Category Archives: Atheism


2017-04-24

If there is no God, is murder wrong?

by Neil Godfrey

Michael Shermer (head of The Skeptics Society and whose book Why People Believe Weird Things I liked; some of its arguments actually apply to many Christian believers, academics included) has posted a video challenging the fundamentalist/conservative Christian claim that without God there is no secure basis for morality.

Dennis Prager, someone better known to US readers, posted the usual dogmatic nonsense @ ‘If There Is No God, Then Murder Isn’t Wrong’.  (See below for the video)

Now Shermer has responded with – ‘If There Is No God, Is Murder Wrong? He pretty much knocks out the argument with his first question or point one of four. Happily both videos are short.


2016-09-23

New Atheists Who Want to be Nicer (and Smarter) with Religion, esp Islam!

by Neil Godfrey
New Atheism . . . must recognize the humanity in religion while maintaining a candid dialogue about deep-rooted conflicts between reason and faith. A matured New Atheism is needed more today than ever before . . .

Those words are from New Atheist writers, Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay & Phil Torres, published in Time: How to Fight Extremism with Atheism.

It sounds like they are saying New Atheists need to show a little more tolerance and understanding in the way they approach the religious, in particular the Muslims:

New Atheism may have inched into the Islamic world, but it has not found deep roots. And its current approach isn’t well-suited to further penetrate Muslim societies. The condescending speech of New Atheists—calling religious people delusional, for example—is not an effective cross-cultural strategy for generating change.

Jerry Coyne and other NA enthusiasts still speak of “the nature of Islam” as if Islam is a palpable force with an animate nature; and to support what is effectively a demonization process they generally take as representative of all Muslims polls in developing countries, especially the “Dark Orient” and the “Dark Continent” where the native populations skin colour happens to be as “dark” as their Islamic beliefs.

No kidding! Of course other New Atheists obsessed with sputtering bile about Islam, speaking of it as some ectoplasmic monster that demoniacally possesses its mostly dark-skinned acolytes, are not impressed by these three maverick NAs. Jerry Coyne, for example, protested that New Atheists don’t go around calling religious people delusional.

Seriously, how many New Atheists call the faithful “delusional”? I don’t often hear that. Boo!

(The childish “boo!” is part of the JC trademark that emerged most noticeably with I’m a philosopher! I haz a paper with Maarten Boudry on religious belief.)

goddelusion

Your God belief is a delusion but I am too sensitive to call you delusional.

How deluded can a New Atheist be? Immediately preceding that shockingly renegade suggestion that insulting people is not good for serious dialogue was a paragraph about the impact of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. The response of Jerry Coyne’s followers was to play the cute self-justifying word-game that insists a belief can be delusional without implying the believers themselves are delusional. So Coyne’s followers echoed his sentiments, disapproving of the Time article where it criticized NA approaches and magnifying beyond recognition of the original article where it made positive comments.

C
Posted September 16, 2016 at 3:02 pm

Of course it is rather weird of the authors to write that bit (“calling religious people delusional … is not an effective cross-cultural strategy for generating change”) directly after saying this:

“The Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, for example, has been downloaded ten million times, and pictures of people holding it while overlooking Mecca are remarkably commonplace given the draconian penalties for doing so—ranging from ten years imprisonment to death.”

and

HH
Posted September 16, 2016 at 3:30 pm

I feel like that part of the article should have been left out completely as it makes the whole thing pointless. If NAs are the only ones who have made genuine in-roads because they’ve pointed out the falsity of religious beliefs, who exactly is going to take up the baton if they can’t take it any further?

It seems to be a bit of an apology to the religious for criticizing their (delusional) beliefs after they’ve just acknowledged that N. atheists are the only ones who’ve really got anywhere.

Is it really credible that NAs have had such “genuine in-roads” into the Arab Muslim world or that they have been “the only ones who’ve really got anywhere”? The Time article itself is more modest in its claims:

New Atheism may have inched into the Islamic world, but it has not found deep roots. . . .

The fact is that several publications have appeared since 9/11 about atheism and apostasy in the Islamic world that demonstrate how long-standing such conflicts have existed there, long before September 2001. That Richard Dawkins’ book was downloaded so often in those quarters testifies to the ready-demand existing there prior to its publication. Recall the Arab Spring when Muslims took to the streets often at risk to their lives to call for secular democratic governance. NAs surely evince a little hubris if they believe they are the ones who, as the “best (most rational) of their breed” have taken up Kipling’s “white man’s burden” and been responsible for exposing supposedly Islam-benighted souls to the pure light of reason.

Did you know that the world is round?

The Time article calls for more moderate and understanding strategies to open “candid dialogue about deep-rooted conflicts between reason and faith.” I can’t complain about new strategies but I do question the emphasis on demonstrating religion’s incompatibility with science.

Today I learned through a new Jerry Coyne post that The Baffler has posted a beautifully written article by Sam Kriss, Village Atheists, Village Idiots, making the same point in a much more interesting way. He compares the distinguishing NA strategy with the decision of a lunatic to repeat over and over “The world is round” to prove his sanity. No-one can disagree with that statement, he reasons, but of course he only manages to demonstrate that he fails to appreciate the contexts in which he is attempting to make his point, gets into bigger trouble, then protests that he is being persecuted for proclaiming nothing but the obvious truth!

Jerry Coyne, unfortunately, cannot grasp the point (to do so would require some uncharacteristic self-reflection) and in his typically open-minded style chooses to cut out the entire journal from his life for this one article: Idiot compares atheists to village idiots.

Everyone knows that religion and science embody irreconcilable understandings of the world. We don’t say insects are wrong because they are not plants. Or rabbit is stupid because it’s not a tree. Probably every child being reared by a family who believes God created everything (whether thousands of years ago or billions of years ago, whether by suddenly making fully formed species appear or by guiding evolution) and that science is either not the whole story or is the completely wrong story. No one needs to tell Religion that it does not agree with Science.

When anti-theists complain about the unscientific nature of religion they are really advertising their ignorance of what religion is, why it is, how it seems to have come about. New Atheists need to do their homework instead of merely shooting fish in a barrel for fun.

So when Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Phil Torres call on NAs to recognize the humanity in religion it sounds to me as though they are on the right track that leads eventually to a genuine understanding of what they are dealing with.

Understanding reality and how humanity works

Stubbornly oblivious to their dishonest claims about their past lives our three authors appeal to NA favourites Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz as guides to follow. Their flaws might be many, but NAs can nonetheless cherry-pick their writings to compile several worthy principles to follow. One of these:

Atheism, Ali points out, is a logical step that comes after Enlightenment values like rationalism and tolerance, and the liberties of a free, open and secular society are in place.

But to act on this most logical of precepts would mean actively protesting against our own Western governments who are propping up the regimes that violently crushed the Arab uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East not very long ago. Or in Syria it would mean calling on our leaders to withdraw all support for the Islamist thugs trying to replace the Assad regime and then throwing every effort into supporting the original Arab Spring leadership. Somehow I cannot see such genuine support for the building of “free, open and secular societies” coming from people like Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne. That’s a narrative that does not sit well with their view of Islam itself is the unregenerate evil to be confronted. Real people who actually make their religion (insofar as each of them has a religion) what it is are reduced to a mere shadow of the Beast of Islam itself.

I suspect the influence of “ex-Muslims” or “atheist-Muslims” of questionable character and tactics is at best limited in the Muslim world more generally. Changes are most likely to come from within the Muslim communities themselves. Muslims in countries like the US and Australia have in the main adapted to Western ways. Problems that persist are generally among the new generations, the “in-betweens” of the second generation feeling neither part of their traditional heritage nor at one with their parents’ new home. But that’s how it has always been with migrant families including the Greeks, the Italians, and then more recently the Vietnamese. We know that such conflicted worlds do eventually pass.

In an interview as well as in a book co-authored with Sam Harris Maajid Nawaz said something about Islam that I have seen few NAs notice: Islam is neither a religion of war nor a religion of peace. It is whatever people make it. That statement demolishes Islamophobic claims by many NA supporters that Islam is a force or power that is “by nature” evil. Naturally we all want to see the day when there will be no more human rights violations in the name of religion, but at the same time we need to understand what we are engaging with. Religious practices, however much they stand in opposition to human rights (and Christianity is still trying to move beyond its primitive days, too, let’s not forget) are not the same as terrorist ideologies. It is a mistake — and contrary to all serious research into the nature of radicalization and violent Islamists — to treat the two as if they are all part of the one package that contains a monolithic force for evil. As classic cultural imperialists NAs decide for themselves how to interpret the Qur’an and accordingly believe in the reality of their imaginary dragon spitting out terrorist flames at random. A more productive approach is to “recognize the humanity in religion” and listen to what all those living in the Muslim world (everyone from sceptics and rationalists to conservative, Western, Eastern and reformist imams) and those ideologically committed to the Islamist world are themselves saying.

 

 

 


2016-03-16

Atheism, Fundamentalism and the Liberal Christian (conclusion)

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from the previous post. A dialogue with Samantha Field’s post.

It’s perpetually frustrating to me, though, that there’s a certain movement of atheists that brand me as an idiot because I’m religious, or that I’m incapable of being reasonable or logical because I have faith. To this type of atheist, if I don’t accept fundamentalist Christianity as the Only True Way of being a Christian, I’m being inconsistent. Over the course of many conversations, I’ve usually found out that they were at one point Christian fundamentalists.

Religious people are not being idiotic, unreasonable or illogical. Their belief systems are very logical given their …. beliefs. We have fairly good understandings now why people are prone to believe in supernatural beings or dimensions. I’d like to see atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris educate themselves about our progress in this area. They need not fear that making an effort to learn more about the nature of religious practices and beliefs from anthropological and psychological perspectives will somehow “make excuses” for the harm done in the name of religion. Would criminologists be making excuses for crime by understanding the range of sociological, psychological and genetic factors that contribute towards criminal behaviour? Of course not, but the more we understand the more tools we have to minimize criminality. Ill-informed and emotive responses towards criminals may make us feel good but at the same time only increase the problem.

. . .  To many, Modernism is the only “correct” way to reason, and Truth and demonstrable, provable, physical fact are inseparable.

I was fortunate in the way my faith evolved. . . . All of that prompted me to do the same, and the end result is that I didn’t use the same framework I’d always used to evaluate evidence and questions. I didn’t rely purely on Modernist reasoning in order to deconstruct my faith system and start building it back up.

I’m drawn to dichotomies, to absolutes, to if then statements, and either or views of reality. . . . I have to force myself to live in the tension, to think of arguments as a matter of degree and nuance rather than totally right or totally wrong.

These are the words of someone who is drawn to belief even if belief is in a mystery, in irreconcilable oppositions. As an atheist (I’m sure I’m not alone) I feel no need to “believe” in anything. I don’t “believe” in the scientific [Samantha’s “Modernist”?] explanation for life, the universe and everything. I simply accept it knowing that it is always subject to change or even revision. Believers generally seem to have a hard time “believing” that anyone else is not also a “believer”. Atheism is not a faith. It is not a belief system. Even the word “atheist” scarcely has any truly coherent meaning.

On the other hand, it’s almost as equally frustrating when people don’t understand fundamentalism, and what it does to people. They don’t know that fundamentalists are ruled by logical consistency before any other consideration. What may seem like utter nonsense to you or me makes perfect sense if you understand the premise they’re working with and follow it to its conclusion.

This is too simplistic. Whatever we believe we are all in our own lights “ruled by logical consistency”. Even Samantha’s own decision to believe in “nuance” and contradictions in tension is a logically consistent conclusion when you understand her premise. It’s a paradox but not logically inconsistent. Fundamentalism is far more than being logically consistent. See 10 Characteristics of Fundamentalism. Logical consistency does not mean valid arguments as we know from games with various syllogisms. What counts is the premise. Religious fundamentalists are trapped in circular arguments and that’s why their logic is fallacious.

Take the fact that fundamentalists can be gigantic assholes to their friends and family. To an outsider, it may seem like we did nothing but endlessly bully and criticize each other– how in the world could we possibly be friends, let alone like each other? If they were to ask me when I was a fundamentalist why I behaved like this, I would’ve said “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” along with a quip about how being harsh and exacting is the only way to be loving. That sounds absurd to the rest of us — being an asshole is not loving– but to them, it’s the only possible outcome. You must “edify” your friends toward righteousness. Anything less is the opposite of loving.

The situation described here demonstrates the way fundamentalists are trapped in double binds and contradictions they cannot escape. They need to redefine words like love and adopt a new persona. Yes there is logical consistency at work there is far more at work that underlies that mental rationalisation. Generally everyone justifies their behaviour by logical reasoning. As Ben Franklin said,

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do”

Moreover, Samantha’s example is not a question of logic so much as firm conviction in some anti-social precepts.

Sciences have publicists promoting their research. I’d love to see more publicists promoting the research into human behaviour, including religious behaviours. Both believers and atheists are being shortchanged.

To fight a thing, you have to know a thing.

Amen.

 

 


Atheism and Fundamentalism: Why atheists don’t understand religion and why believers don’t like atheist criticisms

by Neil Godfrey

I recently lamented in a comment that some atheists appear incapable of understanding any argument about religion that is neither attacking nor defending it. Atheism, fundamentalism, liberal Christianity, religion generally — they do not all seem to be equally well understood as many heated arguments testify. Are ex-fundamentalist atheists still very often fundamentalists at heart as some believers claim? Are liberal Christians (and by extension many Muslims) hypocrites or at least just kidding themselves for not following the harshest precepts of their Scriptures as some atheists declare? Is the only good atheist necessarily a militant anti-theist?

fieldIn the context of the above questions I was alerted to a post by Samantha Field, THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON FUNDAMENTALISM, and because I felt it was being misinterpreted by one liberal Christian who sometimes comes across as a little frightened of certain atheists, and partly because I agreed with much of what Samantha wrote but had a different perspective on other aspects, I began to write up my own response. It turned into something of a dialogue and I had to cut it short for sanity’s sake.

I’ve written many other posts on fundamentalism going back to 2007 — they (and some of Tim’s) are all archived here — so this one will be added to that pile. I’ve learned much more about religion and cults since 2007 but my basic position may not have changed all that much.

Samantha is protesting against those atheists who appear to be recycling what in her view are fundamentalist approaches to religion. Her post begins:

I grew up in Christian fundamentalism, and now I’m a progressive Christian. Surprisingly, at least to me, that particular path is an unusual one, although probably not rare. Speaking from personal observation, it seems like the more usual route out of Christian fundamentalism isn’t liberal Christianity, but atheism.

I grew up in a liberal Christian household (that branch of Methodists that allowed card-playing and dancing and belief in evolution). After a period of teen turmoil I ended up in the Worldwide Church of God (that outfit that was led by Herbert Armstrong and published The Plain Truth magazine). My exit from that cult was gradual. I continued to attend as a regular member for quite some time before I took actions that led to my departure, as I have explained elsewhere. At first I sought for replacements in some of the denominations that were relatively close to my previous beliefs such as seventh day observance (but not the SDAs) and adult baptism. Ongoing questioning of my own beliefs opened my mind to wider horizons and I eventually found myself quite comfortable regularly attending a liberal Baptist (and later for a short spell a Roman Catholic) church. I was exploring. And questioning. Anything that smacked of the old cult-like approach to faith and practice I shunned. Then I heard a radio interview with a psychologist who herself had been a devout fundamentalist (Marlene Winell) discussing not only the fundamentalist experience but even why people believe in God. That startled and worried me. I had never stopped before to think there might be any other reason why I believed in God apart from the “irrefutable proofs of creation” with all the “wonder and awe” of the universe, “fulfilled prophecy”, “answered prayer” and “spiritual conversion” that all supposedly testified to his existence.

Why had I never questioned God before? Up until that time whenever I explored a question I found myself arriving at a new wall that I felt would never be breached. Though I had questioned the teachings and ways of my church I never thought I would question the Bible. That was bedrock. I “knew” that was the sure word of God. When I first came across critical studies of the Bible I had a very hard time accepting their perspective. That was another gradual process. But I still had God and Jesus firmly entrenched in my belief systems and would never lose them . . . . until, again, a catalyst from somewhere would daringly suggest it really was possible to question if anything lay behind that new wall. Questioning the very existence of God was the final barrier between my old life and the unknown (even frightening) world of atheism. The experience was traumatic as I have discussed elsewhere.

So my path out of fundamentalism was via progressive Christianity and only gradually on into atheism. Back to Samantha:

Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a lot of atheists out there who gave up on their religion, but didn’t give up fundamentalism. A little while ago I remarked on Twitter that it seems like atheists have more in common with Christian fundamentalists in their views on the Bible than they do with me. A few people were surprised by this. In short, it can be summed up by a saying in survivor communities: you can take the person out of a fundamentalism, but you can’t always take fundamentalism out of the person.

What I’m not saying is that this is inevitable– many of my close friends are atheists/agnostics who went through a time of being progressive Christians first. Their ultimate problem wasn’t fundamentalism, really, it was lack of belief. I think that’s true of most (if not all) atheists, even the ones who haven’t let go of a fundamentalist understanding of religion; they may not like their understanding of Christianity, but that’s not why they’re atheists.

Here’s where things get a bit messy. Some atheists are at some fault here, but so are some of the religious believers, I think. I’ll pick on the liberal Christian first. read more »


2016-01-11

THE SECOND WAVE OF THE NEW ATHEISM: A Manifesto for Secular Scriptural Scholarship ​and Religious Studies

by Neil Godfrey

The following is copied with permission from THE SECOND WAVE OF THE NEW ATHEISM

This Manifesto was initiated in the summer of 2015 by Hector Avalos and André Gagné.

Please contact the authors if you wish to add your signature.

Hector Avalos
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa
HectorAvalos@aol.com

André Gagné
Concordia University
Montreal, Canada
Gagne.Andre@hotmail.com

BACKGROUND

The New Atheism is a name given to a movement represented by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, all of whom wrote best-selling books that were highly critical of religion.[1]

Although the New Atheism does not eschew the classical arguments against the existence of God, its focus is primarily on the immorality and harmful consequences of religious thinking itself. For some, the New Atheism is not merely atheistic, but also anti-theistic.[2]

Another main feature of the New Atheism is a secular apocalyptic outlook born out of the events of September 11, 2001. A secular apocalyptic outlook refers to the view that religion has the potential to destroy humanity and our entire biosphere.

However, many secular and religious critics of the New Atheism have charged the New Atheism with a number of flaws. One is a lack of expertise in scriptural and religious studies that has led Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens to make pronouncements that are rightly viewed as simplistic or inaccurate in some cases.

This situation has led to the perception that the New Atheism has no experts in scriptural and religious studies that could challenge religious counterparts with as much or more expertise. Others have conflated all New Atheists as followers of a neoliberal or capitalist ideology. Still others note that all the representatives of the New Atheism are white males.

Accordingly, there is a need to identify a Second Wave of the New Atheism. Such a need was discussed briefly in Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2015), but it received no elaboration.[3]

The First Wave focused on the problems that religious thinking can cause. Since religion was the focus of the First Wave, then a Second Wave seeks to rethink how self-identified atheist scholars of religion and scripture approach the issues that the First Wave raised.

The recent uprising of terror attacks across the globe from groups like ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, and others, is also one of the reasons why scholars of religion and scriptural studies who identify with a Second Wave of New Atheists should speak out against the catastrophic effects of religious violence and ideology.

The authors of this statement, Hector Avalos and André Gagné, thought it useful to identify the main characteristics of what can be called a Second Wave of the New Atheism. Our hope is that other secular scholars who have similar ideas might join us or help us to clarify the nature and purpose of scriptural scholarship and the study of religion as it relates to current global events in the coming decades.

A MANIFESTO FOR SECULAR SCRIPTURAL SCHOLARSHIP AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES

Insofar as we believe that religious belief has the potential to incite actions that could ultimately lead to the destruction of our planet, we identify ourselves with what is called “the New Atheism.” We affirm that a Second Wave of the New Atheism exists insofar as that descriptor encompasses self-identified atheist scriptural scholars or scholars of religion who:

  • Are academically trained experts in the study of religion and sacred scriptures (e.g., the Bible, Quran, and any other text deemed sacred on religious grounds);
  • Regard activism as a fundamental orientation of all scholarship insofar they agree with Noam Chomsky’s view that “[i]t is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies”;[4]
  • Uphold and defend freedom of expression;
  • Question the notion that religious thinking is itself good or ethical;
  • Acknowledge that human ethics need not depend on religion;
  • Welcome as wide a diversity of scholars as possible in terms of ethnic self- identification, gender, or sexual orientation;
  • Recognize that most of biblical scholarship is still largely part of an ecclesial-academic complex that renders it very distinct from other areas of the humanities and social sciences, especially insofar as it seeks to protect and preserve religion as a valuable feature of human existence;
  • Aim to expose the bibliolatry that still lies at the core of biblical studies insofar as most biblical scholars believe the Bible should be a vital part of modern cultures or bears superior ethical values;
  • Advocate the discontinuation of the use of any sacred scripture as a moral authority in the modern world;
  • Acknowledge that the traditional scriptural canons are an artificial theological construct, and encourages scriptural scholarship to study all texts considered authoritative or sacred by ancient religions;
  • Call attention to the ethical advances or positive features of texts in the ancient Near East that have not received due attention;
  • Seek to make scriptural and religious studies relevant by encouraging scholars of sacred scriptures and religions to engage in public discussions and/or use cyber-media to educate the public about issues such as the role of religion in violence and the use of sacred scriptures to oppose gay rights, contraception, gender equality, and other social and human rights issues that should be adjudicated on non-religious grounds;
  • Encourage secular scholars of religion and sacred scriptures to help establish policies that are based on reason and democratic values instead of religion; they should be the guardians of a strict separation between religion and state;
  • View cooperation with scientists as a necessary strategy to challenge those who use sacred scriptures to deny the existence of evolution or anthropogenic climate change, among other general scientific conclusions;
  • Work to ensure that professional organizations of scriptural and religious studies, such as the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, insist on methodological naturalism, and not theological methodologies, in their basic approach to all research presented at its meetings, as is the case with all other areas of the humanities and social sciences;
  • Affirm that religious obscurantism can only be countered through education;
  • Insist on critical education that focuses on a historical and social understanding and development of religion; that is, teaching and education that is fact-based instead of faith-based; people should know ABOUT religions and religious texts, not in the sense of maintaining the value of any religious tradition, but to develop critical thinking about religions;
  • Regard the study of the Bible, the Quran, and other sacred scriptures as important in understanding western history and       modern culture, but without seeking to retain their moral authority.

Scholars who share these views may not identify themselves as any sort of New Atheists or as part of any Second Wave of the New Atheism. Indeed, some of the following signatories do not necessarily apply those labels to themselves. When the co-authors say that “a Second Wave of the New Atheism exists…” they are affirming the existence of people who already think this way, but may not have identified as such explicitly up to now.

However, we invite all scholars who share these views to join us in expressing, or putting into practice, any or all of the ideas and goals that we have outlined here.

SIGNATORIES:

Marc-André Argentino, PhD student, Department of Religion, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Kenneth Atkinson, Professor of History. University of Northern Iowa Department of History, University of Northern, Iowa, (Cedar Falls, Iowa, USA)

Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies, Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa, USA)

Carol Delaney, Associate Professor, Emerita, Cultural and Social Anthropology, Stanford University (Stanford, California, USA)

Matthew Ferguson, PhD student, Department of Classics, University of California at Irvine (USA)

André Gagné, Associate Professor, Departments of Religion and Theological Studies, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Karen Garst, PhD, University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin (USA)

Daniel Gullotta, Graduate student, Yale Divinity School (New Haven, CT, USA)

Jaco Gericke, Associate research professor in the subject group Theology and Philosophy, School of Basic Sciences, Faculty of Humanities, North-West University (Vaal Campus, South Africa)

James Linville, Faculty, Department of Religious Studies, University of Lethbridge (Lethbridge, Canada).

David Madison, PhD in Biblical Studies, Boston University (USA)

Ivan Miroshnikov, Graduate student, Department of Biblical Studies, University of Helsinki (Helsinki, Finland)

Emmanuel Pradeilhes, MA in Biblical Studies, Faculté de théologie et de sciences des religions, Université de Montréal (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

Jennifer Tacci, Graduate student, Department of Theological Studies, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

_______________________________
Notes

* This Manifesto was first published on The Bible and Interpretation website on January 7, 2016

[1] According to Victor Stenger (The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason [Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2009], p. ii), who describes himself as a New Atheist, the New Atheism was motivated primarily by 9/11 and began with “a series of six best-selling books that took a harder line against religion than had been the custom among secularists.” Harris (The End of Faith, p. 323) states that he “began writing this book on September 12, 2001,” which clearly shows the link between 9/11 and the rise of the New Atheism. On the New Atheism among ethnic minorities, see Hector Avalos, ‘The Hidden Enlightenment: Humanism among US Latinos’, Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism 20 (2012), pp. 3-14.

[2] When speaking of the atrocities in the Bible, Christopher Hitchens stated “…it helps make the case for ‘anti-theism.’ By this I mean the view that we ought to be glad that none of the religious myths has any truth to it, or in it” (god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything [New York: Hachette, 2007], p. 102).

[3] Jaco Gericke (“A Fourth Paradigm?: Some Thoughts on Atheism in Old Testament Scholarship,” Old Testament Essays 25/3 [2012]: 518-533) speaks of the emergence of a Fourth Paradigm in Old Testament scholarship that is essentially atheistic. This Manifesto extends to all scriptural and religious studies, not just the Old Testament.

[4] Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” in The Chomsky Reader, edited by James Peck (New York: Pantheon Books, 1987), p. 60.

 

 


2015-11-16

“New Atheists Are Bad Historians”

by Neil Godfrey

Did you know that the “New Atheists and their online acolytes” have “a long list” of historical ideas that are “wildly wrong”? If this situation has been causing you sleepless nights then you will be relieved to learn that Tim O’Neill has started a new blog to bring these dimwits to their senses. It’s called . . . .

HfH

For those of us who had not realized the full extent of this problem, Tim explains that these New Atheists — and he names them: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens (and also P.Z. Myers, Jerry Coyne and Richard Carrier) — happen to get wrong just about any and everything they ever say about history whenever they try to declare how bad religion has been for humanity.

Given that they are such historical ignoramuses it is not surprising that the one “cluster of fervid and contrived pseudo history” that comes in for special attention is the “elaborate fringe theory . . .  that is the Jesus Myth hypothesis”.

Tim proudly promises his readers plenty of sarcasm and scorn [meaning, if he continues with his past form, personal insults and abuse along with plenty of factual and logical fallacies], but his opening post, Why History for Atheists? An apologia for (yet) another blog, also promises some confusion of argument besides.

Before we address the promised confusion let’s understand more of Tim’s view of his new blog. Tim is pretty pleased the number of online hits to his earlier articles, laced as they are with “occasionally Irish-Australian atheist bastardry”, and has interpreted these clicks as “an appetite and a clear need for some level­ headed, carefully researched and objective fact checking and debunking of New Atheist Bad History”. Of course Tim is the one equipped and willing enough to meet that appetite and need.

He sincerely assures his readers that though his motives are dual they are not duplicitous. His two motives are

  • Firstly, I love history, including the history of religions, especially Christianity. . . .
  • Secondly, as a rationalist, I like to take rationalism seriously. So I go where the evidence takes me on history as with everything else. However much an idea may appeal to me emotionally, if the historical evidence doesn’t support it, I can’t accept it. Many New Atheists don’t seem capable of putting their emotions aside and looking at the evidence.

Little sign of the self-awareness and humility of a Daniel Boyarin here.

Thank God and Rationalism for Tim.

So what is all of this history that the New Atheists get wrong? Tim set it all out in “the long list”:

  1. Christians burned down the Great Library of Alexandria and Hypatia of Alexandria was murdered because of a Christian hatred of science
  2. Constantine was a crypto­pagan who adopted Christianity as a cynical political ploy (and personally created the Bible)
  3. Scientists were oppressed during the Middle Ages and science stagnated completely until “the Renaissance”
  4. “The Inquisition” was a kind of Europe­ wide medieval Gestapo and the medieval Church was an all­ powerful totalitarian theocracy
  5. Giordano Bruno was a wise and brave astronomer and cosmologist who was burned at the stake because the Church hated science
  6. The Galileo Affair was a straightforward case of religion ignoring evidence and trying to suppress scientific advancement
  7. Pope Pius XII was a friend and ally of the Nazis who turned a blind eye to the Holocaust and helped Nazis escape justice

I hadn’t realized Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens, have been filling our sponge-brains with such dated prejudices. read more »


2015-10-10

Glenn Greenwald Responds to Call for Ceasefire with New Atheists

by Neil Godfrey

Following completes my notes on the Glenn Greenwald-Kyle Kulinski discussion that was a response to the above points raised by Kyle. Indented paragraphs are direct transcripts; the remainder is generally paraphrase.

I’ve copied the video link again at the end of this post.

The minutes/seconds markers are approximate.

6:00 —

Glenn G refers to the New Atheist’s toxic way of talking about the world. Harris is not just saying Islam is bad but that it is “the worst of all”.

No such thing as an “atheist agenda”?

7:00 —

GG: New Atheists may say that as atheists they have “no beliefs” as such and therefore plead that they have no “atheist agenda” but someone like Sam Harris clearly does have an identifiable and well-thought out agenda on a whole range of topics, including political ones. 

Very serious radical fundamental differences in world views

8:30 —

GG:

There is this quote from Sam Harris that to me illustrates the crux of the disagreement. He said, Look, liberals think Dick Cheney is a really bad person who did a lot of really bad things, and that’s fine, you can think that. But what liberals need to understand in order for them to be rational is that there are tens of millions of Muslims in the world who are “far scarier than Dick Cheney”. — That world view is very familiar and very common. It is essentially saying, Yes, the United States maybe does some bad things in the world, but they don’t really rise to the level of evil; if you want to know true evil look to the adversaries of the United States — which is not just al Qaeda, which is not just ISIS, but “tens of millions” of human beings who identify as Muslims.  

Credit: Reuters/Majed Jaber/Simon & Schuster/Ray Garcia

Credit: Reuters/Majed Jaber/Simon & Schuster/Ray Garcia

And in the recent exchange Sam Harris had with Noam Chomsky he identified the United States as what he called a “well-intentioned giant” [9:30]. And he said very much the same thing about Israel before. — (saying in effect:) Yes the United States and Israel might do some bad things but we’re morally superior to the adversaries of the United States and Israel. 

So when I look at Sam Harris what I see is a person who is an American, who is a Westerner, who is a self-identified Jew, who runs around making the argument that the United States and Israel are morally superior to its adversaries. And to me this is kind of pure primitive tribalism. It’s the nub of what has driven the “war on terror” the last fifteen years. — the idea that sure, we do some bad acts but we do it by accident, we do it because we’re really well intentioned, but the true evil “is them”.

I think the reason it’s gotten so much negative attention is because unlike, say, Bill Crystal or Dick Cheney or actual hardcore neocons who you can look at and know exactly what they are and what they think — The way that this particular set of beliefs is lending support to this agenda is much more subtle and insidious and kind of disguised. — And I think therefore it is more pernicious, it is more deserving of attention.

Whatever else is true I think there are very serious radical fundamental differences in world views that this debate has largely been about.

read more »


2015-10-04

You Can Count Me out of Atheist Tribalism

by Neil Godfrey

Libby Anne had a somewhat similar religious background to mine and has consequently acquired, like me, an enhanced ability to notice wherever cultish or tribal or fundamentalist types of behaviours and attitudes surface in other (supposedly religion-free) areas of society. Back in March this year and in the wake of the Craig Hicks’ murders of three Muslims she wrote You Can Count Me out of Atheist Tribalism. She writes:

There are a lot of differences between the Chapel Hill killings and the Charlie Hebdo killings, but both demonstrate what hatred and demonization of “the other” can lead to. I would think we should all be able to admit this and condemn it—right? Wrong. I’m absolutely flummoxed by Sam Harris’s insistence that crimes committed by atheists by definition have nothing to do with their beliefs.

I have bolded a section below because it so perfectly mirrors my own experience:

To put it simply, atheists who are quick to blame terrorism committed by Muslim individuals on Islam and just as quick to excuse atheism from any role in atrocities committed by atheists are using a glaring double standard.

Unfortunately, I have a lot of personal experience with these sorts of double standards. I grew up in an atmosphere where Christian atrocities were dismissed through ample use of the No True Scotsman fallacy. In fact, I believed that by definition, a Christian would not commit atrocities, and that if someone claiming to be Christian did so, they must not be truly Christian. It was a very handy way to excerpt my in-group from criticism while eagerly lobbing criticism at everyone outside of it.

I, for one, am not eager to repeat that. 

And she concludes — with the same reason I have come to distance myself in recent years from some sort of fan-following of any New Atheist popularizer:

I didn’t leave one tribe, with its demonization of other groups and tribes, ample use of the No True Scotsman fallacy, and insistence on valuing in-group loyalty above all else, to join another tribe doing the exact same thing.

Ashley Miller’s turn

Yesterday, in the wake of Christopher Harper-Mercer’s killing spree, it was Ashley Miller‘s turn. Taking her cue from Chris Hitchins’ book title God Is Not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything Ashley has written Atheist Tribalism Poisons Everythingread more »


2015-09-14

Atheism, Cults and Toxicity

by Neil Godfrey

newatheismMy recent exchanges with Jerry Coyne and one of his followers eerily reminded me of previous exchanges I have had with a few biblical scholars: Larry Hurtado, Chris Keith, James McGrath, and others, as well as follows of Acharya S / D.M. Murdock.

Then last night I happened to read the following:

The American Family Foundation says the following attributes are characteristic of a cult:

  • The group members display an excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment to an individual.
  • The group members are preoccupied with bringing in new members. Members are expected to devote inordinate amount of time to the group.
  • Members are preoccupied with making money.
  • Members’ subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give personal goals and activities that were of interest to the group.
  • Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Most of these attributes, as we will see, are characteristic of the cult of New Atheism.

[There are other lists of characteristics. Understandable since “cult” covers a wide range of groups in the common usage of the term. I wonder if some of the less overtly authoritarian types are better described as “tribalism” — but we know what we don’t like when we see it, however we define it, I guess. The above characteristics are closer to what I meant by describing D.M. Murdock /Acharya S’s astrotheology advocates as “cultish”.]

Brown lists a collection of comments that were collected by one of Dawkins’ followers at a book signing. Dawkins tweeted to his followers the list:

“You’ve changed the very way I understand reality. Thank you Professor.”

“You’ve changed my life and my entire world. I cannot thank you enough.” “I owe you life. I am so grateful. Your books have helped me so much. Thank you.”

“I am unbelievably grateful for all you’ve done for me. You helped me out of delusion.”

“Thank you thank you thank you thank you Professor Dawkins. You saved my life.”

“With this kind of incense blown at him, it’s no wonder he is bewildered by criticism,” writes Brown. Like any religious text, Dawkins’ book The God Delusion contains contradictions that are ignored by his followers:

In The God Delusion itself he moves within 15 pages from condemning a pope who had baptized children taken away from Jewish parents to commending Nick Humphrey’s suggestion that the children of creationists be taken away because teaching your children religion is comparable to child abuse. So believers can always find a scripture where he agrees with them, which naturally cancels out the one where he doesn’t.

[Isn’t that what we’ve seen in some of the recent exchanges here over what Coyne and Harris are supposed to have said.] read more »