Thursday, July 18, 2013

Atheist Humanism's Myth of Progress

Bangkok, Thailand

Some intellectual and philosophical atheists refrain from attacking theism and are putting efforts into articulating the logic of their atheistic worldview. It's true that others have done this before. See, e.g., Bertrand Russell's famous "A Free Man's Worship."

From a Nietzschean point of view, it's about time. Nietzsche engaged in atheistic intra-worldview reasoning, but as he looked around his fellow atheists were ignorant of the logical implications of their worldview. Nietzsche wrote, famously: "I guess I came too early."

Today we have Sam Harris trying to find morality on atheism (he fails), Joel Marks saying that on atheism morality does not exist (he is correct), A.C. Grayling's meager attempt to explain atheistic humanism, Daniel Dennett's philosophically sophisticated debunking of free will on atheistic philosophical materialism, and so on. And currently we have atheist philosopher John Gray's The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Myths.

Gray's Silence takes on the Nietzschean mantle and begins debunking atheistic "humanistic" ideas like "progress," correctly accusing positive, hopeful, forward-looking atheists of coopting ideas into their atheistic faith that find their ontological reality in Christian theism. For example, Gray writes:

"In the story that the modern world repeats to itself, the belief in progress is at odds with religion. In the dark ages of faith there was no hope of any fundamental change in human life. With the arrival of modern science, a vista of improvement opened up. Increasing knowledge allowed humans to take control of their destiny. From being lost in the shadows, they could step out into the light.

In fact the idea of progress is not at odds with religion in the way this modern fairy tale suggests. Faith in progress is a late survival of early Christianity, originating in the message of Jesus, a dissident Jewish prophet who announced the end of time. For the ancient Egyptians as for the ancient Greeks, there was nothing new under the sun. Human history belongs in the cycles of the natural world. The same is true in Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, and the older parts of the Hebrew Bible. By creating the expectation of a radical alteration in human affairs, Christianity – the religion that St Paul invented from Jesus’ life and sayings – founded the modern world." (Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths, Kindle Locations 106-110)