posted on 12.02.2006 at 1:53 PM
Now that the Christian Right has largely retreated from the culture wars, let's hope that the Atheist Left doesn't revive them. We've suffered enough from religious intolerance that the last thing the world needs is irreligious intolerance.
It is not possible, alas, to say that atheists would never resort to violence. As Kristof notes, Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot certainly did (though in the name of what began to look like another religion). However, is it not unfair to equate our current crop of loud, proud atheists -- Richard Dawkins and ? What atheist today has launched a fatwa, banned a book or grabbed a gun?
What is happening is that some individuals are now arguing that those who believe the universe is governed by a supernatural Being are wrong. The religious insist upon their beliefs in books, on radio stations, television channels and in various houses of worship weekly, daily. Is it intolerant to disagree? What is so awful about the debate finally, in some small way, being joined?
And, oh yeah, has the Christian Right really retreated from the culture wars?
High Tide of Atheism?
posted on 11.14.2006 at 8:17 AM
Two bestsellers (Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris). Cover story in Wired. Main book review in the Sunday New York Times. Big review essay in Newsweek. Can't start a conversation in intellectual circles on five continents without someone mentioning this blog (or at least using the word "without").
What goes on?
1. A reaction to a religious revival which obstructs biology classes, causes a fuss over cartoons, fuels a mad American foreign policy and kills and maims?
2. Enlightenment reason has never ceased spreading, though it may have been obscured or lying low for a couple of decades there?
3. New burst of development for idea-dispensing technologies increases the questions and answers available to curious minds, from Kansas to Kabul?
Christians and Frozen Yogurt
posted on 09.19.2006 at 6:08 PM
Tell a devout Christian ... that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.
posted on 09.18.2006 at 5:34 PM
Something is definitely going on here.
The latest piece of evidence I have collected that the argument against God is being treated with a new respect is a review-essay in Newsweek by Jerry Adler. Adler is dealing with a new book by Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, along with a not-so-new book by Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, and a forthcoming book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. What's remarkable, for someone who has spent some decades following American journalism, is that while Adler quibbles a bit, he never dismisses the Harris-Dennett-Dawkins point of view.
God and the Big Bang
posted on 08.24.2006 at 5:24 PM
Here's legit scientist Francis Collins:
The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation. It forces the conclusion that nature had a defined beginning. I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.
It is worth pointing out the term "supernatural," which Collins uses freely throughout his book, is semantically indistinguishable from the term "magical." Reading his text with this substitution in mind is rather instructive. In any case, even if we accepted that our universe simply had to be created by an intelligent being, this would not suggest that this being is the God of the Bible, or even particularly magical. If intelligently designed, our universe could be running as a simulation on an alien supercomputer. As many critics of religion have pointed out, the notion of a Creator poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress. If God created the universe, what created God? To insert an inscrutable God at the origin of the universe explains absolutely nothing. And to say that God, by definition, is uncreated, simply begs the question. (Why can't I say that the universe, by definition, is uncreated?) Any being capable of creating our world promises to be very complex himself. As the biologist Richard Dawkins has observed with untiring eloquence, the only natural process we know of that could produce a being capable of designing things is evolution.
Harris' final point on this subject is an important response to those, like Atwood, who accuse atheists of dogmatism:
Any intellectually honest person must admit that he does not know why the universe exists. Secular scientists, of course, readily admit their ignorance on this point. Believers like Collins do not.
Beauty and Jesus
posted on 08.22.2006 at 11:58 PM
On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ the majesty and beauty of God's creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.
If the beauty of nature can mean that Jesus really is the son of God, then anything can mean anything.
Why is it that natural beauty is seen as belonging to the supernatural? It seems, at first glance at least, rather firmly rooted in the natural.
Morality and Evolution
posted on 08.20.2006 at 9:16 PM
Collins, plumping for the idea that morality comes straight from the Big Guy in the Sky to his Chosen Species, writes:
Though other animals may at times appear to show glimmerings of a moral sense, they are certainly not widespread, and in many instances other species' behavior seems to be in dramatic contrast to any sense of universal rightness.
Harris, after noting that humans have perpetrated an immoral act or two over the millennium, responds:
Just how widespread must "glimmerings" of morality be among other animals before Collins--who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes--begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn't these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?
Trashing the Bible...and God
posted on 05.24.2006 at 10:32 PM
Q: Richard Dawkins, a vocal atheist, has said the Old Testament God is a "psychotic monster."
A: Not only is the character of God diabolical in those books, but there are explicit prescriptions for how to live that are not metaphors; they are not open to theological judo. God just comes right out and says "stone people" for a list of offenses so preposterous and all-encompassing that the killing never stops. You have to kill people for working on the Sabbath. You kill people for fornication.
Okay, Dawkins and Harris are known atheists, and this appeared on the Web, not in a mainstream publication. But "psychotic monster" (or should it be Psychotic Monster) and "diabolical" (interesting choice of word)? God? Is this further evidence that it is becoming easier to take swings at religion?
Harris the New O'Hair?
posted on 05.23.2006 at 8:17 PM
For many years, Madalyn Murray O'Hair was the person who came to mind for most Americans when they thought of atheism. There are signs that Sam Harris, author of the End of Faith, is settling into that role (until, at least, my book rockets up the best-seller lists).
Murray O'Hair had some limitations as atheism's spokeswoman: One of her sons had the bad grace to get born-again. and as a thinker she wasn't, shall we say, Bertrand Russell. Harris is a strong writer and clear thinker, but he has one apparent limitation of his own: He "practices Zen meditation and believes in the value of mystical experiences." (Here is Harris himself on meditation.) This leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy. Should a spokesman for vegetarianism reveal a weakness for carpaccio that, presumably, would be a negative.
(I, you'll be glad to learn, have no limitations.)
The "A" Word -- 4
posted on 05.21.2006 at 8:20 PM
I'm very distrustful of finding the right label because labels are ultimately sloganeering. You had the label the "brights," which is stillborn. I think atheism and secularism are also names that ultimately we don't need. We don't need a name for disbelief in astrology. I don't think we need anything other that rationality and reason and intellectual honesty.
Colbert v. Atheist
posted on 04.27.2006 at 9:37 AM
Colbert: Well, I've got historical evidence. The Bible tells me Jesus was born of a virgin.
Harris: Yeah, but . . .
Colbert: I mean, there's your witness right there, the Bible.
Harris: Unfortunately, the Qu'ran says that anyone who thinks that is going to spend eternity in hell.
Colbert: But we're not talking about the Qu'ran, we're talking about the Bible, okay? The Bible is without flaw. It is inerrant. And we know this, because the Bible says it is without flaw.
This is, as those who have sorted through this program's various levels of irony will confirm, an example of religion, the Christian religion, actually getting punched around a bit on a major American cable channel: Comedy Central. This is not the sort of thing we were used to seeing on our televisions in this country.
Are we witnessing a result of the increasing number of television channels with increasing space (despite corporate ownership, etc.) for diverse viewpoints? Or is the great, centuries long march of reason proceeding apace after all?