Saturday, March 5, 2016

"Religion Is A Sand-Castle, And A Tidal Wave Of Reason Is About To Wash It Away!"

Another parallel to the fundies: the fundies say that Jesus is coming back really soon, any minute now, and the New Atheists say that Reason will wash religion away really soon, any minute now.

If the New Atheists read more than scientific journals, comic books, the occasional sci-fi or fantasy novel and each other, they might have come across some of the atheist philosophers and historians from one or two centuries ago who sounded exactly like the 21st-century New Atheist over-optimism quoted in the title of this blog post. The Age of Reason could also have been called The Age of the Premature Belief in the Coming Final Victory of Reason.

I believe that if humanity survives long enough, religion will eventually fade away. If we're not killed off in the meantime by an asteroid or by our own nuclear weapons, or by ironically actual tidal waves, strengthened by the climate change we're causing, or by some disease, or one of the many other things which could quite suddenly render this discussion moot. But not only has religion proven much more tenacious than those historians and philosophers from the late 18th to the early 20th century thought: in addition, atheism in its current form has some problems.

Probably the most serious of those problems right now is that the most prominent leaders of the atheist movement are ignorant obnoxious pricks. Arguably, they are slowing the progress of atheism down more than they are aiding it, because they're so repulsive. They're inducing some atheists to deny that they're atheists and call themselves something like skeptics instead, lest someone should assume that they're with THEM. That's not a hallmark of the best possible leadership. Sam Harris, in addition to many, many other glaring shortcomings, believes in spirituality, which in my opinion raises serious doubts about whether he is really an atheist at all. He and Dawkins and Hitch and Myers and other leading New Atheists are atrociously ignorant Islamophobes. Dawkins, who simply cannot shut up about Islam and how horrible and dangerous it is, has never read the Koran and announces proudly that he never intends to, reminiscent of the Ayatollah Khomenei putting a price on Salman Rushdie's head for writing a book which the Ayatollah did not read. Dawkins has recently referred to Christianity as a valuable bulwark against the menace of radical Islam, which for me raises questions about his credibility as an atheist just as Harris' nonsense about spirituality does.

Harris claims that Islam is currently going through its "Medieval" phase, which shows you that he can count to 14: the beginnings of Islam are 1400 years ago, and 1400 years AD Christendom was in its Middle Ages (or at least some of it still was). It also makes one wonder, not only how the tremendous flowering of Islamic science, philosophy and art during the actual Christian Middle Ages fits into Harris' chronology, in which Islamic culture's progress is to mirror Christendom's, but 600 years later, but also whether Harris gave any thought at all to the fact that most of the oldest cities on Earth, Eridu, Ur, Babylon, Memphis, Thebes, are in the most central regions of Islam.

But you can't give much serious consideration to that which you never learned to begin with, can you?

A really remarkable, truly striking example of New Atheism's negligence of the study of history is the widespread New Atheist ignorance of both the history of religion and the history of atheism. Remarkable and striking because, if you're going to have an atheist movement which isn't absurd, the leaders of that movement should be among the leading experts on that history. Otherwise, what is the movement actually about? Batman and Spidey may be pretty cool, I wouldn't know, but they're no substitute for Thucydides and Livy and Gibbon and Voltaire and Marx and Burckhardt and Nietzsche.

By no means should the leaders of an atheist movement be as ignorant of science as Dawkins, Harris, Hitch, Myers and New Atheists generally are of history and philosophy. Looking at the New Atheists, the gulf between the sciences and the humanities seems as huge and strong as ever on the part of the scientists, but fortunately, the people who used to be known as humanists have been much better at filling it. Perhaps Bronowski should've been scolding both scientists and the people who used to be known as humanists about it, and not just the people who used to be known as humanists. (You see, before the New Atheists appropriated the word, a humanist was a specialist in the humanities. Made sense, didn't it? Ah, all the amazing things you can learn by studying history!)

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