Let’s have a look at AC Grayling’s supposed “take down” of Frans de Waal. Now, I must be a fool for trying to respond to something AC Grayling wrote. For he is a philosopher who founded and became the first Master of New College of the Humanities. He has authored 30 books and is, according to Wiki, a Trustee of the London Library, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. And, of course, he is a Gnu atheist.
Put simply, he is part of the Gnu movement’s Intellectual Elite. As good as it gets. Nevertheless, I will risk embarrassment and try my best to keep up with his argument.
His response is mostly long-winded fluff. So let’s get to the few paragraph’s that are most relevant.
Responding to de Waal, he writes:
Why, he asks, are the “new atheists” evangelical about their cause? “Why would atheists turn messianic?” He cannot see why Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and others attack religion and believers, and why they robustly and even aggressively argue the case for atheism.
It’s nice for Grayling to admit that Dawkins et al. attack believers, and not just ideas. So what’s the answer from the philosopher, author of 30 books, and Master of New College of the Humanities?
Well: here is the answer to de Waal’s question. Some atheists are evangelical because religious claims about the universe are false, because children are brainwashed into the ancient superstitions of their parents and communities, because many religious organisations and movements have been and continue to be anti-science, anti-gays and anti-women, because even if people are no longer burned at the stake they are still stoned to death for adultery, murdered for being “witches” or abortion doctors, blown up in large numbers for being Shias instead of Sunnis”? One could go on at considerable length about the divisions, conflicts, falsehoods, coercions, disruptions, miseries and harm done by religion, though the list should be familiar; except, evidently, to de Waal.
That’s it? That’s “the answer?” How pathetic can this be? The philosopher justifies the aggressive attacks from New Atheists with nothing more that primitive, tribalistic thinking. All he offers us is a list of stereotypes, clichés, and slogans which amounts to saying, “We are militant because the Other Tribe is Evil.” Dime-a-dozen confirmation bias propped up by cherry picking. Seriously people, the “answer” from the Master of New College of the Humanities is exactly the same as we might get from a drunk, 17-year-old furiously attacking people in the comments section of some blog very late at night. There is not one shred of intellectual sophistication to Grayling’s thinking on this. Not one.
But hold on. Grayling has come up with ways to rationalize his primitive approach:
He might respond with the usual points: on one side the charity, art and solace inspired by religion, and on the other side Hitler and Stalin as examples of the crimes of atheism. And the usual replies have wearily to be given: non-believers also engage in charity and make great art, and their love and care for others provides solace too;
Now we are getting into the realm of stupid arguments. AC, someone would bring up the charity, art and solace inspired by religion in an attempt to jolt you out of your simple-minded, black-and-white, Religion is Pure Eeevil mindset. Just because you insist on using cherry-picked clichés does not mean your perception of religion is grounded in objective reality. And as for your claim about the charity and art of non-believers, that is irrelevant to your broad-brushed attempt to smear religion. What’s the logic here? He thinks he is rationally justified in painting religious people as evil because non-religious people can do some charity work?
and the totalitarianisms are just alternatives of the great religions at their worst, possessing their own versions of the One Truth to which all must bow down. (Incidentally, Hitler was not an atheist-“Gott mit uns,” (God with us”) said the legend on Wehrmacht belt buckles-and Stalin was educated in a seminary, where evidently he picked up a few tricks.)
Y’know, someone needs to inform Grayling that the Nazi’s did not invent time travel.
Look, New Atheism comes with its own One Truth to which we all must bow down – Religion is Dangerous Nonsense and Something Must be Done About It (!). It’s Grayling’s One Truth. It’s the same basic One Truth that inspired Soviet communists to fill their gulags.
What Grayling doesn’t seem to get is that all of the evils that trouble him are not the products of religion. They are the products of human nature. Take away religion, and the evils will express themselves in a secular form, whether it be the gulags and death camps of communist societies or the way warring atheists try to hurt and destroy each other on the internet.
After drawing upon some more stereotypes and clichés, Grayling also writes:
In any case he has the nature of the debate wrong. Atheists, whether new or old (the “new” is a canard), are mostly not interested in pursuing the metaphysical debate about whether the universe contains or has outside it supernatural entities or agencies of some kind-gods and goddesses, fairies and so forth.
Now the thinker contradicts himself. For he just told us (see above) Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett robustly and even aggressively argue the case for atheism. When it comes to New Atheist writings, truth has a very short half-life.
Their militancy-for such indeed it sometimes is, for the good reasons sketched above-is about secularism, not metaphysics; it is about the place of the religious voice in education and the public square where it is at best an irrelevance and at worst a cancer.
And there you go – Their militancy-for such indeed it sometimes is. Even AC Grayling has now publicly admitted militancy exists among the New Atheists, at least “sometimes.” Science continues to demonstrate the New Atheists are militant.
Given his primitive thinking, it is no surprise that activist Grayling sees religion as pure evil and a cancer in the public square. But he does get one thing right – it is about the imposition of secularism. Not just keeping religion out of government. But trying to drive it out of public sight.
Which reminds me that I need to get back to balancing out Grayling’s approach.