Rerun Night: The “New Atheists” put in their place

Well, if Richard Dawkins' can have a symbol for his "movement," why can't we? Admittedly, this needs the loving hand of a graphic designer to give it a touch of "fancy," but who knows why I picked it? Anyone? Bonus points for a correct answer!

Well, my first partial day here in Charlotte has been profitable, and my scripts are moving along, though–as usual–not as far along as I would like them. One is definitely being titled, “Why Believe in God?” While the other is being titled… something else… 🙂

I’ve really wanted to post on some of my thoughts, recently, but I absolutely must devote all my best brain cells to the task at hand (following my usual prescribed rituals). However, in doing some research just now I was Googling something and I was surprised that the top link that came up was an old blog post of mine: “The ‘New Atheists’ put in their place.” Consequently, I thought that this old post might make for a good rerun while I am in the middle of telecastifacturing (trademark status is pending on that word, by the way).

So, for those who have been irritated by the mudflinging attacks of the so-called “New Atheists” of recent years, I present you a critique given of them by one of their own, Theodore Dalrymple’s article for City Journal, “What the New Atheists Don’t See” — discussed in my own post of 11/14/2007, “The ‘New Atheists’ put in their place.”

I will try to post again a few times while I’m here, but I make no promises–trying to learn to under promise and over deliver instead of over promise and under deliver. 🙂

35 thoughts on “Rerun Night: The “New Atheists” put in their place

  1. james Hart

    Watching last week’s telecast right now. 🙂 Prophets and Pretenders. Good job! The opening “quatran” you read of Nostradamus about fish on the shore was halarious when you said “That was clear!”.

  2. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Backwards blue “E” for “Earth”? 😀 Sorry, kemo sabe, most I can do this pass of moon over big river…

    (Acts 17:6 RSV) And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,
    (Acts 17:7 RSV) and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

    As for the font, I’ll see what I can do and mail you examples. 😀

  3. Thomas

    What about ∃!, or ∃!G, or even ∃!G! (just for emphasis).

    That would give a graphic artist a bit more to work with.

  4. Mr. Hart: Thank you! I was hoping that would come off humorously. 🙂

    Mr. Wheeler: Thanks, and I got your e-mail with the Cyrillic letter, but that wouldn’t work, I’m afraid. The cornered, blocky nature of the “backwards E” is necessary.

    Thomas: Ah! Someone knows his math symbols! 🙂 You know, adding the exclamation mark might be something to consider. Adding the “G” or something like it was something I had thought about, but part of what I admire about Dawkins’ elegantly styled “scarlet A” is the symplicity of it. I feel like one maybe two symbols at the most would be the way to go, even if the technical translation would seem like it’s missing a complement to the subject pronoun (that
    might even add to the appeal of it in someway).

    Thanks for taking it seriously, though, fellows! I know a wonderful graphic designer who’s a rather smart fellow, and I might ask his opinion, as well.

  5. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Mr. Smith: So what does the math symbol mean?! (I was afraid it would be one of those, indeed I thought I’d seen it in that context before, but I don’t have the reference materials to look it up.)

    I got the joke on the broadcast. Now please explain this one. 😛 😉

  6. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    How about another symbol and another idea? I stumbled across Wikipedia’s article “Absolute Infinite” some months ago when looking up things related to Godel’s Theorem. I know you don’t like links here and so you make my job harder 😛 but consider these statements from the article (I’m unfamiliar with how George Cantor’s ideas, relate, if at all, to Kurt Godel’s):

    The Absolute Infinite is mathematician Georg Cantor’s concept of an “infinity” that transcended the transfinite numbers. Cantor equated the Absolute Infinite with God.[1] He held that the Absolute Infinite had various mathematical properties, including that every property of the Absolute Infinite is also held by some smaller object[citation needed].

    (…) Cantor is quoted as saying:

    > The actual infinite arises in three contexts: first when it is realized in the most complete form, in a fully independent otherworldly being, in Deo, where I call it the Absolute Infinite or simply Absolute; second when it occurs in the contingent, created world; third when the mind grasps it in abstracto as a mathematical magnitude, number or order type.[2]

    (…) The system Ω of all [ordinal] numbers is an inconsistent, absolutely infinite multiplicity.

    So why not Omega as a one-letter symbol? 🙂 Or else (yes, I suppose this is inevitable if far from original) Alpha and Omega? 😀

  7. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Sorry for the one-line interruption… but were it up to me, I’d pick Theta as my one-letter symbol (for Theos).

  8. Howdy, again, Mr. Wheeler —

    Wow: I don’t even have an eighth of the time I would need to go into Cantor. 🙂 Though I agree with that mathematician who said to those who disapproved of Cantor that we refuse to be expelled from the mathematical “heaven” his work has provided (metaphorical, of course!), and I’d often thought of possible analogies between God and the mathematical Absolute Infinity (though I disagree with Cantor that an Absolute Infinity can exist in the created contingent world), I want more time to explore the thought and its surrounding environs before saying much more.

    As for the ∃ symbol, you can look it up on Wikipedia (here’s a link), which can give more background than I can here. It is the existential qualifier in predicate logic, meaning, essentially, “There Exists” or “There Is” — as in ∃x(x² = 25), which says “There exists an x such that x² = 25″ (one such x would be x = 5).

    I like its potential as a symbol in that it does not stand for God, Himself, as might be said of some of the appealing possibilities you offer, but for the principle that He does exist. To use the “there exists” (∃) symbol in a statement is to assert the existence of something, which is the heart of the idea to which I am appealing.

    If you check out the Wikipedia link, it will likely be informative.

    Ack! Must work on scripts! No promise that comments left in the queue will be approved quickly, but as I see them during breaks I will try to hit the button. (And return comments may be on hold for a while.)

    Thanks for the comments, and have a great day!

  9. Peoples with real brains!
    You and MR. Wheeler and those brains of yours. I wish I could read 1/4 of the things you do and keep them in my mind to access later. Must not be a need for anything more than the immediate learning and enjoyment of what you do.
    TIME: If you had more time you would do more things. I think that 24 hours a day is good, then I have a shot at keeping up with some stuff.

  10. texasborn

    Here is a take on another group of “new atheists” which is excerpted from a sidebar by Marvin Olasky on page 48 of the April 9, 2011 issue of WORLD magazine:

    “…we should pay attention to the question asked in a Virginia news sermon delivered also in 1755: ‘Are all our affairs under the management of chance?’ Pastor Samuel Davies said no and criticized his congregation’s pride: ‘You who can eat, and forget God: you who enjoy the blessing of the sun and rain, and the fruits of the earth, and yet go on as thoughtless of your divine Benefactor as the cattle of your stall, or who look upon these as things of course, or the fruits of your own industry…you are practical atheists.’ ”

    (What an astute observation!)

  11. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Mr. Smith: Yes, the article in Wikipedia was most informative. What it did not explain was why Prof. Dawkins didn’t use the conditional for “there is not” (the backwards E with a line drawn through it) as his symbol. It seems to be the symbolism, or the fate, that his reasoning deserves. 😀

    TexasBorn: You remind me of some commentator that the “fools” David wrote about were “practical atheists”, not “theoretical” ones. Quite likely in many cases, yet I don’t think the second option can be ruled out even that early in man’s history.. One can hardly overestimate the ability of the Devil to lead us around by the nose (or whatever other part of us he can grab).

  12. Actually, I think Dawkins’ choice (or whoever’s choice) of the “Scarlet A” is the perfect choice for them (speaking from the point of view of their goals, marketing desires, etc.), given its ties to Hester Prynne, social castigation, violating the norms of society, turning a badge of shame into a noble stand, etc. It fits the narrative so many of them believe about themselves. It’s one info-packed symbol, and well-chosen for its purpose, methinks — filled (or able to be filled) with meaning and implication, but not too esoteric as to be unaccessible. I may not agree with the applicability of the narrative it represents, but I respect the thinking and insight that went into picking it for their cause.

  13. Thomas

    Was thinking of Isa 46:9 regarding ∃!. Definitely scriptural…:)
    Of course, you could just take their A and turn it upside down giving ∀ (thinking of John 1:3, here).

  14. Thomas

    lol – ok, so I’m only 3 years late with the ∀ idea.

    What about c for light (yes, I know it’s actually the speed of light)? It has all sorts of connotations both physical and spiritual. Light: electricity->magnetism->electricity…the heartbeat of the universe described by the laws of physics. Biblically: Light represents the Law which originates from, and describes, God.

    Einstein’s famous equation means that c is familiar beyond geekdom. Another symbol for consideration…

  15. Steve

    Interesting discussion. Hmph. When I studied logic, the phrase “absolute infinite” would’ve been considered redundant. They were considered one and the same thing.

    And it looks like the notational script has changed. In my day, the backward E would’ve been written as a capital R, as in relationship. (See Wikipedia article on the backwards E, and you’ll see the words “relationship” or “property” for a given domain).

    I’m tempted to throw a curve ball, but I’m going to keep my mouth shut. This stuff is kind of fun, isn’t it?

  16. Wow, Steve — given that ∃ was introduced no later than 1897, you go back a long way! 🙂

    Seriously, I’m sure that there are multiple symbols that have been used at various times (or, perhaps more relevant, in various contexts), but ∃ isn’t the property or relation as much as it is the predication of that property or relation. My professors often used an R (or perhaps a backwards R, I don’t recall) to indicate a generalized relation between, say, x and y (as in “x R y“), but this would be something different (as in ∀y∃x(x R y), or something to that effect).

    As for “Absolute Infinity,” the transfinite mathematics of Cantor demonstrates different “sizes” of infinity. For example, the infinite number of counting numbers {1, 2, 3, etc.} and the infinite number of fractions {1/2, 2/3, 7/8, etc.} would be the same size (that is, equal). The infinite number of irrational numbers {π, e, √2, etc.}, however, is a greater infinite number. “Absolute Infinity” would be, if you will, the infinity for which there is no greater infinity in magnitude. (I highly recommend Rudy Rucker’s old book Infinity and the Mind for someone wanting to explore the concept of infinity and transfinite numbers. I couldn’t think the same way again after reading it when I was a teenager!)

    And yeah, I think it’s fun, too. 🙂 It brings back memories of when I really fell in love with math. That didn’t happen until I was exposed to proofs in Geometry, but I would say the early flirting began the year before when I would frequently finish my Algebra homework early and my teacher let me flip through some of her more advanced books and I saw symbols like these. It was the first time I realized that mathematical notation was very much a language, designed to communicate ideas just like all other languages are.

  17. Steve

    Oh, I absolutely believe you, Mr Smith. Much of my education in logic was self-taught. I’d buy these textbooks at the local college, and study them for the intellectual stimulation. I’m suppose to have a 148 IQ, but In my line of work, I didn’t have much time for formal schooling. Consequently, I’m at somewhat of a disadvantage of guys like you (who have formal training). I never bumped into the backwards E.

    (I have all these books on my shelf. Kant, Hume, Descartes; Adam Smith,John Mills; Freud and Jung; Shakespeare; and so on. If I want a good action-adventure story, then it’s Caesar’s “Civil War,” Livy, or Thucydides. I sneak into my man-cave after being outside all day, and regal in the classics. It’s my dark side. It also makes me an idiot on pop culture. Too half-baked, I guess).

    Anyway, can I throw out a challenge :)? A friend once said to me, “you cannot be moderate in all things; otherwise, you would be excessively moderate.” I came up with a solution for that, but I’d be interested in what you or Rakkav have to say.

  18. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Steve: This sounds rather like equivocation on what “moderate” means. I haven’t read the classical contexts firsthand yet but I gather that “nothing too much” or “moderation in all things” means striving for balance in thought and deed. It’s the striving for balance, itself, that cannot be moderate. It has to be wholehearted, else the pulls of the world, the flesh and the Devil will pull you off-center to one harmful extreme or another – or else you’ll run into something even more subtle.

    The Political Compass online (UK) gives an excellent illustration. It’s intended to measure where one actually is or tends to be by nature and/or nurture and in that sense it gives no “wrong answer”. But in actual application (its founders notwithstanding) there is only one “right answer” and that is dead center. “Moderate” thereon involves a balance between authoritarian and libertarian social extremes, and a balance between left and right economic ones (the latter axis is a good predictor of moral positioning too, the founders say). The apparent paradox is that if one just tries to sit there in the middle and do nothing about one’s beliefs, one ends up simply making peace at any price – Revelation 3:15-18 style. That would indeed be taking “moderation” too far, not in degree but in kind (hence, my suspicion of equivocation in the original statement by your friend). One has to do what one knows to do and do it wholeheartedly – if one is in the center in one’s beliefs by God’s standards, then there is no limit to the zeal one can apply to that center in practice. There, if you will, you can be as “immoderate” as you please – so long as you stay dead-center! Otherwise you become a loose cannon, and harmful one way or another.

    (Apparently I tend to be slightly authoritarian-left by preference on the PC, when compared to the average voting public. I can well believe it. That doesn’t mean I want to stay there, committing the naturalistic fallacy that “what is, is good”. Oh, and I have no idea if “PC” is an intentional pun on the psychologists’ part or not.)

    Something parallel apparently has gone on in the history of what was prophesied by Revelation 3:7-11. Many have equivocated on what it means to be “conservative” – confusing being authoritarian-right with “keeping My word and not denying My name” and “holding fast what you have”. And what makes it even more confusing is that “conservative” in the latter sense, in application, means exactly the same thing as “moderate” does in the “nothing too much but wholeheartedly so” sense. It’s one of those “from a certain point of view” things, as the fictional Jedi Knights would say. 😀

  19. Steve

    @Rakkav: Hi, John. My friend wasn’t necessarily talking about moderation in a political or philosophical sense. He was talking about normal, everyday behavior. “You can’t be moderate in all things; otherwise, you would be excessively moderate.” I just took his proposition as a straightforward puzzle.

    You instinctively grasped the problem, however. There’s an inherent structural flaw in the way that he stated the proposition. It took me a couple of pages and some head scratching to figure that out! Anyway, here’s the reply that I gave him: “In order for you statement to be true, you have to agree that some acts are excessive, even if you perform them only one time.”

    2. As far as politics is concerned, I gave up on that a long time ago. I tried to read Tacitus and his annals of Rome. Those guys made modern politics look tame by comparison. And over what? Stuff that nobody cares about or remembers anymore? Just a bunch of wasted time and empty skulls in the dirt!

    Those political or psychological tests? I take them all the time, just for the entertainment value. I think their useful to a certain extent, but I don’t put a whole lot of stock into them. They often ask the wrong questions, and frame the questions in a way that I disagree with.

    Philosophically, I agree that moderation involves finding a proper balance between two extremes. Then again, I have a slightly different take. I think of moderation more like a left hedge and right hedge that forms a path or road. You know, it’s like kids: sometimes you loosen the reins; sometimes you tighten the reins. As long as they don’t stray across boundaries.

    I agree with you, John. I just come at it from different angle perhaps. And my strong apology to Mr Smith for using his website as though it were the local diner!

  20. texasborn

    I recently read a review of Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts.” In the review, this excerpt from the book appeared:

    “Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism…Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt. Perhaps the opposite of faith is fear. To lack faith perhaps isn’t as much an intellectual disbelief in the existence of God as fear and distrust that there is a good God…The fear is suffocating, terrorizing, and I want the remedy, and it is trust. Trust is everything.”

    The “terrorizing” comment reminds me of Hebrews 10:31: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (NKJV)

  21. texasborn

    A word of warning to all atheists who are “hedging their bets”: Don’t be like the insomniac, dyslexic agnostic who lay awake all night wondering if there’s a dog. (:-D)

  22. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    TexasBorn: Since faith in God, the fear of God and walking humbly with God are three different ways of saying the same thing (I’d point you to an essay on my Web site for the scriptural references but I’m pretty sure Mr. Smith wouldn’t allow such a shameless plug 🙂 ), it’s certainly another kind of “fear” than the proper one that’s required, if you’re going to be either a practical or a theoretical atheist.

    Faith is an interesting concept in Scripture. In Hebrew Scripture it focuses almost entirely on God’s trustworthiness; in Greek Scripture, it focuses almost entirely on our trustfulness. On the other hand, God must trust us and we must be trustworthy as well – both Testaments speak of this.

    I have a theory that what shows up on the Political Compass as the social axis (authoritarian/libertarian) is actually a measure of faith, and of fidelity, going in both directions. The ideal is dead center. Both God (who has authority) and man (who has responsibility) must have both trustfulness and trustworthiness.

    Love your joke, by the way. I think the insight you cited is good too. I still love most of all the joke about the atheist who was about to be eaten by a grizzly bear and cried out to God to at least make the bear a Christian if he couldn’t be made one. The bear promptly knelt and gave God thanks for the meal he was about to eat… 😀

  23. Steve

    Texasborn made a couple of interesting comments. I’ve actually bumped into one or two people who take the attitude that he described.

    Atheists? I know this elderly guy who is a committed atheist, and wears it like a capital A on his chest. He says the most awful things about the Bible and God. For example, he thinks that Jesus suffered heat stroke and went crazy in the desert during His fast. That religious people are lunatics.

    Recently, he’s been expressing doubts. “Guess I’m going to hell when I die.” And he was really serious, too. He wondered about my opinion and kept pushing me for a reply. Now, I’m wringing my collar, because I really don’t want to get into this. I’s not my pay grade, and I don’t want to proselytize.

    Not my exact words, but I replied something like this; You want to hedge you bets? Just do the classic things that everybody already knows about. Don’t steal; don’t cheat on your wife; and don’t run around, trying to do somebody in. Somehow I don’t think God would punish people for trying to be a nice guy.

    I didn’t get much reaction. Anyway, I hate those conversations. Whenever somebody talks religion, I’m looking for the nearest exit. People need to talk to a qualified minister, not some idiot like me.

  24. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Steve: Your atheist friend has to learn that it takes more than being a “nice guy” and hedging one’s bets that way. God punished Job (through Satan and, in a way, his three friends and his wife) for being a “nice guy” – because being a “nice guy” doesn’t cut it. God wanted Job to learn that only God is righteous by nature and none of us can save ourselves by ourselves from ourselves, let alone from Leviathan the “king over all the sons of pride” (a symbol of the Devil) – no matter how many “good works” we do. We can’t establish a relationship with God by what we do. Every human being that has lived, is living or ever will live has to learn the same lesson. That includes the atheists, who may find the lesson easier to learn than many “good people”.

    On the other hand, you should be able to give him a hope that no other religion can, at least without distortion. God isn’t looking for excuses to condemn people and He certainly doesn’t plan to burn people forever in hell. The only people who have to worry about the Day of Judgment – either if they live to see Jesus Christ’s return or if they arise in the second resurrection – are those who know God’s will and refuse to do it!

    So my first reaction – which might not be the ideal way you might approach the subject for his sake – would be, “If you’re afraid you might be punished by God, then what’s stopping you from surrendering to Him?” I would approach him from my strength, which is value judgment. You might prefer another approach. But you don’t need to be a minister to ask him such questions, or to deal with what he might answer. If you’re already studying and living by the truth as a truly converted man, that gives you wisdom. David and others say so in the Bible.

    Working through an intellectual framework understandably would take time – and God’s guidance of his mind. You can’t open his mind for him and God knows when it’s best to do so. But as a DVD I have from Answers in Genesis is titled, “it doesn’t take a Ph.D.” to “chop down the trunk of the tree” of man’s intellectual fallacies. Norman Geisler (now Dr.) refuted logical positivism in twenty seconds as a college freshman, leaving his professor with nothing to talk about for the rest of the semester. And yet how much unbelief has been engendered by that philosophy! He’s done the same with Hulme’s Critique of Pure Reason and other philosophies (too bad he can’t see the holes in his own Trinitarianism). Man’s ideas about the world tend to be self-refuting, and that includes atheism. All you have to do is figure out how that’s so.

    One thing to remember is not to try to play the game by the opponent’s rules if you can avoid it. No human problem can be solved by the same form of consciousness that gave rise to it. And there’s a flip side to that: I only get lost in dealing with atheism when I try to comprehend it logically and in terms of “hard data” about the world (whereas in my opinion those things are mostly pretexts anyway). I see through it a lot faster when I play to my strengths, which are intuition and value judgment. Would working from hard data (the here and the now and the physical) and putting it into a logical framework, work best for you? I suspect so. And that may give you the strongest position possible in dealing with your friend. It’s something to try, anyway…

  25. author

    About the backwards E.

    It can’t be the mathematical e, that is usually lower case.

    It could mean Energy, as in E=mc(2). It is backwards because you are lacking in energy. You are telling us you are very tired and want to go to sleep. You are overworked and you need a nap. Well, maybe not.

    It could mean eternity. It is backwards because you are looking back, not to future eternity, which is easy for humans to understand, but to past eternity, the eternal existence of God, because He has always existed. That is something that science and atheists cannot explain, past eternity, because no matter how far back they go, even to the big bang, they cannot explain what came before and what started everything else.

    That is the best I can come up with for now.

    I think I need a nap.

  26. Ha! Great guesses — and a nice touch of humor, too! Actually, as covered in a comment above, I think, it means “there exists” and is the existential predicate in symbolic logic. Still, it was nice to see you reach around for ideas! 🙂

  27. Oh, I don’t know about too geeky. 🙂 Depending on how you mean it–“God’s existence is provable” or “God’s existence follows (from the evidence)” etc.”–it would fit just fine! I was just looking for something as simple as possible, much like the simple scarlet A used by some atheists. That was the thing with “∃!” you suggested, which could have a fun double meaning, with the “!” taken by some as simply an emphatic emphasis (as in “God Exists!”) and by others who recognize “∃!” for its symbolic meaning “there exists uniquely.” But, again, I was hoping for the simplest symbol possible, esoteric enough to be fun but simple enough to be easy to get and use. “∃!” knocks on that door, but I’m still won by the simplicity of one symbol, “∃”.

    However, what I’ve enjoyed the most is that some of you have taken the effort seriously! Thanks much for the input, Thomas!

  28. Thomas

    Was reading ├ ∃ as saying that ∃ is a logically valid formula. Because the left side of the entails turnstile is blank, as a statement, it reads that the truth of the formula on the right side, ∃, is not contingent on anything. It holds true at all times and in all places. Equivalent to a tautology in propositional calculus.

    An eternal, self-existing truth.

    Don’t know how to pack that into just one symbol.

    Ok, ok, shutting up now! 🙂

  29. Hey, don’t shut up when you’re saying such good stuff! 🙂 I like the “contingent on nothing” idea, though I think the double turnstile (⊨) is used for a tautology. Regardless, good thinking, and thanks for the contribution!

  30. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Mr. Smith: A friend here just gave me a used hardback copy of The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel. From the way he writes I suspect very strongly that he’s an ENFP like me, with the strengths and limitations in trying to understand complex concepts in physics that this thought pattern usually implies. But as he was an investigative journalist he brings his own strengths to the subject, not least the ability to convey his ideas and those of others well. And that includes the critiques (by fellow scientists) of various ideas about cosmology (including Hawkins, Guth, etc.), biology, chemistry and other areas of great interest.

    Also I just bought (for Kindle on my iPod touch) The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens (if memory serves the latter just died). The author (Vox Day, which sounds to me like a deliberate pun – a pen name?) I think you will simply love his description of why he wrote that book. He reminds me of “one of you” (ENTP, humanly speaking), someone who at the same time values rationality and accuracy on the one hand and human harmony on the other.

    If you haven’t seen one or both of these, I recommend that you take a look. Even if you don’t agree with everything put forward therein, the ideas are certain to be interesting.

  31. Thomas

    Z – in reference to Kronecker’s famous quote “God created the integers, all else is the work of man.”

    It’s simple, even elegant. Also makes a nice juxtaposition to the other crowds “A”. Gives you the final word (or letter).

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