Atheist writers respond

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by Neil Godfrey

English: Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane S...
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Professor R Joseph Hoffmann has a reputation for his pompous diatribes against the “New Atheists”, very often written in a style so pretentious they are (probably deliberately) incomprehensible to most readers. The professor has kicked off the new year with another Re-made in America: Remembering the New Atheism (2006-2011) and this time some of his targets have responded.

PZ Myers has posted a Nice List on Pharyngula of the names Hoffmann despises and that is therefore “a rather useful guide . . . to who’s cool in the atheist movement”.

Richard Dawkins is found among the commenters responding to Myers’ list: see comments #47 and #54.

Eric MacDonald has also written a lengthier but more analytical response, Spleen, on his Choice In Dying blog. MacDonald shows how Hoffmann’s piques are so completely off the mark, missing the point and substituting his own straw men, etc. He points out that Hoffmann appears to be most upset over the fact that religion and atheism really are issues that every layperson has a right to discuss for the simple fact that religion really does do an awful lot of damage to lots of people.

The comments on these blog posts are also recommended reading.

Spleen @ La Maroquineri. Image by LeShamrock on Flickr
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Neil Godfrey

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0 thoughts on “Atheist writers respond”

  1. He’s definitely right when he labels Hitchens as “the only true intellectual and by far the best-read of the group.” Without Hitchens, they’re going to be hurting. Dawkins is like a circus clown in comparison to him.

    1. Hurting? Perhaps. But if this is so, that Hitchens has left an intellectual gap within the New Atheist ‘movement’ – and Joseph Hoffmann is aware of this – then man up Hoffmann and do something positive for a change! Kicking the New Atheists in the belly is not worthy of someone who damn well knows what is necessary here. The ball is in Hoffmann’s court and he needs to step up and play.

      Yes, the issue is religion. And no, the issue is not the bad mouthing that the New Atheists often give that subject. The issue is religion itself – what is it? For one so academically inclined, this tough subject matter should not be above Hoffmann’s intellectual ability to clearly set out a differentiation between religion and theology. They are not synonymous terms or concepts. Hoffmann knows this. By simply attacking the New Atheists for their ridiculing religion, Hoffmann is failing to grasp the necessity to lead their argument towards a more constructive goal – theology. That is where Hoffmann can be useful and where his academic training can be put to use. So, what is stopping him? Well, theology, especially Christian theology, is not so socially acceptable a battlefield for NT academics. Knock god by all means – but touch the holy grail of Christian theology – and one is putting oneself on the borders of academic respectability.

      You know, perhaps that is Hoffmann’s real problem. All this bleating about the New Atheists not being very kind to religion, his repeated attacks upon certain New Atheist personalities and their blogs – it’s all just a frustrated reflection of his own inner turmoil re the Jesus question. History or pseudo-history. Sitting on the fence over this issue might be enough for some people – for others, and perhaps for someone of Hoffmann’s intellect – it must be a most frustrating place.

      And that is the book that waits to be written – I think Hoffmann knows he can do it – it’s a matter of being prepared to mount the barricades – and that takes much more than simply great intellectual ability – it requires courage and commitment to humanist values. Values that take one out of ones own intellectual space and into the social/political space we all inhabit.

      Dawkins wrote The God Delusion. At the time I remember having my own questions over the book – however, the book does need a companion book – which Dawkins can’t write. That book needs someone like Joseph Hoffmann. So, come on, Joseph – put your considerable skills on the table and lets have it from you – The Jesus Delusion.

  2. My favorite part of R. Joseph Hoffmann’s critique of atheism, or as he puts it, New Atheism, is when he resorts to that which Terry Eagleton said,

    “What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace, or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case?”

    It is the boorish ad hominems of those such as Hoffmann, and the sophistic pedantry by the likes of Terry Eagleton that convinced me that not only is there no evidentiary basis to religious claims, but that there are those within the theological discipline who attempt to overtly obfuscate the fact. I mean, who cares about the color drapes when there is an 800 pound gorilla dancing on the head of a pin.

    Then his blog reads much like many of the religionists’ diatribes that I have been reading since the ’70s. I am sorry to say. I have yet to understand why it is deemed impressive.

    Contrary to the jist of his blog I, as an atheist, highly recommend the study of religion, but not as is currently performed with all its circularity, criteriology, bias, and question-begging assumption of factuality and historicity. No! More so as an evolutionary phenomenon of the human condition or even from an anthropological standpoint. This is important in that it can help prevent the atrocities directly attributable to the antagonistic motivations of the religious mindset. A mindset which is so susceptible to uncritical beliefs through the propaganda purporting absolute authority.

    Science and the scientific method did not spring from religion. To claim as much is to ignore that Catholics controlled many of the schools and thought until the Renaissance of the 14th century. If you don’t think the church attempted to curtail knowledge, look up how long the concept of antipodes (the flat Earth concept) were enforced by the church even 200 years after Magellan circumnavigated the planet. Right, religious thought is dead set against concepts like evidence, critical thinking, observation, peer review, etc. Ask Martin Luther. Religion rests on the idea that authority and appeals to popular opinion count toward truthfulness, which of course is ridiculous.

    It is not atheism—not even New Atheism, whatever that means—that is in its twilight but religious thought, generally. As evidence, I give you the fact that religionists continually attempt to use evidence (in the scientific method) in support of their faith; at once, supporting the scientific method and contravening the concept of faith. Both Hoffmann and Eagleton could prosper from the insights: “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” —David Hume (1711-1776)

    If not for the fact that its only requirement is ignorance, religion would be dead.

        1. In every instance when I have had the opportunity to converse with Prof. Dawkins, he has proven to be the single most cordial public intellect in what were easily the most congenial conversations I have had the pleasure to be a part. I have also been a regular on his website for many years. So much so that I can gauge the ignorance of someone’s actual knowledge of the professor by their deviation from this description. In fact, I, as well as many others, have suggested more than once that the good Professor be a little less cordial in his own defense and more like my personal hero, the late Christopher Hitchens, but he refuses. To my mind, his brilliance is second only to his civility, and if any here spent as many years conversing with him as I have, I cannot see how they would not agree.

  3. Charming. I have just added my own tidbit to those comments. At least I see that Hoffmann has since apologized for his remark to her. That’s the lucky thing about being one of the club. The likes of Hoffmann and McGrath will apologize to their peers when they are caught out telling naughties about them, but don’t expect them to treat those they consider “lesser life-forms” as civilly.

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