Well, we are about to leave for Charlotte, again. Not for filming a telecast this time, and good thing. I’ve got a fever blister coming up on my lip that would have the potential to make it seem as if Tomorrow’s World were being presented by some sort of large duck-faced humanoid. (OK, it’s not that bad, at all, but way back when these blisters first began showing up around the time I was in early middle school, they were that bad. That was just about the time I began to want girls to notice me. And of course they did: “Hey, look! It’s Daffy Duck!” Now it’s just more of an inconvenience than anything else.)
With our departure imminent, I don’t have as much time as I would like to comment on the article I am bringing to your attention today, but I can’t help but at least put it out there for those who would be interested. It’s from City Journal magazine contributor Theodore Dalrymple and is titled “What the New Atheists Don’t See.” Mr. John Wheeler brought it to my attention yesterday, and it is an outstanding critique of today’s popular “New Atheist” authors — namely Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Onfray, and Daniel Dennett. And Mr. Dalrymple is not motivated by a desire to defend his own faith, admitting early in the article that he does not believe in God, himself — a fact which, in my opinion, only makes his critique more scathing.
He says so many things so well that it’s hard to pick any favorite comments, but here are a few (and I know I’m missing some):
- “Of course, men-that is to say, some men-have denied this truth [about the need for transcendent purpose in existence] ever since the Enlightenment, and have sought to find a way of life based entirely on reason. Far as I am from decrying reason, the attempt leads at best to Gradgrind and at worst to Stalin. Reason can never be the absolute dictator of man’s mental or moral economy.”
- “The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave… Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14.”
- “Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto, so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them, says on its second page that religion prevents mankind from facing up to ‘reality in all its naked cruelty.’ But how can reality have any moral quality without having an immanent or transcendent purpose?”
And here are some lengthier selections:
“In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: ‘Question everything.’ Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?
“Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool.”
Also, on Sam Harris’ book:
“This sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance, reach an apogee in Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith. It is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness; it makes Dawkins’s claim that religious education constitutes child abuse look sane and moderate.
“Harris tells us, for example, that ‘we must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it. Given the present state of the world, there appears to be no other future worth wanting.’ I am glad that I am old enough that I shall not see the future of reason as laid down by Harris; but I am puzzled by the status of the compulsion in the first sentence that I have quoted. Is Harris writing of a historical inevitability? Of a categorical imperative? Or is he merely making a legislative proposal? This is who-will-rid-me-of-this-troublesome-priest language, ambiguous no doubt, but not open to a generous interpretation.”
Bringing us to his attack on one of Mr. Harris’ most horrendous statements:
“It becomes even more sinister when considered in conjunction with the following sentences, quite possibly the most disgraceful that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist: ‘The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.’
“Let us leave aside the metaphysical problems that these three sentences raise. For Harris, the most important question about genocide would seem to be: ‘Who is genociding whom?’ To adapt Dostoyevsky slightly, starting from universal reason, I arrive at universal madness.”
Addressing Christopher Hitchen’s contention that “religion spoils everything,” Mr.Dalrymple points out the cherry picking that Mr. Hitchens has performed and that the same could be done for “demonstrating” the horrors of unbelief, concluding…
“In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find.”
(Three cheers for human nature, eh?)
The selected responses published by the magazine so far include one from Sam Harris, in which he takes Mr. Dalrymple to task just as harshly as Dalrymple had taken him. He also makes the point that Dalrymple — again, who does not believe in God — seems to be arguing that society should persist in believing in an “imaginary friend” rather than pursue the truth. Mr. Dalrymple responds with an offer of an apology for being, perhaps, a “little intemperate” in the manner in which he expressed himself, but he does not back down from the points he has made.
I’ve quoted the article here perhaps more than I should have, but it is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. If you didn’t click above, you can find it here, too: “What the New Atheists Don’t See.”
I’ve been meditating on these sorts of matters a lot recently. How do all these really smart guys miss the boat? There is no fear of God in them. Proverbs 1:7 states a truth that is echoed in many places in Scripture: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…” And reading their works, if you can find a cubic angstrom’s worth of the Fear of the LORD in these fellows, I would like to see it.
Prophetically, a lack of the fear of God has a role to play: “For now they say, ‘We have no king, Because we did not fear the LORD. And as for a king, what would he do for us?'” (Hosea 10:3). When many find themselves bereft of national power or identity, enslaved amongst the other peoples of the world, they will reflect on how they came to be in that circumstance, and this thought will come to mind: We did not fear the LORD.
Now, I’ve got to get to Charlotte! Have a great day, and I will blog during the trip when I can.