Monday, January 7, 2008

The (not so) “new atheism”

Having recently read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion I very much appreciated the insights offered in this essay by Damon Linker (published in today’s National Post). Linker provides an excellent overview of the history of atheistic thought and puts into context the nasty, ideological "new atheism" espoused by Dawkins, Hitchens and others:
Mindless argument found in godless books [Essay subtitle]
..."the new atheism" is not particularly new. It belongs to an intellectual genealogy stretching back hundreds of years ... [It is]driven by a visceral contempt for the personal faith of others....
... In describing their atheism as illiberal, I do not mean to imply that the new atheists are closet totalitarians. On the contrary ... Yet the fact remains that the atheism of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens is a brutally intolerant, proselytizing faith, out to rack up conversions.
... the tone of today's atheist tracts is so unremittingly hostile that one wonders if their authors really mean it when they express the hope, as Dawkins does in a representative passage, that "religious readers who open ['The God Delusion'] will be atheists when they put it down."
... It is with this enmity, this furious certainty, that our ideological atheists lapse most fully into illiberalism.
... To be liberal in the classical sense is to accept intellectual variety--and the social complexity that goes with it--as the ineradicable condition of a free society.
Liberal atheists accept this situation; ideological atheists do not.


KC said...

I've read both Harris and Dawkins and cant say I agree with Linker (who is also a secularist might I add). I dont see anything "nasty" or "ideological" or "intolerant" about anything they say. Saying that religion is a load of hooey is difficult to do without coming across as terribly offensive to some people. That doesnt mean they shouldnt say it. Whats more neither of them ever said anything about forcing atheism on anyone.

Red Tory said...

What's your point?

It doesn't appear that you have one to make other than indicating you find the so-called "new atheism" to be "nasty" and "ideological." Care to explain why you find it to be so, or is that simply a remarkably lazy way of disparaging something with which you happen to disagree for whatever reason?

Joe said...

Read Dawkins and I was struck by the shallowness of his thought. To hear the atheists Dawkins is one of the greatest thinkers of all time. I couldn't find one original thought in the endless drivel that he wrote. Heard it all before yawn.

doug newton said...

I am trying to decide whether or not to read at least some of authors mentioned in the article.
I suspect what Joe is saying to be essentially true, based on a debate I saw featuring Mr.Hitchins.

Would someone be so kind as to answer these two questions.

Is it true that Mr. Dawkins and co. offer no political perspective in their books, make no suggestions as to what would satisfactorily answer their complaints?

Is it true that that they restrict their atheistic or anti theistic criticisms to Christianity.

Red Tory said...

I suspect Joe has in fact not read Dawkins, but would be interested to know what part of "The Blind Watchmaker" he finds to be "shallow".

Doug — The first question is very much a matter of opinion and your question would need to be more specific for it to be answered properly.

With regards to the second question, the answer is no, although given they are speaking to largely Christian audiences for the most part, Christianity quite naturally tends to be the focus of the criticism and discussion. In general their objections are most pointedly directed at the montheistic religions of Abraham (i.e., Islam, Christianity and Judaism).

doug newton said...

Thanks RT

I guess I'll start with Mr. Dawkins.

doug newton said...

I hope that posting a link is OK

This is Daniel Dennett speaking at Beyond Belief 2
Perhaps the other authors mentioned in the Damon Lineker article are more "brutally intolerant" or illiberal, but I don't think these claims apply to Dennett.

doug newton said...

And one more if I may.

This is Harris making the "hard shots" about Islam that one commenter to Lineker's article suggests are never made by new atheists.

JR said...

Ok, some interest in atheism. Comments in turn:

KC, As an agnostic I’m open to arguments on both sides of the big, eternally open questions. Dawkins is a pretty smart guy, so I half expected his book might offer some fresh, original insights. There were none, but worse, I found his style extremely off-putting. He came off as arrogant, smug and contemptuous. One page near the front end was so chock-a-block with nasty adjectives I was tempted to stop reading right there. While there’s no reason to expect him to treat his opponents with kid gloves, treating them with contempt and disrespect does little to advance his own position. If anything it does the opposite.

Anyway, long story short, I thought Damon Linker’s essay accorded quite well with how I felt about Dawkins’ book.

Ah, Red Tory, Why the surly troll? And the “point” should be obvious to one of your superior intellect.

Joe, Naturally, I tend to agree.

Doug, No problem posting links. I’ll have a look. Thanks.

doug newton said...


In that case the best of the lot is the Four Horseman video at Dawkin's site.
Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens in conversation. Two, one hour segments. Very educational for me.