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Atheism's Wrong Turn - Comments

Opti-mystic's Avatar Comment 2 by Opti-mystic

"They view the patient back and forth of dialogue--the way of Socrates--as a waste of time."

That may be because some of us have found that reason, a cornerstone of useful dialogue, is most often absent in debate with religious apologists.
A dialogue with the 'deaf to reason' is a waste of time. Well mine anyway.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 11:06:00 UTC | #88876

dloubet's Avatar Comment 1 by dloubet

Oh, for--


Maybe we need to start up our own minuteman vigilante squad to catch and deport illegal strawmen.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 11:06:00 UTC | #88875

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 3 by Chrysippus_Maximus

Ya know, such an article wouldn't bother me in the slightest, if it weren't totally ignorant of the history of religious criticism.

The same irrationality and writing off of criticism has been going on for hundreds of years in academic form.

People need to go back and read the letters that were written and the articles that were published during the Atheism controversy of the late 1700s (in the wake of a revival of Spinozism).

That and the earlier controversies over Spinoza's philosophy when he first wrote it.



Sun, 02 Dec 2007 11:10:00 UTC | #88878

Serdan's Avatar Comment 4 by Serdan

Yay! Let's ransack some churches! Who's with me?!

Oh, wait...

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 11:22:00 UTC | #88881

drive1's Avatar Comment 5 by drive1

The last thing America needs is a war of attrition between two mutually exclusive, absolute systems of belief. Yet this is precisely what the new atheists appear to crave. The task for the rest of us--committed to neither dogmatic faith nor dogmatic doubt--is to make certain that combatants on both sides of the theological divide fail to get their destructive way. And thereby to ensure that liberalism prevails.

In a way, this is correct. The only force that can disable the fundamentalist religious groups (and the author recognises the danger they pose) is the majority group - liberal religious folk. To date they have a woeful record in this regard. Vociferous arguments from 'strident' atheists appears to be what it takes to rouse them. Bloody well wake up, put your houses in order, and we can all get back to living in peaceful co-existence.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 11:49:00 UTC | #88892

SonOfPearl's Avatar Comment 6 by SonOfPearl's atheists feel perfectly justified in dispensing with such moral luxuries as tolerance and civility.

Tolerance and civility are usually features of rational thinkers and often absent from religious believers BECAUSE of the appalling things their religion pushes them to do.

Religion has NEVER had tolerance or civility...the 'new atheists' are a fine contrast to that.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 12:40:00 UTC | #88919

padster1976's Avatar Comment 7 by padster1976

'the other driven by a visceral contempt for the personal faith of others.'

- Nah. Other faithiests do that!

'Visceral contempt' - read 'presentation of facts and reality'.

Its just another example of what Dawkins described as the self imposed degree of importance and 'untouchability' of a religious belief.

C'mon! Since when should ignorance be protected!?

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 12:41:00 UTC | #88921

Janus's Avatar Comment 8 by Janus

More of the usual nonsense.

My rebuttal:

- Russell's teapot; we're certain that the Judeo-Christian God and the Muslim God and all the other blatantly imaginary deities of human religions don't exist for the same reason you're certain there are no humanoid, green-skinned, two-eyed aliens living on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri.

- Freedom of belief and of expression does not equal freedom to indoctrinate children. Parents have rights, but so do children.

- Tolerating ridiculous beliefs and abstaining from ridiculing ridiculous beliefs are two different things. No atheist is trying to oppress believers, or to legislate religious belief. We just aren't willing to treat nonsense as if it weren't nonsensical. We give precisely as much respect to religious believers as you give (or should give) to someone who believes he can predict the future by observing the patterns formed by his feces in the toilet bowl: none, because both beliefs are based on faith and nothing else.

- To be dogmatic is to hold unquestioned and unquestionable beliefs, a trademark of religion. It isn't to dismiss the most implausible of ideas until their supporters find evidence.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 12:51:00 UTC | #88928

Crono454's Avatar Comment 9 by Crono454

I'm sorry that the author of this piece is so excited to find common ground with pure insanity. This is just another upset little god botherer who is upset because someone' broken the taboo of criticizing religion without the kid gloves on.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 12:52:00 UTC | #88930

Gibsnag's Avatar Comment 10 by Gibsnag

Tbh I stopped reading after this:

"Philosopher Daniel Dennett shares Dawkins's hostility to religious education"

Clearly a massive mis-representation. Dennet has in fact proposed mandatory religious education for all US children (I would assume similar to what we have in the UK). What he opposes is religious indoctrination which, correct me if I'm wrong, is very different from religious education.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:01:00 UTC | #88932

Eric Blair's Avatar Comment 11 by Eric Blair

I think the responses here bear out Linker's point.

As others have said about Communism and fascism in the past, understanding what one opposes -- and why people accept such principles -- is invaluable in undermining it.

The history of religion, most notably where it is the "established" faith, shows toleration is actually essential to its survival. As a political force, Christian religion in particular has often had to make compromises with certain "dissenters" to keep social peace. This didn't mean it tolerated all dissent, obviously. But it did open a crack in the wall of monolithic intolerance.

As for less self-serving tolerance and civility, read Garry Wills' new book, Head and Heart.

It shows how American religious sects, despite their own intentions and preferences, moved toward greater tolerance of each other (if in fits and starts), culiminating in the intense discussion between faith and reason from which developed the principle of separation of church and state championed by Deists Jefferson and Madison.


Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:16:00 UTC | #88939

Acleron's Avatar Comment 12 by Acleron

Linker appears to equate illiberalism with modern atheism throughout this piece. From this it logically follows that the goal of a secular society is illiberal. As the premise is bullshit so is the conclusion. Perhaps Linker should now enrol in the Center for Critical Thinking, but then that may illiberally infringe on his beliefs.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:19:00 UTC | #88940

Janus's Avatar Comment 13 by Janus

I think Linker thinks that liberalism is somehow synonymous with or closely related to postmodernism. He wants harmony, but acknowledging the fact that some people are right and others are wrong would, according to Linker, inevitably lead to war and conflict, therefore anyone who is convinced that certain beliefs are *gasp* false must be a warmonger.

But of course Linker and his ilk only apply this curious standard to religious and spiritual beliefs. Why? Well, because those beliefs are really popular, of course.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:26:00 UTC | #88942

OhioAtheist's Avatar Comment 14 by OhioAtheist

Yet the fact remains that the atheism of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens is a brutally intolerant, proselytizing faith, out to rack up conversions.

Proselytizing only in the sense of promoting reason and intellectual maturity, and intolerant only in the sense of disdaining fallacy and delusion.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:33:00 UTC | #88945

Diacanu's Avatar Comment 15 by Diacanu

Hmm, funny, I define "brutally intolerant", as oh, say, beating Matthew Shepherd to death, or that time some racist jackholes dragged that black dude behind a truck until his head came off.

Claiming that title for some hurt feelings because someone thumbed there nose at your imaginary friend is...I wanna say lip puffed melodramatic sniveling, but even that doesn't quite cover it.
I mean, it covers it in tenor, but not in scope.
Is there a fancier word that sums it up?
I bet the Germans have one.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:40:00 UTC | #88947

Mango's Avatar Comment 16 by Mango

The author's observation that atheists often fail to seek common ground with a believer before engaging in dialog is something I've noticed as well. Carl Sagan addresses it in "The Demon Haunted World." He writes that believers and non-believers alike are searching for truth, and in that effort our common ground lies.

there aren't nearly enough unbelievers to leave a significant mark on the nation's culture or politics as a whole.

Does the American Jewish lobby influence America's politics? Yes. There are more agnostics/atheists than Jews. QED

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:48:00 UTC | #88949

notsobad's Avatar Comment 17 by notsobad

Brutally intolerant??

Did I miss the story in which Dawkins wanted to crucify a person who allowed kids to name their teddy bear Darwin?

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:55:00 UTC | #88953

Janus's Avatar Comment 18 by Janus


He writes that believers and non-believers alike are searching for truth, and in that effort our common ground lies.

Then Sagan is wrong. If believers and non-believers have common ground, it's something like a shared desire build a better world (although we sometimes disagree as to what this better world should be). But if you think that believers are searching for truth, you haven't talked to many of them.

I doubt Sagan believed what he said. In all likelihood, it was a subtle taunt aimed at believers to make them think. Or maybe it was just PR bullshit.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 13:57:00 UTC | #88954

Mango's Avatar Comment 19 by Mango

Janus: I doubt Sagan believed what he said.

If you've read "The Demon Haunted World," or at all aware of Dr. Sagan's career, then you know he was keenly interested in opening up people's minds to the wonders of the universe. I have no doubt that he truly wanted atheists and theists to find common ground, even in a sense as vague as truth-seeking. I have spoken to many theists -- every other Tuesday I set up an atheist station at my university's Student Union and talk to them. They do seek truth, and some have an open mind to what I say, others are closed off, apparently content with their revealed "Truth." I can tell you that Dr. Sagan's sage advice does help me communicate -- when I speak to theists with respect and an obvious eagerness to *understand* them they reciprocate and even if they do not abandon their faith they at least become aware that not all atheists are elitist or fire-breathing.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 14:12:00 UTC | #88959

gkatheist's Avatar Comment 20 by gkatheist

Unless I'm completely misreading this article, the author's main idea is that Atheists shouldn't be Atheist because Atheism isn't a liberal idea. Well, my response would be one befitting my generation and sociolect: D'UH!!!! Of course Atheism isn't only a liberal idea. Does he seriously think that Atheism only has to do with American politics? This author really needs to take some time outside the beltway.

Couple other things that bug me in this article, as well. 1) He seems to think that the force in which Dr. Dawkins presents his argument would turn people away from Atheism. As someone who considers himself a recovering theist because of this book, I resent that implication. 2) The author seems to be in the denial stage of grieving: "We don't have to listen to these guys because of all of these things I'm about to say. They're so silly!"

Anyway, I would expect more from the New Republic, but not much.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 14:40:00 UTC | #88969

Inferno's Avatar Comment 21 by Inferno

The first half of the article is ok. But the second half really fails to make its point clear.

speaking, liberalism takes no position on theological questions.

Fine, then we're illiberal. Does it really matter? Left, right, centre, communist, capitalist..... who cares.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 14:58:00 UTC | #88978

Janus's Avatar Comment 22 by Janus


If you've read "The Demon Haunted World," or at all aware of Dr. Sagan's career, then you know he was keenly interested in opening up people's minds to the wonders of the universe. I have no doubt that he truly wanted atheists and theists to find common ground, even in a sense as vague as truth-seeking. I have spoken to many theists -- every other Tuesday I set up an atheist station at my university's Student Union and talk to them. They do seek truth, and some have an open mind to what I say, others are closed off, apparently content with their revealed "Truth." I can tell you that Dr. Sagan's sage advice does help me communicate -- when I speak to theists with respect and an obvious eagerness to *understand* them they reciprocate and even if they do not abandon their faith they at least become aware that not all atheists are elitist or fire-breathing.

PR bullshit, as I said. No doubt it's useful PR bullshit. No doubt it helps communicate and opens many doors etc etc etc, but it doesn't make it true. Someone who is content to believe something based on faith and nothing more is not searching for the truth.

The desire to find common ground can lead to dogmatism just as easily as the crudest form of wishful thinking. The danger of this desire is that because we want to find common ground we tend to see common ground where there is none.

Another danger is that if you repeat a lie enough times, even the people who know it's a lie will be convinced it's the truth eventually. Look at Stephen J. Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria, for example. It may have been very useful to make theistic evolutionists believe that science is completely on their side, but now it's infected so many minds that there are even die-hard atheists who believe it.

So I think we have to be very careful with the use of PR phrases, if we use them at all.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 15:00:00 UTC | #88981

Mango's Avatar Comment 23 by Mango

Well, Janus, I think I know what you're saying about theists not appearing to really seek truth. Genuine truth-seekers aren't taking leaps-of-faith about the nature of reality. But how I imagine it is that there are two parallel roads heading in the same direction; one is traveled by theists and the other by rationalists. This creates a level playing field, so to speak, to interact as equals. When I speak with a theist my effort is to divert this person from Faith Road onto Rationality Road. If you refuse to create or accept any common ground, it is to your own detriment when (or if ever) you try to productively communicate with a theist.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 15:13:00 UTC | #88985

Atticus_of_Amber's Avatar Comment 24 by Atticus_of_Amber

I've submitted the following comment to the article thread (I subscribe to TNR). We'll see if the editor approves it (apparently all comments have to be approved before they're posted). Comments welcome:

[quote begins]

Far from being against religious education, Daniel Dennett has called for *compulsory* religious educations (a survey course of all major religions) in all US public schools.

Far from calling all religious education child abuse, Richard Dawkins has said (in the very chapter of "The God Delusion" Linker refers to) that some level of Christian education is essential before anyone can claim to be truly literate in Western societies. It is indoctrination with horror stories about how non-believers and sinners will go to hell, and the labelling of children too young to have made up their own minds, that Dawkins calls child abuse.

Far from calling for government discrimination or persecution of the religious, Sam Harris has made it abundantly clear (in his book "The End of Faith" and in countless essays and speeches since), that what he advocates is *conversational* intolerance. We don't legally ban or discriminate against believers in astrology or UFO abductions and all liberals would oppose such bans as Harris would oppose bans on religious beliefs. But we ridicule UFO believers and astrologers - and rightly so. Harris calls for the same approach to religious belief.

And that's just a sample of the things Linker has wrong in this sloppy, lazy diatribe. Indeed, the astonishing inaccuracies in Mr Linker's article begin, as they mount up, to look less and less like laziness and more and more like bad faith. But if I were to throw that accusation around without further thought and research, I'd be almost as guilty of sloppiness as (on the most charitable view of his conduct here) Linker is here.

But what disturbs me almost as much is the comment above decrying the "New Atheists" (a horrible term they are all more or less uncomfortable with) as focussing on Christianity and ignoring Islam. To read these comments, one would think that Sam Harris did not spend at least half of "The End of Faith" criticising Islam as even more dangerous than Christianity. One would think that Dawkins did not use a picture of the Twin Towers at sunrise with the caption "Imagine No Religion" as a promotional image for his book and documentary. One would think that the commentator has forgotten that other "new Atheist", Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Have we forgotten that Harris is the organiser of a campaign to raise funds for the security or Ayaan Hirsi Ali? That Dawkins has talked about nominating her for the Nobel Peace Prize? That Hitchens has expressed a willingness to stand before her and anyone who would do her harm? Or that Dennett has described her rise to prominence as one of the most hopeful developments in the last five years?

The ignorance and sloppiness of this article and some of the comments to it are more worthy of Fox News than of the New Republic. You should be profoundly ashamed of yourselves.

[/quote ends]

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 15:19:00 UTC | #88986

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 25 by Steve Zara

Excellent comment, Atticus.

I could hardly believe what I was reading in that article. I mean, honestly: Daniel Dennett - bellicose? I know Hitchens has a reputation, and Dawkins can occasionally show his teeth, but I just can't picture Dennett as ranting and angry.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 15:35:00 UTC | #88994

Theocrapcy's Avatar Comment 26 by Theocrapcy

Who the heck is this idiot.

"The last thing America needs is a war of attrition between two mutually exclusive, absolute systems of belief."

Atheism is NOT a system of belief, it is a rejection of other's belief in god and the accessories that it comes with. We feel we have to be "militant" because people won;t stop shoving it in our faces and demanding respect for their nonsense.

Another complete rubbish piece, avoiding the core of the matter - the existence, or otherwise, of god.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 15:52:00 UTC | #89002

Duff's Avatar Comment 27 by Duff

Poor religionists, suffering from "cosmic loneliness". I want to cry.
I suppose we must cut them some slack because the "difference in life experience, social class, intelligence and the capacity for introspection will prevent a free community from reaching unanimity."
In other words, they are simple, unwashed and lacking intelligence, or to be more kind, wisdom. So what else is new?

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 16:23:00 UTC | #89014

notsobad's Avatar Comment 28 by notsobad

Yet the fact remains that the atheism of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens is a brutally intolerant, proselytizing faith

The fact remains?
So ad hominems and straw men are facts now? And "their" atheism is faith?

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 16:32:00 UTC | #89016

Santi Tafarella's Avatar Comment 29 by Santi Tafarella

For me, this was the money quote from the author of the New Republic article: "To be liberal in the classical sense is to accept intellectual variety--and the social complexity that goes with it--as the ineradicable condition of a free society." I think it is important for us to keep this in mind. In reading Dawkins, I am with him on virtually every point, until he suggests that parents should not have substantial control over how they raise their children. I think that in this singular area, Dawkins crosses a line from liberalism to illiberalism, and the New Republic author is right to call him out on it. The chance contingencies of being born in a particular place and time (Melborne in 1924; California in 1968 etc.), and the accidents of experience (parents as Buddhists; father who died in Vietnam; exposure to lead at a young age etc.) will all color how one thinks about and responds to the world, and how one wants to raise their children to think about war, religion, and life in general. For the state to step in forcibly, and try to socially engineer the multitude of contingencies that an individual life entails, with the purpose of directing the stream of society to a particular and singular goal, is a step away from freedom that I cannot support. Anytime we start thinking of the state in terms of gardening or cleaning metaphors (as a collective device for weeding out or purifying something from society) we are heading for trouble. Although I'm an atheist, I don't think the world would be a better place if there were no Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, or Christians in the world, anymore than I think it would be a better world if we all just spoke English, and all other languages died out. It is the diversity of narratives in the world that makes life crackle, and gives it nuance. I just think that we are not acknowledging that all languages--whether one speaks "Feminism," "Buddhism," "Freudianism," "Calvinism," or "Dawkinism"--bring interesting ideas and insights to the collective table, and that to wish for the permanent elimination of one or another "language" is not a way for making a better society, but one that is actually intellectually impoverished. Contending languages expose one another's intellectual blind spots, and strengthens a society's collective base of knowledge. I don't look forward to a world free of Baptist churches anymore than I would look forward to a world free of books by Robert Ingersoll and Richard Dawkins. I don't look forward to a world free of neo-conservative Republicans anymore than I look forward to a world free of postmodern pacifist Democrats. My half-ass figurings out about the world don't need to become a universal law that supercedes everybody else's half-ass contingent figurings out. We should want more crazy religions and wild intellectual theories in the world, not fewer. Our longing should be in the direction of freedom and diversity, and an insistence on free, unfettered speech. You should be able to worship Mohammad and raise your kids as Muslims, and you should be able to draw pictures of Mohammad, and mock religion, and teach your kids that religion is bullshit (if you want to). And who would say that the Greek pantheon of gods isn't a cool cultural and literary development in world history, and that the pagan gods don't give us an interesting archetypal language, with insights into the human condition? Likewise, I think that Scientology, Mormonism, Islam, and Christianity gave the world weird languages, but I also think that they can be reflected upon and worked with. I also think that the children born to parents who speak one of these peculiar languages have been given a foil in which to intellectually wrestle with for the rest of their lives. If many people never transcend the religion of their parents, it may be because the language worked for them. It may also be because they were weak or stupid. But whatever the reason, I can't help but paraphrase Blake: "Those whose desires or thoughts are restrained are weak enough to let their desires and thoughts be restrained." People can fight their upbringing if they want to. They aren't entirely helpless, and they don't need the state to jump in and assist them at every turn. Ayann Hersi Ali fought her way clear of her upbringing. And Voltaire fought his way clear. And when I was a teenager I fought my way clear of my fundamentalist Christian beliefs, fearing hell and the loss of family and friends every step of the way. Not everybody has the energy or inclination to fight the bullshit in their lives. A lot of people make peace with their situations, and stay where they are. Let's not pretend that the state can step in and make this part of life easier for everybody. All of life is a struggle against a lot of bullshit, conceptual and otherwise. It's not just a kid born to Amish parents who has to wrestle her way through a maze of illusions about the "real world," it's you and me too, everyday, because we are human and don't see the world whole, but in part, and from a peculiar contingent moment in time and space. Let's not pretend that the state can save us, or kids who are homeschooled, from this part of life, by passing a law that makes everybody sit in on a compulsory comparative religion class, or by making everybody learn more evolution in high school biology classes. Let's try to keep the state more Lockean than Hobbesian. Let's let freedom be first, not state coercion.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 17:38:00 UTC | #89028

aznxscorpion517's Avatar Comment 30 by aznxscorpion517

This person is another one who thinks Richard said teaching religion to children is child abuse. He's said many times and has mentioned it again and again that he means LABELING children as religious is child abuse.

Sun, 02 Dec 2007 18:27:00 UTC | #89036