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Just in: Atheist chides New Atheists for narrow fanaticism; also, water now runs downhill

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Not that we haven’t heard it all before, but at New Humanist (September/October, 2011) thoughtful atheist Jonathan Ree chides new atheists:

Despite his Darwinism, [William] James was impatient with the all-purpose “Darwinising”, as he called it, of scientific colleagues like TH Huxley or Ernst Haeckel. He hated the belligerent secularism that treats religion as a childish superstition which we will all put behind us once we reach the age of reason. For one thing, the idea of superstition is itself steeped in religiosity: like “heresy”, “idolatry”, “apostasy”, “blasphemy” or indeed “atheism”, it started life as a word for deviations from true faith, and the first self-declared enemies of superstition were not enlightened scientists but inquisitorial bigots. For another, not all believers are gullible fools, and intelligent religiosity might have more in common with intelligent infidelity than with ignorant faith.

And in any case, religion for James was more a matter of subconscious experience than explicit doctrine. “Feeling is the deeper source of religion,” he wrote, and “philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products, like translations of a text into another tongue.” Philosophical theologians who tried to “construct religious objects out of the resources of logical reason” were missing the point, and chest-thumping atheists who tried to refute these intellectual constructions only compounded the error.

James never decisively broke with what he hated, beyond making distressed noises. Today, Darwin’s boys (usually new atheists or theistic Darwinists) can do anyone who has evidence against their views out of a degree, a lectureship, a job, or tenure. The distressed noises continue in certain quarters.

(From another quarter, help arises that doesn’t begin by signalling distress, rather a quite different message …)


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