Of Dennetts and Dawkinses…

Daniel Dennett celebrates the tenth birthday of Richard Dawkins’ assemblage of atheistic arguments, The God Delusion

Four books appeared with a few months of each other a decade ago: Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, my Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’ God is not Great.

Years, in fact, but never mind.

…we were soon joined by a distinguished cadre of other authors who had decisive and well-evidenced cases to present about various problems and failures of religion.

Decisive and well-evidenced, unlike all those decisive and yet poorly-evidenced attempts.

The God Delusion has outsold them all [and] outsold all the “flea” books [Dawkins] mentions in his Foreword by even wider margins…while “sophisticated theologians” and their friends wanted the world to believe that he failed to engage serious religion in his critique, those darn fleas tell a different story: he struck a nerve, and he struck it dead center.

If the measure of one’s argument was its popularity, of course, theism would have long been proved correct.

Is he “angry”? Is he “shrill” and “arrogant”? Look closely, and you will see that these familiar charges are without foundation. What leads people to level them is the fact that they have been accustomed their entire lives to having their darling dogmas handled with kid gloves, never challenged, always “respected.”

Put aside the fact that a book which concludes that raising one’s child to be Catholic is “abuse” is shrill, and that an author who presumes that he has refuted Aquinas when he has read no more than summaries of the Five Ways is arrogant, and endure Professor Dennett’s stifling condescension. For all I have said about their dilettantism, their anti-intellectualism, their complacence, their boorishness and their monomania, the biggest problem with “new atheists” is that they’re so smug.

About bsixsmith

I am a writer of stories and poems - published by Every Day Fiction, The London Journal of Fiction, 365 Tomorrows and Det Poetiske Bureau - and a columnist for Quillette, Areo and Bombs & Dollars.
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5 Responses to Of Dennetts and Dawkinses…

  1. Urlance Woolsbane says:

    ‘What leads people to level them is the fact that they have been accustomed their entire lives to having their darling dogmas handled with kid gloves, never challenged, always “respected.”’
    Which century are we living in again?


  2. Whyaxye says:

    Excellent post, and the longer earlier piece to which you provided a link also seems full of good stuff; I’ll return to it later.

    The genius of the four main “New Atheists” is essentially one of marketing. They provided a generation raised on “critical thinking” and relativism with a set of reach-me-down tropes and phrases to use in the exercise of nothing more interesting than recreational malevolence. I think Harris is the best at this – some genuinely witty Jewish one-liners, although when I recently read “The Moral Landscape” I thought his schtick was getting a bit tired. Hitchens and Dawkins are altogether too ponderous and flat-footedly English, and of course few people read Dennett because his work is often too technical for popular consumption.

    It’s all interesting and entertaining stuff, but whoever decides to close their mind at the behest of any of these writers is a sad specimen indeed. Iconoclasm can give rise to some thrilling emotions, but at least William Dowsing and the other church-smashers had a thorough understanding of what it was they were opposing.

    Many thanks for this and the other posts – all much appreciated.


    • bsixsmith says:

      Thank you for your kind words, and your excellent comments! I think Hitchens was better at marketing than you imply. Far more than other writers of his age was a personality – almost a brand. The admirers who flooded YouTube, in its early days, with videos bearing titles like “Christopher Hitchens DESTROYS religion” were the forebears of, for example, Milo Yiannopoulos fanboys. Argument as a kind of pretentious pro wrestling.
      A lot of the new atheist energy appears to have been transferred from religion to politics. I suppose even they have to admit that atheism isn’t very iconoclastic any more.


      • Whyaxye says:

        You are right, of course. I was thinking about his book, and forgot about the very public debates. Not to mention the public death, which now stands alongside David Hume’s as an inspiration to us all…


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