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The New Atheists: How Do You See Them?

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    Posted: 05 Jan 2010 at 03:15
The atheist-theist debate has some "new," as it were, characters on the seen. Some of you may be familiar with the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett et al. If one hasn't the time (or the patience) to read through any of their books, youtube is always a welcome format for finding people speaking their minds on a wide range of subjects  -- no account of actually how sane those persons in question might be. You've been warned. In any case, I much rather prefer those atheists that seem to have actually worked out their position; have actually taken sufficient account of what the theists are really saying; and, all in all, don't sound so bitter. It's hard to read these books without feeling that the New Atheist approach is just simply to hate religion. It's also hard to take some of these New Atheists serious when they (Dawkins) have such a bad understanding of theology and philosophy. An atheist may wonder: why would an atheist really need to understand theology or philosophy? But therein lies the problem; especially when Dawkins himself wishes to actually make his arguments based on philosophical grounds.
 
I just read through David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, (Yale University Press, 2009). It's just one of the many responses to the New Atheists that one may seek to find; the thing is, one that has at least a moderate grasp of history will have no reason to repair to such texts. Oh, don't get me wrong, Hart's book is great, and I learned something new (and a new word -- have your dictionary handy) at virtually every page, but my point is that reading through the New Atheist's "arsenal of attacks" makes any objective lover of history cringe. Galileo hated and silenced by the superstitious Catholic Church for his enlightened and reasoned scientific truths; the Church being the reason for the dark ages; and my personal favorite: religious fanatics (take your pick at which story: the Christian or Muslim "assailants") burning the Royal Library at Alexandria, are all just a few of what one will find dripping from the "Brights'" (a term they prefer to gather for their ilk) pen.
 
For my own part, I much rather prefer the much better argued Nietzsche. He understood enough of the subject he wished to make war with to admit the fact that in the event of the expulsion of the Christian tradition, one would have to re-think the way we view our underlying values and ethical morals. He understood that the Western world had effectively been altered by the coming of the Christian age, and that to cast it aside would not mean to proceed with our way of life as if "business as usual." He understood that our moral environment is historically contingent. This, of course, is not to say that I think an atheist is incapable of being a morally-conscience person -- indeed I'm not; but I do think that it would be an ignorant thing to say that in the event of the casting-off of the Christian experience and tradition, the world would continue to exist in the exact same morally ethical environment that had previously existed. It is to turn a blind eye to the historical events that would take place in the coming of the Christian age in the pagan Roman Empire of antiquity.
 
So, this is the place to talk about the "New Atheists," or anything involving atheists. I should say beforehand that I am a Catholic Christian, but I should hope that my prejudices have not blinded me to notice the quality of the arguments coming from either side. To this end, it seems to me that the New Atheists arguments are of the weaker, and more emotionally charged, type.     
 
-arch.buff


Edited by arch.buff - 05 Jan 2010 at 17:39
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 08:50
Hi arch-buff, thank you for raising such an interesting topic.

The first point I really would like to clarify before we proceed is, what is New Atheism? You have alluded to what it might be, linking it to such authors as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. But there is still little substance here as to what constitutes New Atheism or New Atheists. Or indeed, if such a term is even applicable.

If there is New Atheism, what is Old Atheism?

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that you are framing the issue as a debate between two sides. Is this correct?

And I have been following the debates on youtube between Dawkins, Hitchens and their theologically colleagues - so once I know more about how you define 'New Atheism', I look forward to engaging in a fruitful discussion with you on this topic. Cheers,

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 09:53
The atheist position is only slightly stronger than theist's, as the absence of God is more easily observed than his existence. To go from there to completely denying the existence of God or anything of a spiritual nature seems a bit naive though, as if assuming we have the tools to fully comprehend the universe, an assumption humans have been repeatedly fooling themselves with only to see new discoveries overturn their beliefs.
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And cast the souls of many stalwart heroes
To Hades, and their bodies to the dogs
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 10:08
What give us a reason to belive in any gods? Is there any irrefutable obsevations or any traits of the universe that suggests the precence of such beings?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 14:40
I'm not sure that "what gives us a reason to believe in any gods" is a question with any point. Reason doesn't arise in the forming of belief: it's essentially an irrational process (atheism and theism both). What some philosophers/theologians attempt, however they phrase it, is to justify their existing belief.
 
That isn't to say people don't change their minds, but when they do it is again ab irrational process, usually associated with some kind of trauma (or 'epiphany'). Most of the time thouh they retain the beliefs they grew up with as children.
 
I get irritated with those I take to be your 'New Atheists', because of the way they try and take on the rather more metaphysically acceptable role of agnostics, especially Dawkins with his 'scale of 8' or whatever it is. Proselytising fundamentalists of all kinds are a pain, though you sometimes come across an odd exception, Monsignor Gilbey, the prominent Jesuit chaplain at Cambridge for many years being one of them.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 15:14
Pretty much all of your denigration of 'new atheists' can be turned on its head and incriminate a great many more theist "philosophers" and "evangelists" as nincompoops.  However, I do appreciate your point and I am not directing any fire your way.

My position is: why care?  It is blatently obvious that any given holy scripture/gospel/evanglism is the end product of man's imagination - there was never any divine input into it, so I can ignore what they say, despite all the threats and blackmail.

However, this is not to say that there is not, in some capacity or other, some divine being or force at work in our existence - such denial, as pointed out by others, would be as irrational as actually believing in religion.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote arch.buff Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 20:17
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:

Hi arch-buff, thank you for raising such an interesting topic.

The first point I really would like to clarify before we proceed is, what is New Atheism? You have alluded to what it might be, linking it to such authors as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. But there is still little substance here as to what constitutes New Atheism or New Atheists. Or indeed, if such a term is even applicable.

If there is New Atheism, what is Old Atheism?

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that you are framing the issue as a debate between two sides. Is this correct?

And I have been following the debates on youtube between Dawkins, Hitchens and their theologically colleagues - so once I know more about how you define 'New Atheism', I look forward to engaging in a fruitful discussion with you on this topic. Cheers,

CXI
 
Hello Constantine,
 
Yeah, the topic is very interesting. Thanks for pointing out how ambiguous my post might be to some.
 
The authors I have referred to in my initial post are the most popular of the "New Atheists" -- at least as far as I'm aware of. There are some common themes among some of these authors. On the whole, they -- as it seems to me -- are more antireligious that atheist. Some of the historical misrepresentations of Christianity are quite remarkable; but, probably the most common theme among the "Brights" (a label they prefer, which may go some way towards answering your question as to what separates "New" atheists from the "Old" type; apparently they prefer a designation for themselves as well) is their collective agreement that our moral environment is not historically contingent on such a movement as the Christian one, or, for that matter, on anything. Admittedly, it's hard for me not to be skeptical of nihilism here. It's really a wonder to me how these "Brights" can utter so confidently the assertion that the world would be a better place (more compassionate, just, loving, fair) in the event of the overthrow of religion -- which, for our discussion here, I would like to narrow down to, as they often do, the faith of Christianty.
 
As I referred in my opening post, this is in direct contrast to other atheists such as Nietzsche, who argued that in the (hopeful) event of the overthrow of the Christian tradition, men could come to some deeper (this-wordly, rather than the Christian other-wordly) set of values; he understood that to maintain the same sets of values, but to overflow Christianity, was a contradiction.
 
Now, for this, much can be said. I'll be honest that I think in at least some instances there are probably more admirable approaches coming from atheists, than coming from Christians. The more aggresive Fundamentalists seem to me to be the more obstinate type when it comes to scientific discoveries. Take, for instance, the belief that the world is a mere six thousand years old. I should relay to you that this is not my approach. But, by this same notion, should a Christian be obliged to believe some of the "scientifically reasoned" assertions made by some of these New Atheists?
 
Take, for instance, Daniel Dennett's enormous reliance on Dawkins's assertion of "memes." For those that aren't familiar, memes are culturally transmitted ideas, habits, beliefs, and pretty much anything of the social sphere. Dawkins invented this assertion in his book The Selfish Gene, which is exactly how he saw these memes. He postulated that these memes (just like genes) selfishly seek to replicate and survive. So, in other words, the fact that someone, or anyone, is religious, is not answered by the fact that that particular person has reasonably came to that conclusion by a determined will of choice; rather, a more "scientifically reasoned" answered would be that it is because of these "cultural genes." To take any of this seriously is, of course, up to any individual; and I would hate to deny that religion, like many other cultural behaviors, are not shaped by those that have came before us, but that is not quite what Dawkins et al are saying. They are positing that to believe in religion is the direct consequence of this phylogenic residue of these invisible agencies called "memes." The fact that the word "memes" tends to sound peculiarly close to "genes" fails to impress me. And anyone wishing to hold to such a staunch belief resting on a simple assonance, I applaude for courage.
 
-arch.buff


Edited by arch.buff - 13 Jan 2010 at 20:54
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 20:29
I agree about 'memes' which I think are ontological nonsense.
Originally posted by arch.buff arch.buff wrote:

apparently they prefer a designation for themselves as well) is their collective agreement that our moral environment is not historically contingent on such a movement as the Christian one, or, for that matter, on anything.
I'm not sure what this means. Group moral environments are contingent on history, just as individual moral environments are contingent on upbringing (which is not to deny free will, merely to assert it operates within a preset context). And upbringing is contingent on the group moral environment. And so it goes.
 
To deny otherwise seems to be about the same as claiming the universe was created six thousand years ago or that species don't evolve.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote arch.buff Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 20:37
Originally posted by Carcharodon Carcharodon wrote:

What give us a reason to belive in any gods? Is there any irrefutable obsevations or any traits of the universe that suggests the precence of such beings?
 
Hello Carcharodon,
 
This is a good question. Aristotle posited a Unmoved Mover, which was an impersonal Deity, if one so likes. He asserted that there needed to be a Mover that was itself Unmoved; but strangely enough, he also seems to have posited that the universe was eternal. So, in other words, the "stuff" that the Unmoved Mover moved was actually as old or eternal as the Unmoved Mover.
 
Christianity has always posited a creation ex nihilo, which states that the Abrahamic God is the First Cause, if you will. All that we know to be of the universe, was created ex nihilo, the world is not itself eternal.
 
At this point, obviously science has no answer as to the origins of the universe (I personally don't think we ever will, although I enthusiastically encourage the pursuit). We have the Big Bang (which really does seem to answer most question), but what we don't have is where the "stuff" contained in the Big Bang came from. Dawkins and other scientists posit that to arbitrarily assert a First Cause (God) is irrational, but I think them fairly studied enough to know that to assert the universe is eternal, is similarly irrational. They simply say that they don't know at this point. There really is nothing for me to find wrong in them believing this way; the problem is they don't stop there, they attack Christianity without really knowing it, or its relationship to history.
 
-arch.buff
 


Edited by arch.buff - 13 Jan 2010 at 20:50
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote arch.buff Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 20:49
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

I'm not sure what this means. Group moral environments are contingent on history, just as individual moral environments are contingent on upbringing (which is not to deny free will, merely to assert it operates within a preset context). And upbringing is contingent on the group moral environment. And so it goes.
 
To deny otherwise seems to be about the same as claiming the universe was created six thousand years ago or that species don't evolve.
 
Hey gcle,
 
I think what they are saying, by and large, is that the moral fabric of our society (the equal dignity of every human life, compassion for the weak and the poor, etc.) would have came about had Christianity never made its arrival. I don't agree with that; especially when so many atheists have asserted their aversion for the weak and downtrodden. A lot of what has to do with Christianity is the Imago Dei, the fact that we humans are made in the image of God. There are certain unfortunate historical realities -- such as the long process to abolish slavery, even in Christian countries -- but the Western world, in my mind (and to many atheists), was effectively transformed in many ways by the coming of the Christian age.
 
-arch.buff


Edited by arch.buff - 13 Jan 2010 at 20:59
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 21:04
Quote I think what they are saying, by and large, is that the moral fabric of our society (the equal dignity of every human life, compassion for the weak and the poor, etc.) would have came about had Christianity never made its arrival. I don't agree with that; especially when so many atheists have asserted their aversion for the weak and downtrodden.


No one else other than a Christian is capable of such things?  Such good will predates Christianity by millions of years and is observable in our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom, Chimpanzes.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kalhor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 21:55
well religions are beside the believe in spritual world are also shools of ethics.
there are both theist and atheist religions like
socialdarwinism..
communism.
national socialsm.
and more  and they all have been ethical  shools that taught norms and  even ruled and still ruling in many countries and shown how humanist and good wiling they are!!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 22:09
Thanks for responding, arch.

To be honest in your whole post I only see two features of 'New Atheists' which set them apart from from other Atheists, according to your analysis. You claim that some call eachother 'Brights'. Personally I have never encountered this, and I would appreciate some consistent examples of such. Certainly I have never seen any ordinary person refer to another in such a way, nor any of the atheist intellectuals I have encountered in academia.

The other feature is that they are more 'antireligious' than previous generations of atheists. Here I think you do have a point. I certainly think that some atheists are much more critical of religious belief and religious establishments. Although I think the hostility remains largely academic, and I will posit that this hostility is born in response to the aggressive (to the point of actual violence) and imperialistic trends in religious evangelism and theocratic organisation that have sprung up increasingly over the last 30 years.

But I don't think that what you have here is in any way a new philosophy or belief by atheists. They really aren't much different from atheists generations ago. A handful of atheist intellectuals will argue more strongly and critically against religion as a natural reaction to the extremes of evangelism and religious violence of the modern age. Some, like Dawkins, fearing the brainwashing of children in religious camps (see the movie Jesus Camp, an impartial look at Christian evangelism among small children), will even go to the effort of organising alternative retreats centred around recreation and inclusive of scientific instruction on the universe for kids. But beyond that I don't think we can even label anything 'New Atheism'. It's pretty much the same stuff that has always been there, just with a few outspoken figures who are concerned with post-modernity's inability to resist aggressive moves by religious bodies.

Quote Admittedly, it's hard for me not to be skeptical of nihilism here. It's really a wonder to me how these "Brights" can utter so confidently the assertion that the world would be a better place (more compassionate, just, loving, fair) in the event of the overflow of religion -- which, for our discussion here, I would like to narrow down to, as they often do, the faith of Christianty.


Nihilism is scary, at first. My philosophy is that life has no inherent meaning. Oh yes, I know, that seems awful. But bare with me. We truly as a collection of complex organic materials organised into self sustaining and reproducing wholes, the result of billions of years of evolution. For most species and for most of this time, existentialist thought was neither possible nor necessary. With the coming of a species capable of unprecedented reasoning, unprecedented emotional capacity, and unprecedented abstract thinking, you suddenly have a creature that is able to consider its meaning and with the free time to think deeply about it rather than worry about survival all the time.

The logical result for this creature is that it simply invents meaning to fill the void of life being inherently without meaning besides staying alive and reproducing. And so man invented religion, and at quite an early date as well. Religion, even if it were simply invented, provided human beings with a sense they understand the wider world, they had a purpose and they knew what they were doing and where they were going.

While this invented meaning had some advantages (stabilised primitive man into a system of social norms and values, provided some social stability, provided some psychological relief for a human mind confronted with a hostile world), it also had its disadvantages (it provided a tool by which the powerful oppressed and controlled the weak, it was a life support system for irrational and outdated beliefs and norms, it was a cause and exacerbator of warfare, it reduced intellectual variety by persecuting plurality of thought, it encouraged the adoption of faith based belief at the expense of rational thinking). Men such as Dawkins argue that the advantages of religion can be ensured with a modern secular society based on responsible government and the rule of law, and so we can abandon religious belief and thereby benefit from the absence of its negative effects in this day and age.

I must point out that Hitchens and Dawkins do not always single out Christianity. If they have been especially critical of two groups, it would be theocratic Islam and aggressive evangelical Christianity. Though given the trends within the USA, as a relatively secular nation reverting to a faith based society, the concern of these atheists at the regression of an important Western nation is understandable.

Originally posted by arch arch wrote:

Now, for this, much can be said. I'll be honest that I think in at least some instances there are probably more admirable approaches coming from atheists, than coming from Christians. The more aggresive Fundamentalists seem to me to be the more obstinate type when it comes to scientific discoveries. Take, for instance, the belief that the world is a mere six thousand years old. I should relay to you that this is not my approach. But, by this same notion, should a Christian be obliged to believe some of the "scientifically reasoned" assertions made by some of these New Atheists?


I think here you show an understand of why some atheists have become more outspoken recently. The aggressive actions of some religious groups have provoked a reaction by these intellectuals.

Regarding education, it is not 'New Atheists' who are trying to teach kids the scientific theory of the creation of the Universe (in fact, I don't think a separate label is even appropriate for a handful of slightly more than usually outspoken intellectuals). It is the vast bulk of intellectuals and teachers whom are trying to do this.

I posit that children should have access to information which provides them with the theories and evidence which is most reliable and varifiable. To not do so is to deprive a child of opportunity to receive a decent education, and limits their life opportunities. I would not change the curriculum to ignore WWII just because the parents of German children didn't like their kids studying the German campaign in the East, I wouldn't change the scientific curriculum to exclude the origins of the universe which is agreed upon by the best scientific minds simply because of the religious beliefs of the parents.

If parents wish to teach Creationism, they may do so at home. No one is stopping them. But it should not be taught in science class as it is not a scientific theory but rather a religious belief.

So to answer your question, no, no one should be obliged to believe anything. But teaching the child the scientific theory of the creation of the universe should indeed be obligatory.

Originally posted by arch arch wrote:

Take, for instance, Daniel Dennett's enormous reliance on Dawkins's assertion of "memes." For those that aren't familiar, memes are culturally transmitted ideas, habits, beliefs, and pretty much anything of the social sphere. Dawkins invented this assertion in his book The Selfish Gene, which is exactly how he saw these memes. He postulated that these memes (just like genes) selfishly seek to replicate and survive. So, in other words, the fact that someone, or anyone, is religious, is not answered by the fact that that particular person has reasonably came to that conclusion by a determined will of choice; rather, a more "scientifically reasoned" answered would be that it is because of these "cultural genes." To take any of this seriously is, of course, up to any individual; and I would hate to deny that religion, like many other cultural behaviors, are not shaped by those that have came before us, but that is not quite what Dawkins et al are saying. They are positing that to believe in religion is the direct consequence of this phylogenic residue of these invisible agencies called "memes." The fact that the word "memes" tends to sound peculiarly close to "genes" fails to impress me. And anyone wishing to hold to such a staunch belief resting on a simple assonance, I applaude for courage.


Personally I don't place much value on memes either.

I do think religion is a form of ideology, however, and especially in the case of the Abrahamic faiths. These faiths give their followers a comprehensive and exclusive set of rules and values to follow. Everything like when/where/when/how/who you can have sex with to the when/where/what/how you can eat, to an understanding of the past, present and future, is contained within this belief system. Something so comprehensive naturally develops into a lifestyle and the focus of an identity within a group situation. Add to this set of rules and values a system of rewards and punishment, and you effectively have a system that can perpetuate itself from generation to generation. Who needs memes when you have something as intricately constructed as that?


Edited by Constantine XI - 13 Jan 2010 at 22:13
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote arch.buff Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13 Jan 2010 at 23:28
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:


To be honest in your whole post I only see two features of 'New Atheists' which set them apart from from other Atheists, according to your analysis. You claim that some call eachother 'Brights'. Personally I have never encountered this, and I would appreciate some consistent examples of such. Certainly I have never seen any ordinary person refer to another in such a way, nor any of the atheist intellectuals I have encountered in academia.
 
Thanks for your words, Constantine; I think we will definitely have much to discuss.
 
As far as "Brights" goes, some articles wherein Dawkins and Dennett talk about the designation can be found here.
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bright/bright_index.html, Dennett's article is under Dawkins'.
 
All in all, however, the word "Bright" is not proposed to designate "New" from "Old," although it does seem like an offensive word for those that aren't themselves atheists. I think some atheists have already raised concerns about that. The authors I previously mentioned (Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, Dennett) are considered by many to be the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism." Whether one agrees with the label (I'm not sure if it is something pejorative or not?), it is a label that seems to be widely known. I think this is why they are searching for a universal name.
 
Problem being, there are many different kinds of atheists. As I mentioned earlier, Nietzsche would not have agreed with the form of atheism expounded by Dawkins et al; I don't think Marx viewed atheism in the same way either. Marx's view of religion was very different then the New Atheists (I'm not sure what to call it, but I'm not all that certain about how many of the "Old" atheists would have agreed with the memes theory).  
 
 
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:


The other feature is that they are more 'antireligious' than previous generations of atheists. Here I think you do have a point. I certainly think that some atheists are much more critical of religious belief and religious establishments. Although I think the hostility remains largely academic, and I will posit that this hostility is born in response to the aggressive (to the point of actual violence) and imperialistic trends in religious evangelism and theocratic organisation that have sprung up increasingly over the last 30 years.

But I don't think that what you have here is in any way a new philosophy or belief by atheists. They really aren't much different from atheists generations ago. A handful of atheist intellectuals will argue more strongly and critically against religion as a natural reaction to the extremes of evangelism and religious violence of the modern age. Some, like Dawkins, fearing the brainwashing of children in religious camps (see the movie Jesus Camp, an impartial look at Christian evangelism among small children), will even go to the effort of organising alternative retreats centred around recreation and inclusive of scientific instruction on the universe for kids. But beyond that I don't think we can even label anything 'New Atheism'. It's pretty much the same stuff that has always been there, just with a few outspoken figures who are concerned with post-modernity's inability to resist aggressive moves by religious bodies.
 
Here's where the discussion probably hits its main point. Here is probably where our views of religion and history may seem to part ways a bit. I should first say that I do agree with what you have to say here, that certain religious establishments have caused, or augmented, things that we would both consider bad. Fundamentalism (be it religious, atheist, political) is always a rather tricky thing to deal with. What I think you fail to see is that this response by the New Atheists that we just throw off the bad things involved with religion, and keep the good (I feel compelled to say that many New Atheists -- Dennett specifically in his Breaking the Spell -- don't accord religion with any good consequences), is a overly-simplistic reaction to religious violence; religious violence that in most cases is accorded to religion without any sort of real understanding of what actually caused the whole matter.
 

Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:


Nihilism is scary, at first. My philosophy is that life has no inherent meaning. Oh yes, I know, that seems awful. But bare with me.

While this invented meaning had some advantages (stabilised primitive man into a system of social norms and values, provided some social stability, provided some psychological relief for a human mind confronted with a hostile world), it also had its disadvantages (it provided a tool by which the powerful oppressed and controlled the weak, it was a life support system for irrational and outdated beliefs and norms, it was a cause and exacerbator of warfare, it reduced intellectual variety by persecuting plurality of thought, it encouraged the adoption of faith based belief at the expense of rational thinking). Men such as Dawkins argue that the advantages of religion can be ensured with a modern secular society based on responsible government and the rule of law, and so we can abandon religious belief and thereby benefit from the absence of its negative effects in this day and age.
 
Here's where we disagree. You seem to posit that nihilism is scary, but that in the end everything will be ok. I can't say I agree with that worldview. In the event that nihilism takes its rise, are you really of the serious opinion that "modern secular society based on responsible government and the rule of law" can ensure our morals to love thy neighbor, or to ensure the dignity of every human no matter their class? I ask that question seriously, because as damning as some of Christian history may seem, our secular governmental history is far more damning. In short, I don't hold the confidence you do in these virtuous secular entities.
 
This is exactly the sort of belief Nietzsche disagreed with, and I am of the same mind on this point. You seem to highlight the post-modern religious violence the world has suffered; I don't think I need to mention the secular atrocities that the world has also faced. Religion didn't bring us Nazism; it also didn't bring us Stalin -- quite the opposite. As far as sheer numbers of casualties go, I would confidently suggest that secular wars and killings have affected far more of us then has religious. It just dumbfounds me how people can be so confident in an age to come without religion, believeing our "enlightened age" governments will uphold our moral integrity. What, I might ask, has given us rise to believe anything of the sort could ever take place?



Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:


So to answer your question, no, no one should be obliged to believe anything. But teaching the child the scientific theory of the creation of the universe should indeed be obligatory.
 
Perhaps you misunderstood me; I, too, believe our children should be taught our most investigated scientific findings that seem the most plausible.

Memes, however, is an entirely different situation...
 
-arch.buff


Edited by arch.buff - 13 Jan 2010 at 23:57
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote whalebreath Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 01:01
Originally posted by Carcharodon Carcharodon wrote:

What give us a reason to belive in any gods? Is there any irrefutable obsevations or any traits of the universe that suggests the precence of such beings?

If a person spending time alone in nature doesn't feel the presence of something divine they should check their pulse.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 03:02
Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:

Quote I think what they are saying, by and large, is that the moral fabric of our society (the equal dignity of every human life, compassion for the weak and the poor, etc.) would have came about had Christianity never made its arrival. I don't agree with that; especially when so many atheists have asserted their aversion for the weak and downtrodden.


No one else other than a Christian is capable of such things?  Such good will predates Christianity by millions of years and is observable in our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom, Chimpanzes.

 
Good will and chimpanzees? Zagros are you taking anthropomorphism to quite an extreme? Chimpanzees are about the most distasteful of all the simians. And, no they are not "our closest living "relatives" since such a contention has more Darwinism than Science in its proferance. I'd opt for the Orangutan if we are to be made "monkeys".Wink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 03:46
Now, I believe that a mistake is made when one speaks of nihilism, a philosophical tenet, in the same breath as atheism, which is neither a philosophy nor a doctrine but instead little other than an argument. In fact, most serious nihilist would take offense at being identified as atheists. In fact, a fundamental understanding of Nihilism demands the shaping of morality as an absolute...perhaps it is time that one read Nietzsche rather than relying on what others make of him, particularly his Nachlass (the posthumously published notebooks). I may shock by uttering the following but it is nevertheless true there are good Christian nihilists and existentialists.
 
Which brings me to why atheism is really the lazy man's way through which to avoid considering the inponderables in life. Read what Nietzsche jotted down in his notebook under the heading: "European Nihilism". The key words: a base for objective knowledge. In his own way, Arch.buff was correct in  asserting that Nietzsche would (he did) reject any pretension that eschewed all meanings, values, and morality itself as objective knowledge. We forget, that this German was an acute critics of his contemporary society and not Christianity per se.
 
Now I do take issue with the premise that teaching Christian thought is some sort of imposition upon the young (as when CIX remarked "no one should be obliged to believe anything"). Moral behavior--as anyone who has fathered (or mothered) children instinctively knows--is taught and the fool he who does not "obligate" these little savagesEvil Smile. OK...I am being colorful and not making any sort of racist comment, but from what I have observed from personal experience the more skeptical the mind the greater the Christian. Skepticism does not lead to atheism, in fact an atheist is actually a skeptic who has stopped thinking!


Edited by drgonzaga - 14 Jan 2010 at 03:48
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Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

 Skepticism does not lead to atheism, in fact an atheist is actually a skeptic who has stopped thinking!
 
Interesting, I've often thought the same. We must never stop asking the most important question, viz.: Why? 
 
Whenever we close off the discussion by simply saying that there is no meaning to things and stop asking the question Why?, I think that does a great disservice to scientific inquiry itself.
 
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Constantine,
 
I have yet to read any book written by Michael Ruse, but I have read his opinion on Dawkins, Dennett, and the rest of the New Atheists.
 
The appended article shows the schism (Ruse's words) between atheists at present. Ruse is an atheist, professor at Florida State University. Perhaps the article will explain more of what I mean when I say "New Atheists" (Ruse uses the term as well); and, if you have the time, you might want to google "Michael Ruse Daniel Dennett e-mail" or something. There's a small collection of e-mails they sent back and forth to each other; it's really quite amusing.Tongue
 
 
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Edited by arch.buff - 14 Jan 2010 at 04:08
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Here is an example of the danger that comes from not understanding the implications of theology within a philosophical context:
 
Originally posted by Carcharodon
What give us a reason to belive in any gods? Is there any irrefutable obsevations or any traits of the universe that suggests the precence of such beings?
 
God is not a "being" just the use of the term underscores misunderstanding of what is meant by theology. God "is" and all else lies beyond objective knowledge. Strangely enough if you know your Greek (as well as Greeks) Xenophanes of Colophon in the 6th century BC could already write "God is one, an eternal that affects all things of the mind alone, and bears no resemblance to Man whatsoever as entertained in the Olympians." Nor do we really want to take a close look at the fundamental meaning of Kosmos (this one fully escaped that publicist Sagan): That which always was, is, and shall continue. The honest "mind" can never be atheistic since such is always an escape from the despair of "being".


Edited by drgonzaga - 14 Jan 2010 at 04:11
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Hi all,
 
I've read above that the idea of 'memes' is difficult to accept, or as Const. stated, that he doesn't hold much value to them. But, from what I remember (correct me if I am wrong (it's been some time)), these memes where 'coined' as analogs to genes (hence the name play) in that they are both inherited. 
 
Genes are inherited biologically and memes culturally. This cultural inheritance differs in that individuals are exposed both longitudinally and laterally--meaning that they are both influenced by their parents or predecessors (long) and by all others encountered throughout their experience in life (lat). All of these together create an individual's cultural whole (the menome, I guess). This doesn't seem, to me, far from the mark.
 
Religion is, of course, learned from cultural surroundings. To go the Geertzian route it can also be "the story you tell yourself about yourself" and, for some, it can provide the context from which they define, actually, their entire physical and cognitive existence (most probably in the 'deep' past anyway). In this respect isn't there then a long chain of 'memes' inherited from your family and each personal interaction that 'creates' this person? (course there are arguably behavioral genes or at least genes that can influence behavior...another topic perhaps).    
   


Edited by Goban - 14 Jan 2010 at 04:38
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Goban, memes and all they entail are nothing more than a foray into scientism by purported Humanists who believe themselves scientists. We will not even go into all the jargon such entails. Personally, a meme is little more than a language virus! Think memetics as a heretical branch of dianetics!Evil Smile
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Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:

My position is: why care?  It is blatently obvious that any given holy scripture/gospel/evanglism is the end product of man's imagination - there was never any divine input into it, so I can ignore what they say, despite all the threats and blackmail.
 
The problem is, once you see it like this man becomes a sad and pathetic being, so sad and pathetic in fact, that to overcome his fear of nothingness he is willing to wrap himself inside a comfortable, imagined world and hate anyone who threatens to break the spell.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 11:02
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Here is an example of the danger that comes from not understanding the implications of theology within a philosophical context:
 
Originally posted by Carcharodon
What give us a reason to belive in any gods? Is there any irrefutable obsevations or any traits of the universe that suggests the precence of such beings?
 
God is not a "being" just the use of the term underscores misunderstanding of what is meant by theology. God "is" and all else lies beyond objective knowledge. Strangely enough if you know your Greek (as well as Greeks) Xenophanes of Colophon in the 6th century BC could already write "God is one, an eternal that affects all things of the mind alone, and bears no resemblance to Man whatsoever as entertained in the Olympians." Nor do we really want to take a close look at the fundamental meaning of Kosmos (this one fully escaped that publicist Sagan): That which always was, is, and shall continue. The honest "mind" can never be atheistic since such is always an escape from the despair of "being".
 
In many  images and imaginations and definitions of the gods they are very much perceived as beings.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 11:43
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:

Quote I think what they are saying, by and large, is that the moral fabric of our society (the equal dignity of every human life, compassion for the weak and the poor, etc.) would have came about had Christianity never made its arrival. I don't agree with that; especially when so many atheists have asserted their aversion for the weak and downtrodden.


No one else other than a Christian is capable of such things?  Such good will predates Christianity by millions of years and is observable in our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom, Chimpanzes.

 
Good will and chimpanzees? Zagros are you taking anthropomorphism to quite an extreme? Chimpanzees are about the most distasteful of all the simians. And, no they are not "our closest living "relatives" since such a contention has more Darwinism than Science in its proferance. I'd opt for the Orangutan if we are to be made "monkeys".Wink


1: Chimps are not monkeys, neither are orangutans, they are apes.  Two of four species of great ape, we are a third and gorillas a fourth.
2: Chimps are the closest animal to us genetically and socially speaking, more so than the orangutan.
3: Chimps display many, if not all, of the basic human emotions and impulses, both the negative and the positive (from deplorable savagery to gentle kindness).

This is not Darwinism, it is observable fact... unlike much of the tripe in holy books.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 11:54
Originally posted by Reginmund Reginmund wrote:

Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:

My position is: why care?  It is blatently obvious that any given holy scripture/gospel/evanglism is the end product of man's imagination - there was never any divine input into it, so I can ignore what they say, despite all the threats and blackmail.
 
The problem is, once you see it like this man becomes a sad and pathetic being, so sad and pathetic in fact, that to overcome his fear of nothingness he is willing to wrap himself inside a comfortable, imagined world and hate anyone who threatens to break the spell.


And that is exactly the problem.  In this case, Christians with a primitive mindset are so afraid of their spell being broken that they invent baseless conjecture such as Intelligent Design and demonise any proponent of a different theory. 

Believing in religion gives many people some meaning to life and there is nothing wrong with that and a lot of positive things come about from religion because otherwise one does have a tendency to get depressed.

However, I find the arrogance in the supposition that good will and kindness etc to have come about as a result of Christianity to be a very shallow, because it very clearly shows very little consideration to anything outside the scope of Christianity.
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Though such discussions in principle should be important and potentially give insights in the real world one may often ask "why". If there is no sort of "meeting ground" - and even no will to find any (or sometimes even will to sabotage any ?) what then may the purpose of discussion be?

My remarks above should not be taken as attwempt to "forbid" anything or even "stop free speech". rather to find some purpose in discussing - or if that is impossible not vaste time on it.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 15:40
Originally posted by arch.buff arch.buff wrote:

Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

I'm not sure what this means. Group moral environments are contingent on history, just as individual moral environments are contingent on upbringing (which is not to deny free will, merely to assert it operates within a preset context). And upbringing is contingent on the group moral environment. And so it goes.
 
To deny otherwise seems to be about the same as claiming the universe was created six thousand years ago or that species don't evolve.
 
Hey gcle,
 
I think what they are saying, by and large, is that the moral fabric of our society (the equal dignity of every human life, compassion for the weak and the poor, etc.) would have came about had Christianity never made its arrival. I don't agree with that; especially when so many atheists have asserted their aversion for the weak and downtrodden. A lot of what has to do with Christianity is the Imago Dei, the fact that we humans are made in the image of God. There are certain unfortunate historical realities -- such as the long process to abolish slavery, even in Christian countries -- but the Western world, in my mind (and to many atheists), was effectively transformed in many ways by the coming of the Christian age.
 
-arch.buff
I agree that the modern Western world would in many ways be ethically different without its Christian heritage. I don't see how that's deniable. But the cultures of north-western Europe, for instance, are still permeated by pre-Christian values especially with regard to political freedom - not something about which Jesus has much to say, and not something that the Christian tradition has notably contributed to. Ethical views and standards differ widely across Europe even though they are all heirs of Christianity, and much of that difference has to be put down to pre-Christian traditions.
 
Moreover of course I don't accept that Christian standards are necessarily any better than anyone else's. I don't see any great correlation between religious belief (or lack of it) and what I would consider ethical behaviour. For one thing Christianity and similar religions put far too much emphasis on doing what God wants, rather than benefitting humanity now. (cf e.g. the attitude to divorce and homosexuality in many cases).


Edited by gcle2003 - 14 Jan 2010 at 15:41
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 15:49
Originally posted by Goban Goban wrote:

Hi all,
 
I've read above that the idea of 'memes' is difficult to accept, or as Const. stated, that he doesn't hold much value to them. But, from what I remember (correct me if I am wrong (it's been some time)), these memes where 'coined' as analogs to genes (hence the name play) in that they are both inherited. 
 
 
The problem isn't seeing memes as some kind of metaphor. It's assuming they actually in some way exist and are tenacious. Maybe basically it's using the word as a noun at all, since it has no observable referent (unlike a gene).  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote arch.buff Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Jan 2010 at 17:17
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

I agree that the modern Western world would in many ways be ethically different without its Christian heritage. I don't see how that's deniable. But the cultures of north-western Europe, for instance, are still permeated by pre-Christian values especially with regard to political freedom - not something about which Jesus has much to say, and not something that the Christian tradition has notably contributed to. Ethical views and standards differ widely across Europe even though they are all heirs of Christianity, and much of that difference has to be put down to pre-Christian traditions.
 
Moreover of course I don't accept that Christian standards are necessarily any better than anyone else's. I don't see any great correlation between religious belief (or lack of it) and what I would consider ethical behaviour. For one thing Christianity and similar religions put far too much emphasis on doing what God wants, rather than benefitting humanity now. (cf e.g. the attitude to divorce and homosexuality in many cases).
 
Hello gcle,
 
I hear a lot of what you're saying, and I agree with a lot of it. Perhaps it has been my own fault for not more clearly stating what exactly I mean when I say that Christianity did effectively alter the ethical environment. I am not positing that before the coming of Christ everyone was just blind murderous trolls; I don't think that at all. What I do think is that what Christianity brang to the pagan Roman Empire was I very different way of viewing every single human being.
 
For instance, Constantine oulawed gladitorial games (when there was peace, and domestic peace) and stated that those that had been condemned to the gladitorial arena, now were to be sentenced to the mines, so that blood may not be shed. Moreover, he even (perhaps more remarkably) delared that those sentenced should not be tattooed on the face (which was the normal custom) because to do so would be to defile the face, which represents the divine beauty.
 
This is something remarkable in the mid fourth-century, I time when the Empire by all accounts quite probably was still majority pagan (although it almost impossible to reliably tell). It is unfortunate that Constantine would later contradict his own words, and his heirs at times were no better, but the main point is that Christianity was having its effects on the pagan climate that it lived.
 
Now, a lot can be said of this. Namely, that this sort of set of morals is set on the transcendent. Again, something Nietzsche would have disliked (this-worldly values rather than other-worldly). Perhpas that is what you are alluding to when you say that Christianity worries about too much of what their God wants. Those that really and truly believe in a transcendent truth, others that do not; at the expense of sounding overly-simplistic, that seems to be what it comes down to.
 
-arch.buff
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