As I wrote yesterday, the American Humanist Association (AHA), interpreting some of Richard Dawkins’s tweets as “transphobic”, revoked his Humanist of the Year Award from 1996, saying that he “demeaned marginalized individuals,” both transsexual and black (the AHA’s statement is here). And as I said, I think this “cancellation” was a mistake. Though the AHA has a right to do what they want, I disagree that Dawkins’s statements have been either transphobic or racist.
Apparently Rebecca Goldstein and Steve Pinker do, too. In a tweet from Steve yesterday, the pair, who had separately received Humanist of the Year Awards, objected strongly to what the AHA did. I’ll reproduce their letter as screenshots:
It’s hard to take issue with what Rebecca and Steve say. The penultimate paragraph of their letter, “This will only intensify. . . “, is especially good.
And crikey, while I knew that the anti-Semite Alice Walker had gotten the same award, I didn’t know that Margaret Sanger had as well. She’s been accused of racism and eugenics by the group she founded, Planned Parenthood, which is in the process of cancelling her. (See this response from a biographer of Sanger.)
You can see the list of Humanist of the Year Awards here, and I already spotted several that would, by Woke standards, now be seen as “problematic.”
I won’t adjudicate the Sanger debate, but it’s clear that Walker was anti-Semitic and has made clear statements to that effect. If a case for bigotry is to be made against award recipients, that against Walker is far clear than any case against Dawkins. The AHA, if it’s to be consistent, should take away Walker’s award immediately. Or, better yet, stop this Pecksniffery.
I doubt that the AHA will restore the award, but if they read what Dawkins actually said, and abided by their own dictates, they should give it back. They have indeed turned themselves into a laughingstock.
I’m getting really tired of social media pile-ons, especially when the victim isn’t really guilty of a gross transgression. One of these is happening now, and the object is—once again—Richard Dawkins. The reason: his rather awkward attempt to discuss transphobia and transracialism on Twitter, which isn’t the place for this kind of discussion. (I suppose Richard needs a “blog.”)
Here are two of Dawkins’s tweets that caused all the trouble:
I do not intend to disparage trans people. I see that my academic “Discuss” question has been misconstrued as such and I deplore this. It was also not my intent to ally in any way with Republican bigots in US now exploiting this issue .
As I wrote a week ago, Richard’s tweets were interpreted as transphobic by several people, including Hemant Mehta, the “Friendly Atheist”, who wasn’t so friendly this time. My view is that Richard was trying to discuss the same issues Rebecca Tuvel did in her paper in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, an article on “transracial” people like Rachel Dolezal. Tuvel, an academic philosopher, was also demonized for merely asking the question of what relevant differences there are between feeling like you’re in a body of the wrong sex versus feeling like you’re in a body of the wrong race. This is an intriguing and relevant question to ask, and it should be discussed, not dismissed. And those who ask this question, like Tuvel, should surely not be damned.
For writing that article, Tuvel was viciously attacked and her article nearly pulled, but it remains online.. And, like Tuvel, Richard was damned as a “transphobe” for asking the same question. I don’t think he’s transphobic at all. He’s just a bit awkward about how he tries to discuss stuff on Twitter, and somewhat insensitive to how his words might be construed (i.e., “choose to identify as men” are not words I would have used). I myself have urged him to stop trying to have serious conversations on Twitter, but to no avail.
Anyway, I’ve been informed by multiple people that, because he’s seen as a transphobe and has repeatedly “demeaned marginalized groups”, Dawkins has lost his 1996 Humanist of the Year Award conferred by the American Humanist Association. Their rationale for withdrawing the award is given here. I don’t think they should have done this, especially in view of their not having withdrawn the very same award given to Alice Walker the next year, for Walker is writer who is a blatant and pretty vicious anti-Semite (see here, here, and here). But the AHA has the right to make its own decisions, and I’m not going to wail about this one. It just shouldn’t be hypocritical about them.
What bothers me is the glee with which Dawkins-haters see the withdrawal of this honor. The article below by Stephen Knight summarizes the reactions of the DHers and is also a defense of Dawkins. I’ll direct you to it by telling you to click on the screenshot below. On his website, Knight summarizes the opprobrium heaped on Richard by several prominent atheists, including Mehta and Matt Dillahunty; Dawkins was also damned by P. Z. Myers, who flaunted his own AHA award crowing “I’ve still got mine”. Knight’s column seems reasonable and measured, unlike the hysteria permeating the internet from other directions.
And to point out the hypocrisy of withdrawing Dawkins’s award but not doing the same with the award given to Alice Walker, click on the screenshot below. There is no question that Walker is an arrant bigot and Jew-hater, so why is she still a “Humanist of the Year”?
Lord, I’m so tired of these kerfuffles, but if you want to see the fracas, read the articles above and below. And, as they say, “have a good one.”
There seems to be a resurgence of accommodationism this week, with people arguing that science and religion are perfectly compatible. The argument goes further, and along familiar lines: scientists like Dawkins and me are deemed “arrogant loudmouthed jerks” because our our vociferous atheism supposedly turns people away from science. And so we encounter the familiar old arguments for compatibility that I thought had disappeared outside of theology: religious laypeople can love science, scientists can be religious, science can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, and so on. I tackled all these in Faith Versus Fact, but people either didn’t read it, or did read it but would rather repeat the old tropes rather than answer the arguments for science/religion incompatibility.
I have to admit that perhaps I’m a bit responsible for this pushback, as I (and others) engaged in a Twitter dispute with rapper MC Hammer last week. Hammer, trying to cover all bases, basically said that he was down with Intelligent Design (citing the old canard of the eye’s complexity), but also was down with God and with creationism as well. Well, you can’t be down with all of those at once without some vigorous scientific and theological tap-dancing. Here are some tweets by and exchanges with Hammer, including Matthew’s and mine.
👑 In the name of “Imhotep” Chief Priest and God of Science we shall reclaim Science from the impostors. 🙏🏿GOD🙏🏿 pic.twitter.com/Be48GaHQwr
Osculation of ID. Let the IDers propagandize Hammer, for they’d love to have a famous rapper on their side:
Fantastic conversation !!! Explains what I just experienced the last 48hrs with the “mad scientists” and my take was extremely accurate. as I said, “It felt like religion” #Hamm400aos 👑 https://t.co/ZQpRlPWHvz
In fact the vertebrate eye is a striking example of *bad* design. The light-detecting parts of the retinal cells are at the far side of the retinal layer, not where a designer would put them. That is not the case in cephalopod eyes, so maybe Mr Hammer’s god is Cthulhu. https://t.co/a7jEcb4Cqi
.@MCHammer You can't be pro-science and pro-creation at the same time unless you believe God used evolution as the means of creation. And in that case God is incompetent, failing in 99.9% of his "creations." Don't try to embrace everything at once; it doesn't work. https://t.co/XImPHKbUmS
Unfortunately, I lost my cool at one point in the Twitter exchange and called Hammer an “ignoramus,” violating my own dictum to refrain from name-calling. For that I apologize, and I deleted the tweet. Hammer is, I’m sure, a nice person, although he’s confused about religion and science, and I feel bad that I insulted him. I would be delighted to discuss evolution and God with him, but that will never happen. Besides, Stephen Meyer is busy convincing Hammer of the truth of Intelligent Design.
But the exchanges between Hammer and others have brought other accommodationists out of the woodwork again, toting their old, tired arguments. You may remember Sheril Kirshenbaum, for instance, co-author with Chris Mooney of the book Unscientific America How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, which had a strong accommodationist streak. In 2009 I reviewed that book for Science; here are two excerpts from my review:
In Unscientific America, a book slight in both length and substance, science writers Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum argue that America’s future is deeply endangered by the scientific illiteracy of its citizens and that this problem derives from two failings of scientists themselves: their vociferous atheism and their ham-handed and ineffectual efforts to communicate the importance of science to the public. According to Mooney and Kirshenbaum, atheistic scientists such as Richard Dawkins and P. Z. Myers [who runs the immensely popular science blog Pharyngula] drive people away from science by forcing them to choose between the facts and their faith. Further, most scientists are neither trained nor deeply interested in selling their work to the public, Congress, or Hollywood. This disconnect could be fixed, say the authors, if scientists would just keep quiet about their atheism and if universities would train a new generation of scientists in public outreach, producing more “[h]ip, fun, trailblazing research pioneers.”
. . . Unscientific America prescribes just the opposite: science illiteracy would diminish if vocal atheists like Richard Dawkins would just keep quiet about religion, a sanction that the authors don’t impose on publicly religious scientists such as Francis Collins. Unfortunately, Mooney and Kirshenbaum provide no evidence that this prescription would work. Do they really think that if Dawkins had not written The God Delusion, Americans would wholeheartedly embrace evolution and vaccination and finally recognize the threat of global warming?
Apparently Kirshenbaum hasn’t changed a bit, for she issued a rude tweet.
You again Coyne? Sheesh.@MCHammer is correct. Science & religion aren’t incompatible. They both seek to understand our world.
You are entitled to express your opinion, but not as fact. Science neither proves nor disproves religion.
Apparently not having read my argument for the incompatibility of religion and science, Kirshenbaum asserts “Science neither proves nor disproves religion.” Well, no, Dr. Kirshenbaum, that’s not the case.
First, many tenets of religion have been disproven by science. One of those is, of course, the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2, as well as creation stories of Islam and other religions. Other claims refuted by empirical work are those of the Jewish Exodus and the Roman census of Herod the Great. And don’t get me started on Mormonism, the golden plates, and the Mormons’ claim that Jesus visited America. The fact is this: although, as Kirshenbaum argues that “religion seeks to understand our world,” it hasn’t provided any understanding, at least of factual claims like is there a God?; was Jesus his divine prophet/son?; did Gabriel dictate the Qur’an to Muhammad and Moroni tell Joseph Smith where the golden plates were?. And so on. The many religions on this planet make hundreds of factual but conflicting claims. Which are right? We don’t and usually can’t know.
“Understanding of our world”, if it means knowing how the cosmos works and what is true, cannot be gained by religion. It can be gained by science, though, and it is this disparity that I describe in Faith Versus Fact as the incompatibility between science and religion. Sure, religious people can be down with science, and scientists can be religious, but there’s the indubitable fact that both religion and science make factual claims—existence claims—and have different ways to adjudicate those claims. Science uses empirical methods (observation, hypothesis formation, testing, falsification, and so on), while religion uses scripture, authority, and revelation. Only one set of these methods—the empirical set—can really tell us what’s true. That’s why there’s only one brand of science, practiced by people of diverse faiths and ethnicities, while there are a gazillion religions, each claiming that it’s right and all the others are wrong. You can find ways to figure out if there are gravity waves, but no way to figure out if you’ll go to hell if you don’t accept Jesus as your savior.
Science, Dr. Kirshenbaum, doesn’t prove anything—it just gives us more or less confidence in various propositions about the world. And, as Victor Stenger noted, there’s an absence of evidence for any of the claims of religion. Importantly, he added that that absence of evidence could indeed be taken as evidence of absence if the evidence should have been there. And it isn’t—not for gods. That’s why more than half of scientists are atheists—and nearly all of them at the top of their profession. Kirshenbaum’s claim that “science neither proves nor disproves religion” could also be stated a “science neither proves nor disproves the existence of leprechauns and fairies.” But I doubt that Kirshenbaum would defend those who believe in fairies and leprechauns.
The statement “science and religion aren’t incompatible; they both seek to understand our world” covers a multitude of sins and misunderstandings. That’s why I wrote my book.
Now a young scientist at the site shown below (click on screenshot) has expanded another old argument, claiming that we loudmouth atheist scientists are “massive jerks”. We should, they say, just keep our big mouths shut because being a vociferous atheist and antitheist keeps people of faith from accepting science.
It’s tiresome to have to go through all these arguments again—though none of these critics addressed my own claims in Faith Versus Fact—but I’ll do so briefly. First, excerpts from the Small Pond Science piece, written by Terry McGlynn, one of the three scientists who run the site. (I note in passing that McGlynn has closed the comments on this post.)
Science has an atheism problem
An alternative title for this post might be: Atheism has a jerk problem.
Our scientific communities do not fully accept scientists of faith. As I’ve said before, this is a problem, and it actively hinders our efforts for equity and inclusion.
You can be a great scientist and still be religious. You can fully accept an empirical worldview for the laws and theories that govern life and matter as we know it, but also be part of a religious tradition.
I have to admit, I don’t fully understand the choice that people make to have faith, and that’s not for a shortage of study, inquiry and contemplation. Just because I don’t understand why some people have chosen religious faith, that doesn’t mean I’m going to claim that they’re delusional because they have different perspective on the world than I do.
. . . When technology and theory advance far beyond our current capabilities, will there remain some questions about the nature of existence and reality that are best addressed by faith? Well. I dunno. There aren’t for me. But clearly others might see things differently. Why would that be a problem for any one of us?
Yes, some questions can be addressed by faith, but they can’t be answered by faith.
The piece goes on, telling us to shut up because “science needs everybody; that includes people of faith.” Presumably we need flat-earthers and anti-vaxers, too, even though they accept their delusions on religious grounds. I’ve put McGlynn’s “data” in bold.
The most visible New Atheists try to win over converts by being loudmouth arrogant jerks. It might work for some, but it looks to me like it’s hardened the hearts of many more against reason and science in general. Clearly, it’s put atheism in an adversarial posture. Which is bad marketing for science, considering how many of us are atheists, or at least not religious.
Folks who don’t hang out with scientists on the regular might mistake the New Atheists for widely recognized representatives of science. They might see Bill Maher on TV, and read a blog post by Jerry Coyne, and catch a quote from Michael Shermer in a facebook meme. What do all these guys have in common? They’re anti-religious jerks, who are unfortunately the public face of contemporary atheism. Which in the eyes of many religious people might as well be the face of science too. You and I know that science is much more than bunch of old white jerky dudes who judge religious people. But we’re not doing so well in the marketing department.
Oy, I’m an old white jerky dude! But what does my age and race have to do with my arguments?
But wait! There’s more!
We need a cohort of people in the public eye who identify as atheists, but also are not massive jerks about it. We could use folks from all backgrounds, writing op-eds and appearing on TV, who make a point to say that they don’t have a problem with Muslims and Christians and other people of faith. Who can describe atheism as a rational choice but not as a judgement of other people.
I really don’t want to run through all the arguments why atheist/scientists shouldn’t shut up; they’re covered in my book, in Dawkins’s The God Delusion, and in other books like Stenger’s God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.
I’ll just list a few relevant points:
1.) Accepting science is not the only issue here: the other is the harms of religion. It may not kill you to reject evolution, but if you reject Islam in places like Iran and Afghanistan, your life is in peril. And even if you’re not killed, the tenets of several faiths (including Catholicism) deem homosexuality immoral and women second-class citizens. Are we then supposed to shut up about the harmful tenets of Islam, Catholicism, and evangelical Christianity? Must one harm (ignorance of science) take precedence over all others?
2.) Much religious dogma has led people to reject science. This includes the rejection of evolution, vaccination, global warming, and wearing masks during the pandemic (“God will save us”), as well as advocacy of spiritual healing, theocracy, and the demonization of abortion. Are we supposed to shut up about these issues, too, lest “science lose people of faith”? Give me a break. There are many issues in the world, and scientists are not required to shut up about politics or religion. We are citizens as well as scientists.
3.) Religion is generally a malign influence. The countries that are the happiest, most well off, and most progressive on this planet are the most atheistic countries, like those in Scandinavia and northern Europe. Religion in these cases acts as a stultifying placebo, inhibiting social progress because people can turn to god rather than to their governments.
4.) There is no evidence that the atheism of scientists like Dawkins and others has kept people from accepting science. As I’ve said repeatedly, if you go to “Converts Corner” on the old Dawkins site, you’ll see dozens of people saying that Richard’s atheism and scientific status helped weaned them from religion and brought them to evolution and science. In contrast, I’ve never heard a single person say, “Well, if Dawkins would just shut up about atheism, I’d gladly embrace evolution.” It’s the combination of science and atheism that has done wonders for many people, leading them to reject delusion (yes, religion is a delusion) and embrace science. I know, because I’ve met many of them, and Richard’s site describes hundreds more.
5.) Religion is a more malign force in getting people to reject science than is ignorance itself. A lack of knowledge can be remedied by education, but it’s much harder to overcome religious indoctrination. Which do you think would be the best way to get Americans and Middle Easterners to accept evolution: a) waving your wand and getting rid of religious belief completely, as if it never existed? or b) Giving every evangelical Christian and Muslim a course in evolution and a copy of Why Evolution is True? The answer, of course, is (a). For virtually all opposition to evolution, and much other opposition to science, comes from religion. I know of only one anti-evolutionist who isn’t motivated by religious belief. That would be David Berlinski, but I suspect he’s secretly at lest a deist.
So there’s no reason why a scientist shouldn’t wear two hats: that of science and that of atheism. Sure, you shouldn’t mix your messages too immiscibly in lectures: I don’t rail against religion when I give talks on the evidence for evolution. That just confuses people. But I do give lectures that show why science and religion are incompatible, and that’s why I wrote a book about it.
I’m not going to shut up, but I don’t demand that other scientist-atheists be as vocal as I. To each their own. That’s true even for religion—so long as your beliefs don’t harm the community of humans. And there are precious few religions that are innocuous in that way.
As for Dr. McGlynn calling me and people like Richard “loudmouth arrogant jerks,” and an “old white jerky dude”, well, I’ll restrain myself this time and not respond with namecalling. Those names reflect poorly on McGlynn. All I’ll say is that there are cogent arguments for the incompatibility of science and religion and good reasons for scientists to criticize the tenets of religion. Dr. McGlynn might want to read those arguments and answer them instead of making unsupported assertions that Richard Dawkins’s atheism has, on the whole, been bad for the public understanding of science. (Hint: finding one or two people who say that happened to them is not data.)
And here’s a final source on both incompatibility and the absence of evidence that atheism impedes the acceptance of science (click on the screenshot):
Good God, here we go again! Rowan Williams, formerly a “sophisticated” Archbishop of Canterbury, now bearing the appropriate title of Lord Williams of Mealymouth Oystermouth, is still kvetching about Richard Dawkins and his supposed New Atheist posse, and on two grounds.
First, Dawkins (and we) damaged Christianity, and it needs to be repaired.
Second, New Atheists don’t know jack about theology.
As to the first, I say “GOOD FOR US! Christianity needs to be damaged, for it’s harmful and delusional, and enables the vice of belief without evidence—in other words, faith. As to the second claim, I’ve dealt with it many times before (it’s gone under the name of “the courtier’s reply“), and address it here only briefly.
Here’s the short article from The Tablet. Click to read, and shake your head about the lucubrations of poor Lord Oystermouth:
A few short excerpts:
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord (Rowan) Williams of Oystermouth, has made a scathing attack on Richard Dawkins and other “new atheists”, while cautioning that their negative impact on religious faith could still take time to repair.
“Many people who aren’t religious believers regard writers like Richard Dawkins as extremely bigoted and authoritarian, and I think their writings are less popular now,” Dr Williams told Polish Radio in an interview.
“But secularisation has also meant a lot of ignorance, and there’s a suspicion towards religion, sometimes intensified by anxiety about militant Islam. It’s as if every form of religion is the same and the local parish priest would like to cut your head off or impose some alien law on you.”
The 69-year-old theologian and poet, who was 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, from 2002 to 2012, said he planned to engage in a new debate during 2021 with Professor Dawkins, whom he viewed as a “very good biologist and absolutely brilliant writer”, but also as a “very bad philosopher” with virtually no knowledge of theology.
He added that a “rash of books” a decade ago by Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, AC Grayling and other “New Atheists” had damaged Christianity, by fostering an assumption that “the consensus among intelligent people was anti-religious”. [JAC: This is getting truer and truer every day.]
. . . He said: “The bad aspect of secularisation is that people forget what religious doctrine really is, and become subject to distortions and charicatures. It’s as if people have a very trivial picture of what religion is and why it matters.
I have news for Lord Oystermouth: yes, New Atheists damaged Christianity by turning people away from that delusional faith (is “delusional faith” a tautology?). But no, Christianity will not be repaired. All over the West, and especially in the UK, Christianity is waning rapidly—so rapidly that I needn’t look up links to document its disappearance.
Further, none of the New Atheists named above think that all religions are the same, or are identical to militant Islam. Has Oystermouth even read Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, or Harris? None of them say that all forms of religion are the same and, in fact, all say that different faiths are indeed different. In their writings they make distinctions between more harmful and less harmful faiths, but always emphasize that faith itself, as instantiated in nearly every “religion”, is not a virtue but a vice.
And bad philosophy? Who’s a worse philosopher? Who’s a bad boy? A guy who spends his life touting a deity for which he has no evidence, and bolstering the idea that it’s fine to believe without evidence, or a guy who simply points these things out? That’s not philosophy, but empiricism. For surely all theology, even Oystermouth’s “sophisticated”® brand, must begin with the proposition that there is a God of a certain sort. If you can’t even buttress that first assumption, the rest is commentary, and ridiculous commentary. As Dan Barker likes to say, “Theology is a subject without an object.”
Look: Here’s Oystermouth blathering on about the certainty that there is a deity, and, in fact, a deity of the Anglican persuasion (my emphasis):
Asked about the prospects for Christianity across Europe, the retired archbishop said he was “completely confident” the faith would survive.
“The Church exists because God wanted and wants it to exist, so we shouldn’t have any anxiety about its disappearance,” Dr Williams said. “Despite the New Atheists, people are not hostile to the Christian faith, nor do they regard Christianity as their enemy or as something completely ridiculous. They want to know and learn, and I think we have to be out there, arguing, persuading, doing what we can from a place of basic confidence.”
See? Some readers have defended the claim that bad things happen because “we don’t understand God’s ways” by saying, “Well, see, that’s just like what scientists do! What’s wrong with saying ‘We don’t understand?'” We had one of these commenters today.
But the difference between scientists and believers, my brothers and sisters, friends and comrades, is that scientists say they don’t understand in a uniform way, not pretending that we understand some stuff but not other stuff, when there’s no evidence for either. Yet Oystermouth blithely tells us that he knows not only that there’s a God, but that God wants the Anglican Church to exist, so it won’t go extinct. How does he know that about God?
I get peevish when I read stuff like this, so I can’t resist commenting on his eyebrows, which have always freaked me out, making me fear that he’d take off in a high wind.
Reader Daniel sent me a link to a dreadful anti-antheist article from, of all places, the New Humanist, and I, like he, was horrified. It’s nothing less than a distorted attack on New Atheism, especially the “Four Horsemen” (Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens), as well as on the conversation they had on YouTube (here and here) which has been turned into a book. This New Humanist screed is so appallingly bad that it might have been “ripped from the pages of Salon.”
I asked Daniel who published the New Humanist, and he responded this way:
The Rationalist Association, formed in 1885; the magazine is also that old. So it has a good pedigree—indeed, the Rationalist Association’s presidents have included Bertrand Russell and the late Jonathan Miller. Past contributors to the magazine have included David Aaronovitch, Peter Atkins, and all of the ‘four horsemen’ except Hitchens (though he was interviewed by it once)! And honorary associates of the Association include Aaronovitch, Richard Dawkins, A.C. Grayling, and Philip Pullman. So it’s a fairly serious and eminent publication in the freethinking world. Not that all freethinkers have to sign up to ‘new atheism’, of course—but one would think that such a respected magazine would publish half-decent rather than half-baked arguments against Dawkins et al.
Indeed. But read and weep (click on screenshot). You can already see one criticism in the title: that the New Atheists are “religious” in their passion and ardor. (Note to Tiso: passion is not the same as faith.)
I didn’t know of Giovanni Tiso, but he’s identified here as “an Italian writer and translator based in Wellington. He’s a featured writer at Overland, blogs at Bat, Bean, Beam and tweets at @gtiso.” He hasn’t appeared on this website before.
What are his claims? Besides asserting that the New Atheism was a “flawed intellectual project” (it wasn’t a project but a reflection of the Zeitgeist), he says it failed (has he seen the statistics on the rise of “nones”?), and that it failed because it attacked “strawmen,” “largely imaginary opponent(s)”. The latter isn’t true, either, as there are many religionists of all stripes—not just fundamentalists—who do damage to our societies. And there are many New Atheists besides Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll just summarize Tiso’s accusations:
1). New Atheists are spiteful and shrill and “laugh people out of their faith” by mocking them. This is not always the case, and if you read the four books that started the “movement”, you will find far less mockery than judicious examination and critique of faith. But yes, sometimes mockery is on tap given the bizarre behavior and arguments of believers, just as mockery is sometimes on tap with respect to creationists (who, by the way, are all religionists).
2.) New Atheism is a form of Western cultural supremacy, designed to buttress imperialism. I kid you not; here’s a quote:
Now, as we survey what’s left of the movement from its smouldering ruins, we may wonder what the fuss was about, and how these authors managed to build such formidable straw men of religion and human history on their way to selling millions of books. But New Atheism was never about faith nor, indeed, atheism. It was about asserting the supremacy of Western culture in spite of the enduring place of religion in Western institutions and societies, for the purpose of giving renewed justification to Western imperialism. It doesn’t matter that three of the four horsemen were initially opposed to the war in Iraq, for theirs was always primarily a war against Islam itself.
Do I really need to point out that criticizing Islam—and yes, it was the rise of militant Islam that prompted the writing of the first New Atheist book, by Sam Harris—is NOT the same as “justifying Western imperialism”. I don’t have to say more here; Tiso’s claim discredits itself.
3.) New Atheism neglects the palpable benefits of religion. These include ethics morality, and charity. In fact, New Atheists have not neglected these benefits; they just claim that, by embracing secular humanism, we can have the same benefits without the many downsides of religion, which include oppression of women, gays, and opponents; a fatuous and restrictive “morality” that’s largely about sex; fostering violence and divisiveness; torturing children’s minds, and so on.
4.) Dawkins made mean tweets. Yes, that’s right. Dawkins hasn’t always been adept on Twitter, but that doesn’t mean that New Atheism is in “smouldering ruins”. This is another Salon-like red herring that doesn’t address the substantive arguments of New Atheism against religion.
5.) New Atheism’s arguments against religion, so far as they go, are not only mean but incoherent. Here’s one example from the essay, in which Tiso goes after Sam Harris:
A rhetorical woman appears in The Four Horsemen, too. In his essay, Harris asks us to imagine that on this day a set of identical twin girls was born with microcephaly in Brazil due to their gestating mother having been bitten by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus.
Imagine the woman herself a few months ago, doing everything within her power to prepare a happy life for her unborn daughters. Where does she work? A factory. How often does she pray? Daily, no doubt. But at the crucial moment she sleeps. Perhaps she’s dreaming of a world better than the one we live in. Picture a lone mosquito finding her open window. Picture it alighting upon her exposed arm. Will an omnipotent, omniscient and wholly benevolent God muster the slightest defence? Not even a breeze. The mosquito’s proboscis pierces her skin immediately. What are the faithful to believe at this point? One suspects they know that their God isn’t nearly as attentive as he would be if he actually existed.
I find this vignette quite upsetting. What are we to make of it? Does the existence of the mosquito and the fact that it’s prepared to bite a member of the flock prove that this woman’s God doesn’t exist? Is the fact that the woman works in a factory implicated in her faith? Is she unwittingly but nonetheless ultimately co-responsible for her own misfortune, by wasting her time in prayer instead of promoting scientific and medical discoveries?
It’s not hard to make out what Sam is saying here: he’s raising the classic argument about what kind of god would create “physical evil”—the torture and/or death of innocent people by natural circumstances. If god is ominipotent, he could prevent such evil, and if he’s omnibenevolent, he would have. There is no convincing religious answer, at least in the Abrahamic faiths, to the existence of this kind of evil, though many theologians have tried. How could Tiso have missed this simple lesson?
It goes on, but you won’t find anything in the piece that you haven’t seen in Salon or in the many other pieces trying to denigrate New Atheism. Tiso even manages to drag in “Elevatorgate”!
Why did the New Humanist, which as Daniel said is a respectable magazine, publish such tripe? Your guess is as good as mine. If you’re a member of The Rationalist Association, and object to this scattershot and ill-informed attack of New Atheism, you might let them know.
The Wall Street Journal is of course a conservative venue, but this time it’s exceeded even the normal right-wing love of religion. The article below, by psychoanalyst Erica Komisar, is behind a paywall, but I’ll give some quotes. And judicious inquiry might turn up a copy.
Komisar’s argument is based on a 2018 study showing that church attendance and prayer or meditation are positively associated with some measures of well being in growing children. She concludes that we should tell our kids that there’s a god and an afterlife, even if we are atheists. In other words, we should lie to our kids. After all, don’t we care about their welfare? Here’s the article, which leads to a paywall:
Komar’s thesis is based on the paper below from the American Journal of Epidemiology; a free pdf is available by clicking on the screenshot.
I couldn’t be arsed to read the whole paper in detail because it’s long and tedious, but I did look it over. The authors used longitudinal data from the Nurse’s Health Study II and the Growing Up Today Study, enrolling 116,430 nurses aged 24 and 42, and, using questionnaires, assessing their children aged 9 to 14. There were three categories of “religious service attendance”: never, less than once a week, or at least once a week. Religiosity (actually spirituality) was measured as answers to the question, “How often do you pray or meditate?”, with answers ranging from “never” to “once a day or more”. They then correlated these measures with other measurements that, they say, indicate well being.
The authors report that going to church at least once per week was associated with greater volunteering, great forgiveness, less marijuana use, later sexual initiation, and fewer lifetime sexual partners (the last three are clearly considered positive traits). More frequent praying or meditating was associated with greater positive affect, better emotional processing, greater volunteering, a greater sense of mission, more forgiveness, lower drug usage, later sexual initiation, and fewer lifetime sexual partners. However, more frequent prayer or meditation (these weren’t separated) was also associated with more physical health problems. But the authors dismiss that result by arguing that those in poorer health may pray more often. They don’t consider, however, whether more puritanical or virtuous people might have a tendency to want to go to church or pray more often. In other words, the negative result (poor health) is assumed to drive religiosity, while the positive results are assumed to result from religiosity.
As an alert reader noted (see comment #7 below), the funding for this study came in part from A Usual Suspect:
Based on that work, Komisar simply tells everyone to pretend that there’s a god and and afterlife when their kids raise the questions. Presumably we want our kids to be better off (and use less drugs and lose their virginity later!), so why not lie? What’s the downside? Here are some excerpts from her article:
Nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression, and being “realistic” is overrated. The belief in God — in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough — is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world. That’s only one reason, from a purely mental-health perspective, to pass down a faith tradition.
I am often asked by parents, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?” My answer is always the same: “Lie.” The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children. Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss. In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope.
. . . [Gratitude and empathy]can be found among countless other religious groups. It’s rare to find a faith that doesn’t encourage gratitude as an antidote to entitlement or empathy for anyone who needs nurturing. These are the building blocks of strong character. They are also protective against depression and anxiety.
And so the good psychoanalyst concludes that we need to cram religion down the throats of our kids, for it’s for their own good:
Religion or spiritual practices can teach children mindfulness, a sense of physical and emotional presence necessary for mental health. No matter how active my children were when they were young, they knew when they entered our temple for services they had to calm their bodies and relax their minds. Though they complained when they were kids, and still complain at times as adolescents, they have developed the ability to calm themselves when overwhelmed.
Today the U.S. is a competitive, scary and stressful place that idealizes perfectionism, materialism, selfishness and virtual rather than real human connection. Religion is the best bulwark against that kind of society. Spiritual belief and practice reinforce collective kindness, empathy, gratitude and real connection. Whether children choose to continue to practice as adults is something parents cannot control. But that spiritual or religious center will benefit them their entire lives.
Now I’m not going to quibble with the J. Epidemiology paper, as it would take too long to scrutinize it carefully, but I invite readers to have a look if they’re interested. One thing worth looking at is whether the size of the positive effects are substantial enough to prompt one to interfere in their kids’ lives. But let’s assume that the effects are real and palpable. Should we then lie to our kids?
The idea that we should pretend that there’s a god and a life after death, even if we ourselves reject them, goes against my grain, and I simply can’t accept the idea of lying to children about such things, no matter how salubrious the lie. One could say, “we’ll discuss that when you’re old enough to understand,” but even taking a kid to church is roughly equivalent to affirming the truth of church doctrine.
So why do I instinctively reject Komisar’s advice to lie? (I don’t have kids, so the isn’t doesn’t really come up for me.) First, if you are an atheist, your kid is going to know it, and see that you don’t practice what you preach. That might confuse the kid, and at any rate I don’t see Komar telling atheist parents to try to believe. But she does seem to be telling us that we should drag our kids to church and make them pray, which of course is bad for us atheists. After all, if our kids go to church, we have to take them there.
Further, there’s no control for other social activities that may foster mental health, like being on sports teams or clubs. It’s just religion versus no religion, yet those in nonreligious countries like Sweden probably find well being in other social activities that weren’t assessed in this study.
And what happens when the kid grows up and figures out for him/her/hirself that religion is bunk and we go nowhere when we die? They’ll not only feel cheated, but they’ll realize that you lied to them. And if you’re an out atheist, it’s even worse, for they’ll see you as an arrant hypocrite.
Finally, as I don’t want to rant at length, Komisar asserts at the end that if you’re religious as a kid because your parents lied to you, then even if you reject religion as an adult, you’ll still carry the benefits of your youthful belief. Now where is the evidence for that?
If you’ve followed the Intelligent Design (ID) mishigass, you’ll have heard of Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon, a Christian who was once an atheist, and a big supporter of ID and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. Egnor writes for the Evolution News website. Like several people there, he’s obsessed with me, but instead of taking apart my views on evolution, he goes after me personally, criticizing my attacks on theology and, worse, calling me names. This tells you two things. First, that religion is intimately entangled with ID. Although IDers disingenuously claim that they’re driven to the idea of a Designer in the Sky by the science alone, it’s curious that virtually all of them (biker David Berlinski may be an exception) are religious. Why are all the Discovery Institute flaks religious?
Also, it shows the intellectual failure of ID to replace evolution, which according to the Wedge Document timetable, it should have done by now. So they result in apologetics, theodicy, and philosophy. They’ve already lost on the science.
This week Egnor goes after me because of what I wrote about David Attenborough the other day. You can read his rant, which includes name-calling, by clicking on the screenshot below from the comment-free Evolution News site (I’ve archived the link below so their site doesn’t get clicks.)
Here goes Egnor’s argument, which is indented.
A shimmering example of atheist idiocy (there is no other word for it) is Jerry Coyne’s recent argument, at Why Evolution Is True, against God’s existence in his post on David Attenborough’s agnosticism. Attenborough, who is a Darwinist producer of nature films (quite good films I must say, despite the Darwinist taint), was interviewed about his views on God.
To Coyne’s chagrin, Attenborough declares that he is agnostic about God’s existence. Attenborough raises common objections to theism (e.g., the problem of evil), but he invokes a rather nice metaphor about a termite mound. He points out that termites, blind and busily working away in a mound, are unaware of human observers. Their unawareness is not evidence that an observer doesn’t exist — they lack the sense organs to perceive the observer. Attenborough says that is why he is agnostic — he doesn’t sense that God exists, but perhaps that is because he lacks the capacity to know God.
I do sometimes feel that maybe I’m lacking in some sense organ, and I don’t know whether there’s anybody else involved in all this sort of thing. And it’s a very confident thing, saying that you’re absolutely sure that there’s nothing in this world that I don’t have the sense organs to appreciate. That would be my position.
Coyne hops on this:
[O]f course, if a god wanted to make himself known to humans, he would have given them the sense organs to detect divinity.
A Breathtaking Ignorance
My goodness. In this one assertion, Coyne (culpably) and Attenborough (more innocently) betray a breathtaking ignorance.
God is not a physical thing. It is only physical things that can be sensed by sense organs. If God could be sensed via an organ, He would not be God. What would be sensed would be a part of creation, not the Creator. God is not in nature. He is prior to nature. He is the Source of nature.
And, contra Coyne and Attenborough, God did endow us with an organ by which we may know Him. He endowed us with reason. Alone among animals, human beings have the power of abstract thought — to contemplate ideas separated from concrete particular (sensible) objects. We have intellect, by which we can understand immaterial knowledge and will by which we act on our abstract knowledge.
Reason and Will
Our capacity for reason is the “organ” God gave us to know Him, and our will is the “organ” God gave us to love Him.
Reason is our divine “sense organ.” It is perfectly adapted to its task — it allows us to know and love our Creator. In this sense we are created in His image: we have the capacity to know immaterial reality and to act on our knowledge.
Atheists ask where is our “divine sense organ?”, when the very capacity by which they ask the question — their capacity for reason — is the “sense organ” they seek.This utter atheist idiocy helped lead me to God. What I found, when I looked at the arguments for and against His existence, is that the arguments against His existence were vapid nonsense.
There are many problems here. First of all, even if God is not a physical thing, nearly all Christians—the theistic ones—think that God interacts with the world in a physical way. After all, God sent his son/alter ego down to Earth as a scapegoat to be killed for our sins, thereby expiating us. IDers believe that God The Intelligent Designer either brought new species into being or made the requisite mutations to promote their appearance. Indeed, the very concept of Intelligent Design presupposes that empirical evidence—science and observation itself—inevitably brings us to the concept of an Intelligent Designer. And that evidence is “sensed by sense organs.”
In other words, ID itself refutes Egnor’s claim that God The Intelligent Designer cannot be sensed via an organ. The stupidity here (and I’m not pulling punches given that Egnor engages in name-calling) is to assume that a deity who is nonphysical cannot be apprehended through sense organs. If you’re a theist, that’s palpably ridiculous.
As for God giving us our “capacity for reason” specifically so we can know Him (do chimps know Him, too, since they have a capacity to reason?), that’s also ridiculous. If our capacity for reason gives us the “capacity to know immaterial reality and act on our knowledge”, then how come every religion has a different conception of immaterial reality? Egnor is a Christian; does he reject the Muslim belief that Jesus wasn’t the son of God but merely a prophet, and that Muhammad was given the true religion by Allah through Gabriel? Does he reject Hindu pantheism, or the animism of some tribes? Does he reject the thetans and Xenu-beliefs of Scientology?
Yes, if God gave us reason to know the truth about Him, how come the “truths” that “reason” tells believers are so disparate? Our divine sense organs must be defective in some way.
And why, over time, has “reason” turned more and more of the West into atheists? After all, God gave this reason to each of us, and gave it to us specifically so we’d know Him (or Her or Whatever). Are some people lacking in this reason? And that includes people who seem to have plenty of reason on other fronts: atheist intellectuals like Bertrand Russell, Stephen Hawking, Dan Dennett, Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins, and so on. And David Attenborough lacks it, too? Why did God give these people lots of ability to reason, but prevented that reason from apprehending His existence? Why are more and more people not using their organs of reason properly as time progresses?
And why is this blather on a site called Evolution News & Science Today? Because that’s also a site where Egnorant fools who are slaves to ancient superstitions parade their inability to reason. And that’s why they promote ID. Every time an IDer like Egnor writes about theology on that site, it affirms Judge Jones’s decision, back in Dover, that ID is not science but a form of religion.
Richard Dawkins is one of the world’s most famous atheists. An evolutionary biology at Oxford and best-selling author of The God Delusion – his new book ‘Outgrowing God – A Beginner’s Guide’ aims to inform young people about religion and atheism. He talks to Krishnan about why he wrote it, his passion for scientific truth and whether he thinks there’s life outside of Earth.
Guru-Murthy is described in Wikipedia as having “gained notoriety for causing awkward moments in interviews with celebrities by asking increasingly probing questions, most notably Quentin Tarantino and Robert Downey Jr..” I haven’t heard any of his interviews, but this one is tolerable but marred by the interviewer’s repeated claim that Richard’s criticism of Islam is unfair. (I don’t know if Guru-Murthy is religious, but he’s certainly soft on religion in general and Islam in particular.)
Even at the outset Guru-Murthy appears to have an agenda, as he introduces Richard as “perhaps famous as the world’s biggest atheist.” Well, maybe that’s why he’s famous, but Richard has written only one book about atheism—though I guess The God Delusion is his most famous book. Well, Richard is famous as well as a popularizer and writer about science.
But up until about 23 minutes, when he gets onto Islam, Guru-Murthy asks some pretty good questions, and draws out Richard’s views. If I have a beef about the questions, it’s that they tell us a lot about Richard’s views on religion (although you probably know much of this), but give us very little insight into the new book. And Guru-Murtha doesn’t appear to have done a lot of background research.
A few notes:
16:00: Guru-Murthy asks Richard if people can really live morally without fear of divine sanction, and I was sad to hear that Richard tentatively agree, for the morality of atheistic countries like Sweden and Denmark show that you don’t need God to be moral. (The interviewer does suggest the old canard that even secular countries inherit their morality from older Christianity, but I think that’s bunk.) Richard does add, however, that the idea that religion is necessary for morality is a “patronizing reason” to be good. (Note that the police strike Richard mentions, as described by Steve Pinker, occurred not in Toronto but in Montreal.)
18:30: Would the world be better if we jettisoned all our superstitions, including religion, and moved, as Richard wants, towards evidence-based thinking? Richard’s answer is good, bringing up secular ethics and noting that even the winnowing of the “good” from the “bad” parts of the Bible presupposes a non-goddy ethics—the Euthyphro argument. Richard also points out that morality has changed hugely over time (viz., The Better Angels of Our Nature), belying the idea that morality comes from religious doctrine (which of course changes, at best, very slowly).
At 23:15, Guru-Murtha starts trying to stick the knife in, telling Richard that “You annoy people”, and asking him if he’s peevish and lacks humor. Then you can see what really pisses off the interviewer: Richard’s insistence that Islam is the most dangerous and harmful of the world’s religions. Responding to the accusation that he hates Islam more than other faiths, Richard replies that he hates Islam’s tenets and religiously-motived acts—like killing apostates and suicide bombings—that draw from the wells of Islam but are vanishingly rare in, say, Christianity. The interviewer goes on, boring into the following infamous tweet of Richard’s:
Listening to the lovely bells of Winchester, one of our great mediaeval cathedrals. So much nicer than the aggressive-sounding “Allahu Akhbar.” Or is that just my cultural upbringing? pic.twitter.com/TpCkq9EGpw
Perhaps an unwise tweet, but Richard explains it (as he does in the tweet below), and keeps his cool despite Krishna-Murthy’s attempt to rattle him by asking him if he’s an “Islamophobe.”
The call to prayer can be hauntingly beautiful, especially if the muezzin has a musical voice. My point is that “Allahu Akhbar” is anything but beautiful when it is heard just before a suicide bomb goes off. That is when Islam is tragically hijacked by violence.
Finally, at 26:53 Krisnan asks Richard whether he’s clouded his scientific message with his atheism and anti-theism. (I get the same question, implying that I should just talk about evolution and stop banging on about religion, though I rarely mix the two subjects in a single talk.)
Richard’s response: “I’m not a politician; I’m a scientist, and I care about what is true. . . I’m not trying to be popular.” And that’s a good response. The new book (shown at bottom), is apparently a message for young people to care about what’s true—the claims that have good reasons supporting them.
Anyway, Richard looks in good nick and is as eloquent as ever despite his stroke. If you’ve read The God Delusion and already know a lot about Richard’s views about religion vs. science, you might skip to 23 minutes in when the fireworks (well, small ones) begin.
The new book (click on screenshot to get to the site for Amazon US):
When I saw this article from last year’s online Atlantic, I thought it was going to push the usual guff: “atheists are religious because they adhere fervently to the doctrine of No God, with no proof of their (non)beliefs.” But no, it wasn’t that. It was worse. In fact, the title is an arrant lie in at least two respects, and a distortion in another.
So how did author Sigal Samuel (a staff writer at Vox and former religion editor of The Atlantic) come to this conclusion? By distorting and misreporting the results from a 2018 Pew survey on the attitudes of Christians in Western Europe. That survey involved estimating the religiosity of Americans and Europeans by using standard questions like “Do you believe in God with absolute certainty?” and “Do you pray daily?”
Unsurprisingly, they found that Americans were more religious than Western Europeans. From Pew:
. . . Americans, overall, are considerably more religious than Western Europeans. Half of Americans (53%) say religion is “very important” in their lives, compared with a median of just 11% of adults across Western Europe. Among Christians, the gap is even bigger – two-thirds of U.S. Christians (68%) say religion is very important to them, compared with a median of 14% of Christians in the 15 countries surveyed across Western Europe.
Well, we’ve known this for a long time.
Second, as Samuel reports, there’s a difference between “nones” in America and “nones” in Europe:
. . . the researchers found that American “nones”—those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular—are more religious than European nones. The notion that religiously unaffiliated people can be religious at all may seem contradictory, but if you disaffiliate from organized religion it does not necessarily mean you’ve sworn off belief in God, say, or prayer.
Is there a deficit of neurons here? Lots of people who believe in a Higher Power don’t identify as members of a particular church. We all know some of these people.
Here’s what Pew says, affirming Samuel’s statement:
But even American “nones” are more religious than their European counterparts. While one-in-eight unaffiliated U.S. adults (13%) say religion is very important in their lives, hardly any Western European “nones” (median of 1%) share that sentiment.
Again, no surprise. Remember that “nones” aren’t all atheists, but simply a grouping term for people who don’t consider themselves affiliated with a formal religion. Atheists are only a small proportion of “nones”. And yes, you can still believe in God and be a “none”—you just don’t align yourself with the Catholic Church, Judaism, Islam, or any formal religion. Given that Americans are on the whole considerably more religious than Europeans, why is it a surprise that unaffiliated Americans are more religious than unaffiliated Europeans?
But here’s the result that got Samuel to her clickbait headline. As Pew said:
Similar patterns are seen on belief in God, attendance at religious services and prayer. In fact, by some of these standard measures of religious commitment, American “nones” are as religious as — or even more religious than — Christians in several European countries, including France, Germany and the UK.
And as Samuel tells us:
The third finding reported in the study is by far the most striking. As it turns out, “American ‘nones’ are as religious as—or even more religious than—Christians in several European countries, including France, Germany, and the U.K.”
“That was a surprise,” Neha Sahgal, the lead researcher on the study, told me. “That’s the comparison that’s fascinating to me.” She highlighted the fact that whereas only 23 percent of European Christians say they believe in God with absolute certainty, 27 percent of American nones say this.
Note the Pew statement (my emphases) “by some of these standard measures of religious commitment, American “nones” are as religious as—or even more religious than — Christians in several European countries, including France, Germany and the UK.
Two points here. First of all, “nones” aren’t all atheists, especially in the U.S. So Samuel has erred mightily in her headline, saying “atheists are sometimes more religious than Christians” when she means “nones are sometimes more religious than Christians”. Atheists, by definition, aren’t religious—at least according to the criteria Pew used for “religious”. And, of course, her headline, even if corrected, doesn’t hold true for all European countries (Pew mentions three; I can’t be arsed to find the country-by-country data).
Here’s Pew’s table that’s apparently the basis for Samuel’s breathy conclusion:
The comparison we want to make is with Western European Christians (dark red dots in middle column) with “nones” in the U.S. (grayish dots in right column). It turns out that using the criteria “religion is important in my life” or “I attend religious services at least monthly”, American “nones” aren’t as religious as European Christians, belying the headline. (The difference is greatest for churchgoing, with 31% of European Christians going to church at least monthly compared to 9% of American “nones”.) And the “higher religiosity” of American nones than of European Christians isn’t impressive for the other two criteria: a difference of 2% in “praying daily” and 4% in “believing in God with absolute certainty.”
And if you compare European nones with European Christians, the “nones” are less religious—by a long shot—for every one of the four indices of religiosity.
So that is the lie, and Samuel should have known better. But telling the truth would have spoiled her headline: it would have had to be “Americans who don’t consider themselves affiliated with a church are, according to some criteria for religiosity, more religious than Europeans who identify as Christians.” That’s not very exciting, is it?
And given the secularism of Europe, and the fact that many who identify as “Christians” do so in a cultural rather than religious way, just as I identify as being a Jew, it’s not surprising that American “nones” are sometimes more religious than cultural European Christians. That’s a second contributor to the distortion in Samuel’s headline: that many Christians (she means European Christians) are really atheists and therefore don’t pray, go to church, or believe in God at all, much less with absolute certainty.
The Pew report has some interesting data; look for the table of how many European “nones” (as opposed to church-attending Christians or non-practicing Christians) think that science makes religion unnecessary (hint: it ranges between 53% and 69%.
One surprising result: a substantial proportion of the European “unaffiliated,” including those who are religious and those who aren’t, believe that they have a soul (see graph below). Such is the power of dualism. Perhaps some of it comes from the dualism inherent in many forms of free will. (I’ll get my coat.)
All in all, the headline really has the import of “Dog bites man” rather than the other way round. I guess the Atlantic doesn’t vet their headlines very well. And the rest of Samuel’s article is pretty much boilerplate reporting. It’s not worth reading once you find out that there’s little new here except some serious distortion.
The Discovery Institute has put out a series of videos that, they claim, will do in atheism—and presumably lead us to Intelligent Design and then to Jesus. I hate to give publicity to a bunch of superstitious yahoos, but will put up one sample of what they consider to be a convincing attack on atheism. First, though, the blurbs about these videos:
A new YouTube series, Science Uprising, challenges the notion that the smart money is on atheism. I was part of the creative team behind the project. One of our aims was to reach those “digital natives” who get much of their impression of the wider world from the Internet, including streaming services like YouTube.
This group tends to encounter well-articulated arguments for unbelief earlier than ever before, and they often encounter those arguments online. Science Uprising is part of an increasingly rich body of material that pushes back against anti-theistic online propaganda.
From the YouTube video site:
This episode of Science Uprising investigates claims by scientists and professors like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, and Daniel Dennett, who try to hijack science to promote materialism—the idea that physical reality is all there is. Hear from experts who challenge this view of science, and learn about scientists who have to hide behind a mask because they face intimidation and censorship from dissenting from materialism. People featured in this episode include Jay Richards, PhD, Assistant Professor at The Catholic University of America, filmmaker, and author or co-author of books such as The Human Advantage, The Privileged Planet, The Hobbit Party, Infiltrated, and Money, Greed, and God; and Michael Egnor, MD (from Columbia University), neurosurgeon and professor of neurological surgery at Stony Brook University. Dr. Egnor is renowned for his work in pediatric neurosurgery.
Watch the 7-minute video below. I’ve put a few comments below it.
1.) The video gives no evidence against atheism; that is, it adduces no evidence for the existence of a god. The gist of the video is that the implications of godlessness are unpalatable (e.g., the “purposeless of the universe”). Pity, but what exists—or doesn’t exist—doesn’t always comport with how we want things to be.
2.) Their evidence for god? The assertion that “Most people and cultures around the world have a profound belief that life extends beyond the physical—that compassion, ideas, joy and sorrow, aren’t made of matter.” Since when has the ubiquity of a belief constituted evidence for its truth?
3.) Science is based on materialism, which they say is an unsubstantiated worldview. But materialism and naturalism (I prefer the latter term) are the only ways we’ve ever attained truth about the universe. Certainly faith and religion have given us no truth, as evidenced by the diverse and conflicting claims of the planet’s many religions. After years of trying, I’ve seen no “truth” about the universe adduced by religion itself that doesn’t require confirmation by science, but I’ve seen plenty of religious “truths” disconfirmed by science (creationism, the Flood, the Exodus, and so on).
4.) According to the video, scientists are stupid to claim that we have no (libertarian) free will. If that’s the case, say the dupes, “how can we be responsible for our actions?” I’ve already explained why determinism is still compatible with personal responsibility for our actions—and for punishment and reward—but not moral responsibility in the sense of “we could have done otherwise.”
5.) The implication of materialism is racism and murder (see the pictures).
6.) Our consciousness and a sense of self are illusory, say people like Dan Dennett and Sam Harris. This, claim the benighted, is not only incompatible with materialism, but conflicts with the claim that consciousness and self have real consequences. Well, these people don’t understand what “illusory” means, which is, in the Harrisian and Dennettian senses, “These things aren’t what they seem to be.” Further, if you’re a determinist, then consciousness and self are themselves the byproducts of natural processes—epiphenomena, if you will—and cannot exercise some non-deterministic, non-physical forces on our actions.
7.) And that’s about it, except that Michael Egnor (and the charlatan Rupert Sheldrake) make appearances. Egnor, misidentified as a scientist (he’s a neurosurgeon who doesn’t do science), says, “The deeper I look into the science, the more I realize what a catastrophe for science materialism/atheism really is.” Of course, Egnor doesn’t explain that statement. It is, in fact, theism and faith that have been catastrophes for science, as evidenced by the large number of people on this planet who reject the existence of evolution on religious grounds.
8.) At the end, the female narrator gets it exactly backwards when she says, “We want to follow the evidence, wherever it leads, and decide for ourselves.” Well, if they follow evidence that is strongly agreed on by all rational people, what they get is science—science that can work only without assuming a god. The kind of “evidence” that these people accept is evidence from scripture, from their preachers, and from their own feelings about how the world is or ought to be. That is not the way to find scientific truth.
Pity that the cowards at the Evolution News site don’t accept comments, but you can “like” or “dislike” the YouTube videos