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Atheists v New Atheists?


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They are often described as “The Unholy Trinity” – a trio of ferociously bright and pugilistic academics who use science to decimate what they believe to be the world’s greatest folly: religion.

 

But now Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are on the receiving end of stinging criticism from fellow liberal non-believers who say their particular brand of atheism has swung from being a scientifically rigorous attack on all religions to a populist and crude hatred of Islam.

 

In the last fortnight a series of columns have been written denouncing the so-called New Atheist movement for, in one writer’s words, lending a “veneer of scientific respectability to today's politically-useful bigotry.”

 

The opening broadside began earlier this month with a polemic from Nathan Lean on the Salon.com website. Lean, a Washington DC native and Middle East specialist who has recently written a book about the Islamophobia industry, was prompted to pen his attack following a series of tweets last month by Professor Dawkins attacking Islam in snappy 140 character sound bites.

 

“Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today,” the Cambridge evolutionary biologist wrote on 1 March.

 

For a man who has made a career out of academic rigour the admission that the author of the God Delusion hadn’t studied Islam’s holy book surprised many and led to a flurry of responses from both fans and critics alike. Three weeks later – in an apt illustration of Godwins’ Law (the idea that as an online discussion grows longer the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one) – Dawkins added: “Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur’an. You don’t have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about Nazism.”

 

Muslims, Lean wrote of Dawkins, are “ a group that have come to occupy a special place in his line of fire — and in the minds of a growing club of no-God naysayers who have fast rebranded atheism into a popular, cerebral and more bellicose version of its former self.”

 

Lean argues that few atheists in the western world historically paid much attention to Islam, concentrating instead on debunking Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Judaism. But after the September 11 attacks, the New Atheists “found their calling”. Criticism of all religion on an equal footing was one thing. But the New Atheists, he argued, have begun flirting with Islamophobes, using irrational hatred, as opposed to rational critique, to attack an already deeply misunderstood and much maligned faith.

 

“Conversations about the practical impossibility of God’s existence and the science-based irrationality of an afterlife slid seamlessly into xenophobia over Muslim immigration or the practice of veiling,” wrote Lean. “The New Atheists became the new Islamophobes, their invectives against Muslims resembling the rowdy, uneducated ramblings of backwoods racists rather than appraisals based on intellect, rationality and reason.”

 

Writing on Al Jazeera’s website a few days later, Murtaza Hussain, a Toronto based Middle East analyst, penned an even more scathing critique. What the New Atheists were doing, he argued, was similar to the kind of scientific racism that was dominant within western cultures in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as they tried to use eugenics to classify – and consequently legitimise – the subjugation of certain races.

 

Hussain reserved particular ire for Sam Harris, a neuroscientist by trade whose atheist tracts “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” have made him one of the leading anti-religious polemicists of his age.

 

Harris is an accomplished writer and public speaker with a solid background in academic rigour. But there are no shortages of statements from his over the years lumping all Muslims into one box. “The idea that Islam is a ‘peaceful religion hijacked by extremists’ is a fantasy, and is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge,” is just one he wrote in “Letter to a Christian Nation.” Wearing a palpable disdain for Islam on his sleeve he has also written in favour of torture, pre-emptive nuclear strikes and the profiling not just of Muslims but “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be a Muslim.”

 

In response, Hussain wrote: “[Harris’] sweeping generalisations about a constructed civilisation encompassing over a billion people are coupled with fevered warnings - parallel with the most noxious race propaganda of the past - about the purported demographic threat posed by immigrant Muslim birthrates to Western civilisation.”

 

He added: “Citing “Muslims” as a solid monolith of violent evil - whilst neglecting to include the countless Muslims who have lost their lives peacefully protesting the occupation and ongoing ethnic cleansing of their homeland - Harris engages in a nuanced version of the same racism which his predecessors in scientific racism practiced in their discussion of the blanket characteristics of “Negroes”.”

 

Dawkins has so far remained silent on the attacks whilst Hitchens, who passed away in December 2011 after a long battle with cancer, is unable to defend himself. But Harris has not been willing to let sleeping dogs lie.

 

When left-wing US columnist Glenn Greenwald retweeted Hussain’s original article Harris got in touch, describing the piece as “garbage”, “defamatory” and an exercise in “quote mining”. In a lengthy email exchange that Greenwald eventually posted online, Harris insisted that there was nothing remotely racist about his criticisms of Muslims: “I criticize white, western converts in precisely the same terms,” he said. “In fact, I am even more critical of them, because they weren't brainwashed into the faith from birth.”

 

He added: “There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.”

 

But the email exchange did little to convince Greenwald who has since responded on the Guardian website with a lengthy piece attacking Harris. Like Chomsky, who has also been a vocal critic of New Atheism, he blames writers like Harris for using their particularly anti-Islamic brand of rational non-belief to justify American foreign policies over the last decade.

 

“When criticism of religion morphs into an undue focus on Islam - particularly at the same time the western world has been engaged in a decade-long splurge of violence, aggression and human rights abuses against Muslims, justified by a sustained demonization campaign - then I find these objections to the New Atheists completely warranted,” Greenwald concludes. “In sum, [New Atheism] sprinkles intellectual atheism on top of the standard neocon, right-wing worldview of Muslims.”

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/atheists-richard-dawkins-christopher-hitchens-and-sam-harris-face-islamophobia-backlash-8570580.html

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Sam Harris in particular came under loads of fire from Greenwald for his anti Islamic references. The fact that he's a Neo Con doesn't help his case though weirdly his book the Moral Landscape is actually very good.

 

It's also possible that they are wrong in part without being entirely wrong and it seems at times that the criticisms they receive ignores their best arguments and focuses on their worst. This kind of approach lacks credibility.

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I think spotlight is kinda relative, I think the distinction between atheists and anti theists is of marginal interest no matter how shouty they are. There's also the fact they are pretty well established in their fields Harris I think less so he does less neuroscience but Dawkins is a pretty well regarded biologist.

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Those tweets from Dawkins are spectacularly stupid, extra stupid points applied for coming from someone who's supposed to be clever.

 

 

maybe he'd got a free bottle of wine from the chinese take away too ?

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Those tweets from Dawkins are spectacularly stupid, extra stupid points applied for coming from someone who's supposed to be clever.

 

There's a premise I think that's interesting and a couple of arguments that could be.

 

There's the idea that people have been too tolerant of practices in different cultures and are reluctant to call them out for being considered racist when the truth is we should be able to have open discussions about these practices without fear of such. There's also the argument that he should be able to be ignorant of Islam but that others should be mature enough not to take offence.

 

I think the first is reasonable the second less so

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There's a premise I think that's interesting and a couple of arguments that could be.

 

There's the idea that people have been too tolerant of practices in different cultures and are reluctant to call them out for being considered racist when the truth is we should be able to have open discussions about these practices without fear of such. There's also the argument that he should be able to be ignorant of Islam but that others should be mature enough not to take offence.

 

I think the first is reasonable the second less so

I agree with this. Every time you make a huge generalisation you are leaving yourself wide open.

 

The sad fact is that many who reckon they are on the left refuse to criticise anyone who sets themselves up as opposed to 'the west', and hides behind weasel phrases like 'cultural difference' when presented with the facts of the appalling oppression of women and other minorities that happens in some muslim countries. The truth is that calling someone racist for pointing out these issues is exactly the same as, for example, Jews calling people anti-semitic whenever someone says something negative about Israel.

 

In the modern world, the clearest example of religious extremism is coming from some muslim countries. I'm sure Dawkins, had he been writing 400-500 years ago would have been just as outspoken in his criticism of the RC church and the horrors of the inquisition and religious persecution. And even then, there were millions practising their faith quietly without roaming the countryside slaughtering heretics, so his generalisation would have been equally wrong.

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“Islam is surely the greatest man-made evil in the world today, and I think I’d feel a tiny bit more secure against the menacing threat of Islam and Islamic faith schools, under the Tories than under Labour”

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“Islam is surely the greatest man-made evil in the world today, and I think I’d feel a tiny bit more secure against the menacing threat of Islam and Islamic faith schools, under the Tories than under Labour”

 

Rather than just quoting him respond to him if the point warrants it or ignore him if it doesn't.

 

I disagree with a lot of the views held by the new atheists but there are valid questions about the punishments used in various states under the auspices of Islam that look outrageous.

 

I agree with this. Every time you make a huge generalisation you are leaving yourself wide open.

 

The sad fact is that many who reckon they are on the left refuse to criticise anyone who sets themselves up as opposed to 'the west', and hides behind weasel phrases like 'cultural difference' when presented with the facts of the appalling oppression of women and other minorities that happens in some muslim countries. The truth is that calling someone racist for pointing out these issues is exactly the same as, for example, Jews calling people anti-semitic whenever someone says something negative about Israel.

 

In the modern world, the clearest example of religious extremism is coming from some muslim countries. I'm sure Dawkins, had he been writing 400-500 years ago would have been just as outspoken in his criticism of the RC church and the horrors of the inquisition and religious persecution. And even then, there were millions practising their faith quietly without roaming the countryside slaughtering heretics, so his generalisation would have been equally wrong.

 

I wonder whether Dawkins mistake is applying the worst of a faith to the majority of it's adherents or whether it's the adherents trying to distance themselves from the worst of it.

 

Like apart from a few s*** jokes the thread about Saudi considering the medical paralysis of a young offender passed without any comment other than from Ibby who is a Muslim.

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Rather than just quoting him respond to him if the point warrants it or ignore him if it doesn't.

 

I disagree with a lot of the views held by the new atheists but there are valid questions about the punishments used in various states under the auspices of Islam that look outrageous.

 

 

ok

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I disagree with a lot of the views held by the new atheists but there are valid questions about the punishments used in various states under the auspices of Islam that look outrageous.

Really?

 

This applies to various states under the aupices of power. Pinning it on one religion or another would be wrong, like saying Israel = Jews, Ireland = Catholics.

 

It's all politics.

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“Islam is surely the greatest man-made evil in the world today, and I think I’d feel a tiny bit more secure against the menacing threat of Islam and Islamic faith schools, under the Tories than under Labour”

 

Hm. For some reason, made me immediately think of Gingrich's -

 

"I have two grandchildren -- Maggie is 11, Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

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“Islam is surely the greatest man-made evil in the world today, and I think I’d feel a tiny bit more secure against the menacing threat of Islam and Islamic faith schools, under the Tories than under Labour”

who said that?

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Really?

 

This applies to various states under the aupices of power. Pinning it on one religion or another would be wrong, like saying Israel = Jews, Ireland = Catholics.

 

It's all politics.

 

Of course there are questions to be asked especially when a particular punishment is given legitimacy through religious doctrine. What should be pinned on each religion can be pinned on each religion like.

 

who said that?

 

Dawkins

 

Like the author of the article seems not to know that Hitchens has been dead two years

Edited by Swan Red
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if you have something to say say it, it has to be better than starting a new thread to tell us you have nothing to say like

 

 

I'm surprised, tbh. The alarm bells are all over that quote, imo, and even I was shocked by it, and I'm having none of him anyway, but I know he's had support on here before so I was interested whether those who do like his writings will go this way with him as well, cos that's the stuff of a violent mind I reckon.

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I'm surprised, tbh. The alarm bells are all over that quote, imo, and even I was shocked by it, and I'm having none of him anyway, but I know he's had support on here before so I was interested whether those who do like his writings will go this way with him as well, cos that's the stuff of a violent mind I reckon.

 

I've posted that I like his evolutionary biology but his writings on atheism are shouty and leave me cold. I'm not his target audience though.

 

In the same way that we shouldn't dismiss the positive contribution Islam and Muslims have made because some mentalists in Saudi think it's okay to paralyse a kid who was responsible for his mates paralysis when he was 14.

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I've posted that I like his evolutionary biology but his writings on atheism are shouty and leave me cold. I'm not his target audience though.

 

In the same way that we shouldn't dismiss the positive contribution Islam and Muslims have made because some mentalists in Saudi think it's okay to paralyse a kid who was responsible for his mates paralysis when he was 14.

 

 

Aye, someone in Saudi.

 

How closely do you think that relates to and resembles the lives of muslims on here, or for that matter any not in that province of KSA? Not much really. Dawkins there thinks that kind of thing defines us all and we all have to answer for it, which is quite patently bigoted and diseased logic especially for someone who believes in scientific analysis.

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Aye, someone in Saudi.

 

How closely do you think that relates to and resembles the lives of muslims on here, or for that matter any not in that province of KSA? Not much really. Dawkins there thinks that kind of thing defines us all and we all have to answer for it, which is quite patently bigoted and diseased logic especially for someone who believes in scientific analysis.

It's hardly limited to 'a province of KSA' is it?

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Aye, someone in Saudi.

 

How closely do you think that relates to and resembles the lives of muslims on here, or for that matter any not in that province of KSA? Not much really. Dawkins there thinks that kind of thing defines us all and we all have to answer for it, which is quite patently bigoted and diseased logic especially for someone who believes in scientific analysis.

 

It doesn't and I'm happy stating that he's wrong and that his methodology is flawed. It doesn't excuse what happens in the KSA that he is wrong, or in Pakistan which ordered a soldier to be stoned and a woman shot.

 

I don't think the greatest challenges to various congregations and faiths come from the New Atheists, they should come from reviewing how their faith and how their churches or mosques or synagogues represent the best that they can be and a lot, the majority of those I've any experience of, don't.

 

What he says is a lot less important than what the congregations do.

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It doesn't and I'm happy stating that he's wrong and that his methodology is flawed. It doesn't excuse what happens in the KSA that he is wrong, or in Pakistan which ordered a soldier to be stoned and a woman shot.

 

I don't think the greatest challenges to various congregations and faiths come from the New Atheists, they should come from reviewing how their faith and how their churches or mosques or synagogues represent the best that they can be and a lot, the majority of those I've any experience of, don't.

 

What he says is a lot less important than what the congregations do.

 

 

Well there's a load of revolutionary talk in KSA as you probably know, it's no more homogeneous than here and the edicts of the state represent the state, so hats off to the, er, muslims who are trying to achieve change.

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Well there's a load of revolutionary talk in KSA as you probably know, it's no more homogeneous than here and the edicts of the state represent the state, so hats off to the, er, muslims who are trying to achieve change.

 

Absolutely.

 

Matty already explained that Dawkins mistake is placing responsibility for these actions on all Muslims in the same way he'd have been wrong to blame all Catholics for the Inquisition. It doesn't make those practices any less reprehensible though.

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