Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Mansfield vs. The New Atheism

According to the manly Mansfield, the old atheists were against the church, but the new atheists are against religion itself, which really means they’re against constitutionalism itself. The new atheists pride themselves as being the only animals smart enough and tough enough be atheists, but their arguments, Harvey shows us, are as predictable as chimp behavior. Harvey once called attention to the philosopher-atheist’s criticism of times of "Enlightenment": They take all the fun out of "free thought." But it takes a time of alleged Enlightenment to show us that there’s nothing more boring than atheism or at least raving atheists.

Discussions - 20 Comments

Everything from the title, "God, they're predictable," to the closing line is simply golden. Mansfield in top form. The contrast b/t Epicurean athiesm--"justice...fugghedaboutit"--and Enlightenment athiesm--"justice is realizable, so a God who allows injustice is intolerable"--rings true, even if (particularly in my formulation) it too-strongly links the latter to 19th and 20th century Ideology. Darwin, for example, would never fit the bill--perhaps in this essay, "atheism" always involves vocal attack upon religion, so that non-vocal or non-proslytizing irreligion and unbelief doesn't count as "atheism." But do read it.

Standard 'Straussian' position: thumos (remember spiritedness, men?! -- and Kate & Julie!) is love, attachment, and defense of one's own, as well as recoiling indignantly at manifest injustice/injustices, then attacking. It generates avenging gods (at least when it discovers that human efforts fall short of self-and-one's own-and-justice's defense). Philosophy - I continue to report a/the standard argument - unfortunately comes to know thumos and its limitations (and its necessity, to be sure): its unreasonable attachments, demands, and deities, as well as debunking any (civic &/or religious) claims to cosmic support for justice writ large-and-happy.

Harvey, however, while he borrows from this old line of thought, attaches new thoughts and a new ending, one more respectful of "religion." He apparently attributes to religion some of the insights that the old argument uniquely (?) attributed to philosophy.


Thank you, Paul, but I sometimes think thumos makes me sick, as if it were indigestible.

I had read that this morning before coming here and wrote a response. It was the bit about Justice that got me. I see the point of the problem of man being one of the desire for justice. That ageless complaint against God and Nature is certainly true, but sounds very grand as Mr. Mansfield puts it. I think it works better in more banal terms, which is as the moderns are more want to put it: a matter of "fairness". When our children were small, we forbade them the use of the word. They were not allowed to say, "It's not fair!" and yet they found other ways and means to get their point across. To use the word "unjust" or to say "That is not right." was just to put the argument in other terms. This what man does and to speak of that complaint as "Justice", either divine or natural, is to make the whine of mankind into song.
You guys can tell me why I am wrong, as I worry I might be, having had some experiences today that leave me feeling less confident than I was when I wrote that. Honestly, I would rather hear it from you guys.

However, I will repeat my complaint against those atheists (those vocal attackers) mentioned and the issue of "free thought" in that they would not like me to be free in my thought, or at least not free when it comes to thinking about God. I would also say that there is a distinction between faith and religion and that religion can be compared to and sometimes equated with philosophy, and faith cannot. I thought Mansfield effectively made this distinction, especially in that the vocal atheists now cry out against faith and not merely religion.

Mansfield versus The New Atheism.

What a crock, there is no "new Atheism".
There is just the total lack of any belief
in any god(s) and all the BS that christianity would have you believe. Read the friggin' bible word for word and if you still believe what you read there, get some help. There are many good psychiatrists out there. Be sure to ask him if he believes in the tooth fairy though.

Some great comments. I think Paul is right to underplay the HM innovations in the article. He still doesn't think the manly demand to be a "who" doesn't point in the direction of a God Who is a Who, but is something to be overcome through philosophy. Carl is right that Darwin himself would hate the new atheism. Darwin was big on the evolutionary benefit of religion and even on openness to the mystery of creation.

In the comment above, doesn't point should be points. It's very early out here in Boulder

Aspentroll, please explain to me why I may not believe in God nor the Bible, even word for word if I so choose? Actually, in the belief in God I seem to have no choice. For an atheist to ask me not to believe is like his asking me not to believe in my own children. God is that evident to me. It is far easier to believe that you do not exist, who are represented to me by a set of angry words on the screen.

Kate, a more thorough understanding of human neuropsychology (we have hyperactive "agent detectors") and statistics (whatever unlikely "miracles" have occurred in your life are probably easily explained as coincidence) will help you overcome the "sticky belief" problem. I dealt with that myself once. I knew there was no evidence for God, but I somehow felt that one must exist. It was my education in psychology that ultimately made me realize that my God was really an imaginary friend.

I see and experience lots of evidence for God. That is my problem. Coincidence ain't in it!

To Commenter 8: You write that "there was no evidence for God." But you learned that God is an imagination from the science of human neuropsychology. That science, like all sciences, rests on an assumption that there is a "nature" or "human nature" accessible to rational study.
So my question would be simply: since you say there is no "evidence" for the existence of God, what is the "evidence" that convinces you to believe in the existence of "nature," the ground of rational science?

Kate, if you really have "lots of evidence" for God I'm sure the world would be very happy to hear it. We've been wondering about that question for a long time, but if you have actual "evidence" you'll be the first person in history to have it. I'm sure you can see why I'm skeptical.

Dennis, science rests on no such assumptions. We don't need to assume the existence of anything. We simply experience sensations -- colors, sounds, shapes, smells, etc. -- and try to find a predictable pattern in them. We are never certain of anything, but we have no assumptions at all. We don't even need to presume the existence of an external world or the validity of the senses. The world may be very well be an illusion, but it is a predictable illusion and that is all that matters. If we assume anything we assume the validity of memory, but even that isn't really true. We follow memory because it is the only guide we have, but we are never certain about it so that isn't really an assumption either.

Buu, I am not the only person with my sort of evidence for God. That is why there are so many Christians in history and in the world today. There are books that seek to present evidence. Some I have read, but it was experience that persuaded me and not apologetics. This blog is not the place to detail my experience. Even were I to explain my experience, there is no reason why you would or even should believe me.

The believer's complaint against atheists is not that they do not see God, as who could demand that? It is that you seem to presume that when we speak of God we are either lying or grossly deluded. I do not force God on you and could not. No more can you take God from me and I wonder why you try.

Drat. I seem to need to respond to what you write to Dennis.

I experience the sensation of God and find a predictable pattern in the experience. Yet it would be as hard for me to explain that to you as it would be to explain a color you have never seen, a taste, a smell - and those are simple things in comparison. As to experience, God binds me to goodness, for example, as I have prayed for Him to do, and bars me from doing evil in the most absurd and yet effective ways. Also, I and those close to me have experienced healing, actual transformations of the flesh and if those are illusions, then they are of a predictable pattern that allows me to presume and assume as you put it.

You would seem to suggest that science is also an illusion, as how can anything be objectively measured if all sensation might be presumed to be an illusion? On practical grounds, I must reject your premise. As a mother, the externals of children create a practical reality with demands that I might at some given moment wish were illusion, for selfish reasons. Yet they force their reality on me, and if I resist .... No. It really won't do.

To some degree I do agree with you about memory. I also mistrust memory without verification, which is why I write about experience at the time, to check on myself later. Even that I know to be a matter of perspective. But I allow myself that perspective, as I allow the same to others.

In that case, Kate, I agree with you. There is a God, but he is only an epiphenomenon of the human mind, just like consciousness. God exists in the same way that love exists. I can live with that, I just hope you don't use this God construct to justify prejudices.

Also: (1) those classic works of Christian apologetics are long refuted and (2) I didn't say science was an illusion, only that it could be and therefore one must never be certain.

Of course, when it comes to justice, we kid ourselves when we insist on it from God. We don't really want His justice--we want his mercy. We know we will fall short if he comes at us from a position of pure justice. When we complain that some horrible trial we are facing is "not fair" there is a part of us that knows its unfairness goes in two directions. Whatever I am suffering is "unfair" because it is more than my neighbor (in my estimation) but it is also equally true that it is less than the suffering of some other neighbor. Do I really want God to even things out?

Most (if not all) of our trials come from our imperfections--of mind, of body, of spirit--or from the imperfections of this world (i.e., natural disasters, etc.) They do not come from God or continue to exist because he "permits" it. That would be like saying my children suffer through the pains of having to learn to read because I permitted it in bringing them into this world. There's a certain truth to that statement, of course, but it misses the point. The point is that my children have been given the gift of life and can rise above this particular difficulty--especially since I am here to help them along the way (yet another gift--though some days they may dispute its value). God did create us (with all our imperfections) and He did put us in this imperfect world. But, in fairness, what would be the point (would it even be possible?) in Him creating other Gods or other Heavens? He gave us the gift of this life with all the beauty and truth that it presents if we choose to seek it. And more than that, He gave us a promise of better and way to seek it that is replete with an acknowledgment of our need for His mercy. We don't have to be just to God--we can and do abuse him as much as we have abused our own parents and still expect forgiveness! Amazing.

Justice is required, however, in our dealings with one another. We are all equally human--after all--and our mercy is not to be trusted.

I don't know if any of this makes sense to anyone else . . . but I found it helpful to write it as I thought through that excellent article from Prof. Mansfield. Prof. David Allen White debated Christopher Hitchens today on the Hugh Hewitt show and it was quite lively and compelling. If you enjoyed this thread, you may also want to check out the transcript of that debate when it's available. Start here.

To Commenter 11: You say, as it seems, that "science" rests on no assumptions at all. Yet "we experience sensations" -- so you do assume much here: e.g., the existence of a "we," something called "experience," and something else called "sensations." You absolutely must assume one more thing: that you can communicate these "experiences" or "sensations" to other persons. If interpersonal communication is not "assumed," there is simply no "science" at all. There is only some kind of ineffable subjective event. I think you are either forced to admit that there is something in common among human beings that enables you to communicate the knowledge of science to others...which is what I mean by "human nature" ... or you are now completely unable to show any better evidence for science than for God. As you see from other commenters, their experience of God is real for them. But without assuming a "human nature," you are trapped in the same ineffable subjective experience of science that they are of God, you see. Science is your imaginary friend which you prefer because you thought it gave you something more than God -- better predictability, more certainty -- but it turns out it gives you nothing you are able to communicate to others...unless you assume that there is a "nature" which makes communication possible. Of course if you admit that assumption, you will notice immediately that "nature" is a concept nowhere to be seen as such, only in her various manifestations or expressions...rather like the Divine ground of creation after all!

Buu, I am glad that you believe in the existence of something. Though I do not see why you should presume that love exists if so much else is illusory. I do hope you use your "love" construct to justify prejudices and that your entire existence is biased by that epiphenomenon of the human mind.

Thank you Julie, both for the reference, (which audio I am wrestling onto my Ipod right now,) and for your thoughts on God and justice and mercy. I would only argue that even God cannot "even things out" given those imperfections you mention. Also, I sometimes wonder if it is because of mercy and grace that man whines about fairness so much. It is very unfair that you see God and enjoy Him (and His mercy and grace) as you do and someone like Buu does not. Yet I would not deny you your gracious communion with God, even though it is unfair that it is denied to Buu. How would that even out? Could Buu see God if he chose? I had no sense of choosing nor had I gone looking. Yet He was there and inescapable. How is that fair? I do not deserve His goodness and mercy and know it (and face in myself some major imperfections - I am my own banana peel and can go slipping) right well. I find myself praying, here in the middle of the night, that grace and mercy as we experience it falls on Buu, and Christopher Hitchens, too.

and dennis, that was nice.

Kate says, I would only argue that even God cannot "even things out" given those imperfections you mention.--which is an excellent point. But I would add that God actually could, I suppose, "even things out" but that in so doing he would have to make us something less than human. The fact that we are human is an amazing and (on the face of it) an unnecessary fact of creation. Why are we so situated between beasts and God? We are permitted to see beyond the instincts of animals but are yet limited by our imperfect view of the thing. We are born for the struggle of someday being more worthy of our great gifts. Some may call this a great cosmic joke (like a man stuck within inches of water but unable to drink) but I see it as a great boon for which I am grateful (though I don't always exhibit my gratitude). It is a gift that is better enjoyed the more fully it is understood and earned.

To Comment 14:

You write: " only an epiphenomenon of the human mind, just like consciousness." I ask again about the status of science, which appears no less to be an epiphenomenon of the human mind.

You talk about using God to "justify prejudices." I would never deny that some people have had defective understandings of God on which indeed they self-righteously justified prejudices. Prejudice goes with the human soul's inclination to prefer its own, I'm afraid. Unfortunately, science has been the most significant ground of the worst prejudices known to mankind: it was not God but modern Darwinian biology, for example, that taught us that the white race of Europe was so superior to the black races of Africa that the latter would be eliminated in time, and, says Darwin, we should not complain about that because it's a law of science! It was not God but science that grounded the theory of Aryan superiority of Hitlerian socialism, and it was not God but the Marxian science of history that became the foundation of the Soviet experiment which murdered as many as 100 million Russians, according to Solzhenitsyn. So I just hope you don't use this solipsistic "science" you believe in to justify prejudices.

Finally, I was flabbergasted to read that "those classic works of Christian apologetics are long refuted." This is news to me. Can you give me the name of even one such refuter and which apologist he or she has refuted?

I believe the movement of modern science that began with the Enlightenment did nothing to "refute" Christian apologetics. Rather they decided that they would abandon the questions about final ends and purposes to ask a different set of questions and thus ignore Christian apologetics -- more properly they decided to ignore classical metaphysics. Ignoring a thing is not a refutation of it, as the Enlightened philosophers (Bacon, Descartes, Machiavelli come to mind) would have admitted.

Please feel free to reject religious faith in any or all forms if you wish to do so. But please do not rest your case for rejecting God on some concept of "science" about which you admit you cannot know anything and cannot communicate to other human beings.

Many of us hold that the abandonment of God in our time must lead to the abandonment of reason and to nihilism. Nothing you have written in your comments has done anything but reinforce our view that faith in God strengthens and justifies reason itself.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2007/08/mansfield-vs-the-new-atheism.php on line 936

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2007/08/mansfield-vs-the-new-atheism.php on line 936