Friday, June 17, 2011

My Reply to Ben on Atheist Ennui

Blogger Ben had a thoughtful comment on my post Jerry Coyne on the Banality of New Atheism.


If Coyne were merely another Dawkins fanboi you'd probably attempt to ridicule him for that.

I would.

You seem to be missing the point from an atheist's perspective that disbelief in god is pretty boring in and of itself. When popular superstition masquerades as the great distraction from the mundane truth, the mere negative case shouldn't be expected to be terribly profound. It's the banality of a negative position that is only relevant because of the larger culture it happens in. This is just Coyne being honest and human.

Perhaps the salient characteristic of atheist replies to criticism is that atheists claim to be exempt from all of the traditional critiques of all metaphysical viewpoints and of their impact on human behavior and civilization.

When Christians prosecute the Crusades or the Inquisition, atheists point to the brutality 'inherent' to Christianity. When atheists prosecute the Reign of Terror or the Holodomor or the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward or the Killing Fields (pogroms that exceed killing by Christians by orders of magnitude), atheists assert that atheism isn't really a belief system, so modern atheists can't be held to account for any atrocities committed by any atheist, even atheists acting under the ageis of an explicitly atheist ideology.

But atheism isn't exempt from analysis or critique of its real world consequences. Atheism is a metaphysical stance-- there are no gods and no God, there is no intrinsic purpose to existence, there is no natural moral law, there is no accountability in an afterlife. Those are quite explicit and consequential assertions, just as the negation of those assertions-- that there is a God, that there is an purpose to existence... -- is an explicit and consequential assertion. Atheism lacks liturgy. It does not lack beliefs and consequences. It lacks belief in God; it does not lack belief in the intrinsic consequences of God's non-existence. As Neitzsche emphatically noted, if God is dead, everything changes.

Atheism drove Neitzsche mad. It drives Coyne to nap.

Coyne's post was noteworthy because of its dissonance. Coyne claims that his fringe band of Brights has discovered, through evidence, science, and reason, the fundamental metaphysical truth of existence: there is no God, no purpose, no objective moral law, no afterlife, no ultimate accountability. If this is true, if God is a delusion, this is the central discovery of humanity, bar none.

What do the brave Ubermenschen Gnu Atheists do with this insight that makes the Enlightenment seem like a spark against the sun? They fall asleep in plenary sessions, bemoan the dearth of new topics, and tire of signing autographs.

Gnu Ubermenschen? One is reminded, rather, of Neitzsche's Last Man.

If atheism is true and proven, all of human knowledge needs to be rewritten. And atheists can't even stay awake. The Final Gnu-Revelation drives atheists to turpor.

This suggests two things:

1) Atheism not true, and thus not proven, so the transformative intellectual consequences of God's death are not even to be expected.

2) Atheists are half-educated narcissistic dullards, in it primarily for the behavioral license and the book sales.

The bottom line here is the aftertaste of Christian wishful thinking...that atheism is wrong because it doesn't make you feel good about life. That's not terribly profound either.

There are many joys in Christian life, but wishful thinking plays no role. Christians are sinners, and the conviction that we will all face judgement for our sins is a viewpoint that sinners quite naturally (and understandably) avoid at almost all costs.

My definition of "wishful thinking" is this: holding the belief that we will never be held accountable for what we do in this life.

Atheism is to sin as alcoholism is to angst. Stupor-- metaphysical or medicinal-- is a denial of reality and a denial of consequences, which feels good for an evening or a weekend.

Christians live life sober.


  1. Even after 30 something years of debate and discussion with atheists I'm always amazed at just how stupid they can be. Especially the educated like Coyne, Dawkins et al..

    It's hard to believe how poorly they understand their own position, let alone that of their antagonists.

    "Ben" is just another example of such anserine reasoning.

    Acute cognitive dissonance seems to short circuit something in their brains so that they can't even see how childish their "logic" is.

    In the end analysis, it is impossible to know that there is no God, therefore atheism is a position held by faith alone.

  2. Egnor wrote:

    "Coyne claims that his fringe band of Brights has discovered, through evidence, science, and reason, the fundamental metaphysical truth of existence: there is no God, no purpose, no objective moral law, no afterlife, no ultimate accountability."

    Could you give a link or some kind of reference for that? Thanks.

  3. You're right: atheism is a faith position because stating there isn't a god would be a statement based on faith.

    Dawkins isn't an atheist. He says there "probably" is no god, at least not as defined by organized religion.

    It's very easy to win an argument when you misstate your opponents position, isn't it?

  4. Like rocket scientist, 'brain surgeon' was once a common colloquialism for a smart person.

    Congratulations for your single handed destruction of a faulty meme. A singular achievement noticed even in North Pakistan.

  5. Atheism is just the human condition on its own terms rather than having any further metaphysical implications imposed on it. Christians DO actually have a handbook that asserts itself positively on the human condition so when they act in obvious parallel and wouldn't have any reason to do so otherwise it can be meaningful to point it out.

    Anyway, the two positions are not symmetrical in that regard in principle. A positive case here is only created in a relativistic cultural sense. If you go from Christianity to atheism "everything changes" and gives the appearance of some profound positive case and you can find examples of atheists reacting to the lack of religion in the ideological expected ways of Egnor and Gary. If you aren't asking the questions Egnor expects us to ask (or to the degree Egnor expects us to ask them), then they don't necessarily matter and there is little reason to think that they should.

    My dad once asked me a thoughtful question about why atheists don't murder if there are no consequences in the afterlife. But it wasn't like he wasn't already aware of all the psychological problems that go along with murder. Soldiers come back from war with PTSD, people report not being able to get the images of their victims out of their heads for extremely long periods of time. Becoming a "stable sociopath" has its own set of unpleasant psychological ramifications. Obviously there is the threat of police and the legal system,etc. There are plenty of reasons to think not killing people is a good idea. And the afterlife doesn't have anything to do with it. He accepted the answer, but it clearly wasn't new information. The problem was being encultured with Christian thinking.

    It does get really old when Christian after Christian can't think non-Christian thoughts. The example I always use is what it feels like to go from a hot tub into the swimming pool. The pool seems freezing from the standpoint of running and jumping in from the hot tub (as we loved to do as kids). And no matter how much atheists pool swimmers may tell the Christian hot tubbers that we are not in fact frozen solid like the comic book character Captain America floating in the ice for decades, they simply won't believe us even if there is every indication that we do in fact move around in the pool and are not shivering to death. In this case, the pool metaphor would mean that nonbelievers have meaningful lives apart from theistic constructs.

    I don't know what to tell you if you can't get out of your own ideological box. There's a wide range of nonbelievers in Christianity, from people of different religions, to people who simply don't care and just live their lives, to people who want a religion to be true and yet don't believe in it for lack of evidence, to people who don't want religion to be true for principled reasons (like thinking a particular religion is evil), to people who don't want religion to be true for unprincipled reasons (to get away with evil), and many other categories not covered by Egnor's ideologically approved, unproven, and experience-contradicted slander.


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