CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

This is the second of two parts of an interview for the Cadre Journal, with Christian apologist David Marshall, who has released two books this year (through Harvest Home publishers); one on the topic of the promotion of alternate Gospel texts, and one on the topic of the New Atheism. (Please see Part One for more biographical information, and for the portion about “The Lost Gospels”.)

Most recently this year, David published The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Chellenges to God and Christianity. David had left for Oxford on a speaking tour and research project by the time we did this portion of the interview.


JP: Where did the term "New Atheism" come from anyway? Do the usual suspects gladly make use of it themselves? And if so, what do they see this as positively meaning in their favor?

DM: Most "New Atheists" seem to think the term is somehow derogatory, and foisted on them by a cabal at Wheaton College or somewhere. Such is the way of things: Christians were named by some of our first enemies, "Mohammedans" had no say over that title, the Chinese are still referred to by the name of their most ruthless emperor, and the Makah Indians (as I recall) are called "those guys over there" or something like that, which was the answer a member of the next tribe gave when the first white man asked who they were.

I invented the term "New Atheism", then found everyone already using it before my book came to press. Someone bugged my office, I guess.

JP: So, why would they be called the "New Atheists"? What are they doing new? Or does the term even make any sense applied to them?

DM: This new cohort of atheist writers tends to have several things in common. They are trying generally to apply the theory of evolution in new ways to social science, including religion and morality. (Drawing on people like Pascal Boyer and some other new theorists, even Dawkins' meme theory, along with earlier writers.) Secondly, they draw on new "Jesus spin" -- what I call neo-Gnosticism, along with the Jesus Seminar stuff and some even more hoary "Jesus was a mirage" theories. Third, the New Atheism arises in a new context -- after 9/11, when many skeptics want to see a symmetry between radical Islam and home-grown "Christian fundamentalism." Some people did this during the Cold War, too, trying to make out that Christianity was "just as dangerous" as communism.


JP: People, even among other atheists, have been criticizing the NA group for overstating claims about the American political system and American society being ready to topple into a Talibanesque oppressive theocracy or even being already in such a state already. How accurate are those critiques? Are the NAs really saying such things, or are they just speculating cautiously, or do they not even care about the topic?

DM: Richard Dawkins calls American Christians "the American Taliban." Other critics have written books with titles like "American Theocracy" and "Kingdom Coming," painting American Christianity in equally apocalyptic tones. It is certainly a major part of Dawkins' argument, and of many who agree with him, to make American Christians appear fools, lunatics, proto-terrorists (the serious ones, anyway) and an imminent threat to the republic.

I argue to the contrary. While we Christians often criticize ourselves, and no one denies that the Church is less than it ought to be, the Gospel does, I show, do a great deal of good for America, and through America for the world. The New Atheist case against Christianity is like a snap shot from a satellite. But serious, systematic, long-term, and ground-level study of what Christians are doing for others in America, shows that it's quite a bit. And far from despising democracy, conservative Christians tend to be quite zealous and proprietary about it. Rightfully so -- as serious historians understand, Western freedom was a child of two parents, Greek and Hebrew traditions, nurtured and taught by the Gospel over centuries of slow maturation.


JP: On Richard Dawkins' official website (www.richarddawkins.net) the subtitle or motto is "A Clear-Thinking Oasis", and a prominent link will bring the reader to "The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science". At the popular long-running Secular Web (www.infidel.org), which frequently markets and promotes NA work, the subtitle or motto is "A Drop of Reason in a Pool of Confusion". This sort of thing can be commonly found among all atheistic promoters. And not unreasonably so!--everyone wants reason to be on their side.

The question here is, how consistent are they about this? I mean in principle--do they always affirm the importance and reality of human reason in reaching conclusions? Or do you find them ever denying the reality and importance of human reasoning in principle when explaining what they believe?


DM: I don't recall them doing that. Perhaps they do, and I missed it.

I make the case that their definition of "reason" is too narrow, and that they deny their own definition in practice. A lot of their statements veer towards positivism. But positivism is a couple strong steps -- or perhaps a giant leap -- on the path to solipsism and an inability to say with epistemological integrity, "I ate eggs for breakfast this morning," or "this is my wife." Most talk about "science" in a reified sense tends to pull us in that direction. My argument is that the Gospel, by contrast, liberates us to find knowledge and truth in a more fully human mode, making use of all our faculties -- including rational dependence on human testimony, as scientists do anyway -- to understand the world around us. Christian "faith," then, is not only a rational act, it is an exercise that sets reason free to really take in the world.


JP: Does it seem a usual procedure of the NAs to make ethical appeals about what people ought and ought not to do? If not, is this consistent behavior on their part (and what do they substitute instead)? If so, how consistent are they in principle about affirming the importance and reality of human moral judgment?

DM: It's natural for all human beings to make ethical appeals. The more loudly we denounce them, the more we tend to assume them implicitly. Marx was a moralist who denied morality. Even the loudest proponents of egoism and the Superman, like Nietzche and Ayn Rand, show in their own lives they don't consistently believe their own arguments. Dawkins is very confused on this topic. Hitchens and Harris are smart (perhaps) enough not even to try to justify their moral opinions theoretically, as far as I recall.

The New Atheism in general does tend to be badly conflicted about morality. On the one hand, they want to say it derives from evolution and you can't derive an ought from an evolutionary is, "except with a negative sign," as Dawkins puts it. Then they turn around and try to do just that -- find evolutionary rationale for their own pet moral projects, to the sounds of pots clanging and glass breaking.


JP: You've spent some time studying, traveling in, and dealing with mainland China, over the years. It can said with some safety, I think, that China is currently the world's largest example of an overtly atheistic government. How does China as a government compare, in its own approaches to the subject, with the NAs?

DM: The more interesting question is how the Chinese compare.

Someone recently got mad at my off-hand comment in this book that most modern atheists have been Marxist. In the broad sense of "Marxist," though, this is clearly true: a huge percent of Chinese (as well as Soviets and so on) have seen themselves as atheists, denying the existence of God. If America has twenty million atheists, China probably has three to four hundred million, maybe more. Only a minority are members of the communist party, true, but their atheism at least derives from Marxist teachings.

The difference is, many Chinese (and Eastern Europeans) were brought up as "cultural atheists," educated in the non-existence God in school. Now many are questioning those assumptions. If you say, "I believe in God," and they respond (as they often do) "why?" or "how do you know?" you get the curious impression that they're really listening to the reply. This is why the number of atheists in China seems to be steadily decreasing, and intellectual Chinese -- even here in Oxford, where I'm answering these questions from -- are coming to God in significant numbers.

But Marx himself was, in his time, very much a "new atheist." He went off to school a pious young Hebrew Lutheran, and lost his faith under the influence of what Daniel Dennett called "godless professors" and a "scientific" view of the origin of human society.


JP: When the NAs are busy excoriating the socio-political threat of the "American Taliban" and President Bush's "theocracy", how does this compare to the reality of China and other known definite atheist states in the past hundred years or so?

DM: Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris want us to think atheism has nothing to do with that reality. As a scholar of Marxism who has lived in both Soviet and Chinese societies, I say "poppycock." One can hardly blame them for wishing, though; what Christian wouldn't want to wish the Inquisition away?


JP: Thank you for your answers so far, David. JD Walters, one of our contributors here on the Cadre Journal, asks: “One often hears that apologetics only 'preaches to the choir' and that it is very ineffective in actually changing someone's mind or bringing them closer to the gospel. What has your experience been in this area? Do you believe that your apologetics books have changed people's minds concerning the issues you deal with?”

DM: The best answer is, perhaps, that apologetics truly does no good at all -- if it is divorced from the life of integrity that the Gospel calls us to. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels... If I have all knowledge... but have not love, it profits me nothing." [Quoting from St. Paul’s hymn of love in 1 Corinthians chp 13.]

This is why apologetics must be a part of a whole-istic outreach. Paul said "Speak the truth in love." Sometimes I am disappointed by the rude and presumptuous way we Christians respond to our skeptical neighbors. Sometimes I have also let the temptation to be witty trump the call to love, and respond without really caring about the other person.

What effect do my books have in the hands of skeptics? It would be presumptuous of me to generalize. But they are written from my own passionate love of truth, a love of the best in human thought, and a touch of humor. The first step to win a soul is to win a friend; and I do think my books can be a step in establishing a friendly and cheerful conversation about important issues.


JP: As a group of apologists, we're naturally interested in hearing of practical applications of these studies in the lives and witnesses of Christians; for instance, such as the Chinese responses you mentioned encountering in your travels. Can you build a bit on your advice from your previous answer, and discuss the integration of apologetics in a holistic outreach? Also, you seem to indicate that there are important parallels between this holistic outreach and a Christian's own self-discipline of faith. Can you comment on this a little more?

DM: Yesterday I prayed with an Asian woman who goes into the streets and helps drug addicts here in Oxford, and helps homeless people in Africa. She's winning people to Jesus; she's reading my book, and asking me questions, because she feels a need to understand what she believes more deeply. I meet people like that almost every day; and you probably know quite a few in your own church. My standard offer to Richard Dawkins is that he guide me around this town, and introduce me to Oxford's pubs; in return, I'll take him on a tour of the city's churches, and see what the Gospel is accomplishing under his (upturned) nose. My estimate is that he knows about as much about Christianity as I do about English beer.

Chesterton used to say that he could start his argument from anything; from a taxi meter, for example. Jesus was even more flexible and inventive: he could change lives beginning with anything, with mud in the eye, with a tax collector in a tree, with a madman on the beach, with a wild woman at a watering hole on the other side of the railroad tracks. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life," he said (according to his best friend John). We apologists (at least I know I do) tend to concentrate on one aspect of that, "the Truth;" the fraction is even smaller if we look at Jesus' "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength." There's nothing wrong with specializing; but it is the whole person who wins souls, and becomes a complete one herself.

I've just been reading the biographies of two "evangelists" I admire: Matteo Ricci, and James Legge, the two smartest missionaries to China ever. They won souls by their thoughtful apologetics, but even more by kindness and courage. They were very bookish, but also lived crazy lives: jumping into rivers to save women in a flood, punching an imperial soldier to save a little girl, winning respect for the Gospel in all kinds of ways. They had enemies, and opponents, and they responded robustly. But what ultimately won them respect was their character.

My life has been mild by comparison, so far. But Jesus said, "Whoever gives a cup of water in my name will not lose his reward." I firmly believe that the strongest argument for the Christian faith will always be the integrity of what we say and do.

In the end, we follow a person--not a theory.

9 comments:

Since this second half of the interview overlaps some discussion on ‘The New Atheism’ we’ve been having elsewhere on the journal recently, and since the interview doesn’t (by its limited nature) cover a broader expanse of topic in regard to David’s book; I decided I would add a comment proposing the archetypal (or stereotypical?) characteristics of the New Atheist movement. These are based on my own experiences, and on discussions I’ve had with other apologists working the field, as much as anything; but I think they also correspond with the characteristics mentioned by David in his book. (Certainly he’s welcome to make additions or other distinctions for purposes of correctly reporting the content of his book on these matters.)

There’s a good possibility that I may post this up as its own journal entry eventually (it’s certainly long enough! {wry g!}), with clarifications or corrections as I see fit.

For purposes of synching with the interview topic, I am presenting these in more-or-less the topical order in which they appear in David’s book; and otherwise as they occur to me.

I have tried to avoid criticizing the positions represented in the points below; but have attempted to accurately describe the typology (one might say the taxonomy) of a group.


1.) NAs tend to promote the notion that faith is intrinsically antithetical to reason.

1.1.) NAs tend to promote the notion that religious believers refuse to ask tough questions about their own beliefs. Sceptical questions are presented as if they are supposed to be staggering revelations to believers who have never considered such things before or who simply ignore the questions as being too dangerous to think about. Often the questions themselves are presented as if merely asking them is (or should be) enough to undermine a religious belief. (Relatedly, all or the large majority of sceptical challenges are promoted as being this dangerous to belief, without distinction.)

1.2.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to describe religious belief (broadband, not only in particular cases) as having been arrived at, and held, without evidence.

1.3.) NAs tend to promote the notion that people hold religious beliefs merely due to reactions to environmental stimuli, macroscale (such as cultural memetic pressure) and/or microscale (such as genetic predisposition, God modules in the brain, etc.)

1.4.) NAs tend to promote the notion (when they want to be taken seriously about their own arguments and beliefs) that, in direct and non-parallel distinction from religious belief, anti-religious belief involves actively overcoming mere reactions to our environment in order to arrive (at least more reliably) at the actual truths of the issues. The notion that strongly religious believers may be doing the same thing is routinely denied, discounted or at least ignored.

1.5) NAs tend to promote the notion that religious believers (as a group, not just particular individuals) are not merely mistaken but are actually deluded. Or worse.


2.) NAs tend to promote the notion that science and religious belief are intrinsically antithetical.

2.1.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to promote the notion that ‘science’ (in whatever sense of the word they are currently using) does not depend on more fundamental disciplines of principle analysis for its proper and accurate operation.

2.2.) NAs tend to promote the notion that religious belief in general (or at least the main religious belief they bother to attack in the West) intrinsically discourages attempts to understand (and effectively manipulate?) the natural world.


3.) NAs tend to promote the notion that biological evolutionary theory (typically neo-Darwinistic gradualism) somehow positively disproves or at least counts as evidence against the existence of God.

3.1.) NAs, even if they elsewhere admit there are serious critical problems remaining in the theory at any of several levels (especially when they want to compare themselves to supposedly uncritical religious beliefs), tend to nevertheless promote b.e.t in general (and neo-Darwinistic gradualism) in particular as being solidly established fact that only idiots or the intentionally deceptive would still be sceptical of.

3.2.) NAs tend to promote the notion of evolutionary development (whether biological or not) as a widescale explanation for most or all kinds of natural development, including (for example) active rational inference ability (insofar as a particular NA may agree that this exists.)

3.2.1.) NAs also tend to promote the notion of evolutionary development (whether biological or not) as a widescale explanation for the existence of religious beliefs.

3.2.2.) NAs also tend to disparage religious beliefs on the ground that, as products of mere evolutionary development, they are not rational beliefs.


4.) NAs tend to hyper-minimize any intrinsic worth to the Judeo-Christian scriptures.

4.1.) NAs tend to promote the notion that Biblical behavior is only, or largely, cruel and/or immoral, including the character of God in the Judeo-Christian canonical scriptures.

4.1.1.) Relatedly, NAs tend to promote the notion that the Bible has nothing to teach an enlightened society about right and wrong.

4.2.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to promote the notion that the books of the Judeo-Christian canon (however this is defined) are largely incoherent in regard to each other. (Except insofar as they present a coherent picture of cruel and/or immoral behavior being systematically sanctioned and authoritatively required with order and threat of enforcement, whether for followers of the religion or in principle for everyone. Any other coherency is at least downplayed as being irrelevant, where not denied outright.)

4.3.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to promote the notion that the Jewish and/or the Christian scriptures teach followers to love only members of their own group and to do nothing other than hate members of other groups.

4.4.) NAs tend to promote the notion (when they aren’t busy dismissing coherency elsewhere) that the books of the canons, especially the Christian New Testament, were dictatively chosen as canon by authorities in power, purely for ideological reasons of those authorities themselves and not for sake of already-perceived-and-accepted historical (or even ideological) worth among a general population of established religious followers (Jewish and/or Christian). That, or the texts were merely chosen more-or-less arbitrarily.

4.4.1.) Relatedly, NAs tend to promote the notion that the texts of the Christian canon are and were of no more objectively intrinsic worth than any other document about Christianity floating around in the first several centuries CE (much less afterward), such as GosPeter or GosJudas (for example).

4.4.2.) NAs tend to treat the Judeo-Christian texts as having almost no historical reliability, especially in regard to key figures in the texts (such as Jesus).

4.5.) NAs tend to promote the idea that the canonical New Testament texts are far too late from the time of the events the texts claim to relate, to have any reliability.

4.6.) NAs tend to promote the idea (when they aren’t claiming the texts were simply invented by the authors, including for ‘authoritorial’ reasons) that the NT narrative materials are derived from a highly inaccurate system of communal transmission, with no checks on variation or even sheer invention worth mentioning.

4.6.1.) NAs also have a notable tendency to appeal to the telephone game analogy when describing communal transmission of NT narrative material.

4.6.2.) NAs tend to outright deny, or downplay as completely irrelevant, the notion that eyewitness accounts stand behind the narrative NT materials.

4.7.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to promote the idea that all the essential features of the Jesus ‘legend’ were simply borrowed from previously established traditions. (And not just from previously established Jewish tradition.)

4.8.) NAs tend to promote the idea that the Judeo-Christian texts cannot withstand even a little bit of criticism in any regard, and that any failure is enough to bring the whole edifice of Christian (and Jewish?) faith irreparably crashing down.


5.) NAs tend to promote the notion that the United States (and any other modern nation with a large at-least-nominally-devout Christian population?) is either already practically a theocracy, or is only a step away from becoming so.

5.1.) Relatedly, NAs tend to promote the notion that a theocracy can only be a bad thing.

5.2.) Relatedly, NAs tend to promote the notion that it is only by dint of tireless (one might also say thankless) efforts of some sceptics, that this danger might be (or has been up to now) averted.


6.) NAs tend to promote the idea that radical belief represents mainstream belief, or at least that there is a significant danger of it becoming mainstream (without tireless, thankless efforts of some sceptics, etc.)

6.1.) Relatedly, NAs tend to promote the idea that radical scepticism represents mainstream belief (whether of sceptics or otherwise), or at least that this would be quickly and naturally achieved were it not for the efforts of some backwoods obscuritants whose hopes are doomed but who intend to go down fighting, etc.


7.) NAs tend to promote the idea that only naturalistic atheism (typically applied by scientific specialists) can be relied upon to make the world a better place.

7.1.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to promote the idea that this would be the natural and fairly quick result but for the efforts of the backwoods obscuritants, etc.


8.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to be strongly disparaging of any human accomplishment before the rise of modern anti-religious belief (unless the accomplishment can be positioned to demerit the particular religion they are most concerned about attacking.)


9.) NAs tend to rely heavily upon rhetorical appeal, including emotional appeal, as a legitimate part of their promotional strategy to common audiences.

9.1.) NAs also tend to be heavily involved in promoting what might be called the evangel of atheism (or scepticism or agnosticism or related disbelief).

9.1.1.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to be strongly self-promoting.


10.) NAs tend to appeal to moral outrage in their evangelical attempts.

10.1.) NAs tend to disparage moral outrage, or even treat it as being positively dangerous, when evidenced by their religious-believing opponents.

10.2.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to be ethical pragmatists or some other type of ethical relativist, in their own theories about morality, including practical application.

10.2.1.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to defend an ‘end-justifies-the-means’ approach to morality, when they are caught doing something someone else considers to be ‘wrong’.

10.3.) NAs tend to strongly promote counter-theistic arguments from injustice (evil, unjust suffering, etc.)


11.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to refuse to respect specialists on religious matters, if those specialists happen to believe at least some of what they are specializing in.


12.) NAs tend to positively promote atheism, even when they would otherwise decline to call themselves atheists.

12.1.) Nominally agnostic NAs do not tend to bother being agnostic about typically atheistic or anti-theistic or counter-theistic positions, and certainly never give equal weight of critical scepticism to such claims.

12.2.) Beyond mere atheism, NAs tend to promote anti-theism.


13.) NAs tend to act toward undermining respect to clergy (as authorities or otherwise).

13.1.) NAs tend to act toward undermining respect of churches as social groups.


Obviously, not all atheists (much less all un/non-believers) will fit the above tendencies. Just as obviously (at least to me, and I expect to sceptical readers too), many of the tendencies can be found as mirror images among at least some Christians. Indeed, I expect Christians could be found who in effect mirror the positions comprehensively! (Would it be too far a stretch to add a 14th tendency?--NAs have at least a minor tendency to have originally belonged to Christian groups, or even to have been Christians themselves, who actively promoted mirror images of these tendencies and/or actively promoted the tendencies being lobbied against by the NAs as represented in this list.)

Nor does any particular tendency occur to me as being non-negotiable for a NA by terms of this classification. I can’t think of any tendency in the list that of itself would inspire me to say ‘yep he is’ or ‘nope she isn’t’ a New Atheist.

But I propose the list as a useful classification tally, or at least the beginning of such, with the general idea that where a particular proponent meets a large majority (much moreso all) of the criteria, then he or she may be reasonably (even respectably) grouped with the movement now being called The New Atheism.


JRP

Jason, Marshall has already given a good idea of how best to characterize NA’s. I’m surprised you feel the need to specify further than he did. You might want to distinguish the New Atheists from the Old Atheists like Russell, former atheist Flew, and Mackie. That would be helpful. And it should also be noted that there are still Old Atheists out there, like Michael Martin, Nicholas Everitt, Graham Oppy, Quentin Smith, Theodore Drange and J.L. Schellenberg, along with others like Michael Shermer, Jeff Lowder, Dan Barker and myself.

Perhaps in the future you may want to support some of these assertions by documenting them, for some of them do not seem to be specifically characteristic of NA’s. Characterizing may be helpful, but it can also stereotype people, since individual people have differences between themselves. Here are a few of my eclectic comments:

1.3.) NAs tend to promote the notion that people hold religious beliefs merely due to reactions to environmental stimuli, macroscale (such as cultural memetic pressure) and/or microscale (such as genetic predisposition, God modules in the brain, etc.)

Was Freud then, a NA?

1.5) NAs tend to promote the notion that religious believers (as a group, not just particular individuals) are not merely mistaken but are actually deluded. Or worse.

Freud? Feuerbach?

“de•lude (past and past participle de•lud•ed, present participle de•lud•ing, 3rd person present singular de•ludes) vt lead into false belief: to persuade somebody to believe something that is untrue or unreal Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

2.) NAs tend to promote the notion that science and religious belief are intrinsically antithetical.

Dennett does not think that, I believe. He wants religion to be studied scientifically though.

3.) NAs tend to promote the notion that biological evolutionary theory (typically neo-Darwinistic gradualism) somehow positively disproves or at least counts as evidence against the existence of God.

This describes every atheist since the rise of Darwin, especially the last phrase.

3.2.2.) NAs also tend to disparage religious beliefs on the ground that, as products of mere evolutionary development, they are not rational beliefs.

Freud?

4.1.) NAs tend to promote the notion that Biblical behavior is only, or largely, cruel and/or immoral, including the character of God in the Judeo-Christian canonical scriptures.

I think this may only apply to Hitchens, and perhaps Dawkins. Does they speak for all NA’s?

4.1.1.) Relatedly, NAs tend to promote the notion that the Bible has nothing to teach an enlightened society about right and wrong.

Lots of atheists (Old and New) have claimed that what we find in the Bible doesn’t teach us anything about right and wrong that human beings couldn't learn on their own, since the Biblical writers learned their morals the same way we all do.

.3.) NAs have at least a minor tendency to promote the notion that the Jewish and/or the Christian scriptures teach followers to love only members of their own group and to do nothing other than hate members of other groups.

Please document this. Who thinks that?

4.4.) NAs tend to promote the notion (when they aren’t busy dismissing coherency elsewhere) that the books of the canons, especially the Christian New Testament, were dictatively chosen as canon by authorities in power, purely for ideological reasons of those authorities themselves and not for sake of already-perceived-and-accepted historical (or even ideological) worth among a general population of established religious followers (Jewish and/or Christian). That, or the texts were merely chosen more-or-less arbitrarily.

This describes all atheists.

Anyway, I’ll stop here. I think you get my point.

Please, no ad hominems.

Freud did not believe that all religious believers were deluded. This results from a common misunderstanding of the word he used-'illusion'-to describe religious beliefs. He used the word for a belief which cannot be shown to be true (but has not been shown to be false either) but which nevertheless has strong purchase with the human mind because it fulfills our deepest longings. Feuerbach certainly thought that believers were mistaken to project their ideas of God onto some supernatural being instead of their true source, their own selves. Durkheim as well thought religious beliefs were misattributed.

I would venture that Loftus is being too simplistic again when he ascribes certain beliefs to 'all' atheists. In my experience many unbelievers are content with simply describing religious beliefs as 'irrational', bowing before Dawkins and acting smug. Reflective atheists are few and far between. How many atheists not in the academy have actually sat down to think deeply about the origin of the New Testament and the implications of Darwinism for religion?

And unless I'm mistaken, Schellenberg still qualifies as agnostic rather than atheist. I'll wait until I've read his latest book to judge on that, though.

But let's have comments on the substantive issues already! Is Marshall right that the New Atheists have a restrictive concecpt of reason? Does the value of apologetics go beyond simply opening up the conversation?

I think we should seriously discuss the question "why would be try to have any kind of dialogs with atheists at all?" I guess the negation of that one might be construed as "not very apologetically minded." But that just depends one's view of apologetics. Speaking of which, you open a good issue there as well.

I also have some questions abut the classification system of atheists. Shouldn't we have another category for the real extremists who want to make religion illegal? Are they just also NA's? I've been calling them "Dawkinsians."

I think you need to have dialog with atheists so that you can actually learn what we believe. For instance, I know of no atheist who wants to make religion illegal. I just heard Eddie Tabash talk on the separation of church and state last night and even religious people can have the same goal. It's a goal everyone can share, although not everyone does.

Anyway, in order to argue against us, you must deal with our actual arguments, for if you fail to deal with our actual arguments, then you have not properly armed those Christians who look to you for advice on how to deal with them.

think you need to have dialog with atheists so that you can actually learn what we believe. For instance, I know of no atheist who wants to make religion illegal. I just heard Eddie Tabash talk on the separation of church and state last night and even religious people can have the same goal. It's a goal everyone can share, although not everyone does.

>>I think you know people have talked about that. I think Dawkins started talking that way. I was atheist. I know what atheists believe. Although in my day we didn't have these new fangled ones.



Anyway, in order to argue against us, you must deal with our actual arguments, for if you fail to deal with our actual arguments, then you have not properly armed those Christians who look to you for advice on how to deal with them.


>>>I've been that every night on CARM and infidels for ten years. I've heard a whole gaggle of atheist say that.

JD,

{{Does the value of apologetics go beyond simply opening up the conversation?}}

I think it does, not least in a self-critical fashion. If we aren’t going to bother thinking coherently in-and-about our beliefs, then we’re setting ourselves up for big trouble, one way or another. This is also why, if possible, I’ll try to find some way for a sceptic to think more coherently about a topic while retaining her scepticism, too. Which is usually (though not always) very possible.

I think many other apologists might differ about the propriety of that particular application. {g} But we all have ways of going about the work.

{{Is Marshall right that the New Atheists have a restrictive concecpt of reason?}}

This kind of statement, btw, is one reason I decided it might be better (following and importing David’s own discussion topics) to broaden things out to tendencies as far as classifications go. Restrictive in what sense? Different NAs might go different ways (and degrees) in giving us ground to conclude ‘they’re being restrictive in their concept of reason’, while still being someone we’d be inclined to call a NA.

On the other hand, most (if not all) NAs are going to be naturalists, and so (except when they’re establishing a belief in naturalism, hopefully!) they’re going to try to interpret data and draw conclusions within the effective constraints of that framework. That’s just normal behavior, goes with the ‘naturalist’ territory. But not all philosophical naturalists are NAs (or so I suppose). How fair is it then to ask whether NAs (per se) are being restrictive in their reasoning in that sense? And yet, they’ll be doing that as much as any other naturalist, too.

In any case, I thought David’s answer (while good) lacked some detail that could be found in his book. Most of the tendencies I identified in the relevant topic, are borrowed from the book somewhere. (More or less in the order that I found them.)

JRP

Joe,

{{I also have some questions abut the classification system of atheists.}}

I was trying to be more moderate than extreme in the attempt, in order to avoid pigeonholing while still arriving within a particular type with a realistic amount of similarity and variation. As Mr. D would say, taxonomy isn’t (or wasn’t before gene sequencing anyway {g}) an exact science.

Thus, while I have a hard time imagining that someone who wants to make religion illegal wouldn’t count as an NA, I can see how someone I (and others) might generally think of as ‘NA’ wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. Maybe not even the majority of them. Moreover, unless this is somehow decided to be doubly-non-negotiable (and that seems like more something they should do, which is another reason I avoided that), then in theory it ought to be possible for someone to hold this who is not an NA.

In any case, I think such an extremist would fit into at least one of those tendency types up there. But there are a lot of other considerations, too; and I think there are those who would have no problem identifying themselves as NA, and agreeing with the relevant tendency(cies?) into which that extremism would fit, but who wouldn’t agree with going that far about it.

JRP

John,

{{Marshall has already given a good idea of how best to characterize NA’s. I’m surprised you feel the need to specify further than he did.}}

As one might have noticed from my introduction, I’m not actually specifying much further than David actually did in the book. (A large part of the point to doing the specification is to give readers an idea of the broader topical coverage of the book, compared to the relatively narrow coverage of the interview.)

There are a few points not specifically covered in David’s book somewhere, but I anticipate David would agree with them anyway; and if not, he can always dissent for sake of accurate distinction.

{{You might want to distinguish the New Atheists from the Old Atheists like Russell, former atheist Flew, and Mackie.}}

More specifically the exercise would be to see who fits the criteria and who doesn’t, to whatever degree. Which would be interesting to do, but I’d already written a seven page extension comment. {s} And I’d rather see other people doing tests for interest’s sake.

{{And it should also be noted that there are still Old Atheists out there}}

“Obviously, not all atheists (much less all un/non-believers) will fit the above tendencies.” Yep, already so noted, in principle. Also elsewhere.

While we’re mentioning names, as far as I know (keeping in mind that any given person trying to judge a classification will be limited to their own knowledge of the subject at any given time, which might be correctable), I wouldn’t consider Keith Parsons or Exapologist (to give two names well-known around here) to meet a large majority of these criteria, although they would certainly meet some of it.

Since we’re noting things, it should also be noted that the name “New Atheist” isn’t the important thing. By tautology (I suppose) someone adhering to a large majority of the tendencies would be categorically similar by exactly the same proportion to someone else adhering to a large majority of the tendencies. In which case, while calling them “New Atheists” would be peculiar, it could be accurately said that the NAs are following closely with these predecessors.

{{and myself.}}

Implying that, according to the proposed criterion, you don’t “meet a large majority (much moreso all) of the criteria.”

This would be as good a time as any for you to describe which ones you don’t meet. (Note: which you haven’t done yet as of this comment.)

{{Perhaps in the future you may want to support some of these assertions by documenting them}}

Done in David’s book. However, the principle application is what I’m looking at here. By the nature of the situation, categorization will be imprecise, and (despite what you seem to be implying throughout your comment) I’ve taken that into consideration from beginning to end.

One thing I don’t believe I was clear enough about, btw, is that although I was following David’s topics of discussion, my intention was less about trying to make sure any particular person labelled by David (or anyone else) as a NA fits into the criteria, than drawing a large-scale picture of a type. One reason I included so many tendencies, aside from the fact that almost all of them can be found in David’s book (and he may recognize that I’ve left out a few and qualified down to minor tendencies some of the ones I included), is to avoid what I believe would be an unrealistic pigeonholing of a few people, and to provide a useful classification for a much larger group of people than the relative-handful discussed in David’s book. (Nor do I believe this runs completely against the goals of that relative-handful themselves; they seem eager enough to increase the number of people who think in ways they themselves typify.)

On the other hand, my proposal of large-majority-or-greater matching to tendencies, helps prevent spurious identification with a proposed type, while still allowing a realistic spread of variation within the type. Beyond this, I set no hard-and-fast criteria (even that proposal has an indeterminate amount of leeway built into it), not least because I couldn’t honestly think of any positions that either the relative-handful of examples or a larger population would themselves consider non-negotiable.

Put more bluntly, I was careful to qualify myself out the wazoo. {g}

{{for some of them do not seem to be specifically characteristic of NA’s.}}

If you mean some people generally regarded as ‘New Atheists’ do not fit all the points, this was accounted for in the criteria.

If you mean you can think of some people generally agreed to be ‘New Atheists’ who do not fit a large majority of the points, then that would be interesting to know about; and insofar as the schema goes, would be grounds for considering them not to be typologically identified with people who do fit a large majority of the points.

If you have specific counterexamples in mind, this would be a fine time to give them. (Note: as of the time of this comment, you hadn’t. Mentioning that you think Dennett doesn’t fit one tendency, is not the same thing as mentioning how many tendencies he fits and doesn’t fit into.)

{{Characterizing may be helpful, but it can also stereotype people}}

Which of course was self-critically cautioned about at the beginning of the comment. Did you think I was discounting that possibility when I cautioned about it? Or were you agreeing with me here?

{{Was Freud then, a NA?}}

Did Freud match a large majority (much moreso all) of the points? If not, then by the proposed criterion the answer would be, no, we shouldn’t classify him as one. (Keeping in mind that what counts as a ‘large majority’ is going to be at least a little subjective, thus recognizing realistic leeway in how different people might account the classification.)

{{Feuerbach?}}

Did Feuerbach match a large majority (much moreso all) etc.?

You do understand that I was extremely far from proposing that anyone who fits even one tendency point (or three so far for Freud by your reckoning, though JD would dissent about at least one of those tendency fits) would therefore be classified as a NA, right? I ask, because you seem to be asking these questions as though I was trying to do the other thing instead.


As I’m sure you’re aware, there are definitions for deluded (that’s an adjective, not a verb) and delusion (that’s a noun, not a verb) which are stronger than what amounts to ‘merely mistaken’. But, anyone who only means ‘merely mistaken’ for ‘deluded’ should have no problem clarifying that they only mean ‘merely mistaken’, and even regularly using that instead of ‘deluded’ in order to avoid confusion with other, stronger meanings of ‘deluded’ or ‘delusion’. Especially for purposes of distinguishing himself from a class of proponent he might be mistakenly identified with, who, when they use ‘deluded’ and cognates, clearly by context are meaning something more than merely mistaken.

Meanwhile, in the case of (1.5), I clearly distinguished by contrast between the type of delusion that is only a mistaken belief, and a stronger type of delusion. Giving a weaker definition of delude as if there are no stronger connotations for it, only introduces confusion back into the situation again. (And maybe introduces category error, too, if you go with the verb rather than the noun or adjectival forms.)

As to whether Freud would count as considering religious belief to be a delusion in this stronger sense, I’ve heard things both ways, and I have no opinion. I would be curious to hear from people who know more, about whether I have heard correctly that he considered religious belief a neurosis, or not. (And, if so, whether he considered a neurosis per se to involve reactively responding to environmental stimuli.)


{{Dennett does not think that [science and religious belief are intrinsically antithetical], I believe.}}

Assuming for purposes of argument that this assessment is correct, then he would not fit point 2.0. The relevant question is whether he fits a large majority of the tendencies, though.

{{This describes every atheist since the rise of Darwin, especially the last phrase.}}

Not entirely sure it does, myself; but that’s beside the point. This would only be an objection to including it in the list if the goal was to typify every person who holds to anything less than a large majority of the tendencies, as a NA. Whereas my goal was very explicitly something else.

{{I think this may only apply to Hitchens, and perhaps Dawkins. Does they speak for all NA’s?}}

The public and fairly small coterie of professional authors are representative samples of a larger unpublished group who have similar tendencies, of course. Nowhere in the criteria did I include mention of ‘have to be one of a handful of published scholars or semi-scholars currently making themselves notorious in the media’ or something of that sort.

To which I will tediously add that the goal is not to classify anyone who fits one or a few (or even half or even a mere majority) of the tendencies.

{{Lots of atheists (Old and New) have claimed that what we find in the Bible doesn’t teach us anything about right and wrong that human beings couldn't learn on their own}}

Not quite the same thing as 4.1.1. But thank you for the extra information.

To which I will tediously add that the goal was not etc.

{{Please document [the minor tendency 4.3]. Who thinks that?}}

I’ll let David handle that, if he will.

{{[4.4] describes all atheists.}}

I think not. It certainly isn’t a necessity of ‘atheism’ per se. Very far from it. But I will tediously add again that (according to the proposal I set up) someone not a NA could hold this; and moreover (in relation to something I said near the end of the comment) I wouldn’t even consider this to be a non-negotiable point for a NA.


{{Anyway, I’ll stop here. I think you get my point.}}

Your point is that I shouldn’t classify people who only fit one or a few tendencies as NAs; and that I shouldn’t fit all people who fit a tendency as an NA. Or did I misunderstand you?

If that was your point, I would be curious about where you thought I was saying or requiring or even implying either of those in my comment; and why you thought my explicit suggestions in that comment for applying the classifications didn’t exclude such applications as you are critiquing against.

If that wasn’t your point, then I didn’t get it, for which I sincerely apologize.

{{Please, no ad hominems.}}

Pretty sure there aren’t any in my reply; nor do I recall intending any. (That’s supposed to be a reassurance.)

JRP

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