John Humphys speaks out against 'new atheists' like Dawkins.
It looked like it might just turn out to be interesting, but ended up resorting to the same kinds of pointless generalisations which he claims to be combatting. The article says some interesting things about Giles Fraser which are very interesting, but the bulk of the article is not much different to the list below. And it's kinda flawed:
But let me try to sum up the attitude of those militant atheists who seem to hold believers in contempt:
1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, they’re not as clever as atheists.
2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.
3.They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.
4.They have been brainwashed into believing. There is no such thing as a “Christian child”, for instance – just a child whose parents have had her baptised.
5.They have been bullied into believing.
6. If we don’t wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.
7 Trust me: I’m an atheist. I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with that little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.
So let’s answer each of those points:
1. This is so clearly untrue it’s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his bestselling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a “study” by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Some believers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but I’ve met one or two atheists I wouldn’t trust to change a lightbulb.
2. Don’t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesn’t prove anything about either.
3. Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards.
4. True, and many children reject it when they get older. But many others stay with it.
5. This is also true in many cases but you can’t actually bully someone into believing – just into pretending to believe.
6. Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we’ve survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.
7. Why? For those of us who are neither believers nor atheists it can be very difficult. Doubters are left in the deeply unsatisfactory position of finding the existence of God unprovable and implausible, and the comfort of faith unachievable. But at the same time we find the reality of belief undeniable.
1. Well, I'm not going to defend Dawkins. I would certainly think it daft to suggest that religious believers are unintelligent. However, if I remember correctly the argument was that scientists didn't tend to believe in God very strongly. The idea was that knowledge in science undermines religious belief, and this often appears to be the case.
To quote the famous New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann:"It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles."
Bultmann's famous essay 'Kerygma and Myth' can be found in two parts through the following link:http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=431&C=292http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=431&C=293
2. The idea of comparing religion with drugs is quite common. Marx, of course, claimed that religion was 'the opium of the people' and by opium he meant something similar to alcohol since opium was a legal drug at the time. George Bernard Shaw also made the comparison in the famous quote:
"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality."
However, we must be wary that we don't think of this comparison as too close. Religious beliefs are part of an ideology; a drunken stupour is not. Ideologies can be quite dangerous, especially if they based on misleading premises. While alcohol has often been used to control people, it is not so easy to direct someone with alcohol. Religion, on the other hand, can be a very strong tool for control because it dictates all kinds of aspects of one's life. Another place where the analogy breaks down is that people are often encouraged not to drink alcohol too often and in too high a quantity, and the criticism is less often what brand of alcohol they decide to drink. In the case of religion however, people are not generally looked down upon for believing in religion 'too often' and 'too much', but rather for which brand of religious beliefs they pick.
3. The idea that there are fewer atheists in foxholes than anywhere else is a ridiculous myth. Atheists aren't that common in general and they are no more uncommon in foxholes than anywhere else. It's actually quite insulting to suggest that people stop being atheists when they are suffering from cancer. What is especially daft about the claim however, is the idea that someone who doesn't believe in God must also not believe in life after death. Surely it is the prospect of living on after death which is the comfort in these situations and that is not necessarily related to a belief in deities.
4. Children remember what they are taught when they are younger, and religious indoctrination can make a lot of religious ideas extremely hard to unlearn. I know of one poster on the Internet Infidels forum
with the username 'Burning Flames'
who cannot help but feel calmed by descriptions of Jesus as well as feeling absolute paralysing dread at descriptions of hell. These reactions aren't universal, so Burning Flames
knows that they are related to his religious indoctrination as a child. However, he is nevertheless in the ironic position that despite no longer believing in God he is still terrified by hell and calmed by descriptions of Jesus. That is the power that indoctrination can have over a person's development, and that is why describing religious indoctrination as child abuse is not so daft as John Humphrys appears to think.
5. Can't bully someone into believing? Not true. All you have to do is have someone in a position where they aren't sure of themselves and you bully them into anything. I heard a story once which was supposed to be 'inspirational' about a prisoner's conversion to Christianity. They were approached by an evangelical group in a prison and they were giving prisoners a sense of belonging. One of the prisoners, however, was concerned because he wasn't sure if he believed. So, that night the prisoner prayed hard that God would reveal Himself to him, and when he woke up in the morning he was certain that Christianity was true.
Of course, what is happning in the story is that the prisoner is desperate for hope, and the source of the hope isn't God at all. It is the sense of belonging he gets from the Christian group which visits him. He is so desperate for this sense of belonging that he is prepared to believe anything they want in order to gain acceptance. The evangelical group probably doesn't even realise that they are bullying him. They just think of it as 'saving' him. But it is a clear example of being 'bullied into believing' and Humphys should be glad that he has never been subject to this.
6. The problem is that religion is getting desperate. Science and religion are now seen as being opposed and this is an issue which would have been unthinkable until the arrival of fundamentalist movements. We've only had fundamentalist religion for 2 centuries and it only gets more frightening as time goes on.
Point 7 is incomprehensible. Maybe if he'd come across Julia Sweeney
and Friedrich Nietzsche
, rather than Richard Dawkins and Jean-Paul Sartre he might have realised that for many atheists, atheism doesn't feel empty and tragic and doesn't involve a complete inability to understand what religious belief means for those who still hold to their religious traditions.