Without God, Gall Is Permitted

Wall Street Opinion Journal Sam Schulman January 5, 2007

Modern atheists have no new arguments, and they lack their forebears’ charm.

When the very first population of atheists roamed the earth in the Victorian age–brought to life by Lyell’s “Principles of Geology,” Darwin’s “Origin of Species” and other blows to religious certainty–it was the personal dimension of atheism that others found distressing. How could an atheist’s oath of allegiance to the queen be trusted? It couldn’t–so an atheist was not allowed to take a seat in Parliament. How could an atheist, unconstrained by a fear of eternal punishment, be held accountable to social norms of behavior? Worse than heretical, atheism was not respectable.

In the 21st century, this no longer seems to be the case. Few acquaintances of Dr. Richard Dawkins, the world’s most voluble public atheist, wonder, as they might have a hundred years ago: Can I leave my wife unchaperoned in this man’s company? Indeed, the atheists are now looking to turn the tables: They want to make belief itself not simply an object of intellectual derision but a cause for personal embarrassment. A new generation of publicists for atheism has emerged to tell Americans in particular that we should be ashamed to retain a majority of religious believers, that in this way we resemble the benighted, primitive peoples of the Middle East, Africa and South America instead of the enlightened citizens of Western Europe.

Thanks in part to the actions of a few jihadists in September 2001, it is believers who stand accused, not freethinkers. Among the prominent atheists who now sermonize to the believers in their midst are Dr. Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett (“Breaking the Spell”) and Sam Harris (“The End of Faith” and, more recently, “Letter to a Christian Nation”). There are others, too, like Steven Weinberg, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Brooke Allen (whose “Moral Minority” was a celebration of the skeptical Founders) and a host of commentators appalled by the Intelligent Design movement. The transcript of a recent symposium on the perils of religious thought can be found at a science Web site called edge.org.

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Comments

  1. Dean Scourtes says:

    In one respect, athiests like Dawkins and Harris, are exactly like the fundamentalists who rail against evolution – they are attacking something they barely understand with information based on shallow, superificial, negative sterotypes.

    Terry Eagleton, a Professor of English Literature at Manchester University writes:

    Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth ..understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.

    .. Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history – and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry

    Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching, The London Review of Books

    Another problem Dawkins shares with Christian fundamentalists is his tendency to blame Religion for problems that may have other casues. Christian fundamentalists blame Religion for the rise of Islamic radicalism, ignoring political or economic factors. Much of the unrest in Iraq for example can be traced to Paul Bremer’s disasterous decision in July 2003 to disband the Iraqi army and fire most of Iraq’s government officials, suddenly creating a large body of 200,000 angry unemployed men with access to weapons and ammunition.

    Similarly, blaming Christianity for the fighting between Irish Catholics and Protestants 30 years, as Dawkins does, also displays a very superficial and shallow understanding of the nature of that conflict. Did religion tell Timothy McVeigh to blow up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City or is it possible that with a little effort we might find other causes of his violent implulses?

    It is a dogmatic view indeed that traces all the worlds violent conflicts to religion. The last centuries horrors were primarily the work of men who rejected religion, Stalin and Hitler for example, exploiting societies where religious values had been weakened, rather than strengthened. Professor Eagleton writes:

    On the horrors that science and technology have wreaked on humanity, he (Dawkins) is predictably silent. Yet the Apocalypse is far more likely to be the product of them than the work of religion. Swap you the Inquisition for chemical warfare.

  2. I saw Dawkins on C-Span a week or two ago. Your comments are accurate. His understanding and critique of religion was very shallow. So was his understanding of history. The same thought crossed my mind mentioned above: his brand of secularism informed the Marxist and Nazi carnage of the last century. He doesn’t seem to understand this.

    I was also struck by his overweening scorn and contempt for all things religious. He thinks a clever quip settles all questions.

    A lot of this is driven I think by the undermining of Darwinism. It’s cracking, and as it falls all the philosophical defenses against the transcendent falls with it. It hard to see the house start to shift when you’ve spent an entire lifetime building it.*

    *Don’t argue with me on this point for the time being. Philosophical materialism is spiritually exhausted (no, that’s not a contradiction). It cannot hold.

  3. J R Dittbrenner says:

    General Information:

    If you can and do get a flu shot the mixture is derived from the research into viral recombent DNA, i.e. H5N1.

    “Fluu evolves via duel infections, which happens when one organism is infected by two viruses. The two viruses can exchange genetic information. In the case of flu, its 8 genes are a seperate pieces of genetic information. The genetic exchange can be with whole genes (a new virus takes some genes from one parent and some from another) or pieces of genes (the new gene is a chimera with some input from each parent).

    Swapping whole genes is pretty easy to see, and that is one thing that influenza analysts look for. Some think that H5N1 needs to get a whole human/pig gene to go pandemic.

    “Flu dosen’t have time for random changes. To survive, it needs to change its genetic composition each year, and it does so via recombination, which requires dual infections.” Dr. Niman from CurEvents.com

    !In May at Qinghai Lake-China-the dead bodies of the flocking birs showed that the recombent of H5N1 with parts of genes from European birds with Asian birds. The HA cleavage site, which makes it pathogenic, was characteristic KKKRRKK, which was only found in H5N1 in Asia since 1996.’
    This is an example of God’s natural ordered universe; humans just check it out and create the medicines. There is however, some evolutionary theory envolved here which, as said, is in God’s natural ordered universe.

    Sincerely yours,
    J R Dittbrenner

  4. Dawkins is indeed too dismissive of Christianity as a whole, and he is far too simplistic in his generalizations of Christian thought. Nevertheless, this piece makes somewhat of the same mistake. It forgets that many self-professed atheists have labeled themselves as such only after committing many previous years to Christianity (often as preachers and apologists such as John Loftus and Edward Babinski) and who, in the end, left only after coming to their conclusions with much deliberation and thought and, in some cases, much agonizing. Many bear no ill will to those who remain in the faith, excluding the few who hold some residual resentment towards their former life.

    The intellectual problems of suffering and evil are not new arguments against faith, it’s true. Nevertheless, many don’t realize the enormity of these challenges until they experience them themselves. The philosophical “materialism” of these sorts of atheists need not manifest itself in a nihilist absence of empathy: some end up paradoxically respecting life to a greater degree, believing it the only one that is lived. If there’s nothing afterwards, one might be less likely to trifle with their own or others’ lives.

    Perhaps that is what strikes me about many religious blogs: there seem to be a great number of assumptions in terms of how one’s philosophical outlook will play out in an individual’s life, as if rejecting or embracing a specific “world view” or religious belief will, by corollary, make an individual more this or that. I don’t see that in real life.