Conrad Black wrote an article entitled, “I put this as simply as possible: Many atheists are excellent, but atheism itself is hurting the West.” Black has a good grasp on your average New Atheist:
I have had as much as I can take for a while of the belligerent atheists who come crackling through the Internet assuming the airs of prosecutors, declaring ex cathedra that any suggestion of the existence of a supernatural force or that anything is not explicable by applied human ingenuity is medieval superstition. They have a trite little formula that they don’t have to prove the existence of anything and so have the high ground in any argument and then lapse into Hitchensesque infantilistic mockery about pink-winged little men in the clouds. They are repetitive and obnoxious and their fervour betrays the vacuity of their position. I am declaring a moratorium for at least a few months on trying to reason with these self-exalted champions of reason.
This type of summary stings because of its accuracy. So it’s no surprise that the thin-skinned atheist activist Jerry Coyne would take great offense and flail away at Black’s article.
Now he continues in this vein with a newish column, “I put this as simply as possible: Many atheists are excellent, but atheism itself is hurting the West“. Now my first response on reading the title was this: “Even if it is hurting the West, and I believe the opposite, that says nothing about the existence of gods!”
And his first response is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction that has zero relevance. Simply read the title of the essay – it had nothing to do with demonstrating the existence of “gods.” Sheesh. That Coyne admits this is his “first” response tells us he is in Hyper-Skeptic Mode.
But Black still thinks that the existence of the Abrahamic God is self evident, and, moreover, that atheists, by reaping the benefits of a “Judeo-Christian civilization” without accepting God, are simply parasites on society.
You always have to wonder how some people earn PhD’s while have such substandard reading comprehension skills. If you go to Black’s essay and search for the word “parasite,” you will discover the word is not part of the essay. In fact, nowhere does Black even imply atheists are parasites. This is such a typical New Atheist tactic: if you can’t rebut the actual point being made, change the point (usually through the use of paraphrase) to make it rebuttable. After all, you’re deeply invested in that belief that your theistic opponents are a tad thick so the mind is constantly looking for any crumb that will prop up what you already believe.
Black briefly summarized his reasons for being a theist:
Because there was so much misunderstanding and overwrought, misplaced hysteria from some readers, I will wind this up by restating key points with mind-numbing simplicity. We have no idea how the universe, or any version of the life and context we know, originated. We have no idea of the infinite, of what was before the beginning or is beyond any spatial limits we can imagine, even with the great exploratory progress of science. Miracles sometime occur and people do sometimes have completely inexplicable insights that are generally described as spiritual. No sane and somewhat experienced person disputes any of this. But there is a cyber-vigilante squad of atheist banshees that swarm like bats over such comments and are hyperactive philistines better responded to with pest control measures than logical argument.
My contention is that it is more logical and reasonable to attribute these phenomena to the existence of a supernatural force or intelligence than either to deny that they exist, or to take refuge in the faith that they are merely aspects of our environment that we will eventually understand as we explore our planet and the contiguous universe.
Now note Coyne’s reply/rebuttal:
He’s equating scientific ignorance with the existence of God: the classic “god of the gaps” argument.
Whoa! When Coyne himself tries to explain what type of data he would personally consider evidence of God, he invariably cites…..a gap! Something science cannot explain.
Why is Coyne complaining about Black’s approach since it merely differs from Coyne’s approach in degree, not kind? Coyne himself demands Gaps, so the problem with Black’s evidence is NOT that “it is the classic “god of the gaps” argument. ” How could it be when Coyne’s atheism is premised on the validity of that very argument? No, the problem is that Black’s gaps aren’t gappy enough for Coyne. He wants bigger, better, more stupendous gaps. He doesn’t just want a Gap, he wants a Big Ol’ Mega-sized Gap complete with fireworks. And how will he know if he ever sees one? Why, his atheistic spidey sense will tell him when the show begins.
Coyne also replies:
We don’t know what the first form of life was like, either. Does that prove God?
Back to the straw men. Nowhere does Black claim to have proven the existence of God. He merely cites aspects of our reality where he thinks it “is more logical and reasonable to attribute these phenomena to the existence of a supernatural force or intelligence.”
At this point, we can begin to see the “hyper-skpetic, debunk at all costs” filter Coyne is using as he reads Black’s article. In his mind, Coyne hears Black accusing him of being a parasite while claiming to have proven the existence of God. Of course, such impressions are not rooted in reality. But because it is common for New Atheists to have a cartoonish view of theists, they impose it upon the world through their filtering. So the flaws in Coyne’s thinking go unnoticed in a rush to push the cartoon to the forefront.
Now let’s watch Coyne sink further into the depths of obliviousness.
Coyne quotes Black:
Of course, in our society, most people, including most atheists, are reasonably honest and decent and get through their lives without horrible outbursts of sociopathic behaviour. I did write that those atheists who purport to espouse the Judeo-Christian life without admitting the probability of some supernatural force are essentially enjoying the benefits of Judeo-Christian civilization while denying even the least onerous definition of its basic tenets. Thus do schism and hypocrisy raise their hoary heads.
As atheists renounce the roots of our civilization, they are troublesome passengers, and are apt to be less integral defenders of the West in time of challenge.
First of all, although many of our ancestors were religious, that doesn’t mean that our society is a “Judeo-Christian civilization”. That means that Jews and Christians helped build it, but it doesn’t mean that all the precepts of society come from religion. Many of America’s founders, for instance, were either atheists or deists who explicitly wanted to take religion out of government. And many of the modern scientists who contributed to our well being were avowed atheists. If there is no evidence to skeptics for a god, why must they “admit the probability of some supernatural force”? If atheists don’t, are we to be deprived of our social benefits?: “No soup for you, Heathen!”
At this point, it is clear to me that Coyne doesn’t have a clue as to the point Black is making. For not only does he completely sidestep it, but he rattles off a list talking points that wander off in different directions. What’s more, he doubles down on the talking point approach.
He begins by priming his readers’ minds with the appropriate spin:
He also makes the familiar claim that without God there’s no basis for morality:
Then quotes Black:
I also wrote that the atheists are becoming steadily more aggressive, more generally dismissive of the supernatural tradition, while swaddling themselves in commendable precepts that are generally variants of the Golden Rule and other such formulations. These are fine, but they will not in themselves assure a norm of social conduct and they have already led to the ghastly enfeeblement of moral relativism. Alternative scenarios emerge of equal worthiness, as right and wrong are concepts that are diluted by being severed from any original legitimacy. All schools of behavioural conduct compete on a level playing field and disorder gradually ensues. Man is deemed to be perfectible, the traditional matrix for authoritarianism. Where there is deemed to be no God the classic human deities — or Robespierre’s Supreme Being, the Nazi Pagan-Wagnerian leaders, or the Stalinist incarnation of the toiling Slavonic masses — replace deities. Anyone who imagines that our legal system, unto itself, will assure acceptable social conduct has had little experience of it. The entire apparatus of our society of laws has degenerated into a 360 degree cartel operated by and almost exclusively for the benefit of the legal profession.
And then opens the talking point flood gates:
Well, you already know the argument against the “original legitimacy” of morality derived from religion. It’s threefold. First, Plato’s Euthyphro Argument. Does Black believe that we should stone to death those who work on the Sabbath because God said so, or do the same to kids who curse their parents? If not, why not? For the same reasons that underlie the second point: every believer picks and chooses their morality from scripture or dogma, which means there are pre-scriptural moral feelings that dictate our actions. The Golden Rule has arisen many times in history independent of religion, and had religion not arisen I’m sure someone would have adumbrated it. Further, even if it were true that people need a god so much that they accept Hitlers and Stalins as gods if they give up on conventional faith, that still says nothing about the existence of God. All it says is that some people need a godlike presence in their lives. Or does Black even really care whether or not people accept God, so long as it’s good for society?
Finally: Scandinavia, including Iceland. Those are godless countries full of moral people. I suppose Black would argue that their morality must come from their religious background, but that would ignore the recent innovations in morality, like gay marriage, that came independent of religion. Read Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature for more examples. If there were a jail for intellectual miscreants, Black would be in it.
All of Coyne’s taking points can be appropriately dismissed as noise. For none of them get to the heart of Blacks’ point, probably because Coyne is intellectually incapable of grasping the point. So let’s make it crystal clear – the point Black is making is essentially the same one Jordan Peterson made.
Here, try to focus again on what Black so insightfully writes:
I also wrote that the atheists are becoming steadily more aggressive, more generally dismissive of the supernatural tradition, while swaddling themselves in commendable precepts that are generally variants of the Golden Rule and other such formulations. These are fine, but they will not in themselves assure a norm of social conduct and they have already led to the ghastly enfeeblement of moral relativism. Alternative scenarios emerge of equal worthiness, as right and wrong are concepts that are diluted by being severed from any original legitimacy. All schools of behavioural conduct compete on a level playing field and disorder gradually ensues. Man is deemed to be perfectible, the traditional matrix for authoritarianism. Where there is deemed to be no God the classic human deities — or Robespierre’s Supreme Being, the Nazi Pagan-Wagnerian leaders, or the Stalinist incarnation of the toiling Slavonic masses — replace deities.
I could distil the truth from each sentence, but let me make it simple. Every time we see Jerry Coyne rail (and flail) against the social justice warriors, we are witnessing the truth of Black’s point. For it is atheism that spawned the postmodernist movement that has taken control of more and more universities.
Social justice authoritarianism comes from postmodernism and postmodernism comes from atheism.
Finally, Coyne lets out his inner SJW:
Again. why does the Post give this guy space to make such poor arguments?
Coyne has a history of wanting to deplatform religious people given his hatred of religious people. But the irony, as usual, is great. Here is a man who
- demands gaps out one side of his mouth, yet mocks gaps from the other side of his mouth, thus demonstrating the inherent incoherence of his atheism while
- shows a lack of reading comprehension skills in insisting Black postures as if he proved the existence of God while bashing atheist as parasites while
- completely missing the core point Black raises and thinks he has dismissed it with superficial talking points while
- implying Black should have been deplatformed.
Wow. All of this should make anyone question whether there really is any significant difference between a New Atheist and a Social Justice Atheist. Sounds like something worth exploring, eh?