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The New Atheists:

About Their Notion of Science

Chris Hedges

Partial Transcript


By Omar KN



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The New Atheists and the Christian Right have failed to examine themselves, instead they are trying to externalize evil.


Section 1 - Keywords

Science  intellectual inquiry  evolutionary biology  Darwinism  the Christian Right  the New Atheists  our animal nature  technology  evolving morally  ecosystem  human species  mass terror  the human heart  externalized evil  sexual repression  anti-intellectualism  eradicate religion  our own culpability  Islam or religion  the rational human being  moving towards something  fictional narratives  strangeness of existence  fear-based systems. [not linked]


Section 2 - Prefix

[Start @18:46, this transcript covers about 9min, source: YT]

This book that I wrote[16] - very much in reaction to the New Atheists - is a kind of plea for tolerance - that there are other ways of being, other ways of thinking that have as much legitimacy, morally and intellectually as our own.

One of the things that disturb me so deeply about the Christian Right and about the New Atheists is the anti-intellectualism, the belief that because we have the superior values, because 'our way of being is superior' there is no need to investigate other ways of being, other ways of thinking. And that kind of ignorance, and chauvinism,[17] coupled of course with the might of American power, is a very toxic and dangerous combination.


Section 3 - Main Part

One of the things I found fascinating and certainly the conservative Christian writers declared war on science and in all this [inaudible] intellectual inquiry and misuse of the notion of evolutionary biology and in ways that I probably don’t have to explain anyone in this room but one of the fascinating things is that the New Atheists are guilty of the same thing.

20:07

What they have done is hold out evolutionary biology - Darwinism - as a kind of model or analogy that can be implanted on all human endeavours. First of all when you read ’The Origin of the Species’ are there is nothing in Darwin that argues that we are advancing morally or collectively - as individuals.

In fact Darwin argues the opposite. Darwin argues that we are captive to our animal natures and our instincts, that evolution is about how species of accrue[1] mutations, but Darwin never posits where we going, where we’ll end up. That was left of social Darwinists such as Malthus,[2] and others, f ex Spencer. But Darwin was too great a scientist to corrupt a science by doing that.[3]

And what they’ve done, including figures like Dawkins, is: take this sense of evolutionary biology and argue that we can advance morally.[4] That first of all is a corruption of evolutionary biology[18] and a corruption of Darwin’s writings. The idea that we are evolving morally as a species is … [5]

→ There is nothing in human nature or human history that suggests that we are evolving morally. Certainly science makes advances, technology makes advances, but these are morally neutral disciplines that are used to certainly enhance, preserve and conserve life, but in equal measure used to create forms of industrial slaughter unseen in human history.[19]

To put your blind faith in science as a force that will save you ultimately is as self-delusional as to believe that Jesus is going to come down out of the sky and lift all believers up into heaven. Science is responsible[6] for polluting and destroying the very ecosystem that sustains the human species. It is science that has given us the greatest weapon of mass terror invented by humankind and that of course is the atomic bomb dropped precisely to create maximum terror on cities filled with civilians in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Technology advances, science advances, but unfortunately[7] the human heart remains constant, human morality remains constant.

And I think that one of the things that disturbs me about both the New Atheists and the Christian Right is that what they have done is fail to examine themselves. [Instead] they have externalized evil. [For them] evil is not something that we struggle with, that is endemic to human nature, evil is something out there that must be eradicated.

(Consequently) the New Atheists argue that religion is a force that once we abolish it … [they are convinced that] religion is responsible for genocide and sexual abuse and sexual repression and anti-intellectualism, basically all of the ills within human society and once we eradicate religion we are going to make a huge step forward in terms of human progress.[4]

That notion is particularly dangerous because what it does is destroy the possibility or the capacity we have for understanding our own culpability in acts that go to create religious fanaticism or fanaticism of any kind.

23:53

It is the long slow drip of oppression,[14] the collective humiliation of occupation that - over years - goes into distorting a human being to such an extent that they blow themselves up in the shopping mall in Latanya. And to somehow blame it naively on Islam or religion is a way to avoid examining the root causes and (you know) to understand is not to condone, to explain is not to accept.

But this facile notion, that one reads the Quran, and therefore one wants to one strap a vest full of explosives and blows oneself up is a childish view of the world, one embraced by both the New Atheist and by the radical Christian Right.

I think finally just as the Christian Right has essentially distorted religion to create a cult of religion, I think the New Atheists have distorted science to create a cult of science.

And that they make that leap - many of them - like Dawkins - are actually quite serious scientists - but they make a leap of faith no less wide as the leap of faith made by Christian fundamentalists, that they argue that there is such a thing as a rational human being, they argue that science can be used as a system to understand all human endeavours and this is a gross distortion of what science is.

In science there is no pluralism, one conducts experiments to find a particular truth and in human society, in - for instance - human endeavours such as politics, the political life of a society is only fitfully[8] in contact with the rational.

(They are) powerful non-rational, even irrational of forces, that go into making up the political sphere. This is what allowed Freud to write his masterpiece ’Civilization and Its Discontents’[9], who understood those irrational forces and whether you get that out of reading Augustine[10] or whether you get that out of reading Freud, it doesn’t matter.

But the notion that there are there is such a thing as a rational human being, I think it’s been obliterated not only by great psychoanalysts, but by writers such as Beckett or Joyce, or Joseph Conrad.

And finally I think that the sense [which many people would have] that when we live a life we are moving towards something - I speak not only of our collective but also of our personal existence - it leads us to create fictional narratives about ourselves, stories we tell ourselves to explain ourselves to ourselves and others, that I think, block the kind of strangeness of existence, perhaps even the absurdity of existence and I think that this is something that terrifies those who are getting locked into these kinds of belief systems.

I think that they are fear-based systems[11], driven by forces they don’t understand and frighten them, I think they are way of creating rigid lines, a kind of defining of the self, I think that they both of these systems feed on feelings of collective humiliation,[12] and what they seek to do is recover a sense of security to elevate themselves above others and to call for - ultimately - the eradication of those outside their sphere that frighten them and that they never investigated and that they don’t understand.

27:39


  1. accumulate or receive … over time  ↩

  2. ”In his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that an increase in a nation’s food production improved the well-being of the populace, but the improvement was temporary because it led to population growth, which in turn restored the original per capita production level … (Later) Malthus put more emphasis on moral restraint as the best means of easing the poverty of the lower classes.” Thomas Robert Malthus - Wikipedia  ↩

  3. Although apparently Darwin was influenced by Malthus’ theory - and although there were still vestiges of the Christian religion, these new European Enlightenment thinkers all adhered to a science which was essentially materialistic, distinct from a holistic worldview - where existence is nothing but the existence of God (wujūd).[15]

    Darwin wrote himself: ”By mid-December, Darwin saw a similarity between farmers picking the best stock in selective breeding, and a Malthusian Nature selecting from chance variants so that “every part of newly acquired structure is fully practical and perfected”, thinking this comparison “a beautiful part of my theory”. He later called his theory natural selection, an analogy with what he termed the “artificial selection” of selective breeding.” Charles Darwin - Wikipedia  ↩

  4. The arguments of human progress, seen in Promethean terms, is not new. It became accentuated since the so-called Renaissance and “Enlightenment.”

    In the preface to his The Crisis of the Modern World published 1927! René Guenon had this to say about human progress, the catch-word of those days:

    ”For example, the belief in a never-ending 'progress', which until recently was held as a sort of inviolable and indisputable dogma, is no longer so widespread; there are those who perceive, though in a vague and confused manner, that the civilization of the West may not always go on developing in the same direction, but may some day reach a point where it will stop, or even be plunged in its entirety into some cataclysm.”
     ↩

  5. He probably was about to say “absurd.”  ↩

  6. ”and of course most scientists work in the United States for corporations and the defence industry"  ↩

  7. This is only ‘unfortunate’ for those social science engineers and postmodern utopians who intend to create the ‘new human being’ out of an AI - artificial intelligence laboratory or elsewhere, because they will never succeed. Man is not a machine, he is with the spirit which is a divine ‘spark’, too subtle to be harnessed.  ↩

  8. not regular or steady, occurring intermittently  ↩

  9. This doesn’t divert us from the fact that the best of the human immutables, which he was able to discover was sex and violence, totally eclipsing the spiritual side of man: ”Freud’s theory is based on the notion that humans have certain characteristic instincts that are immutable[citation needed]. These include, most notably, the desires for sex, and the predisposition to violent aggression towards authority figures and sexual competitors, who obstruct the individual’s path to gratification.” In Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (“The Uneasiness in Civilization”) from 1929
    Civilization and Its Discontents - Wikipedia  ↩

  10. ”Augustine was very much preoccupied with the idea of sin. This in turn has moulded the Christian religion through the ages. Of course the inclination towards sin and the avoidance of it is very important on the path to God, but in the case of Islam, it is even more important to focus on the ‘positive’ side, i.e. the love of God and knowledge of God. Augustine’s ’first insight into the nature of sin occurred when he and a number of friends stole fruit they did not want from a neighborhood garden. He tells this story in his autobiography, The Confessions. He remembers he stole the fruit, not because he was hungry, but because “it was not permitted.” His very nature, he says, was flawed. ’It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself." From this incident he concluded the human person is naturally inclined to sin, and in need of the grace of Christ.’” Augustine of Hippo - Wikipedia

    ”To give you an example, I think the Christian idea of original sin has an important truth in it, which is that humans are divided animals. They’re different from any other animal on the planet in that they regret and sometimes even hate the impulses that guide them to act as they do. It’s a key feature of the human animal, captured by this myth of original sin.”

    ”But from the very start, the idea of original sin was caught up with a kind of obsessive interest in and hatred of human sexuality, which poisoned it to the core.” Why science can’t replace religion - Vox by John Gray

    John Gray: ”We live by our fictions, and there is no supreme fiction.[ □ comment: but because there is, and you don’t want to know about that one! Otherwise it is called the Light for the Intellect!] We fashion different fictions as we go along. There’s no part of our lives that is exempt from this kind of fictive world-making.”

  11. I.e. fear-based systems in contrast to reality-based systems, such as Islam: where one name of God is ‘the Real’ and where reality is contrasted with the illusory. ↩

  12. Chr. H. said at this point: I don’t think it’s an accident that Harris began to write ’The End of Faith’ immediately after 9/11. ”The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason is a 2004 book by Sam Harris, concerning organized religion, the clash between religious faith and rational thought, and the problem of intolerance that correlates with religious fundamentalism.” ”Harris began writing the book during what he described as a period of “collective grief and stupefaction” following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The book comprises a general critique of all religious belief.” The End of Faith - Wikipedia  ↩

  13. I Don’t Believe in Atheists Chris Hedges - YouTube

  14. If free speech is really such an elementary part of French society, then let them criticise Israel's unjust and oppressive policies against Palestinians (and other examples) - they don't allow it, no free speech there!
    - LivBlog - Misrepresenting Islam
    - Clarification Extremism

  15. See wujūd for ex. Mahiyya - Asking What It Is? The Ontological Argument

  16. I Don't Believe in Atheists, Chris Hedges
    ”This is a challenging and controversial book, which examines and critiques the dangerous creed of the 'New Atheists' belief system. Chris Hedges exposes the central pillars of the New Atheist belief system, including a binary world view ("us-v-them"), a deep intolerance of others' ways of being, a belief that the West has a right to military domination of the rest of the world and a naive acceptance that all human issues (including the spiritual) can be addressed by science. This book challenges us to reject simplistic utopian visions and face reality, however difficult. It is 'a call to accept the ineluctable limitations of being human'.”

  17. chauvinism: exaggerated or aggressive patriotism.

  18. Regarding ’evolutionary biology’:
    Important to distinguish regarding evolution, by Dr Muzaffar Iqbal
    - Evolution as it can be observed as a fact in nature
    - Theories of evolution
    - Ideological interpretations of evolution (materialistic etc.)
    from: 1/4 Islam et Science: Dr Muzaffar Iqbal, Dr Nidhal Guessoum, Dr Mohamed Naim Yasin - YouTube

  19. Re: ”Certainly science makes advances, technology makes advances, but these are morally neutral disciplines…”
    The kind of science which is pursued in Western, Eastern and (post-)modern societies - which certainly is not the pinnacle of human endeavours! - is reduced to the observation of sensible data, ignorant of what lies beyond its very restricted realm. More:
    The Superstition of Science, Extract from René Guénon’s ”East And West”



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Related texts:
link-out Superstition of Modern Science
link-out On The Praiseworthy Science of Knowing God
link-out Islam and Modern Science








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