My Reply to Ben on Atheist Ennui
Blogger Ben had a thoughtful comment on my post Jerry Coyne on the Banality of New Atheism.
If Coyne were merely another Dawkins fanboi you'd probably attempt to ridicule him for that.
You seem to be missing the point from an atheist's perspective that disbelief in god is pretty boring in and of itself. When popular superstition masquerades as the great distraction from the mundane truth, the mere negative case shouldn't be expected to be terribly profound. It's the banality of a negative position that is only relevant because of the larger culture it happens in. This is just Coyne being honest and human.
Perhaps the salient characteristic of atheist replies to criticism is that atheists claim to be exempt from all of the traditional critiques of all metaphysical viewpoints and of their impact on human behavior and civilization.
When Christians prosecute the Crusades or the Inquisition, atheists point to the brutality "inherent" to Christianity. When atheists prosecute the Reign of Terror or the Holodomor or the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward or the Killing Fields (pogroms that exceed killing by Christians by orders of magnitude), atheists assert that atheism isn't really a belief system, so modern atheists can't be held to account for any atrocities committed by any atheist, even atheists acting under the ageis of an explicitly atheist ideology.
But atheism isn't exempt from analysis or critique of its real world consequences. Atheism is a metaphysical stance -- there are no gods and no God, there is no intrinsic purpose to existence, there is no natural moral law, there is no accountability in an afterlife. Those are quite explicit and consequential assertions, just as the negation of those assertions -- that there is a God, that there is a purpose to existence... -- is an explicit and consequential assertion. Atheism lacks liturgy. It does not lack beliefs and consequences. It lacks belief in God; it does not lack belief in the intrinsic consequences of God's non-existence. As Nietzsche emphatically noted, if God is dead, everything changes.
Atheism drove Nietzsche mad. It drives Coyne to nap.
Coyne's post was noteworthy because of its dissonance. Coyne claims that his fringe band of Brights has discovered, through evidence, science, and reason, the fundamental metaphysical truth of existence: there is no God, no purpose, no objective moral law, no afterlife, no ultimate accountability. If this is true, if God is a delusion, this is the central discovery of humanity, bar none.
What do the brave Ubermenschen Gnu Atheists do with this insight that makes the Enlightenment seem like a spark against the sun? They fall asleep in plenary sessions, bemoan the dearth of new topics, and tire of signing autographs.
Gnu Ubermenschen? One is reminded, rather, of Nietzsche's Last Man.
If atheism is true and proven, all of human knowledge needs to be rewritten. And atheists can't even stay awake. The Final Gnu-Revelation drives atheists to turpor.
This suggests two things:
1) Atheism not true, and thus not proven, so the transformative intellectual consequences of God's death are not even to be expected.
2) Atheists are half-educated narcissistic dullards, in it primarily for the behavioral license and the book sales.
The bottom line here is the aftertaste of Christian wishful thinking...that atheism is wrong because it doesn't make you feel good about life. That's not terribly profound either.
There are many joys in Christian life, but wishful thinking plays no role. Christians are sinners, and the conviction that we will all face judgement for our sins is a viewpoint that sinners quite naturally (and understandably) avoid at almost all costs.
My definition of "wishful thinking" is this: holding the belief that we will never be held accountable for what we do in this life.
Atheism is to sin as alcoholism is to angst. Stupor-- metaphysical or medicinal-- is a denial of reality and a denial of consequences, which feels good for an evening or a weekend.
Christians live life sober.
Cross-posted on Egnorance