Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Buddhist critiques the New Atheism

I think this guy was a graduate student at Northern Illinois when I had a one-year appointment there in 1988-1989.

HT: Bob Prokop

13 comments:

PatrickH said...

He talks about the four horsemen's "formidable philosophical acumen". He says, "With im­pres­sive arts of per­sua­sion, the new atheistic proponents just want to talk, de­bate, and ex­change ideas..."

Utter nonsense. Only Dennett of the four has any philosophical acumen, and that's mostly in philosophy of mind, where he is, admittedly, a heavy hitter. Philosophy of religion...not so much. Dawkins is philosophically inept, Harris had potential as a philosopher but seems to have thrown that away, and Hitchens, well, Hitchens isn't really a thinker at all.

As for them wanting debate, not really either. The New Atheists want to marginalize religion through a campaign of vilification and abuse. They want to separate religion from society, not just state, and make the simple possession of religious beliefs a disqualification from public life (see Harris on Francis Collins for an example). Their refusal precisely to engage in debate about ideas is central to that strategy. They want to make religion something embarrassing, and that means staying right away from the big ideas. When they do try to engage at that level, they lose.

And the central point of his article is a defense of animism, a defense that reeks of condescension. An essay that concedes virtually everything to the new atheists and says, "Hey, animism works for the poor!" is no critique of the New Atheists. It would be interesting to get a serious Buddhist critique of the NAs. But this isn't it.

Anonymous said...

It seems mostly to be rambly, this article. And also about animism. Weird.

Landon Hedrick said...

Patrick,

I agree with some of what you say about the "four horsemen". But I wonder why you think it is part of their strategy to avoid debate? Hitchens debates his ideas all the time, and I think Dennett has debated his as well. Sam Harris is willing to debate (apparently he's got one scheduled with William Lane Craig in April), but he just charges an absurd amount of money to make an appearance. When I contacted him a few years ago I was told (by a representative) that it costs $26,000 to bring him in for a talk. I've since heard that it's closer to $50,000. That makes me wonder how much this debate with Craig is going to cost the folks at Notre Dame who set it up. Presumably to be fair they'll want to give Craig the same amount they give Harris.

Dawkins is the one who doesn't want to debate certain people (e.g. Craig), but even he will debate some other people.

Anonymous said...

"When I contacted him a few years ago I was told (by a representative) that it costs $26,000 to bring him in for a talk. I've since heard that it's closer to $50,000. That makes me wonder how much this debate with Craig is going to cost the folks at Notre Dame who set it up. Presumably to be fair they'll want to give Craig the same amount they give Harris."

Security isn't cheap. And it's not like Craig is ruffling feathers in the Islamic world.

Anonymous said...

Security isn't cheap. And it's not like Craig is ruffling feathers in the Islamic world.

lol

PatrickH said...

Landon, I didn't mean to say that the NAs shun actual physical debate, but that they do not engage seriously with religion. They systematically refuse to do the reading, the due diligence, they won't put in the effort to know what they talk about. You're right that the nastiest of the bunch, Dawkins, shuns debate. Interesting, that.

To engage in serious debate with "religion", you've got to engage in some pretty serious learning. None of them, not even Dennett, who hasn't bothered to state the comsological argument correctly or completely, seems to have engaged with the philosophical, theological or apologetic literature at all.

Harris, in his book on ethics, even refused to engage with ethical thinking! It's this kind of refusal that I was speaking of when I said they don't want debate.

Nick said...

Patricia. You might like this piece that I wrote.

http://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/the-shoddy-research-of-the-new-atheists/

Landon Hedrick said...

Patrick,

Fair enough. I agree with you on all of that, though I haven't read Harris' most recent book yet.

BenYachov said...

I find most rank an file New Atheists(i.e. the unwashed masses, Dawkins devotees etc )I encounter on the Net tend to equate Philosophy with Religion(& thus reject it) and they equate metaphysics with psychic phenomena rather then the philosophy of ultimate reality.

They are a most uneducated lot they are in effect stereotypical religious Fundamentalists accept without "god belief".

Also they are so clueless & egotistical they equate any criticism of them with attacking all Atheists everywhere.

The four Horsemen have done no favors for the cause of unbelief.

BenYachov said...

I can never resist citing Feser but I love his crack about how for a New Atheist, Philosophy is just the continuation of politics by other means.

Tim said...

When I contacted him a few years ago I was told (by a representative) that it costs $26,000 to bring him in for a talk. I've since heard that it's closer to $50,000.

Vic, you and I are clearly in the wrong line of work!

David B Marshall said...

The author is right about the New Atheists being provincial; that (in effect) one of my criticisms in The Truth Behind the New Atheism. But despite all his travelling, I'm not sure he gets "the rest of the world" right, either. Buddhism would never have caught on in China (to the extent that it did) if it hadn't adopted a strongly moraliistic posture. And belief in one Supreme God (along with spirits, a la popular Catholicism) is hardly limited to the West and Islam: it is a tacit assumption of thousands of non-Western cultures around the world. Also, where does this "zero-sum game with science" nonsense come from? Even those who don't know much science, usually think science is on their side.

Matthew D. Schultz said...

PatrickH said:

Harris, in his book on ethics, even refused to engage with ethical thinking! It's this kind of refusal that I was speaking of when I said they don't want debate.

Yes, that book was rather daft. It came across (in those few parts that even attempted philosophical reasoning) as nothing more than a restatement of Benthamite utilitarianism.