knew a decent amount about Earth climatology, and this was not the impression I got. The same data can support quite different models, as is the case with all super-noisy science. My wife is working with FRET microscopy and even there, she cannot be guaranteed that one model is better than another. Now, any given model can be arbitrarily rigorous, but so can any given conception of God. Thomas Aquinas's model is pretty rigorous and well-defined.

            A belief system with fewer assumptions that are nearly certain is preferable to a belief system with many assumptions, some of which are tenuous.

            Then surely you shed your beliefs in an external reality? They seem to be absolutely unnecessary for doing science, and so Ockham's razor should shave them right off. I can make a more rigorous argument for this, if you'd like. Related would be Constructive Empiricism, which is one of the more recent forms of scientific anti-realism (instrumentalism). Why believe that science is actually narrowing in on describing something? That seems unnecessary for doing science, for living.

            Why believe in causation? Just hold that regularly, if A happens, B happens. There need be no necessary connection, pace Hume. What does the idea of causation add?

            Why believe there are laws of nature? You can see a shift in Sean Carroll's Post-[Craig-]Debate Reflections, from the laws of nature as prescriptive (causally powerful), to descriptive (causally impotent; they exist only in the mind), with his "unbreakable patterns". Make no mistake: the switch from 'prescriptive' → 'descriptive' is a massive change. And it seems to shave off entities, giving you a system for understanding and navigating reality with fewer beliefs.

            I think most atheists would offer some form of humanism as a replacement.

            I'm sure they would. What is the best articulation of humanism you know of? I would love to see how it deals with stuff like Peter Buffett's 2013 NYT piece The Charitable–Industrial Complex, what it makes of rational choice theory as a good model for humans, and some other things.

            Or I may see a flaw in reasoning that I thought was solid and that would cause me to question the conclusion.

            Sometimes you just see that your intuition is likely wrong. The other day I had a mathematical intuition that I realized was wrong.

            So this flaw isn't more sense-experience, nor is it a logical contradiction. Does this mean it might be fuzzier, perhaps not necessarily expressible in a formal system? Or, perhaps it could be so-expressible, but is not, well into the intuition that "there's something wrong here", such that maybe you stop the line of investigation before trying to build a formal system with an explicit contradiction. I'm very interested in how much human thinking takes place in this fuzzier domain (contrast the German words wissen and kennen, such as native German speaker Andy Schueler does). If a bunch does, it seems that there could be errors in that domain which need to be teased out and analyzed in a way other than commonly takes place, explicitly, in discussions between theists and atheists.

            Mathematical propositions, rules of logic, and a preference for as few assumptions as possible.

            But there are probably an infinite number of mathematical propositions and rules of logic; Gödel showed how the project of the Principia Mathematica—an attempt to axiomatize all mathematics into a beautiful core—was doomed to fail before it was a thought in Russell's and Whitehead's minds.

            It also strikes me that there might be value in playing with "minimum # of assumptions + n", for sufficiently small n. Why? Because the world is almost certainly more complex than our current models, and if you don't have a model in your brain, you probably won't become conscious of the phenomenon: Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial).

            This may just make you the better sophist.:-)

            True, but this knife cuts both ways.

            Candide is famous for satirizing the idea that our world is the best of all possible.

            Oh, Leibniz. Satire can be fantastic because people have this tendency to know when 'the bad thing' is done to them, but refuse to acknowledge when they do 'the bad thing' to others. Satire is a way of demonstrating this with words only, instead of physical actions as well. We need more satire.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That's... kind of disturbing. You would think their love of science would include learning how to effectively communicate.

            I don't think so. The new atheists are not a monolithic group. Their unifying principle is that the harm of religion is grossly understated.

            Another reason for confusion about what the new atheists believe is that they seem to be a frequent target for apologists, who do not do a very good job of accurately articulating the opponents position. I for one have grown quite tired of the popular tactic of writing an article criticizing a new atheist or an opponent who makes a weak argument instead of defending one's own claims.

            Sure, but I have simply never seen evidence that demonstrates, with causation and not just correlation (c'mon, we're doing science, right?), that theists cause more harm than atheists, ceteris paribus.

            Causation is a very difficult thing to prove. What I prefer to do is show that there are certain types of theistic philosophy and religiosity that tend to cause harm, while their are others that do not. I dislike dogmatic authoritarian expressions of religion that emphasize differences between human groups rather than shared humanity. I think I could make that rigorous.

            In that case it's a problem, but I don't think I got within a mile of such a statement.

            Maybe within a mile. ;) This is what you said:

            I don't care; atheism simpliciter only exists as a never-reified abstraction; the same goes for theism simpliciter. When we start talking about extant particular reifications, some are atheist and some are theist. I have zero tolerance for the argumentative shield which throws up its hands and says, "Atheism doesn't involve any beliefs!"

            Let me address your point in another way. If I say I am an atheists, it tells you nothing about what else I believe philosophically except what I think about the God proposition. Is atheism responsible for any of the horrors of humankind, instead of say greed or a lust for power? I do not think once can blame communism on atheism.

            Ehhhh, I worked with some of the world's top Mars climatologists, who also knew a decent amount about Earth climatology, and this was not the impression I got. The same data can support quite different models, as is the case with all super-noisy science.

            It is still well defined. Global warming is an unusual rise in the earth's temperature. Anthropogenic global warming is warming effects caused by man. There are physical reasons for thinking that greenhouses gases cause a rise in temperature. We can also measure an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

            I was always a skeptic with regards to anthropogenic global warming. My intuition was that human beings contribution to the atmosphere was so small that it would be negligible. However, when the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project came out in favor of the anthropogenic hypothesis, I changed my mind.

            Then surely you shed your beliefs in an external reality? They seem to be absolutely unnecessary for doing science, and so Ockham's razor should shave them right off. I can make a more rigorous argument for this, if you'd like.

            What are my options, if I do not believe in an external reality?

            Why believe that science is actually narrowing in on describing something? That seems unnecessary for doing science, for living.

            Because it works.

            Why believe in causation? Just hold that regularly, if A happens, B happens. There need be no necessary connection, pace Hume. What does the idea of causation add?

            We would have to define causation. I think contra Hume (which worries me) that we are empirically justified in believing in some types of causation. If it is true, it adds to our knowledge of the universe. It is certainly a useful model.

            Do you think causation is necessary for science? That is a position that seems popular among Thomists.

            Why believe there are laws of nature? You can see a shift in Sean Carroll's Post-[Craig-]Debate Reflections, from the laws of nature as prescriptive (causally powerful), to descriptive (causally impotent; they exist only in the mind), with his "unbreakable patterns". Make no mistake: the switch from 'prescriptive' → 'descriptive' is a massive change. And it seems to shave off entities, giving you a system for understanding and navigating reality with fewer beliefs.

            I don't have a position on this. The problem with all of these is that they are all long conversation in and of themselves. We should probably pick one :-)

            I'm sure they would. What is the best articulation of humanism you know of?

            That is a good question. One I don't have an answer to. I don't describe myself as a humanist. I'm sure we have values in common, but it isn't something I have looked into. To be honest it seems like a feel good catch word to me, but I could be wrong. I should say I am a rather recent atheist. Almost three years. Cannot say I have developed a complete life philosophy to replace the religion that I have left.

            So this flaw isn't more sense-experience, nor is it a logical contradiction. Does this mean it might be fuzzier, perhaps not necessarily expressible in a formal system?

            I think we should try to express our beliefs and arguments in some kind of formal system. I have a great deal of sympathy for analytic philosophers.

            If a bunch does, it seems that there could be errors in that domain which need to be teased out and analyzed in a way other than commonly takes place, explicitly, in discussions between theists and atheists.

            Seems likely. I would argue that a main difficulty is the fact that these unseen errors are not formalized and thus exposed. Sometimes, when I argue with theists, I feel like we are arguing from different universes, because our background assumptions and intuitions are so different.

            But there are probably an infinite number of mathematical propositions and rules of logic; Gödel showed how the project of the Principia Mathematica—an attempt to axiomatize all mathematics into a beautiful core—was doomed to fail before it was a thought in Russell's and Whitehead's minds.

            I am very familiar with Godel. I do not see how it affects my argument though.

            It also strikes me that there might be value in playing with "minimum # of assumptions + n", for sufficiently small n. Why? Because the world is almost certainly more complex than our current models, and if you don't have a model in your brain, you probably won't become conscious of the phenomenon:

            You are also less likely to have a wrong assumption. One needs a justifying principle(s) for adding assumptions.

        • VicqRuiz

          atheists because they had rejected an unsophisticated theism

          Speaking personally, I find the sort of theism in which the Creator of The Universe and All it Contains is offended by my purchase of a box of condoms to be unsophisticated almost beyond imagining.

          • Mike

            "purchase of a box of condoms to be unsophisticated almost beyond imagining."

            and you think we're the unsophisticated ones! LOL!

          • VicqRuiz

            If your God is not offended by my purchase of a box of condoms, I commend you on your degree of sophistication and I wouldn't mind learning a little more about him.

          • Mike

            why would you ever think that in the first place?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The Catholic Church....

          • Mike

            huh?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It is a sin to use contraception according to the Catholic Church

          • Mike

            if you have an embolism in your leg say (i think it's called) and can't get pregnant again or if you have a mis shapen uterus that might burst you can contracept freely w/o sin.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            exceptions do not make the rule

    • Zachary Bower

      Yeah, that's pretty much an invitation to not even bother with the list. There's no point in addressing these claims. The author, & implicitly anyone who parrots him, simply doesn't care.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.

    To which Humphrys responds:
    "Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards."

    Is Humphrys implying that there are very little atheists in those places? If so, not only is he wrong (see here) but he also seems to undermine his own point. The idea of atheists converting under the pressure of death would very much suggest that they can't accept the finality of death.

  • LaDolceVipera

    I really don't see what this article wants to prove. Just as you have militant anti-theist and friendly atheist, you also have broadminded catholics and a militant group of narrowminded, nasty and negative fundamentalists. A respectful dialogue would be much easier if both groups were a little bit more charitable.

    • I absolutely agree. As an atheist, I am more concerned with the internet troll variety of atheist who hurls insults and makes comments about believing in "magic sky daddies," since I think that many believer begin to assume that this is some huge majority of the atheist community. But there are likewise just as many uncharitable and sometimes even hostile Christians out there, a fact that some Christians either don't realize or want to ignore. I recently had an exchange with Dave Armstrong on his blog where he was ready to admit that there were hostile Christian trolls, but still doubled down on his position that it was a "a very manifest characteristic" for atheists, making it somehow more of a problem.

    • Adrian Johnson

      This Catholic agrees.
      I am pleased, rather than displeased, to be dialoguing with the courteous and open-minded athiests here. Athiests, like Catholics, come in many "flavours" and there are always some in your camp which are an embarassment to your position. I appreciate that, and don't judge the open-minded atheists by the dogmatic ones who enjoy being trolls.

      Since Faith is a gift from God, and a gift that usually has to be "wanted" --I have no illusions that I can "convert" anyone here; however, I am pained when someone believes a lie about my own faith and religion, and I am glad for a place like this to set the record straight, so that an atheist has arrived at his view of reality based on facts, not falsehoods. For example, once I explained the Catholic view of purgatory, William Davis here was glad to learn that the idea that God "tortured" people for their sincere beliefs after they were dead was to examine the idea of Divine Justice from an invalid paradigm.

      I do think that atheists are shooting a straw man when they demolish Protestant fundamentalist creationists -- a reasonably educated Catholic like me (not even a "Catholic Intellectual") can do the same. The hardcore arguments about the existance or non-existance of God, and the nature of God, and of the immortality and destiny of the human soul, must be with the Catholic Church.

  • David Nickol

    I think many of the theists contributors and commenters see the New Atheists as more of a threat to theism than the atheist contributors and commenters see them as as a boon for atheism. I would be amazed if all the efforts of the New Atheists combined have gained more than a handful of converts to atheism (if they have gained any at all). The principle audience for the New Atheists is almost certainly limited to people who already have abandoned religion and see the New Atheists as those who have the temerity to say, "I don't believe in God." The New Atheists probably don't add any numbers to the ranks of atheists, though they may very well embolden some who are already atheists to "come out of the closet."

    • I think there is reason to be concerned with increased polarization of laypersons, something to which the New Atheists happily contribute. The love of the kind of writing they engage in—as indicated by book sales—does not seem to be good for civil health, not to mention other kinds of health.

    • Michael Murray

      If you look at Converts Corner on the Richard Dawkins website you will find lots of people who have in some sense "converted" to atheism.

      https://richarddawkins.net/community/convertscorner/

      Of course it's nearly completely impossible to tell if they were "real" theists to begin with. The first one I looked at makes this point

      The thing I’m most ashamed of , is the fact that it took me so long to realise that religion is rubbish. All my life and after several attempts at reading the bible and trying to make sense of it. and visiting churches and so called Holy places in many different countries, hoping for some kind of divine message or understanding, i read The God Delusion and suddenly it was all so very clear that I was in fact an atheist.

      I assume that all of us here can agree that people clarifying their ideas about religion is a good thing!

      • David Nickol

        Thanks for bringing the Converts Corner to my attention. I have read a few of the stories.

        I don't think it is really a good thing if clarifying ones ideas about religion leads to concluding that "religion is rubbish." I don't much like to classify myself, but if forced to I would call myself an agnostic. So those who are overly certain of their belief or disbelief are almost equally annoying.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I don't think it is really a good thing if clarifying ones ideas about religion leads to concluding that "religion is rubbish."

          I think it is a feeling though that many of us atheists have. At some point, when I was a practicing Catholic, I began to believe that Catholicism was in fact rubbish. I kept practicing for quite some time afterwards, but the belief that Catholicism was rubbish persisted and grew stronger. Given that there is a certain amount of faith that is required to believe in Christianity, it seems that without that faith to reconcile what looks like contradictions and justify all the extra beliefs.

          I would find myself wondering how Catholics knew things about God that I did not know and how did they know it. I found that apologists, priests, and bishops did not have answers that I thought were good. Answers which seemed like rubbish.

          If I went to mass tomorrow and prayed to God for faith, I would come away thinking that it was in fact rubbish. So I think that when someone says that religion is rubbish, what they are really indicating is that they no longer can have faith or that having faith seems completely unjustified.

          • David Nickol

            I can certainly see how a person could conclude that faith in a particular religion, or faith in theism, is utterly unwarranted. However, I would most definitely object to the word rubbish. I can see how a person could justifiably believe that having been raised in a particular religion had been harmful to himself or herself.

            I am not even sure that the statement "religion is rubbish" has any meaning.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If I told you that I had a glove, which healed people of all ailments, provided they had enough faith in the healing properties of the glove, what would you call that? Rubbish perhaps?

          • David Nickol

            I think that would be an example of magic, not religion. And even if we stretch things and call it religion, it would be one particular religion. As I said, calling one particular religion rubbish is quite different from calling all religions rubbish. And it is theoretically possible that there is something lamentable about all existing religions but not religion itself.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            When I was an adolescent, a nun was making the rounds at various Catholic Churches blessing parishioners with a glove that she claimed once belonged to Padre Pio. It was said that the glove had cured people of various ailments and diseases. Later, she was shown to be fraudulent, but before this she had accumulated quite a few followers. Sure, this is just a single instance of a superstition, but it seems to me that much of the content of religion is similar superstitions made plausible by age, the sheer number of believers, and the veneer of sacredness.

            How is this glove different from holy water, relics, or a belief that God watches over believers in the minutiae of their day to day lives? How is this different from a belief in transubstantiation or that we must receive absolution to be forgiven of our sins? Or to quote Hitchens Created sick and commanded to be well?

            The content of religion is claims about the supernatural and our relationship to the supernatural. To talk about the properties of the supernatural without first proving that the supernatural exists is problematic in and of itself, but it is especially problematic when arguments for a God beyond the deist/creator type are so fundamentally weak, while bishops, priests, and apologists are basically arguing from authority and tradition. Perhaps rubbish is the wrong word, but I think a very significant percentage of atheists see Christianty the same way the see Greeco-Roman paganism. It is an important part of culture, has inspired beautiful art, and is even perhaps a metaphor for human experience, but it is certainly not factual in its claims about the supernatural.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Hitchens and Fry convinced the audience to change their mind here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrIHw0fZNOA

      I would not recommend watching the debate, but the end results are interesting. In the beginning of the debate, those who thought the Catholic Church was a force for good was 678, those who did not was 1102, and the undecided were 346. At the end the numbers changed to 268, 1876, and 34. The new atheists are doing a good job of convincing people not only that religion is not true, but that it is also harmful. Whether or not these assertion are true is another story, but they have been effective.

      I know a few people have left Catholicism after taking part in these discussion on SN. I personally know a few people who left due in part to the influence of the new atheists. It would be difficult to figure out how effective the new atheists have been in deconverting people, but I think they have done much better than you imagine.

      • David Nickol

        I will try to find time to watch the video. I'm not sure the Catholic side is adequately represented.

        I remember something I read about debates on evolution. Someone said the anti-evolutionists often technically win the debates. If they are arguing with a biologist, they will attack using geological arguments. If they are arguing with a geologist, they will attack using biological arguments.

        I watched Sam Harris debate William Lane Craig, and I thought Harris was very effective. Harris appealed to common sense, and WLC kept on making highfalutin philosophical points. I have a feeling philosophers would have said WLC demolished Harris, but I found myself siding with Harris.

        • Galorgan

          I've said this elsewhere, but Sam Harris appears to be a much better speaker than a writer (at least in my opinion). That's not to say he's without fault, but the inflection he can give in speech shows when he's being hypothetical as opposed to sincere. Unfortunately, this often isn't the case with his writing. Anyway, as I remember it, even atheists thought Sam Harris lost that debate outside of his well articulated version of the problem of evil, but I could be wrong. If you want to see him eviscerate a liberal rabbi (aka not a fundamentalist) check out Sam Harris v David Wolpe.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSBaAT6WPmk

          He and Christopher Hitchens also debated Wolpe and another (even more liberal) Rabbi.

        • ClayJames

          Harris´ book, and debate, claims that science can determine objective values and as a result, bridge the elusive is/ought gap. If this is a successful appeal to common sense, then we should definetly question our common sense.

          I have little respect for Harris as a thinker but I think his MO is that of a brilliant business man. He first makes controversial philosophical claims such as science can determine objective values which 99% of his fans agree with. He is then correctly called out by actual philosophers (atheists and theists alike) for his ignorant treatement of the issue (http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.mx/2010/04/about-sam-harris-claim-that-science-can.html). He then claims that people are misrepresenting his views, calling disserters stupid and naive. Finally, he changes the rules of the game like when he claims he can redifine objective moral axioms. And don´t get me started on his views of Islam.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I will try to find time to watch the video. I'm not sure the Catholic side is adequately represented.

          I don't think it was. But I do think the new atheists have been effective in normalizing and maybe even driving nonbelief. There are more nonbelievers everyday.

          • David Nickol

            Do the New Atheists have counterparts in the non-English-speaking world? I don't think the decline in religious belief is by any means limited to the English-speaking countries. It's true that the UK is relatively nonreligious, but the United States is still quite religious.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The new atheists movement may be an English speaking thing, but there are atheists who say and have said similar things. New atheism isn't exactly a modern thing either. Voltaire, though a deist, said many things that sound like they would have come from a new atheist.

      • ClayJames

        The new atheists are doing a good job of convincing people not only that
        religion is not true, but that it is also harmful. Whether or not these
        assertion are true is another story
        , but they have been effective.

        Actually, isn´t that the story? Is there really any value in convincing people to accept assertions that are not true? If these assertions are not true, then it says more about the people that are convinced by them than about the belief in god or religion itself.

        I personally know a few people who left due in part to the influence of
        the new atheists. It would be difficult to figure out how effective the
        new atheists have been in deconverting people, but I think they have
        done much better than you imagine.

        I think they have been very effective at deconverting people which is exactly the problem. I don´t think its outlandish to say that most deconverted young adults, between the ages of 15-30 are way more probable to agree with the New atheists than with Old atheists like Nietzche or Hume. You can´t even compare the level of intelligence of the latter group to the former. This is one of the reasons I reject the often held belief by atheists, that popular atheism today has any intelectual advantage over theism.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Actually, isn´t that the story? Is there really any value in convincing people to accept assertions that are not true?

          I was discussing whether or not the New Atheists were effective at deconverting the masses, so yes that it the story.

          If these assertions are not true, then it says more about the people that are convinced by them than about the belief in god or religion itself.

          Fortunately, the fundamental assertion that there is not enough evidence to warrant belief in a personal God as outlined by Christianity is true.

          I don´t think its outlandish to say that most deconverted young adults, between the ages of 15-30 are way more probable to agree with the New atheists than with Old atheists like Nietzche or Hume.

          Personally, I was far more influenced by Hume, Russell and Descartes (even thought we was a theist) than any of the new atheists. However, one can agree with both the old and the new atheists. You have set up quite the false dichotomy.

          You can´t even compare the level of intelligence of the latter group to the former.

          Which does not mean that the former is incorrect. After all, they have access to more information than Hume or Nietzche.

          This is one of the reasons I reject the often held belief by atheists, that popular atheism today has any intelectual advantage over theism.

          Sadly, much of popular theism is accurately represented by what you would call new atheists caricatures.

  • Mike

    surprisingly you don't hear much about new atheism these days. dawkins is tweeting all sorts of stuff and is just a weirdo in many ppls' eyes now; hitchens is gone to meet his maker, dennet has apparently retreated to academia and harris is not in the news.

    what i find surprising is how the political class is tripping over itself to be seen with pope Francis! and he addresses congress! wow! talk about religion receding to the side lines!

    • Bob Bolondz

      There were huge crowds and TV ratings for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, ande Belmont Stakes because of American Pharaoh. The Mayweather-Pacquiao drew great PPV numbers. Nevertheless, horseracing and boxing have only a fraction of the popularity they once did. The same is true of religion. People these days are into "events". The Pope's visit is an event that many people want to be a part of, but after he leaves, many of those same people will return to their secular routines as religion recedes to the sidelines of their lives.

      • Adrian Johnson

        Which is to say the fickle public like novelty, good or bad.

      • Mike

        but i thought religion was disappearing from the public arena? did you see the crowds in NYC?

        • Bob Bolondz

          Religious people are the ones complaining about religion disappearing from the public sphere.

          • Mike

            yes and the secularists are egging them on! ;)

  • While criticism of atheist tone and polarizing intent is important, it is more important to criticise their actions. Atheists around the world are organizing into groups and promoting and engaging in anti-social and criminal behaviour.

    Atheist civic officials are refusing to issue marriage licenses based on their beliefs, despite a clear legal right for Catholics to marry. They are erecting monuments with the ten humanist tenets in courthouses and using public money to do it. In Canada there is a preamble to the constitution recognizing "since there is no god and the rule of law is supreme", and in Ontario there are two publicly funded school boards that teach the atheist dogma and that there is no god. Atheists have even managed to get "one nation without god" adopted as the US motto. They advocate no contraception or condoms in Africa despite an AIDS epidemic. They tell Catholics that they are inherently disordered as a matter of natural law.

    In the God Delusion Dawkins' portrays a hero, an atheist God, who is perfectly good who yet constantly orders genocide, even of infants, tells people to murder their children and so on.

    Internationally, expressly atheist governments enact laws making the free exercise if religion a criminal offence, even when it doesn't harm interfere with anyone else's rights. In Norway theists are legally considered to be terrorists, and their Supreme Court upheld a sentence against an evangelical blogger for writing in favour of freedom of religion. That sentence is a thousand lashes, after 50 of which he is too injured to take any more. In Vietnam, hordes of machete wielding atheists continually hack religious writers to death for again their writings in favour of a pluralistic society with freedom of religion.

    Oh wait. No none of these things are being done by atheists. Yes'm the tone and ignorance of some of their leaders is an appropriate criticism.

    • Adrian Johnson

      Witty -- I had a good grin at this; this is the sort of blog where atheists and believers can enjoy an elegant thought stylishly expressed.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    This is a great list. We need lively witty discussion that pulls no punches. The argument needs to be about the ideas and not the people. John Humphreys' list is a cutting critique of the arguments. I wonder if this article was instead a comment, would Humphreys get in trouble for his snark?

    • Michael Murray

      No snark is not invariant under orientation reversal. It's only snark if directed towards a theist.

  • Michael Murray

    In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

    Hitchens? Harris ? Dawkins ? It's surely one of those nasty New Atheists. You can tell from the tone.

    • Michael Murray

      Or this one ?

      Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

      Some of these old guys would have loved twitter. Maybe pamphlets were a sort of pre-internet twitter? PhD thesis there for someone.

    • Adrian Johnson

      Humm. Archbishop Bello of East Timor got the Nobel Peace Prize for risking his own life by helping the oppressed people of East Timor with plans and strategies and encouragement to gain their independence from Indonesia, which killed one third of the population while trying to annex the E. Timor to Indonesia. I could name other Catholic Bishops behind the Iron Curtain during the cold war who resisted the despotism and encouraged those in the underground who resisted. China has a real headache with the Catholic "house Churches" because they can't control the believers, even though they have set up an "Official" Catholic Church with puppet bishops they have picked who toe the party line. The Chinese Communists have discovered that trying to control what Chinese Catholics believe is like herding cats :-)

  • neil_pogi

    i thought atheists are just believers of 'no gods, please'

    why not just sit back in the comfy of your home?

    but what i'm so surprise to see is that in every social media, facebook, and other discussion-topic sites, they are to be found everywhere!

    we theists know that you are just 'no believers in gods' but what you are trying to do is evangelise your mantra to us?

    i have nothing to lose if i believe in God..

    why you care so much for us? injecting your own philosophy? your own pseudo-science claims?

  • Peter

    New atheists do not believe that there is no God, but believe that there is no reason to believe in a God. And if there is no reason to believe in a God, there is no reason for religion to exist. That is why new atheists believe that religion should not exist and, consequently, are hostile to it.

    Ultimately, new atheism is a position of belief, belief that there is no sign of God. This is not a strictly rational position as is being made out. Others see signs of God in the world, in the appearance of design. They see a cosmos configured from the outset to produce the building blocks of life which are scattered across our galaxy. These are the result of billions of years of stellar nucleosynthesis and irradiation where matter is fashioned to ever increasing complexity; a cosmic factory for the ingredients of life.

    Many see this as a sign that the cosmos has a purpose and, if so, that there must be a purpose-giver who is the Creator of the cosmos. This is no less a position of belief than that of the new atheists who believe that there is no sign of design, no sign of purpose, no sign of God. Ultimately, then, it is a question of belief for both theists and atheists. The latter have no right to occupy the intellectual high ground over the former by appealing to what they call reason.

  • davej

    So when the Muslims are busy killing people who have "offended" their Prophet we can all see how they deserve respect for their religious viewpoints. Atheists, on the other hand are despicable for declaring such viewpoints to be nonsense.

  • I've been increasingly jaded watching how these "New Atheists" recycle these same completely predictable nonsensical responses. This is a great start at debunking their most incoherent and silly arguments. FOR SURE NOT ALL ATHEISTS ARE LIKE THIS, but it's amazing how many repeat these same tired arguments as if there is no response. I hope they learn the responses and become better atheists (or give it up as incoherent, that works for me too).

  • dippu dixit

    Insofar as fundamentalist atheists are able to refute the arguments of Christian fundamentalists, they are in some way doing the Church a favour.

    http://www.smshastri.com/mangal-grah-shanti-mantra/

  • 3All

    I am an agnostic. I had a discussion with a group of militant atheist before even knowing what a militant atheist is or that such exist about a historical (note: not scientific) fact that I think Dawkins distorted in his book. Long story short, without even knowing my religious belief, I was already accused of being a christian even if I also did state that I also think that religion is irrational. It even reached to the point of stating that all theist should be killed (including me of course because they already concluded that I was a theist). It seems that they do not want to make a rational conversation and was constantly resorting to bullying strategies. By the end of that conversations I concluded that just like other fundamentalists of other groups, they are doing a greater deal of damage to their belief than good. They are as dangerous as the Marxist atheist and should not be entertained/outright rejected by rational and peace loving atheist.

  • It's not just that they're so hostile, they've created a cult--I call it the Horsemanite Cult--with all sorts of dogmatic beliefs and doctrines, none of which are scientifically falsifiable but many of which are positively hateful. I've gone from accepting atheists to thinking that the safest bet is that atheists are terrible people not to be trusted, at least until they prove otherwise. Is that prejudice? Well it's based on experience and what philosophers have been writing about it since Before Christ.

    I am also a former atheist, and I'm very glad I got away from it. God's a rational concept, they'll have to get used to it. Christianity is a more complex subject (I'm one of those too) but the hostility of the New Atheist movement toward Christianity justifies hostilty toward them. Note hate, but definite mistrust and if not contempt for them as people contempt for their views. Not their atheism, but their screaming religious bigotry.

    • Sample1

      God's a rational concept, they'll just have to get used to it.

      Do you think a faithful Muslim agrees that a trinity is a rational concept of God? How about a devout Jew?

      Mike

    • Will

      I've gone from accepting atheists to thinking that the safest bet is that atheists are terrible people not to be trusted, at least until they prove otherwise. Is that prejudice? Well it's based on experience and what philosophers have been writing about it since Before Christ.

      If New Atheism is a cult, does it make sense to judge an entire group by the thoughts of a cult. Jim Jones founded the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, and eventually led all of his followers to commit suicide. Should we judge all of Christianity by his cult or Westboro Baptist Church? Isn't that the core mistake of the New Atheists that you are making yourself? I agree that God is a rational concept though not without problems, but aren't you one heck of a hypocrite complaining about bigotry with this in your comment? It's hard to take anyone seriously about rationality when they display such irrationality in a post. Obviously your statement is emotionalism due to hateful comments by atheists (understandable) but rational people are quick to recognize this and back off.