Can New Age Atheism and New Atheism Co-exist?

After writing about Sam Harris’s blog entry where he promotes himself and his new book, I decided to check out Amazon to see if it was selling. It turns out the book does not come out until September, but I did find the book description to be very interesting.

First, it looks like I was spot on when I noted, “Harris is trying to set himself as the First Man in History who can bridge the gap between science and woo. “ Here is how his book is described on Amazon:

Waking Up is part seeker’s memoir and part exploration of the scientific underpinnings of spirituality. No other book marries contemplative wisdom and modern science in this way, and no author other than Sam Harris—a scientist, philosopher, and famous skeptic—could write it.

LOL.

But then the really interesting part preceded this:

From multiple New York Times bestselling author, neuroscientist, and “new atheist” Sam Harris, Waking Up is for the 30 percent of Americans who follow no religion, but who suspect that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history could not have all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds. Throughout the book, Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives—and, therefore, that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.

Wow.

First, Harris admits that not all of the saints/sages from history were crazy or dishonest.

Second, Harris admits “there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.”

Third, “Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives.”

For a brief moment, I thought Harris, as an atheist, might simply try to argue that meditation was just another brain state, characterized by a certain distribution and concentration of certain neurotransmitters that resulted in something akin to a “natural high.” In other words, it was merely a pleasurable, peaceful state that gives the atheist something like a naturalistic spirituality. But Harris is selling far more than this. He’s all in. Meditative experiences deliver “important truths,” truths that are beyond the reach of science alone. This is a frontal attack on scientism itself (!) and an admission that spiritual experience can deliver truths unreachable by science. I’m not sure how the New Atheist community can embrace and tolerate a contradiction to their core social message.

Come September, make sure you have plenty of popcorn stocked up. For how will PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, and Richard Dawkins respond to the notion that not all of the religious saints/sages from history were crazy or dishonest, that there are that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives, and that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow? If you know the New Atheist movement, these are not minor areas of disagreement. To embrace and tolerate what Harris is selling is to strip the New Atheist movement of its central talking points. Never underestimate the New Atheist leaders’ ability to engage in hypocrisy and intellectual inconsistency, but this might be too much for even them to handle.

Will Myers, Coyne, Boghossian, and Dawkins all begin to meditate? Will they quietly ignore most of Harris’s message and try to focus on something that supports The Cause? Or will they speak out against Harris’s attempt to morph the New Atheist movement into the New Age Atheist movement?

Stay tuned.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in atheism, New Atheism, Sam Harris and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Can New Age Atheism and New Atheism Co-exist?

  1. Jon Garvey says:

    It’s interestingly parallel to C S Lewis in “That Hideous Strength” – where scientism reverts, in the end, to the worst kind of religion. It’ll be fun to watch.

  2. Crude says:

    The best part of this will be watching all the internet atheists about face on command re: science and truth.

  3. Justin says:

    Well, if you’re Myers or Coyne or Dawkins, then you have to argue that there are NOT truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives. However, that statement isn’t subject to the scientific method, so they’re handicapped from the beginning in countering Harris’ woo. I suspect they don’t have enough ju-ju to offset Harris’ woo-woo. The only available option for the Old Gnu Guard is to feign ignorance of the book altogether and run a series of posts bashing Ken Ham.

  4. TFBW says:

    Throughout the book, Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives—and, therefore, that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.

    It’s dangerously close to New Atheist heresy, but there might be just enough wiggle room in it to avoid an inquisition. We really need to ask two clarifying questions of this statement. First, is it a denial of materialism, or are the experiences in question purely physical phenomena at base? (Ignore the elephant in the room regarding how any experience could be a purely physical phenomenon for the purposes of this question.) If it’s an actual denial of materialism, then it’s inquisition time. If not, then question two: is this a denial that science is the only means by which we can understand reality, or is it merely saying that there is more to reality than is currently known by science? If the latter, then let us speak no more of this. If the former, then the cardinal would like a little chat in his office.

  5. stcordova says:

    “Throughout the book, Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives—and, therefore, that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.”

    From the same guy who says there is no free will. If the only reality is atoms, then fundamentally Harris is inviting people to experience illusion of spirituality as if it were a reality.

    What truth can there be in experiencing an altered state of consciousness from meditation if one merely believes it is fundamentally then same (only different in degree) as a chemically induced altered state of consciousness?

  6. Martin Tuelay says:

    What about-faces, Crude? The guy is selling snake oil that will be bought by xtians _and_ Atheists. What do I, as an Atheist, have to change about myself or my ideals because this guy wrote a book?
    You xtians can’t wait to categorize then bash, because that is how you are taught to think and speak.

  7. Martin Tuelay says:

    “It’s dangerously close to New Age heresy…” TFBW

    I agree 100%. If there was a way to excommunicate him from an Athiestic congregation, I would. His thoughts are rent in the mystical.

  8. Crude says:

    What about-faces, Crude? The guy is selling snake oil that will be bought by xtians _and_ Atheists. What do I, as an Atheist, have to change about myself or my ideals because this guy wrote a book?

    Martin, if you don’t believe a significant number of atheists won’t turn on a dime and go from ‘Objective third-person evidence is the only evidence that counts!’ to ‘First person subjective-only experience counts as evidence!’ based purely on Harris’ say so, you are naive.

    Will every single atheist? Nope. But the Cult of Gnu will dance to his tune in large part.

    You xtians can’t wait to categorize then bash,

    The Cult categorized themselves – all I do is notice their trends.

  9. Martin tuelay says:

    I validate your argument by claiming anyone with enough money and media attention can garner followers. Heck, David Koresh didn’t need either of those to influence nearly 100 followers (I use this example NOT to point out extremist religious types, it was just handy).

  10. Crude says:

    I validate your argument by claiming anyone with enough money and media attention can garner followers.

    No doubt. What exactly do you think you’re disputing given this example? My claim has been that if Harris embraces mysticism, a whole lot of the Gnus will do so at the drop of a hat.

    That Harris has followers certainly isn’t in dispute by either of us. The only point of dispute you may have here is with my claim that quite a sizable portion of the Cult of Gnu will swallow what he’s saying, in direct conflict with what they had previously been parroting. Will you really dispute that too?

    Personally, I’m waiting to see what will happen if there’s a big split among the Gnu leadership. Dennett and Harris have gone at it, but let’s face it – Dennett’s kind of a minor figure compared to Harris and Dawkins. Now if Dawkins opposes Harris, that’ll be a sight to see… but considering Dawkins openly flipped his position on morality just due to Harris’ (largely panned) book, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

  11. Kevin says:

    I have to agree with Crude on this one. In my years of dealing with antitheists, most of whom would fit under the New Atheist label, I have seen very little critical thinking but a ton of groupthink. Not only that, but typically whenever one of the famous antitheists says something “clever” – i.e. some one- or two-sentence insult against religion – it seems to become a meme and/or an extensively used quote almost overnight.

    So it would not surprise me in the slightest if a large segment of the New Atheist crowd suddenly approved of New Age practices.

  12. Martin tuelay says:

    I have to stop you at your first question, as I made no disputes but made a wholehearted concession, complete agreement, no hidden motives or argumentative traps.
    I’m really an Atheist, agreeing with you on a single point. That’s it. Take the victory and run, but don’t turn back for pride’s sake as it risks failure.

  13. TFBW says:

    Martin, if you’re going to quote me, please get it right. I said it was “close to New Atheist heresy”, not “New Age heresy”. No harm done in this case, but be a little more cautious in future. Nothing says, “I’m not really paying attention to what you say,” like a misquote, particularly when copy/paste is so easy.

  14. Martin tuelay says:

    I noticed the mistake sometime afterwards, but there is no edit function here (my cut-n-paste doesn’t work cuz my toych screen has issues). I wasn’t trying to misrepresent – apologies.

  15. Crude says:

    Martin,

    Take the victory and run, but don’t turn back for pride’s sake as it risks failure.

    If you meant me… what victory? I think you simply misunderstood me, and my clarifying doesn’t give me much to gloat about. I think you will find that around here, the problem is not so much with ‘atheists, period’ but ‘New Atheists’, aka the Cult of Gnu. That’s why Mike picks out New Atheism, not just atheism, routinely in his posts.

  16. Martin tuelay says:

    I agree; every article I’ve read on this website deals with sects of Atheism. But the commentors often end up grouping all Atheists together and form ‘mass bashings’, and the posters of the articles allow it – that is when I take offense. But no one seems to understand that…. 😦

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s