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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thinkquote of the day: Nobody in here but us neurons?

From "Oh dear God, it's him again", Gina Piccolo's October 2, 2006 Los Angeles Times profile of atheist neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, author of antitheistic tract Letter to a Christian Nation :
Then Harris started talking about the philosophy of the mind and his blue
eyes started to shine. "We're the thinker of our thoughts and the experiencer of our experience," he said, with no hint of irony. "And it's actually a false view. Because there's just experience. There's just consciousness and its contents. There's not an 'I' or 'me' in the middle of consciousness to whom it's all relating."

The profile is well worth reading, to get some idea of who writes these kinds of anti-God books. Apparently, Harris
won't say where he lives. Or where he grew up. Or what his parents do professionally. Or the name of the university where he's pursuing his doctorate in neuroscience. At the request of friends and family, he never acknowledges them by name in his books. He will allow that he's 39 and didn't start out an atheist, though he was raised in a secular family. He
is deliberately vague because, he said, murderous religious fanatics know their way around the Internet.

Well, as long as his publisher's accountant knows his address (for the royalty cheques), I suppose he can amuse himself by imagining danger, and no harm done.

Personally, I think that scholar Mary Eberstadt is right in seeing the spate of anti-God books directed against American Christians as displaced anxiety. People who can't risk being where the action is try to make up their own action somewhere where it is safe:
... what they have turned into a blogging bonanza and cottage publishing industry is the overwhelming threat posed by religious fundamentalists . . . again not Islamist fundamentalists, but rather American Christian fundamentalists, known variously in this new canon as "theocrats," "Christocrats," "Christianists," "fundamentalists," "Christian nationalists," and the old familiar, "Christian right."

As with the paleoconservative right and its Mexican illegals, this single-minded insistence on having located "the" fundamental problem for America is characteristic of the anti-"theocrat" genre. As Ross Douthat observed in an essay for First Things about such exercises, "the fear of theocracy has become a defining panic of the Bush era. . . . Today's battles aren't just a matter of ordinary political factionalism, they [the anti-"theocrats"] insist. The hour is much later than that, and nothing less than the republic itself hangs in the balance." It is this same outsized passion that is the first sign of a gap between reality and rhetoric, one suggesting that a scapegoat may be at hand.

The thing is, you can be anti-God in the US, and your books will sell. Try being anti-God in the Middle East and your head may be rolling and bouncing along the cobblestones. The real tragedy of modern-day materialist atheism is that it's quite easy in places where no one takes you seriously and quite impossible in places where everyone does.

As if to prove me right about the essentially irrelevant character of the whole current anti-God enterprise, Harris plans to write yet another "biology of belief" book, yet another attempt to explain spirituality with reference to some materialist thesis. But why wouldn't last year's books or the ones from the year before do just as well? And Harris could spend more time perfecting his aliases and disguises.

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.


My previous books are By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg 2004) and Faith@Science.

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