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.