New Atheism and the Logic of Believing What’s Real


So yesterday Michael Lynch made me happy by posting this from Feser:

[Richard] Dawkins, as I have said, tells us that there is ‘absolutely no reason’ to think that the Unmoved Mover, First Cause, etc. is omnipotent, omniscient, good, and so forth. Perhaps what he meant to say was ‘absolutely no reason, apart from the many thousands of pages of detailed philosophical argumentation for this conclusion that have been produced over the centuries by thinkers of genius, and which I am not going to bother trying to answer.’ So, a slip of the pen, perhaps. Or, maybe Dawkins simply doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

And then I ended up listening to a talk that Sam Harris gave at Notre Dame as I was getting dinner ready yesterday.

So this business in on my mind.


There are really two things that bother me about Dawkins, Hitchens & Harris.

Thing 1, which kicks in when they are (or were) debating theists in general, not just Christians: None of the three understands the moral argument, even thought it has been explained to each of them a a LOT.

Thing 2: I have never heard any of them argue against Christianity as Christians understand it, which is kind of odd. Like, not even once. It’s as though someone were to argue against Islam on the basis of just what they read in the New York Post.

In order to really argue against something, you have to not just understand it but see how you could love it– see what parts of the good it taps into.

I’m aware that this is already casting the argument into a form that begs the question, but all three of them would *functionally* have to admit that they are loving a good, pursuing a good: reason, truth, honesty, integrity. To say “you SHOULD believe what’s real and you should not believe in God because he’s not real” is already to introduce an obligation.

And if you try to say, well it’s just my preference that I pursue truth… you are still using reason in order to say that there’s no reason to plug in an “ought” to the pursuit of truth. So at the very tail end of the comet of moral skepticism, the oxygenless environment of Dawkinsian scientism, you run into the ought implied in logic itself. A=B and B=C, therefore A=C, and to deny this is to kick against something real and nonphysical and demanding– something like the love of God.

I’d love to hear Harris debate a non-theist moral realist– Shafer-Landau or someone like that. Otherwise he will just keep going around believing himself to be a moral realist when he is not, and confusing things.

Further note: this Hitchens vs Wilson debate is delicious. Not as a take-down on either side: as a debate. You just want them to keep talking.  And this is Wilson in an irritatingly presuppositionalist mode and refusing to be pastoral to his listeners and hardly ever explaining what he means and missing huge chunks of what would connect Christianity to his *listeners’* moral intuitions.  And I disagree with bits of what he says, as usual, because once again am not a Calvinist.

I think what I like about the debate is that he is clearly, clearly, talking TO HITCHENS in it– it’s HITCHENS he wants to reach, as a friend, as a potential brother.  And so he’s being just as obnoxious as Hitchens himself is.

I can’t imagine they didn’t like each other quite a lot, after that. There’s another debate out there too which I haven’t yet listened to

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