You probably have heard a caricature known popularly as new atheism. Yours truly does not know who these are and what this type of atheism is and so when I found an article that states proudly in the opening paragraph that
this whole ‘New Atheism’ movement is only a passing fad-not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County
one must needs know what is here being talked about. I contend I know of one atheism- that which is a lack of belief in [the existence of] gods. There is the old atheism of antiquity where a person was referred to as an atheist if they didn’t believe in the popular/ state gods- whichever your take and I think we have moved beyond this. And am certain when David Hart was writing his critique, he had the first group in mind and so we shall restrict our critique to that only.
For his central thesis, he takes 50 Voices of disbelief: why we are atheists[pdf] as his launch pad of a vapid attack of atheists and in particular a few popular atheists of the 21st century. About that later. We haven’t read the book and will not comment on its contents.
[..]would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God.
Assuming there are no such arguments in the book, one who insists there is a god would first have to say what they believe god to be for the atheist to say anything about it. To say there is no compelling argument for disbelief when the believer hasn’t told us what and why we should believe is to cleverly attempt to shift burden of proof.
I cannot, in the name of all that is reasonable, say what he is getting at when he writes
Michael Tooley does not like the picture of Jesus that emerges from the gospels, at least as he reads them
is that he expected M.T to like a picture he finds appalling? I hope not. This however is not the main issue. However, when he dismisses
Christine Overall notes that her prayers as a child were never answered; ergo, there is no God
shows a lack of engagement on his part with the issue being raised here. What is the difference between a god who is touted to answer prayers but doesn’t and one that doesn’t exist. It seems to me, he has shifted the portrayal of god as one concerned with our affairs and answers prayers of its believers with a cosmic god who is indifferent to the prayers and appeals of mortals.
He tells us
The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness
Maybe there exists such atheists as he describes but to make a sweeping generalization that this applies across the board is dishonest in his assessment. I am interested in knowing the timelines used to differentiate the writings of new atheists and their forefathers. Does he mean books written in the last decade, last 50 years, last century or how many years.
Joseph Lewis writing in 1928 writes
the belief in god is still generally accepted, not because the existence of one, but for the reason that it is the easiest way to account for our condition. But in light of the scientific discoveries and demonstrations, such a belief is unfounded and utterly untenable today.
d’Holbach writing in 1771, writes this about man
Man has always deceived himself when he abandoned experience to follow imaginary systems. He is the work of Nature. He exists in nature. He is submitted to the laws of nature. He cannot deliver himself from them, cannot step beyond them even in thought.[..] The beings his fancy pictures as above nature or distinguished from her are always chimeras formed after which he has already seen but of which is utterly impossible he should ever form any finished idea, either as to the place they occupy or their manner of acting- for him there is not, there can be nothing out of that Nature that includes all beings.
and in good sense, d’Holbach writes
Religion is handed down from fathers to children as the property of a family with the burdens. Very few people in the world would have a God if care had not been taken to give them one. Each one receives from his parents and his instructors the God which they have received from theirs; only, according to his own temperament, each one arranges, modifies, and paints Him agreeably to his taste.
Where is the difference between these early writers and us when we say, except for indoctrination with religious ideas, very few men would be with gods, or that gods only exist in the mind and beyond that a definite conception of the term is impossible unless one gives divinities human attributes or as Lewis said the existence of god hasn’t been demonstrated, only asserted. In what way are we thoughtless, in what way do we lack courage-moral or otherwise- we demand an answer or an apology!
There is no truth in his statement that
their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?
since this is a strawman he has created form where anything he says will pass as true. There is nothing absurd in hoping for a world free of religious wars, where every man is his own priest and king. It is a future to long for, a future where all men are reasonable- a time when myth is treated as such and not as sacred just because it has the stamp of antiquity printed on the cover. If he means we lack a sense of the tragic in the Dionysian sense, he is far from the truth. I don’t know in what sense we are not curious and why he has scare quotes around words such as truths and religion unless he is implying that he recognizes the fluidity of the words.
One would think that every critic of atheist would not fall in the trap of saying you haven’t read the religious sophisticates to say anything about what we believe. He tells us, by committing the No True Scotsman fallacy, that
A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection.
Unless one has read the sophisticated arguments for belief in Santa or playing golf should one have an opinion. It is pretending here that the sophisticates in our case such as Platinga have something totally revolutionary to tell us about god that we should hold our horses. How incredible! How outrageous! What nonsense!
I don’t know who or what he has read. I don’t see how he could write without batting an eyelid in shame that
No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any.
He lies when he writes
the New Atheists’ concept of God is simply that of some very immense and powerful being among other beings, who serves as the first cause of all other things only in the sense that he is prior to and larger than all other causes
especially so since I have no conception of the word god.
These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself
but this ignores a major point that a thing that is is necessarily so. A thing is both necessary- that is there is an explanation for its cause- and contingent- a reason that doesn’t explain its being. If we are to get to anything beyond the phenomena, we are left only with Ideas in the Platonic sense or Will in the language of Schopenhauer or thing in itself in the language of Kant and nothing beyond that.
He has praise for Nietzsche whom he says and I agree had immense courage and foresight. A man I truly admire. But it is not true when he writes that
In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become
for the universe has always been meaningless, only, we were under some illusion created by ourselves that we had a cosmic overlord who minded our business. Our will, when trained on this life, on making it livable for all will do better than when trained in the hereafter, a life that makes this present one meaningless. And in the words of Nietzsche
The concept of “God” invented as a counter-concept of life — everything harmful, poisonous, slanderous, the whole hostility unto death against life synthesized in this concept in a gruesome unity! The concept of the “beyond,” the “true world” invented in order to devaluate the only world there is — in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality! The concept of the “soul,” the “spirit,” finally even “immortal soul,” invented in order to despise the body, to make it sick — “holy”; to oppose with a ghastly levity everything that deserves to be taken seriously in life, the questions of nourishment, abode, spiritual diet, treatment of the sick, cleanliness, and weather! In place of health, the “salvation of the soul” — that is, a folie circulaire [manic-depressive insanity] between penitential convulsions and
hysteria about redemption! The concept of “sin” invented along with the torture instrument that belongs with it, the concept of “free will,” in order to confuse the instincts, to make mistrust of the instincts second nature!
How can one think Christianity is a beautiful thing, that world will become worse off when we lose it. No, the world will and can only get better. A crime such as blasphemy will have no place in our language for to blaspheme is to oppose the priest.
As we conclude, we would like to say we don’t know the New Atheists and would like to be pointed to where they could be reached. I intend to have a word with them. I have not read Hitchens’ God is not great and so I didn’t comment on the observations made by David Hart. I contend here that he creates a caricature of atheists and proceeds from there. His polemic against atheism tells us nothing worthy of our time.
To end this long essay, allow me to quote Jean Messlier, the one person I grant is the first atheist in the true meaning of the word- that is without the belief in [existence of] gods.
Know, then, my friends, that everything that is recited and practiced in the world for the cult and adoration of gods is nothing but errors, abuses, illusions, and impostures. All the laws and orders that are issued in the name and authority of God or the gods are really only human inventions….
“And what I say here in general about the vanity and falsity of the religions of the world, I don’t say only about the foreign and pagan religions, which you already regard as false, but I say it as well about your Christian religion because, as a matter of fact, it is no less vain or less false than any other.”
David Hart’s article is found here