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Friday, February 24, 2012

John Gray, Atheist...

on the "childishness" of the new atheists:

"The paradox of an immensely powerful mind mistrusting the intellect is not new. Pascal needed intellectual humility because he had so many reasons to be proud of his intelligence. It is only the illiteracy of the current generation of atheists that leads them to think religious practitioners must be stupid or thoughtless. Were Augustine, Maimonides and al-Ghazali - to mention only religious thinkers in monotheist traditions - lacking in intellectual vitality? The question is absurd but the fact it can be asked at all might be thought to pose a difficulty for de Botton. His spirited and refreshingly humane book aims to show that religion serves needs that an entirely secular life cannot satisfy. He will not persuade those for whom atheism is a militant creed. Such people are best left with their certainties, however childish."

(Hat tip Rod Dreher.)

11 comments:

  1. Is there any foundation for this claim about the current generation of atheists thinking "religious practitioners must be stupid or thoughtless"?

    If we're to take "current generation of atheists" literally, it's simple slander and not deserving of a platform here.

    If we take him to mean the handful of big-hitters, he seems to be factually wrong too. I seem to recall all of them have made statements directly contradicting Gray on this. Just today I watched a discussion between Dawkins and Rowan Williams in which Dawkins expressed feeling honored to be on stage with someone as impressive as the archbishop.

    I think one has to be careful about confusing forceful words against a stupid or thoughtless argument or individual with the view that all religious people are stupid or thoughtless.

    People like to call other people childish. That's a lot of what this is I think.

    If it was ever suggested to Gray that it would be God's justice that he die of throat cancer, I'm sure he'd call a few people an idiot too. That hardly amounts to thinking that all religious people are stupid.

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  2. "Is there any foundation for this claim about the current generation of atheists thinking "religious practitioners must be stupid or thoughtless"?"

    Of course there is. The New Atheists (clearly who Gray is referring to as "the current generation") have explicitly named themselves "brights," which implies, of course, that non-atheists are the "stupids." They have a whole web site about how they are "the brights":
    http://www.the-brights.net/

    Or just Google "theists" and "stupid": 2.1 million hits, featuring titles like "All theists are stupid" and "Christians are stupid" and "Why are all theists stupid"? (Those three titles are all from the first ten pages returned! Even if that ratio declines by a third as we search deeper, that means there are hundreds of thousands of web pages explicitly declaring religious people to be stupid.)

    So, yes, there is *overwhelming* evidence that many, many atheists think religious people are dumb.

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  3. 'If we're to take "current generation of atheists" literally, it's simple slander and not deserving of a platform here.'

    And of course, no one who says anything like this ever means "every single one": they mean "in general."

    But you knew this, so why this phony bitching about how it is "slander"?

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  4. "Paxman: Do you really care that there are a lot of stupid people around?

    Dawkins: I do actually, yes. I really do. I mean, I care that children are being misled by those stupid people."

    And, of course, by "stupid people," Dawkins means "believers in religion."

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  5. People like to call other people childish.

    Daniel, is there any foundation for this claim? If not, please retract your slander against people.

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  6. I have so many thoughts on this. I finish a paragraph and something new pops up, and I can't seem to stop. There's some kind of made-up essence of the atheism you want to hate, and I can't quite figure out what it is, so I'll try a shotgun approach.

    1. The way you frame your argument is very weak. First of all, you start with a clear falsehood: very few "New Atheists" named themselves brights, because most thought it was either dismissive, ineffective or just a waste of time. Second, your searching methods leave a lot to be desired. Of the few results that seem to be the smoking gun ("stupid theists" and "are theists stupid?" don't imply what you think they do), how many do you suppose are posted by self-described skeptics and secular humanists, and not, say, 14-year old boys who've just discovered metal, atheism and rebellion?

    (A quick non sequitur: search 'atheists and 'stupid' for comparison. Which one brings four times more results and far more abrasive language?)

    2. Sure, there are atheists who have bigoted and dismissive views about theists in general - I'm not one and most atheists aren't either, but they do exist. That's an unfortunate manifestation of tribalistic thinking and generally unproductive - but it's not an intrinsic characteristic of atheism. What drives me (and the kind of atheists/skeptics I hang around with) is simply the lack of critical thinking in the world, and the most abysmal form of uncritical thinking is usually found in fundamentalist theism. I don't think deeply religious people are stupid - I think they are irrational in their metaphysical beliefs, which in turn are stupid IMO. (Not to say I'm the pinnacle of clear thinking myself, just that Rick Santorum is even less so.) This message gets misinterpreted quite often, it seems.

    3. Don't forget that for many rank-and-file atheists, their identification is a civil rights issue as it is an intellectual one. Dawkins and Harris aren't MLK or Rosa Parks by any stretch of imagination, and I'm fortunate enough to have been accepted as I am, but there absolutely are places in the USA (and other religious countries) where atheists aren't welcome or tolerated. For many parents, "I don't believe in God" are the last words they want to hear their child say. I'm not at all surprised that some people would turn hostile after nasty experiences with theists.

    4. One last thing. I didn't jump the 'bright' bandwagon when it was starting off, and most who did seem to have left it already, but the campaign never implied non-brights were stupid. It was analogous to the word 'gay', which never implied heterosexuals were gloom-and-doom party-poopers. The word 'bright' was coined to describe people who were proud of having skeptical and secular humanistic thoughts. Obviously the word never took off, and anti-atheists can't seem to stop laughing at its corpse.

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  7. "What drives me (and the kind of atheists/skeptics I hang around with) is simply the lack of critical thinking in the world..."

    I absolutely agree: atheism is driven by a lack of critical thinking.

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  8. "First of all, you start with a clear falsehood: very few "New Atheists" named themselves brights..."

    The brights page lists Pinker, Dawkins, Shermer, Dennet, Randi, Penn and Teller, Grayling... who we'd miss? Sam Harris? That's about it.

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  9. "search 'atheists and 'stupid' for comparison. Which one brings four times more results and far more abrasive language?"

    But Watoosh, those web sites are all correct!

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  10. I absolutely agree: atheism is driven by a lack of critical thinking.

    Gene Callahan, FTW. (It was a new game.)

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