I was cruising around the blogosphere this morning when I found this post at DaylightAtheism. Although I don’t necessarily share all of Haught’s conclusions as expressed in the source material, I felt Ebonmuse’s response was fraught with inconsistencies.
First on the list is the following peculiarity:
…Haught presumes for himself the right to judge which atheists are or are not sufficiently “serious”
Why should that be any sort of problem? After all, Ebonmuse certainly presumes which theists are sufficiently serious, for example, he says all that believe in demons are ignorant regardless of actual intelligence and should be unilaterally mocked. This makes Occam’s razor look more like a guillotine! As my heart goes out to the closet GLBT kid with a sternly homophobic and closed-minded dad, similar for the otherwise rational person who’s had experiences reasonably interpretable as psychic (‘psychic’ as in the Jungian sense of archetypal), spiritual or biblical in their ultimate nature. Such hasty generalization and harsh criticism in this regard can only effect cognitive dissonance, which is of little use in uncovering the truth.
Tangentially, if you read the source material, I think what Haught said about the New Atheists’ books reinforcing ignorance of atheism is spot-on. For example, in TGD we have Dawkins going on immature and emotionally-charged tirades, hypocritically bashing creationists for quote-mining Darwin, yet it’s fact that Dawkins quote-mined John Adams in TGD. Hardly what we’d expect from a distinguished Ph.D scholar, right? I thought so, too. So when I saw the John Adams quote-mine among other things, I was left to wonder if maybe Dawkins was ignorant or biased, and my concerns were justified. So why can’t any or all of Haught’s concerns be justified?
Expressing concern with who Haught considers a “real” atheist, Ebonmuse writes,
Haught is infatuated with those few atheists who proposed a sweeping, dramatic reinvention of humanity from the ground up. This is no surprise. Clearly, his aim is to make atheism seem as radical and disturbing a proposition as possible, the better to frighten his students away from embracing it.
Now, Ebonmuse might have a valid point about the motivation behind Haught’s selection of Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre – I simply don’t know what Haught’s motivation was for selecting them, so I’ll refrain from conjecture without evidence. But it’s also worth noting that Ebonmuse omits Haught’s suggestions of Feuerbach, Marx and Freud. Either way, when it comes to raw intellectual stimulation and reading the works of atheists, I would personally much rather read Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, Feuerbach, Marx and Freud with all their misgivings than Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris and theirs.
Further, what Haught described as “soft-core atheism” in the source material also had strong bearing on his selection of those writers that certainly did not shy away from taking their ideas to their ultimate conclusion. In fact, I had never read Haught’s essay, and I had already observed that the New Atheism many people embrace is analogous to generic spirituality or liberal Christianity, just kind of wishy-washy and not really committed to anything, a sort of armchair or lukewarm atheism with a bunch of equally flippant and quippy slogans like the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Invisible Pink Unicorns. That crap is no better than the most deplorable “Christian” sophistries like, “Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.”
Revealing sensitivities regarding Haught’s conclusions on atheism and morality, Ebonmuse continues,
No attack on atheism would be complete without the obligatory slander that atheism can provide no basis for morality.
That’s untrue on two levels: 1) Conflating slander with poor argument, perhaps? 2) It’s quite easy to successfully attack atheism while frankly acknowledging the fact that theism isn’t the only possible basis for morality. IOW, I concur with Ebonmuse that, “The existence of God offers no surefire path to absolute morality.” Plenty of the so-called “faithful” betray that simplistic equation, no need to name names.
Going in another direction, presumably about New Atheism, Haught remarked in the source material that “…atheism of this sort is nothing more than the persistence of life-numbing religiosity—it is religiosity in a new guise.” I agree, and have made this observation several times before, especially on DaylightAtheism but also elsewhere.
Incidentally, I’ve actually been thinking about atheism and religion much again lately, mainly in response to Ebonmuse’s recent upstep in “atheist action” items and such. The main thing that originally drew me to freethought was the lack of that sort of stuff, and “atheist action” just seems analogous to “Christian outreach” to me. Perhaps these comments will incur resistance, but it’s certainly a valid claim that atheists have their dogmas, and yes, individual atheists interpret them differently, just like individual “Christians” interpret their dogmas differently.
The following exchange seemed incomplete:
Has Harris really thought about what would happen if people adopted the hard-core atheist’s belief that there is no transcendent basis for our moral valuations? What if people have the sense to ask whether Darwinian naturalism can provide a solid and enduring foundation for our truth claims and value judgments? (Haught)
As an expert witness at a creationism trial, Haught should be well aware that no prominent atheist claims either of those things. In fact, Sam Harris (whom he derides) states in his books that he believes morality is objective, while Richard Dawkins (whom he derides) has argued that “we, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” Either Haught is grossly ignorant of the actual views of the atheists he’s attacking, or else he’s lying about their positions for rhetorical advantage. I invite my readers to decide which is more likely to be the case. (Ebonmuse)
Regarding Haught’s first question, Ebonmuse conflates transcendence with objectivity. And he effectively eschewed Haught’s second question, which raises concerns related to WLC’s paraphrase of Plantinga that was floating around the internet via Lee Strobel a few weeks ago, that is, to what degree would the fact that our senses are tuned for survival vs. truth call their reliability into question?
Here’s another one we can easily flip:
If these extremely successful, influential modern atheist authors are not worthy of mention as far as Haught is concerned, then he’s doing his students a serious disservice by failing to acquaint them with what real atheists are actually saying today.
So is Ebonmuse doing his “students” a “serious disservice” when he minimizes Ted Haggard, Rick Warren, or whatever other Evangelical “Christian” of their ilk happens to stoke Ebonmuse’s ire at the particular moment?
I’ve often argued that Ebonmuse glosses over valid arguments at times. Here’s an example of where he glossed over a valid argument from Haught:
Even if we accept this insulting falsehood of a characterization, one thing Haught has notably failed to do is show any instance where these atheists are wrong.
This is untrue, but even if it weren’t, would it really matter? Ebonmuse sounds more offended than cogent here, so what good is logic in assuaging emotion? But enough digression – Haught did discuss an instance in which he explains why he thinks the New Atheists are wrong – and Ebonmuse didn’t give Haught’s remarks about scientism even a single word!
Incidentally, when people have shown where these New Atheists are actually in the wrong before, I’ve seen Ebonmuse simply handwave their claims away, that’s why I ask if it would even matter. So valid points have been raised, and now it’s on Ebonmuse to rebut them or justify eschewing them.
However, here is perhaps the biggest blunder of the post IMO:
…for obvious reasons, a Catholic believer has no authority to decide what atheism “really” implies.
Really? Are we even thinking this stuff through anymore? Because if that’s the case, Ebonmuse effectively undermines every shred of his own authority to speak on what theism implies. And as we all know he often does, now he is left with a major epistemological nightmare that calls the reliability of all his interpretations of theism into question.
Somebody please either agree or call me out on that one.