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Battle of the New Atheism - Comments

beepbeepitsme's Avatar Comment 1 by beepbeepitsme

My comment for the day in all its eloquence - "Richard Dawkins rocks!"

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 05:29:00 UTC | #6278

Kingasaurus's Avatar Comment 2 by Kingasaurus

Interesting article, but we continue to see the unfortunate misunderstanding about atheists being dogmatically sure that there's no god. Why is it so difficult for these people to understand that while not being 100% sure of anything, when there's simply no evidentiary reason to believe something, we should just put that something into an 'imaginary' category? It seems to be hair-splitting to people who don't share Dawkins' viewpoint, but it is a ridiculously important distinction to understand. The absence of faith is not just another version of dogmatic faith. It's something else entirely.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 05:50:00 UTC | #6279

maryhelena's Avatar Comment 3 by maryhelena

Well now, what can I possibly say but: Bravo!

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 07:57:00 UTC | #6285

Haymoon's Avatar Comment 4 by Haymoon

Nice article about the "atheistic trinity" - Dawkins, Harris and Dennett - but a bit overlong.

Norman Doering wrote

"Maybe we should call ourselves "militant agnostics" : I don't know - but you sure can't know either."

- reminded me of the story when Clement Atlee was once asked whether or not he was an agnostic. He replied "I don't know"

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 09:14:00 UTC | #6289

Kingasaurus's Avatar Comment 5 by Kingasaurus

The vibe I seem to get from this article is: "There's a good chance you guys are right, but not so loud. And please be nicer when discussing it."

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 09:33:00 UTC | #6290

Kingasaurus's Avatar Comment 6 by Kingasaurus

"Didn't they try a cult of reason once, in France, at the close of the 18th century, and didn't it turn out to be too ugly even for Robespierre?"

Instead of invoking the French Revolution, he could have mentioned much of Western Europe today and Scandinavia in particular. Sam Harris invokes Sweden constantly as a country which is overwhelmingly atheistic, yet seems to be functioning just fine, thank you. Since Mr. Wolf interviewed Harris, it's a good chance it was mentioned. Not in the article, though. Hmm.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 09:48:00 UTC | #6291

robzrob's Avatar Comment 7 by robzrob

'Myself, I've decided to refuse the call. The irony of the New Atheism -- this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism -- is too much for me.' etc.

Oh dear, oh dear, this is no good, no good at all. Mr Wolf is hopeless. He's just going to keep being polite to the nutters - which is exactly what we don't need.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 10:23:00 UTC | #6293

Kevin Ronayne's Avatar Comment 8 by Kevin Ronayne

That photo portrait of Richard Dawkins makes him look like a Mafia Don - Marlon Brando himself couldn't have done better.

Now I'd better go off and digest the article itself, which is rather long - a real feature piece in other words, unlike so much modern reporting and commentary that is of soundbite proportions.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 10:53:00 UTC | #6297

William's Avatar Comment 9 by William

>>The vibe I seem to get from this article is: "There's a good chance you guys are right, but not so loud. And please be nicer when discussing it."<<

I couldn't agree more, Kingsaurus! This whole article, seems (I won't attack the author - it was well written and thoughtful), to smack of hypocrisy and intellectual laziness. i.e. you could be correct, there may be no God, but I'd rather not think about it, because it makes me feel uncomfortable!

The Theists arguments are now being seen for what they TRULY are and were in days past. Power, ignorance, superstition and fear. Doom! Naysayer! Repent! Your time as at an end... yawn!

This may seem a little strong. It is not my intention to trash the above article - which I found a very interesting read, unlike some of the other Theist rubbish we Atheists contend with on this site. I don't even know why Theists visit here. We don't believe anything they say, nor do we need saving from our 'eternal' hell that your 'loving' God has prepared for us.

However, let's say we should be a little nicer in our approach of Theists and their comfort blanket. Why shouldn't THEISTS start thinking about how much THEY hurt our feelings? How much THEY annoy us Atheists? The Christian fundamentalists of offend me. The Islamic Fundamentalists, blowing up Buildings in New York and London and Madrid offend me. The idiots in the street chanting doom and gloom offend me. The Jehovah's witnessess who keep INSISTING on knocking on my door, in a vain attempt at converting me, offend me. Do Theists EVER get the message? I don't, won't, nor will I EVER subscribe to the idea of a God again. I've dispensed with fear in my life.

I live a decent life, where I am faithful to my wife and kids; where I don't give a hoot about someone's colour or creed; Where I try to follow the law of man; where I don't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Something you Theists seem hard to accept. Because your Bible demands ignorance and hatred and violence and the superiority of you Theists over non-believers.

I am 100% behind Professor Dawkins. I think his work is awesome. I can't WAIT to read The God Delusion, which I have coming as a (Ironically?) Christmas Present.

Kind Regards, William.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 11:21:00 UTC | #6298

Galactic Lord Xenu's Avatar Comment 10 by Galactic Lord Xenu

When questioning someone elses' beliefs is "impolite", you know there is something wrong with society's values.

We, at least Americans (I cannot speak for elsewhere), shun questioning faith. People like Mr. don't appear to be doing much good when politeness means bending the implications of our positions to appeal to the sentiments of the unwashed masses.

Take, for example, James Randi's brilliant (and yes, often scathing) attacks and criticisms of quacks, con-men, and supernaturalists in general. Few would advocate toning down the full implications of homeopathy being bogus (being that homeopaths are practicing dangerous non-medicine) or that psychic power scientifically unsound (thus making psychics, well, loony charlatans). But when it comes to the superstitions of the masses, well, manners apparently dictates "don't go there!" if the implication is too hard on the other side, truth be damned. And it's not just theists and agnostics making this criticism, some atheists do to.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 14:59:00 UTC | #6305

Galactic Lord Xenu's Avatar Comment 11 by Galactic Lord Xenu

I'm not sure of why Geisert and Futrell don't endorse Sam Harris, but I at least have my own reasons:

He DOESN'T have the same goals as us.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 15:01:00 UTC | #6306

Godless's Avatar Comment 12 by Godless

Well... that was long winded. And what did we learn today from this meandering wishy-washy diatribe? Don't write an article under the false presumption that atheism is a form of religion or faith, then end your article trying to resist the very thing you have invented in your own brain. I guess it didn't occur to this knuckle head that one cannot be moderately indoctrinated, or moderately delusional, yet sorta rational...

If you can't make distinctions between rational thought and nonsense, and you suspect that rational, critical thinking is too rigidly dogmatic, then having faith and empathy for ones fellow man isn't going to matter one iota.

Bad writer. Very confused. Deserves a good spanking.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 15:33:00 UTC | #6307

Gunnar's Avatar Comment 13 by Gunnar

- reminded me of the story when Clement Atlee was once asked whether or not he was an agnostic. He replied "I don't know"

Reminded me of a quote (don't know who said it first): I used to be an agnostic but now I'm not so sure.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 15:54:00 UTC | #6308

Simmons's Avatar Comment 14 by Simmons

I'd choose the truth of love over the truth of reason.

You can easily have both. Being an atheist doesn't turn you into a monster.

As for "what it might look like, this world without God," check out the Soviet Union and China. 60,000,000+ done away with in the Gulag for dissent; 35,000,000 for disagreeing with Mao. Atheist governments in both places replaced corrupt, religion-bound, inhumane regimes. And turned out to be even worse.

They were lunatics. It didn't matter what they believed, they would have killed people who didn't agree with them no matter their religious faith.

A corrupt and brutal leader/government was the problem in each of those cases, not atheism.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 17:55:00 UTC | #6311

Nick's Avatar Comment 15 by Nick

These are... some of the coolest pictures ever. Samd Harris always looks so emotionless, I have a feeling he may be The Morning Star in disguise. 0_0


Mon, 23 Oct 2006 20:39:00 UTC | #6314

Douglas's Avatar Comment 16 by Douglas

It seems that it has become impossible to put forward the very idea of atheism without some simpleton arguing that communism and nazism were somehow direct products of non-belief in God. (It may seem paradoxical that Marxism is largely viewed as the most compatible political ideology with christianity.) The argument against atheism from this viewpoint is interesting. In fact, let's look at nazism and consider how differently we might perceive it if it were considered a religion rather than a mere political ideology. Would this mean that we would have to respect it and refrain from criticism of it? Probably not, because nazism only came to exist in the 20th century without the authority of divine scrolls and schizophrenic prophets. But what if nazism had come into existence in some reasonably comparable form 2000 years previous? Actually, I would argue, we have a reasonably comparable analogue in Christianity, or - ironically - Judaism. All the worst elements of nazism are easily found in biblical history and even apparent in abrahamic religious doctrine. It's a matter of nazism being born too late that finds us without apologists or disingenuous intellectuals who will try to sell us ideas (similar to those seeking to justify Islam) that the "true" nazism is a philosophy of peace. Even this argument goes too far to give credibility to the idea that the failures of Communism and Nazism somehow lend credibilty to theism. Democracy can be (and arguably, at its core, IS) entirely God-less. It would seem that God is only truly necessary in systems wherein a dictatorial power is given divine authority.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 21:28:00 UTC | #6316

Ryan's Avatar Comment 17 by Ryan

I thought this was a reasonably good article right up until the end.

Has he missed the entire point, or have I?

I thought the call to arms was not to be disrespectful or ridicule as such, but to continually question and force supers to answer; rather than simply ignore nonsensical claims and hope they'll go away.

Mon, 23 Oct 2006 21:40:00 UTC | #6317

Chris's Avatar Comment 18 by Chris

Actually, Nazism *was* Christian, explicitly and avowedly. This is well documented and only a few religious apologists try to deny it. One of the most important reasons they targeted Jews was that (according to them) Jews rejected and murdered Christ.

But that's not really the point anyway: atheism, as the lack of theism, is not a single worldview. It has no banner to march under. Stalin's opinions and my opinions have practically nothing in common. Religious people who think of atheism as just another religion can't grasp this point; they think Stalin and I must be following some pope of atheism, because it's the only way they know.

Rational humanism is just as opposed to Stalin and Mao as it is to Hitler, Torquemada and bin Laden - and for most of the same reasons. In fact, Stalin has more in common with bin Laden than either one does with me. Worshipping the ideals of communism and believing (in spite of the evidence) that they will create a workers' paradise may be technically an atheist belief, but it's still a faith-based belief which it is forbidden to question and not an evidence-based belief open to argument and reevaluation at any time. That division is even more fundamental than the one between theism and atheism and it puts Stalin where he belongs - on the same side as the religious and against the side of me, Sagan and Dawkins.

Tue, 24 Oct 2006 07:20:00 UTC | #6336

William's Avatar Comment 19 by William

Michael E Said:

>>Believers try to defend the evil in the world by telling us, "God gave us free will." If your free will leads you to superstition and ignorance, then you have to pay the price.<<

I agree. I don't buy this argument at all. Never have. I think any God that can conceive of such evil concepts as Death, Disease and Suffering, really needs to be questioned.

I consider myself to be fortunate and relatively healthy. I live in a First World country (England) and really, by other countries standards, and have a wonderful standard of living.

How many of us though have had health problems? Myself alone I've had:

Colds, Influenza, Gastroenteritis, Labyrinthitis, Respiratory Tract Infections, Hundreds of Stomach complaints, Sciatica, Lumbago, Tinnitus, Vertigo, migraines, muscle sprains et cetera.

These too me, are nothing complaints, compared to what many people suffer. Yet they have been far from fun. For myself, the very real experiences of these minor complaints is evidence of a natural selection at work. NOT Benevolent. NOT Benign. Just life, surviving where it can find a hold.

Are these and the many varied health complaints evidence of a 'God'? What kind of 'God' could conceive of such notions? Terminal Cancer in a child teaches us what, exactly? The Bible and its riddles is evidence of 'God'? Is this the same God that bans women from talking in church, tattoos, homosexuality and all the other well-known arguments Atheists are aware of?

The concept 'God', whatever one believes, is too far reaching for my understanding of existence. I wish I'd been taught Atheism and science from a young age. Perhaps then I wouldn't have felt dirty as a kid, when masturbating! Laugh you may, but religion does provide powerful influences over young, impressionable minds. I think its corrupt. Am I wrong? That loudmouth Haggard has been found out. He has violated his religion; lied to his wife; lied to his flock; bought disgrace on Christianity and his family. He has only been man enough to admit part of what he has been up to.

I wouldn't mind, but how often do we hear of ANOTHER religious person being found to be anything other than Christian?

The Human condition is perplexing. You don't see any other species arguing or warring as much as we do. We can't agree on much and we have to invent silly notions of afterlife and a higher power, to explain existence.

The concept God is too perplexing for myself. Rationality and reason is all there is. Is God reasonable? The evidence is sadly lacking.

Kind Regards, William.

Sat, 04 Nov 2006 12:25:00 UTC | #7015

maryhelena's Avatar Comment 20 by maryhelena

Hi, Gary
I'm certainly in agreement with the sense of your article - like you I also have:

" a doubt about what I take to be new in the new atheism: that is, the conviction that we are morally obligated to try to destroy religion."

I just don't get this at all. I don't get the idea that atheism requires that one take upon oneself any sort of moral obligation to destroy religion. I have made the point in many posts to this website that I think TGD has crossed a line - a line that I label as being one of dignity - that we need always to seek, in our dealings with others, to accord them the dignity of their humanity.
That requires, surely, that we do not seek to cause unnecessary pain to another because of the content of their belief, because of the content of their minds. Obviously, when theology seeks a political expression we should be mounting the barricades...Apart from that circumstance, in the area of private belief and practice, we should not seek to cross a line whereby we fail to respect the fundamental dignity of others. An atheist crusade against religion is not just nonsense - it is also to bring scorn upon atheism itself. I have been completely stunned by some of the comments on this site - it's like being in some sort of atheist kindergarten...

Wed, 06 Dec 2006 11:42:00 UTC | #9913

CruciFiction's Avatar Comment 21 by CruciFiction


Can we get a decent portrait just like these with the "Fourth Muskateer"? One without him holding a butt.

Thu, 31 May 2007 11:58:00 UTC | #43637

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 22 by Russell Blackford

Interesting article, but I have no idea what the last paragraph means. It seems to dissolve into a mass of tangential rhetoric (what on Earth do our "democratic values" have to do with it?), just when rigorous analysis is desperately required.

Going back to Gary Wolf's explanation in his post, for which I thank him, I'm afraid I'm not much wiser. The middle para is, with all respect, very woolly. It looks to me as Wolf has an emotional aversion to what he sees as strident attacks on religion, but is finding it very difficult to articulate some kind of rationalisation for it, so we end up getting all this stuff about Dawkins, etc., seeming to be absurd, vague comments about our own fallibility, appeals to democratic values, and so on.

No one has to be as up-front about opposing religion as Dawkins. There's no reason to feel uncomfortable if that doesn't suit you. But there's also no reason to denigrate those who are more comfortable with it. If religion is false, then many people are living their entire lives in the service of a non-existent deity. Now that is absurd. Perhaps some would lead very similar lives even without their theistic beliefs, but many would not - they are unnecessarily living in a way that does not suit them, and they will spend their whole lives in that situation.

Worse, religious believers typically want the rest of us to live in a way that cannot be justified on purely rational naturalistic grounds. On issue after issue - abortion, gay rights, stem-cell research, therapeutic cloning - we see religious believers taking up positions with cruel consequences and no secular justification. Yet, these very same religious believers often claim some moral authority that they expect the rest of us to defer to - even as they act out of their socialisation in, and perhaps study of, a false belief system. It's no use insisting that they debate issues with us on purely secular grounds, because, as long as they retain their belief systems and the emotional legacy of those systems, purely secular grounds will not be accepted by them as a boundary to political and moral discourse.

It seems to me that we have no choice but to engage with the epistemic content of religion - actually to scrutinise and criticise its claims, and to deny its moral authority. We may not be able to eliminate religion from the world, but we can at least articulate our rejection of its authority.

In that context, what is known as "the new atheism" is absolutely necessary, and its appearance as a contemporary phenomenon entirely heartening.

Wolf does not have to be as forthright and active as Dawkins or even Dennett. But does he accept the intellectual and moral authority of religion or not? If not, then I think he should say so, clearly, and join with the rest of us who are saying this. Dismissing people as absurd or irrelevant is not a useful response. There is something very important at stake here, and I think that we all have to work out precisely where we stand on it.

Do we reject the intellectual and moral authority of religion, or don't we? When we do so, does Wolf stand with us or not? This is an issue that can't be fudged.

Thu, 31 May 2007 15:46:00 UTC | #43713

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 23 by Russell Blackford

And, re-reading the whole thing, I find all this business about "prophecy" such a red herring. No one is setting out to be martyred or to intone the words of a new totalitarian belief system. No one is calling us back to some set of supposed moral fundamentals in the manner of an Old Testament prophet.

Instead, we have smart, concerned people expressing their dissent from the presumption of religion's moral and intellectual authority, and seeking to get some support, so that the dissent becomes louder and more widespread, until the political process has to accommodate it.

Why call this something that it is not, and why deny that - when you look at it for what it is - it is essentially a good thing? What was in Wolf's mind when he couldn't just reach that straightforward, reasonable conclusion?

Thu, 31 May 2007 16:46:00 UTC | #43725

BAEOZ's Avatar Comment 24 by BAEOZ

Hey Russell, if you're still around do you know of a Barney Zwartz who writes for the age? He started a blog about religion the other day at the age site and it's been inundated with the usual apologetics and counter apologetics (I've been quite prolific in posting). Anyway, what's your take on him, he seems upset that people wouldn't let him ask a question to Michel Onfrey or something.

Thu, 31 May 2007 17:03:00 UTC | #43728

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 25 by Russell Blackford

^I wasn't still around, but I popped back. :)

I don't know anything about him, though I did read his hatchet-job review of Onfray's book last week:

Thu, 31 May 2007 17:24:00 UTC | #43735

BAEOZ's Avatar Comment 26 by BAEOZ

part of his blurb is:

He has a degree in theology and is part-way towards a doctorate in moral philosophy.
I thought maybe you may have crossed paths with him from his study of moral philosophy. Not to worry, he certainly did go to town on Onfray and did the usual "that's not my god" line.

Thu, 31 May 2007 17:35:00 UTC | #43739

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 27 by Russell Blackford

I wonder where he's doing his degree. Anyway, he seems to be a full-time journo, so maybe he's not super active in the Melbourne philosophical community. I'll let you know if our paths ever cross.

Btw, Brian, if you're in Melb I'm going to do my own gig on exactly this subject a bit down the track. I'll be speaking to the Rationalist Society on 15 August on "The 'New Atheism'", and this thread has been a good trial run for it.

Thu, 31 May 2007 21:09:00 UTC | #43771

BAEOZ's Avatar Comment 28 by BAEOZ

Hey Russell, I'd be interested in hearing your talk. Give me more grist to write my songs that I post on myspace ;-) Seriously, what's the locale and time (and cost)? I haven't heard of the rationalist society here in Melbourne.

Thu, 31 May 2007 21:44:00 UTC | #43774

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 29 by Russell Blackford

^I didn't know about them, either. There are various small organisations here in Australia that I've decided really would justify sussing out. This is the website for the Rationalist Society:

My own talk is on 15 August at 6.30 pm, I gather, in the Trades Hall Meeting Room. And the day before, I'm going to talk to the local Atheist Society about religious vilification legislation (which I oppose). One very small thing that Richard Dawkins can take some of the credit or blame for is making me feel that I should do more to address these sorts of issues in public. Unfortunately, I don't have the charisma and panache of Dawkins or Hitchens, or the fabulous Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but I'll do my best.

Thu, 31 May 2007 22:13:00 UTC | #43777

BAEOZ's Avatar Comment 30 by BAEOZ

I'll have to write that down Russell. On that age blog that I spoke of before, a poster who called herself 7th day girl asked why us non believers bothered to post on a religious blog. I said because I dislike the attack on science and the fact that believers can't keep their beliefs to themselves and feel the need to vote in people who agree with them or otherwise impose on people their beliefs based ideas like banning abortion, condoms, gays, whatever. Richard can take credit for the fact that I bother. I wouldn't have once.
Good on you for having the balls to get up and talk. Dawkins, et al can't do it all.

Thu, 31 May 2007 22:31:00 UTC | #43779