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← The Trouble with the New Atheists: Part II

The Trouble with the New Atheists: Part II - Comments

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 1 by Jos Gibbons

While IMO Wright's latest offering is better than the previous one, I still take issue with some of it. I'll number points the way he did. (He hasn't got to 4 yet, sadly, but I may offer some views on 1 - 3.)
1. It would be nice if Wright quoted what RD actually said about the conflict, since while I'm not sure whether he said it could only exist with religion, I do know he has said that the main concern he has about religion causing problems is that its hereditary nature and prevention of inbreeding creates an ineradicable us-them distinction upon which problems can be erected, and which can indefinitely prop up more short-term them-us issues. From this point of view, religion exacerbates rather than initiating. But, quite frankly, I don't care much whether or not RD has historically inaccurate opinions about Israel. What really matters to me is that, even if only in the way described above, which is hardly a negligible way, religion is (to borrow CH's term) poisoning the situation.
2. Let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that modern critiques of religion enable right-wing scepticism about the likely success of the most pusillanimous tactics. Does this mean they enable also calls for violence? Hardly, since SH has repeatedly pointed to the middle way we use in all non-religious cases of irrational belief: level the playing field by ending religion's unfair advantages. Also, SH has not said we shouldn't looking for non-religious explanations; he has merely said their existence doesn't admonish religion. Why do apologists keep using the "Something else does it, therefore religion doesn't" logic? Both do. Just admit it.
3. RD/DD explicitly state in their works that the property of viruses inspiring the metaphor is the same as in the case of computer viruses, namely that they spread because of their abilities as self-replicators which are not contingent upon them benefiting their host. Of course all memes, including scientific ones, do not build people, but at least some memes are maintained because it is their value to people that creates the selective pressure to sustain them. Wright, in latching on to parasitism. illness etc. betrays not only his not having read their expositions, but also his lack of scientific knowledge: quite a lot of viruses have no harmful effects at all, except that resources are being wasted on them. What's more, good is done both with some computer "viruses" and with genetic engineering viral vectors.
Apparently religion "manifestly helps people flourish (and even helps them preserve their mental health)" - oh? Which medical journal confirms these marvellous properties? (He might have some specific examples in mind. Some researchers think religion might diminish disease through keeping different religious groups from mingling, but I must say I find that a very cynical reason to keep any excuse for segregation.)
Also, am I the only one struggling to see why it is "natural" to call an occasional cause of craziness or death a symbiont?

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 08:34:00 UTC | #380991

Veronique's Avatar Comment 2 by Veronique

Like his first article in Huffington Post, Wright is being disingenuous and precious to the point of non-readability.

Words for the sake of sounding off and trying to appear clever. He and everyone else knows the complexity of Israel and Palestine; his trying to pack it into a bite-sized non-argument is pathetic. His attempt to fan out to foreign policy per se is even worse.

Petty froth and bubble

:-)
V

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 08:36:00 UTC | #380993

Needscowbell's Avatar Comment 3 by Needscowbell

I could not agree with you more, Veronique. This is pure fluff.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 08:56:00 UTC | #381003

JemyM's Avatar Comment 4 by JemyM

The problem with the new atheists is that they accepted the word atheists, like it makes sense to call someone something based on what they aren't. This have the sideeffect that makes people believe that just because there's a name assigned to something, all with that name have a lot of things in common. This is essentially true, if I accept atheism as my affiliation, then I am affiliated with everyone who aren't an atheist, by the same sense that I am affiliated with everyone who are not communists or not neo-nazis.

Atheist is literally Greek for "not a theist". If I do not wish to challenge the theist ideologies as an unaffiliated critic (which an atheist is) then I would make sure that my opinion is credited to humanism or liberalism, not "atheism" which means nothing. Being humanist/liberal means that I also declare my challenge to both theology, dictatorship, fascism, nazism and communism, all at the same time.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 08:57:00 UTC | #381004

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 5 by Mark Jones

Blimey, Bonzai gets a namecheck. With friends like Robert Wright... :-).

As is far too common, Wright sets up a version of New Atheism that, to my mind, does not exist.


My point was that the new atheists' depiction of religion as the root of evil, by discouraging attention to deeper root causes, furthers a right-wing agenda whether these atheists subscribe to that agenda or not.

This sort of analysis could be used to attack almost anyone who highlights 'things that are bad'. I don't accept that 'new atheists' do depict religion as the 'root of evil'. Hitchens says it poisons everything, which is hyperbolic to me, but the 'root of evil'? Richard did a show called 'The Root of All Evil?', the title of which he didn't like - hardly conforming to Wright's formula. Evil is surely a human construct in any case, but if we are to apply it, what atheist would say that all the evil prior to man's existence has its roots in religion? It doesn't make sense.

My atheist prescription is to attack wherever *dogma* is applied in preference to *reason*; that covers much religious practice, but many other things too. However, religion is the one that gets the special privileges, so it would seem sensible to point that out. I do not see how that makes me 'objectively right wing'.

Religion springs from humans, so it reflects our humanity, in good ways as well as bad. My concern, as always, is to try to understand how it perpetuates the bad.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 08:59:00 UTC | #381006

geckoman's Avatar Comment 6 by geckoman

Yeah, had a look at the posts on the Huffington Post website and he takes quite a pounding there. A case of a journo trying to get a reaction and little more, methinks. Barely worth the reading really.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:01:00 UTC | #381008

mattincinci's Avatar Comment 7 by mattincinci

definitely an article that is made for the sole purpose of generating more hits on the huffpo website

a poor explanation for the first article, which now demands another one just to explian the current explanaition

and on and on

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:09:00 UTC | #381012

TQY's Avatar Comment 8 by TQY

A straw man attack on all these 'new atheists' this article may be, but I agree with some of what he says. Religion is a factor in conflicts like the Middle East, but it doesn't cause them.

Your average football hooligan/bar room brawler doesn't need religion to behave like a homicidal imbecile. A section of humanity is always likely to behave stupidly when it comes to protecting territory/prestige/threats (real, imagined or exaggerated).

It's a problem I have with a lot of the criticism about religion. Yes, it's stupid. Yes, its inconsistencies should be pointed out. Yes, it deserves to be banished from the science lab. It's also ineradicable. If certain religions didn't play their role in fermenting and sustaining tribalism and grievances, something else would.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:10:00 UTC | #381013

buttie's Avatar Comment 9 by buttie

The main problem with both Wright's articles is that he made a statement: "Atheists' are Right-Wing" ("New Atheists" to be correct but I don't even know what "New" means), but then he didn't wrote anything specific to support that statement. One example of Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't enough.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:11:00 UTC | #381014

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 10 by Jay Cee

2. Is Richard Dawkins right wing on foreign policy? Here is where I'm at fault--not for asserting that Dawkins has right-wing views on foreign policy, but for failing to make clear that I wasn't asserting this. My point was that the new atheists' depiction of religion as the root of evil, by discouraging attention to deeper root causes, furthers a right-wing agenda whether these atheists subscribe to that agenda or not. What I should have said is that they are objectively right-wing (after Orwell's famous assertion that pacificists were objectively pro-fascist regardless of their views about fascism). And I should have thought twice before titling the piece…


Yes that's an excellent clarification and covers my main criticisms of his initial article.

It's almost enough to make you wonder whether the new atheism, like religion, might sometimes be parasitic on the reasoning power of its hosts


Absolutely. But this is nothing new. This idea has been discussed many times by the users here at RD.net.

Anyway this is the first reasonably clear and thought provoking attack that I’ve come across. Well done Robert Wright Smith. I’d really like to know why it is that placing the emphasis on religion stops us solving the Middle East crisis. How does he know this for sure? There’s still a lot more we can get put of him. Part III perhaps?

However, I’m glad to see that we (here at RD.net and bonsai in particular) seem to have so much influence on journalists these days.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:31:00 UTC | #381019

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 11 by mordacious1

Read the article, if you must, but stay away from that Sprite ad to the right of the piece. :}

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:40:00 UTC | #381021

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 12 by Steve Zara

What an awful article. A second splurge of sloppy thinking.

Some examples:

Is religion at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Richard Dawkins had said yes, and I said no; the conflict between Arabs and Jews started as a basically secular dispute over land and only later got wrapped up in religious fervor.


Being at the root of a conflict now does not mean being the original cause of a conflict.


Richard Dawkins, in asserting that there would be no Israel-Palestine conflict whatsoever if it weren't for religion, is not just wrong but dangerously wrong, because such claims discourage us from working hard to change those circumstances.


Why do they discourage us from working hard? This is the aspect of Wright's argument I find so lacking in foundation. I see no suggestion from New Atheists that just because people are driven by religion, we should give up on them.

And this is laughable:

Would Dawkins and Dennett say that religious belief is always, or even usually, parasitic in the Darwinian sense--bad for the reproductive prospects of the host? If so, how do you explain the number of Catholics in the world?


This is a strange kind of argument from Nature: What is good for people is that which allows them to breed more. I mean come off it!.

Meanwhile, a golden oldie involving Dan Dennett and me


It is unwise to bring that up:

http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Science-Religion/2004/10/Planet-With-A-Purpose.aspx

"[Editor's Note: Since this article was published, Dennett has claimed that it misrepresents his views. Robert Wright responds to Dennett here.]"

Anyways, this is simply a poor attempt to join the dots between New Atheists and .... something:

New Atheists: "Religion is often a malign influence in the world, and if not the cause then certainly a major force in many conflicts."

A new ranting atheists, along with some hypothetical Right Wing people: "Those religious nuts are unreachable. Let's forget about them."

Conclusion: New Atheists support Right Wing policies.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:41:00 UTC | #381022

Stonyground's Avatar Comment 13 by Stonyground

I have seen that quite a few people have taken issue with the Hitchens statement "Religion poisons everything". This statement is very easy to refute, all you need to do is name an exception, name one single aspect of human existance that is not, or has not in the past, been poisoned by religion.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:48:00 UTC | #381025

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 14 by Jay Cee

Steve

Is religion at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Richard Dawkins had said yes, and I said no; the conflict between Arabs (i.e. Muslims ) and Jews started as a basically secular dispute over land and only later got wrapped up in religious fervor.


Is it strange for RW Smith to say that a disagreement between two religious groups is secular? It seems an oxymoron to me but I might be missing something.

Italics in quote are mine.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:49:00 UTC | #381027

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 15 by Steve Zara

Comment #398432 by JAMCAM87

Is it strange for RW Smith to say that a disagreement between two religious groups is secular? It seems an oxymoron to me but I might be missing something.


It might not be an oxymoron, but it does highlight that groups identifying themselves on the basis of religion were involved.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:52:00 UTC | #381029

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 16 by Jay Cee

Steve, yes that's what I thought. Two religious groups may be fighting over a non-religious point but that does not take away the fact that both groups are labelled by their repsective religions and the dispute automatically becomes a "them-versus-us" scenario.

However, what I think RW Smith might be saying is that Arabs and Jews can be considered ethnic groups not religious groups and therefore the dispute is secular.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:01:00 UTC | #381031

MaxD's Avatar Comment 17 by MaxD

What I am trying to figure out is how this middle eastern conflict is a secular conflict. Most secularists I know from both sides of the Palistinian and Israel seem to think it isn't wholly secular and can easily envision solutions of compromise. The religious conviction holding sides seem incapable of this.

While land can be squabbled over for non-religious reasons, this doesn't seem to be the case in much of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Now that doesn't mean that people with other motives, economic say, cannot ratchet up a religious conflict for their own goals, but that still leaves religion with a portion, perhaps quite large, of the blame.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:10:00 UTC | #381036

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 18 by Quetzalcoatl

From the article-

(My sloppiness of expression notwithstanding, it wasn't quite impossible to grasp my meaning, as my new friend Bonzai showed over at richarddawkins.net.)


What do you think about that, Bonzai? Robert Wright's your new buddy!

:-)

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:11:00 UTC | #381037

eno's Avatar Comment 19 by eno

Lets be honest, a lot of people don't like atheists because they're at last speaking up! After thousands of years of putting up with religious folk screaming about it we have a few books released and religious and non-religious people want us to shut up. I say no. Lets not shut up, in fact lets be louder than ever before.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:12:00 UTC | #381038

friendlypig's Avatar Comment 20 by friendlypig

Over the past 40 years or so I have worked in and amongst most of the ethnic minority groups that have come to live in the UK. From all countries in the British Commonwealth plus half the other countries on the planet; economic migrants, those who have arrived to get married, change their jobs, set up business etc etc.

Some good, some bad and some indifferent, of all faiths and none. The vast majority want to just get on with their lives, like the married Saudi Princess who sought asylum a few days ago because she had an affair, and became pregnant by a non-Muslim, and who didn’t want to risk being stoned to death. The only group who want more are the Muslims, not all of them but enough. They came to take over! Am I over-reacting? Certainly not. I have been told so, on several occasions.

‘You have two children and we have four, it will take time but we will take over.’ Whether it will happen that way no-one knows but the perception of the Muslims is that it will. As Mohammed told me, ‘There are now over 1 million Muslims in the UK it is too late for you to do anything about it.’ Time is not important, only the outcome.

Am I a right wing atheist? More, I suspect, than most!

With regard to the problems of the Middle East particularly the Arab/Israeli problem. Yes, the problem is over land. I have Jewish acquaintances who tell me that their families have the deeds to the land upon which they live in the occupied territories, and Muslims have told me that their ancestors have farmed the same land, now claimed by the Israelis, for several centuries before the Israelis came..

Yes, the argument is over land and not religion, but the separation between the two groups is, nevertheless, religious. The Jews have their covenant with YHWY and there are those within Islam who not only feel, with some justification, aggrieved over losing the ancestral land but also believe in the Caliphate.

Only when religion is taken out of the equation and all parties can sit around the same table and talk like rational human beings will progress be made.

As Christopher Hitchens wrote, ‘Religion poisons everything’.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:21:00 UTC | #381043

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 21 by Steve Zara

As Mohammed told me, ‘There are now over 1 million Muslims in the UK it is too late for you to do anything about it.’


And the majority of Muslims integrate well into society. I'm glad to have them here. Many make excellent curries in Indian Restaurants.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:24:00 UTC | #381044

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 22 by Jay Cee

Nice post friendly pig.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:25:00 UTC | #381045

ColdFusionLazarus's Avatar Comment 23 by ColdFusionLazarus

And the majority of Muslims integrate well into society. I'm glad to have them here. Many make excellent curries in Indian Restaurants

I'm wondering to myself who's post is more disturbing!

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:39:00 UTC | #381051

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 24 by Cartomancer

I have never understood this whole "the muslims will out-breed us!" hysteria. For a start it presumes that there is some kind of well thought-out conspiracy, constantly maintained by everyone who calls themself a muslim, to take over the world. Then it assumes that no intermarriage, interbreeding or cultural shift will ever take place. Then it assumes that the children of muslim parents will inevitably become muslims themselves. Then it assumes that increased wealth, opportunity and status will have no effect on the reproductive choices of second, third and subsequent generations of immigrants.

None of this is even remotely plausible.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:42:00 UTC | #381052

swences2003's Avatar Comment 25 by swences2003

Wright asks this question, “Would Dawkins and Dennett say that religious belief is always, or even usually, parasitic in the Darwinian sense--bad for the reproductive prospects of the host? If so, how do you explain the number of Catholics in the world?”

I’ve read several (6) of Dawkins’ books, and can’t recall him ever claiming that religion was parasitic in the Darwinian sense. He has called it a virus, maybe even a parasite, but he only did so in the context of a meme – as a cultural and mind view – not to be confused with Darwinian Natural Selection. So to me, this is a rather inane point and completely off the mark.

Here is what they do say:

Religion is a virus – a cultural one – a parasitic meme. Since memes and genes inhabit different worlds and discussions, it is quite appropriate to call it a parasite because it does harm to proper thinking, which in this case would be considered the host.

Since religion infects the mind (which again, in this discussion we are talking about the fitness of the mind - memes NOT genes) and affects its abilities to reason and use logic, it is parasitic and makes the mind less fit – in our narrow and very specific definition of what it means to be fit in a memetic world. If you are talking about Darwinian Natural Selection and whether religion makes people more or less fit, then maybe you could argue in favor of religion being symbiont. But again, even if it were true that religion is a helpful virus in propagating more genes, it does not invalidate the claim that religion also makes a mind less fit in that it lessens its power to reason and critically think. Both can be true. Religion can be symbiont if we are talking about genes because it could help the host (people) be more successful at reproducing, but at the same time, it is without a doubt, parasitic when it comes to memes because it does not help the mind (the host).

This being my first post, I hope it did not come out as convoluted nonsense…

Any comments?

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:50:00 UTC | #381053

Tadzio's Avatar Comment 26 by Tadzio

"What I should have said is that they are objectively right-wing (after Orwell's famous assertion that pacificists were objectively pro-fascist regardless of their views about fascism)."
By this logic, left-wing people are objectively right-wing, and white is objectively black.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:52:00 UTC | #381054

NewEnglandBob's Avatar Comment 27 by NewEnglandBob

Wright's article in a jumble of bad premises, silly conjectures and inane conclusions. One hour of actual research into views and causes will show this article for the trash that it is.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 11:03:00 UTC | #381057

friendlypig's Avatar Comment 28 by friendlypig

Carto, I assume nothing.

My comments were quotes from Muslims, merely repeated by me.

I accept that every alternative that you mention may be true; the fact remains that as far as this generation is concerned, although the vast majority are not politically/religiously motivated enough to take personal action, there is a hard core who are.

The problem espoused by Blair et al of multiculturalism has led a parallel society and there are now at least 85 Sharia Courts operating in GB with more planned. Sharia compliant Banking and other financial services are being developed for the 'new market'.

The founders of The Religion of Peace website, who happen to be Saudis, are of the opinion that Islam will take two paces forward for every one pace that you retreat. The only way to let them 'know their place' is to treat them like a disobedient dog. When they get out of line they have to be hit hard across the nose with a newspaper; until they get the message. (Interesting thought)

Incidentally I agree with Steve about Asian restaurants.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 11:11:00 UTC | #381058

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 29 by Steve Zara

Comment #398463 by friendlypig

The idea of "the enemy within" is an old one. For some people in Western societies it is atheists. Or gays.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 11:18:00 UTC | #381060

friendlypig's Avatar Comment 30 by friendlypig

Steve

I didn't initiate this. I'm just slightly concerned that future generations may have to contend with a situation that should not have been allowed to arise in the first place.

I have no problems with people coming to the UK because they want to participate in the freedoms that have been hard won, including freedom of speech. What does concern me are those who state that they have not only have another agenda but are prepared to take steps to bring it to fruition.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 11:40:00 UTC | #381066