Monday, July 16, 2007

Stanley Fish: Dogmatic atheists arguments are shallow

Dinesh D’Souza draws our attention to literary scholar Stanley Fish’s brilliant deconstruction of the recent attempted atheist putsch at his New York Times blog (and no doubt elsewhere):
Fish observes that while religious people over the centuries have dug deeply into the questions of life, along come our shallow atheists who present arguments as if they first thought of them, arguments that Christians have long examined with a seriousness and care that is missing in contemporary atheist discourse.

In a follow-up article, Fish deepens his inquiry by looking at the kind of evidence that atheists like Hawkins and Harris present for their “scientific” outlook. Harris, for example, writes that “there will probably come a time when we will achieve a detailed understanding of human happiness and of ethical judgments themselves at the level of the brain.” Fish asks, what is this confidence based on? Not, he notes, on a record of progress. Science today can no more explain ethics or human happiness than it could a thousand years ago.

Still, Harris says that scientific research hasn’t panned out because the research is in the early stage and few of the facts are in. Fish comments, “Of course one conclusion that could be drawn is that the research will not pan out because moral intuitions are not reducible to phyhsical processes. That may be why so few of the facts are in.”

I am glad someone is pointing these things out. As we discuss in The Spiritual Brain, the recent spate of "godless" books features an enormous decline in quality from classics of the past. If you compare J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough (in which Frazer attempts to trace the origin of religion to fertility cults) with modern "evolutionary psychology" explanations for just about anything, you will be struck by the marked decline in intellectual cogency, persuasiveness, or even interest.

Of course, a materialist must accept a materialist explanation, no matter how foolish, over any non-materialist explanation, no matter how cogent. But surely that doesn't account for the steep decline in quality within the genre?

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