O noes! Atheists ignore history!

March 25, 2011 • 5:58 am

If you can stomach more Gnu Atheist-bashing from fellow atheists, there are two new pieces.  Both were inspired by Michael Ruse’s rants equating Gnus with Tea Partiers, which tells you what you can expect.  One is by Jacques Berlinerblau at the Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication that for some reason is beginning to specialize in atheist-baiting.  The other, largely a copy of Berlinerblau’s post, is by R. Joseph Hoffman at his own website The New Oxonian.  Both level the same old charges at Gnus:  we’re strident (though not usually as strident as these two guys, whose posts drip with sarcasm and invective), politically impotent, and motivated solely by a desire for publicity, fame, and money.

But they also level a new charge (I’m amazed at how many things we’re guilty of): we don’t know anything about the history of atheism!


In fact, what is fascinating about the New Atheists is their almost complete lack of interest in the history and philosophical development of atheism. They seem not the least bit curious to venture beyond an understanding that reduces atheist thought to crude hyper-empiricism, hyper-materialism, and an undiscriminating anti-theism.


It is almost as though they believe that to the extent atheism has a history (i.e., that it has been hanging on the bough for several hundred years, probably longer if you go back to classical adumbrations), it is too easy to explain away its radical, exciting, and mind-blowing newness.

Well, maybe we’re not completely ignorant: many of us have read Hitchens’s excellent compilation, The Portable Atheist.  But for Berlinerblau that’s not nearly good enough.  We need to delve deeply into everything, and until we’re as educated as he is, we should just shut up:

Step one: Read a few major scholarly studies of atheism like Professor Alan Kors’ Atheism in France, 1650-1729: Volume 1: The Orthodox Sources of Disbelief, or Michael Buckley’s At the Origins of Modern Atheism, or the somewhat graying study of Lucien Febvre, The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais.

Step Two: Go back to Hitchens’ anthology and ask yourself this question: Have the texts assembled by Hitchens recounted a narrative of the development of historical atheism anything like the ones you encountered in the aforementioned studies (and a dozen other works I could mention)? I will leave it at that for now. Read the books, and then we’ll talk.

What amazing arrogance!  Now not only are we supposed to be ignorant of theology, but we’re ignorant of atheism as well.  Doesn’t the passage above remind you of The Courtier’s Reply?  And the answer to both kinds of one-upsmanship is the same.  How much esoteric history do you have to know to be convinced that there is no God?  The important question, after all, is not whether we can pass muster in a Ph.D. exam on the history of religious and secular thought, but this: What is the evidence for god?

And that evidence hasn’t changed much over the years.  The arguments of Bertrand Russell, for example, are still pretty good today, for the faithful still have similar reasons for their belief.  Sure, theologians have concocted some new ones, including the “sophisticated” lucubrations of John Haught and John Polkinghorne, but to rebut them all you need to ask is, “Where’s the evidence?”  And, as usual, after the dust settles beneath the fancy language, it all comes down to one thing: revelation.  Arguments for “revelation” have been gussied up over time to evade demands for evidence, but in the main the counters to claims of revelation have remained  the same.

So while it helps to know how to rebut more familiar brands of apologetics like the Ontological and Cosmological Arguments, one eventually encounters diminishing returns when you get to histories of atheism by the likes of Lucien Febvre.  And you reach those diminishing returns precisely as quickly as you do when reading theology.  After all, what’s important in dispelling religion is not familiarity with the history of atheism, but familiarity with atheist arguments.  And even the Gnus admit that our arguments aren’t that new—but they have to be made for every new generation.

And what about the accusations of political naiveté, like this one by Berlinerblau?:

As for the New Atheists, they sell books and write op-ed pieces, but what have they accomplished politically? A few weeks back I pointed to a study that showed that not one (!) of the 535 members of the House and Senate self-described as an atheist. . .

. . .The problem is that the New Atheists don’t have the foggiest idea how to achieve their political goals. And one sometimes wonders if they are actually committed to figuring it out. At present, their preferred mode of activism consists of alienating liberal religious people who share their views on nearly all these issues.

True, the U.S. House and Senate don’t contain any vociferous atheists, but how many blacks were in Congress when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed?  I grant that atheists aren’t nearly as organized as the civil rights movement, but I think we’re doing just fine, for our job now is doing the spadework for the day when it will be politically acceptable—as it is now publicly acceptable—to to proclaim one’s atheism in public.  That, and constantly asking the faithful for their evidence, hoping that the next generation will notice that there isn’t any. Atheism may advance less by changing the minds of the faithful than by simply waiting for them to die off and be replaced by children who grew up in a climate less tolerant of faith.

Have we been effective? I think so.  After all, there was a reason why books like God is Not Great and The God Delusion were best sellers—and it wasn’t just atheists who were buying them.  And all of us know of religious people who lost their faith after reading the Gnus (see Dawkins’s “Converts’ Corner” or even my own site for testimony).

Both Berlinerblau and Hoffmann dismiss Gnu Atheism as a cynical marketing ploy:

I prefer to see New Atheism as a lucrative media platform, an agitation collective that permits a few dozen cross-promoting writers (and is there anything more amusing than One of Four Horseman giving a collegial shout out to the other Three Horseman?) to sell books and build professional networks. (Berlinerblau)

On the other hand, it is not clear that the EZs [New Atheists] are listening, at least not directly, to their critics, because their royalty checks and speaking fees are talking too loud. (Hoffmann).

But these guys fail to ask themselves why this “marketing strategy” has been so successful! Could it be that there’s a public out there dissatisfied with the false promises and false premises of religion, hungry for secular thought?  After reading the diatribes of Berlinerblau, Hoffmann and their muse Ruse, one can be excused for suspecting that their Gnu-bashing is motivated largely by jealousy.  Neither of those three will ever write a book that garners anything near the attention of The God Delusion. And none of them, professed atheists to a man, will ever have the influence of Dawkins, Harris, or Hitchens.

In the end, Hoffmann is reduced to this:

But [New Atheism] has only itself to blame. It has been disrespectful if not downright dumb about its history and origins and rude to its conversation partners. Skeptics who have their doubts about religion are also smart enough (like Sartre’s aunt) to be skeptical of atheism.  The recent upward trend in criticizing new atheism suggests only that it has boiled down to marketing strategies, and that people know it. People know that the shop window is empty.

Has he noticed that the success of New Atheism is due to the empty shop windows of more venerable institutions?

323 thoughts on “O noes! Atheists ignore history!

  1. Frankly I don’t give a damn about the history of atheism. For me atheism is not a club, I just simply don’t believe in god. For what purpose should I read the history of other people who had “a lack of something” in common?

    1. Exactly. The only athiest history that has struck me as worth knowing so far is Hitler’s closing the Freethinker’s Hall on assuming power in 1933* while leaving the Catholic churches open. I read somewhere that the Freethinkers had a membership of ca. 0.5M.

      * That timepoint particularly interests me since my uncle (from Minnesota) was then wrapping up his post-doc in chemistry at the University of Hannover.

    2. There is never anything wrong with reading about history and philosophies, but the assertion that all atheists must study certain texts is a piece of meaningless obfuscation with trying to discredit a group of people as its only purpose.

      Of course they haven’t a clue whether those they attack have or haven’t read the literature they advocate, but hey, it sounds good so whatevs.

      I read the articles (yeesh Hoffmanns’s was like trying to munch my way through a feather pillow) to try to find out why they think it is so crucial – in what way Gnus or indeed society at large will benefit from the exercise, but they don’t seem to offer one, other than maybe keeping Gnus quiet for a bit while they do some reading.

      1. And what a farce to insist that Hitchens(!!!), Dennett, and Dawkins are not well read in atheist history. Then throw in Grayling and, well, I need a new irony meter.

      2. It seems like a common tactic among these people to quote off particular authors and works, but never actually explain what it is about them that is so important to know.

        Why not explain what it is in those works that merits such attention, rather than just name dropping?

      3. Hoffman’s set me off. Too many of the old ‘bash the immoral atheist’ canards were delivered directly or through allusion. Anyone who stoops that low is, frankly, too much of an ass to be polite to or consider anything he says as ‘serious.’

      1. Haven’t you heard? You’re meant to know everything about something before you can take a position on it one way or another. Like the vast majority of Christians who can recite the Bible verbatim and know the provenance of every single book and the identity of every single author.

        1. Not only that, they’ve read all of the 14th century Muslim philosophers before rejecting Islam, are intimately familiar with Talmud and Mishnah before rejecting Judaism…

  2. Do you think it will help if we buy them both teddy-bears? Cuddles from teddy-bears will make them feel better.

    “not one (!) of the 535 members of the House and Senate self-described as an atheist. . .”
    That’s quite interesting. Atheist Ireland put some questions about promoting secularity to local candidates standing for the recent elections, and it was heartening to see that quite a few were willing to self-identify as atheists or agnostics. If Irish politicians will out themselves, I’m sure that it’s not unlikely to expect that the same will happen in the States.

    As for new atheism being effective, of course it has. Ten years ago there were few people ready to be public about their disbelief, now the are hundreds of thousands world-wide many of whom have organised into advocacy groups to try to promote secularism in their own societies. They don’t expect their groups to be led by the “Four Horsemen”, although in some cases they took some inspiration from them.

    The whole attack of the atheist-butts smacks of sour grapes. They spent years being a silent atheist, perhaps feeling superior for their unbelief, and perhaps feeling even more superior because they had hidden it so well. Now the New Atheists have gone and spoiled that gig for them forever.

    Well, sorry about that.

    1. Well, I think you’ve nailed there. They can’t feel superior any more. They seem to be playing the role of an atheist version of the Church Lady. Isn’t that special?

      1. Can’t feel superior?! Of course they can. They are still superior to believers for their unbelief, and superior to us for the way they express it. Smart and subtle. Aren’t they special after all!

    2. Do you think it will help if we buy them both teddy-bears? Cuddles from teddy-bears will make them feel better.

      I boldly guess that such gift can be accepted by them only if it comes with full, detailed and unbiased history record of how those toys have evolved through the time. PhD dissertation would be welcome here. Otherwise we would risk an offense.

      1. You speak the Truth, Brother Stan!

        One cannot fully appreciate the nuances of teddy-bear hugs without a deeper knowledge of the history of bears both real and historical, plush toys and indeed the material used throughout hte ages to stuff the toy.

        It is also important to analyze how children in previous centuries may have reacted to their teddy-bears, cross-reference it to their relationship with other toys and then compare this to all the studies on children who eschewed the teddy-bear for a kitten, or perhaps a small pet rock.

        One should also consider the effect of such bears as Paddington, Rupert and Winnie-The-Pooh on the mythos of the furry friend, and note if their popularity has not perhaps disorted their essential bearness as perceived by the public in general today.

          1. Only if you’re going to be so unsophisticated at to look at “facts”.

            What you are missing is the deeper essence of bearness expressed in the thoughts and desires of children, and the need for a furry friend that created a bear-shaped void in the lives of all those prior to the 20th century.

            How crass of you to suggest that the mere fact that teddys were only created in 1902 somehow nullifies all the preceding beliefs in cuddly companions.

              1. But have you considered all the books on ursology? And I don’t mean just grizzly ursology… What about black, sun or sloth ursology? What about the primitive cave ursology? Or the fringe sects of pandamonium?

                Btw, has anyone else seen the deeper irony in this? Teddy [bears] > Theodore [Roosevelt] > God’s gift

      1. President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1989 remarked, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.”

        I wonder if he would say that to Pete Stark’s face.

        (Wikipedia has some refreshingly plain-spoken Stark quotes. “Accommodationist” language is not his forte.)

        Another Bush quote is totally unrelated but funny, and refreshingly impolitic: “I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

        He had apparently, previously been asked what foods (or vegetables?) he did not like. I think this was at the time some columnist was bloviating about his affinity for pork rinds, questioning whether it was genuine or calculated to that much more put him in the good graces of “Joe Six-Pack” Amuricun. When the the National Broccoli Growers Association heard about it, they shipped a pallet of broccoli to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was distributed to food banks.

        Amuricun gripe about politicians, but this is an example of how politicians have to toady to “hoi polloi,” “the herd.” Yup, “hurd managemunt.”

        So, as it was with broccoli, so it somewhat was with religion, except Bush, very well apprised of the Amuricun herd mentality, couldn’t go wrong with his religion/atheism comment.

  3. This whole “they do it for profit” argument is ridiculous, and it stinks of the same conspiracy-minded idiots who thinks “big pharma” is pushing vaccines for profit.

    Dawkins has said that he wanted to do TGD earlier, but was dissuaded by his publisher who thought it wouldn’t fly. How the hell could these “four Horsemen” even know their books would be successful? They couldn’t, just like most authors can’t.If you really want to write books for cash, I suggest going in the opposite direction, like write the next “Purpose driven life”, by Rick Warren. Of course, even that get-rich-quick strategy will most likely fail, even if Warren outsold Dawkins manyfold, because you cant predict stuff like that.

      1. Step one: Post on blogs.
        Step two:
        Step three: Profit!

        I have a group of underpants gnomes working on step two…

    1. No kidding, I was having breakfast this morning and in the booth next to me one man was reading Warren’s execrable screed to another.

      From what I heard, it’s filled with nothing but death, death, more death, and some death.

      What frightened little rabbits these people are. Afraid of their own shadow.

        1. Meh, I couldn’t finish the book meself (should I try again?). Price doesn’t write like he speaks. I’d much rather listen to him being interviewed; about *religion*, that is. His politics are…interesting.

          1. Right on. I wondered if it was just me. Got bogged down in “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man”. The guy is verbally mesmerizing though. Check his interviews on “Point of Inquiry” and his talk at “Skepticon 2”.
            I recommend Bart Ehrman’s new book “Forged”

  4. Skeptical of Atheism?? How can you be skeptical of not believing something. I think these guys are trying to ride the coat-tails of the “Gnus” by tapping into their publicity via their (poor) critisims.

    1. This is puzzling, what are we supposed to be skeptical of exactly? This is like the bores who say one cannot enjoy one’s garden without knowing the botanical name and origin of every plant, and not only that read every gardening treatise since Plutarch on Lucullus.

  5. My understanding of the history of my former Calvinism is enough to offer foundation for my atheism. That and the gross actions of my childhood Roman Catholic faith which undermine their assertions to insight. I think I will mark the books these men suggest I read but unlike religion where ordination is essential for commentary, atheism does not demand a monastic study prior to its admission. I’d suggest that the next time one of these narcissists chooses to knock the work of someone outside their scholarly pursuits as inferior to themselves (marketing ploy indeed) a complimentary atheist should in turn use their expertise to knock them. For example, until these men do the hard work of understanding the biology of the fruit fly then they should shut up about conversations that want to assert an interventionist God. Or until these men spend every year in a human war-zone then they should shut up about conversations concerning the problem of evil. One can easily see the useful scholarship of Dr. Coyne in the former illustration and the profession of Christopher Hitchens in the latter. The New Atheists are compelling not because of a marketing ploy but because they offer personal refutation of god-assertions from their personal, and storied, careers. While doing this they provide a new way of thinking that is more sustainable than the Christian superstition. I, as a former committed Calvinist, can assert that from my experience. I used to read The New Oxonian until I realized that it was the purview of a bitter man who was as orthodox in his privileged sense of scholarship as any priest or pastor.

    1. I think Hoffman and his buddies on the latest Jebus project are completely (and probably very deliberately) overlooking the work of the person who has already fully explained the origin of Christianity, and shown how it is simply obvious. The Roman Flavian imperials invented Christianity as a bane to the rebellious Jews, then they told us so by publishing (Flavius) Josephus’ Jewish War as a primer to accompany the canonical gospels. For ptroof, download the Caesar’s Messiah first edition for free esnips, or pay $12 for the new edition with the “Flavian Signature” of 34 close and mostly in-line parallels between Josephus and G. Luke, from scribd.

      How dare Joseph Atwill come along and completely explain the origin of Christianity as a cynical plot! Only the proper experts can research the origins of a “Great Religion,” and we should all know, they do not arise as a mean-spirited joke, but rather only as sincere movements of primitive but noble peoples.

  6. Atheism may advance less by changing the minds of the faithful than by simply waiting for them to die off and be replaced by children who grew up in a climate less tolerant of faith.

    O noes! I can see the accommodationists headlines now:

    “New atheist plan to kill the faithful and eat their babies !”

    1. New? Isn’t that what we’ve supposedly been doing all this time? Joseph Stalin supposedly led attempted exterminations of the faithful, and all atheists are Stalinists, so secretly wish to do the same thing.

      Furthermore, prior to the second world war, the Communist cause was often associated with those of Jewish origin (convenient, huh?). Jewish people supposedly engage in the murder of baptized Christian babies in order to correct horrible birth defects in their own progeny, and to add flavor to their baked goods. So, baby eating isn’t too far off either.

      So, this ‘plan’ isn’t new. Far from it.

  7. So Ruse, Berlinerbrau, Hoffman and co. (cynically) concede that the New Atheists have been successful in their ‘marketing’ – that is, they’re popular – but then question the political impact they have had. For all their erudition, the Gnu-bashers fail to grasp the simple fact that before political change can come to an overtly religious nation like the US, there first needs to be a cultural change towards greater acceptance of atheism.

    And the New Atheists are fostering exactly that.

    1. Exactly! If they really understood history as well as they claim they would know that major political shifts always lag major social shifts. You aren’t going to get atheists in congress as long the public is only getting their information on atheism from anti-atheists.

    2. I do wonder at the reasoning of a person who starts by saying that the Gnus are doomed because they can’t reach out to politicians and concludes by saying Gnus are vacuous because they are extremely good at reaching out to people.

      I understand why they don’t believe that politicians are a type of people but does he really think that, in a country which puts the agog back in demagoguery, politicians don’t respond to popular opinions?

  8. I don’t recall a single Gnu arguing that the things they’ve been saying are “radical, exciting, and mind-blowing”, or even New. Quite the contrary, they’ve constantly reiterated that there’s really nothing “new” about “New Atheism”. Gnus didn’t even invent the term “New Atheism” in the first place, for FSM’s sake.

    1. The earliest reference I know for the phrases “New Atheism” and “New Atheists” is WIRED magazine (Nov. 2006). I didn’t know what to make of that until Russell Blackford observed, “To a large extent, the New Atheism is merely the restoration of normal transmission” that had been dropped in the 1980s and 1990s.

      I agree with Russell Blackford that this restoration of transmission is a real thing — like a change in the weather — and I can agree to “New Atheism” as a name for this change in the weather (not a new philosophy or doctrine).

      Ruse, Berlinerblau, and Hoffman are ranting against exactly that: the restoration of normal transmission. Each of them wants to control the terms of discussion. But they already lost that control by 2006 when WIRED coined those terms. All they can do now is make a mess.

          1. Sure is. Be sure to check out the reviews praising it–guaranteed to turn your stomach!

            I wonder what sparked the book in the first place and if it had anything to do with the Democratic Party’s win of the presidency in 1992 following a decade of Reaganism?

              1. OMG, what a trainwreck! (And, like a trainwreck, nonetheless rather riveting.) Yes, love the screed about the atheist jihad; & esp. the reference to “atheists, agnostics, and know-it-alls…”

                Some of the pans were quite good. One accuses the author of blatant quote mining; another seeks “negative stars” for the rating…

                Interesting that this seems to sum up the accomo attitude to the gnus, yet dates to 1986. Was amused to notice that one of the chapter headings was something like “Those Crazy Sixties.”

                Really, everyone–go have a look at the link Aratina provided!

  9. Frankly, knowing the history of religion is far more important to becoming an atheist than knowing the history of atheism. The BBC had a nice special called The History of Atheism (which I sadly had to pirate as I don’t know how to get it in the states) which was pretty good, but focused more on British Atheism, but in general the history is thus:

    Person realizes there is no God.
    Person publishes why he no longer believes in God.
    Person is persecuted, books are burned, but enough people read it and preserve it so that we know they exist today.

    Its interesting to learn about, but its no where near as compelling to the production of more atheists as a the nativity stories being completely at odd with the real, recorded Roman history, or all how little Jewish biblical history correlates to actual history.

    1. Frankly, knowing the history of religion is far more important to becoming an atheist than knowing the history of atheism.


  10. The Chronicle of Higher Education should be ashamed for publishing Ruse’s and Berlinerbrau’s attacks on a minority constituency–should be, but I know they are not because there is a strong, mush-brained push to pass off religion (and spirituality) as something intrinsic to a person that one should celebrate. Then along come us gnus and write about the phoniness and irrationality of not only the religious beliefs of anti-gay White supremacist young-earth-creationist fundies but also the religious beliefs of the whole lot of theists from Muslims to Hindus to Unitarians, and suddenly, celebrating religion looks an awful lot like celebrating stupidity, which is rather embarrassingly anti-intellectual for institutions and publications devoted to education.

    Yet, I would guess that most gnus don’t really care if one proudly celebrates their religious beliefs as long as it isn’t passed off as factual or well-reasoned or the basis for denying other people their rights, and gnus certainly are not interested in blocking people from any background from attaining an education. So, in a way it is very ironic to see them drop all pretenses of being pro-democracy and concerned about minorities and instead attack us atheists directly as a group of unhinged Teabaggers while we are the ones committed to letting people believe what they will while challenging the ill-gotten ideas that are religious beliefs.

    1. The Chronicle of Higher Education should be ashamed for publishing Ruse’s and Berlinerbrau’s attacks on a minority constituency

      Heh, could you imagine the Chronicle publishing an article about how Islam is all just a marketting ploy and that Muslims have no idea how to accomplish their political aims (how many Muslims are there in Congress?) and that they all want to kill every apostate (to mimic the italicized qualifiers in Berlinbau’s idiotic rant), and ridiculing them for failing to understand the history of Islam?

      No, because that would make it obvious he was a bigoted hypocritical racist fuck. Only thing he’s not in this article is racist.

    2. Unitarians are theists? I thought the usual take was that they “believe in at most one god.” The Darwins were Unitarians. Pete Stark, previously referenced as perhaps the only non-believer in Congress, is a UU.

      1. I suppose I made the same mistake here I was arguing with truthspeaker about earlier: you can’t really generalize about the beliefs of people attending the more liberal churches–some may even be atheists that just like the good company or music on some such. Thanks for correcting me.

  11. Eric MacDonald noted that Berlinerblau criticised New Atheists for their lack of intellectual rigor.

    I suggested Berlinerblau was suffering from intellectual rigor mortis…

  12. Berlinerbrau writes:

    “I prefer to see New Atheism as a lucrative media platform, an agitation collective that permits a few dozen cross-promoting writers (and is there anything more amusing than One of Four Horseman giving a collegial shout out to the other Three Horseman?) to sell books and build professional networks.

    Sounds a lot like Christianity before Constantine I. The difference, of course, being the degree to which the group of “cross-promoting” writers (and what are religions if not collections of cross-promoters) believe in things that don’t have any support for claims of existence.

    Berlinerbrau’s and Hoffman’s criticisms in this section seem to be a little bit like early (and sometimes later) criticisms of Rock ‘n’ Roll: “It’s just about making money! It’s just a fad! It’s ruining the kids! It doesn’t pay enough homage to the music that went before it! It’s not respectful enough of people who don’t like it! It’s too LOUD!”

    The irony here is, if Berlinerbrau and Hoffman feel that atheists shouldn’t be speaking out the way that recent decades have seen, shouldn’t it be Berlinerbrau and Hoffman that pipe down?

    Anyway, my atheism amps go to 11. HELLO, CHICAGO!

    Still learning,


  13. From one side you get, “If you don’t know everything there is about religion you need to shut up.” From the other side you get, “If you don’t know everything there is about atheism you need to shut up.” Maybe the bombastic strutting could have been reduced to a simple STFU!

    1. Yes. One asks: ‘How much consciousness-raising has occurred from the writings of Hoffmann, Berlinerblau and Ruse? … How much? … Oh, I see…

  14. No, I cannot stomach it, to be honest. I tried to read the Berlinbau article the other day; I got as far as the point where he attempts to describe the “central and timeless insight” of New Atheism, and I wound up with so much straw up my ass after the size of Berlinbau’s strawman grew and grew until it covered most of the surface the Earth that I had to take a break to go clean myself up, and after that I just didn’t really want to read any further.

    I am absolutely blown away that someone who could write an article like Berlinbau’s could ever with a straight face accuse someone else of being disrespectful or using too much invective. That guy is a world class asshole.

    1. Berlin”bale” was carefully constructing megaflora scarecrows in a field of quantum tardensity after the grain and chaff of his brain had been removed.

  15. We must turn to the pre-biotic earth for the “real” history of atheism … when stupid ideas like theism had not yet been formed.

    In the final analysis, there’s nothing gneon under the sun.

  16. I wonder what the likes of Berlinerbrau and his pretentious post-modern ‘intellectual’ friends would make of those of us who actually have read the works in question, studied theology at Cambridge, specialising in studying atheism at MPhil level and still consider themselves ‘New/Gnu’ Atheists.

    What nonsense! You could spend a lifetime reading about the history of religion and atheism, but it all still ultimately comes down to one simple question: is there any evidence for any deities? If no, then atheism. Simple as that, and you really don’t need to be well-versed in the finer points of Renaissance French atheistic philosophy to understand that!

  17. I wonder if either of these gentlemen have in depth knowledge of the history of not believing in Santa or the tooth fairy?

  18. Berlinerblau comes across as such an example of pomposity and privilege he makes David Berlinski appear humble.
    Amazingly enough, however, bad as it was, Berlinerblaus rant wasn’t the worst anti atheist piece I’ve read in the past few days. That honor goes to Rabbi Adam Jacobs piece at (well, you know where).
    Apparently the only honest atheist was Jeffrey Dahmer!

    1. Blimey! I hadn’t seen that article. What a waste of 5 minutes of my day! Of course, the only reason to be moral is because sky-daddy is watching. I especially like this bit:

      ‘It boggles the mind how anyone with this worldview even bothers to get up in the morning only to suffer through another bleak and meaningless day’.

      Well, I’m off to have a meaningless cup of tea and enjoy this bleak Friday afternoon!

    2. Jeffrey Dahmer, twice-baptised member of the Church of Christ was an atheist?
      Just like all those Nazi-saluting Catholic priests were atheists – well according to the current Pope anyway.

      Still, when your opponent feels compelled to try to smear people by lying outrageously, it is clear they are scraping the bottom of the barrel of rational arguments.

      1. No longer scraping, but broken through the bottom of the barrel, writhing in the muck and covered in splinters.

    3. Apparently, the only honest Christian was Ed Gein (since his mother read the bible to him every evening) and Dennis Rader (a Congregation Council president of his local Lutheran church).

    4. Wow, the Rabbi is a piece of work… And not even a clever piece of work. Old, tired and shrill…

      Did he mention Hitler? Because I gave up about half-way through…

  19. Surely the you-are-ignorant-of-history accusation is more applicable in the other direction. If more people knew more about the founding and formation of the particular religion/sect they follow they might be a little less enthusiastic about it.

    If anything, it’s been learning more about the teachings and history of religions that has turned many, if not most, atheists away from the faith they were brought up in. That’s certainly true in my case.

  20. First, let me say that I read the entire Berlinerblau piece and came away confused — it was either vomitricious nonsense, or it was a brilliant Poe. He hit every Poe point in perfect Poe harmony. Truly truly a Poeworthy post in every respect.

    Having been disabused of the notion that he was being sarcastic (basically throwing a “sophisticated” argument back at Ruse), I then have to look at the main thrust of his argument and say, “so what?”

    Atheism is nothing more and nothing less than a personal conviction that there is no god. Most of us arrive at that conviction through various means.

    But at some point, I have to believe that virtually all of us have drilled quite deep down into the claims of theism to find some usable ore. What we find is only dross.

    I’m quite sure that in the 16th and 17th centuries, it quite sucked to be an atheist, no matter where in Euro-America you lived.

    During the reign of the Tudors, it alternately sucked to be either a Protestant or a Catholic, depending on which Monarch was on the throne at the time. Henry VIII basically persecuted anyone who did not agree with him, and his theology was … well … capricious. He was followed by Edward, who was not kind to Catholics, who was followed by (Bloody) Mary, who persecuted Protestants, followed by Elizabeth, who persecuted the Catholics once again.

    The atheists of the time — most decidedly only in their minds and not in the public statements — kept their heads down and prayed whichever way the monarch said to pray. Else have their bodies be separated from the space above their necks.

    None of that informs my belief that there is no such thing as any god. That belief being based on all of the evidence I see before me — or lack thereof — and all of the varied arguments I’ve heard from a plethora of voices, the vast majority of them theistically inclined.

    Tell me please, kind professors, how am I then to proceed? If I do not know the exact circumstances of atheism in 16th century France, should I return to the pews?

    I think not.

  21. “A few weeks back I pointed to a study that showed that not one (!) of the 535 members of the House and Senate self-described as an atheist.”

    This isn’t even true, and he says so in the article he links to. Pete Stark (D-CA) was the 2008 Humanist of the Year!

    “Maybe the data is slightly inaccurate: My hunch it that there are, in truth, atheists in Congress. Just a few years back it was widely reported that representative Pete Stark of California had come out as a nonbeliever.

    In the Pew poll, however, Stark (or was it one of his staffers?) self-identifies as Unitarian. This raises an important problem related to my concerns about the term atheist just mentioned. Isn’t it possible that one could be a Unitarian and an atheist? A Catholic and an atheist? A Jew and an atheist (Hi there!!!)?”

    1. I’m an atheist Unitarian. So is my wife and younger daughter. There were about thirty of us in that particular Church, as well.

    2. It’s my impression that the UU fellowship in my Southern California town is predominantly atheist. We had a guest sermon by a Rabbi who asked for a show of hands: how many believed in an afterlife? He counted about 25%.

      There’s a joke about why Unitarians sing so badly — they’re always reading ahead to see what they disagree with. (I’m not sure this applies to us; we’ve actually got a pretty talented choir.)

    1. That book is exactly why I think Berlinerbrau’s stance that the Gnus are uninterested in history is… well, bizarre. Doubt-A History came out before *any* of the Gnu books. And Hitchens cites it *extensively* in God is not Great–really. There’s a lengthy footnote, too, where he goes on and on about it. I read Hecht’s book because Hitchens touted it so highly.

      1. Amazing. I never realized her book was out before the gnus’s (it was published in 2003 according to Amazon.com). Haven’t quite got to “ginG” yet, but I will look for that footnote and think back on this and giggle to myself when I do.

        1. My mistake–not a footnote, but in the acknowledgements, where he describes “Doubt” as “extraordinary”. It’s also cited in several footnotes (enough of them that it caught my eye, and when I saw it in the bookstore thought, “There’s that book that Hitchens cited so many times!”)

  22. I don’t know how they do it!

    There are hundreds of politicians all over America who are promoting state laws to support their religious beliefs.

    Clearly they must have studied the Christian literature in great depth in order to escape the criticism of Ruse, Berlinerbrau, and Hoffmann. Where did they find the time to read all that history and philosophy?

    I have an impossible task ahead of me. I can barely keep up with the history and philosophy of lack of belief in UFOs and the Loch Ness monster. And don’t even talk to me about the literature on the non-existence of Leprechauns! Some of it’s in Gaelic!

    Atheists are in a horrible position. By the time we’ve learned all about atheism we’re too old to care.

    What ever happened to the idea that it’s those who make the extraordinary claim (God exists) who bear the burden of proof? It’s a simple concept. Even a philosopher should be able to understand it.

    1. What ever happened to the idea that it’s those who make the extraordinary claim (God exists) who bear the burden of proof? It’s a simple concept. Even a philosopher should be able to understand it.

      Because “mommy was wrong” is an even more extraordinary claim than “God exists”, obviously – after all, I highly doubt that these guys know the history of not only Christian atheism but Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic atheism.

      Why Christian atheism? Well, just look at it! All of the books Berlinerbrau references are about atheists in Christian cultures. He’s clearly not qualified to comment on this topic when he can’t even be bothered to include a single book on atheism in Buddhist cultures!

      1. POI. Buddhism is fundamentally “a philosophy and not a religion, in the all important sense that it is free from belief in deities or supernatural beings” (AC Grayling, Things That Matter, p. 59).

        However, many forms, notably Tibetan Buddhism, “almost all of them replete with imported religious and supernaturalistic elements” (ibid.)

        1. Tibet is an interesting case. Many secularists seem to practically worship the Dalai Lama even though he achieved his position via reincarnation and magic as a child and not as a result of insight or accomplishment. I skimmed some of his books and generally found them trite and occasionally outlandish.

          The Buddhist monks appear to be a parasitical growth on their society, contributing nothing while requiring peasants to work to provide their food. Like so many religious figures, they drape themselves with the trappings of poverty while living in houses that are far better than what their supporters have, do less work and generally act as opulent overlords. (Of course there are exceptions and many monks and philosophers throughout history have lived homeless as beggars in rags, but again they still often do not work and leach off the effort of others.) And in the past when the Lamas were in power, they were just another theocratic dictatorship so their modern virtue is tied up in their impotence.

          Take away the magic around the Dalai Lama and what’s left?

          1. True – and the idea that many have of a Free Tibet really don’t understand what the Dali Lama wants – a restoration of what was really a feudal theocracy. If the whole group wanted a democratic Tibet I’d probably support it, but wanting to impose on authoritarian government over another…eh, not so much.

          2. “Take away the magic around the Dalai Lama and what’s left?”

            A raging homophobe, that’s what is left.

            Quotes by the Dalai Lama:

            “… men to men sex and woman to woman sex is sexual misconduct” – 1999

            “…sexual organs were created for the reproduction of the male element and the female element, and anything that deviates from this is not acceptable” – 2001

            “…anal sex is not acceptable, even between a husband and wife” – 1996

  23. It is hard for me to imagine a topic more useless and boring than the history of atheism. Criticizing atheists because of their ignorance of atheist history, if they are, in fact, ignorant of it, is a tremendously stupid argument to make. It’s an intellectual cul-de-sac that goes nowhere and does nothing.

    But presenting this stupid criticism is exactly what you’d expect from a critic who also writes this in the same post:

    “For his [Ruse’s]efforts, naturally, he was subjected to the predictable snark of New Atheist trolls. For those not familiar with their world-view, let me help you understand their central and timeless insight: Unless you as an atheist are willing to disparage all religious people, describe them all as imbeciles and creeps, mock every text and thinker they have ever produced, then you must be some sort of deluded, self-hating, sellout, subverting the rise of the Mighty Atheist Political Juggernaut (about which more anon).

    And that “(about which more anon)”? You may be sure that none of the “more” Berlinerbrau promises is evidence that the people he’s criticizing have actually done any of the things for which he is leveling his criticism.

    His whole post is incredibly nasty.

    1. It is hard for me to imagine a topic more useless and boring than the history of atheism.

      Whereas learning a bit about historical atheists themselves can be fascinating and bracing, esp. those who spoke out when it was most dangerous to do so.

      Those of us who are members of FFRF can subscribe to “Freethought of the Day,” which daily delivers a summary of some such people, painstakingly compiled by Anne Nicol Gaylor and Annie Laurie Gaylor. (I’d bet Berlinerbrau hasn’t heard of a lot of these folks either.)


      (Click on “browse by date or name” to get an idea…And note this encompasses a wide definition of freethinkers, not solely atheists per se)

      It’s always heartening to note how many were women.

        1. While I should have made it clearer that I totally agree with your point, too! But maybe ‘professional thinkers’ are envisioning new university departments…blech!

        1. You better be able to justify that position with a complete history of your unFrenchness, lest you be accused of being a Gnu Briton just for the dosh, innit.

          1. Ah, I have Belgian leanings, but my grandmother was Flemish, so I think my unFrenchness is intact.

            (And my grandfather was Frisian… can I still be a Gnu Brit?)

  24. “disparage all religious people, describe them all as imbeciles and creeps, mock every text and thinker they have ever produced”

    I’d like to reply to this but I have a conservation outreach event to attend at a baptist church where I’m due to ‘shout forced laughter’ at the participants.

  25. Without Christianity it is awfully hard to imagine how ideas like separation of Church and State and disestablishment could have come to fruition in the late 18th century.

    This man is an ignorant imbecile. This is really what passes for informed opinion in the humanities?

    Why don’t we just consult the fathers of the Wall of Separation, who left a full account of their reasons. If they were motivated at all by Christianity, it was because of the very, very bad historical examples of government by Christianity. The founders were very explicit about this. But mostly it was because the founders largely recognized Christianity as “folly”—Jefferson’s word—which explains why Jefferson cut out huge holes in the New Testament in his Bible, the very same Bible that is distributed to members of Congress. If we’re all “New Atheists”, then so were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and many other American founders:

    Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law. —Thomas Jefferson, Whether Christianity is Part of the Common Law (1764). Published in The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, Vol. 1, p. 459.

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. —James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785), opposing a “Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion”

    Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. —Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr (August 10, 1787). Published in The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, Vol. 5, pp. 324–327.

    Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. —Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782. Published in The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, Vol. 4, p. 80.

    In the middle ages of Christianity opposition to the State opinions was hushed. The consequence was, Christianity became loaded with all the Romish follies. Nothing but free argument, raillery & even ridicule will preserve the purity of religion. —Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Religion (October, 1776). Published in The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, Vol. 2, p. 256.

    I’ll just pass over for now that his primary “sources” for atheism focus on 16th and 17th century Catholic France, which is of course important, but ignores the rich histories from ancient Greece, Islam, renaissance Italy, 18th and 19th century England and America, and most importantly, the atheistic scientific revolutions taking place in the wakes of Darwin/Watson Crick and Laplace/Einstein/Hubble/Guth and others.

    1. It’s ironic that he also invokes John Locke on toleration, because there were two sorts of people that Locke explicitly did not tolerate: Catholics and atheists.

      1. Yeah, and that in Locke’s time, as well as the narrow period of interest to Berlinerbrau, atheism was a capital offense. That tends to put a bit of a damper on frank and open discussion, itself a lesson from Socrates. Locke’s exception for tolerance in A Letter Concerning Toleration:

        Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. —John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689)

        1. Shhhh! Stop that right now!
          You don’t know anything about history or the history of atheists, ok?

          You’re an atheist so therefore by definition you don’t know any of that stuff that you just said.

          So stop quoting from documents and historical sources and making it look as if you know what you’re talking about.

        2. This is especially unfortunate in Locke’s case since he was aware of religious diversity, even at the world level. (In the Essay he points out that the Chinese government is composed of atheists.)

    2. Well, and without things like slavery, its hard to imagine how ideas like abolition could have come to fruition.


  26. Also, one only need to read Hitch’s memoir to see that he has a fine grasp of the history of atheism (and Judaism BTW). To claim Hitch has no concept of history is like saying Aquaman has no concept of water.

    1. Indeed! A sparring match in public would be rather amusing! Has he ever watched Hitch in a debate? Holy crap!

  27. The history of atheism is fascinating stuff, but can someone explain to me how it relates to the question of whether atheism is true or not? I don’t need to study the history of the photoelectric effect to show that it’s true. I can simply do the experiment in the here-and-now. Maybe historians should consider the bias they hold of seeing all questions as historical ones, when they really aren’t. History is a nice add-on, but not essential to the question itself.

    1. A lot of times they try to teach students science (especially Genetics, where all of my high school and college classes had this structure) by going through the history of it, and explaining how the science worked while going through how it was discovered.

      There is a certain sense in this method, since the leaps forward in thinking go hand in hand with increasing complexity of the ideas, but I don’t think its really useful in the case of Atheism, since most of the core ideas haven’t really changed since Epicurus, though certainly the availability of alternative, natural explanations for various phenomenon have increased dramatically. As such, its probably even better to just read the latest authors, since they can use the old arguments that are most effectively mixed with the newest data.

    2. the important question is whether the French atheists of the 17th century were aware of the history of atheism. I’d they weren’t it is obvious that they should have stfu./
      sarcasm. how could any idea ever get off the ground if it is a prerequisite that the proponents know every historical nuance?

  28. Did they not notice that recent poll which showed that atheists and agnostics knew more about religion than people who actually practice a religion?

    1. Yes! And that the numbers have grown dramatically (albeit still a tiny percentage in the US) since The End of Faith was published?

      Do these guys ever refer to data, or is it all anecdotes and castles in the air?!

      1. I’m sure there is a saying, analogous to the one about idiots – never fight with an atheist about reality, because they will drag you up to their level and beat you with experience.

        I can’t imagine why else every single argument for theism is completely orthogonal to any sort of evidence.

  29. I wonder if the guy is self-aware enough to feel the gut-level cringe that this piece should evoke at some time (very soon)?

    If this is his best, most sophisticated rebuttal then he better play in a smaller wading pool!

  30. Awwwww, how sweet.

    Ain’t these catherders just so dagnabbit cute when they start flailing around like that?

    Oh — and look! One of them managed to grab a kitten by its tail!

    Ouch — that’s gonna leave a scar. I think the tip of the claw is still embedded in — is that Berlinerbrau? Yes, I think it is — the sheath of the claw is definitely embedded deep in Berlinerbrau’s cheek, just below his right eye. Guess he should have checked the species before reaching for a P. leo.

    Look out — here comes mama, and boy is she pissed! …and the chase is on…and over! Wow! I think that’s one of the fastest kills we’ve seen all day today. She must have been as hungry as she was pissed.

    Well, that about wraps it up for today’s coverage. I’m Ben Goren, reporting live from the catherding arena at Gnufest ’11, where I think I can safely say that the lion eats tonight!

    Back to you, Jerry.

  31. Massimo Piglicci and Josh Rosenau seem to agree with with the New Atheist=Tea Partier statement, at least according to their Twitter feeds.

    Argh. I seldom make art as a Gnu Atheist, but I need to ramp it up. I simply cannot understand the point of these self-serving thoughtless articles attacking other atheists based on crappy reasoning.

    1. It’s simply political posturing. There is a certain middle ground position in the US where certain non-believers are allowed, within reason, to be held up as ‘acceptable’. An acceptable form of atheism (or should we say agnosticism) only exists in contrast to the unacceptable face. Thus, the way you demonstrate that you are acceptable is through loudly decrying the unacceptable uppities.

  32. Ah, such ignorance from the self-professed enlightened atheists. Don’t they know that there have been atheists even before the jesus myth was invented? Even Plato’s Socrates was skeptical about the intentions of the gods (and Plato implies that Socrates is skeptical about the existence of the gods).

    1. Indeed.

      Centuries before the invention of Christianity, Epicurus unambiguously did away with the notion of benevolent deities.

      The best any theist has done since then is to slap a label (especially “Free teh Willies!”) on the incompetence and / or malevolence of their particular favored deities.



      1. It just recently hit me that the Christian answer to Epicurus is “Because the first human ate some fruit”. That’s why there is evil in the world. Even more ridiculous when you consider that it was all instigated by one of God’s disgruntled employees.

        1. And, just to be pedantic, did said first human eat that fruit because YHWH was so incompetent as to forget to put a simple electric fence around it, or because YHWH was so malevolent that he intentionally “forgot” to put up a fence because he wanted to play NIGYSOBgames with humans?



          1. I was wondering… how would YHWH react if the serpent instead just moved a fruit into a pie that one of the First Humans was making?

            Ricky Gervais gave a pretty wonderful rip on this whole story, especially how God cursed the snake to move on his belly. And the snake said “Oh No… wait, wait, you mean my punishment is to move around like I’ve already been doing? Oh, well, its harsh but fair.”

  33. Since when have we gone by, or even been called, “EZs” or “News”? Damn, if you are that ignorant of Gnu Atheist History, the least you can do is go read up on it. Jebus, follow your own advice first!

  34. I find it hilarious and rather sad that the best that, (well, what should they be called? “atheists who are afraid of rockign the boat”? Whiners who feel that their specialness is being taken away?) is that “new atheists” have done nothing politically. They haven’t so we shouldn’t even try? Sorry, but the FFRF, MRFF and in religous freedom by the ACLU, have done a bunch in changing the political atmosphere. Atheists have little in common but to see atheists like these fellows out and out lie and use strawmen arguments, it’s just pathetic.

    1. Heck, Berlinerbrau seems to have innocently forgotten all about Madalyn Murray O’Hair who would certainly be grouped in with the Gnu Atheists of today with her Supreme Court victory, her outspoken media-savvy personality, and her atheist pride parades.

      1. No, Berlinerblau mentions her:

        “In fact, atheism is still trying to dig out from the self-inflicted damage caused by its mid-century embrace of American communism. That was followed by Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s carnivalesque and tragic reign of error. New Atheism is just the latest bad idea to grab the steering wheel.”

        O’Hair is commonly dragged out to suggest that most (or, as they would probably have it, all) “New” atheists are lunatics.

        1. Funny, my browser search for her name skipped over the main article and found her mentioned in the comments, so I assumed that meant he hadn’t discussed her. Well, no shock that he thinks badly of her then.

  35. My, my! I think these blustery screeds must represent the apotheosis (!) of concern trolling.

    Berlinerbrau suggests that New Atheism is the least intellectually rigorous type of atheism. Really? Demanding that (patently ridiculous) religious assertions be backed up with hard evidence is less rigorous than legitimizing theist’s apologetics by considering them in the absence of evidence?

    If anything, I’d say Berlinerbrau’s approach is the disastrous one. One shouldn’t be allowed to conclude atheism until one has spent the better part of a lifetime intensely studying various esoteric tomes?

    Could it be that there’s a public out there dissatisfied with the false promises and false premises of religion, hungry for secular thought?

    I think there is, and insisting they all go get PhDs is NOT NECESSARY. Now that would be arrogant!

  36. Argh. I’d missed that article by Joe Hoffmann. I did see a Facebook update he did praising the Berlinerblau article yesterday though, and was amazed. I did a comment saying so. I still don’t get it.

    1. Well, read the Hoffmann “essay” — not a very good try, after all! It’s really just empty rhetoric from start to finish. A very sad reflection of — at least on this occasion — a particularly thoughtless man.

      1. Mr MacDonald:

        Joseph Hoffmann is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and scholarly men the humanist movement has ever produced. You might want to research your humanist intellectual history a bit more.

        “A very sad reflection of — at least on this occasion — a particularly thoughtless man.” ….betrays much ignorance on your part.

        1. And I might add that Dr Hoffmann’s (and Paul Kurtz’s and Berlinerbrau’s, etc.) criticisms and observations re. the new atheism come after much careful and reflective thought on the subject and are hardly as flippant and reflexively dismissive as most of the comments that appear on the blog sites run by the infamous Gnus.

          1. But these two articles in particular are neither careful nor reflective. They are generalized roundhouses. I can’t even tell who the subjects are supposed to be.

            That’s exactly why I find them so surprising.

          2. after much careful and reflective thought on the subject

            … they decided to throw that all away and be flippant and reflexively dismissive of New Atheism!

          3. “And I might add that Dr Hoffmann’s (and Paul Kurtz’s and Berlinerbrau’s, etc.) criticisms and observations re. the new atheism come after much careful and reflective thought on the subject and are hardly as flippant and reflexively dismissive as most of the comments that appear on the blog sites run by the infamous Gnus.”

            Here’s the problem – as careful and reflective as their thoughts may have been, they comprehensively *failed* to translate those thoughts into words, instead presenting exactly the kind of flippant, dismissive & plain igno-rant that today’s nonbelievers are unfortunately all too used to.

            Second point: comments that appear on Gnus’ “blog sites” aren’t the responsibility of the blog owners. Don’t ascribe to a blogger the perceived crimes of their readership!

            Methinks you should do a little more careful and reflective thinking of your own, instead of accepting these ridiculous, ill-informed, pretentious screeds.

            1. Ah, but if you had done a scholarly study of the history of blog comments, you’d see the deeper theological and philosophical underpinnings of it all. It’s all so clear to me now – I’m the Keeper of the Cheese, and you’re the Lemon Merchant!

  37. One interesting thing about Berlinerblau and Hoffmann is that their recommendations regarding the history of atheism tie atheism firmly to theology’s leading strings — one by a Jesuit, another about Rebelais’ religious humanism, the third, by Alan Kors, of whom I had never heard, who writes as follows about what he terms “willful blindness”:

    We live in an age of willful blindness and willful forgetfulness. Philistines do not know that virtually every thrust that they make against Christian belief was anticipated and articulated in the sed contra objections of the doctors of the Church themselves. They do not know that the debates of which the moderns are so proud ultimately resolve into arguments that arose in past ages among Catholic philosophers and theologians—realism versus nominalism, the limits of natural human knowledge, the tension between philosophical skepticism and rational dogmatism.

    Actually, I do know, but that’s another story. But the suggestion that atheism does not arise from free thought, but from theology itself, and the reglious disputes of the seventeenth century, while, in part, doubtless true, does not mean that there was not a vivid tradition of free thought as well, which made its way quite independently of theology. So the idea that atheism is just another form of theology — which is what Berlinerblau himself alleges — is really stretching the point.

    Now, no doubt, such historical studies are interesting, and perhaps, in some cases, important. No one should be willfully ignorant. But it does not follow that such historical knowledge is necessary for those who are concerned about the role that religion is playing in the world today, nor does criticism of religion depend on knowledge of the history of religion’s own doubts about itself.

    As for the suggestion of both Berlinerblau and Hoffman that the New Atheists do not have a political agenda, this is, when you think about it, simply untrue. What we want to see realised, at long last, is secular democracy, without the constant interposition of theological/ecclesiastical concerns in the making and enforcing of law and social order. As Michel Onfay makes very clear in his Atheist Manifesto our societies are still dominated by a religious epistemology, our minds are still, as he says “formatted by two millennia of history and ideological domination” by religion:

    Where then does the Catholic substratum survive? And where the Judeo-Christian epistemology? Simply in the notion that matter, the real, and the world are not all there is. That something remains outside all the explanatory apparatus: a force, a power, an energy, a determinism, a will, a desire. And after death? Well, certainly not nothing. Something …”

    The empty critique of Berlinerblau and Hoffmann can be safely ignored. One wonders why they bother to criticise a movement about which they obviously know practically nothing. And they think that we are simply ignorant of history!

    1. There were skeptics of the ambient religion in China (Confucius, by one interpretation, and originally, perhaps, Laotzu), and in India (the Carvaka school, Gautama, etc.) Arguably Averroes, when it comes to “Islam”, too – his views on materialism are certainly not orthodox. I dare say we have a world wide tradition, not a narrowly European one.

  38. “A few weeks back I pointed to a study that showed that not one (!) of the 535 members of the House and Senate self-described as an atheist. . .”.

    So, did Congressman Pete Stark die and nobody told me?

  39. If I want to learn human anatomy I do not need to study Galen’s works. And while I do respect him for what he accomplished in moving the boundaries of ignorance. And I respect his contributions in establishing early medical science through experimentation versus ‘philosophy.’ The bottom line is while Galen contributed greatly to ancient medical science, he was (frequently) dangerously wrong, even in areas he advanced medical science greatly, like the circulatory system…

  40. Uh, Jerry et al.:

    It’s Berlinerblau, not -brau.

    There’s a sort of off-connection, in that in German “blau” (“blue”) is slang for “drunk” (and “brau” means “brew”), but still.

  41. “desire for publicity, fame, and money” –
    Yeah – we are all rolling in it. Can scarcely move for wads of cash. And we are all so famous – I am fighting off the fans!

  42. Unless a spaceship full of aliens lands on earth telling people they’ve all been had atheism will never defeat religion because atheism lacks the structure and organization that religion has. A lot of religious people deep down know that there is a lot of bunk in their faith but hold to it because of the sense of community they derive from being part of the system. There are not going to abandon that for no community. If atheists organized themselves into a movement with a core set of values, have regular neighborhood meetings where people can come together and share experiences atheism may stand a chance but somehow I do not think that is going to happen.

    1. You are assuming that atheists want that. I am glad to be free of the evolved belief that group acceptance will provide happiness or success. My atheism has allowed me to become comfortable with my mind and therefore myself. I no longer need to choose company that always agrees with me nor do I need to pretend agreement to feel good about myself.

      1. + 1

        And it has always looked and continues to look like those who want to band together under the bonds of secular philosophies (humanism, whatever) will tend to divide up into sects as readily as theists do…

    2. You know what my 16 years of church going taught me about the church community? It is skin deep, and packed with people you only moderately care for. Everyone is on best behavior, because they have to be, but I still can’t believe people find it a substitute for having a good body of friends. And the people I know who have gone from being irreligious to religious always did so in a situation where they single, lonely, and lacked that group of friends and needed a way to meet people and give them ideas of things to do. Others in the same boat have gone on the internet to find board game nights and salsa dancing clubs. I’ll admit that the churches do a good job of organizing things to benefit their sick members, but there are plenty of secular people to do it too. And church comes at quite an expense… how many organizations ask for a 10% income tithe? How many will judge you not for how loving you are, but for how often you go to church, and for your sexual or political proclivities?
      There can be something said for forcing people to meet all their neighbors and interact, but more and more, at least in my generation, I see people who build their own communities around friendship or mutual interests rather than around a pew.

      1. Excellent point about churches not providing the social glue for very close friendships. Also, 10% of one’s income is low for some people and I’ve known people who give out 30% to the church.

      2. When my mother was declining with Lewy Body dementia, few of her fellow christians put themselves out to keep visiting. In particular one couple were quick to drop her as if her illness were her fault. The local vicar was ok -but he was a sort of Agatha Christie vicar – if you know what I mean.

      3. My church friendships evaporated almost instantly after I left church. A few made an effort to reconvert me, but they soon dropped me when they found that my unbelief was solid and — even worse — well reasoned.

  43. I asked some questions of Mr. Hoffman as to who specifically are the self-promoting New Atheists forcing a “movement” while politely pointing out to him that Sam Harris does not call himself an atheist (thus no self-promotion there) and uses brain science to study belief (therefore hard to label him irrational). My efforts led me to be blocked by Mr. Hoffman and those comments scrubbed from the comment stream.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    Who is afraid of criticism? Who is irrational?

      1. Chuck….blatant dishonesty speaks pretty loud too. Here are your supposedly scrubbed comments:

        Chuck | March 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm

        Sam Harris declines to call himself an atheist and is focused on understanding the brain science behind belief. I’d call the first act as non-promotional the second rational. He also has responded to all public challenges of his attempt at science-based humanism in his “Moral Landscape” argument. It would be nice for you to recognize recent history when demanding those you criticize expound ancient history. I know as a former captive Calvinist who logically concluded that self-hatred essential from an inference to Reformed Theology, Dr. Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” was therapeutic. I think your invitation to further atheist study inspiring but unlike my prior religious commitment I don’t see the necessity for doctrinal ordination necessary to oppose those who wish to make their privileged superstition public moral ground.

        Also (and this is delivered with sincerity) do you have a book? Might this atheist purchase it? If not, why not? I’d think one who holds the thin scholarship of the New Atheists (a title provided by Robert Wright BTW and none of the considered News) as horrible would offer his book-form reply.

        1. Not the comment I was referring to Nathan. Two others were scrubbed and I am prevented from posting at the site. I wonder why that is?

          Mr. Hoffman chose not to respond to the post you reference but there were two others where I asked him to list the members of said “New Atheist” movement. Both of those comments were scrubbed.

          I realized I was banned when I was going to ask you the same question about the card carrying “New Atheists”. I will ask it here.

          Who are these “New Atheists” and what defines their “movement”?

            1. I most certainly do apologize to Chuck if his allegations are true. It may be that they are hung up in moderation. Who knows.

              1. Apology accepted. No, not hung up in moderation. They were there, now gone (Hoffman accused me of being emotional which I responded with a measured LOL and a request to get specifics around the individuals making up the movement he criticizes otherwise his ideas signify little). Also, I wanted to dialogue with you on your New Atheist terminology but was barred from doing so. I inferred from this I was banned.

          1. I welcome to the opportunity to respond — speaking, obviously, only for my self. I try a distinction between Dawkins-Harris- Dennett-and Hitchens and what I have come to call the second-tier new atheists. (Dennett is my personal favorite of the classic four-horsemen quartet.) The second tier group is mainly an internet phenomenon, and includes Coyne, Blackford, PZ, Ophelia, and a few others. While I had some initial objections to Dawkins (The God Delusion, never his prior writings, which I adore), Harris, and Hitchens, my main concern has been with the tone, temper, and overall posture and sensibility of the second tier group (and their groupthink, tribalist “fans”) vis-a-vis religion and the religious, accommodationists, and fellow non-belivers who honestly disagree with them on certain matters. I think that the pronouncements of them and their followers are often overly severe, global, and not cognizant enough of nuance and complexity where matters of belief and religious practice are concerned. In other words, I see reckless overgeneralizations and distortions emanating from this group on a regular basis. For clarification matters, I am a fellow non-believer, progressive liberal, and secular humanist, but I sure as hell don’t identify primarily with my non-belief and I consider religious liberals to be highly important allies in the central battles and challenges facing us as a species at this particular time in history.

            1. (I’m re-posting this due to a few grammatical blunders in the first post!)

              I welcome to the opportunity to respond — speaking, obviously, only for my self. I make a distinction between Dawkins-Harris- Dennett-and Hitchens and what I have come to call the second-tier new atheists. (Dennett is my personal favorite of the classic four-horsemen quartet.) The second tier group is mainly an internet phenomenon, and includes Coyne, Blackford, PZ, Ophelia, and a few others. While I had some initial objections to Dawkins (The God Delusion, never his prior writings, which I adore), Harris, and Hitchens, my main concern has been with the tone, temper, and overall posture and sensibility of the second tier group (and their groupthink, tribalist “fans”), vis-a-vis religion and the religious, accommodationists, and fellow non-belivers who honestly disagree with them on certain matters. I think that the pronouncements of them and their followers are often overly severe, global, and not sufficiently cognizant of nuance and complexity where matters of personal belief and personal religious experience are concerned. In other words, I see reckless overgeneralizations and distortions emanating from this group on a regular basis. For clarification matters, I am a fellow non-believer, progressive liberal, and secular humanist, but I sure as hell don’t identify primarily with my non-belief and I consider religious liberals to be highly important allies in the central battles and challenges facing us as a species at this particular time in history.

              1. Nathan, it’s substantively uncivil of you not to apologize for calling Chuck a liar. Seriously.

              2. I don’t read Blackford but find Coyne and Benson specific in their writing. Both defend their useful scholarship against very real threats to it. They choose to bring awareness to the public figures looking to hood-wing Americans into un-critical thought. These public figures draw authority from superstitious ideas and threaten human progress with their obfuscation of Evolutionary Biology. If you don’t think religious of the ilk Dr. Coyne lampoons is a majority might I point you to Campus Crusade for Christ, The Navigators, The Disovery Institute, and The Templeton Foundation. Not to mention the politicians that prostrate themselves to the National Prayer Breakfast. Dr. Coyne is a smart and useful scientist. The best service he can provide society is to inform people that facts don’t support their superstition. If I were still a believer I’d say he has been a blessing to me, short of that I will say I admire him but he’s never asked me to join anything so your assertions to a “movement” seems to be a pejorative you use to ennoble your preferred style. It doesn’t offer clarity on anything real other than your taste.

              3. Ok Nathan so let me get this straight – you have a “concern” with the “tone, temper, and overall posture and sensibility” of the second tier of atheists which includes Coyne, Blackford, PZ, and me; you “think that the pronouncements of them and their followers are often overly severe, global, and not sufficiently cognizant of nuance and complexity” – while you think Berlinerblau’s post and Hoffmann’s post were brilliant.

                And yet when the named four including me write posts, we are specific about what we’re criticizing and/or mocking. We don’t write general posts about the general wickedness of generalized groups or members of perceived groups. We name names, and quote words. Berlinerblau and Hoffmann just talked in (very hostile) generalities. I even asked Joe Hoffmann to provide specifics, but he didn’t.

                So in what sense are we excessively severe and global?

              4. I guess I just don’t see it. I have read several of these ‘second tier’ players for years (over a decade in one instance). I have found them to be very conscientious, deliberate, thoughtful writers. I have disagreed with them on occasions, and eventually changed my mind on more than one occasion. I have also seen them reconsider opinions when presented with sufficient reasons.

                Certainly some of them tend to a more outspoken, even brash style. But there is substance behind the style, and in the end that is what matters most to me. I have no doubt that on some subjects I have the sort of uninformed, overly generalized views described above, but the thing is, these writers are the ones who are bringing the new content to the table. I have followed links and citations and book recommendations from them, and I have learned from it.

                From the people criticizing them I hear an edge to the tone at least as hard as the one being criticized. And I find a lot less substance. And the content that is there is much less convincing to me. The characterizations of the viewpoints seems more oversimplified or misrepresented, the counter examples are given much less attention, the critics seem less willing to re-examine their own positions, etc.

              5. moseszd has produced the veritable coup de grâce below, but I can’t refrain from poking at the dead animal. Not because it is dangerous but because I don’t see how the flies could gather so quickly – the Courtier was strong in this one.

                – Maybe I missed it. But answering with the Courtier’s reply to a post describing how a Courtier’s reply is in play isn’t useful. If anything it strengthens the post it tries to criticize.

                – “their groupthink, tribalist “fans””. Good, finally a new argument!

                But another fumble, since it is the famous atheist observation of “herding cats” that is illustrated by accommodationists taking a non-accommodating stance vs atheism and telling atheists to STFU. Unless tested otherwise, it can be taken for granted that the basic observation stands.


                a) There is a complete lack of evidence of groupthink here. Anecdotally, but not to hound off into ‘I’m special’ land, people do come from different beats. They have their unique way of approaching the evidence for materialism/against supernaturalism, and voice their concerns individually. There is no blog and/or seminar attendance requirement.

                b) Tribalism is, if it can be tested, surely not a stranger to society, and has likely ties to evolution discussed on this site. It seems likely religion is more invested in it, so it is then simply a matter of having your ass backwards no matter how you turn.

                The goal of making religion into harmless “knitting practice” would in any case put a stop to tribalist mechanisms. It is like medicine, the ultimate goal of fighting badness is to make yourself useless. With the difference that here the goal is within reach.

            2. Nathan,

              I think that the pronouncements of them and their followers are often overly severe, global, and not cognizant enough of nuance and complexity where matters of belief and religious practice are concerned.

              I appreciate you naming names but I’m still not sure what you’re talking about. Can you discuss some specific places where you think they crossed some lines?

              I consider religious liberals to be highly important allies in the central battles and challenges facing us as a species at this particular time in history.

              Are you implying that you imagine that any of these 2nd tier Gnus wouldn’t ally themselves with liberal theists to deal with specific issues? That sounds farfetched and I can think of a few obvious counterexamples.

              I’m curious though, what ends do you think we should go to in order to curry their favour? Must we avoid criticizing their beliefs or must we actively control other atheists to discourage anyone from criticism?

              Do you have any reason to think that any of these liberal theists would not work with you on some of these bigger issues (global warming, let’s say) because you publicly disagreed with them on religious issues? It sounds like you’re saying that we atheists are mature and experienced enough to work with people that don’t share all of our views but poor Christians can’t make this leap and so we need to humour them like a petulant child who needs careful, gentle reassurance lest they throw a temper tantrum.

              I can only hope that Christians don’t detect this note of condescension but that aside, I question whether it is, well, true. Is it? Do you have any reason to believe that Christians won’t work with people on shared issues even though we vocally disagree with their religious views? Perhaps we should avoid discussing politics, gay rights, women’s rights and, just to be safe, movies, literature and sports.

              1. @ Chuck: I have absolutely no problem challenging — even forcefully — the extremism and fanaticism of the religious right, indeed I have done so for several years, both in a professional capacity and personally. My larger point has to do with the way religion and religious people are often portrayed by the Gnus. Religion is one of the most complex and variable of all human cultural constructions, and the rhetoric (driven largely by unresolved anger) floating around the NA blogosphere bears almost no resemblance to the actual reality of the religious landscape. For some edification on this point see here: (interview with Robert Putnam) http://www.iasc-culture.org/publications_article_2011_Spring_madsen.php

                and here:

                (Lawrence O’Donnell “Rewrite” on The Last Word) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/#42241047

              2. Thanks for the links. I will check them out. I just find the New Atheist tag is a fuzzy term flung around too often to mean more about the person’s discomfort towards tone than a real movement. I’m new to atheism and am outspoken in criticizing my former belief which seems harsh to many who enjoyed my Christianity. I don’t think of myself as harsh but have often been called fundamentalist in my atheism which seems a close cousin to “New Atheism”. I just don’t see it. Is Robert Price a New Atheist? He is a learned scholar but depending on the audience could be seen as one who mocks religion because he is a proponent of the “Jesus-myth” theory of Christian growth.

  44. In all of these rants that attribute Christian origins to secular values, it’s interesting that the one thing of which the Church should be rightly proud – the foundations of the Western university system – is rarely mentioned. It’s odd, until you realize that the writers are a bit squeamish about disclosing that their muscular defense of faith is really just their muscular defense of their academic disciplines. The real threat posed by new atheists, and not by their predecessors, is influencing the next generation of donors in how they regard Religious Studies.

    Hey, I have to confess that, in their shoes, I’d be carrying on, too. But I took a reality-based career path.

    1. I’ve always thought that to move the conversation forward (if you’ll pardon the silly popular terminology) more secular folks have to start taking metaphysics seriously. I don’t mean, contrary to these crazed “read history or you’re worthless), or that one has to go and read Aquinas, but to have some passing familiarity with some components of modern secular *science oriented* metaphysics would help in debates. Simply dismissing concern for the most general categories of reality (and thought) because 99% of has been worthless allows an intellectual vacuum. That such a field and area of inquiry exists is what differentiates my suggestion in another way – one can, quite clearly, do without theology. I personally find the arguments of D. Armstrong, M. Bunge and others that one cannot avoid metaphysics but rather either confront it or adopt someone else’s

        1. Bunge’s _Treatise on Basic Philosophy, vol 3: The Furniture of the World_ and _Emergence and Convergence: Qualitative Novelty and the Unity of Knowledge_. Armstrong’s _A World of States of Affairs_, _Truth and Truthmakers_ and his work on universals (in various places) is a start. There’s also a lot of work specifically in philosophy of mind which is important as “alternatives to dualism” (e.g. Dennett, Churchlands) and some work on moral responsibility, freedom of action, etc. This latter literature is IMO much less developed and contains (even in the scientifically respectible stuff) dubious appropriation of quantum mechanics, etc. There’s a some investigation of the of neuroscience of will which is just beginning too, and philosophers are toe deep in that area as well. But much more work has to be done.

  45. I see poor Nathan Bupp is all a-flutter because I thought the sum-total of the articles in question were a load of crap. And I dared to point out shyte was shyte.

    So, let’s be clear, nameless Internet ‘gotchas’ are shyte and do not dare to play the civility card if you do them or support those that do.

    If you have a criticism of somebody’s work, opinion, etc., then don’t construct generic phantoms and attack them. Rather, as we say in Court: put on proof — not cowardly heresay and innuendo using loaded terms and examples designed to demean and belittle.

    And what I read there was, by-and-large, heresay, innuendo and generic strawman attacks. Boring, useless and pitiful tools being used by someone playing the “I’m better than you ignorant louts” card.

    The Courtiers Reply is shyte, Nathan Bupp. Quoting dead philosophers, who were wrong or ignorant is irrelevant. Science and knowledge have passed them, and their platonic solids, by and, but for those who keep pointlessly recycling those out-dated, demolished arguments, has consigned them to the ash-heap of history.

    Knowing what happened in 17th century European atheism is pointless. Just as knowing who discovered fluorine is, for all practical purposes, pointless in the modern world. Just as knowing what Galen did for medical science is, for all practical purposes in the modern world, pointless.

    And none of it addresses one of the fundamental legs of this so-called ‘gnu atheism,’ which is: ‘there are no gods and if you wish me to believe your extraordinary claim, you must put on extraordinary PROOF OF YOUR CLAIMS.’ That comes from the scientific method — you make a claim about the universe, you prove it. And not quote dead historians and philosophers. Put on proof; evidence-based proof.

    Not hand-wringing. Not appeals to authority. Not getting the vapors and crying ‘poor me.’ Simply putting on proof. Can you do that?

    I also, btw, find these Euro-centric appeals to authority extremely parochial – atheists come from all types of religious backgrounds. Yet, for some reason, the white European experience seems to be all the apologist ever considers… In all my years I’ve never once seen (not to say it hasn’t happened, only I’ve never seen it happen) someone from the West who is pulling the shameless ‘appeal to authority academic card’ actually cite non-Christian-sourced (usually European) histories/philosophies/arguments. Even though there are, for example, scores of important Indian Athiests who have spoken out against the validity of the Hindu religion.

    A religion that is considered ‘of course’ false in the west and, therefore, not worthy of respect or consideration in these arguments. Despite it being as equally valid and rich a tradition.

    Running around and attacking people for being ignorant while dropping names, blaming them for genocide (by ignoring history) is shyte, Nathan Bupp. It’s clear what is being implied in the Cambodian genocide picture, and it is dishonest. Yet it ignores that Pol Pot was raised a Catholic and went to Catholic school. Clearly the Jesuit assertion of “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” is crap. It makes as much sense to blame his early, morality-forming Christian years for the genocide as his later atheism.

    Yet everyday on the Internet the ‘atheism is immoral – Pol Pot! Pol Pot! – crap is thrown in somebody
    s face by someone who wishes to make a disingenuous argument/slander/innuendo. Today was no different.

    The Shylock extension to infer the same level of Shylock’s moral turpitude to Athiests is another bit of shyte. That bit of innuendo alone makes the author unworthy of anything but scorn.

    And yet here you are defending a man who tarred a whole group of people with innuendo. By the deliberate CHOICE to use the anti-Semite Shylock as an example. When there is, no doubt, many an other example that could have been used without the racist baggage.

    I don’t run around tarring apologists (or the religious) for Hitler or the fact the genocide of the Jews was carried out by Catholics and Lutherans in what was (in that time) the most religious country in Europe. Though I do throw that shyte back in their face when they do it. Just as I also don’t accept the false claim that Hitler was an atheist. Especially in light of his claims and his conduct toward atheism (antagonistic) and religion (supportive).

    So, please, hit the smelling salts, man-up and look in the mirror. Hoffman’s post was character assassination with a helping of grandiosity and pomposity. Nothing new. Nothing interesting. Nothing worthy of serious consideration or respect.

    Especially after he cowardly drags a bunch of people (without the courage to name them) through the mud with Pol Pot and Shylock… Think about that low-blow conduct, poor Nathan Bupp…

    Think about just how damn tired I am (and so many others are) of it… And if your little heroes can’t do better, they better get thick skins, because I’ve had my fill of ‘evil gnu atheist’ character assassination by innuendo and I’ll fucking mock them and call their shyte posts shyte.)

    And, btw, where is your outrage about the character assassination? At least I’m honest about my contempt for his bullshit instead of being a passive-aggressive wanker who attacks by innuendo.

    Oh, and I agree with Polly O!

    1. I agree with Polly O too.

      To elaborate on your well phrased reply, I am not offended in the least by the bogeyman arguments offered by Hoffman et, al but am offended by their arrogance in offering explanation to an entity they’ve invented. If one cannot articulate specifics as to who or what a “New Atheist” is then how can he or she operate as a critic of it? I am an atheist. I am sure there are folks who consider me strident and uncompromising but my wife is a church going Christian and I’m willing to cooperate in getting our new son baptized in a Presbyterian Church because she’d like him to experience her side of things. Will I ever identify as a Christian again? No. I think the religion is myth on par with Zeus and Thor. So am I a “New Atheist” because my former believing friends consider me strident or an introspective atheist because I respect my wife’s religious belief? I know this, if I were given a chance to have dinner with Dr. Coyne or Hoffman I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the scholar dedicated to specificity in his explanations (that would be Dr. Coyne).

      1. Trust me, man, if you’re getting your son baptized Presbyterian (assuming we’re talking PC(USA)), you’re helping to ensure his future naturalism. It’s like a vaccination against ever being evangelical.

  46. Has anyone ever noticed that if someone on a ‘gnu atheist’ makes an intemperate remark, it is used as evidence to the incivility and unworthiness of the so-called ‘gnu atheist movement.’

    Yet that same standard is not applied to the accommodationist or the religious?

    Hoffman’s post, as I pointed out earlier, delves into innuendo and allusion to slime ‘gnu Athiests’ with his dragging in Shylock and Pol Pot (the Cambodian genocide to be specific). Tom Johnson, et.al. made a career of lying about ‘gnu atheism’ until the wheels of his sock-puppetry came off.

    Yet the entire accommodationist industry is not attacked (at least from what I’ve seen over the years) for those types of mis-behavior, but only those who engage in false debate and mis-characterization. And what criticism they do get seems to be limited to their actual conduct.

    Then we have the Pope flat-out lying about history (to directly blame Athiests for the evils conducted by Christians) when he went to England. We have the Phelps family who are (on a per-capita basis), quite possibly, the biggest group of assholes on the planet.

    Yet all of religion does not get tarred for this tiny group of misanthropes. But rather for its dogma, truth-claims and its routine engagement/cover-up of immoral conduct.

    Quite the double-standard.

    1. You must have been on vacation last month when one of us challenged Jean Kazez during the Emperor’s Clothes/Kid brouhaha, and she complained that we were “morally repugnant” at her blog–an insult, if I recall correctly, that was later also pasted on us by Stanghouse.

      Now, it is utterly true that her coming to WEIT during that discussion was the verbal equivalent of walking into a propeller, but “morally repugnant?”

      1. the aspect that accommodationists have with religites is that they are both thin-skinned and turf defenders.

    2. Cultivate a reputation as an early riser, and you can sleep in for the rest of your life.

      Paraphrasing Mark Twain, iirc

  47. hyper-empiricism, hyper-materialism,

    Definitions, please. Or is this one of those “oh noez, you must leave mysteries = god gaps or my belief in belief will feel like a terrible toil”?

    And what is crude about empiricism and physicalism in the first place? The first demands a lot more than “goddiddit”, in fact more than other human endeavors due to the level of work, social cooperation and competition that must be set up. The second is merely a result of the first.

  48. Last Monday I almost blew a fuse because of the unbelievable arrogance of a “christian scientist” who partook in a debate here in Copenhagen. (You know the kind: “All you non-believers simply miss all the higher truths and never get into the really deep beauties the world has to offer”), and now I have to see the same kind of arrogance among atheists.

    (But I have smiled, LOL’ed and felt very proud of all the WEIT-folks answering here. You’re a nice bunch)

  49. O noes, I can think for myself and reach my own conclusions. Therefore not relying on authority figures, I feel so terrible now. Erm maybe not.

  50. Berlinerblau: New Atheists, like Fundamentalists, only read “original texts” (kind of like the way Tea Party activists prattle on about the “original intent” of the Constitution). They don’t understand hermeneutics, or the interpretive process, and for this reason they are doomed to saying very silly things about their subject matter.

    Perhaps that’s somewhat true in the sense that New Atheists can be naive in underestimating the clever ways people can weasel out of whatever they want, especially given the unlimited latitude hermeneutics and the interpretive process self-servingly grant themselves. Ha ha I’m kidding. It’s a stupid game and everybody knows it. Lol. Berlinerblau blah blau blah.

    1. “They don’t understand hermeneutics”…?


      Interesting–I’m in a debate (of sorts) with a fundamentalist who likes to go over to Blessed Atheist and tell the blog owner he doesn’t have “an objective hermeneutics”. Somehow, I’m not surprised.

      So– hermeneutics is a code word, like nuanced?

  51. I’m gonna commit the unpardonable sin of not reading all the comments before I stick mine up. There are so may of them!

    Berlinerbrau’s perspective seems to be rather limited to the US. Here in Oz we have a prime minister who is a confessed atheist. I would imagine that plenty of pollies in those oft cited atheist European countries are also openly atheists. Religious belief is a particlurly widespread affliction of the US.

    As I’ve suggested before, there are quite a few more than just the “Four Horsemen”. Besides, the “New” movement is relatively new (hence the descriptor I suppose) so we are still recruiting and organising. There are plenty of foot soldiers.

    It is telling though that Those Same Four have had such impact, and the bulk of the criticism they have attracted is just whining about Their Tone, or some vague complaints about them not understanding the material (some concrete examples might help make a substantial critique).

    I am inclined to agree with some other commenters that this is probably sour grapes dressed up as some learned criticism. Jáccuse!

    Where is the reasoned rebuttal of atheist criticism, new or old? If they really are atheists, wouldn’t they want to present some constructive criticism of their fellow travellers, or is it perhaps the case that they are more sympathetic to religion? Don’t they think that it is past time we discarded to cruel and damaging yoke that religion has burdened society with? Isn’t it time (as Hitchens said) for a new Enlightenment, to discard the things of our social and cultural childhood?

    1. I would imagine that plenty of pollies in those oft cited atheist European countries are also openly atheists.

      This is not so frequently observed, because

      a) it carries somewhat political penalty to divide off in a question that has little social relevance (as opposed to, say, US)

      b) it carries a significant social penalty to be openly religious in some nations (say, Sweden).*

      I was amazed with the response to the recent press round of the recent arxiv paper (arxiv:1012.1375v2 modeling secularity on an exponential increase and (bar non-linear effects) religion may become extinct (or more realistically, marginalized) in many modern societies.**

      The topic drew a lot of interest [Sweden], and a newspaper poll put secularism at ~ 80 % responders. This was out of several thousands (7000 ~ 8000 as of yet), so carries statistically over the nation FWIW. Even in the case of the responders being city folk, since well over half of the population live in cities; secularism dominates Sweden, maybe with a really huge margin!

      * No, I don’t think that is in conflict. A societal interest can be marginalized way before its group is depopulated.

      Also, note that there are parties (christian democrats) where it is useful to have a specific religion.

      ** Sigh, as usually they didn’t test this but made a quick-and-dirty eye fit. So someone has to scoop up the poop and actually do the rest of the heavy lifting. I hate that!

  52. It’s certainly good for atheists to have some historical perspective on disbelief. But saying “Read the books, and then we’ll talk” with respect to Lucien Febvre’s “The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais” is completely ridiculous. This book, which I have read in French, was first published in 1942. It is a painstaking historical dissection of the questions of religious belief, religious orthodoxy, blasphemy, superstition (astrology, witchcraft, demons…) and atheism in one specific part of the world, at one specific moment (i.e. pre-Darwin), as regards very specifically, actually incredibly specifically, the life and works of Rabelais (e.g. “Rabelais the atheist?”, asks the opening chapter). The only reasons to read it is to be a Rabelais scholar, or a huge afficionado of his work, or alternatively to have a very strong interest for the 16th century or to be a student of the French Annales school. It is utterly irrelevant to current discussions of atheism, and I suspect that Mr. Berlinerbrau is trying to impress his readers by quoting a quite arcane French historical work. (I would actually be surprised if he really bothered to read it.)
    In any case, if atheists today have to read THIS book before they can be allowed to speak up, then this is tantamount to tell them to STFU. (and why shouldn’t believers HAVE to read it too, for that matter?)

    1. Years ago when I was first exploring the question of religion and atheism I worked my way through the entire volume “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong. At that time, I think she had a reputation as something of a scholar who was personally familiar with all three major monotheisms (rather than as a squishy blancmange promoting apophatic babble). That was quite enough for me. Not only was it incredibly dull but it impressed me just how much religious experience has changed without a single observation, experience, test, theory or objective result. What one people saw as so obviously something God hated as to be punished by death quickly became so obviously something God supported as to be widely practised.

      That book developed a singular contempt for religious thought as it seems indistinguishable from people projecting their beliefs onto God and then hurting or killing others for violating it. And it still continues today (though thankfully the harm is often less direct and the tragic cases of actual witch burning, honour killings and religious maiming have been reduced).

      I learned that the only thing which I’m interested in is evidence. Even if some religious group happens to be benign, the practice of promoting faith and dogma will quickly lead people to do harm. At the very best, faith will just lead people to the same place a careful exploration of secular philosophy would take them, but without the harmful baggage.

      So keep these dull tomes, I’m sure they aren’t hiding any genuine arguments inside.

  53. Ah well, moar goalpost shifting and strawmanning from otherwise fairly irrelevant fleas.
    Personally, I would love to learn about the history of the surname “Berlinerblau”.

  54. The problem is that the New Atheists don’t have the foggiest idea how to achieve their political goals. And one sometimes wonders if they are actually committed to figuring it out.

    Rigghhtt. I wonder how this genius would have advised gays to behave, say, 40 years ago? Something tells me that gay-pride parades would have been a no-no. So…while gay pride parades may be passe now, perhaps they were necessary to bring about the day when someone like Barney Frank could openly admit to being gay. Now there are several openly gay members of Congress, and anyone who isn’t totally clueless has figured out that they are quite a few who are closeted too. Of course there are atheists in Congress – they’re closeted too. The Gnus are helping to bring about the time when they can fess up.

    1. There were the same kind of arguments about achieving gay equality; on one hand respectfully polite requests for ‘tolerance’ (The Greeks did it! and we won’t make a noise), on the other marching, shouting and interventions: which was effective? the men and women getting kicked and spat at, not the ones sitting at home hoping for Social Evolution to do it’s stuff.
      Although of course I personally read all the literature, ancient and modern, before succumbing to my base desires.

    2. And when the GNU atheists have done their work (cutting through the bullshit of religious faith), the accommodationists will take credit for it, saying that it was THEIR TONE that saved the day.

  55. Up to this point I had some of Hoffmann’s books on my do buy list, but they are now off. This guy is a flaming imbecile. His arguments are inane.

  56. I know that has already been written more than once, but it can’t be stressed enough:
    I really need no damn authority to tell me how not to believe in something properly.

    1. Or to have read the numerous books before I can make a claim. I can evaluate a claim based on the evidence, and while knowledge of the field is very useful in deciding on the claim, knowledge of the history of the knowledge is tangential. It is not necessary to decide the truth of a claim. Hoffman proposes harm, and for evidence, he links to his main blog page? This is harm? I don’t need to know anything about Hoffman or his history to judge that his claim for harm lacks merit. When asked for evidence, produce some – don’t just pimp your work.

  57. I’ve started on the comments at Hoffman’s piece, and I love way he dances! Ophelia asks “At any rate, what I wonder is, how do you know all this? How do you know “the new atheists aka EZs” do and say and know or don’t know all the things you say they do and say and know or don’t know?”

    His response, after asking if it was a real question, is to say that ” “How do you know?” is an epistemological question. I’d suggest Descartes for starters and build from there. ”

    Am I an idiot for being grounded in reality, here and now, rather than mired in the past? I thought the question was “how do you know this is how these people think?” aka “What evidence do you have that supports your contention?” not “What is the epistemological basis of your belief?”

    Does anyone think this is an honest mistake (which brings up interesting points about his thought processes) rather than an evasion and refusal to answer what was asked? Of course, if I was wrong about my interpretation, then my question is wrong and I’ll retract it beforehand if that is the case.

    1. I had to take some lectures on the history of pedagogics and from this, I have come to the suspicion that this kind of reasoning is very common in the less rigorous fields of science. The “beauty” of an argument (whatever this should be) seems to be much more appreciated, than the argument itself.
      “Scholarism” and “heuristics” are the ultimate sources of wisdom, while “empiricism” seems to be somehow dirty.

      So, not being able to find any evidence of a god is no major flaw for them. After all evidence is ugly, brute empiricism.
      Yet a 1,000 word long poem about the grace of the lord is as solid as an argument as it can be and can only be refuted by an elaborate 2,000 word long essay about the works of some long dead Greeks.

      1. The be fair, the “beauty of the argument” concept has provided a cornucopia of success in mathematical physics. Dirac was especially fond of this route.

        But the difference is crucial: the equations are not fully accepted (beautiful as they may be) by peers until experimental results indicate its success in describing reality.

        1. Well, I can appreciate a “beautiful” proof or a “beautiful” theory, too.
          But the difference in this is, that in nature science,a simple and uncumbersome explanation is considered “beautiful”.
          But when talking to members of the philosophical or social science faculties, I am often under the impression, that the “beauty” they refer to is about making the argument as long and complicated as it is possible.

          1. I am often under the impression, that the “beauty” they refer to is about making the argument as long and complicated as it is possible

            You forgot:
            * Impenetrable
            * Obtuse
            * Long-winded
            * Transparently illogical
            * Tenure-prolonging
            * Crap

  58. I don’t give a damn about the history of atheism.

    Big mistake. For example, the Age of Reason in France threw open to the doors to the likes of Diderot and Voltaire, who both had an obvious influence on such as the American founders. Besides, you can’t be a fully formed western atheist without being steeped in beauties like this:

    [Christianity] is assuredly the most ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world. Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service by extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among honest people, among men who think, among those who wish to think. … My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out. —Voltaire, Letters of Voltaire and Frederick the Great (New York: Brentano’s, 1927), transl. Richard Aldington, letter 156 from Voltaire to Frederick, 5 January 1767.

    Diderot and Voltaire, both after-products of the historical period cited above, are Enlightenment Age versions of today’s “new” atheists.

    1. Good rhetoric and invigorating writing but I don’t see anything which makes me think they’re offering unique. I certainly don’t see any critical lines of evidence which have gone neglected. Can you seriously say that reading these classics would affect the arguments of today?

      I’m not against reading classics but I do it for curiosity and pleasure, not because they’re somehow necessary for participating in the debates. I think those days ended with the scientific revolution and we replaced dogmatic regurgitation of Galen and Aristotle with evidence and research.

      1. I don’t see anything which makes me think they’re offering unique

        Just wow. Candide. Anything by Molière. The climate that created Pascal’s wager. This period produced the apogee of Western atheist literature that surpasses everything before or since. (Well, perhaps until this year’s The Book of Mormon.)

        This had a direct influence on anti-theist thought in America and Britain that touches just about every non-scientific discussion we have. A good bit of modern Christian apologetics is simply various pathetic responses to Tom Paine’s blistering attack. There is a direct historical line from the Age of Reason and Molière to Voltaire to Jefferson and Paine to Ingersoll and Twain.

        Even the atheistic scientific revolutions have their intellectual origins rooted in this period.

        1. And the conclusion most relevant for us is the the lasting legacy of religious criticism from the Age of Reason is withering and contemptuous ridicule of religion, a long tradition in which many of the “new” atheists gleefully participate today. This is the opposite conclusion of the ahistorical pieces appearing in the Chronicle.

        2. Soooo… no, there isn’t anything which is hidden and essential to modern debaters.

          You’re agreeing that anything they thought of which was valuable is already well known and incorporated into current arguments. As an historical curiosity and perhaps some excellent arguments of value to historians and fans of classics. Not saying they didn’t produce anything of value, just saying that it’s a load of bullshit that anyone today needs to read their stuff in order to understand the debates today.

        3. And before you post another huffy defence of the classics, remember the context. It’s not a discussion over whether classics are interesting or valuable in their own right, it’s whether they’re essential in understanding modern theistic or atheistic arguments.

          And no, they are not.

    2. a fully formed western atheist

      What on earth does that mean?

      Lets try some minor substitution to indicate a point:
      “a fully formed western non-hockey player”
      “a fully formed western a-sgloboknmrglist”

      1. You equate the intellectual legacy of atheism with that of not playing hockey? Not-playing-hockey arguments must be vastly richer than I would have otherwise imagined.

        1. You choose not to answer my valid question, but respond with a logical fallacy: that of Argumentum ad Ignorantum.
          As a bonus, you chose not to respond to my latter rhetorical but didactic substitution.
          Please answer my original question about your concept of what constitutes “fully formed western atheists”.

          Not some other question related to my rhetorical swipes at what I see as such an arrogant concept.
          You must have a concrete definition of that notion, surely?

          1. @Tyro: What “modern” debates, kemosabe? Atheistic arguments fall into two camps: classical attacks like Epicurus’ that have never been satisfactorily addressed in spite of millennia of theodicy, and modern scientific attacks. In that all non-scientific arguments are classical, the classics are eternally relevant. Just see Jerry’s latest post invoking the Euthypro Dilemma in support of this point.

            @ MKG: It means read Candide.

  59. It seems to me that the atheists, such as Hoffman, who take issue with the approach of the New Atheists tend to misrepresent the New Atheist approach and then use these misrepresentations to justify their criticism of the New Atheists and their approach to criticism of religion. Hoffman offers the following description of New Atheist tactics:

    “The mode of critique [by New Atheists] is lodged somewhere between “Stupid Pet Tricks”- and “Bushisms”-style humor, a generation-based funniness that thrives on ridicule as a worthy substitute for argument: Blasphemy contests, Hairdrier Unbaptisms, Blowgun-slogans (“Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings”), and my latest personal favorite, Zombie Jesus Jokes (“He died for your sins; now he’s back for your brains”). The message of the Four Horsemen, now conflated into one big message, is that religion has been nothing but retardant and deserves nothing but contempt.”

    But this is hardly representative of the New Atheist movement, if one can call it that. The New Atheist argument is based at least in part, or so I think, on the premise that religion has failed miserably and disastrously to justify its long-standing claim that it ought to be free of criticism. The New Atheists take the position that religion should no longer get a free pass. Its claims should be subjected to the same rigorous methods of critical examination that we require of all other ideas and claims of knowledge. And when this is done, religion is found to be very deficient in the truth department.

    Critics like Michael Ruse and Hoffman seem to think that religious believers live in the academic and intellectual high rise occuppied by the deep philosophical and academic thinkers like themselves. But they don’t. We are not going to undo the influence that religion exerts on our culture by engaging in polite academic arguments with believers. We are not going to reduce the adverse affect of religion on our culture by changing the minds, as if this were possible, of the William Lane Craig’s or Dinesh D’Zousa’s or any of the scholars Hoffman suggested as required reading. We must get down in the trenchs, with the common believer, whose belief is NOT based on sophisticated arguments with an intellectual pedigree. Religion’s grip on the minds of its believers, especially its most ardent believers, is based on the very opposite of intellectualism – irrationality. We will continue to have to live with and deal with the consequences of the God delusion so long as the Hoffman approach is permitted to prevail. As a New Atheist I refuse to permit this any longer. I refuse to give religion the safe comfort zone it has been provided for too long. Does anyonehonestly think that religion has held sway the way it has for well over two thousand years because it appeals to the rational intellect? Does anyone honestly think that politeness and a requirement that we avoid offense in our criticism has had even the slightest success in dislodging religion’s hold on our culture? Now I’m pretty sure no one at this site thinks so. The apparent fact that Hoffman and Ruse think so only leads me to the conclusion that both are gripped by a delusion as powerful and as erroneous as the one that grips the believer.

    “The message of the Four Horsemen, now conflated into one big message, is that religion has been nothing but retardant and deserves nothing but contempt.”

    Simply WRONG. This is the message that Hoffman thinks he hears or reads. But he needs a hearing aid or a set of corrective lenses. I don’t think this the message of the majority of New Atheists. Here is what I think is our message: Religion does not deserve nor should it continue to receive the priveleged status it has had. It should not be free of the same rigorous tests of truth and credibility that we apply to other human claims to knowledge and ways of knowing. We are saying that science’s methods of examining claims can and should be applied to religion. And we are saying that when this is done, religion fails, and it fails miserably. And it is our pointing this fact out that is described as showing contempt. This is not contempt. It is allegiance to truth. But if the believer and the Hoffman style atheists want to portray it as such, then so be it.

    Except for a few, religion is not and never has been an intellectual movement No. For the overwhelming majority of believers, religion and its claims have been believed not because they are intellectually appealing, but precisely because they are not intellectually appealing.

    Hoffman also criticizes New Atheists because he seems to think we are ignoring the more important agenda of humanism, or at the very least distracting ourselves and others from this mission. He quotes Paul Kurtz: “The purpose of humanism is to realize and fulfill all the things of which we are capable, and to advance human freedom. Accordingly, there is a positive agenda of humanism which is constructive, prescriptive, and ethical. Therefore, at the very least, we need to say that while we are atheists, we are also humanists. Humanism has a basic cognitive aspect, and it involves a commitment to rationalism. Again, the rationalist position is cerebral and intellectual–it is committed to the open mind, free inquiry and skepticism.”

    I am a secular humanist. I also consider myself a New Atheist.They are not mutually exclusive. What makes Kurtz and Hoffman and Ruse think this can or will be achieved so long as we allow religion its priveleged status in our culture? How is what Kurtz seeks possible in the face of the enormous influence and power of religion? Until religion itself and God belief is dislodged from the pedestal upon which it hoisted itself and culture has persisted in allowing it to keep, the world we humanists seek will remain unachieved. The New Atheism is a necessary tool in dismantling religion’s grip; in smashing its pedestal.

    I agree with Kurtz that the “rationalist position is cerebral and intellectual–it is committed to the open mind, free inquiry and skepticism.” But believers are not rationalists where it concerns their belief. And we will not unseat them from their position of power and influence by simply being politely rational. We must provoke believers to examine their beliefs. They will not do so if we just politely ask them to do so. They will not do so if we politely insist they do so. We must be rational, yes, but aggressively so. We must insist with fervor that they do so. And this will offend. But offense is unavoidable when battling over truth claims and worldviews. And we must ridicule and mock irrational behavior and beliefs when the believer is so deeply entrenched in and committed to the belief that solely cerebral appeals are ineffective.

    Do some of the so-called New Atheists go too far in the the way they employ language? Yes, sometimes. But so what. Such incidences are not all that frequent and certainly do NOT warrant the dismissal of the New Atheist message for which Hoffman appears to be arguing. All the New Atheists with whom I am personally familiar do not use the tactics at which Hoffman aims his rhetorical guns. They do not engage in vulgar name-calling. This does not mean they do not offend religious believers. It is virtually impossible not to offend most believers when criticizing their beliefs. And their beliefs are subject to and deserving of criticism and critical examination when they are placed in the public sphere.

    I simply do not agree with the assertion made by Hoffman that New Atheism is harming the cause or agenda or whatever of atheism. Hoffman simply has not made a compelling and convincing case this is so. Hoffman cites commentaries by Ruse and Berlinerblau that New Atheism may be harmful. The operative word here is “may.” Hoffman, nor Ruse and Berlinerblau, offer compelling evidence that the assertion is actually true. It is merely a proposition, an assertion. Based on what? I have no clue how to answer this question based on the writings of these critics.

    So it all boils down to the fact that Ruse, Berlinerblau and Hoffman don’t like how the New Atheists present their message. Concern noted. They are entitled to their viewpoint, despite their misunderstanding of New Atheism. I’ve read and considered their critiques. I find them insufficient cause to back away from the so-called New Atheism. Continue to criticize they may. But they are deluded and foolish if they think their criticism is reason enough for myself, or any other atheist who embraces the New Atheist moniker and the New Atheism approach, to return to their old, tried and failed strategy.

  60. Josh must need traffic – he posts a point-free post (http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2011/03/point_coyne-terpoint.php). Did you know that Jerry is just like a Tea Partier since he thinks Obama is an atheist! I’ve known some Liberal Christians who think Obama is a progressive, so they must be just like the Tea Partiers too, if you follow the “logic”. It is a remarkably content free post – except to push his “marketing strategy” (which, from what I can tell from his previous work, means lying to different people to get the result you want), as well as pushing his idea on accommodationist effectiveness (which he claims has never been refuted, even when it has).


    1. What a POSt!

      I’ve never been to Josh’s blog before… 

      Does this – “He is formerly a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas, in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.” – mean what I think it means? He didn’t get his Ph.D.?

      (And the University of Kansas has an Evolutionary Biology department?!?!?)

      — Dr. Ant Allan (Yeah! Got mine! :-D)

        1. That would’ve been so much more stinging if you’d actually managed to spell my name correctly! 😉

          I fully understand that there are a lot of very good reasons why folks, many who are way smarter than me, might not have finished their postgraduate courses – or not had a chance to do them in the first place. I was just being fascetious! (Or, I intended to be.)

          But, given the intellectual rigor (mortis) Josh is demonstrating in his blog post, d’you think he had a very good reason? Or… ? 

      1. When I first got started in internet reading – especially the anti-creationsit effort (this was actually part of what led me to atheism, btw), his blog was one of the ones I read. Now…I don’t know. I know I’ve changed, but the quality of his thoughts and arguments really seem far below what they had been. Not sure which of us is responsible, but it’s still sad to see someone I at least admired go the way of Nesbitt and really slide into irrelevancy. IMO, natch.

  61. The saddest thing is that to anyone in the know, guys like Ruse are the ones lacking in scholarship. This is probably the best reason for new atheists to study philosophy (not necessarily theology, especially in modern times they are seperate intellectual ventures), a quick survey of contemporary phil. of religion would allow you to easily see & POINT OUT (because sure, you can see his arguments fail, but can you explain why?) just how full of it guys like Ruse are. It seems THEY would fail a contemporary phil of religion class, as it seems they are wholly unaware of the fantastic work done by atheist philosophers in the past decade or two. Keith Parsons writes…
    Graham Oppy, Jordan Howard Sobel, Nicholas Everitt, Michael Martin, Robin Le Poidevin and Richard Gale have produced works of enormous sophistication that devastate the theistic arguments in their classical and most recent formulations. Ted Drange, J.L. Schellenberg, Andrea Weisberger, and Nicholas Trakakis have presented powerful, and, in my view, unanswerable atheological arguments. Gregory Dawes has a terrific little book showing just what is wrong with theistic “explanations.” Erik Wielenberg shows very clearly that ethics does not need God. With honest humility, I really do not think that I have much to add to these extraordinary works.

    He gave up writing phil of religion because he thinks the case for theism is a fraud. Ruse & his buddies seem completely ignorant to the advancements in the field, yet cry about Dawkins being ignorant, the irony is just so thick. If new atheists would put away their distain for philosophy & try to learn some, they would see that, far from being an enemy, it is a vauable ally. Guys like Ruse are the exception, the most recent survey of philosophers show this, the majority of philosophers are atheists. And there isn’t much in the God Delusion that hasn’t been said better by guys like Michael Martin, why isn’t he going after them, too?

    1. If new atheists would put away their distain for philosophy & try to learn some, they would see that, far from being an enemy, it is a vauable ally.

      We disdain philosophy? Yes, I’m sure that’s true of new atheists like Daniel Dennett and AC Grayling… 😀

        1. Slow down buddy. I consider myself a new atheist as well, & have had to argue with quite a few of my fellow nonbelievers that not all philosophy is arguing about how many angels fit on a pinhead. Whether you have encountered it or not, there definitely is a trend among many new atheists of dismissing all philosophy are nonsense. Or only clinging to guys like Dennett or Grayling. There’s a lot more out there then just those two guys.

        2. My point here is that there is definitely a resistence to serious philosophical work on the subject of atheism, partly brought on by guys like Ruse who talk out their behind. Instead of just replying with the “Courtier Relpy” which in itself is a fallacy (it begs the question. Is theology useless? Yes. But unless you show WHY it’s useless, you are just arguing in a circle.), a quick survey of modern philosophy of religion would show that the atheists already have the upper hand here as well. There are plenty of atheistic philosophers that have delved into theology & shown with actual arguments why it fails, & as it stands today there are many powerful atheistic arguments that have not been addressed by theists in the field. If some would bother to look into the matter instead of waving ones hand, they would see not only that guys like Ruse are talking out their behind about THEIR OWN SUBJECT THAT THEY DENOUNCE EVERYONE ELSE FOR BEING IGNORANT ABOUT, but they would have the tools (great arguments) to show exactly why they are wrong, & that theology is really useless. The only reason Ruse can even get away with saying the nonsense he does is because no one in the new atheist camp knows enough about the subject to counter their insane ideas.

          1. Clarification: My “fail” comment was meant to say “[ blockquote ] fail” – it wasn’t directed at you.

            But you did make a sweeping generalization implying that all new atheists disdained philosophy – which is patently untrue.

            I don’t doubt the wealth of philosophical arguments for atheism.

            But, I think, one key problem is that most of these philosophers are unknown to most new atheists because they operate only in academia and don’t engage in public fora on these topics, as Dennett and Grayling do. (If I’m wrong here, I’m sure you’ll let me know.)

            1. The most exposure that those with degrees in philosophy receive here is mostly negative.
              Most philosophers are not in the league of Dennett et alia.
              I have noted that without exception, when these smart folk speak sense, they do so not from a philosophical standpoint, but that of one who is well versed, and intimately conversant with, the the sciences.

              Executive Summary:
              When philosophers speak concrete sense, they do so as scientists.

              1. I concur. I think the difference is that their philosophy is grounded in something akin to, if not in fact, the scientific method inasmuch as it is more empirical that much philosophy (esp. philosophy of religion).

                This is, I think, a hallmark of Gnu Atheism: That we reject theism on the basis of [a lack of] evidence.

                I wonder which of the philosophers Wade has in mind are of this ilk?

              2. …That we reject theism on the basis of [a lack of] evidence.

                I don’t see it as “active” as that.
                It is not so much an active rejection, as a passive non-acceptance.
                Whilst that distinction might seem slight to the casual observer, it is a chasm to those who have retained their immunity from imperative fantasy dogma from birth.

                I wonder which of the philosophers Wade has in mind are of this ilk?

            2. That’s like saying that when a scientist speaks from a point of logic, that they are automatically philosophers. Anytime you logically analyze something, make an argument, you are doing philosophy, whether you know it or not.

              1. Actually, science itself has, for the better part of history, has been refered to as ‘natural philosophy’. Newton’s treatise on gravity was called “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica”, he considered himself a natural philosopher.

          2. Yes, I did make a generalization, I should have qualified it with ‘some’ or some other qualifier. But the comment below by Mr. Gray is kind of what I’m talking about. It’s just not true that philosophers ONLY have something valuable to say when they are acting as ‘scientists’.

            While most do only operate in academia, they have & do enter the public square for debates, you can find plenty of them on the web. I don’t think the new atheists are just unaware of them, there may be other reasons they don’t appeal to the literature on atheism, as it can get highly technical, with logic symbols & bayesian calculations that are hard to convey in debate forum. But even just presenting a few, say incompatibile properties arguments, would go a long way in shutting guys like Ruse up.

            1. Well, I think that’s part of the problem: the technicalities, the symbolism, the Bayesian calculations render the arguments opaque to the majority of atheists, “new”, gnu or otherwise.

              It strikes me that one of the hallmarks of the well-known “new” atheist philosophers, scientists, et al. is the will to take arguments for atheism, and against religion, to a public audience. This populist approach may lack “sophistication” in some eyes, but it makes up for this in accessibility.

              If other philosophers insist on being esoteric, no wonder many atheists are disdainful.

              1. Well, I think that is the point right there that guys like Ruse miss, & what makes their position that much more disingenuous. Guys like Harris, Dawkins & the others aren’t trying to put forth a philosophically sophisticated defense of atheism, they are popularizers. It’s aimed more towards the general audience than what’s published in philosophical journals, yet Ruse & friends think they should be writing as if they were writing for the latter.

                That being said, there’s quite a bit you can use from the philosophical literature that doesn’t depend on using logical symbols to convey, as in the incomatible properties arguments. Or take the example I used in my other comment, Michael Martin’s The Case Against Christianity, is a great book evaluating the main doctrines of Christianity (atonement, the trinity, sin, ect) & showing how they are all logically inconsistent. There are tons of great arguments that I just don’t see anyone using, & it’s sad to see people cling to logical fallacies like ‘The Courtier’s Reply’ or “Who Designed the Designer”, which a philosophically trained theist can easy point out the flaws. Then they can take those few bad arguments & generalize that all the new atheists are bad at arguing for their worldview, completely ignoring the valid ones that they do make.

              2. … logical fallacies like ‘The Courtier’s Reply’ or “Who Designed the Designer”, which a philosophically trained theist can easy point out the flaws.

                Since it’s so easy, please point out the flaws here.

              3. @ Diane, sure. Let me preface by saying that on some level, I think both these arguments have rhetorical appeal, & I can see why they are used. But if all you have is an intuitive feeling that they are right, you’re not doing much better than the theist who claims to inuit god.

                The courtier’s reply is a classic case of begging the question. Take Dawkins, he criticizes fundamentalist theology, then a theist replies ‘well, that’s not what all theology says, mine doesn’t say that’, which provokes the courtier’s reply, saying that all theology is nonsense anyways so there is no point of learning the nuances. But the usefulness or uselessness of theology is exactly what is in question, & merely asserting that it’s all nonsense without arguing WHY it’s all nonsense begs the question.

                ‘Who designed the designer’ commits a fallacy regarding the philosophy of science, which is that if an explanation is offered for some phenomena, the explanation itself doesn’t require an explanation, as that would lead to an infinite regress. We would need an explanation for the explanation, & an explanation for that explanation, ad infinitum. The problem with ‘goddidit’ being an explanation is not because you can’t explain where god came from, but that ‘goddidit’ is just not a good explanation for anything. But you have to explain WHY it’s not a good explanation.

                And this is just not how science works. Physics provides the best examples. IN order to explain certain quantum phenomena, scientists have posited the existence of dozens of invisible particles with very particular properties that yield predictable results. These have been some of the most successfulexplanations in all of scientific history, yielding the most accurate experimental results we have ever achieved. And yet we have no explanations for the particles that we have offered as explanations for the quantum phenomena.

              4. To “Wade”, as this has exhausted the limit of nesting.

                And yet we have no explanations for the particles that we have offered as explanations for the quantum phenomena

                What a complete of steaming crap!
                We have hundreds of ‘explanations’ for quantum phenomena, let alone your utterly bogus enumeration of “none”!
                Your only excuse is that you are either a professional philosopher, or a groupie or self-styled philoso-maven.

              5. Nice ad hominem, I must be wrong because I’m a philosoher? What does that say then about Dennett or Harris? And I think you’re lacking a bit in reading comprehension, I said we don’t have an explanation FOR the explanation, not that the phenomena can’t be explained. Sadly, it’s com,ents like yours that prove guys like Ruse right. Here’s a copypaste from a blog explaining what I mean, when I have more time I will.link to the blog explain more in depth.
                The reason that the details of the Standard Model of Particle Physics are accepted as good explanations for quantum phenomena is because these explanations are plausible, they are extremely testable, they have strong consistency with background knowledge, they come from a tradition (natural science) with great explanatory success, they are relatively simple, they offer much predictive novelty, and they have strong explanatory scope. It doesn’t matter that we have no explanation whatsoever for the explanations themselves.
                One more example. Ludwig Boltzmann explained heat by positing tiny, unobserved particles (which we now call atoms). Boltzmann’s theory was superior to earlier phenomenological theories of heat, even though his explanation (a mess of tiny particles) was itself totally unexplained.
                So the problem with the atheist sacred cow of “Who designed the designer?” is that it misses the point. “God did it” is a horrible explanation, but not because theists can’t tell us what the explanation for the designer is. There are other reasons why “God did it” is generally a horrible explanation, and that is what atheists should be trying to communicate.
                Despite repeated attempts to explain all this to my atheist readers, many still insist that successful explanations must themselves be explained. At this point, I don’t know what else to do except to quote some scholars in an attempt to bludgeon my fellow atheists into accepting this basic principle in philosophy of science. 🙂
                Here’s atheist philosopher of science Peter Lipton:
                4Or consider atheist philosopher of science Michael Friedman. Notice that he assumes our explanations may not themselves be explained, but that explanations succeed in increasing our understanding of the world:
                more comprehensive5And here’s atheist philosopher of religion Gregory Dawes:
                Richard Dawkins, for instance, writes that to explain the machinery of life “by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing.” Why? Because it “leaves unexplained the origin of the designer.”…[Dawkins’ idea is] that religious explanations are unacceptable because they leave unexplained the existence of their explanansexplanans6Finally, atheist philosopher of metaphysics John Post:
                Why do I want to kill this sacred cow of atheism?
                First, because I am not loyal to atheism per se, but to truth and reason.
                Second, because I want atheists to stop giving arguments and objections that are so easily rebutted.
                Third, because I want atheists to focus on objections that really matter. When a believer offers “God did it” as the best explanation for something, our question should not be “Well then who designed the designer?” but instead “Why is God the best explanation for that? Will you explain, please?”
                The theist has a good answer to the first question. He won’t have a good answer for the second one. Not if you’re prepared.

              6. @ Wade
                Posted March 29, 2011 at 4:23 am

                Well, I wouldn’t be as strident as Michael Kingsford Gray, but I think you dropped the ball on those explanations, Wade.

                I’m not sure you understand the target of the Courtier’s Reply. AFAIK, the set up was not as you suggested (“… he criticizes fundamentalist theology, then a theist replies ‘well, that’s not what all theology says, mine doesn’t say that’, which provokes the courtier’s reply, …”) Dawkins was saying “God does not exist” (cf. “the Emperor has no clothes”) and others criticized him for being theologically unsophisticated (cf. the literal text of Courtier’s Reply): The point of the Courtier’s Reply being, if you can reject the existence of God on epistemological grounds, your degree of theological sophistication is totally inconsequential. There’s no “begging the question” at all.

                I think you also miss the point of “who designed the designer?” It is not a scientic claim, so I think it’s bogus to claim this as a fallacy in the philosophy of science. The key is that positing God as the designer is assuming a more complex entity to account for a simpler one. Science proceeds in the opposite direction. Yes, there seems to be a regression here too, but each is simpler (with fewer components than the one before). Eliding many steps: Life (100 millions of kinds) is an assembly of many chemical compounds (tens of millions of kinds, but only a fraction of which constitute living things). Their molecules are made up of atoms (a hundred or so kinds). Atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons (three kinds). At higher energies we see many more entitles like protons and neutrons (hadrons), as well as mesons, but all these can be explained interms of six kinds of quarks. Quarks and leptons (the electon and its heavier siblings) and the force particles (photon, Z⁰, W⁺, W⁻, gluon, graviton) that mediate their interactions can – potentially – be explained as harmonics in higher-dimensional strings. Which is about the current limit of our understanding. (At least, of my undrstanding of our understanding.) So, what might seem to be a regression is a progression towards a simpler and more fundamental view of reality. At no point do we need to interpose a more complex entity to explain anything. So, if someone does posit that complex entity (“God”) as the designer, it is perfectly sound to retort “who designed the designer?” It is a theological claim that the complexity of the Universe and of Man demands a (complex) designer, contra scientific understanding, so why can we not make a (rhetorical) claim in the same spirit, that the compexity of the designer therefore demands a higher-order (and more complex) designer? Ad infinitum. Which just shows how ridiculous the claim is.

              7. You really just reformulated what I said there if we just analyze it. Saying ‘god does not exist’ is a specific claim. The point is, which god is he talking about? Of course, when we say that, we can rule out polytheism, but still, the word ‘god’ has different definitions to different people. When he says ‘god does not exist’, he defines it as the god of the bible, usually defining the attributes of god in fundamentalist terms. The point of the ‘theological sophistication’ part is that there are some definitions of god that are wholly untouched by his criticisms. When this is pointed out, if one just waves his hand saying ‘I already told you why I don’t think god exists, I don’t need to know your definition of god to argue against it’, that is where the begging of the question comes in.
                It’s like throwing a bunch of arguments about why god can’t have a son to a muslim, they already think that he can’t, so those arguments are irrelevant to their definition of god.

                Now, I understand & agree with the point about complexity, & Dawkins does say this in his book. But on many occassion, he says “by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing.” Why? Because it “leaves unexplained the origin of the designer.”

                This is where he goes wrong. It’s not because it leaves the origin of the designer unexplained, because we still don’t have an explanation for the harmonics on higher dimensional strings or whatever turns out to be the correct explanation for quarks, leptons & the like, & before that the quarks & leptons themselves. Not having an explanation didn’t stop us from making predictions & running experiments with quarks & leptons.

                And, although I certainly don’t agree, most theists, especially those versed in theology, claim that god is simple. How this is, I really don’t know, how can a being who thinks but had no brain, acts outside of time, is everywhere & yet has no specific physical spot in time & space can be simple is beyond me. But theists say it. So yet again, the bastards can cry ‘not my theology’. Now you can, as I just did, argue that god is not simple, but that is a different argument altogether.

                So really, it more of an issue of clarity, Dawkins has sufficiently muddied his argument enough for clever theists to insert (sometimes) valid objections. These might not be valid once you unpack & explain the entire argument (as you explain with the complexity issue), but if not unpacked, the theist can cry foul, then run with this one objection. Then they take it to their followers & say ‘see, they don’t have good arguments, don’t buy their books’ & of course they listen because they want to confirm their bias. This hurts the cause, because in the end, atheist have the upper hand, the evidence (or lack thereof) is on our side, but if we can’t get the message out because of distortions of our arguments, we won’t get anywhere. Of course this is going to happen anyways, theist are going to try to distort & even outright lie to keep hold of their pet superstition, but we don’t need to give them any more false ammo for their fake attacks.

  62. And rereading their dribble, it’s painful how they build straw-men, they should be ashamed at the complete lack of charity they show, they haven’t even TRIED to present the arguments of the new atheists, not one example of exactly WHY they are wrong for saying what they say, just that they are ‘big meanies’ about it. Which is also another straw man, because I’ve never heard any of the horsemen say that ‘all things produced in a religious framework is nonsense’. In fact, Sam Harris has taken quite a lot of flak from fellow atheists about suggesting there are benefits to things like meditation & other eastern practices. I’ve never heard them say that ALL religious people are defective of mind, or anything produces by a religious thinker is bs. That would remove most of the western intellectual history, since the majority of people in history have been theists. There is a difference between criticizing the religious aspects of something & calling it all shyte, no one is saying that Newton was a moron because he believed in god. It’s funny that they complain about the lack of sophistication of the horsemen, but when pressed fro examples, they pick on Hitchens, the one guy that is not an academic. Harris has his undergrad in philosophy, Dennett is a world famous philosopher (more than Ruse, which probably is a motivation to cut him down, he hasn’t done near the amount of work Dennett has), & Dawkins, while mostly a biologist, has contributed to serious philosophical literature, see his article in Michael Martin’s anthology “The Improbability of God”.

    Ruse writes “But the central, basic, traditional claims of religion—stay with Christianity for simplicity—about a Creator God, and the special place of humans, and even eternal salvation, seem to me beyond the range of science.”

    Now I doubt this claim, but even if true, that doesn’t make them beyond the range of PHILOSOPHY. And there’s quite a bit of philosophical literature arguing against those things (jeez have you never read Martin’s “The Case Against Christianity”? Well you should just STFU!), most ending with the conclusion that they are logically incoherent, thus not even valid canidates for scientific study. If an idea can’t even survive analysis of logic, it doesn’t need to be tested, we don’t need empirical tests to show that you cannot square a circle, or that a married bachelor cannot exist.

    Then he goes on to Khun, which, if anyone who has read a book on the subject knows, is not the end all-be all of philosophy of science that he says, & his metaphorical language of science argument is not anywhere near as accepted at he leads on. Yes, Khun is an important figure, but it’s not like he said everything that is important to know on the subject. There are just so many examples of the pot calling the kettle black, Ruse & his buds need to realize that when you point a finger, there are still three fingers pointing back at you.

  63. Berlinerblau who thinks atheism is failing because the Senate and House of Reps contain no atheists is taking a very US-centric view of the world. Australia now has an atheist Prime Minister (incidentally also our first female PM). The rising prominence and acceptance of atheism is for the first time allowing politicians to come out of the closet, so to speak. The US is behind the times, but given it’s a nation full of rapid Christians, that’s not very surprising.

    And as for the argument that we need to read long-winded academic books about the history of atheism – I don’t need to read about what Gregor Mendel ate for breakfast to understand genetics. It’s clearly written by someone imbued in arts academia who doesn’t like the fact that the world can get on just fine these days without a lot of their scholarship.

    1. Good points.
      But it gives the impression that perhaps this is Australia’s first atheist PM, when we have a proud list of them. (All males, of course).
      And an “out” atheist Governor General, the in-situ substitute for the very head of the Church of England!
      The secret atheists who have populated our supposed leaders may well be legion.

  64. Then it looks like you won’t have any trouble debating William Lane Craig.

    U wouldn’t want to wimp out like Dicky Dawkins now , would you? Bad form.

    Just say the word.

    1. Are you kidding? Sure, Coyne or Dawkins might not do as well against Craig due to lack of philosophical training, but what happens when Craig goes up against another philosopher, say Shelly Kagan? HE GETS OWNED.

      1. Thanks for sharing this. It is a very good debate. Surprisingly, the video made me appreciate Craig more so than other videos. This may be due to the face that Kagan challenges him in a calm but pointed way which puts Craig in a humbled position (a side of himself he doesn’t seem to show in other debates where his arguments usually foil his interlocutors and puff up his pride). The video also seems to me to infer an ironic exhibition of determinism when Craig is flummoxed by the notion that determinism is possible. His antecedent experiences as an Evangelical Christian determine his resistance to a determinist argument. Overall, a very good and enjoyable debate. I hope Sam Harris watches this before he engages Craig at Notre Dame next month.

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