Abandoning Science To Promote New Atheism

I was watching this video of Robert Wright and Lawrence Krauss. Early on, Krauss makes it clear he doesn’t like being called a New Atheist (a common trait of New Atheists) and thinks it is a derogatory, nonsense term. Yet if you listen carefully at 11:53, Krauss almost admits he is a New Atheist by saying “I’m a New…” and then catches himself.

Wright distinguishes between old atheists and New Atheists. He mentions the scientism of the New Atheism (and Krauss agrees effectively concedes as he insists science is the only source of knowledge). Wright notes that the New Atheists are focused on proselytism. Krauss tries to deny this. Perhaps he has never heard of the book by New Atheist Peter Boghossian entitled “Manual for Creating Atheists” that was promoted by New Atheist Jerry Coyne. Wright then goes on to make a good point – the reason the New Atheists are into proselytism is because they think religion is evil and cites the subtitle of Hitchen’s book, “How Religion Poisons Everything.” At this point, Krauss agrees, but adds the qualifier “on balance” multiple times. After repeatedly insisting that religion is bad “on balance,” Wright finally asks Krauss, ” Have you done the inventory?” Has Krauss made the effort to score religion in terms of its good and bad effects? Krauss’ reply is classic:

No, it’s not important enough to do that. I have more important things to do.

See it for yourself from 14:55 to 16:20.

When the man was asked to back up one of his core talking points with a scientific approach, it was “not important enough to do that.” After thumping his chest about science, he flippantly dismisses the need to back up his central claim with science.

Krauss then begins to stutter and stammer after realizing his “on balance” claims had been exposed as mere opinion. He regains his composure around 16:40 and then begins to deliver a sermon to justify his “on balance, religion is evil” assertion. He complains about being labeled for merely asking a question. He actually cites letters he gets as evidence from people who thank him for his book and complains. He insists that anything that suppresses questions is evil, and anything that claims to be the owner of morality is evil, and that religion makes people feel guilty for thinking for themselves.

In other words, after expressing disdain for the need to back up his opinion with the scientific approach, in its place, Krauss offers, with an attitude of certainty, nothing more than armchair philosophy propped up by stereotypes and anecdotes.

This is a short clip that should be shown at many churches, for it clearly exposes the intellectual dishonesty at the heart of the New Atheist Movement. For here is the movement in a nutshell:

New Atheist: Science has shown that God does not exist and you MUST listen to science.
Religious person: Really?
New Atheist: Yes, and you must stop being religious because religion is evil.
Religious person: But what about the good things religion has done?
New Atheist: Look, on balance, religion is evil. The net sum of religion is evil.
Religious person: Really? If we must listen only to science, have you done the inventory to scientifically demonstrate that?
New Atheist: No, it’s not important enough to do that. I have more important things to do.
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One more thing. Krauss’s story about becoming a New Atheist as a reaction to being labeled as such simply because he “asked a question” in his book is disingenuous. Krauss was known as a New Atheist before he wrote his book. For example, here’s a description of Krauss for an atheist convention he spoke at before his book was published:

His newest book, A Universe from Nothing, to appear in January 2012, with a foreword by Christopher Hitchens and afterword by Richard Dawkins follows on his wildly popular YouTube lecture of the same name and represents a major new contribution to scientific atheism.

A major new contribution to scientific atheism. A foreword by Christopher Hitchens and afterword by Richard Dawkins. Also, a book blurb by Sam Harris. That’s evidence Krauss was a New Atheist. Add to that the fact he has on the advisory board of Sam Harris’s failed New Atheist organization, Project Reason.

So Krauss’s New Atheism not only entails a rejection of the scientific approach when it suits him, but some serious historical revisionism. Surprised?

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35 Responses to Abandoning Science To Promote New Atheism

  1. G. Rodrigues says:

    “scientific atheism”, what an unoriginal expression.

    It was already noticed how much the New Atheist propaganda resembles the Soviet propaganda on the issue of God and religion, but it is always good to point it out. Again.

  2. G. Rodrigues says:

    And as a matter of idle curiosity, you think the struggles within Atheists between “accomodationists” and the hard-core intransigent line are some kind of interesting development? Here is D. Pospielovsky on Lenin vs. Lunacharsky (“A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Anti-Religious Policies” vol. 1; pgs 19, 20):

    “Lunacharsky’s views on the relationship between atheism and religion carried a substantial resemblance to the Utopian ideas of Feuerbach of ‘a new religion of humanity’ — a religion compatible with the sciences and different from the Christian tradition. Lunacharsky articulated the so-called programme of bogostroitel’stvo — god-building. In it he proclaimed that although traditional religion was conceptually wrong and ideologically biased towards the interests of the exploiting classes, it still cultivated in the masses emotion, moral values, desires which revolutionaries should take over and manipulate. Those should be gradually transformed into the positive humanistic values of a communist morality instead of opposing them and trying to destroy the basis of the psychological and moral integrity of millions of religious people. Lunacharsky believed that by gradually replacing the traditional idea of God with a new vision of humanity — in his view, a worthy object for love and admiration — socialism would achieve the greatest possible success. This would come with the least possible confrontation, without abuse of the cultural status quo and the whole historical tradition of European civilization. Lenin was infuriated by these ideas, by what he perceived as giving in to religious obscurantism. He considered Lunacharsky’s position harmful in the extreme, since, according to Lenin, it dissolved Marxism into a mild liberal reformism. He thought that this position obscured the fact that the Church is a servant to the state, that religion all along has been a tool of ideological suppression of the masses. Lenin tried to expose the god-building programme as a dangerous and totally unnecessary compromise with the most reactionary forces in the Russian empire. Under the circumstances, he appealed to militant atheism as a criterion for the sincerity of Marxist commitments, as a testing principle. It was his view that ideological and political conformism would weaken the theoretical principles of the party and the revolution, if left unpunished.”

    As modern Lunacharsky we can probably point out Alain de Botton.

    As the Ecclesiastes has it, there is nothing new upon the Earth, it is all vanity.

  3. Kevin says:

    Glaring Weakness #47 of New Atheists, assuming that knowledge in one area qualifies one to speak in all areas without sounding like an idiot to people who know what they are talking about.

    Glaring Weakness #212 of New Atheists, inability to distinguish opinion from fact if said opinion is one’s own.

  4. Dhay says:

    > Wright … mentions the scientism of the New Atheism (and Krauss agrees effectively concedes as he insists science is the only source of knowledge).

    If science is the only source of knowledge, why do I get a Law degree instead of a Sciences degree when I want to study and practice Law, a History degree to study to become a Historian, a Mathematics degree to study Mathematics, an Accountancy degree to study and practice Accountancy, a Music degree (or just get practicing) to learn advanced practical musicianship; how does a pre-verbal and pre-scientific babe-in-arms ever come to know anything whatsoever, including how to walk; how do baby elephants ever learn to control their trunks; why are there running or tennis coaches; does your dog not know anything whatsoever; if I am to become an expert on 18th century antiques, or the sonnets of Shakespeare, do I need a science degree; how do I know, at a glance, that this is an oak, or that the road is now safe to cross; why are there so many people — probably a majority of the World’s population — who are as near as dammit scientifically illiterate, people who never knew or have rapidly forgotten the science taught at school, yet are fully-functioning in society.

    “Science is the only source of knowledge” seems not to stand up to even light examination.

  5. FZM says:

    Dhay,

    “Science is the only source of knowledge” seems not to stand up to even light examination.

    In the introduction to his book ‘Scholastic Metaphysics’ Ed Feser has some interesting arguments against scientism which suggest that it is either self refuting (the basis of the argument to justify the claim that science, or more specifically the natural sciences/physics, are our only source of knowledge of reality is extra-scientific in the first place) or trivial and empty (anything that could count against the idea that science is our only source of knowledge can be reclassified as ‘science’ when it is defined in a broad enough way).

    It seems to me that certain kinds of argument really seem to draw a lot of their strength from the absence of clear definitions of key terms like ‘science’ and ‘religion’ and play on the resulting vagueness; use of the terms ultimately looking like it is related to value judgements on the part of the person using them. (e.g. If something is ‘good’ it must be in some way ‘scientific’, if it is ‘bad’, it must be in some way ‘religious’).

  6. George says:

    Small correction: the phrase Krauss says is “on the whole” which you apparently mistranscribed as “on balance”. I didn’t hear Krauss say that religion is “evil”, but I didn’t listen to the whole 90 minutes.

    Wright’s point is that one can find a lot of good as well as bad things things associated with religion. The question is, on the whole, does the good outweigh the bad or vice versa? Well that is far from a scientific question. There wouldn’t even be agreement with the single example of religion in relation to slavery in the United States, discussed briefly in the interview. Yes, religion played a significant role in the abolition of slavery and the subsequent civil rights movement, but that has to be weighed against the fact that religion was complicit in slavery in the first place. We have to look at the South’s adamant belief, with ample support from the Bible, in the “God-ordained” institution of slavery, plus all the souls they believed they were saving as a result of bringing Africans to the United States and converting them to Christianity. What’s a short time in slavery compared to the everlasting life that may only be obtained through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? From that perspective it’s not hard to argue that, on the whole, religion (and even slavery!) was a good thing. And it’s easy to disagree or even be outraged by the proposition. So it’s not a scientific question even in this one instance, and much less so when weighing all instances everywhere.

    One can establish criteria for societal dysfunction and find a positive correlation between religiosity and societal dysfunction across countries (http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.pdf), but even that rather misses the point. If the correlation were reversed, it would only amount to the argument that religion is useful, which is orthogonal to the question of whether any religion is actually true. It may well be that Mormons, on the whole, have the highest level of well-being for some measure thereof. Would it then follow that we should all convert to Mormonism?

  7. John says:

    ” We have to look at the South’s adamant belief, with ample support from the Bible, in the “God-ordained” institution of slavery, plus all the souls they believed they were saving as a result of bringing Africans to the United States and converting them to Christianity. ”

    There is also ample support in the Bible for the Ancient Astronaut hypothesis, the idea that the NT borrowed heavily from the works of Homer, and other nonsense.

    I guess we would also need to take into account the fact the Bible is being used (or rather,misused) by Ancient Astronaut theorists and other crack-pot theorists out there in support of their nonsense into this equation as well then?

  8. Doug says:

    It lives!
    It is hard to believe that Gregory Paul’s paper is still being referenced.
    As a public service, I once again provide the following links:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20061028200005/http://www.verumserum.com/?p=25
    https://web.archive.org/web/20061110233604/http://magicstatistics.com/2005/09/27/from-our-bulging-how-not-to-do-statistics-file/
    https://web.archive.org/web/20051230152636/http://telicthoughts.com/?p=297
    Here’s the MO to avoid if you want to be taken seriously:
    – ignore all the data that would be inconvenient for the thesis you want to support (Albania comes to mind)
    – aggregate the data in the way that is most convenient for the thesis you want to support
    – avoid actual statistical methods for determining significance
    – insinuate that correlation implies causation (without actually coming out and saying it)

  9. George says:

    John, I’m not sure if you’re being serious, but (1) you’re comparing a fact of history (that Christianity was used to justify slavery) to a fringe idea like “Ancient Astronauts”, and (2) there isn’t “ample support” for “Ancient Astronauts” in the Bible. Maybe you aren’t fully aware of how many passages in the Bible support slavery, or of the history of slavery and Christianity. By the way it wasn’t just the Protestant New World — the entire infrastructure of the slave trade was largely provided by the Roman Catholic Church who believed that they were doing good by civilizing and giving moral direction to the peoples of Africa.

    Doug, please read the end of my comment starting at “but even that rather misses the point”. Indeed you’ve missed the point.

  10. Douglas Peters says:

    @George,
    I was addressing the paper published by Gregory Paul. Did you miss my point?

  11. John says:

    ”(1) you’re comparing a fact of history (that Christianity was used to justify slavery) to a fringe idea like “Ancient Astronauts”,”

    I’m pointing out that the Bible and Christianity was used to justify a bunch of other things as well.

    Logically,if you want to use cases in which Christianity/the Bible was used to justify bad ideas as something that can be counted against religion and the positive sides of religion,then you must also count the times when religion was used to justify thing slike Ancient Aliens and such.

    And another thing.If the usage of the Bible to justify slavery was a bad usage,that is,was completely mistaken and does not reflect an accurate teaching at all,then it means that it is a mistake.

    And mistakes can range from justifying slavery to justifying the idea that the tower of Babel was a space rocket made by the Annunaki.

    ”(2) there isn’t “ample support” for “Ancient Astronauts” in the Bible. ”

    So are you implying that there is evidence that slavery can be justified in the Bible?

    Or at least that there it is more likely the Bible does support slavery than Ancient Astronauts?

    Well,upon looking at this quote below:

    ” Maybe you aren’t fully aware of how many passages in the Bible support slavery, or of the history of slavery and Christianity.”

    I guess you do.

    My argument rested on the assumption that the Bible DIDN’T actually support slavery.But I guess you’re one of those who believes the Bible DOES teach such things.

  12. George says:

    John, again, it’s simply an historical fact that Christianity was used to justify slavery and that the slave trade was part of Christendom worldwide. That you think or I think it was a mistake has no bearing on the question of whether the net effect of religion has been good or bad in relation to slavery, which is the question that was posed. I think the net effect has been bad in this one case. You are free to disagree. We can argue about it until the cows come home. The point is that it’s not a scientific question. And when we expand the question from this one case to cover all cases throughout history, it’s immeasurably further away from a scientific question.

    And Doug, that you disagree with Gregory Paul also underlines the point that it’s not a scientific question.

  13. Doug says:

    @George,
    That Paul is incompetent is not in question, scientific or otherwise.

    As for slavery, that Christianity was used to justify slavery is rather uninformative, given that there were plenty of X throughout history such that X was used to justify slavery. On the other hand, there were very few Y such that Y was used to justify the abolition of slavery. And it is impossible to honestly consider the successful abolitionist movement without acknowledging the fact that it was substantially a Christian endeavor.

  14. TFBW says:

    George, it’s fairly clear that your central thesis here is that many questions fall outside the realm of science — and on that I could agree with you — but it’s less clear what relevance this has to the subject at hand. As such, the “disagreement” that’s going on between you and other posters here seems to be entirely tangential to both your central thesis and the topic at hand. If there’s any point-missing going on here, that lack of relevance may have something to do with it.

  15. FZM says:

    TFBW,

    As such, the “disagreement” that’s going on between you and other posters here seems to be entirely tangential to both your central thesis and the topic at hand.

    I think I might be adding to this with the reply I wrote to one of George’s posts here:

    By the way it wasn’t just the Protestant New World — the entire infrastructure of the slave trade was largely provided by the Roman Catholic Church who believed that they were doing good by civilizing and giving moral direction to the peoples of Africa.

    What do you mean by this? Infrastructure as in something like ‘ideological infrastructure’ or actual practical infrastructure? (the Catholic Church providing the ships and ports etc.) I think I would take issue with the idea that the Catholic Church itself (as opposed to the governments of Spain and Portugal) was actually the driving force behind the Atlantic slave trade practiced by Spain and Portugal.

    I’d also query claims that the idea of civilizing and giving moral direction to Africans was the main motivation behind the trade; economic interest seems the obvious motivation and to lie at the origin of it. Spanish and Portuguese Catholic clergy who protested against the slave trade in the name of Christianity in the 17th century tended to be lonely voices supressed by their own government and the hostility of their slave owning congregations.

    One of the issues with slavery is that it was not just justified by the Bible, but by major ‘secular’ authorities of the time as well. It seems to be an institution that historically was very widespread, existing across a range of cultures and societies with different religious belief systems, to the point that maybe the belief that slavery was justifiable could have been argued for as a ‘universal human value’. I guess the wider movement against slavery in Western Europe was linked to its changing/changed nature in new economic and technological contexts and the way this led to a decline and weakening of the perception of its economic necessity or usefulness.

    Finally, it strikes me that besides secular (depending on the definition?) classical authorities providing rational and justification for slavery, various very influential 20th century secularist ideologies were also used to justify mass slavery (as a form of punishment for crimes against progress and for re-education). I don’t know where that would leave any balance sheet between ‘religion’ and ‘the secular’.

  16. George says:

    I’m not interested in engaging with an historical revisionism that whitewashes the role Christendom played in the enslavement of Africans. Many (hopefully most, ideally all) Christians fully acknowledge that historical role and learn from it, and we should follow their lead. Seek ye books, for instance one can hardly do better than Oxford University Press (https://books.google.com/books?id=yNjQAgAAQBAJ):

    Nonetheless, Christianity provided the ongoing moral rationale that the enslavement of Africans presented a unique opportunity for evangelization: Europeans could conveniently argue that the temporary evils of slavery were far outweighed when compared with the eternal damnation all nonconverted Africans would experience upon death for having never received Christ. While one can question the extent to which Europeans involved in the slave trade believed, with sincere conviction, that slavery was a moral necessity, many certainly behaved as if it were. To this end, the Roman Church provided a vast network of spiritual guardians and religious institutions to support every facet of the slave trade–from royal courts to slave forts, ships, and American destinations.

    Going back to the question: Did religion, on the whole, play a net positive or net negative role in slavery? Again, the answer greatly depends upon the values held by the answerer, that is, the question is just not scientific. I’m sure there are still people today who believe that saving millions of African souls from Hell far outweighed the “temporary evils of slavery”.

    Now, again, expanding the question from the role of religion in relation to slavery to the role of religion in relation to everything, we still have a question that is not scientific, and even more so. Yet the premise of this blog post is that it is a scientific question, and that Krauss deserves scorn for not doing the science, whatever that could mean. Krauss has “abandoned” science. I pointed to one person who actually did set out criteria and looked at data, but he deserves scorn for some other reason. Go figure.

  17. Michael says:

    George: Now, again, expanding the question from the role of religion in relation to slavery to the role of religion in relation to everything, we still have a question that is not scientific, and even more so. Yet the premise of this blog post is that it is a scientific question, and that Krauss deserves scorn for not doing the science, whatever that could mean. Krauss has “abandoned” science. I pointed to one person who actually did set out criteria and looked at data, but he deserves scorn for some other reason. Go figure.

    I fully agree that the question is not scientific. But you seem to be missing the point. It is Krauss, and the New Atheists, who peddle scientism. If you are going to peddle scientism, then you need to ensure all your beliefs are scientific. My blog entry demonstrates that Krauss has no interest in doing this. While is it common for New Atheists to say one thing and do another, this example nicely illustrates the promotion of scientism is purely rhetorical and not rooted in princple.

  18. FZM says:

    George,

    I’m not interested in engaging with an historical revisionism that whitewashes the role Christendom played in the enslavement of Africans. Many (hopefully most, ideally all) Christians fully acknowledge that historical role and learn from it, and we should follow their lead

    What exactly should they learn from it? How are Orthodox, Coptic etc. Christians (who I guess are included in Christendom) responsible for the Atlantic slave trade?

    Is anyone who claims that Christian evangelization wasn’t the main reason for and motivation behind the Atlantic slave trade guilty of the kind of revisionism that should not be engaged with?

  19. FZM says:

    Going back to the question: Did religion, on the whole, play a net positive or net negative role in slavery? Again, the answer greatly depends upon the values held by the answerer, that is, the question is just not scientific. I’m sure there are still people today who believe that saving millions of African souls from Hell far outweighed the “temporary evils of slavery”.

    Well, if Christian evangelization was the main reason for the Atlantic slave trade and the main reason it continued, and if it in some way necessitated the enslavement of Africans, then it seems a strong argument could be made that it played a net negative role. (Though, I agree, and it seems fairly obvious, that this wouldn’t be a scientific argument unless ‘science’ is defined in a special way).

    There do seem to be a range of more prosaic reasons that people evaluating the role of religion in the Atlantic Slave Trade might take into account, besides saving Africans souls e.g. two that came into my mind: 1) Looking at the capital accumulation and economic development it could be considered to have facilitated in some European countries, which then had far reaching consequences. 2) That if certain Western European countries hadn’t happened to have been the ones in the Old World who discovered the New and developed the technologies that underpinned the slave trade, others who did would likely have done equally bad things, regardless of the specific content of their religion or lack of it, if that is conceivable in that era. (This would maybe point to another problem with this type of argument; how is ‘religion’ being defined?)

  20. Doug says:

    @George,
    If you want to address “the role Christendom played in the enslavement of Africans” (and not some revisionist history), you could do much better than quote from a book called “African Religions”, couldn’t you? And while Oxford University Press may indeed deserve our respect, invoking their name is insufficient to snow anyone who actually knows something about history.

    …the Roman Church provided a vast network of spiritual guardians and religious institutions to support every facet of the slave trade.

    Newsflash: the Roman Church provided a vast network of spiritual guardians and religious institutions to support folk in every walk of life. That could only mean that they “supported every facet of the slave trade” in the mind of someone who needs very badly to come to that conclusion.

  21. George says:

    Michael, there is no indication that you were kidding about your charge against Krauss. Indeed the attack is similar to others you have made on this blog, in apparent seriousness. But even putting this aside, the attack on Krauss doesn’t even work as a hoisting on his own petard. I’m quite sure Krauss doesn’t believe “What is your favorite color?” is a scientific question, nor so with countless other questions. While saying “on the whole” (not “on balance”) in the interview, he is literally waving his hands. So there’s no indication that Krauss would actually take the stance that it’s a purely scientific question, or that values would somehow not factor into it. Even considering that “scientism” is a nebulous term, few or zero meanings for it are synonymous with rejecting the fact-value distinction.

  22. Michael says:

    So there’s no indication that Krauss would actually take the stance that it’s a purely scientific question,

    Yes there is. Krauss is a New Atheist activist and such activists typically try to inflate their opinions with the authority of science. That is why they promote scientism. Early in the debate, Krauss insists that “science is the only source of knowledge.” You think Krauss would admit the central claim of New Atheism – “on the whole, religion is evil” – is not knowledge and just his own personal, subjective opinion? My guess is he would use the intellectually dishonest definition of science , where science = reason + evidence, to frame his opinion as science. After all, he does propose that very definition later in the debate.

    While saying “on the whole” (not “on balance”) in the interview, he is literally waving his hands.

    Exactly. The “on the whole, religion is evil” position is non-scientific hand-waving. Given that New Atheism is built on scientism, it is quite informative to realize that the central claim of New Atheism (religion is evil) is non-scientific hand-waving. The primary objective behind this blog entry was to draw attention to this intellectual inconsistency.

    Look, if you can find where Krauss admits that the central position of New Atheism is not science, by all means, share.

  23. George says:

    Well at least we agree that the attack against Krauss is invalid, being dependent upon the question of whether religion (on the whole) is good or bad being a “scientific” question. Honestly, reading your post here, it appears that you do buy into that premise, since that is the only way to arrive at your thesis that Krauss has abandoned science. I don’t see any other way to reconcile statements like “expressing disdain for the need to back up his opinion with the scientific approach”.

    Putting that aside, your subsequent comments show that you do agree that the argument is invalid. What is left? Well, maybe the point is that Krauss believes it’s valid? You haven’t presented any good support for this idea. Where I take Krauss’ literal hand-waving at face value, as I think most anyone would, you seem to read a whole new level into it. That some people bandy about the term “scientism” does not imply that Krauss (or anyone accused of “scientism”) believes that all questions are scientific. It just doesn’t follow. That’s not even how the word “scientism” is used.

  24. FZM says:

    My guess is he would use the intellectually dishonest definition of science , where science = reason + evidence, to frame his opinion as science. After all, he does propose that very definition later in the debate.

    If Krauss made the move that George suggested in a previous post and evoked the Humean fact-value distinction I was wondering if he would therefore be treating the fact-value distinction as a piece of knowledge and therefore a piece of ‘science’ (given his commitment to the idea that science is our only source of knowledge), or whether he would need to claim that it wasn’t knowledge but something else (I’m not sure what that would be).

    Reclassifying things like Hume’s fact-value distinction as ‘science’ and ‘scientific’ seems to involve stretching the definition of ‘science’ to the point that it becomes a pretty trivial concept.

  25. Michael says:

    Well at least we agree that the attack against Krauss is invalid, being dependent upon the question of whether religion (on the whole) is good or bad being a “scientific” question.

    It’s invalid only if Krauss acknowledges that the core belief of New Atheism (on the whole, religion is evil) is a subjective opinion or hand-waving. Until we have evidence he acknowledges this, there is no reason to think the critique is invalid.

  26. FZM says:

    George,

    Well, maybe the point is that Krauss believes it’s valid? You haven’t presented any good support for this idea.

    If Krauss is using a broad/ambiguous definition of ‘science’ as ‘reason + evidence’ as Michael suggests, it’s more plausible that he might believe that the question of whether religion is evil or not can be considered ‘scientific’ . If the claim that ‘religion is evil’ isn’t even ‘scientific’ within this kind of broader definition of science (i.e. it’s not a claim based on reason, evidence, knowledge etc.) that seems to leave it as a purely subjective, emotional assertion.

    That some people bandy about the term “scientism” does not imply that Krauss (or anyone accused of “scientism”) believes that all questions are scientific. It just doesn’t follow. That’s not even how the word “scientism” is used.

    I don’t think Krauss is being ‘accused’ of scientism as much as identifying himself as an exponent of it by saying that science is our only source of knowledge.

    What is the status of (apparently from Krauss’ perspective) ‘non-scientific’ questions and claims, the kind which don’t involve knowledge/reason/evidence of any kind?

  27. George says:

    Michael: To review, the question is: On the whole [wave hands in weighing motion], has religion been a net good or a net bad for humanity? It’s one of those highly theoretical questions that requires quite a bit of imagination. The question is certainly not part of some established dogma of New Atheism (not that there is such a thing). And it’s actually quite easy for an atheist to argue that religion has been a net good since, according to this argument, during our evolutionary history it had a cohesive effect on groups that aided in their survival.

    So to take the question and one particular answer to it and then place both upon some exulted central dogma of New Atheism seems fallacious. Seriously, where is the question even discussed outside of the conversation between Krauss and Wright? It would appear that the purpose here is to ascribe a particular belief to Krauss and then hang him on it. And I haven’t even mentioned the already-discussed weird claim that Krauss thinks the question is “scientific”, despite the obvious evidence of his own hand-waving. To suggest that Krauss (or anyone) believes that all questions are scientific is exceedingly fallacious. Do you really think that Krauss (or anyone) believes that “What is your favorite color?” is a scientific question? In all, these arguments just don’t appear to be valid.

  28. Doug says:

    @George,
    You say that Krauss’ claim is not a scientific one. We’re glad that you agree with what Michael has been saying all along.

  29. TFBW says:

    @George:

    The question is certainly not part of some established dogma of New Atheism …

    No New Atheist would admit to there being such a thing as “dogma of New Atheism”. It’s a pejorative term as far as they’re concerned. But consider that Dawkins produced a TV show called, “The Root of All Evil?” (topic: religion) just prior to writing The God Delusion (similar). Granted that he speaks out both sides of his mouth, so there are Dawkins quotations which seem relatively benign towards Anglicanism in particular, I’m sceptical that the inherent evilness of religion is not standard New Atheist narrative. You seriously think otherwise?

  30. TFBW says:

    George responded elsewhere:

    The title “The Root of all Evil?” wasn’t Dawkins’ doing, and he disagreed with it. Google this: “I didn’t like the title and fought it hard.”

    Those are weasel words as far as I’m concerned. He has ultimately chosen to host a show of that name, and can live with the consequences of taking such a (very) public stance — I’ll have none of this “blame the producers” cop-out. In any case, it’s not actually that far from his true position: he’d only want to back off “all” to “much” or similar, and I’m taking that into consideration. I fully understand that “all” is hyperbole in this context.

    The point that I was trying to establish is that the evilness of religion is part of standard New Atheist narrative. Even if the title of the programme in question is hyperbole, I think it makes my point, and your views to the contrary fly in the face of the evidence. Tell me with a straight face that Dawkins doesn’t think religion is, on the whole, evil. Tell me with a straight face that he is not representative of New Atheism. I dare you.

  31. FZM says:

    George,

    It would appear that the purpose here is to ascribe a particular belief to Krauss and then hang him on it.

    Krauss seems to make it easy to hang this particular belief on him by not denying the point when Wright puts it forward. He might have just said that he just didn’t think that religion was evil, on balance or otherwise. Instead he seems to have actually accepted it even if he felt the need to qualify it.

    And I haven’t even mentioned the already-discussed weird claim that Krauss thinks the question is “scientific”, despite the obvious evidence of his own hand-waving. To suggest that Krauss (or anyone) believes that all questions are scientific is exceedingly fallacious.

    The problem is that Krauss himself stated that ‘science is our only source of knowledge’. In the light of that it seems that from Krauss’ point of view the only non-scientific questions could be ones that don’t involve any ‘knowledge’.

    I tend to agree that questions like ‘what is your favourite colour?’, favourite food? etc. can be interpreted as not involving knowledge as such because they are concerned with subjective personal taste. But, if Krauss believes that the question of whether religion is evil or not is not ‘scientific’ (so does not involve any knowledge) it would imply that the question is one purely about subjective personal taste and that stating that ‘religion is on the whole evil’ is no different to saying that ‘my favourite colour is brown’ or ‘I like roast chicken more than pork chops.’

    To suggest that Krauss (or anyone) believes that all questions are scientific is exceedingly fallacious.

    To suggest that Krauss believes that all questions that are not scientific are either meaningless or purely subjective and emotional doesn’t seem ‘exceedingly fallacious’, it seems a logical consequence of what he himself stated about his own view in the debate.

  32. Michael says:

    George: The title “The Root of all Evil?” wasn’t Dawkins’ doing, and he disagreed with it. Google this: “I didn’t like the title and fought it hard.”

    Dawkins could be lying. Is there any evidence to back up his claims? Or are we supposed to accept his claim on faith?

  33. George says:

    Ugh, I responded in the wrong thread. A copy of my response:

    April 17, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Some things are getting conflated here. First, there is the question: On the whole [wave hands in weighing motion], has religion been a net good or a net bad for humanity? As I said, an atheist could well argue that religion has been a net good. And as I mentioned earlier, an atheist could well accept that, say, Mormons have the highest level of well-being for some measure thereof. None of this would imply that Mormonism (or any such religion) is true. And, further, if religion were a net good (for some measure thereof) in our evolutionary history, that does not imply that, in our modern age, it would remain so going forward.

    And from the other side, if religion has been a net negative for humanity, that would not imply that “religion is evil”. Even the most hard line atheists will acknowledge the social benefits of a religious community, for example. The purpose of saying “on the whole” while gesturing in a weighing motion is, presumably, to emphasize that we’re weighing the good from religion versus the bad from religion. It’s completely different to say that something is evil. Yet the question and one not-implied answer for it are being treated as equivalent to “religion is evil”. It just doesn’t follow.

    P.S. TFBW: The title “The Root of all Evil?” wasn’t Dawkins’ doing, and he disagreed with it. Google this: “I didn’t like the title and fought it hard.”

  34. Kevin says:

    George,

    I understand the distinction you make between “on the whole” (queue Austin Powers joke) and “is”.

    But I believe it is inappropriate and inconsistent, at best, for someone like Krauss, who makes a living as a scientist and science advocate, and promotes thinking based on empirical evidence, to then abandon those ideals in a public forum and make a sweeping claim about such a huge category of beliefs and actions as religion, with zero supporting evidence yet backed by his reputation as a scientist and advocate of evidence-backed thinking. A casual observer might well believe the data supported Krauss’ assertion, when in fact he simply pulled it out of his rear end.

    And that goes back to one of the central criticisms of New Atheism. There are some really good scientists in the movement (gratuitous point: Sam Harris is not one of them), but they all abandon their objectivity and dependence on evidence as soon as anything religious becomes the topic. Then they simply turn to visceral emotion. And in the case with Krauss, as in every similar situation, that distinction needs to be pointed out so the audience knows exactly where Krauss is coming from and how much weight to assign that opinion.

  35. Michael says:

    George: To review, the question is: On the whole [wave hands in weighing motion], has religion been a net good or a net bad for humanity? It’s one of those highly theoretical questions that requires quite a bit of imagination.

    And the answer ends up as a subjective opinion.

    The question is certainly not part of some established dogma of New Atheism (not that there is such a thing).

    New Atheists would not call it “established dogma,” but I think it is a defining belief of the New Atheists. Richard Dawkins wrote, ” It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, “mad cow” disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” Jerry Coyne wrote, ” Our writings and actions are sincere attempts to rid the world of one of its greatest evils: religion. ” Victor Stenger wrote, ” I want to urge those of you who are not scientists to try to convince those who are to stop pussyfooting around with religion and confront the reality of what it is and always has been — a blight on humanity that has hindered our progress for millennia and now threatens our very existence.” Hitchens wrote that religion poisons everything and as we saw in the video above, Krauss agrees and tries to defend that extremist viewpoint.

    In fact, it’s this “religion is evil” belief that explains two things about the New Atheists : 1) Their evangelistic nature (“My objective is to make more atheists. I am an evangelist for atheism” – Richard Carrier). If religion is evil, it explains why the Gnus feel the need to mock it and drive it out of the public arena and 2) their constant fights with other atheists, whom they refer to as “accommodationists.” To accommodate is bad because you don’t accommodate evil. The “accomodationists” differ from the New Atheists simply because they don’t think religion is all that bad.

    And it’s actually quite easy for an atheist to argue that religion hasbeen a net good since, according to this argument, during our evolutionary history it had a cohesive effect on groups that aided in their survival.

    Yes, but not easy for a New Atheist. In fact, can you cite one New Atheist leader who argues religion has been a net good? Dawkins refers to it as a mind virus (Boghossian argues the virus is so bad we need to quarantine it).

    So to take the question and one particular answer to it and then place both upon some exulted central dogma of New Atheism seems fallacious.

    So explain to us why New Atheists argue with other atheists who are mocked as accommodationists and faitheists.

    Seriously, where is the question even discussed outside of the conversation between Krauss and Wright?

    For starters, Dawkins has been talking about the evils of religion/faith for some time now.

    It would appear that the purpose here is to ascribe a particular belief to Krauss and then hang him on it.

    I don’t ascribe a belief to Krauss; he embraces a belief and then tries to defend it.

    And I haven’t even mentioned the already-discussed weird claim that Krauss thinks the question is “scientific”, despite the obvious evidence of his own hand-waving.

    If you understand New Atheism, there is nothing weird about the claim. Krauss is a New Atheist activist and such activists typically try to inflate their opinions with the authority of science. That is why they promote scientism. They actually adopt the fringe position that science itself has somehow shown that God does not exist. They try to frame science as an enemy of religion. Early in the debate, Krauss insists that “science is the only source of knowledge.”

    The evidence of his own hand-waving is evidence of the intellectual inconsistency at the heart of New Atheism. My critique is only invalid if Krauss acknowledges that the core belief of New Atheism (on the whole, religion is evil) is a subjective opinion or hand-waving. Until we have evidence he acknowledges this, there is no reason to think my critique is invalid given the dominant role scientism plays in New Atheism.

    To suggest that Krauss (or anyone) believes that all questions are scientific is exceedingly fallacious. Do you really think that Krauss (or anyone) believes that “What is your favorite color?” is a scientific question?

    The issue is not “all questions,” but a particular question. We know that scientism informs Krauss’s thinking, as he believes science has somehow shown atheism to be true and insists science is the only source of knowledge. We know he also believes, with great conviction, that religion is, on the whole, bad. So Krauss has two options:

    1. Abandon the notion that beliefs must be rooted in science (in order to maintain his subjective opinions about evil religion)

    or

    2. Come up with the scientific evidence to support his beliefs about religion.

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