New Atheists & Religious Apologetics : A response to Dr. Robert Grant’s article in the Irish Times.



Dr. Robert Grant I must take issue at your article in the Irish Times.

Your rant is yet another of the many knee jerk ill-informed responses from religious apologists to people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others who are simply stating the obvious. Your rant is all the more infuriating as you are mentioned as an academic at one of Ireland’s most prestigious academic institutions. I once took time to attend a presentation from another pseudo-intellectual at Trinity College Dublin. “Professor” Richard Swinburne gave a presentation titled “Proof of the resurrection of Jesus”. When I asked (albeit with a pinch of ridicule) how exactly could anyone possibly prove such a claim? I was faced with a reply that I was too much like Richard Dawkins and that he didn’t engage with such people. How convenient. I believe that granting such people the title Professor undermines the genuine academic endeavour of Universities and Colleges. It is almost a mocking gesture to every student that ever engaged in genuine research and achieved hard earned academic honours. Your article in relation to the New Atheists is nearly as intellectually defunct as the absurd nonsense spewed by Richard Swinburne in the utterly inappropriate setting of a University hall.

You describe the “New Atheists” (a term I find amusing as they are no different to regular Atheists or other lobby groups who simply promote an ideology they believe in) as intellectually shallow, naive and dangerous. It is these very ideas that are intellectually bankrupt and dangerous. Your comments are dangerous because they promote a completely irrational stereotype of Atheists being as fanatical as religious fundamentalists, a view that is unfortunately held by many otherwise intelligent people. This is exactly the climate that allowed dangerous religious delusions within society to go unchallenged. Your entire article is without any understanding of what the people you are attacking actually promote and secondly you fail to recognise that evidence denial is at the heart of every single act of mass genocide.

Thirdly you state that science is morally neutral. This is absolutely absurd. Stating that scientific data is of no significance in the determination of human suffering or progress is akin to suggesting that science has nothing to contribute to what methods we should use to cure sick people or what methods we should use to communicate etc. If correlating data is strictly neutral in determining ethical laws then just exactly how should such laws be decided? How do you suggest we come to a decision on whether or not women should be afforded the right to vote or that they should be granted the right to work or equal pay? For thousands of years man believed that they should not be granted these privileges. Has the scientific method nothing to contribute to the debate in the middle-east on the edict in Sharia law that a woman’s testimony in court is only worth half that of a man, a belief that makes it almost impossible to prosecute those who rape women? How should we decide upon such things as gay marriage? Would you describe as intolerant and fundamentalist, those who strictly believe such decisions should be based solely on the meta-analysis of peer reviewed data?

Sam Harris once stated that he could not see any example of a society that embraced too much evidence giving rise to its own suffering. Both the communist and Nazi regimes of the 20th century were not examples of Atheism they were secular examples of mass evidence denial and worship of a central cult figure. They were in essence State religions. There was nothing rational about the belief that white Germans were the master race or that society would be furthered if Jews were to be annihilated. There was nothing rational about the belief that Stalinism could bring about a utopia on earth. Can you give a single example of a society that regards evidence as central in its decision making giving rise to an explosion of evil? If you can then I will reconsider my opinion which is more than I can say for religious fundamentalists who boast about being unwavering in their faith.

You state that it is the intention of the new Atheists to eliminate religion. Again nothing could be further from the truth. Sam Harris himself pointed out the flawed belief of Atheists at the turn of the century who believed religion would be eradicated by now. He openly states religious belief is likely to be with us for a long time as does Christopher Hitchens, who once coined the expression about our adrenal glands being too big and our frontal cortex too small to universally accommodate rationalism. Your letter whips up an unhealthy irrational paranoia to those who rightly believe we as a species have a problem in that we are all too often, for evolutionary reasons incapable of discerning reality.You confuse the concerns of these people in this respect with a quest to eradicate religion from society by force. Dr. Robert Grant it is not the New Atheists who are intellectually shallow in this regard, it is you. Again you strike me as someone who has not actually read the books of Dawkins and Harris but have engaged in the rhetoric most associated with writers of the Daily Mail.

Science did not produce the bloodiest wars on earth. Deluded societies did. As the old Atheist adage goes. Science gave us planes religion flew them into buildings. Until we confront our baser tendencies to engage in fantasy and the use of evidence only when it suits us, we will continue to slaughter our own species and possibly bring about our demise. The scientific method will continue to give us powerful tools that can be used for good or evil. To quote the wisdom of Master Yoda from Star Wars. “With power great responsibility comes”. Perhaps you could learn from this.