“I know who you are now, and I name you my enemy.”

For those who haven’t read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Wormwood is the demon the letters are addressed to. It’s Wormwood’s job to weaken faith and encourage sin in the human he’s assigned to, and the letters are from his uncle, a demon named Screwtape, who gives Wormwood advice on how to do this.

Yesterday while meandering through Spotify, I came across the song “Dear Wormwood” by the Oh Hellos.  From what I can tell, the song is about a demon who weakened the singer’s faith since childhood and how the (now adult) singer is recognizing and trying to overcome the demon’s influence.

I’m a secularist, and by that I mean I don’t practice a religion and don’t have faith in anything supernatural. But I’m a reluctant secularist, and by that I mean I had good experiences with the religion of my childhood, I miss it and wish it were true, but I don’t actually believe it is. From that context, the song kind of hits a nerve.

You can listen to it here:

Here are the lyrics, though I recommend listening to it first or concurrently rather than reading them on their own:

When I was a child, I didn’t hear a single word you said
The things I was afraid of, they were all confined beneath my bed
But the years have been long, and you have taught me well to hide away
The things that I believed in, you’ve taught me to call them all escapes

I know who you are now

There before the threshold, I saw a brighter world beyond myself
And in my hour of weakness, you were there to see my courage fail
For the years have been long, and you have taught me well to sit and wait
Planning without acting, steadily becoming what I hate

I know who you are now

I have always known you, you have always been there in my mind
But now I understand you, and I will not be part of your designs

I know who I am now
And all that you’ve made of me
I know who you are now
And I name you my enemy

I know who I am now
I know who I want to be
I want to be more than this devil inside of me

Pro-Life Atheist at Reason Rally

atheists-against-abortionLife Matters Journal has a new piece by an atheist who attended Reason Rally 2016.  It includes her reflections on attending an event where it is assumed everyone is pro-choice because, well, logic, science, and reason.  Her main takeaways  are that many people don’t know the science, those that do know the science are willing to discriminate, and there is a religious nature to pro-choice adherents.  It’s an interesting piece that you can read here.  She writes,

For some reason though many of the same people who claim to trust only hard scientific evidence are willing to deny these basic biological truths in order to continue supporting the violence of abortion.

There is no reason for the secular community to be as pro-choice as they are; in fact as lovers of logic and reason it would only make sense for more atheists to be pro-life. I fear that the reason the pro-choice side is so successful with nonreligious people is partially that pro-lifers have marketed ourselves as a fundamentally religious/Christian movement.

I’ve written about pro-life atheists before.  I think, in general, the pro-life movement hasn’t found a way to balance the fact that many pro-lifers are religious, but a  lot of the hearts and minds they need to change are not.  Thankfully atheist and agnostic voices have been getting stronger in the community, like at Secular Pro-Life.  I say thankfully because, even though I am Mormon, I’ve always been more swayed by, or felt more comfortable sharing, logical and scientific arguments.  In policy decisions  I think those arguments can reach more people.  Any movement that has science and ethics on its side should not be afraid to use those benefits.

Atheist + Pro-Life

embryology_stickerKelsey Hazzard, president of Secular Pro-Life, an organization that promotes a pro-life stance based on science, has a excellent piece at Opposing Views about the religious tone of many abortion advocates.  Hazzard discusses how this “magical thinking” was the basis of the Roe v. Wade decision and is a current pro-choicers are happy to ride, even if they are stereotypically the kind of people who would promote science first, as long as the result is more pro-choicers and more abortions.

Indeed, magical thinking is embedded in Roe v. Wade itself. The majority opinion discusses a variety of views concerning when human life begins… The notion that science is just one possible approach among many is a hallmark of magical thinking. The consensus of modern embryologists, and the beliefs of a civilization that thrived a millennium before the invention of the sonogram, are not equally valid. That the Supreme Court of the United States pretended that they were, and that such a farce remains good law more than forty years later, is an embarrassment to our legal system.

Check out the full piece here.

The Fragile Beliefs of Terrorists

Triumph of Faith over Idolatry by Jean-Baptiste Théodon (Wikimedia Commons)
Triumph of Faith over Idolatry by Jean-Baptiste Théodon (Wikimedia Commons)

Since 9/11, it has been conventional wisdom among many on the left, and especially among the New Atheists, that religious conviction is bad, bad news. The logic is pretty straightforward: it takes a very high degree of religious conviction to kill yourself in the name of God. You have to really, really believe. Meanwhile, folks who don’t believe are unlikely to do anything extreme. So we’d all be a lot safer and more comfortable if religious folks would just sort of calm down.

The conventional response from religious folks is that, well: yeah, sometimes great faith makes people do acts of great evil. But it also makes people do acts of great heroism, right? Mother Theresa, right? This is a qualified defense at best. It says, in effect, that there really is a link between religious faith and extreme actions. It doesn’t actually show that these great acts of evil an good balance out, and there really isn’t any good reason to suspect that they should. What’s the exchange rate between an extremist terrorist with a nuclear weapon and an extremist nun with a desire to help poor people in Calcutta?

But maybe the central premise needs to be reconsidered. Maybe it’s not great faith that leads terrorists into extremism. Thus, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek in an article for the New Statesman:

It effectively may appear that the split between the permissive First World and the fundamentalist reaction to it runs more and more along the lines of the opposition between leading a long satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one’s life to some transcendent Cause. Is this antagonism not the one between what Nietzsche called “passive” and “active” nihilism? We in the West are the Nietzschean Last Men, immersed in stupid daily pleasures, while the Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything, engaged in the struggle up to their self-destruction. William Butler Yeats’ “Second Coming” seems perfectly to render our present predicament: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is an excellent description of the current split between anemic liberals and impassioned fundamentalists. “The best” are no longer able fully to engage, while “the worst” engage in racist, religious, sexist fanaticism.

However, do the terrorist fundamentalists really fit this description? What they obviously lack is a feature that is easy to discern in all authentic fundamentalists, from Tibetan Buddhists to the Amish in the US: the absence of resentment and envy, the deep indifference towards the non-believers’ way of life. If today’s so-called fundamentalists really believe they have found their way to Truth, why should they feel threatened by non-believers, why should they envy them? When a Buddhist encounters a Western hedonist, he hardly condemns. He just benevolently notes that the hedonist’s search for happiness is self-defeating. In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated, by the sinful life of the non-believers. One can feel that, in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation.

This is an important new way at looking at the intersection between faith and social stability. (Hat tip to Miles Kimball, who cited the article in his own blog post.)

The New Atheism As Religion

901 - New Atheism as Religion

Yes, yes. I’m well aware that seeking to sound clever with oxymoronic titles is tiresome, but–as John Gray argues in What Scares the New Atheists–religion and atheism are not actually contradictory. Not necessarily, in any case. The argument, which is worth reading in full, begins with the simple observation that atheism has historically reflected the morality of the times, just as religion often does, and Gray begins with a particularly embarrassing list of examples of atheists who provided the “scientific” basis of racism prior to World War II.

Now, this isn’t a case of someone just blaming the Nazi’s on atheism, which would be silly, and now is as good a time as any to point out that Gray is himself an atheist. His point isn’t that morality is impossible for an atheist or that atheism tends irreversibly towards moral oblivion and solipsism. Instead, his first point was simply that “none of the divergent values that atheists have from time to time promoted has any essential connection with atheism, or with science.” Got it? No necessary connection between liberal morality and atheism.

What’s more, Gray argues that liberal morality is itself a kind of derivative of traditional Jewish and Christian religious beliefs:

The trouble is that it’s hard to make any sense of the idea of a universal morality without invoking an understanding of what it is to be human that has been borrowed from theism. The belief that the human species is a moral agent struggling to realise its inherent possibilities – the narrative of redemption that sustains secular humanists everywhere – is a hollowed-out version of a theistic myth.

He also points out that while it’s not very difficult to come up with universal values (e.g. based on self-interest, reciprocity, and so forth), “Universal values don’t add up to a universal morality.” This is one of the most astute observations in the piece. As Gray points out, once you have a bunch of universal values, you still have to deal with the fact that “such values are very often conflicting, and different societies resolve these conflicts in divergent ways.”

Gray also dispatches with the idea that religion is some kind of unique source of evil in the human experience. While conceding that various religions are flawed in various ways, he writes that

The fault is not with religion, any more than science is to blame for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or medicine and psychology for the refinement of techniques of torture. The fault is in the intractable human animal. Like religion at its worst, contemporary atheism feeds the fantasy that human life can be remade by a conversion experience – in this case, conversion to unbelief.

So, what’s the point? Gray’s central thesis is that the New Atheism is basically a fearful reaction to the awareness that the secularization hypothesis isn’t going to fly. The world is not abandoning religion and, in fact, there’s no good reason to believe that it ever will. Gray cites Stuart Hampshire:

It is not only possible, but, on present evidence, probable that most conceptions of the good, and most ways of life, which are typical of commercial, liberal, industrialised societies will often seem altogether hateful to substantial minorities within these societies and even more hateful to most of the populations within traditional societies … As a liberal by philosophical conviction, I think I ought to expect to be hated, and to be found superficial and contemptible, by a large part of mankind.

Well, the New Atheists don’t want to face that. They don’t like the idea that their cherished liberal views (which, mind you, are not actually in any way logically linked to atheism) are not going to be universally accepted. And so they embrace a radical, doctrinaire form of atheism that involves an awful lot of pseudo-religious mechanisms: from evangelizing to witnessing to conversion narratives. In the end, Gray writes that “What today’s freethinkers want is freedom from doubt, and the prevailing version of atheism is well suited to give it to them.”

The final irony is that fear is driving the New Atheists to become in every way the mirror image of the doctrinaire, blind-faith religions they claim to despise.

God and the Tooth Fairy: Belief Without Evidence


One common atheist argument is that you should disbelieve in God because there is no evidence of God. The argument is commonly made by analogy to other mythical creatures like the tooth fairy or the flying spaghetti monster or a celestial teapot. There’s no evidence of the tooth fairy, but that doesn’t mean that we’re neutral about the existence of tooth fairies. We’re pretty sure, based on the lack of evidence, that they do not actually exist. Here’s Richard Dawkins making this case:

It is often said, mainly by the ‘no-contests’, that although there is no positive evidence for the existence of God, nor is there evidence against his existence. So it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic. At first sight that seems an unassailable position, at least in the weak sense of Pascal’s wager. But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out, because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies. There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can’t prove that there aren’t any, so shouldn’t we be agnostic with respect to fairies?

The problem with this argument is that it seems to contradict basic logic: lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. And yet the intuition seems solid. We don’t merely not believe in the tooth fairy, we actually disbelieve in its existence.

Most people either write off the “lack of evidence isn’t evidence of lack” line as a kind of irrelevant technicality or try to treat disbelief as something other than a form of belief. These approaches are sloppy and incorrect, and they create a warped skepticism in which negative beliefs are given an irrational and unearned privilege over positive beliefs. That’s not real skepticism, it’s just inverse credulity combined with dodgy semantics. It makes a mockery of the proud tradition of philosophical skepticism by creating a mirror image of blind faith. In the old days, the existence of God was accepted without proof. These days, a kind of hostile disbelief in God is accepted without proof instead. Meet the new orthodoxy, same in process and approach as the old orthodoxy.

Luckily, however, there actually is a way to reconcile our intuition that we should be skeptical of the tooth fairy (not merely neutral) with the rules of logic. The term that comes to the rescue is compossibility. This is a term I learned from reading an incredibly great sci-fi book, but the term originates with Leibniz. From Wikipedia:

According to Leibniz a complete individual thing (for example a person) is characterized by all its properties, and these determine its relations with other individuals. The existence of one individual may contradict the existence of another. A possible world is made up of individuals that are compossible — that is, individuals that can exist together.

Let’s take a look at how the concept of compossibility can be used to provide a solid rational backing for the intuition that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist without requiring us to contradict the principle that lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. Except, instead of a tooth fairy, I’m going to go with the proposition that there’s an invisible unicorn in your backyard. Now, should you have:

  1. Belief | You think that there is a unicorn.
  2. Non-Belief | You do not think that there is a unicorn.
  3. Disbelief | You do not think that there is a unicorn and you think that there is not a unicorn.
Note: This image was updated in response to Jeremy's comment. (Comment #5.)
Note: This image was updated in response to Jeremy’s comment. (Comment #5.)

Here’s how compossibility comes to the rescue. A unicorn is basically a horse with a horn on its head. Horses are large mammals. If you had a large mammal in your back yard then, even if we concede it’s invisible, it would still leave hoofprints and unicorn poo behind, and it would probably also be rather noisy. Do you see any hoofprints? Smell unicorn poo? Do you hear a large 4-legged beast walking around and breathing heavily? Nope? Then you don’t just have a lack of evidence. You really do in fact, based on compossibility, have evidence of a lack. These things should be there, and they are not. Therefore, the invisible unicorn is not compossible with the state of your backyard (e.g. free of unicorn poo).

Now, I might tell you that the reason there are no hoofprints and that there is no unicorn poo is that the unicorn is actually not just a horse with a horn on its head. It’s a magical creature that only looks like a horse. In fact, however, it is light as a feather (no hoofprints) and subsists on love (no material food, ergo no unicorn poo). This new definition of an invisible unicorn is more compossible with the state of your backyard (hoofprint and unicorn poo free!), but it’s actually not more believable because now it’s asking you to believe other things that are not compossible with your experience of the world. Where, if invisible unicorns are common, do the dead ones go? Why aren’t people stumbling and falling over invisible unicorn corpses? Or hitting them with their cars? And if they are rare, how do they keep up a viable breeding density? And if they don’t breed, where do they come from? Etc.

These questions are, of course, all a bit absurd. The point is that our human intuition is, generally speaking, pretty good at doing this kind of analysis unconsciously and quickly. You don’t really need to go through all the specific questions. You can just take the basic concept of a unicorn and see that such an animal remaining undetected is highly improbable. So you’ve got a good reason to suspect that if there’s no evidence then it actually is not present. The more the definition gets altered to make the lack of evidence seem credible, the more the definition itself becomes incredible. You start asking where the unicorn poo goes and you end up asking questions about the thermodynamics of a creature that converts love to kinetic energy to move its body.

So our disbelief in things like the tooth fairy doesn’t come from what we don’t know. It comes from what we do know. It comes from everyday knowledge about biology and human nature and physics. Skepticism of things like invisible unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters or celestial teapots is not properly rationalized by knee-jerk preference for disbelief, but by deliberation about compossibility.

So how does this apply to the real argument at hand: the existence of God? I’m not going to try to convince anyone that God is real using compossibility. I’m just going to differentiate between good arguments for the non-existence of God and bad arguments for the non-existence of God. Bad arguments might take the form of, “Well, there’s no evidence so we should disbelieve.” That’s not a logically sound position to take. It’s just prejudice wrapped up in rational terminology. The argument is bad both because it’s a poor argument but also because it just doesn’t lead to any productive thought or discussion. It’s a waste of everybody’s time.

But a very good argument for the non-existence of God is to rely on something like the Problem of Evil. This turns out to be a compossibility argument again: how are (1) an all-powerful God and (2) a benevolent God and (3) the crappy state of affairs here on Earth all compossible? Just like skepticism of the invisible unicorn in your backyard, skepticism of a benevolent and all-powerful God based on the injustice and miserable suffering on Earth is a skepticism with reason behind it. Such skepticism is good both because it’s logically stronger, and also because it can lead to useful discussion.

Pointless Existence

I’ll just start with my thesis: the only rational and consistent outlook of materialist atheism (hereafter referred to simply as atheism for brevity) is that life is pointless. Believing otherwise inevitably involves some degree of delusion or distraction.

I suppose them fightin’ words need support. First, I would point out the following. I will die. You will die. Everyone we know, helped, or hurt will die. Everything we ever accomplished will disappear. The earth will cease to support life. The sun will go supernova. And eventually the ultimate heat death of the universe will occur, beyond which nothing will ever occur again (at least in this universe, but let’s leave out multiverse theory). In that context, how can anything matter?

The most common response I hear is that you create your own purpose, sometimes followed by quotes from existentialist philosophers. Within an atheistic point of view, that sounds like the equivalent of saying ‘I will believe in stories that give my life purpose or distract me from my inevitable and permanent non-existence,’ which should appear disturbingly similar to the purpose of religion as understood by many atheists.

Furthermore, saying you create your own purpose seems like saying that Sisyphus would’ve had a purpose if the gods had attached a rolling-counter to his boulder to keep him occupied. SMBC wrote a comic to that effect.

meaning of life 2

Sisyphus could have attached any personal purpose imaginable to his existence, and we would still say his existence is pointless because it has no final point or purpose. The boulder goes up the hill, and then it goes down, leaving Sisyphus with a net nothing. We expect to meet the same fate under an atheistic point of view. We spend our existence pushing our boulder of accomplishments up the hill of life, and whether in a few decades, a century, or a millennium, that boulder will come right back to where it started. We will be forgotten, and everything and everyone we influenced will cease to exist. We ultimately did it all for no objective purpose.

The next response is usually that my opinion doesn’t really count since I’m not an atheist. I would bring up that I was an atheist, and this question mattered to me, but I think it’s more effective to point that this isn’t my opinion originally. It’s the opinion of many atheist and agnostic thinkers throughout history. For example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes about Albert Camus that:

Camus sees this question of suicide as a natural response to an underlying premise, namely that life is absurd in a variety of ways. As we have seen, both the presence and absence of life (i.e., death) give rise to the condition: it is absurd to continually seek meaning in life when there is none, and it is absurd to hope for some form of continued existence after death given that the latter results in our extinction.

Leo Tolstoy searched for meaning in life and ultimately found none within a material framework, bringing him to the edge of suicide before his conversion to Christianity. He wrote in his book Confessions:

I sought in all the sciences, but far from finding what I wanted, became convinced that all who like myself had sought in knowledge for the meaning of life had found nothing. And not only had they found nothing, but they had plainly acknowledged that the very thing which made me despair–namely the senselessness of life–is the one indubitable thing man can know.

My question–that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide–was the simplest of questions, lying in the soul of every man from the foolish child to the wisest elder: it was a question without an answer to which one cannot live, as I had found by experience. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or shall do tomorrow? What will come of my whole life?”

Differently expressed, the question is: “Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”

Somerset Maugham, a famous 20th century writer and agnostic, stated:

If one puts aside the existence of God and the survival after life as too doubtful . . . one has to make up one’s mind as to the use of life. If death ends it all, if I have neither to hope for good nor to fear evil, I must ask myself what I am here for, and how in these circumstances I must conduct myself. Now the answer is plain, but so unpalatable that most will not face it. There is no meaning for life, and life has no meaning.

Personally, my favorite answer comes from Hume. In the face of life’s inevitable end, Hume recommended the very modern solution of distraction:

Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? … I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since Reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, Nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends. And when, after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Which I would wager is the most common answer today. I suppose every person feels like they live in an age of unparalleled distraction, but I truly believe that the amount of distraction available to human beings today is greater than almost any period of history. In that context, nobody really needs to bother with whether life has meaning or not.

meaning of life

A brave new world indeed.

Mostly, I write this post as a call for consistency and rationality. I came of age in an atheism that espoused facing the truth, no matter how bleak. Here is the truth. Under an atheistic point of view, life has no objective meaning, so the the options are making up your own (unprovable) story, finding sufficient distraction until you die, or nihilism. Or as my friend Reece succinctly put it:

In my mind, there are really only two kinds of atheists.  There is make-believe pretend atheism, and then there is nihilism.

Ultimately, we won’t know until we’re dead who is right. However, we can know in this life who lives consistently with what they believe.

When Jihad Isn’t About Religion

2014-08-28 When Jihad Isn't About Religion

One of the rallying cries of the New Atheists was that–as 9/11 shows–religion isn’t just harmlessly irrational. It’s dangerous.

The logic seemed clear: the more devoutly you believe in God the more likely you are to go and do something violent, stupid, or both in the name of God’s will. The logic was wrong. As the New Statesman reports:

Can you guess which books the wannabe jihadists Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered online from Amazon before they set out from Birmingham to fight in Syria last May? … Sarwar and Ahmed, both of whom pleaded guilty to terrorism offences last month, purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement. The swivel-eyed young men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings may try to justify their violence with recourse to religious rhetoric – think the killers of Lee Rigby screaming “Allahu Akbar” at their trial; think of Islamic State beheading the photojournalist James Foley as part of its “holy war” – but religious fervour isn’t what motivates most of them.

This isn’t just speculation or–worse still–some kind of PC effort to protect the reputation of Islam from its own adherents. As it turns out, this conclusion is the same one that was reached by the behavior scientists at MI5:

In 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was leaked to the Guardian. It revealed that, “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.”

But that’s not even the most interesting finding. This is: The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

In other words: if young, budding terrorists were more religious, they’d be less likely to be terrorists. Terrorism is primarily a socio-political response to insecurity, insecurity that a deep and abiding faith would help to alleviate.

Theology: You’re Doing It Wrong

Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart
Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart

Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose. At least, that is its purest and most minimal essence. There are, of course, practitioners of the trade who possess talents of a higher order—the rare ability, say, to produce complex sentences and coherent paragraphs—and they tend to occupy the more elevated caste of “intellectual journalists.” These, however, are rather like “whores with hearts of gold”: more misty figments of tender fantasy than concrete objects of empirical experience. Most journalism of ideas is little more than a form of empty garrulousness, incessant gossip about half-heard rumors and half-formed opinions, an intense specialization in diffuse generalizations. It is something we all do at social gatherings—creating ephemeral connections with strangers by chattering vacuously about things of which we know nothing—miraculously transformed into a vocation.

So begins philosopher David Bentley Hart’s ripping of journalist Adam Gopnik’s musings on theism. He makes it clear that his comments are “no particular reflection on Gopnik’s intelligence—he is bright enough, surely—but only on that atmosphere of complacent ignorance that seems to be the native element of so many of today’s cultured unbelievers…Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do…[T]here is now—where questions of the divine, the supernatural, or the religious are concerned—only a kind of habitual intellectual listlessness. ” Because to this, critics like Gopnik never grasp the metaphysics of “pure “classical theism,” as found in the Cappadocians, Augustine, Denys, Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra, Ibn Arabi, Shankara, Ramanuja, Philo, Moses Maimonides . . . well, basically, just about every significant theistic philosopher in human history. (Not to get too recherché here, but one can find most of it in the Roman Catholic catechism.)” Instead, they claim a certain kind of materialism as having “exclusive ownership of scientific knowledge” and “assert rights here denied to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton[.] Or to Arthur Eddington, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Dirac, Anthony Zee, John Barrow, Freeman Dyson, Owen Gingerich, John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies, Stephen Barr, Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and (yes) Albert Einstein[.]”

Hart’s concluding words have much to teach not only unbelievers, but believers as well:

The current vogue in atheism is probably reducible to three rather sordidly ordinary realities: the mechanistic metaphysics inherited from the seventeenth century, the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism, and the quiet fascism of Western cultural supremacism (that is, the assumption that all cultures that do not consent to the late modern Western vision of reality are merely retrograde, unenlightened, and in need of intellectual correction and many more Blu-ray players)…Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice. Perhaps this really is the way the argument ends—not with a bang but a whimper.

Unfortunately, I think this captures the culture of believers and non-believers alike. This is why Terryl and Fiona Givens find that “militant atheism” and “fervent theism” are “both just as likely to serve as a dogmatic point of departure, as they are to be a thoughtful and considered end point in one’s journey toward understanding…[N]either the new believer nor the new doubter has necessarily progressed or reached enlightenment.” Both theists and atheists should reengage in this “philosophical passion and moral adventure” for the bettering of each other.

Higgs Calls Dawkins “A Fundamentalist”

2013-10-11 Higgs Dawkins

This is an older article (Dec 2012) and at the time people figured Higgs was a contender for the Nobel. Now we know he got it. In any case, one of the greatest minds in theoretical physics points out what I’ve been saying for years: that the New Atheists (or at least Dawkins, one of their examplars) are the mirror image of the fundamentalists that they choose to focus their criticisms on. This remark came not long after Dawkins dropped another gem, saying that “Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”

I imagine his fans will continue to post his quotes and parrot his arguments for quite some time, but I think his credibility with most fair-minded people is pretty well shot at this point. It should be, at any rate.

Edit: In the first version of this post, I mistakenly attributed a summary of Dawkins comment to Dawkins. The summary read: “Raising a child in the Catholic church was worse than sex abuse dished out to youngsters by priests.” The actual quote is now included in the body above. HIggs’ statement is also more qualified than the headline suggest. He actually said “Dawkins in a way is almost a kind of fundamen- talist himself.”