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Ex-new atheist leftist warns of new atheism’s dangers


Closing off our religion coverage for the weekend (now that the weekend is leftover cold burnt toast), here’s a leftist attack on new atheism – and like we said of a previous instance (2014), “If they’ve lost The Nation, they’ve lost everyone.” In a roundup review of various books on the subject by David Hoelscher at Counterpunch:

New Atheism, Worse Than You Think

there is a frank discussion of the authoritarian scientism it embodies:

What is not in doubt is that the New Atheists are, as the philosopher Michael Ruse has lamented “a bloody disaster.” As the scholar Jeffrey Nall asserts “Thinkers such as Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens create a religion that amounts to a monstrous straw-man which they then burn at the stake” (Humanity and Society, Aug. 2008). The New Atheist Threat helps us to see the wisdom of such estimations more clearly. As Werleman suggests “It’s time for pluralistic and humanistic atheists to take atheism back from” the likes of Harris, Dawkins, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, antitheists “who peddle fear, suspicion, and hate.” Because Muslims are, by dint of demagogic propaganda, such central targets of that toxic combination, he wisely advises atheist organizations to reject the ugly rhetoric of the New Atheists and to “seek opportunities to work together with other discriminated-against minorities, like Muslim Americans.” “The road to broader public acceptance,” Werleman writes “does not travel through the persecution of another minority”—a belief that, while not always descriptively true, is certainly the right ethical position.

Author Hoelscher believes that in a socialist paradise, supernaturalist (or non-naturalist?) religion will wither away on its own, so he sees the jackboots as a divisive vexation. But Hoelscher sure lost me (O’Leary for News) when he lumped in ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali with antitheists “who peddle fear, suspicion, and hate.” Excuse us minions, but Hirsi Ali suffered female genital mutilation and ended up fleeing for her life:

Last week, the Standard reported that almost 66,000 women and girls living in the UK had suffered some form of genital cutting, often carried out by untrained family members with knives or razor blades, with a further 30,000 thought to be at risk. Freedom of Information requests revealed that more than 2,100 women had visited hospitals or clinics in London as a result of genital mutilation since 2006, and that more than 700 needed further treatment or surgery. A growing problem, FGM is often carried out on UK-born girls at about the age of five or six, though some are younger; and often happens during school holidays on visits to extended family in African countries where the practice is routine — most commonly, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Nigeria, Eritrea and Sudan.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali had the misfortune not only of having FGM done to her, but being in earshot distance of listening to her younger sister howl in pain when she was being mutilated. I can’t bear this thought, yet millions of girls have survived through the butchering and risen above their plight.

Unfortunately, millions of other women go on to inflict it on their daughters. So Hirsi Ali isn’t just some university common room snob with a brainful of atheist theories. She’s earned the right to be mad at her religious background. I remember, after reading her autobiography, saying that if I had her background, I’d probably be an atheist too. Whether it was safe to admit that or not.

Where I grew up, religion has usually been a source of help, hope, and liberation that people are free to accept or not. If that’s not true in Somalia, the Somalis had better deal with it, instead of demanding more observance of religion. But Hoelscher offers some useful observations about the new atheist war on philosophy:

LeDrew does briefly discuss the appalling philosophy-bashing undertaken by atheist scientists Lawrence Krauss and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. It’s a fascinating section, even though he doesn’t mention other notable offenders such as Harris, Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Jerry Coyne. The issue is important, and not just because it reflects the anti-intellectualism that characterizes a good number of prominent scientists’ outlook on philosophy in particular and, all too often, the humanities in general. As the English professor Curtis White (another perceptive critic of the New Atheists who goes unmentioned by LeDrew) observes, their attitude toward philosophy is a kind of “prejudice.” “I would even go so far as to say,” he writes, that their anti-philosophy statements “are a kind of bigotry” (The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers, 2014).

What’s missing is any recognition that the war on philosophy is a direct result of the naturalism. If the mind is just a buzz of neurons, there is no truth, there aren’t even recognized facts, only the random movements of forces. Hoelscher even gets Darwin almost  right:

What he [author LeDrew] misses, though, is the fact that, as the atheist philosopher Dan Fincke points out, philosophy “has proven empirically to be better at producing atheists than even science is.” Along this line, it is fascinating that, contrary to what most atheists assume, it was not his scientific findings that led Charles Darwin to stop believing in God. As Mitchell Stephens points out in his excellent book Imagine There’s no Heaven: How Atheism Helped Create the Modern World (2014), what undermined Darwin’s faith were the observations he made, as a kind of amateur anthropologist, of the diversity of religions around the world and the sincerity of their devotees, and his reading of the works of Shelley, the philosopher David Hume, and various other skeptical thinkers. Stephens quotes E.O. Wilson: “The great naturalist did not abandon” religion because of his work on natural selection, but rather “The reverse occurred. The shedding of blind faith gave him the intellectual fearlessness to explore human evolution wherever logic and evidence took him.” More.

Actually, his theory gave him the intellectual wherewithal to go where he wanted to go. And where he wanted to go was clear. Are any BioLogians out there listening to this stuff about Darwin? See also: Early human religion: A 747 built in the basement with an X-Acto knife Evolutionary conundrum: is religion a useful, useless, or harmful adaptation? “TGIF: Dawkins disinvited to science conference”: “Professor Richard Dawkins has had an invitation to speak at a science event withdrawn by organisers for sharing a “highly offensive” video mocking feminists on Twitter.” Dawkins disinvited but defended at UD Follow UD News at Twitter! Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

Dick, I agree with you. I think it's very interesting to note that of the two major positive philosophical arguments against God's existence, which are the Logical Problem of Evil and the Evidential Problem of Evil, the first is now pretty much universally recognized to be without any logical force and the second survives almost exclusively on emotionalism. And never mind that neither one of them makes a lick of sense in a universe where objective moral values and duties supposedly don't even exist. HeKS
The New Atheist's antagonism toward philosophy is a consequence of the fact that philosophers demand that the New Atheists be more rigorous in their arguments. Recognizing that many of their favorite arguments cannot meet the high standard philosophers set, their response is to dismiss or ridicule both philosophy and philosophers. It's a tacit admission of the intellectual poverty of their atheism. Dick

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