The new atheists: “primitive opposition to faith and reason”

From the LA Times: Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining, by Charlotte Allen
Subtitle: Superstar atheists are motivated by anger — and boohoo victimhood.

Here are a few quotes:

I can’t stand atheists — but it’s not because they don’t believe in God. It’s because they’re crashing bores.

Other people, most recently the British cultural critic Terry Eagleton in his new book, “Faith, Reason, and Revolution,” take to task such superstar nonbelievers as Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”) and political journalist Christopher Hitchens (“God Is Not Great”) for indulging in a philosophically primitive opposition of faith and reason that assumes that if science can’t prove something, it doesn’t exist.


Maybe atheists wouldn’t be so unpopular if they stopped beating the drum until the hide splits on their second-favorite topic: How stupid people are who believe in God. This is a favorite Dawkins theme. In a recent interview with Trina Hoaks, the atheist blogger for the website, Dawkins described religious believers as follows: “They feel uneducated, which they are; often rather stupid, which they are; inferior, which they are; and paranoid about pointy-headed intellectuals from the East Coast looking down on them, which, with some justification, they do.” Thanks, Richard!


The problem with atheists — and what makes them such excruciating snoozes — is that few of them are interested in making serious metaphysical or epistemological arguments against God’s existence, or in taking on the serious arguments that theologians have made attempting to reconcile, say, God’s omniscience with free will or God’s goodness with human suffering. Atheists seem to assume that the whole idea of God is a ridiculous absurdity, the “flying spaghetti monster” of atheists’ typically lame jokes. They think that lobbing a few Gaza-style rockets accusing God of failing to create a world more to their liking (“If there’s a God, why aren’t I rich?” “If there’s a God, why didn’t he give me two heads so I could sleep with one head while I get some work done with the other?”) will suffice to knock down the entire edifice of belief.

What primarily seems to motivate atheists isn’t rationalism but anger — anger that the world isn’t perfect, that someone forced them to go to church as children, that the Bible contains apparent contradictions, that human beings can be hypocrites and commit crimes in the name of faith. The vitriol is extraordinary. Hitchens thinks that “religion spoils everything.” Dawkins contends that raising one’s offspring in one’s religion constitutes child abuse. Harris argues that it “may be ethical to kill people” on the basis of their beliefs.

Read the entire editorial here.

Grace and Peace

HT: Cranach

3 thoughts on “The new atheists: “primitive opposition to faith and reason”

  1. Shamelessly Atheist

    Do you have the temerity to also print the rebuttal PZ Myers wrote in the LA Times, too?

    Charlotte Allen is very, very angry with us atheists — that’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from her furious broadside in The Times on May 17. She can’t stand us; we’re unpopular; we’re a problem. What, exactly, is the greatest crime of modern atheists?

    We’re boring.

    I can’t actually argue with that. It’s true. We’re all just ordinary people — your neighbors, your friends, your relatives. I know atheists who are accountants, real estate agents, schoolteachers, lawyers, soldiers, journalists, even ministers (but don’t tell their congregations!). Our leading lights are college professors, scientists, philosophers, theologians and other such pedantic, scholarly riffraff. For entertainment, they read books, and if they want to do something ambitious and dramatic, they write books. I’m one of them, so trust me, I know — we don’t exactly live the James Bond lifestyle. Calling us boring is a fair cop.

    But still — why would anyone get angry about that? I find myself bored witless by games of chance, but I don’t write irate letters condemning all card players and demanding the immediate shuttering of all casinos. I’m afraid I don’t believe Allen. There are other motivations behind her denunciations, and they aren’t as simple as that she finds us boring.

    She should drop the pretense that the objectionable part of our character is our lack of excitement. What really annoys Allen is that in our books, blogs and media appearances, we challenge religious preconceptions. That’s all we do. It’s admittedly not exactly a roller-coaster ride of thrills, but it does annoy the superstitious and the fervent true believers in things unseen and unevidenced. We are also, admittedly, often abrasive in being outspoken critics of religious dogma, but it’s also very hard to restrain our laughter and contempt when we see the spectacle of god-belief in full flower.

    We witness many people who proudly declare that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago, roughly 9,000 years after the domestication of dogs, 5,000 years after the founding of Jericho and contemporaneous with the invention of the plow. They cling to these beliefs despite contradictions with history, let alone physics, geology and biology, because they believe the Bible is a literal history and science text. We find much to ridicule in these peculiarly unreal ideas.

    We live in a world where the majority of the population are quite convinced that they have a direct pipeline to an omnipotent, omniscient being who has told them exactly how to live and what is right and wrong, and has spelled out his divine will in holy books. Unfortunately, there are many holy books, and they all disagree with each other, and of all these multitudes claiming possession of such a potent source of information, we similarly see widespread disagreement. This god seems to be an exceptionally unreliable oracle — most of what he has supposedly said is wrong. We atheists do take glee in pointing out God’s lack of consistency, which I’m sure Allen finds irritating.

    Contrary to Allen’s claim that we aren’t interested in criticizing the important elements of religious belief, we are: We go right to the central issue of whether there is a god or not. We’re pretty certain that if there were an all-powerful being pulling the strings and shaping history for the benefit of human beings, the universe would look rather different than it does. It wouldn’t be a place almost entirely inimical to our existence, with a history that reveals our existence was a fortunate result of a long chain of accidents tuned by natural selection. Most of the arguments we’ve heard that try to reconcile god and science seem to make God a subtle, invisible, undetectable ghost who at best tickles the occasional subatomic particle when no one is looking. It seems rather obvious to us that if his works are undetectable, you have no grounds for telling us what he’s been up to.

    Allen requests that we atheists take religious belief seriously. We do; it’s hard not to take seriously a bizarre collection of antiquated superstitions that are furiously waved in our faces in our schools, on television, in our politics and even on newspaper editorial pages. That we take the intellectually bankrupt beliefs of religion seriously is precisely why we do question it, and will continue to question it, in our boring way: by simply speaking out.


  2. geochristian

    Shamelessly Atheist:

    Thanks for your comment, and for pointing me to PZ Myer’s response, which I did not know about.

    I really don’t think Myers addressed Allen’s criticisms of atheism. For example, Allen specifically addressed the issue of evolution, and stated that many Christians have no problem with it. Myers ignored what Allen had to say (I guess it isn’t convenient for him), and brought up the young-Earth creationists, with their distortions of both science and theology. The silliness of young-Earth creationism doesn’t negate the truthfulness of the Bible or the existence of God. The Bible simply does not say how old the Earth is or that all of the geological record was deposited by the Flood.

    Myers said, “Contrary to Allen’s claim that we aren’t interested in criticizing the important elements of religious belief, we are: We go right to the central issue of whether there is a god or not.” Hogwash. None of these prominent new atheists really understand Christianity or the Christian arguments for the existence of God. It is not just me saying this, but other atheists such as philosopher Michael Ruse.


  3. lightsmith

    In my experience, there is no argument for the existence of God which has not been addressed somewhere. Is there a particular Christian argument for the existence of God which has not been discussed from the atheist point of view?

    When you say the prominent new atheists don’t really understand Christianity, I think they really understand the fundamentalist faction of Christianity toward which most of their writing is directed. They are writing popular books, so if they fail to address subtle epistemological arguments which even most Christians couldn’t recite, maybe it’s because doing so would make their books even MORE boring to people like Charlotte Allen.

    Christians who acknowledge that science makes a compelling case for evolution are not really a problem for someone who is making a case for evolution. Young earth creationists are the problem. While P Z Myers may not mention the many evolution-believing Christians in this particular response, he does recognize that they exist. Indeed, at he chides creationists who claim that there is a dichotomy:

    [quote]So, is faith a useful marker for distinguishing people who do not believe in evolution, and those who accept the scientific evidence? No. Most religious beliefs are irrelevant to the creation-evolution argument.

    Many (about half, by some polls) scientists have accommodated their religious beliefs to their scientific ideas, rather than simply rejecting them[…][/quote]

    I expect I could find similar acknowledgment from Dawkins, Dennet, and Harris.


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