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John Gray: New Atheists don’t acknowledge their myths and beliefs

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British political philosopher John Gray, author of Seven Types of Atheism (2018) and also of Straw Dogs, comments in an interview:

Indeed. I’m a skeptic by nature, so I’m resistant to claims by anyone to have complete answers to intractable human problems. I’m particularly annoyed by what’s now called “New Atheism,” and I react strongly against those who debunk the beliefs of others in a way I find bullying and shallow.

The New Atheists — Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others — attack religions in the sublime confidence that these religions are myths and that they themselves harbor no myths, but that’s not true.

In many cases, the New Atheists are animated by 19th-century myths of various kinds: myths of human advancement, myths of what science can and cannot do, and all kinds of other myths. So yeah, I’m compelled to attack anyone who is debunking others for their reliance on myths when the debunkers themselves can’t see how their own thinking is shaped by myths.

Something as ancient, as profound, as inexhaustibly rich as religion or religions can’t really be written off as an intellectual error by clever people. Most of these clever people are not that clever when compared with really clever people like Wittgenstein or Saint Augustine or Pascal — all philosophers of the past who seriously engaged the religious perspective.

These New Atheists are mostly ignorant of religion, and only really concerned with a particular kind of monotheism, which is a narrow segment of the broader religious world.

But then he adds,

The human mind is like every other animal mind. If Darwinism is right, and I think it’s the best approximation we have to the truth about how humans came into the world, then all aspects of the human animal are shaped by the imperatives of survival.

That includes the human mind, so there’s a deep-seated tendency in the human mind to see the world in ways which promote human survival. And the tendency to obsess over reason and rationality overlooks this fact. Sean Illing, “Why science can’t replace religion” at Vox

One hardly need ask: If, as he says, the deep-seated tendency in the human mind is simply to see the world in ways that enable humans to survive, how does his own argument escape the charge? For example, he goes on to say, “ I don’t mean to imply that people can’t be moral without God, which is one of the stupidest claims I’ve ever heard.” But if his account is true, there is no “moral” for us to be anyway.

Darwin does that to people. A pity.

Hat tip: Heather Zeiger

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See also: John Gray offers harsh words for Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: therapy for liberals

and

John Gray: No general theory of evolution

7 Replies to “John Gray: New Atheists don’t acknowledge their myths and beliefs

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    If Atheistic Materialism were actually true, then atheists themselves would not actually exist as real people but would merely be a neuronal illusions of the brain and thus atheists themselves would therefore be mythical creatures: 🙂

    While it is certainly quite embarrassing to publicly admit to believing that you are an illusion, none-the-less, apparently completely oblivious to the insanity inherent in the claim, many atheists do indeed publicly confess to believing that their very existence is illusory.

    “We have so much confidence in our materialist assumptions (which are assumptions, not facts) that something like free will is denied in principle. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but I don’t really know that. Either way, it doesn’t matter because if free will and consciousness are just an illusion, they are the most seamless illusions ever created. Film maker James Cameron wishes he had special effects that good.”
    Matthew D. Lieberman – neuroscientist – materialist – UCLA professor

    Ross Douthat Is On Another Erroneous Rampage Against Secularism – Jerry Coyne – December 26, 2013
    Excerpt: “many (but not all) of us accept the notion that our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.”
    Jerry Coyne – Professor of Evolutionary Biology – Atheist
    https://newrepublic.com/article/116047/ross-douthat-wrong-about-secularism-and-ethics

    At the 23:33 minute mark of the following video, Richard Dawkins agrees with materialistic philosophers who say that:
    “consciousness is an illusion”
    A few minutes later Rowan Williams asks Dawkins ”If consciousness is an illusion…what isn’t?”.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWN4cfh1Fac&t=22m57s

    “There is no self in, around, or as part of anyone’s body. There can’t be. So there really isn’t any enduring self that ever could wake up morning after morning worrying about why it should bother getting out of bed. The self is just another illusion, like the illusion that thought is about stuff or that we carry around plans and purposes that give meaning to what our body does. Every morning’s introspectively fantasized self is a new one, remarkably similar to the one that consciousness ceased fantasizing when we fell sleep sometime the night before. Whatever purpose yesterday’s self thought it contrived to set the alarm last night, today’s newly fictionalized self is not identical to yesterday’s. It’s on its own, having to deal with the whole problem of why to bother getting out of bed all over again.”
    – A.Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, ch.10

    The Consciousness Deniers – Galen Strawson – March 13, 2018
    Excerpt: What is the silliest claim ever made? The competition is fierce, but I think the answer is easy. Some people have denied the existence of consciousness: conscious experience, the subjective character of experience, the “what-it-is-like” of experience.,,,
    Who are the Deniers?,,, Few have been fully explicit in their denial, but among those who have been, we find Brian Farrell, Paul Feyerabend, Richard Rorty, and the generally admirable Daniel Dennett.,,,
    http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2.....s-deniers/

    “that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.”
    Francis Crick – “The Astonishing Hypothesis” 1994

    The Brain: The Mystery of Consciousness
    By STEVEN PINKER – Monday, Jan. 29, 2007
    Part II THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL
    Another startling conclusion from the science of consciousness is that the intuitive feeling we have that there’s an executive “I” that sits in a control room of our brain, scanning the screens of the senses and pushing the buttons of the muscles, is an illusion.
    http://www.academia.edu/279485.....sciousness

    “(Daniel) Dennett concludes, ‘nobody is conscious … we are all zombies’.”
    J.W. SCHOOLER & C.A. SCHREIBER – Experience, Meta-consciousness, and the Paradox of Introspection – 2004
    https://www.scribd.com/document/183053947/Experience-Meta-consciousness-and-the-Paradox-of-Introspection

    “I have argued patiently against the prevailing form of naturalism, a reductive materialism that purports to capture life and mind through its neo-Darwinian extension.” “…, I find this view antecedently unbelievable—a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense”.
    Thomas Nagel – “Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False” – pg.128

    Atheistic Materialism – Does Richard Dawkins Exist? – video 37:51 minute mark
    Quote: “It turns out that if every part of you, down to sub-atomic parts, are still what they were when they weren’t in you, in other words every ion,,, every single atom that was in the universe,, that has now become part of your living body, is still what is was originally. It hasn’t undergone what metaphysicians call a ‘substantial change’. So you aren’t Richard Dawkins. You are just carbon and neon and sulfur and oxygen and all these individual atoms still.
    You can spout a philosophy that says scientific materialism, but there aren’t any scientific materialists to pronounce it.,,, That’s why I think they find it kind of embarrassing to talk that way. Nobody wants to stand up there and say, “You know, I’m not really here”.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVCnzq2yTCg&t=37m51s

  2. 2
    Peter says:

    I have thinking lately of the number of miracles that atheists implicitly accept. Some atheists claim not to be religious because of miracles, but there are many cases in the history of life that have no plausible materialistic explanation. There is probably an infinite number so the top ten miracles would be interesting. It would be fun pointing out to athiests that they actually believe in more miracles than you can find in one of the gospels. I can think of a few: creation of the universe from nothing, the emergence of dna as soon as life was possible, the one tuned constants and the folding of amino acids to create functional proteins. Maybe a moderator can start a post to get some feedback.

  3. 3
    polistra says:

    Gray isn’t even starting to make his own point.

    Interviewer said:

    “Look, specific religious ideas like the notion that life begins at the moment of conception or that homosexuality is sinful are causing real harm in the world, and so we’re morally obliged to attack those ideas.”

    Gray could have used DARWIN, could have said that life at conception is scientific fact, and homosexuality is not a good survival tactic. Instead he derailed the point by saying that Soviets were against homosexuality and Romania was against abortion. So what? The real set of attitudes in the Soviet bloc was much more complex, and it’s irrelevant anyway.

  4. 4
    Bob O'H says:

    But if his account is true, there is no “moral” for us to be anyway.

    Unless morality helps enable humans to survive, of course.

  5. 5
    groovamos says:

    Plenty of savagely immoral persons have had their physical survival extended by their immorality. All you have to do is look at history. Josef Stalin, Kim Jung Il, the list is very long. Some for whom it didn’t work that well, like Hitler, sickened in the last couple of years by his own evil, and suicidal in the end.

  6. 6
    asauber says:

    Unless morality helps enable humans to survive, of course.

    B’oh,

    So human survival is a goal established by what/who/when and why and how?

    Andrew

  7. 7
    EricMH says:

    “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” – St. Paul

    Even if I was not a theist or a Christian, the above certainly rings true when I read these sorts of accounts.

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