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Charlotte Allen wrote this doozy for the LA Times on Sunday. It is a criticism of New Atheism, but it also operates under two unfair assumptions: 1) every atheist is a New Atheist and 2) and every New Atheist behaves in accordance with the behaviour she outlines. It's also disingenuous in that it fails to present some of the other reasons atheists feel "oppressed." And furthermore, the columnist outright lies about some of the people she is criticizing. Shocker.

Other people, most recently the British cultural critic Terry Eagleton in his new book, "Faith, Reason, and Revolution," take to task such superstar nonbelievers as Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion") and political journalist Christopher Hitchens ("God Is Not Great") for indulging in a philosophically primitive opposition of faith and reason that assumes that if science can't prove something, it doesn't exist.

Edit: Jesus, why didn't I address this the first time I saw it? She basically said that these atheists operate based on a fallacy, namely argumentum ad ignorantiam:

  1. I hypothesize X exists.
  1. I cannot scientifically prove X exists.
  1. Therefore, X does not exist.

No, they do not believe this. Anyone who has read their books knows this, because this is a glaring fucking fallacy.

End edit

That said, I am reluctant to call individuals like Dawkins and Hitchens "philosphers," but I am also reluctant to call a worldviw on God's existence that is largely influcned by scientific knowledge... "primitive." From a scientific standpoint, God does not exist. However, it is an incomplete approach to the topic of God and inadequate for a philosophical discussion of God's existence. The viewpoint dismisses certain things like a priori arguments (e.g. the Ontological Argument) and other philosophical arguments that aren't scientific by nature. However, it should be noted that Dawkins does cover these philosophical arguments in his book, so not only is her characterization of Dawkins's book asinine, it's also false.

It is true though that Dawkins' view on God is largely influenced by his ability and affinity to explain the physical world. I fail to see how that's not understandable. And I definitely do not see that being a "primitive" worldview.

Obviously the ability and affinity to explain behaviours in the physical world is not mutually exclusive with a belief in God, but it's understandable that the atheists that are influenced by their knowledge of science take this worldview.

My problem with atheists is their tiresome -- and way old -- insistence that they are being oppressed and their fixation with the fine points of Christianity. What -- did their Sunday school teachers flog their behinds with a Bible when they were kids?

I think it's a matter of atheists in the states being tired of watching political debates, such as debates on gay marriage, gay rights in general, abortion, teaching evolution in a public school science classroom, embryonic stem cell research, and even patriotism, being tightly intertwined with religious matters. Maybe feeling "oppressed" is an overstatement, but can the author at least concede that having a faith-filled majority try to dictate the outcomes of these political issues with views based on faith can be rather... stifling, to those who don't share their faith? It does feel like that the outcome of a political debate is largely determined by either religious conservatives or religious progressives with atheists not contributing as largely to the outcome... in America, anyway.

First off, there's atheist victimology: Boohoo, everybody hates us 'cuz we don't believe in God. Although a recent Pew Forum survey on religion found that 16% of Americans describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, only 1.6% call themselves atheists, with another 2.4% weighing in as agnostics (a group despised as wishy-washy by atheists). You or I might attribute the low numbers to atheists' failure to win converts to their unbelief, but atheists say the problem is persecution so relentless that it drives tens of millions of God-deniers into a closet of feigned faith, like gays before Stonewall.

Again, Allen loves to use loaded words like "oppression" and "persecution" in her characterization of some of the atheist charges. If she really wants to imply that there isn't some extraordinarly high level of disdain and distrust for open atheists in this country, she's free to do so obviously, just as I am free to demonstrate her ignorance. Of the minorities in this country, open atheists are the least likely to be voted into office and they are the most distrusted minority. Her attempts to downplay this are seriously anger-inducing.

In his online "Atheist Manifesto," Harris writes that "no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that ... God exists." The evidence? Antique clauses in the constitutions of six -- count 'em -- states barring atheists from office.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled such provisions unenforceable nearly 50 years ago, but that doesn't stop atheists from bewailing that they have to hide their Godlessness from friends, relatives, employers and potential dates.

First of all, yes, these state laws have officially been invalidated by the Supreme Court through the "no religious test" clause and the Establishment Clause. How the notion that it's thus okay to be openly atheist in some of these states necessarily follows... I do not know. It's like saying that if gay marriage were legalized in these states through a Supreme Court ruling, it wouldn't be understandable to hide your sexual orientation... because the Supreme Court magically ended bigotry against gays!

Maybe atheists wouldn't be so unpopular if they stopped beating the drum until the hide splits on their second-favorite topic: How stupid people are who believe in God. This is a favorite Dawkins theme. In a recent interview with Trina Hoaks, the atheist blogger for the website, Dawkins described religious believers as follows: "They feel uneducated, which they are; often rather stupid, which they are; inferior, which they are; and paranoid about pointy-headed intellectuals from the East Coast looking down on them, which, with some justification, they do." Thanks, Richard!

Disingenuous author is disingenuous. First of all, I agree that dismissing all religious believers as uneducated morons is antithetical to progress and building bridges, but that is not what he did. He just called creationists these things. From that interview:

Me: There is so much controversy about evolution, as I am sure you are well aware. What are your thoughts on why certain religious people tend to focus more on evolution than, say, paleontology or archeology, which can certainly be just as damaging to their religious texts as is the theory of evolution?

Richard: Well, paleontology, of course, is one of the main evidences for evolution, so that goes there. I suppose it’s become a kind of red-rag issue. It’s become like their piece of tokenism in a way. They feel uneducated, which they are, often rather stupid, which they are, inferior, which they are, and paranoid about pointy headed intellectuals from the east coast looking down on them, which, with some justification, they do. They tend to be the sort of people who vote for Sara Palin instead of voting for someone who’s qualified to lead the country. They think "I’d rather vote for someone who’s just like me" under this weird idea that they want to be governed by people who are just like them. Similarly, I think there is a sort of inferiority complex and that could be part of it. I suppose it’s also true that much of science doesn’t directly contradict what’s in the Bible whereas evolution does. But mainly, it’s become a sort of red-rag issue by historical tradition.

His comments were targeting, specifically, people who deny scientific aspects of the world around us on the basis of faith. And unfortunately, on the subject of a proportional relationship between lack of education and belief in creationism, the correlation found seems to favour Dawkins.

In the end, I think I agree that calling creationists these things doesn't really further discussion and debate with them, but face the facts: a whole mess of them are not looking for honest debate on the subject of God's existence and hold beliefs that are just as bad as the flat earth society, alchemists, and people who think astrology has merit.

Regardless, Dawkins did not target all religious believers in this quote. Back to the LA Times:

Dennett likes to call atheists "the Brights," in contrast to everybody else, who obviously aren't so bright.


And Dennett has some words about this from his book:

There was also a negative response, largely objecting to the term that had been chosen [not by me]: bright, which seemed to imply that others were dim or stupid. But the term, modeled on the highly successful hijacking of the ordinary word "gay" by homosexuals, does not have to have that implication. Those who are not gays are not necessarily glum; they're straight. Those who are not brights are not necessarily dim.

I'm personally not a fan of the term, but I think the author could have at least taken into account Dennett's own view of the term.

And now she comes to PZ Myers:

The university deactivated its link to Myers' blog in July after he posted a photo of a consecrated host from a Mass that he had pierced with a rusty nail and thrown into the garbage ("I hope Jesus' tetanus shots are up to date") in an effort to prove that Catholicism is bunk -- or something.

Actually, the only thing that he sought to prove there was that the Eucharist was a fucking cracker and that the reaction towards its "desecration" was the epitome of delusion. My opinion on Dr. Myers fluctuates, as his attacks can be broadsweeping, caustic, and narrow, but portraying him as the religious fundamentalist of atheism is just fucking stupid.

Another topic that atheists beat like the hammer on the anvil in the old Anacin commercials is Darwinism versus creationism. Maybe Darwin-o-mania stems from the fact that this year marks the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth in 1809, but haven't atheists heard that many religious people (including the late Pope John Paul II) don't have a problem with evolution but, rather, regard it as God's way of letting his living creation unfold? Furthermore, even if human nature as we know it is a matter of lucky adaptations, how exactly does that disprove the existence of God?

First of all, by "many religious people," she in truth means Catholics. Protestants, not so much (and the trend is worse with Evangelicals). The fact of the matter is that a majority of Americans believe that God created us in our present form, so I'm guessing that a majority of Christians believe this as well. Her attempts to diminish this are laughable.

Finally, evolution does not disprove the existence of a theistic deity, but it makes the Biblical account of human history, taken literally, extremely questionable (to the point where it's impossible).

And then there's the question of why atheists are so intent on trying to prove that God not only doesn't exist but is evil to boot. Dawkins, writing in "The God Delusion," accuses the deity of being a "petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak" as well as a "misogynistic, homophobic, racist ... bully." If there is no God -- and you'd be way beyond stupid to think differently -- why does it matter whether he's good or evil?

Good grief, this is just fucking stupid. It matters because God's followers try to carry out God's will, and unfortunately, quite a lot of Christians believe that God's will is to make homosexuals miserable, for example. Yes, the atheist position is a rejection of God's existence, but the conclusion that any discussion on the asserted God's morality is meaningless to the atheist does not necessarily follow.

The problem with atheists -- and what makes them such excruciating snoozes -- is that few of them are interested in making serious metaphysical or epistemological arguments against God's existence, or in taking on the serious arguments that theologians have made attempting to reconcile, say, God's omniscience with free will or God's goodness with human suffering.

LOL, watch this:

"The problem with theists -- and what makes them such excruciating dolts-- is that few of them are interested in making serious metaphysical or epistemological arguments for God's existence, or in taking on the serious arguments that philosophers have made pointing out the paradoxical qualities of the traditional theistic god."

See, aren't broad sweeping generalizations fun?

Fun fact: not all atheists are philosophers and not all theists are theologians. There are intellectually lazy arguments on both sides. Why she decided to make this a one-sided issue, I don't know.

[Atheists] think that lobbing a few Gaza-style rockets accusing God of failing to create a world more to their liking ("If there's a God, why aren't I rich?" "If there's a God, why didn't he give me two heads so I could sleep with one head while I get some work done with the other?") will suffice to knock down the entire edifice of belief.

Not only is this a giant straw man of what a majority of atheists argue, it's also the richest comparison I've seen yet; we're Hamas (or something). So I guess that makes the Christians Israel... and given what she's arguing here then, I'm guessing she'd deny any oppression of the Palestinians on Israel's part, if we asked her.

Okay, I'm done with this hack. Just so people know, this same author one claimed that women were dumber then men, even though the difference in average intelligence wasn't statistically significant (HT: PZ Myers)

Originally posted to The Erratic Synapse on Mon May 18, 2009 at 08:33 AM PDT.

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