The Four Horsemen review - whatever happened to ‘New Atheism’?

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The Four Horsemen review - whatever happened to ‘New Atheism’?

Post by Battlehymn Republic » 2019-09-22 01:14pm

The Guardian:
Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris ... were the apostles of atheism as fearless as they thought?

Whatever happened to “New Atheism”? It was born in the febrile aftermath of 9/11, when belief in a deity – or, let’s be honest, specifically in Allah – seemed to some people a newly urgent danger to western civilisation. Sam Harris began writing The End of Faith (2004) immediately after the World Trade Center attacks, and it became a bestseller. There followed the philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great. The men toured vigorously, but they all met together only once, and this book is the transcript of what ensued, with new brief introductions by the surviving members, Hitchens having died in 2011. Contrary to the book’s subtitle, the “atheist revolution” was not sparked by this cocktail-fuelled pre-dinner round of chat and backslapping, which took place in 2007. By then the participants could already salute one another for the impressive sales of their books, boast about how willing they were to cause “offence”, and reminisce about how brilliant they were when they befuddled this or that bishop with some debating point.

In many ways the conversation already seems dated in its political preoccupations, particularly in the idea proffered by Hitchens that “holy war” was the greatest existential threat to civilisation. (There had been nothing holy about the cold war, which brought us closest to the brink of planetary Armageddon, and North Korea now is not a theocracy, but never mind.) “I think it’s us, plus the 82nd Airborne and the 101st, who are the real fighters for secularism at the moment, the ones who are really fighting the main enemy,” Hitchens announces with armchair-general relish. (The 82nd and 101st operated in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The other Horsemen agree eagerly that they are all very brave. In his introduction, Dawkins insists that “the atheistic worldview has an unsung virtue of intellectual courage”, which might indeed be unsung had not its adherents themselves been singing it for so long.

New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word “algebra”. The Horsemen assume that religion has always been an impediment to science, dismissing famous religious scientists – such as Georges Lemaître, the Catholic priest who first proposed the big bang hypothesis, not to mention Isaac Newton et al – as inexplicable outliers. At one point Harris complains about a leading geneticist who is also a Christian. This guy seems to think, Harris spits incredulously, “that on Sunday you can kneel down in the dewy grass and give yourself to Jesus because you’re in the presence of a frozen waterfall, and on Monday you can be a physical geneticist”. Harris offers no reason why he can’t, except that the combination is incompatible with his own narrow-mindedness.

For these men, rationality is all on “our” side and evidence-free faith is all on “their” side. But faith is very much a movable feast: Hitchens himself, in his sad late persona as a useful idiot for the Bush-Cheney regime in the mid-2000s, notably kept insisting – in the face of no evidence – that Saddam Hussein had possessed a working nuclear-weapons programme, which proved that it had been right all along to invade Iraq.

For all that, Hitchens is plainly the most cultured thinker at the table. Without religion, would we have had the music of Bach or the paintings of Michelangelo? He’s not sure: “I can’t hear myself saying, ‘If only you had a secular painter, he would have done work just as good.’” Dawkins is more blusteringly confident: “What? That Michelangelo, if he’d been commissioned to do the ceiling of a museum of science, wouldn’t have produced something just as wonderful?” A museum of science! At another point Dawkins reassures everyone: “I have not the slightest problem with Christmas trees.”

Dennett, for his part, plays along with the tribalism – “We’re not going to let you play the faith card,” he says gamely – but you suspect his heart’s not really in it. In his introduction he reveals a more humane attitude – “I have known people whose lives would be desolate and friendless,” he writes, “if it weren’t for the non-judgmental welcome they have received in one religious organisation or another” – which explains why he was only ever really a semi-detached Horseman.

What did they all do next? Dennett let the subject lie and returned to questions of evolution and philosophy, most recently with his excellent 2017 book From Bacteria to Bach and Back. Dawkins became a leading social-media troll, with tweets such as this from last summer: “Listening to the lovely bells of Winchester, one of our great mediaeval cathedrals. So much nicer than the aggressive-sounding ‘Allahu Akhbar.’ Or is that just my cultural upbringing?” In his introduction, Dawkins quotes some scriptural interpretation and asks: “Are professors of theology really paid to do this kind of thing?”, which suggests he has a bright future ahead of him leaving pointless online comments below newspaper articles.

The intellectual path followed by Harris is most balefully illustrative of the poisonous seeds that were always present in New Atheism. At one point here, the men admire themselves for their willingness to consider truths that might be politically dangerous. For instance, Hitchens says, if the notorious hypothesis of the 1994 book by Richard J Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve – that black people are genetically inferior in intelligence to white people – were true, it shouldn’t be ignored. Luckily, Hitchens hastens to add, that example is not viable. Later on, however, Harris brings up the argument again. “If there were reliable differences in intelligence between races or genders,” he begins, before Hitchens cuts him off dismissively. “But I don’t think any of us here do think that that’s the case.”

Hitchens might have been too generous. In 2018, Harris caused a storm by inviting Murray on to his podcast for a weirdly uncritical two-hour conversation. Murray, Harris claimed, had been the victim of a terrible “academic injustice” for the way in which his notions about the inherent cognitive inferiority of some “races” had been rejected by the scientific establishment. (Lest you worry about Murray, be reassured that he is still a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which is funded by the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers.)

This is where the preeningly fearless insistence on entertaining uncomfortable questions can so easily lead. Harris ended up in the company of the “alt-right” and the so-called “intellectual dark web”, populated by people who portray themselves as valiant enough to say what you’re not allowed to say any more, and are constantly invited on rightwing talk shows to say it. For some, New Atheism was never about God at all, but just a topical subgenre of the rightwing backlash against the supposedly suffocating atmosphere of “political correctness”. In its messianic conviction that it alone serves the cause of truth, this too is a faith as noxious as any other.

• The Four Horsemen is published by Bantam. To order a copy for £8.79 (RRP £9.99) go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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Re: The Four Horsemen review - whatever happened to ‘New Atheism’?

Post by mr friendly guy » 2019-09-23 08:47am

Why are you posting an article from January 2019 in September? :D To top it off, this is a book review by someone who clearly hates the New Atheists. Ok, maybe someone who hates comic books should review Marvel movies. I mean if they reviewed based on craftsmanship, that's one thing, but I fans of the genre won't be well served by it. The same logic would seem to apply, those who are atheists might not get the most out of the review from the author of this article, unless you're going to assume if the author hates it, it must be good. :D

Ok its the Guardian, what a shocker.
Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris ... were the apostles of atheism as fearless as they thought?
That depends. If you mean they put up with death threats, yeah that's true. But the answer from author Stephen Poole appears to be, yes they are fearless but being fearless leads to dark places. No read his article, that's what he says.
Whatever happened to “New Atheism”? It was born in the febrile aftermath of 9/11, when belief in a deity – or, let’s be honest, specifically in Allah – seemed to some people a newly urgent danger to western civilisation. Sam Harris began writing The End of Faith (2004) immediately after the World Trade Center attacks, and it became a bestseller. There followed the philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great. The men toured vigorously, but they all met together only once, and this book is the transcript of what ensued, with new brief introductions by the surviving members, Hitchens having died in 2011. Contrary to the book’s subtitle, the “atheist revolution” was not sparked by this cocktail-fuelled pre-dinner round of chat and backslapping, which took place in 2007. By then the participants could already salute one another for the impressive sales of their books, boast about how willing they were to cause “offence”, and reminisce about how brilliant they were when they befuddled this or that bishop with some debating point.
Well what happened the new atheists. Hitchens died, Dawkins got older and had a stroke so less busy, Dennet seems to have disappeared, but Jesus he was already old 10 years ago, and Harris is still going strong. However whereas in the mid 2000s it was Creationism that was the big enemy of atheists, come mid 2010s it changed into Islamic fundamentalism and SJWs and third wave feminism that seemed to occupy some atheists time. I find it interesting he describes the atheists as using the term "offence" in inverted commas to mock them by implying it wasn't much, then goes on to describe how Richard Dawkins causes offence, or at least offends the author. :lol:
In many ways the conversation already seems dated in its political preoccupations, particularly in the idea proffered by Hitchens that “holy war” was the greatest existential threat to civilisation. (There had been nothing holy about the cold war, which brought us closest to the brink of planetary Armageddon, and North Korea now is not a theocracy, but never mind.) “I think it’s us, plus the 82nd Airborne and the 101st, who are the real fighters for secularism at the moment, the ones who are really fighting the main enemy,” Hitchens announces with armchair-general relish. (The 82nd and 101st operated in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The other Horsemen agree eagerly that they are all very brave.
I will disagree with this one. I think climate change is the bigger threat, but again predicting the future ain't easy. Is the point of his rant that Hitchens was an armchair general and imply that he is a coward? The guy at least was willing to be waterboarded, so I wouldn't call him cowardly. This is coming from someone who strongly disagrees with his political views.
In his introduction, Dawkins insists that “the atheistic worldview has an unsung virtue of intellectual courage”, which might indeed be unsung had not its adherents themselves been singing it for so long.
And... No seriously, that's like criticising someone for saying when I took over we were running at a loss, because right now its making a profit.
New Atheism’s arguments were never very sophisticated or historically informed. You will find in this conversation no acknowledgment of the progress made by medieval Islamic civilisation in medicine and mathematics – which is why, among other things, we have the word “algebra”. The Horsemen assume that religion has always been an impediment to science, dismissing famous religious scientists – such as Georges Lemaître, the Catholic priest who first proposed the big bang hypothesis, not to mention Isaac Newton et al – as inexplicable outliers.
Lying. Well what do you expect from the Guardian? :lol: In literally 2 minutes of google you can refute this claim with a 2013 article on Dawkins.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebr ... ments.html

"He went on to argue that although Muslims were responsible for many achievements during the Dark Ages, including alchemy and algebra, their contribution since then was questionable."

But hey, we all know the Guardian readers will never ever fact check this claim right? :D
At one point Harris complains about a leading geneticist who is also a Christian. This guy seems to think, Harris spits incredulously, “that on Sunday you can kneel down in the dewy grass and give yourself to Jesus because you’re in the presence of a frozen waterfall, and on Monday you can be a physical geneticist”. Harris offers no reason why he can’t, except that the combination is incompatible with his own narrow-mindedness.
They are somewhat contradictory, but fortunately humans have cognitive dissonance to fall back on. Doesn't change the fact of course that science utilises inductive reasoning and observation to derive its conclusion, runs counter to most forms of religion which uses revelation to derive its conclusion. You know, the opposite of the scientific method. Wait, does Stephen Poole even understand the scientific method?
For these men, rationality is all on “our” side and evidence-free faith is all on “their” side. But faith is very much a movable feast: Hitchens himself, in his sad late persona as a useful idiot for the Bush-Cheney regime in the mid-2000s, notably kept insisting – in the face of no evidence – that Saddam Hussein had possessed a working nuclear-weapons programme, which proved that it had been right all along to invade Iraq.
Lets be fair, evidence was provided. Just not very good one. A more analogous claim would be if Bush said Iraq had WMDs, trust me, and Hitchens said, "sounds good to me."

For all that, Hitchens is plainly the most cultured thinker at the table. Without religion, would we have had the music of Bach or the paintings of Michelangelo? He’s not sure: “I can’t hear myself saying, ‘If only you had a secular painter, he would have done work just as good.’” Dawkins is more blusteringly confident: “What? That Michelangelo, if he’d been commissioned to do the ceiling of a museum of science, wouldn’t have produced something just as wonderful?” A museum of science! At another point Dawkins reassures everyone: “I have not the slightest problem with Christmas trees.”
Is the author trying to imply that a talented secular artist would not be able to produce an equivalent work to a religious person without actually saying it. Why that's... bigotry. :lol:
Dennett, for his part, plays along with the tribalism – “We’re not going to let you play the faith card,” he says gamely – but you suspect his heart’s not really in it. In his introduction he reveals a more humane attitude – “I have known people whose lives would be desolate and friendless,” he writes, “if it weren’t for the non-judgmental welcome they have received in one religious organisation or another” – which explains why he was only ever really a semi-detached Horseman.
I have no comment on whether Dennett feels as strongly as Dawkins on this issue.
What did they all do next? Dennett let the subject lie and returned to questions of evolution and philosophy, most recently with his excellent 2017 book From Bacteria to Bach and Back. Dawkins became a leading social-media troll, with tweets such as this from last summer: “Listening to the lovely bells of Winchester, one of our great mediaeval cathedrals. So much nicer than the aggressive-sounding ‘Allahu Akhbar.’ Or is that just my cultural upbringing?”
You know, a brave author would ask why some people think this?
In his introduction, Dawkins quotes some scriptural interpretation and asks: “Are professors of theology really paid to do this kind of thing?”, which suggests he has a bright future ahead of him leaving pointless online comments below newspaper articles.
Might help if you quote the scriptural interpretation which Dawkins finds ridiculous. Just saying. Let me guess, it will turn out to be really stupid.
The intellectual path followed by Harris is most balefully illustrative of the poisonous seeds that were always present in New Atheism. At one point here, the men admire themselves for their willingness to consider truths that might be politically dangerous. For instance, Hitchens says, if the notorious hypothesis of the 1994 book by Richard J Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve – that black people are genetically inferior in intelligence to white people – were true, it shouldn’t be ignored. Luckily, Hitchens hastens to add, that example is not viable. Later on, however, Harris brings up the argument again. “If there were reliable differences in intelligence between races or genders,” he begins, before Hitchens cuts him off dismissively. “But I don’t think any of us here do think that that’s the case.”
Is this a subtle way of calling them racists. He forgot misogynist while he is at it.

Lets put it this way. I think the Bell Curve is bullshit. However you don't have evidence that Harris necessarily believes its true from the above statement. Saying if, and IF its true it shouldn't be ignored is not the same as saying its true. Now is it worth looking at in detail, ie whether blacks are dumber than whites. Yes its worth looking into, because we then conclude that claim is bullshit.
Hitchens might have been too generous. In 2018, Harris caused a storm by inviting Murray on to his podcast for a weirdly uncritical two-hour conversation. Murray, Harris claimed, had been the victim of a terrible “academic injustice” for the way in which his notions about the inherent cognitive inferiority of some “races” had been rejected by the scientific establishment. (Lest you worry about Murray, be reassured that he is still a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which is funded by the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers.)
Can't comment without hearing the podcast and there is no link. I am aware that Harris does bring I guess fringe people on his podcast.
This is where the preeningly fearless insistence on entertaining uncomfortable questions can so easily lead. Harris ended up in the company of the “alt-right” and the so-called “intellectual dark web”, populated by people who portray themselves as valiant enough to say what you’re not allowed to say any more, and are constantly invited on rightwing talk shows to say it.
Ah, so they are really fearless then. Although I must say Harris leans towards centre right, Hitchens was rightwing, but Dawkins was left, and you can hear him say it when he outlines his political views when interfering a woman in his doco, "The enemies of reason.". Oh wait, if he criticises Islam he must be right.
For some, New Atheism was never about God at all, but just a topical subgenre of the rightwing backlash against the supposedly suffocating atmosphere of “political correctness”.
Well given that there are a lot of atheists, its not surprising there are some that lean right. If you use YT atheists as an example, The "Amazing atheist" (who isn't that Amazing) started off attacking religion and then became more against third wave feminism and SJWs during the mid 2010s as atheists IMO felt the victory over people forcing Christianity into school in the guise of "science" was won after the court cases against Intelligent Design. Others like the idiot Sargon of Akkad started off attacking feminism, although he admits to being an atheist, but doesn't really have much interest to debate atheism vs religion.
In its messianic conviction that it alone serves the cause of truth, this too is a faith as noxious as any other.
Unless Richard Dawkins no longer argues "it depends on the evidence," then this is just a "both sides" type of argument. Its no different from the old argument, "You atheists have faith just like us theists."
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Re: The Four Horsemen review - whatever happened to ‘New Atheism’?

Post by wautd » 2019-10-16 03:21am

North Korea now is not a theocracy, but never mind
Except that the Great Leader is seen as a living God but never mind

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Re: The Four Horsemen review - whatever happened to ‘New Atheism’?

Post by Surlethe » 2019-10-29 11:45am

wautd wrote:
2019-10-16 03:21am
North Korea now is not a theocracy, but never mind
Except that the Great Leader is seen as a living God but never mind
The cult of the Kims in North Korea may not actually be a religion in the Western sense, but it effectively functions as one. I think this gets at a key blind spot of the New Atheist movement. The New Atheists critiqued the semantic content of ideas and ideologies, but had no theory of power -- they effectively ignored the political and social contexts in which ideas and ideologies grow and flourish.

Of course there was discourse comparing the scientific method to other methods of attaining truth, but there was no attempt to understand the systems of power that exist among scientists and how scientific truth exists itself as a consensus among a body of experts. In particular, Dawkins and Dennett should have known better as practicing academics. This led to two of my favorite ironic outcomes of New Atheism: A model of religion with no predictive power, and a cult of received knowledge centering on science.

Also, the whole movement was full of assholes who were assholes for the sake of being assholes.
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