Intelligent Design

Philosopher John Gray on new atheism and liberal values

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Further to: If atheism is not a religion, in a meaningful sense, why are there atheist chaplains at U.S. colleges now?, Gray had commented at the Guardian,

It has often been observed that Christianity follows changing moral fashions, all the while believing that it stands apart from the world. The same might be said, with more justice, of the prevalent version of atheism. If an earlier generation of unbelievers shared the racial prejudices of their time and elevated them to the status of scientific truths, evangelical atheists do the same with the liberal values to which western societies subscribe today – while looking with contempt upon “backward” cultures that have not abandoned religion. The racial theories promoted by atheists in the past have been consigned to the memory hole – and today’s most influential atheists would no more endorse racist biology than they would be seen following the guidance of an astrologer. But they have not renounced the conviction that human values must be based in science; now it is liberal values which receive that accolade. There are disputes, sometimes bitter, over how to define and interpret those values, but their supremacy is hardly ever questioned. For 21st century atheist missionaries, being liberal and scientific in outlook are one and the same.

It’s a reassuringly simple equation. In fact there are no reliable connections – whether in logic or history – between atheism, science and liberal values. When organised as a movement and backed by the power of the state, atheist ideologies have been an integral part of despotic regimes that also claimed to be based in science, such as the former Soviet Union. Many rival moralities and political systems – most of them, to date, illiberal – have attempted to assert a basis in science.

To make matters worse, “liberal” values today largely mean “progressive” values, the key difference being that the progressive has little or none of the traditional liberal’s interest in civil liberties or due process. So even supposed liberal values become illiberal. People are fired, charged, bankrupted, or possibly jailed for refusing to honour dismissing progressive pieties.

Darwinism, diminishing as a useful interpretation of change over time in biological life, sees a new life as the creation story of progressive culture. A culture to which it is admirably suited.

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20 Replies to “Philosopher John Gray on new atheism and liberal values

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    As the current adage has it “Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

    In fact, the assertion that atheism is a religion is arguably a violation of your much-cherished law of identity, which holds that a thing cannot be both itself and something else at the same. A religion cannot be both the belief in the existence of a god and the denial that such a god exists.

    As for the “atheist chaplain”, he simply wanted those pragmatic benefits of a faith without the entailed doctrine:

    What he missed, Campolo said, was what the church had represented to him: a place where like-minded people could gather for fellowship, to pursue moral justice, to help one another and to try to live good lives.

    And John Gray should understand that the fact that people have justified doing bad things in the name of atheism is no more valid a criticism of that position than the fact that people have done bad things in the name of their chosen religion is necessarily a valid criticism of the faith itself.

    Or that the flawed case that the Nazi movement was largely founded on Darwin’s theory, even if it were true, has any bearing on whether his case was sound.

  2. 2
    ppolish says:

    Thousands of stamps Seversky, which is your favorite? Obsessing over and reading about every stamp ever printed is a hobby for sure. Being angry at stamps, angry every day, blogging and tweeting about stamps – is an unhealthy hobby.

    Atheism is a Religion though, not a hobby. An unhealthy Religion.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    A few related notes as to ‘Atheism is a religion’.

    Since science is impossible without God to provide a basis for reason, (CS Lewis, Argument From Reason; Plantinga, Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism), then it is not surprising to learn that Darwinism is reliant on bad theological premises in order to provide its foundation in science:

    Moreover, Charles Darwin’s degree was in Theology. Thus, not so surprisingly, his arguments in Origin were primarily Theological in nature, not mathematical or scientific (in fact I’ve heard it said that Darwin hated math):

    Charles Darwin, Theologian: Major New Article on Darwin’s Use of Theology in the Origin of Species – May 2011
    Excerpt: The Origin supplies abundant evidence of theology in action; as Dilley observes:
    I have argued that, in the first edition of the Origin, Darwin drew upon at least the following positiva theological claims in his case for descent with modification (and against special creation):

    1. Human beings are not justified in believing that God creates in ways analogous to the intellectual powers of the human mind.
    2. A God who is free to create as He wishes would create new biological limbs de novo rather than from a common pattern.
    3. A respectable deity would create biological structures in accord with a human conception of the ‘simplest mode’ to accomplish the functions of these structures.
    4. God would only create the minimum structure required for a given part’s function.
    5. God does not provide false empirical information about the origins of organisms.
    6. God impressed the laws of nature on matter.
    7. God directly created the first ‘primordial’ life.
    8. God did not perform miracles within organic history subsequent to the creation of the first life.
    9. A ‘distant’ God is not morally culpable for natural pain and suffering.
    10. The God of special creation, who allegedly performed miracles in organic history, is not plausible given the presence of natural pain and suffering.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....46391.html

    And again, not so surprisingly, the conservative Church of England ‘scientific establishment’ of Darwin’s day reacted against Darwin’s book whilst the liberal, and unscientific, Anglican clergy accepted it:

    “Religious views were mixed, with the Church of England scientific establishment reacting against the book, while liberal Anglicans strongly supported Darwin’s natural selection as an instrument of God’s design.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.....of_Species

    Here is an excellent lecture, based in part on Dr. Cornelius Hunter’s book, ‘Darwin’s God’, which exposes the theological core, i.e. God would not have done it that way, of Darwinian thought:

    The Descent of Darwin – Pastor Joe Boot – video – 16:30 minute mark
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKzUSWU7c2s&feature=player_detailpage#t=996

    to this day, bad theology, not science, is integral to Darwinian theory (i.e. God would not have done it that way therefore Darwinism must have,,,):

    Methodological Naturalism: A Rule That No One Needs or Obeys – Paul Nelson – September 22, 2014
    Excerpt: It is a little-remarked but nonetheless deeply significant irony that evolutionary biology is the most theologically entangled science going. Open a book like Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True (2009) or John Avise’s Inside the Human Genome (2010), and the theology leaps off the page. A wise creator, say Coyne, Avise, and many other evolutionary biologists, would not have made this or that structure; therefore, the structure evolved by undirected processes. Coyne and Avise, like many other evolutionary theorists going back to Darwin himself, make numerous “God-wouldn’t-have-done-it-that-way” arguments, thus predicating their arguments for the creative power of natural selection and random mutation on implicit theological assumptions about the character of God and what such an agent (if He existed) would or would not be likely to do.,,,
    ,,,with respect to one of the most famous texts in 20th-century biology, Theodosius Dobzhansky’s essay “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (1973).
    Although its title is widely cited as an aphorism, the text of Dobzhansky’s essay is rarely read. It is, in fact, a theological treatise. As Dilley (2013, p. 774) observes:
    “Strikingly, all seven of Dobzhansky’s arguments hinge upon claims about God’s nature, actions, purposes, or duties. In fact, without God-talk, the geneticist’s arguments for evolution are logically invalid. In short, theology is essential to Dobzhansky’s arguments.”,,
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....89971.html

    Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of theology? – Dilley S. – 2013
    Abstract
    This essay analyzes Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous article, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,” in which he presents some of his best arguments for evolution. I contend that all of Dobzhansky’s arguments hinge upon sectarian claims about God’s nature, actions, purposes, or duties. Moreover, Dobzhansky’s theology manifests several tensions, both in the epistemic justification of his theological claims and in their collective coherence. I note that other prominent biologists–such as Mayr, Dawkins, Eldredge, Ayala, de Beer, Futuyma, and Gould–also use theology-laden arguments. I recommend increased analysis of the justification, complexity, and coherence of this theology.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23890740

    Verse and Music:

    Romans 1:21-23
    For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

    Jeremy Camp – Jesus Saves
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=724JLC6FmRo

  4. 4
    ppolish says:

    Dawkins preaches “Together we can cure Religion”. Doctor heal thyself lol.

    ISIS wants to eliminate all Religion but one. Dawkins takes it a step further. Scary.

  5. 5
    CHartsil says:

    >A scientist that wants to educate people on understanding that bronze age ignorance is not as valid as actually understanding things.

    >Militant fundamentalists willing to kill unbelievers and apostates *because* their bronze age ignorance tells them to.

    Yeah, I see no difference…

  6. 6
    Seversky says:

    i think both ISIS and Dawkins are misguided.

    All those locals who do not share ISIS’s extreme beliefs will eventually react to the threat by forming a coalition against the group that will slowly crush them. We are seeing the beginnings of that process already with the successes of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and now the Iraqi army beginning to make headway with the support of local militias and, apparently, some Iranian involvement. ISIS’s extremism is what will bring about their own destruction.

    And religions – not just one particular faith – will continue to flourish precisely because they provide the practical benefits to people described by the atheist chaplain. Faith can provide comfort, support and the strength to get through the worst individual tragedies and social disasters. Atheism can provide none of that, which is why it will not supplant religion in the foreseeable future. That doesn’t make religion right, but it does make you feel better. Like Marx wote:

    Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

  7. 7
    ppolish says:

    Afterlife as a “Long Comfy Nap” is the opiate of the Atheist, Seversky. Note that there is a difference between the “long” of an Athiest and the Eternal of a Theist. Infinite difference.

  8. 8
    0812681 says:

    Hey y’all,

    Coming monday, John Gray will do an interview/conversation at the public library of The Hague, the city where I live. Check the link.

    http://www.writersunlimited.nl.....aal=engels

    I had already planned to attend this event before I red the article. I don’t know if there will be an Q&A session, I hope so. I’m still thinking about what i’m going to ask him. So, I’d appreciate if some of you guys could provide with some ideas for the questions I could ask him.

  9. 9
    Seversky says:

    bornagain77 @ 3

    Since science is impossible without God to provide a basis for reason, (CS Lewis, Argument From Reason; Plantinga, Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism), then it is not surprising to learn that Darwinism is reliant on bad theological premises in order to provide its foundation in science:

    Whatever their beliefs, neither Lewis nor Plantinga have established that a god is indispensible to science. The justification for relying on reason is that it has been found to work well thus far. That is the only warrant it needs.

    Moreover, Charles Darwin’s degree was in Theology. Thus, not so surprisingly, his arguments in Origin were primarily Theological in nature, not mathematical or scientific (in fact I’ve heard it said that Darwin hated math):

    Again, whatever Darwin’s early beliefs, or later lack of them, they have no role in his theory of evolution through natural selection. The theological commentary was included because it was expected by – and intended to appeal to – what he knew well to be a religiose audience. It was also intended to anticipate and forestall religious criticism of his theory. But the fact is theology had no more direct bearing on his theory than did alchemy on Newton’s physics.

    …to this day, bad theology, not science, is integral to Darwinian theory (i.e. God would not have done it that way therefore Darwinism must have,,,):

    Any argument appealing to an unspecified god’s supposed purposes and methods is unsound. But if Christians, for example, make claims about what their particular God would or would not do we can construct valid arguments concerning incongruencies between His alleged attributes and powers and His behavior as described in the Bible.

    Darwin’s theory of evolution doesn’t rely at all on any of this, of course.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    as to “The justification for relying on reason is that it has been found to work well thus far. That is the only warrant it needs.”

    Actually, since you are trying to, in fact, explain the origination of mind and reason through your atheistic evolutionary narrative, then of course you cannot take the existence of mind and reason as a given since you are in fact trying to explain the origin of them:

    Mind and Cosmos – Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False – Thomas Nagel
    Excerpt: If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history.
    http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/pro.....9919758.do

    Moreover, due to advances in quantum mechanics, the argument for God from consciousness can now be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect):
    A Short Survey Of Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uLcJUgLm1vwFyjwcbwuYP0bK6k8mXy-of990HudzduI/edit

    Colossians 1:17
    And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

    as to:

    “Again, whatever Darwin’s early beliefs, or later lack of them, they have no role in his theory of evolution through natural selection.”

    actually, as was already referenced in detail, bad theology, not science, is crucial to Darwinian thinking, even to this day.

    Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of theology? – Dilley S. – 2013
    Abstract
    This essay analyzes Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous article, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,” in which he presents some of his best arguments for evolution. I contend that all of Dobzhansky’s arguments hinge upon sectarian claims about God’s nature, actions, purposes, or duties. Moreover, Dobzhansky’s theology manifests several tensions, both in the epistemic justification of his theological claims and in their collective coherence. I note that other prominent biologists–such as Mayr, Dawkins, Eldredge, Ayala, de Beer, Futuyma, and Gould–also use theology-laden arguments. I recommend increased analysis of the justification, complexity, and coherence of this theology.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23890740

    Here is an excellent lecture, based in part on Dr. Cornelius Hunter’s book, ‘Darwin’s God’, which exposes the theological core, i.e. “God would not have done it that way, therefore Darwinism did’, of Darwinian thought:

    The Descent of Darwin – Pastor Joe Boot – video – 16:30 minute mark
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKzUSWU7c2s&feature=player_detailpage#t=996

  11. 11
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    A religion cannot be both the belief in the existence of a god and the denial that such a god exists.

    A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion

    Atheism is a belief and a world view that relates humanity to an order of existence.

  12. 12
    Seversky says:

    A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion

    That’s right and atheism isn’t “an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence” it’s simply a lack of belief in a god or gods. You can have any number of “beliefs, cultural systems, and world views” that are atheistic in nature and you can call them religions if you want but it doesn’t make atheism religion by any stretch of the imagination.

  13. 13
    Mark Frank says:

    This is so frustrating. Why this continuing conflation of atheism – the lack of a belief in a God – with the small, fairly vocal (but non-violent) new atheist movement which has some (but not all) of the attributes of a religion?  John Gray doesn’t make the error:

    Fortunately, this type of atheism isn’t the only one that has ever existed. There have been many modern atheisms, some of them more cogent and more intellectually liberating than the type that makes so much noise today. Campaigning atheism is a missionary enterprise, aiming to convert humankind to a particular version of unbelief; but not all atheists have been interested in propagating a new gospel, and some have been friendly to traditional faiths

  14. 14
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    You can have any number of “beliefs, cultural systems, and world views” that are atheistic in nature and you can call them religions if you want but it doesn’t make atheism religion by any stretch of the imagination.

    I think it does make atheism a religion. It’s a statement of a theological nature. So, it’s not like stamp-collecting. It’s more than that. It’s an opposition to stamp-collecting. To conclude that God does not exist requires more than what one would say if they didn’t collect stamps. To decide on the non-existence of God is a religious conclusion. One would necessarily need to investigate religion in that case. The same is not true of a person who doesn’t collect stamps.

    Beyond that, there’s certainly a widespread ‘atheist community’ that shares beliefs and culture. Atheism is, necessarily, a worldview since it takes a distinct position on a particular order of existence. Atheism is restrictive with regards to various possibilities – and since it expresses a denial of the existence of God, it’s a belief system. An atheist needs to have answers against the many arguments that support the existence of God. To take no interest in such things would be a position of indifference – so agnosticism, not atheism.

    Atheism is like someone who thinks that music does not exist. Not only will that person not be able to sing or go to concerts, but that worldview is in opposition to the belief that music does exist.

  15. 15
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Why this continuing conflation of atheism – the lack of a belief in a God – with the small, fairly vocal (but non-violent) new atheist movement

    I think people are speaking in general terms. There are always exceptions – but I don’t think the new atheist movement is the smaller part of atheism. Or at least we could say, since the more militant atheists are the more vocal, and tend to dominate many internet discussions – people generalize in this way.

    But that does run the risk of misrepresentation. There is a range of beliefs in atheism – as with theism. When we talk about ‘atheists’, it’s difficult because anybody can describe themselves with that term. There doesn’t seem to be any way to be excommunicated from the atheist community. There doesn’t seem to be any membership requirements either.

    When I visit atheist websites or blogs I very often find a lot of hostility towards religion. People seem to take a lot of joy in mocking people, ridiculing prayer and things that are sacred to others (would they laugh at people praying at a funeral service?). I find that frightening and barbaric – but I’m sure they think the same about me, so I guess we’re even.

  16. 16
    drc466 says:

    Seversky,

    atheism isn’t “an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence” it’s simply a lack of belief in a god or gods.

    While this may be a correct definition of the word “atheism” from a linguistic perspective (apparently “antitheist” is just too much trouble to say), in practical and common usage atheism does not mean a “lack of belief” (agnostic), but rather a positive belief that “there is no God”.
    By affirming the non-existence of God, atheism becomes a religious belief. You could make the argument that agnosticism was not a religious belief, as it posits no right or wrong viewpoint on the existence of God – but not atheism (in its common usage – I’ve never met anyone who called themself an “atheist” when they meant “agnostic”).

  17. 17
    Mark Frank says:

    SA

    … I don’t think the new atheist movement is the smaller part of atheism. Or at least we could say, since the more militant atheists are the more vocal, and tend to dominate many internet discussions – people generalize in this way.
    But that does run the risk of misrepresentation. There is a range of beliefs in atheism – as with theism. When we talk about ‘atheists’, it’s difficult because anybody can describe themselves with that term. There doesn’t seem to be any way to be excommunicated from the atheist community. There doesn’t seem to be any membership requirements either.
    When I visit atheist websites or blogs I very often find a lot of hostility towards religion. People seem to take a lot of joy in mocking people, ridiculing prayer and things that are sacred to others (would they laugh at people praying at a funeral service?). I find that frightening and barbaric – but I’m sure they think the same about me, so I guess we’re even.

    I think that is what is going on is that those atheists who have an anti-religion attitude are the ones that get involved with internet discussions about religion. Why would someone who just happened not to believe in God want to get into a debate or discussion about it? I think you will find there are plenty of people mocking and ridiculing atheism – starting right here at UD. It is a feature of internet debate more than anything – people write things they would never say face-to-face.

  18. 18
    Seversky says:

    Silver Asiatic @ 16

    I think it does make atheism a religion. It’s a statement of a theological nature. So, it’s not like stamp-collecting. It’s more than that. It’s an opposition to stamp-collecting. To conclude that God does not exist requires more than what one would say if they didn’t collect stamps. To decide on the non-existence of God is a religious conclusion. One would necessarily need to investigate religion in that case. The same is not true of a person who doesn’t collect stamps.

    As I said, it’s possible to frame a definition of religion that would include atheism and no one could say it was wrong. Definitions of words are more or less accurate descriptions of current usage. They do not preclude using a word to mean anything you choose.

    From my perspective, it is quite possible for me as an agnostic/atheist to hold a belief about a theological claim such as the existence of a god without that belief rising to the status of a formal or even informal religion. Religions involve beliefs, yes, but holding a belief about something does not necessarily entail belonging to a particular faith.

    Beyond that, there’s certainly a widespread ‘atheist community’ that shares beliefs and culture. Atheism is, necessarily, a worldview since it takes a distinct position on a particular order of existence. Atheism is restrictive with regards to various possibilities – and since it expresses a denial of the existence of God it’s a belief system.

    I agree that there are atheist groups and organizations that share many of the attributes of a faith or perhaps ideology. They have gone beyond a simple position of doubt or disbelief to prescribing that belief as beneficial to society and promoting it as such, much as believers proselytize their faith.

    An atheist needs to have answers against the many arguments that support the existence of God. To take no interest in such things would be a position of indifference – so agnosticism, not atheism.

    The burden of proof is held to rest with the claimant. People who proclaim the existence of God, for example, have that duty if they are concerned about persuading others that their position has merit. Exactly the same is true for anyone who claims that God does not exist.

    Atheism is like someone who thinks that music does not exist. Not only will that person not be able to sing or go to concerts, but that worldview is in opposition to the belief that music does exist..

    Atheists don’t deny the existence of religion any more than they deny the existence of music. They’re just not persuaded that any of them are true. Which, for some reason reminds me of one of my favorite sig lines, “”Creationists think everything Genesis says is true. I don’t even think Phil Collins is a good drummer.” –J. Carr …”

  19. 19
    wallstreeter43 says:

    Ppolish #7
    “”Afterlife as a “Long Comfy Nap” is the opiate of the Atheist, Seversky. Note that there is a difference between the “long” of an Athiest and the Eternal of a Theist. Infinite difference.””

    Now only that but when I brought the evidence of a patient in doctor sam parnia’s peer reviewed study to Chartsil, and showed him where an nde experiencer for the first time was timed at having a veridical nde (and recalling everything that happened in his operating room, even outside his field of view)without a functioning brain , instead if saying the evidence for survival is strong his resp.

    His response was that he would only believe it once a patient brings back information like next weeks super lotto’s winning numbers..

    This is classic cultist thinking that throws away rationality , reasoning and intellect in order to hold with blind faith his atheistic , materialistic cult beliefs.

    Chartsils atheism is a religion of complete blind faith.

    And he has yet to give a materialistic response to the evidence .

    Plus I found out a few days back that the patient who experienced this veridical nde had a sheet over his groin area which was even blocking one if the nurses from his field of view , and yet he described this nurse perfectly from his veridical nde experience .

    He had no chance whatsoever of seeing her with his physical eyes .

    Yet Chartsil will find a way to wiggle out if answering to the evidences , but is simply too emotional to follow the evidence logically.

    Doctor sam parnia who headed this study is not a Christian . In fact he is an agnostic . He is very well respected in hs field and instituted strict protocols . His study is also peer reviewed .

    This is why I continue to believe that atheism is an emotional and not intellectual worldview.

  20. 20
    ppolish says:

    There are plenty of “lapsed Christians” who are no longer Religious but still love the Lord. They classify themselves “NonReligious” but still love and thank and pray to Jesus.

    I’m sure there are plenty of “lapsed Atheists” too. Don’t believe in gods as they go about their lives. They don’t think about gods anywhere near as much as the Militant Atheists, the New Atheists.

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