Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A Quiz For "The New Atheists"

I dislike the term "the New Atheists", it seems like nothing more than a way to generalise about atheists and use a straw-man to dismiss the arguments as just another religion. Dawkins is often portrayed as the cult leader of this movement, and others like Harris, Hitchens, Shermer and Dennett are also prominent members. Andrew Brown recently wrote an article trying to define just what the New Atheism really is, and in there he listed 6 points that he feels characterises the political movement. So according to his definitions am I one of these dreaded "New Atheists"?

There is something called "Faith" which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.
I disagree with his description of faith here. It would be better to say faith is belief without evidence, but then again I think that is almost impossible given we are evidence-based creatures. If I were to define faith, I'd say it's certainty without knowledge. When it is applied in a religious context, it's nothing more than speculation on the unknown. I'll chalk this one down to a bad definition and say that I'm covered under it. 1 from 1
The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn't. "Science is the only way of knowing – everything else is just superstition"
A cure for faith? I think not. Science is a means to derive knowledge from the universe around us. As God is supposedly a force in this universe that can supposedly act within our daily lives, then the concept of God is a hypothesis of reality. Whether we have the means to measure God or can do a test that potentially falsify the concept is another matter. The old God of the bible - the creator of life and chief weathermaker of Israel, that concept is long falsified. But the abstract concept now that works through reality which may or may not still be a judge for the next life? Well that's a little beyond the scope of measurement. Again, his bad definition aside, I'll agree with this one. 2 from 2
Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. "The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition" [Jerry Coyne] "I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented." [Dawkins]
Again his own commentary on the matter ruins the core of the point. Will science bring on a utopia? Hell no. Will it eliminate superstition? Again, no. We can look at the rise of movements like the 911truth movement and see how something absurd can pierce the heart of the social consciousness, and it's things like that which make the battle between rationalism and superstition one of treading water. Agree with the Coyne / Dawkins quotes, do not agree with Brown's interpretation. 2.5 from 3
In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm.
Religion is not doomed, and even if religion goes away I'm not convinced the world will be a better place. It would be nice to see a fight against STIs that isn't inhibited by religious belief, or seeing equal rights regardless of sexual preference without having to fight the motto "God hates fags". History shows that it's science and progress that are on the losing ends of the battle, look at the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks or the golden age of Islam. Disagree completely with this. 2.5 from 4.
Religion exists. It is essentially something like American fundamentalist protestantism, or Islam. More moderate forms are false and treacherous: if anything even more dangerous, because they conceal the raging, homicidal lunacy that is religion's true nature.
Moderates being more dangerous than extremists, now that's just silly. It's like saying that giving refuge to a mass murderer is worse than perpetrating a mass murder. Moderates do cause problems with their defence of faith, but they are by no means the problem that is largely associated with religion. Again, complete disagreement. 2.5 of 5
Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]
Most dangerous force? No. Even without religious faith, the same kinds of institutions are being built that pose a far greater danger. Dogmatism to me is the real problem, whether it be religious, cultural, political or anything else. Jingoism and xenophobia seem far larger problems these days in multicultural societies than any one religion, and the struggle to me is more about the best way to preserve human dignity across the globe. Then there's also things like global warming and depletion of resources that are going to cause major problems down the line. 2.5 from 6.

And there you have it. A quiz that deserves to sit alongside classics like "are you a man pleaser" A pointless exercise really, his characterisation of "the New Atheists" is doing exactly the same things that these people are doing to religion. Funny that he left philosophers Dan Dennett and A.C. Grayling off the list, as he did psychologists Stephen Pinker and Michael Shermer. There was also no room for religious historians Richard Carrier or Hector Avalos either. Not even the former preacher Dan Barker get a mention. I guess he didn't want to detract from his point that none of these people were philosophers, psychologists or theologians.

The term "New Atheism" is a useless one, there is simply no need for it. In trying to define the term, he has missed the mark even on the select few he names. And what's the point to it all? As far as I can gather, it's to show that the people who are talking on religion are unqualified to do so. If that's the case he could have just come out and said so rather than constructing an elaborate set of parameters to box them into.


wood95 said...


What did I miss with the Asimov story on Pharyngula?

wood95 said...


Thanks for the link. Whatever it was I originally read, I read in the '70s or '80s. I don't remember the mechanic's joke, just his jab at Asimov.

Kel said...

It's a good story, it really made me change my perspective of what intelligence is.