Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Dawkins Fish

Stanley Fish has discovered the new wave of atheists and devoted several blog posts to critiquing them. I find this lovely, because I don't think much of the new atheists.

Though I am somewhat torn. Most of the new atheists' arguments are bad, some ignorant and some stupid, and taken in total they don't merit a response. And if they do, well, that says something depressing about the sophistication of the audience.

There's an irony here. I've gathered Richard Dawkins has stopped debating creationists because he thinks the debate itself gives them more credibility than they deserve. That's a fair position, but if the topic were instead the existence of God, a refusal by any theologian to debate Dawkins could be justified on precisely the same grounds.

Fish's posts:

The anguish of this question and the incredibly nuanced and elegant writings of those who have tried to answer it are what the three atheists miss; and it is by missing so much that they are able to produce such a jolly debunking of a way of thinking they do not begin to understand.

The Three Atheists

Asking that religious faith consider itself falsified by empirical evidence is as foolish as asking that natural selection tremble before the assertion of deity and design. Falsification, if it occurs, always occurs from the inside.

Atheism and Evidence

The criticism made by atheists that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated is no criticism at all; for a God whose existence could be demonstrated wouldn’t be a God; he would just be another object in the field of human vision.

Is Religion Man-Made?

The authors of these tracts are characterized by professor Jacques Berlinerblau of Georgetown University as “the soccer hooligans of reasoned discourse.” He asks (rhetorically), “Can an atheist or agnostic commentator discuss any aspect of religion for more than thirty seconds without referring to religious peoples as imbeciles, extremists, mental deficients, fascists, enemies of the public good, crypto-Nazis, conjure men, irrationalists … authoritarian despots and so forth?”

Liberalism and Secularism: One and the Same

[Terry Eagleton] is angry, I think, at having to expend so much mental and emotional energy refuting the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins. I know just how he feels.

God Talk

So to sum up, the epistemological critique of religion — it is an inferior way of knowing — is the flip side of a na├»ve and untenable positivism. And the critique of religion’s content — it’s cotton-candy fluff — is the product of incredible ignorance.

God Talk 2

When, for example, I wrote three columns criticizing the atheist tracts written by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, I was motivated not by a belief in God — which I may or may not have, you’ll never know — but by what I took to be sloppy, schoolboy reasoning that was passing itself off as wisdom. I could have been an atheist myself, and I still would have found the so-called logic of these books weak and risible.