“Believe It or Not” – David Hart sees the New Atheism movement going the way of the pet rock

Hereinafter are portions of the following article:
David B. Hart, “Believe It or Not [David Hart sees the New Atheism movement going the way of the pet rock],” First Things, p. 35

David B. Hart is the author of, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies


Hereinafter are portions of the following article:
David B. Hart, “Believe It or Not [David Hart sees the New Atheism movement going the way of the pet rock],” First Things, p. 35

David B. Hart is the author of, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current “marketplace of ideas” particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment…

Take, for instance, the recently published 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God. Certainly that was my hope in picking it up. Instead, I came away from the whole drab assemblage of preachments and preening feeling rather as if I had just left a large banquet at which I had been made to dine entirely on crushed ice and water vapor…

The quality of the essays is inversely proportionate to the air of authority their authors affect. For this reason, the philosophers—who are no better than their fellow contributors at reasoning, but who have better training in giving even specious arguments some appearance of systematic form—tend to come off as the most insufferable contributors…

Christine Overall notes that her prayers as a child were never answered; ergo, there is no God…

Adele Mercier…believers do not really believe what they think they believe…

The journalist Emma Tom had a psychotic scripture teacher when she was a girl…

The whole project probably reaches its reductio ad ahsurdum when the science-fiction writer Sean Williams explains that he learned to reject supernaturalism in large part from having grown up watching Doctor Who

On these last points it may be informative to read Lewis Wolpert – Still a Child at Heart and The Argument for Atheism from Immaturity

What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with. that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?…

I came to realize that the whole enterprise, when purged of its hugely preponderant alloy of sanctimonious bombast, is reducible to only a handful of arguments, most of which consist in simple category mistakes or the kind of historical oversimplifications that are either demonstrably false or irrelevantly true. And arguments of that sort are easily dismissed, if one is hardy enough to go on pointing out the obvious with sufficient indefatigability…

And only a complete failure to grasp the most basic philosophical terms of the conversation could prompt this strange inversion of logic, by which the argument from infinite regress—traditionally and correctly regarded as the most powerful objection to pure materialism—is now treated as an irrefutable argument against belief in Cod.
But something worse than mere misunderstanding lies at the base of Dawkins’ own special version of the argument from infinite regress—a version in which he takes a pride of almost maternal fierceness. Any “being,” he asserts, capable of exercising total control over the universe would have to be an extremely complex being, and because we know that complex beings must evolve from simpler beings and that the probability of a being as complex as that evolving is vanishingly minute, it is almost certain that no Cod exists. Q.E.D.
But, of course, this scarcely rises to the level of nonsense.
We can all happily concede that no complex, ubiquitous, omniscient, and omnipotent superbeing, inhabiting the physical cosmos and subject to the rules of evolution, exists. But who has ever suggested the contrary?

Numerous attempts have been made, by the way, to apprise Dawkins of what the traditional definition of divine simplicity implies, and of how it logically follows from the very idea of transcendence, and to explain to him what it means to speak of Cod as the transcendent fullness of actuality, and how this differs in kind from talk of quantitative degrees of composite complexity. But all the evidence suggests that Dawkins has never understood the point being made, and it is his unfortunate habit contemptuously to dismiss as meaningless concepts whose meanings elude him. Frankly, going solely on the record of his published work, it would be rash to assume that Dawkins has ever learned how to reason his way to the end of a simple syllogism….

His sporadic forays into philosophical argument suggest not only that he has sailed into unfamiliar waters, but also that he is simply not very interested in any of it. His occasional observations on Hume and Kant make it obvious that he has not really read either very closely. He apparently believes that Nietzsche, in announcing the death of Cod, literally meant to suggest that the supreme being named God had somehow met his demise. The title of one of the chapters in God Is Not Great is “The Metaphysical Claims of Religion Are False,” but nowhere in that chapter does Hitchens actually say what those claims or their flaws are.
On matters of simple historical and textual fact, moreover, Hitchens’ book is so extraordinarily crowded with errors that one soon gives up counting them…

He conflates the histories of the first and fourth crusades. He repeats as fact the long discredited myth that Christians destroyed the works of Aristotle and Lucretius, or systematically burned the books of pagan antiquity, which is the very opposite of what did happen. He speaks of the traditional hostility of “religion” (whatever that may be) to medicine, despite the monastic origins of the modern hospital and the involvement of Christian missions in medical research and medical care from the fourth century to the present. He tells us that countless lives were lost in the early centuries of the Church over disputes regarding which gospels were legitimate (the actual number of lives lost is zero). He asserts that Myles Coverdale and John Wycliffe were burned alive at the stake, although both men died of natural causes. He knows that the last twelve verses of Mark 16 are a late addition to the text, but he imagines this means that the entire account of the Resurrection is as well. He informs us that it is well known that Augustine was fond of the myth of the Wandering Jew, though Augustine died eight centuries before the legend was invented. And so on and so on (and so on)…Hitchens gets almost all the particular details extravagantly wrong…

As best I can tell, Hitchens’ case against faith consists mostly in a series of anecdotal enthymemes—that is to say, syllogisms of which one premise has been suppressed.
Unfortunately, in each case it turns out to be the major premise that is missing, so it is hard to guess what links the minor premise to the conclusion. One need only attempt to write out some of his arguments in traditional syllogistic style to see the difficulty:

Major Premise: [omitted]
Minor Premise: Evelyn Waugh was always something of a bastard, and his Catholic chauvinism often made him even worse.
Conclusion: “Religion” is evil.

Or:

Major Premise: [omitted]
Minor Premise: There are many bad men who are Buddhists.
Conclusion: All religious claims are false.

Or:

Major Premise: [omitted]
Minor Premise: Timothy Dwight opposed smallpox vaccinations.
Conclusion: There is no God…

[Friedrich Nietzsche’s] intellectual courage—his willingness to confront the implications of his renunciation of the Christian story of truth and the transcendent good without evasions or retreats—is rather a lot to ask of any other thinker, but it does rather make the atheist chic of today look fairly craven by comparison.

Above all, Nietzsche understood how immense the consequences of the rise of Christianity had been, and how immense the consequences of its decline would be as well, and had the intelligence to know he could not fall back on polite moral certitudes to which he no longer had any right. Just as the Christian revolution created a new sensibility by inverting many of the highest values of the pagan past, so the decline of Christianity, Nietzsche knew, portends another, perhaps equally catastrophic shift in moral and cultural consciousness. His famous fable in The Gay Science of the madman who announces God’s death is anything but a hymn of atheist triumphalism.

In fact, the madman despairs of the mere adieists—those who merely do not believe—to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

Because he understood the nature of what had happened when Christianity entered history with the annunciation of the death of God on the cross, and the elevation of a Jewish peasant above all gods, Nietzsche understood also that the passing of Christian faith permits no return to pagan naivete, and he knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated.

He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us. If we are, after all, nothing but the fortuitous effects of physical causes, then the will is bound to no rational measure but itself, and who can imagine what sort of world will spring up from so unprecedented and so vertiginously uncertain a vision of reality?

As for Nietzsche “knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated” see: The Deicidal and Misanthropic Prophecies

For Nietzsche, therefore, the future that lies before us must be decided, and decided between only two possible paths: a final nihilism, which aspires to nothing beyond the momentary consolations of material contentment, or some great feat of creative will, inspired by a new and truly worldly mythos powerful enough to replace the old and discredited mythos of the Christian revolution (for him, of course, thus meant the myth of the Ubermensch).
Perhaps; perhaps not. Where Nietzsche was almost certainly correct, however, was in recognizing that mere formal atheism was not yet the same thing as true unbelief. As he writes in The Cay Science,

“Once the Buddha was dead, people displayed his shadow for centuries afterwards in a cave, an immense and dreadful shadow. God is dead: —but as the human race is constituted, there will perhaps be caves for millennia yet where people will display his shadow. And we—we have yet to overcome his shadow!”

It may appear that Nietzsche is here referring to “persons of faith”—those poor souls who continue to make their placid, bovine trek to church every week to worship a God who passed away long ago—but that is not his meaning.
He is referring principally to those who think they have eluded God simply by ceasing to believe in his existence. For Nietzsche, “scientism”—the belief that the modern scientific method is the only avenue of truth, one capable of providing moral truth or moral meaning—is the worst dogmatism yet, and the most pathetic of all metaphysical nostalgias. And it is, in his view, precisely men like the New Atheists, clinging as they do to those tenuous vestiges of Christian morality that they have absurdly denominated “humanism,” who shelter themselves in caves and venerate shadows.
As they do not understand the past, or the nature of the spiritual revolution that has come and now gone for
Western humanity, so they cannot begin to understand the peril of the future…

To conclude; it may be of interest to consider the following essays:
Friedrich Nietzsche Nails Atheism, Again

Friedrich Nietzsche Nails the Freedom From Religion Foundation

Friedrich Nietzsche Nails Richard Dawkins

1 thought on ““Believe It or Not” – David Hart sees the New Atheism movement going the way of the pet rock”

  1. Atheist Delusions: The
    Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies

    Publication Date: February 23, 2010
    Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

    …………………………………………………………

    The God Delusion
    Publication Date: September 18, 2006

    Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

    #14 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > Atheism
    #55 in Books > Science & Math > History & Philosophy

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