Friday, November 02, 2007

The God Delusion #44: Another Atheist Notes the "Thinness" of Neo-Atheism

Atheist Theodore Dalrymple has a delightful and penetrating critique of DawkinsHarrisHitchensDennett in "What the New Atheists Don't See."

Dalrymple shows how the Dennett thesis is inherently self-contradictory and, as such, logically incoherent. He writes: "Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.

For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true."

Ahhh.... wonderfully said... thank you!

Here's a fun quote: "The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree, for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14." This especially applies to Dawkins who, were he 14, would get a grade of 'C' in my philosophy of religion course and be reprimanded in two ways: 1) plagiarizing from the internet; and 2) poor choices to plagiarize from.

Re. neo-atheist Michael Onfray's book Dalrymple writes: "Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto [is] so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them."

Now enjoy this delighful quote: "In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.” Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?" I am Scandinavian, but even I am laughing at that one.

But this train of thought gets even better (Dalrymple is one very good writer!): "Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool." For me, it now doesn't get much better than to read something like that...

On the silliness of Sam Harris: "This sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance, reach an apogee in Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith. It is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness; it makes Dawkins’s claim that religious education constitutes child abuse look sane and moderate."

Dalrymple is very troubled by Harris, and indicatesw this as he writes that Harris writes "quite possibly the most disgraceful [words]that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist: “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”

Hitchens is guilty of "the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules."

Dalrymple uses gives a logical counterexample to bolster this point: "In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find."

Dalrymple goes on to examine, in admiration and even "awe," the writing of a theologian named Joseph Hall, saying that he far prefers Hall's "charity" to the "intolerance" of Sam Harris.

And I, for one, have been far more moved and provoked by certain atheists such as Antony Flew when he was an atheist than the intolerant neo-atheists.