Thursday, April 24, 2014

Unknown unknowns

I have from time to time read - or attempted to read - writings by modern atheists. My most notable attempt - and failure - involved reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I didn’t get very far into before giving up. I simply could not figure out what he was writing about; it certainly didn’t seem to be God or theology or religion as I understood it. I could only assume that Dawkins’ entire exposure to religion consisted of regular attendance at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Still, from to time, I worried that perhaps I was missing something, that there was some brilliant intellectual understanding on the part of Dawkins and his fellow atheists that I simply could not comprehend. I was therefore relieved and delighted to run across a piece by David Bentley Hart at First Things. Writing in response to an “[ostensible] survey of recently published books on (vaguely speaking) theism and atheism,” authored by Adam Gopnik and published in the New Yorker, Hart believes that:

Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do. The logical and imaginative grammars of belief, which still informed the thinking of earlier generations of atheists and skeptics, are no longer there. In their place, there is now—where questions of the divine, the supernatural, or the religious are concerned—only a kind of habitual intellectual listlessness.

“[T]hey are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do.” To me, that sums up modern atheists perfectly.

Hart concludes:

Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice.

Do read the whole thing. It is delightfully acidic and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.

(Via The Gormogons)


Texan99 said...

I was raised by an atheist; my sister is still a committed atheist. It's simply obvious to them that religion is ignorant superstition. Neither of them could explain where moral imperatives come from, though both had them in spades. They simply have/had a conviction that there's such a thing as right and wrong, but no such thing as a God. These are/were smart, honest people. I used to agree with them. I bought the "it just is" approach.

Elise said...

I don't have any problems with atheists. (Some of my best friends, literally.) And I don't have any problems with atheists who want to argue that non-atheists are wrong. My problem is with the atheists who want to argue non-atheists are wrong but don't seem to know anything about religion. These atheists are exactly like people who say:

Evolution is wrong because if people were really descended from monkeys there wouldn't be any monkeys anymore.

It's contempt prior to investigation - and without having any sense that there's anything to investigate.

I do find the whole right/wrong without God issue fascinating. I think that right now we're living off the moral grid established by widespread acceptance of religion. That grid will decay more with each non-religious generation. It will be interesting to see where we end up.

I just finished Lord of the World, a 1907 religious/sci-fi novel. Its description of a society with no place for a deity other than man himself is haunting.

Texan99 said...

My father and sister definitely knew next to nothing about religion. My sister still doesn't. When she was growing up, it was just something that other people did, completely inexplicably. I think she'd basically lump it in with things like astrology.

Texan99 said...

You might be interested in this:

Elise said...

I don't have a problem with people who know next to nothing about religion - or people who know next to nothing about evolution for that matter. My objection is to people who know next to nothing about religion (evolution) but feel qualified to make their living or their blogging reputations explaining why religion (evolution) is wrong. (I've rather conflated religion and belief in God here, I know.)

And thanks for the link - I'll put the book on my "To Read" list. I don't know about the substance of Vitz' argument about fathers and belief in God but it seems tautological (I think is the word I want) that if certain psychological/emotional factors make belief in God more likely then certain other psychological/emotional factors must make belief in God less likely.

I always laugh when someone insists that his side of an issue is based on pure rationality while the other side is a stew of emotions and dysfunction. I'm not sure if such people have no self-awareness or simply no sense of humor.