My friend Mike recently linked here, to 2 extended video clips of four of the top “New Atheists,” Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, discussing the interplay of the “New Atheism” and religion (mainly Christianity) as well as the criticism that has been leveled against them that they are rude and offensive. I’ve only had time to watch the first video, and I found it very interesting; if you have an hour or two to kill, I think it’s worth hearing what these guys have to say.
Now, I don’t say this because I think what they had to say has any merit. On the contrary, I found them all incredibly naive when it comes to religion, and this is one of the things which I find so interesting, and even surprising. These are four very intelligent individuals, yet they really don’t “get” the concept of what it is that they are railing against. I could understand it if they would say, “I really don’t understand this” or “I think I understand what you are saying, but I can’t come to the same conclusions.” However, they appear to have become foolish in their attempts to be intelligent, and perhaps have become unaware of what they do not understand.
Another interesting thing about the discussion is that you can see the differences in their beliefs (or non-beliefs). Hitchens seems to have the most understanding of religion – he just doesn’t like it. One reason why I like him is that he tries to be even-handed, and at times corrects the misstatements of the others. Dawkins still strikes me as someone who is perhaps just foolish. He has apparently tossed aside the need for logic or reason in dealing with the issue of religion, and is quite happy believing whatever he wants about what Christians believe; he has judged religion as loony, and beneath any sort of honest evaluation. Harris simply seems out out of his league, and Dennett seems content to play the grumpy philosopher. But, watch the clips and judge for yourselves. Each has some interesting things to say, and occasionally they do have some valid complaints.
In contrast to this is another discussion, between Anthony Bloom, who was a Russian Orthodox Archbishop, and atheist novelist and critic Marghanita Laski, which is found in Anthony Bloom’s book God and Man, where it is found as chapter 1, entitled The Atheist and the Archbishop. The discussion was televised in July of 1971 for the BBC. Bloom (1914 – 2003) was a Russian who was educated in Paris as a scientist and became a physician prior to becoming an Orthodox monk. He later served as the Archbishop (Metropolitan) of England & Ireland. Laski (1915-1988) was a professed atheist who, like our esteemed New Atheists, was intrigued by religion – although she was not nearly as offended by it as the aforementioned four. The Bloom-Laski discussion is, among other things, much more respectful than what I often see today in similar discussions.
Laski is an atheist of a different sort than our contemporary quadriad, who would probably toss out many of her thoughts as archaic. In response to a question by Bloom about what she thinks about the experiences and assertions of the millions who would say they are certain there is a God, Laski replies, “You lead me to the besetting sin of the atheist which is arrogance, so I think I have to say I don’t know.” She also acknowledges that atheism, as a lack of something rather than having something, is certainly lacking:
… since the Renaissance for instance, it’s been all too sadly apparent that in all the arts there has been no inspiration comparable with the inspiration that religion gave. There have been no words for secular music that compare with the music of a Mass. I certainly think that belief in God and the religions that arose from belief in God did give a shaping and a pattern to life for which I can see co conceivable substitute and to that extent I would certainly grant to you that my life is poorer than that of a believer.
She then says,
I probably haven’t made atheism seem at all rich and I don’t think it is. I think it’s a very Protestant, very puritanical faith that, as I say, does tend towards arrogance because we lack authority. But there is one thing I would say for atheism, as against religion, and that is this: if you try to practice it, it trains you in a virtue that I value highly which is endurance without whimpering …
Again, the “New” atheists would probably toss her out on her ear, and certainly she speaks with no authority other than her own opinions. However, it’s an interesting contrast in attitude, and the whole conversation is worth reading, if you can track down a copy.
Respectful – that’s the very word to characterise the mentioned dispute between Archbishop Antony and Marganita Laski – respectful both towards the subject and towards opponent’s views. The dispute leaves no doubt that whether God exists or not, matters as much as it matters why the opponent believes otherwise. Would you allow reproducing your review on metropolitan Anthony’s Foundation web-site?
Elena, I would be honored.
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This is not why they are considered arrogant. Everyone comes to conclusions based on whatever criteria they believe has merit, and that doesn’t make everyone arrogant. Believing you are right doesn’t make you arrogant (if you don’t believe you are right, it’s pretty stupid to continue to believe it…). These 4 are considered arrogant simply because they are. They ridicule anyone who finds a reason for faith, and lack any appearance of humility. As you point out, there are plenty of those among Christian evangelicals who are arrogant as well. It’s an ugly trait, no matter who has it. Arrogance says nothing of the validity of anyone’s beliefs, it’s just a character flaw (i.e. sin).
btw, cuteness has to count for something… 🙂
I would not suggest that they would toss her out on her ear, but they would engage her in a vigorous discussion.
I think your characterization of the four is a bit over the top, and here is why…
What they discuss and express distaste for directly is the arrogance of the religions to claim exclusive knowledge of the workings of the mind of a superior being. All atheists will tell you that we allow for a minor chance of the existence of your God, or any other god for that matter. Nothing written by man as authority has elevated their presupposition that there is no god if examined and cross-examined; so that the idea that actual knowledge can come by faith is not convincing to us.
What is a more likely explanation for the power that formalized religion continues to have is that it has an adaprationist explanation. Of course, the positions of the evolutionary psychologist, on which Dennett relies have not borne out under intense scrutiny. That is why the idea is scoffed at by evolutionary pluralists. But that is the basis that Dennett and Dawkins are at this time using.
I can’t speak to Harris, but will add about Hitchens that he approaches it as an investigative journalist would, but one with integrity. (And that is something that Strobel lacks.) So, while Dennett’s and Dawkins positions come perhaps from a narrower source they at least succeed in defeating the rationalized arguments of your run-of-the-mill Liberty University trained lawyer, or Baylor University Philosopher/Mathemitician who daily predicts the end of “Darwinism.” You know who I mean, here.
They are considered arrogant because they have come to a conclusion based on their observation; but I don’t think they are any more arrogant than the preacher who tries to block evolution and science from being taught at the local school because they don’t think that children should be burdened with earthly knowledge. I don’t think they are any more arrogant than someone who concludes after a bit of preliminary research that he can accept micro- but not macro- evolution or common descent.
And I don’t think that they are any more arrogant than I am. (I think it only fair that if I call you arrogant I had better accept the fault in myself.)
As for the snipped that you mention, I am not sure if you read the post in which I admitted that I lustily joined in and gave a hearty, if out of tune rendition of The Halleluya Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The music and the arts of the Renaissance were of course largely commissioned by the Churches and the Lords, and just as the art of the Soviet Union needed to comply with the masters it is quite likely that many agnostics created some of the art to which she references. I would like to read more of the conversation someday (adding it to my mental list) to get more of a taste of their conversation.
But would you be willing to accept that the beauty of the Mosques of Arabia are any indication that Islam is valid? Unrequited love can lead to some of the most stirring poetry and music. The inspiration is not a proof or indication of the existence of the thing or being which inspires that proof.
I would like to see how she developed the idea that her life is poorer that she no longer sees herself as a lowly being who needed a supernatural redeemer; that she no longer saw herself as a sinner in the hands of an angry god; that she no longer felt the need to credit God for her accomplishments.
I guess I am pretty arrogant, aren’t I? But at least I am cute.