In her most recent column, S.E. Cupp strung together more lies, fallacies, and misrepresentations than a 2-hour long Kent Hovind seminar. Apparently she claims to be an atheist, but she uses the same dishonest obstructionist tactics that many religious demagogues use to prevent the faithful from entering any meaningful conversation about their faith.
Let me list the errors:
1. The title itself is two falsehoods, ” The arrogance of the atheists: They batter believers in religion with smug certainty”.
Atheists are not arrogant for questioning religion. How can the questioning of ideas constitute arrogance? And on the issue of certainty, every single “new” atheist understands that all knowledge about reality has some scientifically determinable uncertainty. Dawkins will readily say something similar to “I do not KNOW there is no god, but that there is simply no reason to affirm belief in a god. (my quote, not Dawkins’)” The only people who regularly claim certainty are the most fundamentalist practitioners of religious belief.
2. “So often it [new atheism] seems like a conversation ender, not a conversation starter.”
This is ironic considering that prior to the “new” atheists, there was no public discussion of any god’s existence or relevance to society, and now, after the publishing of those books, there is much conversation. Contrary to Cupp’s cultural myopia, it appears that the “new” atheists have started a great big conversation.
3. “militant atheism”
Militant Muslims commit suicide bombings, militant Christians assassinate medical doctors, militant atheists put up bill boards, enough said.
4. “The new atheists do not speak to the millions of people whose form of religion is far from the embodied certainties of contemporary literalism.”
Sam Harris, author of the first “new atheist” book, The End of Faith, does not spend all his effort on the fundamentalists. He is an equal opportunity critic. If you read The End of Faith, you would know that he both recognizes the difference in the practice of moderate religion, and gives withering critique on the effect moderate religion has on society. Go read his book again.
5. “The militant atheist wants nothing more than to spoil the believer’s spiritual journey.”
Once again, reread Sam Harris’ books. He is well practiced in the contemplative arts, and demonstrates a deep intuitive understanding of subjective or “spiritual” experience. One of his main critiques of Western faith is that it strives for subjective or “spiritual” enlightenment in an ineffective and fruitless manner.
6. “Though more than 95% of the world finds some meaning in faith…Bill Maher shrugs this off as a ‘neurological disorder'”
Cupp is a precious few logical missteps from a classic invocation of the fallacy known as the argument from popularity. Since she did not actually state that the popularity of religious beliefs make them correct, I can give her a pass on this fallacy, but she still must be brought to task for implying that the popularity of such beliefs elevates them above skepticism, or even Maher’s derision. Popularity does not imply truthfulness, or even make the idea sacred from mocking.
7. “He [David Silverman] has also tweeted, ‘Yes it is a myth. Deal with it. All delusions are myths.'”
As far as I can see it, I fail to understand what is so incriminating about stating a fact.
8. “It’s these snarky and condescending rejections…”
Would you like to see snarky and condescending? Go watch Bill O’Reillys “interview” with Dakwins, or Bill Donahue’s debate with Hitchens or Silverman, or Megyn Kelly’s near temper tantrum in front of Silverman. In much of the public discourse on these topics, the atheist usually tends to err on the side of exceeding politeness and societal couth, while the respective Fox hosts have approached the level two-year-olds screaming on the candy store floor. This may sound like an “arrogant atheist” needlessly passing out gratuitous scorn, but watch the videos, and you will see that my remarks are mere observation.
9. “…that reflect a total unwillingness to learn something new about human nature, the world around us and even of science itself.”
As we can see, the other half of the sentence from point eight is an utter lie. I don’t really feel the need to prove that many, perhaps even most, self-identified atheists, free thinkers and rationalists have a passion and wonder at learning about reality; it is pretty much apparent to anyone who takes an unbiased look at us.
10. “…in fact, they are much more certain about the nature of the world than most actual believers, who understand that a measure of doubt is necessary for faith.”
I already dealt with the issue of uncertainty in regards to the “new” atheists in point one. The error I will focus on here is the claim that “doubt is necessary for faith”. Faith, defined by Hebrews 11:1, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”, meaning that faith is the claim of certainty in absence of evidence. Cupp just committed a blatant lie in this sentence.
11. “They want to focus on the downfall of a gay pastor…”
Hypocrisy, particularly hypocrisy that increases legal and cultural bigotry and discrimination of LGBT people, like myself, is one particularly dangerous effect of the widespread practice of fundamentalist Christianity, and it should be focused upon. Hypocrisy is to be condemned at any level, especially if it hurts real people.
12. “I wonder what they’d say to someone like Immaculee Ilibagiza … who says that her faith in Jesus Christ got her through 91 days of hiding in a 3×4 foot bathroom while her family was murdered outside.”
Richard Dawkins responded to this type of argument on his first O’Reilly interview by saying,”…If it helps you, then that is great, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.” Sam Harris would be able to have a more efficacious conversation with Immaculle, based on his deep understanding into subjective experience from his extensive practice in the contemplative arts.
13. “There’s still a lot to learn, but only if you’re not too busy being a know-it-all.”
I agree, there are an immense number of insights just out there waiting for humanity to take its steps towards them. The future is in learning more about the inner workings of the physical world, in discovering revelations into the origins of this physical reality, in gaining deeper understanding of how we as a species interact on the large scale, and in working towards a more profound sapience of how we, each one of us humans, can become a significant part of this greater reality. We will never reach that future if we are arrogant and believe that our respective inherited dogmas have certainty beyond the relevance of skepticism. We must ask questions, and we must question dogma.