Reza Asian is the latest in the line of theists accusing atheists of being just as dogmatic, fundamentalist, and evangelical as everyone else. It’s just the same old shit, but it’s important to keep exposing it as shit, so here goes:
There is, as has often been noted, something peculiarly evangelistic about what has been termed the new atheist movement. The new atheists have their own special interest groups and ad campaigns. They even have their own holiday (International Blasphemy Day). It is no exaggeration to describe the movement popularized by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as a new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism–an atheist fundamentalism.
Ok, Reza. You’re right. It’s not an exaggeration. It’s just an outright lie. There would have to be some truth to it for it to be an exaggeration. Let’s start with fundamentalism. That’s the belief in the absolute truth of a set of principles. And it is precisely opposite to the position of science. And when we talk about “New Atheists,” we’re talking about people who rely on science to determine that there is no evidence whatsoever for a god’s existence.
Science is the method of determining truth, and for it to work, every conclusion must be viewed as subject to falsification. And yes, that goes for the scientific method itself. If someone can prove that we’ve been wrong all along, and that the scientific method doesn’t work, we’ll start looking for a method that does work. (Of course, how are you going to prove that the scientific method doesn’t work without using the scientific method? That’s the problem, you see. There is simply no alternative to using science.)
I understand how people like Reza think. They don’t get that we aren’t doggedly sticking to science out of some misguided “fundamentalism.” They are only familiar with their own way of thinking, which requires a certain amount of fundamentalism because it defies science. Since they perceive their world as sensible, and they are dogmatic, they genuinely can’t grasp the epistemological necessity of science. It sounds contrary to them when we say that we can’t imagine an alternative to science, but we’re willing to accept any falsifiable proof that there is one.
Ok… enough about that. We’ve been down this road before. On to billboard ads and so forth. DUH! Yes. We believe that we are right, and we think the world would be a better place if more people were like us. So we’re trying to let other people know that we’re here, and we’re trying to convince them that we’re right. Just like everyone else with a vested interest in making the world a better place.
Beyond that, we’re also an oppressed minority, and we’d like it if people didn’t treat us badly. We’re not immoral. We’re not hopeless. We’re not missing out on anything. We’re just like everyone else, but we’re vilified and marginalized. In some parts of the world, we’re killed. We’d like it if that wasn’t the case, so we’re trying to change things.
Unlike Reza, we believe that every idea needs to be heard, and tested against reality. We don’t want the religious to stop talking. We want them to examine their beliefs critically and give them up when they don’t line up with reality. We want to talk about religion. But in labeling us as zealots, fundamentalists, and evangelists, he’s ironically using those words as pejoratives to try to get us to stop! But Reza… THAT’S WHY WE’RE DOING THIS! We don’t like fundamentalism or zealotry. The philosophy we live by is the antithesis to dogmatism, zealotry, and fundamentalism.
The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon…
The conviction that we are in sole possession of truth: No. We happily admit that any conclusion may be proven wrong in the future. Including the existence of God. We reject claims that don’t hold up to reality, but that doesn’t mean we believe we’re right about everything. It means just what it says. We believe things for which there is proof, and disbelieve things for which there is no proof. That’s it.
Lack of tolerance: No, Reza. There is a difference between tolerance and acceptance. None of the “New Atheists” is suggesting that we outlaw religion or try to force anyone into atheism. That’s absurd. We tolerate your views in the same way that we tolerate the KKK’s rights. We find them abhorrent, and wish you didn’t have them, but we recognize that you have the right to believe abhorrent things.
Insistence on literalist readings: No again, Reza. We can and do dismantle scripture on both a literal and metaphorical level. Enough said.
Reductionism: Really? You’ve obviously not been keeping up on the journals. We’re busy at work in lots of universities trying to get grants to understand religious belief at all levels. We’ve only had a few decades in which we could hope to do such research, and there’s still a lot we don’t know, but there are dozens, maybe hundreds of research projects ongoing at any given moment. Now, if you mean that we say things like: “All theism requires faith,” well that’s not reductionism. It’s just true.
and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies and are just not going to take it anymore.This is not the philosophical atheism of Feuerbach or Marx, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche (I am not the first to think that the new atheists give atheism a bad name). Neither is it the scientific agnosticism of Thomas Huxley or Herbert Spencer. This is, rather, a caricature of atheism: shallow scholarship mixed with evangelical fervor.
You pompous ass! This is so contemptible that I’m having a hard time knowing where to begin. How many openly atheist congressmen are there? One. How many people like you, Reza, have written about how horrible we are? Seriously, you twit! You’re doing it right now!
The principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations.
Ok. Then you come onto this blog and explain to everybody exactly how we’re supposed to understand religion. Explain it to us in as much nuance as you want and help us make sense of it. We’ve seen the debates and read the books by your “sophisticated” theologians, and you know what? It doesn’t make sense. It’s still non-scientific, and it still doesn’t hold up to the burden of proof.
Indeed, the most prominent characteristic of the new atheism–and what most differentiates it from traditional atheism–is its utter lack of literacy in the subject (religion) it is so desperate to refute.
LIES! Horrible, easily refutable lies! Many of us, perhaps most of us, grew up religious. I’ve read the Bible through cover to cover, and I honestly don’t know any Christians who can say that. I’ve been Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and several denominations I can’t even recall now. I’ve taken… let’s see… four classes on world religion in college. I’ve read all the “great” apologists. I could probably explain C.S. Lewis’ arguments better than you could.
Every “new atheist” I know could teach Bible School, and could probably run circles around the average Christian when it comes to knowledge of not only Christianity, but other religions. We are atheists precisely because we have a thorough understanding of religion.
After all, religion is as much a discipline to be studied as it is an expression of faith. (I do not write books about, say, biology because I am not a biologist.)
Ahem. But religion is a claim about the nature of reality. That’s science, bub. And all those scientists who write about atheism… they’re square in the center of their fields.
Religion, however it is defined, is occupied with transcendence–by which I mean that which lies beyond the manifest world and towards which consciousness is oriented–and transcendence necessarily encompasses certain theological connotations with which one ought to be familiar to properly critique belief in a god.
Yep. Here it is, folks. Confuse and conquer. What the fuck does any of this gobblety-gook mean? Transcendence from what to what? What lies beyond the “manifest world?” How do you know? Which theological connotations?
One should, for example, be cognizant of how the human experience of transcendence has been expressed in the material world through historically dependent symbols and metaphors.
Yeah… like… one should have read Joseph Campbell, right? Been there, done that. Great writer. Great books.
Or, do you mean that we should examine the physical experiences classified as “transcendence” by religious believers? That’s what we have fMRI’s for. And guess what… We’re on it.
One should be able to recognize the diverse ways in which the universal recognition of human contingency, finitude, and material existence has become formalized through ecclesiastical institutions and dogmatic formulae.
Well, yeah. We have scientists for that, too. They’re called anthropologists.
One should become acquainted with the unmistakable patterns–call them modalities (Rudolph Otto), paradigmatic gestures (Mircea Eliade), spiritual dimensions (Ninian Smart), or archetypes (Carl Jung)–that recur in the myths and rituals of nearly all religious traditions and throughout all of recorded history.
Do I need to go on? We’ve got scientists for that, too. Seriously, do you see what he’s doing here? He’s just rattling off a whole list of perspectives on religion which admittedly would be impossible for any one person to have. So whenever we point to an atheist, he can say, “Yeah, but they don’t know about X, so they’re not qualified.”
Well guess what, bub. By that standard, nobody is qualified. The thing is, on our side of the fence, we recognize that the beauty of science is that we do not need to be masters of every discipline. Because the method works, we can trust the findings of scientists in fields which we do not comprehend. I am terrified of astronomy, but I can trust cosmologists when they say the universe is approximately 14 billion years old, because they use the same system of observation, experiment, and peer review as every other scientist.
You’re implying that the only people qualified to discuss religion are those who understand every single aspect of religion. But that’s fallacious. I’ve read journal articles by neurologists, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, chemists, biologists, zoologists, and a dozen other varieties of scientists. Isn’t that awesome? Instead of spending my entire life in college in a vain attempt to know everything about everything, I can trust peer-reviewed literature enough to have a layman’s understanding of broad swaths of the universe.
What if one viewed the recurring patterns of religious phenomena that so many diverse cultures and civilizations–separated by immeasurable time and distance–seem to have shared as evidence of an active, engaging, transcendent presence that underlies creation, that, in fact, impels creation? Is such a possibility any more hypothetical than say, superstring theory or the notion of the multiverse?
Well, yes. It is more hypothetical, in that there is not a single scrap of evidence supporting the hypothesis, while string and multiverse theories are at least founded on real math.
Then again, maybe the patterns of religious phenomenon signify nothing. Maybe they indicate little more than a common desire among all peoples to answer similar questions of “Ultimate Concern,” to use the Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich’s famous phrase. The point is that, like any researcher or critic, like any scientist, I’m open to possibilities.
Good. Then stop telling us to shut up and let us present our hypothesis alongside the religious hypothesis. Let’s examine them in open, honest discussion. Let’s trust the evidence and follow wherever it leads, even if it makes us uncomfortable. We’re all down with that program. But you’re telling us we’re not. What’s that noise?
The new atheists will say that religion is not just wrong but evil, as if religion has a monopoly on radicalism and violence; if one is to blame religion for acts of violence carried out in religion’s name then one must also blame nationalism for fascism, socialism for Nazism, communism for Stalinism, even science for eugenics.
Generally speaking, atheists don’t believe evil exists, so no. But yes, lots of us do claim that religious belief (or in my case, faith-based belief) is a negative influence on human culture. That’s a hypothesis, and it’s subject to falsifiability. We’re doing the research. We’ve also been willing to back down when a particular part of our claim is invalidated. For instance, it’s now commonly accepted that religious belief is not the primary causal factor in suicide bombing. We thought it was. But it’s not. So we accepted that. See?
The new atheists claim that people of faith are not just misguided but stupid
Horse-shit. Maybe some adolescent bloggers, but not the science writers. I, and most of the atheists I know, view believers as victims of indoctrination and environmental factors beyond their control. That has nothing to do with general intelligence or “stupidity.”
Some argue that the religious impulse is merely the result of chemicals in the brain, as though understanding the mechanism by which the body experiences transcendence delegitimizes the experience (every experience is the result of chemical reactions).
You have a real problem with linear thinking, Reza. Yes, every experience is the result of chemical reactions, and yes, every religious experience can be reduced to chemicals, but we do not make the argument, “Every experience is chemical, therefore there is no god.” That’s stupid. (Yes, I just called you stupid, but not because you’re a theist. Because what you just said is stupid, and I can’t believe the Washington Post made time for this kind of twaddle.)
What the new atheists do not do, and what makes them so much like the religious fundamentalists they abhor, is admit that all metaphysical claims–be they about the possibility of a transcendent presence in the universe or the birth of the incarnate God on earth–are ultimately unknowable and, perhaps, beyond the purview of science. That may not be a slogan easily pasted on the side of a bus. But it is the hallmark of the scientific intellect.
But Reza, how would you ever prove that anything is beyond scientific inquiry? At any point, your understanding may take a leap forward because of some new discovery. By claiming that anything is unknowable, you’re just throwing your hands up in the air and accepting whatever explanation makes sense. Don’t you see the irony? You’re accepting an explanation for a thing that you just said is unknowable!! Think about that for half a second, please?!
The hallmark of a scientific intellect is NOT accepting that some things are unknowable. You don’t know enough about science to have an article in a major newspaper.
Gads. I need a beer.