As if that weren't bad enough, we now have a group of philosopher types who insist that we study every atheist who ever lived. One of those philosopher types is R. Joseph Hoffman, a graduate from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Oxford. He is mainly interested in early Christianity. Hoffman is a nonbeleiver who posts at The New Oxonian. His latest post is: Atheism’s Little Idea.
It seems that everything I write these days is anti-atheist. And who can blame my unbelieving brethren for assuming I am fighting for the other side. Perhaps I should be, since modern atheism is hardly worth defending.Hang on to your hats. This is going to be very much like the attack of the "sophisticated" theists only this time it's about "sophisticated" atheism!
To be brutal, I cannot imagine a time in the history of unbelief when atheism has appeared more hamfisted, puling, ignorant or unappealing.
Atheism has become a very little idea because it is now promoted by little people with a small focus. These people tend to think that there are two kinds of questions: the questions we have already answered and the questions we will answer tomorrow. When they were even smaller than they are now, their father asked them every six weeks, “Whadja get in math and science?” When they had children of their own, they asked them, “Whadja get in science and math?” Which goes to show, people can change.This is an example of sophisticated argument? It seems a bit hypocritical coming from a man whose entire focus seems to have been on religion. What does he know about science?
Let's ignore the fact that Hoffman is equating atheism with some imaginary version of science and see where he's going with this. Keep in mind that to Hoffman atheism isn't just the absence of belief in gods. It's supposed to be a philosophy and a recipe for living.
They eschew mystery, unless it’s connected to a telescopic lens or an electron microscope or a neutrinometer at the Hadron Collider at CERN. “Mystery” is not a state to be enjoyed or celebrated like a good wine or a raven-haired woman with haunting and troubled eyes: it is a temporary state of befuddlement, an unknown sum, an uncharted particle, a glimpse of a distant galaxy, the possibility that Mars supported microbial life.Okay. I can buy that. As a scientist I view "mystery" as a problem to be solved. It's true that I don't spend a lot of time enjoying or celebrating my ignorance. But I do like good wine. I'm not going to comment on raven-haired women because Ms. Sandwalk reads my blog.
Science reified (with its consort, Reason) has become the convenient alternative deity of small atheists. But this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Most of the greatest advances in science were made by “believers.” Without getting into the mud over Einstein (who whether a believer or not was not an atheist), Newton, Mendel, Galileo, Kelvin, Darwin, Faraday, Boyle, Planck, and on and on. But the score at the end of this risky game is not to stack theists against atheists. Most smart people, some of whom are scientists, are not religious in the way religious people want them to be religious or irreligious in the way atheists want them to be atheists.Hoffman appears to be making two points here. The first one is that "science has become the alternative deity of small atheists." Let's think about that for a moment. Science is a proven way of knowing. No other ways of knowing have ever been shown to produce true knowledge. Hoffman undoubtedly uses the scientific way of knowing in his research. He almost certainly doesn't use any other way of knowing. What's the problem?
The second point is that some scientists were believers. Yawn.
When did atheism cease to be a big idea? When atheists made God a little idea. When its idea of god shriveled to become a postulate of a new intellectual Darwinism. When they began to identify unbelief with being a woman, a gay, a lesbian, or some other victimized cadre. When they decided that religion is best described as a malicious and retardant cultural force that connives to prevent us being the Alpha Race of super-intelligences and wholly equal beings that nature has in store for us. When they elevated naturalism, already an outmoded view of the universe, to a cause, at the expense of authentic imagination.I don't think I can deal with such a rambling pack of lies and distortions. But, just for the record, I am an atheist and I never tried to make God a little idea. Gods don't exist. They are no idea at all.
Atheism has become a little idea because it is based on the hobgoblin theory of religion: its god is a green elf with a stick, not the master of the universe who controls it with his omniscient will. –Let alone a God so powerful that this will could evolve into Nature’s God–the god of Jefferson and Paine–and then into the laws of nature, as it did before the end of the eighteenth century in learned discussion and debate.Gods don't exist. Not the green elf sort of god nor the big powerful scary god. I'm not the least bit interested in debating the properties of various nonexistent gods.
Atheism until fairly recently has been about a disappointing search for god that ends in failure, disillusionment, despair, and finally a new affirmation of human ingenuity that is entirely compatible with both science and art.Say what? Even if that were true, what's it got to do with me or any other new atheist? I did not search for god and then fall into dispair because he got lost somewhere. I never believed in gods in the first place. It's not up to me to go searching for imaginary friends. The onus is on the believers to present the case for believing in their gods.
Until they do that, I going to drink good wine and think about that raven-haired woman. It's a heck of a lot more fun than disillusionment and despair.
Anyway, for those despairing atheists, whoever they are, I'm glad that you were eventually able to work things out and avoid suicide.
That’s the way Sartre thought of it. –A conclusion forced upon us by the dawning recognition that we are both the source and solution to our despair. That is what Walter Lippmann thought in 1929, when he described the erosion of belief by the acids of modernity. This atheism was respectful of the fact that God is a very big idea, a sublime idea, and that abandoning such an idea could not take place as a mere reckoning at one moment in time; it had to happen as a process that included hatred, alienation and what Whitehead saw as “reconciliation” with the idea of God. That is what Leo Strauss meant in 1955 when he wrote in Natural Right and History that the classical virtues would save the modern world from the negative trinity of pragmatism, scientism and relativism, what Irving Babbitt (Lippmann’s teacher at Harvard) meant in declaring war on modernity and science in favour of the “inner check” of classical humanism.Whatever.
In 1914, on the eve of World War I, a very young Lippmann surveyed the situation in America: “The sanctity of property, the patriarchal family, hereditary caste, the dogma of sin, obedience to authority–the rock of ages, in brief, has been blasted for us.” A disllusioned soldier on the Western Front, Wilfred Owen asked poetically in the same year, “Was it for this the clay grew tall?” Ortega y Gasset observed that the goals that furnished yesterday’s landscape with “so definite an architecture” have lost their hold. Those that are to replace them have not yet taken shape, and so the landscape “seems to break up, vacillate, and quake in all directions.” And Yeats, elaborating on the kind of apocalyptic imagery he used in “The Second Coming” recalled: “Nature, steel-bound or stone-built in the nineteenth century, became a flux where man drowned or swam.” We all know the verdict: “Things fall apart,” because the god at the centre could not hold. The image was highly appropriate because it was atomic and prophetic.
I feel sorry for them but I wouldn't want to be them.
My current Angst, to use that hackneyed word correctly, is that most contemporary humanists don’t know what classical humanism is, and most modern atheists won’t even have read the books mentioned in the last paragraph, and what’s more will not care. Their atheism is an uneven mixture of basic physics, evolutionary biology, half cooked theories from the greasy kitchen of cognitive science, assorted political opinions, and what they regard as common sense. They fell into atheism; they did not come to it.Yes, he got that right. I'm not a humanist and I haven't read all those books. And I don't intend to ever read them—they sound depressing.
By the way, Joseph, I didn't "fall into atheism," I was never a believer, just like millions of people in Western Europe and elsewhere who are second or third generation atheists. You must be confusing new atheists with someone else.
That’s the way recent atheism has been, an old fiddle with one string and one tune to play: We are the world. Get over God. If the almighty being and his raggedy book are relevant at all, it’s simply as a record of all the stupid things human beings can think of: superstitious sorghum, toxic drivel that stopped being relevant in the century its superstitious, toxic tropes were composed.Now I get it. Joseph Hoffman's real angst is that he invested a large part of his life in religion and now he regrets it. He wishes that all new atheists would suffer, just he had to, by reading all those boring books. He's really pissed that some of us have avoided all the suffering by never falling for gods in the first place.
Now he wants to replace religion with some other "big idea" that's related to humanism, or perhaps some sophisticated atheist philosophy. No thanks. I've managed to avoid being bamboozled by the "big ideas" of religion and I'm not going to fall for some pseudoreligion in its place.