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Thread: A Marxist critique of atheism

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    A Marxist critique of atheism

    Richard Dawkins is a distinguished biologist and enthusiastic promoter of atheism as in his 2006 book The God Delusion.

    This was reviewed in the London Review of Books by Terry Eagleton, probably the leading Marxist literary critic today.

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-e...ng-mispunching

    Far from sympathizing with Dawkins, Eagleton lays into him magnificently: his atheism is middle class complacency, ignoring the injustice and suffering of much of the world.

    Eagleton’s point is not that Christianity (the only form of belief in God he considers) is true or untrue. It is a consistent and humane understanding of the world. Eagleton applauds Dawkins’ condemnation of fundamentalism and religious violence. But Dawkins totally fails to appreciate the humane side of religion. “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.

    I do recommend the review as good read, whatever you think about the subject.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    Richard Dawkins is a distinguished biologist and enthusiastic promoter of atheism as in his 2006 book The God Delusion.

    This was reviewed in the London Review of Books by Terry Eagleton, probably the leading Marxist literary critic today.

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-e...ng-mispunching
    Eagleton's review was a good read. I generally agree with his assessment of Dawkins.

    However, there are two places that stand out where I disagreed with Eagleton.

    Eagleton writes:

    As far as theology goes, Dawkins has an enormous amount in common with Ian Paisley and American TV evangelists. Both parties agree pretty much on what religion is; it’s just that Dawkins rejects it while Oral Roberts and his unctuous tribe grow fat on it.

    My suspicion is it was not just the evangelists who may have been growing fat. One should also consider whether Dawkins' rhetoric was indirectly attempting to funnel scientific research into areas like molecular biology by using his opposition to fundamentalists to make his favored research areas look more "scientific" than those of his competitors for grant money. Follow the money on both sides. I don't want to make a hasty charge, but my own suspicions about Dawkins center more around science funding than they do about religion. I don't care what he has to say about religion. As Eagleton points out, Dawkins is no theologian.

    He also writes:

    Jesus did not die because he was mad or masochistic, but because the Roman state and its assorted local lackeys and running dogs took fright at his message of love, mercy and justice, as well as at his enormous popularity with the poor, and did away with him to forestall a mass uprising in a highly volatile political situation.


    This sounds like sentimentality coming from assumptions someone might make who lives in a Christian culture. We need to step back from our culture and consider something different: The reason Jesus died is because of Pilate's hatred for the people he ruled. Rome was not responsible for the death of Jesus and neither were the Jews. Pilate took advantage of Jesus' coming into Jerusalem for the Passover to demonstrate his hatred for those he had control over. Nothing more.

    Dawkins does not represent atheists in general who, as they will correctly insist, have wide opinions about what is true. Here is a comment by another atheist, Thomas Nagel, opposed to neo-Darwinists' scorn for those fundamentalists who disagree with them:

    Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.

    Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (p. 10). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.


    Although "Mind and Cosmos" is an interesting read, Eagleton does a better job of addressing Dawkins. If one is interested in exploring Nagel's philosophy further, two of his essays would be more relevant to the issues between theism and atheism, "What is it like to be a bat?" http://organizations.utep.edu/portal.../nagel_bat.pdf and the chapter "Panpsychism" in his "Mortal Questions".
    Last edited by YesNo; 10-10-2016 at 11:14 AM.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Dawkins blames "religion" for many horrors and evils, just as YesNo blames "atheism" for the Khmer Rouge. Both positions are naive.

    He (Dawkins) is like a man who equates socialism with the Gulag. Like the puritan and sex, Dawkins sees God everywhere, even where he is self-evidently absent. He thinks, for example, that the ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland would evaporate if religion did, which to someone like me, who lives there part of the time, betrays just how little he knows about it.
    (One wonders why YesNo blames atheism instead of socialism for the Khmer rouge, when so many others have blamed Communism.)

    Like Fundamentalist Christians, Dawkins is fundamentally anti-intellectual. Complex analysis of ideas (humanism) is not his forte. Indeed, his naive rationalism extends to his earlier writings, like "The Selfish Gene", in which he postulates that cultural "memes" (like religion) can be self-propagating, just like selfish genes. This is probably correct, but Dawkins has little interest in the details, the process, or the methods of intellectual history. Like Marx, he hopes to turn human history into a science, rather than one of the Humanities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    (One wonders why YesNo blames atheism instead of socialism for the Khmer rouge, when so many others have blamed Communism.)
    I blame atheism for the Khmer Rouge for two reasons:

    1) People like Dawkins blame religion for any atrocity that can be associated with a person who believes in some religion. They imply that atheism leads to peace and love in some la-la land. This hypocrisy needs a response.

    2) There is a cultural problem with atheism that I think very likely does lead to the atrocities we have seen atheists commit in places such as Cambodia. The atheism that I am referring to is one that considers our consciousness an ephiphenomenon of unconsciousness, the pseudoscientific belief that one can dump our consciousness into a computer. This is a culturally trained way of thinking that permeates even people who claim to be theists. It needs to be examined to prevent atrocities from happening in the future.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post

    1) People like Dawkins blame religion for any atrocity that can be associated with a person who believes in some religion. They imply that atheism leads to peace and love in some la-la land. This hypocrisy needs a response.
    .
    Congratulations, YesNo! You respond to naive, ignorant arguments with naive, ignorant arguments! Brilliant!

    I'd respond to your second point, but I have no idea what you are talking about. YesNo's silly fundamentalism allows him to state, "It (the belief that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of unconsciousness) needs to be examined to prevent atrocities from happening in the future...." Either YesNo cannot write clearly, or he believes that there is no conceivable method of preventing atrocities OTHER THAN examining "the pseudoscientific belief that one can dump our consciousness into a computer." Really? We're in deep trouble if (as is highly unlikely) that is the case.

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    I'm with Marx on this one:

    What do you get when you cross a insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic?

    Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a dog.

    --Groucho

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    Registered User Red Terror's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    Richard Dawkins is a distinguished biologist and enthusiastic promoter of atheism as in his 2006 book The God Delusion.

    This was reviewed in the London Review of Books by Terry Eagleton, probably the leading Marxist literary critic today.

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-e...ng-mispunching

    Far from sympathizing with Dawkins, Eagleton lays into him magnificently: his atheism is middle class complacency, ignoring the injustice and suffering of much of the world.

    Eagleton’s point is not that Christianity (the only form of belief in God he considers) is true or untrue. It is a consistent and humane understanding of the world. Eagleton applauds Dawkins’ condemnation of fundamentalism and religious violence. But Dawkins totally fails to appreciate the humane side of religion. “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.

    I do recommend the review as good read, whatever you think about the subject.
    Ok, now you need to find Marxist critiques for Sam Harris's The End of Faith, Hitchens' God is not Great and Parenti's God and his Demons. Vale. I'll read the Marxist link about The God Delusion later and tell you what I think about it.
    Last edited by Red Terror; 10-11-2016 at 11:18 AM.
    There has never been a single, great revolution in history without civil war. --- Vladimir Lenin

    There are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen. --- Vladimir Lenin

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    I should have entitled this thread "A Marxist's critique of atheism" rather than "A Marxist critique..." Terry's arguments against modern scientific atheism would I imagine be equally applicable to other atheists. The key point which Terry points out and Dawkins misses is that God is not an entity in the universe which can be proved or disproved.

    To quote Terry

    Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Here's a youtube link of Terry on Hitchens. I haven't watched it yet.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubQ-gclxM3o
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackson Richardson View Post
    Here's a youtube link of Terry on Hitchens. I haven't watched it yet.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubQ-gclxM3o
    Thanks for bring up Terry Eagleton. I had not heard of him before this thread.

    I have some doubts about Eagleton's phrase that you quoted earlier that God is "the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever". I don't know what that means. If that "condition of possibility" is explicitly conscious, it might make more sense to me.
    Last edited by YesNo; 10-11-2016 at 10:21 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Congratulations, YesNo! You respond to naive, ignorant arguments with naive, ignorant arguments! Brilliant!
    I am glad you liked them. I plan to keep them coming.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I'd respond to your second point, but I have no idea what you are talking about. YesNo's silly fundamentalism allows him to state, "It (the belief that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of unconsciousness) needs to be examined to prevent atrocities from happening in the future...." Either YesNo cannot write clearly, or he believes that there is no conceivable method of preventing atrocities OTHER THAN examining "the pseudoscientific belief that one can dump our consciousness into a computer." Really? We're in deep trouble if (as is highly unlikely) that is the case.
    I think atheists need to argue for their positions by expressing their views of humanity. This should help everyone see better what they are promoting and to help avoid setting up society for more atrocities. Atheists can forget about God. They need to focus on what they mean by our humanity.

    So, take a deep breath to break out of your cultural prejudices, and ask: What do you think our humanity is?

    Then ask: Is that view, whatever you've come up with, of our humanity dehumanistic or not? Does it allow for human originated choice, or not? Does it allow for indeterminacy, or is it completely deterministic? Does it respect human subjectivity or does it think human subjectivity is so trivial it can be dumped (objectified) into a computer?

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I don't think I'll answer your list of silly questions (why would I want to discuss these matters with someone I "gross out"). Why you think atheists necessarily believe in determinism is beyond me (isn't determinism Calvinistic? Why not accuse Christians instead of atheists?). So is your apparent notion that a belief in determinism is dehumanizing.

    Perhaps Tennyson can answer your questions:

    Flower in the crannied wall,
    I pluck you out of the crannies,
    I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
    Little flower—but if I could understand
    What you are, root and all, and all in all,
    I should know what God and man is.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Another response (better than mine would be) to YesNo's conceited suggestion that determinism is incompatible with humanism:

    Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

    What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

    One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

    The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

    The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

    All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

    All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

    The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

    1Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

    There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I don't think I'll answer your list of silly questions (why would I want to discuss these matters with someone I "gross out"). Why you think atheists necessarily believe in determinism is beyond me (isn't determinism Calvinistic? Why not accuse Christians instead of atheists?). So is your apparent notion that a belief in determinism is dehumanizing.
    The reason to consider the silly questions is the suggestion that these thought patterns are not only false but that they provide a ground on which atrocities can more easily occur.

    Belief in determinism is first of all a belief. It arises from modeling reality with mathematics which is deterministic. Of course we only look at a few decimal places of accuracy, but that is adequate for our purpose of improving our technologies. The belief is that if the theory tests out for a very few number of practical decimal places, it must work for infinitely many decimal places.

    Belief in determinism is secondly a dehumanization. It implies we have no ability to make a choice of even a limited sort. It implies we are machines, not agents. Now our common sense, and even legal sense, recognizes our ability to make choices. Atheists (or theists) who claim that our common sense experience of making choices is an illusion dehumanize us. We are less than what we thought we were as human beings. We are no better than the computers we use.

    Does a belief in determinism lead to atrocities? Well, it doesn't allow any accountability for our actions. It takes a view of those around us as machines that can be turned off when it is convenient for us to turn them off (assuming we have the political power to do so). Yes, it is a perfect ground upon which atrocities can occur.

    The problems of atheism (and theism that has been perverted by an atheistic view of reality) go way beyond determinism. We can ask related questions. Assuming we do not have absolute free will, and we don't, where do the constraints on our freedoms come from? Can these constraints all be reduced to something below us that our deterministic technologies can address? Or do these constraints originate from realities over which we have no hope of technological control?
    Last edited by YesNo; 10-12-2016 at 09:20 AM.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Calvinists did not "model reality with mathematics". Yet they believed in determinism. This is sufficient to prove your second paragraph is incorrect -- even ludicrous.

    Neither a mathematical (scientific) nor a Calvinist determinism "implies we have no ability to make a choice." If, for example, we chose yesterday to walk to the store (instead of driving), that "choice" is now inevitable and "determined". Is it meaningless to use the word "choice" to describe our behavior?

    Do sinners and criminals regularly chant, "My Neurons made me do it?" YesNo has simply invented this moral problem, where it does not exist. Of course one's choices are "determined" by something -- psychological disposition, the physics of neurons, God's creation and foreknowledge, or rational decision making. How does this make the word "choice" inappropriate?

    I can choose to write this post or (which might have been the wiser choice) not to write it. It may be true that my "choice" is predetermined, by the foreknowledge of an omniscient God or by the physics of neurons firing off in my brain. Neither of these possibilities precludes my responsibility for my choice, or the fact that the word "choice" is an appropriate one with which to describe my (rather silly and redundant) decision.

    In addition, the notion that "atheists" all subscribe to some system of mathematical or scientific determinism is insulting, bigoted and incorrect. Some may; others may not. To tar a large, diverse group with one brush is (it seems to me) exactly the kind of anti-intellectual, dehumanizing behavior that you claim to deplore (while practicing it yourself).

    Regarding the questions in your last paragraph, constraints on our freedom come from a variety of sources. I cannot, for example, fly by flapping my arms, because my arms are not wings. Technology can (and has) addressed this deficiency by developing airplanes and hang gliders. Moral "choices" (which remain choices whether or not they are determined) have proven weightier problems for which technology has found few solutions. We humans use our airplanes to bomb Aleppo. How any of the questions YesNo poses in his last paragraph have any relevance to these moral issues is a mystery to me.

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