Are ” New Atheists” Intellectually Lazy ?

” Atheists, The Origin Of Species” By Nickolas Spencer and Book review by Michael Robbins. ”  “Atheists were not always as intellectually lazy as Dawkins and his ilk”

A formal definition of religion is notoriously difficult to formulate, but it must surely involve reference to a particular way of life, practices oriented toward a conception of how one should live. “You must change your life,” as the broken statue of the god Apollo seems to say in Rilke’s poem. Science does not—it isn’t designed to—recommend approaches to what Emerson calls “the conduct of life.” Nevertheless, Richard Dawkins claims that religion “is a scientific theory,” “a competing explanation for facts about the universe and life.” This is—if you’ll forgive my theological jargon—bullshit.

To be sure, several scriptures offer, for instance, their own accounts of creation. But Christians have recognized the allegorical nature of these accounts since the very beginnings of Christianity. Basil, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine—they all assumed that God’s creation was eternal, not something that unfolded in six days or any other temporal frame. In the third century Origen of Alexandria wrote:

To what person of intelligence, I ask, will the account seem logically consistentthat says there was a “first day” and a “second” and “third,” in which also “evening” and “morning” are named, without a sun, without a moon, and without stars, and even in the case of the first day without a heaven (Gen. 1:5-13)? …. Surely, I think no one doubts that these statements are made by Scripture in the form of a type by which they point toward certain mysteries.

Well, no one but Richard Dawkins. As Marilynne Robinson writes:

The notion that religion is intrinsically a crude explanatory strategy that should be dispelled and supplanted by science is based on a highly selective or tendentious reading of the literatures of religion. In some cases it is certainly fair to conclude that it is based on no reading of them at all.

Science and religion ask different questions about different things. Where religion addresses ontology, science is concerned with ontic description. Indeed, it is what Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart calls their “austere abdication of metaphysical pretensions” that enables the sciences to do their work. So when, for instance, evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne and pop-cosmologist Lawrence Krauss dismiss the (metaphysical) problem of how something could emerge from nothing by pointing to the Big Bang or quantum fluctuation, it is difficult to be kind: Quantum fluctuations, the uncertainty principle, the laws of quantum physics themselves—these are something. Nothing is not quantum anything. It is nothing. Nonbeing. This, not empty space, is what “nothing” signifies for Plato and Aquinas and Heidegger, no matter what Krauss believes. No particles, no fluctuation, no laws, no principles, no potentialities, no states, no space, no time. No thing at all..

Atheists: The Origin of the Species seems to have been born out of frustration with these and other confusions perpetuated by the so-called “New Atheists” and their allies, who can’t be bothered to familiarize themselves with the traditions they traduce. Several thoughtful writers have already laid bare the slapdash know-nothingism of today’s mod-ish atheism, but Spencer’s not beating a dead horse—he’s beating a live one, in the hope that Nietzsche might rush to embrace it. Several critics have noted that if evangelical atheists (as the philosopher John Graycalls them) are ignorant of religion, as they usually are, then they aren’t truly atheists. “The knowledge of contraries is one and the same,” as Aristotle said. If your idea of God is not one that most theistic traditions would recognize, you’re not talking about God (at most, the New Atheists’ arguments are relevant to the low-hanging god of fundamentalism and deism). But even more damning is that such atheists appear ignorant of atheism as well.

Posted By F. Sheikh

6 thoughts on “Are ” New Atheists” Intellectually Lazy ?

  1. The thrust in the article seems to me that atheists must do some homework on religions to know what they are opposing. This advice should be alright if atheism was in fact countering religions or a response to religions. I don’t see atheism like that. Atheism just rejects the God hypothesis. Now if religions are made redundant due to this rejection because most religions are based on some deity then it is not an atheist’s concern. Why should atheists learn the traditions and benefits and side effects of religions. I couldn’t care less if there were seven Imams or twelve or what are the differences of Catholics and Protestants or Sunnies and Shias – who cares?

    There is a quote in the article by a professor/writer Marilynne Robinson:

    “To what person of intelligence, I ask, will the account seem logically consistent that says there was a “first day” and a “second” and “third,” in which also “evening” and “morning” are named, without a sun, without a moon, and without stars, and even in the case of the first day without a heaven (Gen. 1:5-13)? …. Surely, I think no one doubts that these statements are made by Scripture in the form of a type by which they point toward certain mysteries.
    Well, no one but Richard Dawkins.”

    She seems to suggest that Bible’s account of creation shouldn’t be analyzed as anything but a mystery. If I didn’t get her, some one please correct me. If this is indeed she is saying and if theists should agree with her then I am sure Dawkins will have no problem leaving this account as loud contemplation of ancient mind’s mystery. The problem is not one person of intelligence but billions do consider this account as revelation of real process of genesis.

    Towards all the titles given to “new” atheists, like “know-nothings”, “modish” and “lazy”, I say that the present day knowledge of even a primary class student is enough to see that God is nothing like what religions project Him to be – all the “credit” of floods and earth quakes and extinctions given to an imaginary entity is bogus. No one needs to know details of religions to understand how things actually work. No need to clutter young minds with myths and confusing them, there is too much to learn for them.


    • Interesting and intriguing comments by Babar Sahib. I think the author is commenting that the religion is a moral literature and not a scientific document. The new atheists should not judge it by scientific facts. But I think, unfortunately many religious authorities make a mistake of arguing that holy books prove some of the recent scientific discoveries, and by this argument it becomes a slippery slope.
      Existence of God is another issue. In religion , God is the legislator and religious institutions are the enforcer of the laws of God. It gives a sort of concrete anchor and discipline for the moral values. If God does not exist, this anchor and order is lost and it creates a vacuum, disorder and anxiety. Human beings need some central concrete anchor to hold on. Mr. Kenan Malik, an atheist, writes in one of his article:
      ‘If God does not exist, everything is permitted’
      “It is, strikingly, an anxiety that has been felt not simply by believers. Many of the harshest critics of religion, from nineteenth century positivists such as Harriet Martineau, to twenty-first century New Atheists, such as Sam Harris, have themselves expressed a yearning for a new form of what we might call ethical concrete, an insistence that the death of God required values to be anchored in a different transcendental realm, in nature, or in science.
      But what exactly is the problem with the death of God? That is the issue I want to address here. From a conventional perspective, the answer is straightforward. For Dostoevsky and Martineau and Harris the issue is that of the fixity of moral values. For such thinkers, both believers and non-believers, the death of God poses the problem of how to restore ethical concrete, whether divine or non-divine.”

      Link to full article.


    • For me, instead of the question “Are New Atheists Intellectually Lazy,” a basic question is “Do Atheists Qualify to be Called as Intellectuals?” To be more explicit, just to say no to God and Religion how much intellectualism is being applied. Throughout in our chronicled history many great philosophers, thinkers, scientists, and literary scholars have been and many are still atheists. Many have said no to God, but almost all of them have presented great theories in the fields of literature, sciences, and even in religions. For example:
      1. Buddha said no to God, but presented a religion which in history prevailed almost half of the known world. In my view he was a “Great Intellectual.”
      2. The European Renaissance gave birth to many thinkers, philosophers, and scientists who said no to God and Religion, but presented unique philosophies and scientific theories of their own—and the list is a very long—to be known as intellectuals.
      3. Darwin presented a theory of evolution scientifically based on the appearance of life on this planet challenging the existence of God and thus scrapped religions. Undoubtedly, Darwin is a “Great Intellectual” of all times. His intellectualism is reflected in his theory of evolution.
      4. Karl Marks said no to God and Religion. He presented a political philosophy which still has a potential of reappearing. I would say loudly that Karl Marx was an intellectual.
      5. Carl Sagan retraced the fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution and declared he did not find God anywhere. He is an intellectual who researched and unfolded the mysteries of the cosmos.
      6. We have, at the same time, thousands of thinkers, scholars, philosophers and scientists who are intellectuals and have believed in God—Newton, Einstein, Dr. Salam, Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare, Tagore, Iqbal and many more—and they are known for their intellectual output.
      When we view the intellectuals mentioned here as well as thousands of their likes—both believers and non believers in God—we find that their intellectualism has nothing to do with the belief or unbelief in God. Now coming back to modern atheists, their atheism is without any theory or philosophy to be defined as their own. Today’s atheism does not explain any way of life or a meaning of life for mankind. An atheist stands philosophically and socially on the borrowed grounds of humanism, wraps himself in the cover of science, and says no to God and religions, all through the lenses of others. Unless atheists present their own philosophy, based on exclusively their own ideology of life, not to speak of lazy they cannot be counted as intellectuals.
      Reading Dawkins, Hitchens, Harrison and some others, all I find is they attack God and religions proving everything revealed as dogma, false, nonsense, and meaningless. They ignore that mankind has lived and has to live within a system, an ideology, and a social way of life. Atheism does not present for mankind a way of life, no system, no philosophy, no ideology, and no social sciences which we can say, “This is the unique ideology of the atheists and atheism only.” Their atheism is based on borrowed intellectualism of the philosophers and scientists.
      The atheists take refuge in secularism, but secularism protects and lets religion nourish and grow. What is an atheist’s ideology which he can be presented to mankind like Buddha, Darwin or Karl Marx’s Godless intellectualism say: here is a religion based on humanism, here is a theory how life appeared on this planet by chance not created by a God, and here is a socio-political system for the mankind much better than the way of religions. Just saying no to God does not make any one a lazy or active intellectual. An illiterate, a teenager, and even a child can say no to God. I would say the atheists need to do their homework, not how to oppose religions, but how to present a system as a better alternative of religion in the framework of atheism and prove that they are more intelligent than the prophets and even the Supreme Intelligent.
      Mirza Ashraf

  2. It is very generous of Fayyaz Sahib to admit that some theists present religions as work of science that takes religions on a slippery slope. I also agree that many consider ethics and morality originating from religions and hence death of God creates a vacuum for the anchor of ethics. However, I strongly reject the notion that atheism must provide an alternate or fill the vacuum. Atheism is not competing for a place of ideology which must provide a way of life and a set of code of conduct. Some bitter theists will do anything to place atheism along dogmas as that might give them a feeling of competition and hence still feel equal or worth comparing – they are just in denial, they refuse to question anything and their only “intellect” is to remain in a trance (this one for Mirza Sahib’s quest for finding intellect in atheists comparable to the believer’s intellect).
    Since atheism is not a school of thought with any holy book or a prophet, every one who might call him/herself an atheist is free to contemplate. Kenan Malik (whatever his credentials) can have his own views and just like him I have my own views and I don’t think that with the death of God, ethics and morality becomes anchor-less. To me, religion had hijacked the preexisting ethics and morality and used it as a tool to exploit masses. The distinction between right and wrong was learned by man from experience from very early on. Cultures evolved and traditions formed and
    if you read the history of mankind and different civilizations, the exploitation by powerful of the weak and of dominance of males over females everywhere was same and with time all progressed in a similar way regardless of introduction to God.

    I can fully understand the joy of calling Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins as “new atheists” because it rings like “nouveau riche”, newly rich, and rather derogatory and a miserable attempt to lump atheists as a new religion. The joke is on people with blind faith, who talk with an air of an “intellectual” about their belief in ghosts and angels and revelations not knowing that they are themselves becoming obsolete and no person who dares to think or question gives them much respect either as an intellectual. Only the people who never bother to think about things and follow in the old rut, too busy with their day to day lives, may be forgiven but those who have weighed the options and still refuse to break the spell, I have my doubts about them – whether to call them closed minded or dumb or cowards. I refuse to label them dumb or non-intellectuals because most of them are very bright in many disciplines of education. I am left with only calling them cowards for they can not muster enough courage to admit to have been wrong.

    I am happy that Mirza Sahib has at least been generous enough to call Darwin and Carl Sagan an intellectual and it doesn’t matter if he calls millions like myself whatever – who just happen to have been fortunate enough to open their minds reading what those intellectuals had to say about the origins and the birds and the bees. Not all followers of faith or non believers need be considered intellectual….some like us have to be ordinary folks and we are happy without the titles.


  3. As I see that day by day the number of atheists is rising, I am avidly in search of an atheistic philosophy or an ideology. The purpose of my posting was to find out if some one knows what is atheistic agenda, other than saying no to God and religion. I have found the following poem; at least a step forward on my search:


    Our Powers are within,
    Whatever be their name.
    What they have done, what still may come,
    This Earth can yet be as Heaven.
    Live then this day, and without dread,
    And forgive your own trespasses
    As you forgive those who trespass against you,
    And be not led into temptation,
    But flee away from evil,
    For time is the Healer,
    With power to restore me;
    Forever and ever, Amen. — by Richard Packham

    Courtesy: Mirza Ashraf

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