Well, it’s nothing to be concerned about. Just more of the same ol’, same ol’, with nothing much of substance to grapple with. Let’s tackle Andrew Brown’s complaints first. Brown is not a stupid fellow, but I see here a hint of irrationally roused hackles, with little explanation of what exactly he is complaining about. First he names a few of the people he identifies as New Atheists, and then he lists what he considers to be defining characters of this group. Look who he names: I made the grade!
So, who are they? The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran. They have two things in common. They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration. All of them make claims about religion and about believers which go far beyond the mere disbelief in God which I take to be the distinguishing mark of an atheist.
It’s an unfortunate paragraph, though. He reached for a couple of bloggers to throw in the pot and notes the dreadful lack of philosophers in our ranks…but alas, he seems to have neglected a few rather more prominent names, which damage his premise rather severely. Where’s Dan Dennett? Shouldn’t he have been named right there with Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens? Perhaps because he is a philosopher, he isn’t really a New Atheist. And what about A.C. Grayling? He always seems to be vociferously godless, and he certainly ought to qualify.
I don’t think it is required that one be a philosopher to be able to be loudly atheist, anyway. Brown notes that this is a political and social movement, which is true, and denies that there’s anything intellectual about it, which I deny. Philosophers do not have a monopoly on social, political, or intellectual issues, so it is rather irrelevant. He might as well have noted that there is an absence of plumbers in his list, which means we must all be unqualified to discuss politics or the economy. Neither are any of us named Joe.
But let that pass. Brown does something interesting: he attempts to define the six characteristic premises of the New Atheism, and invites everyone to keep score. OK! Let’s see how I stack up.
There is something called “Faith” which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.
Hmmm. “Unjustified” I’ll accept, but I don’t agree that faith is necessarily false. Still, I’ll give it to him in my case: +1 for PZ.
The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn’t. “Science is the only way of knowing – everything else is just superstition” [Robert L. Park]
Again, there are two things muddled up here, and I accept part but not the other. The existence of a god certainly is a scientific question. If there exists a prime mover or a cosmic watchmaker or a meddling tinkerer or a thunderbolt-flinging patriarch, and if it had or is having an effect on the universe, then yes, god is something we should be able to detect. If god is some nebulous entity that is not part of or is not involved in affecting our existence, then it is irrelevant and can be ignored.
But I don’t think science is the cure for faith. It can be, for some of us, but for others there is a welter of emotional and social issues that are tied up in belief, too. I can give myself only ½ point here, but maybe I’d deserve a full point if the assertion weren’t so confused.
Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. “The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition” [Jerry Coyne] “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” [Dawkins]
He does it again! I like the quotes, but Coyne’s comment rather clearly states some complexities in the two concepts that belie the Manichean conflict Brown tries to set up. I can only award myself ½ point here, although if he’d just presented the quotes without his strange interpretation it would have gotten a full thumbs up from me.
In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm. (Looking for links, I just came across a lovely example of this in the endnotes to the Selfish Gene, where lawyers are dismissed as “solving man-made problems that should never have existed in the first place”.)
Nope, I disagree 100% with this one. I don’t see religion as doomed at all; there’s plenty of evidence that many people will happily swallow all kinds of fabulous pixie dust to think that atheism is destined to succeed. It’s going to be an uphill struggle all the way. I also don’t believe that being godless is sufficient to be a good, wise person, nor that people afflicted with superstition must be evil and stupid. That does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t vigorously oppose stupid ideas…like religion.
Religion exists. It is essentially something like American fundamentalist protestantism, or Islam. More moderate forms are false and treacherous: if anything even more dangerous, because they conceal the raging, homicidal lunacy that is religion’s true nature. [Sam Harris]
Another goose-egg for Brown, I’m afraid. His first two words are OK, but the rest is garbage. My personal image of religion isn’t fundamentalist at all, but the quietly gullible, unquestioning, moderate faith of my mother’s family. I don’t think it usually causes serious conflict, let alone “raging, homicidal lunacy”, but it does undercut critical thinking, and as we’ve seen in the past few years in America, that’s dangerous.
Just because that faith doesn’t lead to loud rants against perceived wickedness or parishioners spasming on the floor or mobs with torches doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, though, and it’s that to which I object.
Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]
Man, this is getting bad. No, all the way through. I don’t especially pick on Islam — it’s not a major force in my neighborhood — and hey, doesn’t this contradict his previous claim, where we’re supposed to find more moderate forms of religion “even more dangerous” than Islam? I think religion is an enabling error that is patently false, and one that is made worse by the studious attempt of so many to make excuses for it. But if, for instance, religion evaporated in the Middle East tomorrow, I don’t think peace and fellowship would descend on the region: nationalism, ethnic bigotry, and historical grudges would guarantee that danger and wickedness would continue. It would remove one obvious contributor to stupidity.
Well, crap. I got a grand total of 2 out of 6. Andrew is going to have to strike my name from the distinguished list of New Atheists. Maybe that will make room for Dan Dennett…but somehow, I don’t think he’ll get a very high score, either.
I guess he’ll have to try again. Maybe next time, Andrew can also lay out what he finds objectionable about the New Atheists himself, rather than just tossing out definitions and pretending their heinousness is self-evident.