Friday, March 14, 2008

Reply to Parsons on the New Atheism

Keith: We've discussed this quite a bit over at my place. It is one thing to criticize critics of religion for excessive rhetoric and inadequate justification for the assertions they make. I think that case can be made against Dawkins and company. It is another thing to criticize them for being unduly harsh. Here it gets tricky. One should be entitled, it seems to me to attack real intellectual fraud in as harsh of terms as is necessary. However, if one is really making an intellectual fraud charge, or if one is accusing an opponent of being culpably wrong, one assumes a much higher burden of proof. I, for example, in one post, took my friend Dick Purtill to task because he challenged Dr. Beversluis's intellectual integrity while at the same time misidentifiying the central claim of his chapter on A Grief Observed. The safest road is always civility, just because if you aren't civil you've really got to prove it. If people like Dawkins were to take the sort of tone they take but provide careful analyses of the doctrines they criticize, taking the time and effort to get things right, I would think better of him than I do now. A third problem is if these New atheists" have actually advocated doing thing that undermine the principles underlying the separation of church and state. Did Harris say, or did not say, that the death of God should be taught in the public schools. I'm sorry, but can you imagine what would hit the fan if a Christian were to say that he wanted the Resurrection of Jesus preached in the public schools? Did Dawkins describe the education of children in a particular religion in a religious faith as child abuse, or did he just think that an upbringing that made undue use of the fear of hell is child abuse. From the quotes I have seen it looks like he thinks all religious upbringing, including the education of my own daughters as Christians, is abusive. Am I being unduly sensitive if I am not too happy with Dawkins for implying that my wife and I are child abusers? Did Dennett say that we shouldn't let religious people teach falsehoods to children, such as teaching them to reject evolution? It's one thing to teach evolution in the public schools, it's another thing to tell parents that they can't tell their kids that it's all false. How would you enforce that sort of thing, without undercutting the foundations of the separation of church and state? In the "new atheist" literature they have gone beyond the sensible thing that one might say on these matters and have said things that to me undermine the underlying prinicple behind the doctrine of the separation of church and state. Maybe they didn't mean it, but then I have to say that people need to pay attention to what they are saying, and what these claims imply. Of course vigorous critique and debate is never a bad thing. If the main problem with Dawkins et al is that they aren't nice, that would be a minor problem. But I think they are open to more serious criticism than that on several fronts, including, I think, a rejection of the prinicples underlying the separation of church and state. If they don't mean these things, they should be speak more carefully in the future.


Anonymous said...

Samuel Skinner
Not at all! You can believe anything you wish. However if you actually believe what you say you believe... well, that is where the "child abuse" part comes in. Telling your kid that all of humanity is damned except for those who belong to your sect, that the most important thing is faith, that the bible is the literal word of god, that nonbelievers are amoral and evil, etc- and believing it... these are problems. Fundamentalists may believe crazy things, but they are consistant- you seem to want to be allowed to believe things without thinking them through.

Ilíon said...

".. these are problems."

Really (and let's not even get into your straw-man verson of "fundamentalism")? And just who are you, I mean, Really! to say what is and is not "problematic?" On what grounds?

'Atheists' are always so amusing in their un-self-conscious, yet so-transparent, illusory objectivity.

Ilíon said...

Keith Parsons: "... This was the charge that Washington Post columnist Nicholas Kristoff recently brought against his fellow liberals. He accuses liberals of deriding the beliefs of evangelicals, an attitude, he says, that is intrinsically repugnant, like making pejorative comments about someone’s race or sex. This, of course, is pluperfect nonsense. Criticizing beliefs is not at all the same as insulting someone’s race or sex. We are not responsible for our gender or ethnicity, but we largely are for our beliefs. As philosophers put it, we have “epistemic duties” to examine our beliefs critically in the light of the best available facts and the most solidly substantiated theories. When, therefore, somebody says something culpably and perversely ignorant (like, e.g., that the earth is only 6000 years old, or that homosexuality can be “cured,” or that the “rapture” is due any day now) then they deserve to be mocked.
... One thing I haven’t mentioned is just how
patronizing this attitude is. Are religious people hothouse flowers or like the proper young ladies of the 19th Century whose tender ears had to be protected from any suggestion of indelicacy or impropriety? Must liberals be their gallant guardians who rush to their defense when they are insulted by unbelieving boors? If, on the other hand, religious sensibilities really are that delicate, then tough shit. If religious people are going to ladle out the vitriol, as they so often do, then they have no right to complain if atheists spit some of it back into their eyes."

What a perversely ignorant (i.e. dishonest) fool this Keith Parsons is! I do hope someone, many someones, will mock him mercilessly far into the foreseeable future. (And I say this a someone who believes very much in ridiculing/mocking ideas, rather than persons.)

Perhaps some will fault me (before knowing the rationale) for the harshness of my assessment of Mr Parsons.

Or, perhaps some will say, "May it not be that Mr Parsons is not really a dishonest fool, but is rather merely stupid?" Of course, I must grant that as a theoretical possibility ... but as I am always loathe to hold others as being stupid without real and solid evidence of stupidity, I can explain such profound wrongness only in terms of deliberate intent: dishonesty.

Look at this: Mr Parsons is making *moral* assertions! An 'atheist,' of all the people on God's green earth, is making moral assertions about other human beings! And he's using "science" (whatever that word is supposed to mean), as though "science" has some necessary relationship to actual truth, to justify some of these quite odd assertions.

Keith Parsons: "... but we largely are [responsible] for our beliefs."

And Mr Parsons ... an 'atheist,' in Heaven's Name! ... knows this, how? How, exactly, does an 'atheist', an 'naturalist,' a "Darwinist" coherently justify this assertion as being a true belief?

Moreover, if we humans are merely "largely" responsible for our beliefs, then we are not *entirely* responsible for our beliefs. Surely a professional philosopher/atheologian ought to be able to recognize this little fact.

How much of "entirely" does "largely" encompass? Is there to be discovered at this boundary between "entirely" and "largely" some limitation to Mr Parson's countenanced mocking of actual persons, which mockery is justified apparenly by nothing more serions than his own personal scorn for their beliefs?

I've heard that "With "evolution," all things are possible!" I don't believe I've ever yet seen a shred of evidence to support such an assertion. But an 'atheist/naturalist' asserting "free will" and moral *oughtness?* That may well be the clincher!

Keith Parsons: "One thing I haven’t mentioned is just how patronizing this attitude is."

Yes, it is; and we can get by quite well without it. Can 'atheists?' In my personal experience, 'atheists' ... on top of frequently being themselves boors ... generally can't deal with "disrespect" being shown their quite silly beliefs. They almost always try to turn it into "a personal attack." Talk about your hothouse pansies!

Keith Parsons: "If, on the other hand, religious sensibilities really are that delicate, then tough shit. If religious people are going to ladle out the vitriol, as they so often do, then they have no right to complain if atheists spit some of it back into their eyes."

Let's not even bother with whether the assertion made here is indeed true. If we "religionists" were to treat Mr Parsons as he is calling for his fellow God-haters to treat us, he would at once whine about what uncivil meanies we are.

normajean said...

Ilion, Atheist are ugly; so are Christians. I'm surprised you're so appauled by the human condition-as if you've never experienced it yourself. Just pray and be nice.

Ilíon said...

I am a Christian (and a "conservative"): I know without qualification or reservation that human beings are ugly.

Why would you imagine I am appauled/shocked by humans?

"... be nice."
Really, what was there about my response to Mr Parsons' piece that is not "nice?"

Does this "nice" require that I lie to myself about what I see (i.e. that he is intellectually dishonest)? Does this "nice" require that I pretend that his beliefs and assertions are not both silly and incoherent? Does this "nice" require that I pretend he is not willfully lost; does it require that I pretend that if we're all just "nice enough" to him he'll stop hating God?

If you read carefully what I wrote, you'll see that I didn't mock *him* (in contract to his clarion-call for 'atheists' to mock Christians); rather, I mocked his silly and incoherent beliefs and worldview, and his actions and attitudes as expressed in that piece.

Of course, I fully expected him to react (assuming he pays any attention to a no-one, such as I) as though I had treated him exactly as he is calling for us to be treated. That was part of the point, after all! to show him to himself for the hothouse poseur that he is.

Sorry. It ain't gonna happen; I don't do "nice," not even at the request of a nice lady like you.

ps. Do you really not understand that 'atheists' throughout "the West" are working themselves up to persecute Christians again? They fear Islam (as well they should); but rather than turn to Christ, who alone can save them from Islam, they will turn to Fascism/Socialism.

Perhaps you've heard of the recent decision in California, the sole purpose of which is to make "home schooling" impossible? Do you know that German authorities have been invoking a Nazi-era law to persecute (the very few) "home schoolers" in Germany?

Christianity represents a power outside the control of The State; Christianity gives individuals community (The State needs us to be atomized individuals) and thus gives them internal resources to resist atomization; and so Christianity ... and Christians ... must be suppressed.

normajean said...

Yes, Illion, I'm aware of much of what you described. So stay sharp but be cool. Your substantive arguments will make the difference, not the rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

So if Rich dawkins saw a young boy crying if his mom was killed by a very bad man, and a pastor was reassuring the boy his mother was in Heaven and happy and the Evil man who killed her will go to Hell and suffer if he does not beg God for forgiveness.
Rich would be appalled and tell the kid he will never see his mother again, and the bad man will only have a peacefull death unto oblivion ? Dawkins is the worst kind of monster.

Anonymous said...

Samuel Skinner

Let me list the ways you are wrong. Because, although I may not be smarter than you... I definately am not as dumb as you.

Ilion complains I am straw manning. Now I would be if I suggested snake handling (which is a new innovation). Unfortunately the examples I gave are the basics of the Christian faith. Apparently only fundamentalist Christians believe in the basics!

I also like how he attacks Keith. Apparently atheists are incapable of being moral, science and reason aren't about truth... damn. You use the transendant argument and the moral argument, declare science is irrelevant, accusing atheists of faith, hairspliting for no reason, using "free will" (which he isn't arguing), angry atheists and atheists hate god. Quite simply you have used every stereotype in the book.

Why are you wrong? Lets hit morality, because quite simply that seems to be the only one that matters. Here are the reasons god would be necesary for morality. 1) handing down rules, 2) punishment or 3) referance point. That is it. Unfortunately for you people can be perfectly moral and not follow the ten commandments or whatever piece of the bible you follow (and can make their own moral code). In addition command morality is inherently immoral- because people who don't follow it are immoral, but it provides no method to get people to obey it except through fear and punishment. Acting out of fear of punishment isn't morality, it is servitude/brown nosing and we don't need absolute goodness as a referance point. Not to mention god does not fullfill absolute goodness at all...

Normajean- take that back! People can be ugly- but for the most part they are decent. For an example see the fact that the murder rates have dramatically decreased over the last four centuries- people are better now, than they were then.

How are you not nice Illion? You declare that atheists are incapable of being moral, basically putting them at the same category as animals. Given the fact that is generally used just before genociding a group it is considered "not nice". How would you like it if someone said blacks were animals who were amoral and you shouldn't listen to them or trust them because of their bestial nature? I know, I know- atheists are different- so it is alright to stereotype against them. Think about this for a moment. What if I declared that theists where incapable of behaving morally, that they were stealing off of secular morality and that you should never listen to a theist when the mention morality? What would you say then? That you are being persecuted? The problem is that Christianity and atheism aren't two sides of the same coin- one is right and the other is wrong. Unfortunately for you atheism is right. I'll do a quick run down- unlike theists I have the decency to explain myself(not a stereotype- I have been on the net long enough to realize this is almost always true. Since you like word games, yes there are exceptions- but they are rare).

Design, existance, morality, conciousness, transendant- argument from ignorance

ontological- word game

miracles, relevation- multiple religions

absolute morality, social order, basic ground rule- argument from consequences

I probably missed some, but they are all flawed.

And then you raised Christianity as "persecuted"- and as a bulwark against facism. Bad news bub- Christianity is a bulwark for facism. There is a reason every single facist country was Roman Catholic. As for being outside state control, that is true for protestantism- unless it helps run the state (ala USA).

I also like your delusions of persecution. How are you being persecuted? Your privileges are being taken away... if Christianity can't survive without props it is dead anyway.

But best of all is anonymos. Yep, Christianity is true because it makes you feel good. Only hedonists follow that logic.

normajean said...


What do you mean by morality? Is it imperatival, non-imperatival, privately owned, reducible to private attitudes. Perhaps your "good" is what you "prefer?"

What do you mean by command morality? And how is it immoral? How do you know that divine commands aren't help signs that bring it about in our thinking that certain thoughts and behaviors are not good for us?

Ilíon said...

That "mean" post was not rhetoric (and it was certainly not "passionate rhetoric"), it *is* a substantive argument.

philip m said...

Harris often says, "Where else in our discourse do we accord the level of respect to opinions like we do to religious ideas?" Then he brings up how if someone has a flawed historical opinion then he will be ripped to shreds, but how religious opinions are respected and this is some kind of inconsistency.

Now forget the fact that religious beliefs are quite different things than historical opinions, and focus in on rather the more obvious mistake made here. Whether someone has a flawed historical, scientific, religious, or any kind of opinion, I never have the right in any of those cases to be harsh or mean with him. That's just bad moral behaviour that goes against proper social etiquette when you are talking with someone in conversation. Harris seems to think the status quo is for people to become Angry Hippos when they detect error in someone else's thinking; this might explain a lot about him.

Whatever someone's opinion, you should always respect them. I think it's perfectly okay to talk about their beliefs and why them might be wrong (after all, what is evangelism if not calling the beliefs of others false?) What Harris fails to understand is simply that it really isn't ever okay to mean to other people, regardless of the subject on the table.

Victor Reppert said...

I should point out that Dr. Parsons is a long-time personal friend and a colleague I respect, in spite of some, well, massive differences of opinion.

Ilíon said...

Fortunately, I have no need to extend "professional courtesy," and I really doubt that I (personally) could regard as a "personal friend" someone who holds me and mine in such low regard.

But, hey, maybe this is a "religious rightist" thing on my part.