Wednesday, May 12, 2010

David Hart thinks atheism is dumb.

David Hart has written an outrageously condescending article for the Catholic journal First Things, in which he dismisses entirely the intellectual credibility of New Atheism -- that is, the fusion of scientifically informed, change-driving nontheism that he and other theists have good reason to be worried about. He's read ALL the new books, he writes, and finds them all boringly ignorant.

That sounds like just the kind of ad hominem position which is the last resort of a man with no other options. His worldview isn't defensible -- socially, empirically, ethically, logically, or, I'll go whole-hog, aesthetically -- and he's unprepared to identify the logical failings of atheism, so, he just sneers at it.

He writes, "A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe."

Really? Must I bother myself with fully grasping the deep incorrectness of every non-self-evident belief before I can fairly claim that I lack belief in it? Let's go all enroll in unicorn zoology, 101: or do you want to be accused of appalling ignorance for having rejected belief in unicorns?

He has a solution for our failings: get a little godliness in you. Because, you see, the best atheists are really closet prophets: "Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties."

God save me from ever feeling the "moral grandeur: of the prophets -- as distasteful a collection of woman-hating, sex-fearing, reality-rejecting delusionals as I can imagine. Though, there is something to possessing a deep abhorrence of "vicious idolatries that enslave mines..."

It is a mark of the true believer that irony has entirely left the building.

I hope many of us in the BA world will stop by the article and give it a read. It should put steel in your step and resolve in your work: this is the kind of diatribe that a huge proportion of believers finds entirely credible, and which lends to ant-atheistic prejudice a false polish of sensibility.

Write to Hart, personally. His pen is a pulpit, and he's spewing venom. That kind of demagoguery needs to be challenged, and not just with an anonymous comment in a message thread. Compassion and intelligence may not have the rhetorical efficiency of his fallacy-filled whitewashery, true; but we've constrained by good taste and principles to just be better than that. We all have our handicaps.

I read these articles and get so exasperated. One does wish that the children would step aside and let the adults handle things. Even with all their wailing, I am optimistic that we're participating in the dismantling of religion. I'm glad for it.

Read more about Hart at Wikipedia. I'm tempted to do a line-by-line response to his article, but this seems already to have been done by others elsewhere -- in parts by different authors, though it looks like all the necessary points have been made -- and in any case, does it matter? When a person believes in the nonexistent, and makes the study of such their professional career, you have to feel like evidence, logic and reasoning are all a bit beside the point. A variety of sensible responses appear at Comment #195 by Edward T. Babinski is fantastic.

Bonus: Read more horrendous twaddle from Hart at New Criterion, part of his campaign against the obvious and boring manifestations of modern atheism. Gosh, everything he writes is either theologically evil (Google to find his article on theodicy and tsunamis!) or piously, depravedly smug.