Meanwhile, Over at First Things

Allow me, dear readers, to offer you a link here: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/believe-it-or-not

David B. Hart argues, and convincingly, that while atheists will be with us always, even to the end of the age, the ‘New Atheists’ those strident but empty-headed screamers of narcissism and sneerers at their intellectual superiors, are a temporary fad, like see-through plastic pants or disco.

In order to prove his point, a number of people posing as New Atheists crowd his comments board and make the weakest possible arguments, displaying fumbling inability to grasp a simple syllogism, or the most obvious technical distinction, while vaunting and preening like some misbegotten crow who thinks himself a peacock, spreading his shabby, dun feathers in a splendor visible only to him.

Or it could be that these are real atheists, merely ones who are too dull witted to realize when they are casting dishonor on what (I, at least) regard as a perfectly honorable philosophical position.

A thinker can make, not one, but many strong arguments favoring the atheist position. “ME AM BIZZARO NUMBER ONE SMART GUY!! YOU AM DUMBBEST!!!” is not, in my opinion, one of the stronger arguments.

(A most egregious example of this: you will find, somewhere in the bog of comments, one crooked-skulled loon who dismisses Mr. Hart’s asseveration that perhaps atheists would be well served not to answer metaphysics with physics, or at least to show an understanding of how to two fields differ, by referring to the alleged metaphysical arguments of the Aztecs and Toltecs, and asserting that, since Hart does not refute Aztec theology with any intellectual arguments, therefore the New Atheists are excused from the duty of understanding the Christian arguments before refuting them. The fact that the New Atheists are writing books to condemn Christianity, a living religion, supported by a large and complex body of theological logic, which surrounds them on a daily basis and influences their culture, and not to condemn the practices of the Aztecs, a long-dead cult of devil-worshippers, unsupported by any theology, known only to archeologists and students of the macabre, is a fact evidently not worthy of note or refutation by this preening know-nothing. After amply displaying his inadequacy at making out even a prima facea case for his position, he climaxes with the demand that Mr. Hart should be embarrassed to  make the demand that the New Atheist understand the position against which they argue.)

Would that the Real Atheists, the Men of the Mind, would bestir themselves and silence the clamor of these New Atheists, the Men of the Mouth.

Epicurus
Epicurus – Honorary Atheist
Lucretius
Lucretius – Honorary Atheist

Nietzsche – Real Atheist
Rand – Real Atheist
Wells – Real Atheist
Asimov – Real Atheist

Me Am Number One Smart! — New Atheist

Footnote: I am listing Epicurus and Lucretius as “honorary” atheists on the grounds that they believed that the gods existed, merely that these happy beings, torpid in perfection, neither took account of the sufferings of man, answered prayers, demanded worship, nor merited it. They were atheistic in ethics but not in metaphysics. No writer before the time of Frederick or Voltaire can be found to support what a modern would recognize as unambiguously naturalistic atheism. 

6 Comments

  1. Comment by John C Wright:

    Back when I was an atheist, I was not a philosophical materialist, nor a nihilist, nor a know-nothing. I was someone who held, as a philosophical principle, that the only real knowledge knowable to man was rooted in (1) empirical evidence of the senses and (2) rational deductions from self-evident first principles. I held that supernatural things, being invisible, outside the universe, and outside of time, could produce no natural evidence to present to the senses; and I held and that rational deduction cannot lead from first principles to any conclusions about things in the realm of the mystical and ineffable, not even the conclusion that the realm of the mystical and ineffable existed or not. To me, that was the sum of the discussion. Any further argument would have to be something bringing my epistomology into question — the theist would have to prove, or at least to make a prima facea case, that there was another avenue to knowledge open to the human mind aside from sense impressions and rational deductions.

    But nihilism? God forbid! Even asking the question “what is truth?” presupposes a duty to ask honestly and answer manfully. Philosophers may not fight on the battlefield, but if they lack intellectual courage, temperance, moderation and justice, then they are not philosophers. Philosophy is primarily the study of virtue, the study of how best to live, and only secondarily about these other things. One cannot call yourself a “lover of wisdom” and spend your words and your life denigrating the idea that wisdom exists.

    Atheism is the opposite of nihilism. Atheist argues that it is morally wrong, if not self-delusion and cowardice, to believe in God. Atheism calls on men to stare into the ever-hungry grave clear eyed and unafraid and say that there is no back door into The Happy Hunting Grounds or the Long-Ago Dreamtime out of that hole in the cold earth: therefore no matter what else atheism stands for, it must support the notion of mental clarity and intellectual courage.

    Nihilism says nothing is anything, nothing is worth doing, only your Will makes meaning in the meaninglessness of life. But if it is true nothing is worth doing, then it is not worth making meaning in the meaninglessness of life, because that is a thing. If nothing has meaning, the philosophy called nihilism has no meaning. This is not a philosophical stance, it is a rhetorical trick, a thing you say when you have run out of logic, and you want to shut up your wife who has just found the damning pictures of you and your mistress.

    • Comment by Ilíon:

      Atheism is the opposite of nihilism. …

      Not at all. The so-called atheist who is not a nihilist (which is to say, most of the self-identifying atheists we know about — for, few of us have ever encountered a real atheist) simply doesn’t understand atheism.

      • Comment by John C Wright:

        “The so-called atheist who is not a nihilist (which is to say, most of the self-identifying atheists we know about — for, few of us have ever encountered a real atheist) simply doesn’t understand atheism.”

        Having been a non-nihilist atheist for three decades, and being of more than somewhat a philosophical bent of mind, I beg to differ. A nihilist believes in nothing: he believes nothing stands between his willpower and a universe that is a roaring void, into which he can create or impose any meaning he wishes, or none. A atheist is someone who is not convinced that the stories about God are credible, and not convinced that the arguments or evidence presented to persuade one of the existence of such an unbelievable being are persuasive.

        Now, this is no way requires a wholesale rejection of logic and reason, or morality, or law and order: for the same reason that Christian do not suddenly became nihilists because they do not believe in Zeus and Kali, atheists do not become nihilist because they do not believe in Christ or Zeus or Kali.

        If you want to make the argument that atheists SHOULD be nihilists on the ground that no valid reason for believing in reason and morality exists or can exist outside of a supernatural or mystical framework, please feel free. Such arguments are not unreasonable, but I have yet to encounter such an argument I found compelling.

        On the other hand, I can make the argument that there are perfectly natural reasons for believing in reason and morality that rest on none but natural grounds: self-interest rightly understood, for example, or the application of objectivity to questions of right and wrong can deduce a moral code with reference to supernatural reality.

  2. Comment by Sambo:

    After slogging through the comments, I was dumbstruck by the incorrigible numbskulls from Dawkins.net. I couldn’t resist tossing up a fictional summary of the whole exchange:

    Imagine that there was a group of people who vigorously denounced the idea of Justice. On a web forum, a prominent moral philosopher explains that most of these denunciations are confused, intellectually shallow, and misinformed. Into the combox charges Hickory, Dickory and Dock, spoiling for a fight.

    Smug and indignant, Hickory blusters at length about how nobody has experimentally proven that there is such a thing as justice. It becomes clear after a few posts, however, that Hickory seems to think that “Justice” is a kind of Karmic moral energy. Patienty, the readers try to explain to him that this is a misconception, and that perhaps he should read Plato or Aristotle or Rawls before commenting further. Hickory retorts that this is a Courtier’s reply! He doesn’t need to read any newage claptrap in order to know there is no such thing as Karma! He needn’t read any “Plato” or “Rawls” in order to know that justice is fairytale! Can’t fool him with this rubbish!

    Next, Dickory shows up and defiantly challenges anyone, Anyone! to define Justice in such a way that he can test for it in a laboratory. He doesn’t want to hear any bull about how you can’t observe it in principle. That’s clearly nothing more than an attempt to dodge the relentless forward progress of science. Can’t fool him either! Just define it, and tell him how to test for it, or he will continue to mock and make fun of how stupid you are.

    Dock, meanwhile, launches into an extemporaneous discussion about all the atrocities committed in the name of justice. In painful detail, he describes how the conquistadores were all motivated by Justice, and how this figured into their oppression of the indians. Wouldn’t mankind be better off if we just dropped the notion of justice in favor of, say, economic efficiency?

    Dickory, meanwhile, explains that justice is physically impossible, because a man who decided to commit murder would have to become unjust before he actually carried the action out. But this means that justice would have to travel backwards in time from the act of the murder to the decision, and according to modern physics this is impossible. He then lectures everyone on relativistic physics and how it defies common sense. Not everybody can be as smart as Dickory!

    Then Hickory chimes in, noting that nobody could ever become just or unjust, because justice would have to be a physical signalling process, and it would also have to occur instantaneously. But no physical signals can move faster than the speed of light! This paradox further shows how stupid and ignorant all the believers in justice are.
    He. Is. On. To. You!

    Hickory and Dickory then congratulate each other on how very smart and tough-minded they are, and talk some more trash about how stupid all the “justice”ites are.

  3. Comment by Sambo:

    Thanks! Flattered I am indeed. Big fan of yours Mr. Wright. Big fan.

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