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Razer’s Class Warfare: this week in atheist fundamentalist idiocy

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are beating us over the head with blunt and meaningless references — it’s been a bad week in atheism.

It’s been a bad week for atheism. Actually, it’s been a bad few centuries for atheism, which is not so much an organised system of thought as it is a very bad mood frocked up for an Oxford formal. But we’ll get to the over-dressed non-history of Western atheism another day. For the present, let’s look at how two of its notables have chosen to spend the last few days.

Sam Harris is by some accounts a capable neuroscientist. He was also certainly a drawcard for the many atheism conferences that so profitably legitimised the racist anxieties of a post-9/11 West and functioned well as singles bars for angry white people. What he is not, as this video demonstrates, is an adequate philosopher. Instead, he’s a good propagandist. What he does here is what he does in his awful book The End of Faith and this week on his blog, which is to restate his revulsion for Islam over and again in a voice that sounds reasonable but from its first breath as irrational as that of a European anti-Semite screaming about blood libels in the Middle Ages.

Islam is bad, says Harris. It might not be more hypothetically bad than Judaism, he says — although elsewhere, he denies this claim and ascribes to the Koran a foundational violence that is unmatched in other holy books — but it is practised by worse people. How do we know that the Jewish state of Israel is better than the (not necessarily Islamic) occupied territories of Palestine? Because “we know the Israelis do not want to kill non-combatants, because they could kill as many as they want, and they’re not doing it”. In other words, that Israel is tactically capable of killing every soul whose very existence questions the veracity of its borders but does not is evidence of its rationality and therefore of Judaism’s rationality and, somehow, the bloodlust intrinsic to Islam.

By this logic of statecraft, we can argue that the entire Cold War was based in ethical good because superpowers chose slow and toxic colonial stealth over blowing people up. Which is a syllogism of the sort that brings us to the week’s other atheism snafu, from the famous Richard Dawkins. Ricky D tried to give us all a good lesson in logic.

Like Harris, Dawkins’ marquee name is lit by a scientific qualification. He is an evolutionary biologist and, it must be said, formerly one of the best popular science communicators history has produced. His work The Greatest Show on Earth is a matchless primer on the theory of evolution. His Twitter account, by contrast, is a toilet.

Flushed with anger at what he saw as the stupidity of a world that permitted no critique of Islam that was not also interpreted as an endorsement of Zionism, he got all Organon on the internet. To help us understand the elements of an assertion, Dawkins made a series of x,y claims. Now, my memory of Logic is fuzzy, but I can’t remember Aristotle advising that it was a good idea to use a topic like, say, violent rape to clarify the shape of an informal proposition.

To borrow a meme-critique of the meme guy, “your a dick”. A monumental dick to suppose that one of the most incendiary topics in the world would help us more calmly understand one of the most incendiary topics in the world. I’m only shocked he didn’t make some gags about ebola.

Structurally, of course, there is nothing wrong with Dawkins’ syllogism. Tactically, though, it was bound to be a disaster to use date-rape and paedophilia in the place of variables.

There is absolutely no way that a man who has made his name in the very business of debate could not have known that his partial examples would not evoke some very partial responses. But he and his coterie are now making like the world is full of absolutists who just can’t get their politically correct, morally relative heads around the beauty of an untrammelled reason that exceeds all time.

To be momentarily partial, I happen to think there are few better exhortations made in history than that by Kant which dares us to use our reason. Of all the thought crimes of the Enlightenment — and these are several and complex and horrible — we should not decry the birth of our active engagement with reason. Intellectual tools like methodical doubt, natural law and scepticism took us to the moon and delivered us from the reeking furrows of feudalism. But Harris and Dawkins are not keeping these instruments sharp. Rather, they are beating us over the head with their blunt and meaningless reference in the hope that we will eventually agree that Islam is bad because it’s bad and “rape” is different from “rape rape”.

Harris has previously said that the “real” enemy of reason and of peace is the moderate Muslim who obfuscates the true violence of his faith with good manners. Perhaps reason’s real adversary of the Enlightenment is the atheist who, in his lack of belief in god, chooses to mistake his own superstition for logic.

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  • 1
    scot mcphee
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I agree. When I read Dawkins’ tweet my thoughts were: it’s true, gruesomely true, but what _purpose_ does this statement serve? I have to ask: what is the matter with this man?

  • 2
    Ken McKinnon
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear. In an amazing trick, Helen plays both the bully (ALL atheists are white and racist / Islam IS peaceful and it MUST be respected) and the victim (outrage-explosion / open letter to no one) all at once.

  • 3
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Simple Scot - are you able to put your (inherent, natural, justified, etc) distaste for the subject at hand and analyse it calmly and rationally?

    He’s asking “Are you as coldly rational as you need to be to discuss this issue?”

  • 4
    Di Keller
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I don’t remember seeing anything from Sam Harris, but will now look :) But I have read and seen a lot of Richard Dawkins and my understanding of him is that while he is anti all religion , he doesn’t particularly nominate Islam.

    I think his tweets are very valid. One thing does not automatically follow another , but a lot of people use that type of argument, which I find immensely annoying. As does he it would seem :) I’m not quite as arrogant as he is though :)

  • 6
    64magpies
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    But he and his coterie are now making like the world is full of absolutists who just can’t get their politically correct, morally relative heads around the beauty of an untrammelled reason that exceeds all time.”

    More like we can’t get our politically correct, morally relative heads around the ugliness of a much-trammelled animal/human nature that isn’t going to change just because we have a transient ideology.

  • 7
    scot mcphee
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Chris - so what? Of course I can. That’s called the examination and exploration of ideas you’d don’t agree with; every humanist ought to be familiar with this technique.

    So his point is rather trivial. It’s not much of an examination, is it? It’s nothing more than a shock tactic. And to discuss _what_ issue, exactly? Again, what is the point of this _specific_ example? It’s certain a “coldly rational” way to approach the idea that to say some X is worse than some Y is not endorse Y; in fact, it (the specific examples) are so “coldly rational” as to leave it seemingly bereft of humanity. An anti-humanist rationality, in other words. No thanks.

    Is he turning into Hitchens? A man whose rank obscenities over the Iraq war seem to me to be a far more gruesome a crime against humanity than his attacks on religious beliefs were a benefit to it.

  • 8
    Marty
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    The problem is that Dawkins’s assertion isn’t necessarily true. The pain a person experiences due to a given event is down to their perception. I haven’t experienced either of those events, but even if I had it would not be up to me to impose a hierarchy formed through my experience on others as the truth.

  • 9
    graham answerth
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand the last proposition,ie, the claim that my superstition, being a lack of belief in god, is an excuse for not being logical. I personally have never claimed that my non theism has anything to do with reasoning or lack thereof. The two premises are mutually exclusive. How can I believe in God, if I don’t? I cannot lie to myself and it is not a choice. I can however present an argument, orally and composed in a written form.
    Also, I can accept that anti theism could well be a belief system, but I simply don’t care for god.

  • 10
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    The problem Scot is that plenty of folks can’t do that. They get emotional. And that emotional response is not conducive to proper logical analysis.

  • 11
    juicemac
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Another lightweight rant from Helen Razor

  • 12
    Graham Henderson
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Sam Harris’ remarks about Islam are simply statements of the bleeding obvious, whatever Razer thinks he means.

    Examine this statement :

    Adherents of Islam killed more people last year for religious reasons than adherents of all other religions combined.

    Produce an argument that it is not true. And it will be true again this year.

    And yes Dawkins logic is perfect

    Israel will kill many Palestinians this year,
    Islamists will kill even more people than Israel

    This is not an argument that supports Israel’s actions.

  • 13
    michael hewitt-gleeson
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Did Razer, the provocateur, really the point of Dawkins’ provocation? Or was it just Ms Disingenuous again? Yawn!

  • 14
    Alex
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    A staunch atheist and admirer of both Dawkins & Harris, I concede you make a good point, Helen. I can’t help feeling that these two feel that both their logic AND their values should be universal. Such an idea is offensive, I think, particularly with regards to values, and suggests an ellement of hubris and arrogance. , And, I do find Dawkins’ manner a tad arrogant at times, but, perhaps that’s just a result of his rather humourless demeanour.

  • 15
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Razer….I called her a foul-mouthed incoherent soft leftist…

    She is getting better…not a bad essay except the real point is; “it is impossible to have a nuanced argument in this age of feeble minded kiddies who have no experience of the real world being allowed to twitter, facebook and have their 15 minutes of fame in a world of mock outrage about trivialities”.

    We even have one of these specimens in the Senate by the name of Hansen-Young. Young but far from Hansen….

    That Razer is a slight cut above these kiddies is encouraging but not yet inspirational.

  • 16
    64magpies
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    @Ken Lambert. What’s the point of being a bit leftie if you can’t be a bit foul-mouthed?

  • 17
    JohnB
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    @ Ken Lambert:
    14th post, somehow in front of 13.

  • 18
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Thursday, 31 July 2014 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    ”” Perhaps reason’s real adversary of the Enlightenment is the atheist who, in his lack of belief in god, chooses to mistake his own superstition for logic.”“

    Maybe I did not read Razer hard enough….the above is pretty incoherent..

    Belief in the supernatural is not reason nor logic….it is an inspiration for many to do unnatural things. Many bad and many good.

    I always ask the Dawkins of this world why the Athiests Society runs no hospitals for the sick or hospices for the dying……..or why Rationalists United don’t attract weekly crowds who gather and give free time and resources to community facilities many in every suburb of our fair land.

  • 19
    Sailor
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    …why the Athiests Society runs no hospitals for the sick or hospices for the dying……..or why Rationalists United don’t attract weekly crowds who gather and give free time and resources to community facilities many in every suburb of our fair land.”

    Ken, AFAIK, there is no “Atheists’ Society”. Or football club called “Rationalists United”.

    There’s just a revulsion at certain Princes of the various institutionalised Churches who take on the mantle of Imperator just as confidently as they grab the role of haranguing others for “failings”. The same way they’ve done for centuries.

    The Church as Institution (eg, Vatican for Catholics, High Anglican for the Proddies) is not the same as the church of believers and practicioners - the people who actually follow the teachings of Jesus. And the Church as Institution is and has been demonstrably ghastly for centuries.

    Atheists don’t have the defensive wrap of powerful forces like the pollies, police, media and all “right-thinking” people to cover their transgressions. How many atheists’ sexual predations have been covered up for the last couple of centuries by all the right-thinking people?

    But when it comes to the Anglican or Catholic Churches’s finest, well, ……….

    Any answer, Ken? I’m listening.

  • 20
    CML
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Despite all this cr+p, Helen, the fact remains that more wars have been started, more people killed and more abominable acts perpetrated in the name of religion - ALL religions - than ever was the case for atheism.
    I’m with Dawkins, even though he may offend some people from time to time!

  • 21
    AR
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Razer has written some unreadable rubbish but this waste of space is beyond risible.
    Stick to pop-psychobabble so that we can just scan it in passing to ascertain that it’s crap before moving on.
    Hint: dropping in ‘names’ does not add any weight.

  • 22
    Brian Melbourne
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    If we’re discussing logic… Of course more wars are started by non-atheists because they far outnumber atheists.

  • 23
    Di Keller
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Perhaps atheists don’t have to wrap their charity in religion.. They do good in their own names.

    Personally I think the best thing they do is showing just how wondrous the world is using science.

    Helen, I doubt you would find very many superstitious atheists . Sort of goes with the territory that we aren’t. Hahaha!!

    Science FTW !!

  • 24
    Di Keller
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    @ Brian Melbourne, perhaps the question should be how many wars are stated in the name of religion, even if that is the true reason.

  • 25
    Luke Hellboy
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    The reason Dawkins uses such incediary topics, such as rape and paedophilia as examples, is to employ hyperbole to make his point… and given the reaction his point, that emotion often outweighs reason in public debate, that point was proved. Admittedly it is a cheap debating strategy but also effective. At least he didn’t give us any Oxford dictionary definitions…
    Before you start patronising Dawkins’ philosophical sophistication with your emotional reaction to the example used Helen, maybe take some of his advice and learn to think.

  • 26
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I think Dawkins was making a perfectly logical point, albeit I don’t see why he needed the shock tactics.

  • 27
    A.Blot
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    To start your article with “it’s been a bad week for atheism” and then to go on about religions being at each others throats, seems to point to a good day for atheism.
    A bit more of what Richard was saying needs to be done, “go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically” and maybe there would be less conflicts.

  • 28
    Bob Spence
    Posted Friday, 1 August 2014 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Only someone ignorant of what “Atheism” means, ie basically a lack of belief in a God, could refer to it as Razer does at the start of this piece. It is NOT, and not claimed to be by atheists, “an organized system of thought”.

    She then proceeds to make at least as many ‘logic’ errors as she accuses her targets of. I’m not saying Dawkins’ or Harris’ comments don’t deserve at least some of the criticisms, but she really seems determined to rubbish them in every way she can think of, which is ultimately more intemperate than anything they have said.

  • 29
    Michael Davidson
    Posted Saturday, 2 August 2014 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    @CML. As yes, “…more wars have been started, more people killed…in the name of religion”; the fashionable and erroneous war cry of the modern atheist. A pity it withers under historical scrutiny. Instead of merely regurgitating Dawkins’ rhetoric, delve into history for yourself and you’ll see that religion accounts for far less in terms of human suffering than what is commonly peddled. Nationalism, clashes of ideology, thirst for riches and resources etc have been instigators for conflict for as far back as recorded history takes us.

    If we’re to measure up some of the worst episodes of modern history, we surely couldn’t go past the likes of the slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Seven Years War, French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, War of the Spanish Succession, Venezuelan power struggles, American Civil War, War of the Triple Alliance, WWI, Russian Civil War, Stalinist Regime, WWII, Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong’s regime, Korean War, Rwanda and Burrundi, Second Indochina War, Ethiopia, Afghanistan (Soviet and US invasions), Sudan, Kinshasa Congo etc etc etcetera.

    The staggering body counts of these conflicts far outstrips the suffering caused as a result of religious furore. And before I’m accused of such, I’m in no way an adherent of religion or its self-appointed defender. What I DO object to is the manufacturing and distortion of history. The truth is less incisive than what Dawkins et al proclaim, it’s less inflammatory and it draws no audience.

  • 30
    Di Keller
    Posted Sunday, 3 August 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Of course all those wars were started by avowed atheists , not a tinge of religion anywhere .;)

    People have been killing other people in the name of religion since man invented religion.
    Strangely enough way before Dawkins was born . And people having been saying that since way before Dawkins was born ,anyone with such an interest in history would hardly claim that is was fashionable and I would doubt erroneous. Just one example would be the number of people , the majority women every year because of the Catholic Churches women who die every year and forgive me if I tend to notice that the on going wars in the world today are very much about religion.
    Just for a moment imagine what the world could be like if all the wars that were started by religion didn’t ever happen. Humans being humans we would have war, but a huge reason just wouldn’t be there.

    Nationalism, clashes of ideology, thirst for riches and resources etc have been instigators for conflict for as far back as recorded history takes us.”

    And how often has religion been used as a an excuse for even those wars ??? !

    It has nothing to do with Richard Dawkins. I see him as someone who shares my views, definitely not someone I follow.The amazing thing about atheists is that they don’t need to have figureheads/gods. We are quite capable of thinking for ourselves. That also comes with the territory.

  • 31
    Itsarort
    Posted Sunday, 3 August 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I prefer Chris Hitchens and Stephen J. Gould. Sadly, they’ve moved on…

  • 32
    Michael Davidson
    Posted Sunday, 3 August 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    @Di
    “Of course all those wars were started by avowed atheists , not a tinge of religion anywhere.”

    Lovely straw man there. You can be certain that many of the central players in said conflicts were affiliated in some way or another with some form of religion. Many of them were also quite fond of fancy moustaches; perhaps facial hair was a factor? Perhaps the anti-religious campaign of the USSR was actually inspired by religion? Unless you can point to a causal relationship between religion and the rise of Stalin and his ilk, then it’s absurd and dishonest to insinuate religion being even a trivial component. You only succeeded in proving my point.

    People have been killing other people in the name of religion since man invented religion.
    Strangely enough way before Dawkins was born . And people having been saying that since way before Dawkins was born ,anyone with such an interest in history would hardly claim that is was fashionable and I would doubt erroneous.”

    Another blatant straw man. You misrepresented my position and then refuted a false argument. It is certainly more fashionable now than ever before to berate religion - sometimes for good reason, but increasingly for little more than to promote a superiority complex. The South Park episode “Red Hot Catholic Love” comes to mind. And as I said before: it’s erroneous to claim that religion has the most to answer for when it comes to sheer body count. History says otherwise.

    And how often has religion been used as a an excuse for even those wars ??? !”

    As in the wars I mentioned? None. That’s the point - mankind has a long and sordid history of systematic slaughter without need of religion. Genghis Khan didn’t need a religious pretext to begin his reign of terror.

    The amazing thing about atheists is that they don’t need to have figureheads.”

    Are you sure of that? I know many an atheist who has supplanted the urge for God (or gods) with a more tangible substitute; Dawkins, for one. They merely regurgitate his most recent musings without subjecting it to any form of critical thought.

    One of the reasons I’m an agnostic (read: fence-sitter) is because I can see the same absurdities and hypocrisies in both the fervently religious, and the fanatically anti-religious.

  • 33
    Di Keller
    Posted Sunday, 3 August 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    You don’t do irony well do you Haha ??

  • 34
    blindphoton
    Posted Wednesday, 6 August 2014 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    Harris and Dawkins are correct.

    Moderate supernaturalists provide cover for extremists, both christian and muslim.

    In common with other apologists you grossly overcomplicate (wanky undergrad reference to Kant, for eg) simple concepts and arguments; reason v’s woo (to quote Randi); fact v’s fiction; etc.

    For a recent take on these matters (and from a woman muslim) listen to Farzana Hassan on the Point of Inquiry Podcast of May 20. She rightly points out that religious extremists such as the Taliban or Boko Haram cannot be reasoned with and are utterly intent on world domination.

    How can we even start to address such issues if we’ve got to politely tolerate absurd nonsense….

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