Happy Easter: God v. Dawkins, Hitchens & Trivers, LLC

By Michael J. Smith on Saturday April 3, 2010 02:05 PM

(I wrote this piece some time ago and shelved it. Owen's recent post about the odious witch doctor Robert Trivers brought the topic back to mind, so here it is. Warning: It's as long as the Epistle to the Romans, and not nearly as well written.)

I knew a girl, back in my college days – let's call her Diotima. She was a very attractive girl, though I never got anywhere with her, not for lack of trying. In later life, she became what you might call the International Standard Liberal. That is to say, after a feckless and louche baby-boomer youth, she went "back" to law school -- as she oddly put it; had she gone to law school in a previous life? -- and ended up making a nice upper-middle-class living as a bureaucrat in an agency devoted to “Victim Services.”

Some years after our college days, I ran into Diotima again, at a wedding. I was a red-hot Marxist-Leninist in those days, or so I sincerely believed. We argued about politics for quite some time over the downscale champagne, and she finally dismissed me, with a self-assurance you had to admire, by saying that I had found a "substitute for religion."

I chewed on this for a while and finally decided she was right.

Diotima was a hell of an attractive girl – was that already made clear? But even for the sake of her lush poitrine I couldn't live in the whiggish, commonsensical, Benthamite world which is, for her, the only desirable or imaginable world. Diotima correctly saw that my wild dreams of social transformation had no firmer evidentiary basis than the pious Christian's hope of Heaven, and that I was committed to them in the teeth of all the obvious facts.

This memory bubbled back up during a recent weekend spent in an enlightened household with three generations of intelligent and successful Ivy League graduates.

The youngest son – let's call him Strephon – was reading, with great glee, Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, and declaiming aloud passages that he found particularly entertaining. After half an hour of this I was ready to run out and join the Trappists, and sign off gladly on every article of the Catholic faith, the more baroque and improbable the better.

Dawkins is a shallow, monocausal answer-for-everything smart-aleck with a disreputable weakness for sociobiology – a guy so full of sophomoric self-assurance, he thinks that a topic already handled rather well by Gibbon and Voltaire could benefit from his attention. But the fury I was starting to feel, subjected to Dawkins' jejune witticisms at God's expense, was going well beyond irritation or even contempt. I wanted to take up the cudgels on God's behalf. Or, putting it a different way: given a choice between God, with His problematic record, on the one hand, and Dawkins on the other – I'd take God any day.

It seemed puzzling that Strephon was enjoying the book so much. He hadn't been raised religious – far from it. So he wasn't experiencing the joy of escape; this wasn't an Edmund Gosse or Samuel Butler setup. His family are thoroughly secular. The God Question isn't on their radar at all. In fact Strephon would get a lot more escape fun, if he wanted it, from taking up with God than from trash-talking the Supreme Being.

Did he hope to shock us? Shocking people can be a lot of fun, of course, and perhaps somewhere in the world there is a roomful of religious people so sheltered and naïve that Dawkins' well-worn tropes might shock them. But nobody under the actual roof there and then was about to respond that way to such old news. Here again, the shock value of a proclamation in God's favor would have been much higher than the announcement that a long-accepted truism is actually... true. It seemed a little like shouting “two plus two equals four!” and expecting a gasp of indrawn breath.

Why did Dawkins write this book? Why would anybody bother to read it? What was Strephon getting out of it?

Here's a clue: Dawkins has started a pawky, anemic little cultlet called “The Brights” (www.the-brights.net). From the outfit's self-definition:

  • A bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview”
  • A bright's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements”

  • The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic worldview”

Leaving aside the thoroughly begged question of what constitutes a “naturalistic worldview,” or how “ethics” might be “based” on it, what are we to make of this name, “Brights?”

Of course Dawkins disclaims – feebly -- the obvious inference that people who share his complacent, mechanistic outlook are smarter than people who don't:

I am a bright. You are (quite probably) a bright. Most of the people I know are brights. The majority of scientists are brights.... the word is a noun, not an adjective. We brights are not claiming to be bright (meaning clever, intelligent), any more than gays claim to be gay (meaning joyful, carefree). Whether there is a statistical tendency for brights (noun) to be bright (adjective) is a matter for research.... I know the result I am betting on, but it is no part of the definition of the noun.”

So “The Brights” is a little like Mensa, but with lower admission standards – you don't even have to subject yourself to the hassle and potential embarrassment of a test.

The easiness of it all, the sense of facile superiority to the common herd, is a big part of the game here. Atheism is pretty cost-free for well-educated up-and-comers. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition anymore, and with reason.

There's a Graham Greene novel – I forget which – where the protagonist, a typically tortured Graham Greene believer, is talking to a nonbeliever. The nonbeliever observes that things must be so much “simpler” with God than without. The protagonist says, no, far from it, they're infinitely more complicated.

One may or may not wish to complicate one's life. There's a lot to be said for simplifying instead. But how wonderful if you can do that and claim, at the same time, that you've taken up a heroic burden; that you've defied conventional wisdom, and nailed your theses to – well, not a church door; perhaps a grad-school door?

Nonbelief makes no demands. Particularly in Strephon's urban-hipster milieu, it's certainly the path of least resistance. Yet Dawkins has found a way to convince Strephon that by taking this path, he's showing himself to be something of a superior soul. Or at least a superior mind -- which matters a great deal more; you can take a mind to market, if you're lucky, but since Mephistophilis fulfilled his quota, back in the 80s I think, nobody is interested in buying your soul.

I don't know what Strephon's politics are – mildly liberal, probably. But he's still young, and so he may not fully have realized the comfort, the justification, the atheodicy, if you will, that Dawkins' variety of mechanistic “naturalism” gives to the existing order. Strephon thinks – judging by his gleeful excerpting – that Dawkins is very much the bold iconoclast. But the reality is quite otherwise. By dethroning the Sky-Father in this particular way, Dawkins ensures that the princes of the earth are the supremest beings left standing.

Over the years, there have been thinkers who found ways to do without God, and yet didn't implicitly legitimize the institutions and power relations of the world we confront. But to pull off that trick, you need a worldview that allows new realities to emerge suddenly – a worldview with some chaos and dynamism in it. You need a world where there is no privileged, ultimate level of reality, itself irreducible, to which all other phenomena can be reduced – like Dawkins' atomistic notion of the 'gene', for example.

Dawkins is well known for his nominalist, single-factor approach to evolutionary selection. For him, selection begins and ends with the 'gene'. All other apparent entities – species, biotic communities, kinship groups – are merely epiphenomena, insubstantial shadows cast by a Manchester School swarm of competitive, “selfish” genes-eating-genes. The epiphenomena have no intrinsic reality, and no dynamical laws can properly be stated in which they figure as terms. Composita solvantur, says the patron saint of English vulgar empiricism, Francis Bacon – let compounds be dissolved. Dawkins is a worthy heir of this knucklehead tradition.

Such a reductionist picture can only view reality as a vast arithmetical average of uncountable tiny events; and like any reality that rests on the law of large numbers, it is a reality that can only change very slowly, in its own good time – if at all. Nature will no more make a leap, in this kind of world, than all the scurrying molecules in a glass of water will suddenly, unanimously head North.

Dawkins has found a way to be Dr Pangloss without having to share the stage with God. He dwells in what is the best of all possible worlds because it's the only possible world, now and for a long, long, geologically long time to come. Evolution has spoken – an Evolution formed in Dawkins' own image, an Evolution whose highest achievement, to date, is high-achieving “Brights”. Pangloss' God felt obliged to optimize to a transcendent standard of plenitude, but Evolution recognizes no such constraint – and yet what Evolution has given us must be accepted as the best we can get.

Evolution a la Dawkins sends some to Harvard, and some to the wall, and unlike God, is not to be questioned. God can be addressed, even interrogated – lama sabachthani, as the man said -- but Evolution is deaf. You can try to appeal to God's better nature, but Evolution has no better nature.

The finality of Evolution's decrees sits well with those whom Evolution has favored. God, on the other hand, is notoriously capricious and unfathomable and might throw you a nasty curve ball, no matter how high your SATs, any time he takes it into his inscrutable counsel. Bottom rail might end up on top. The last might be first -- and where's the justice, where's the reward owed to merit, in that?

People of my class and generation are quite puzzled by the average flyover American's fondness for going to church. But as I sat in that comfortable, tasteful house, surrounded by trophies of the childrens' high-achieving school years, and listening to Strephon's self-congratulatory romp with Professor Dawkins, I found myself remembering the poky little holy-roller churches in the nowhere town where I grew up – remembering, and wondering, really, wouldn't I be having a better time there?

Oh, sure, those congregations were desperately ignorant, superstitious, benighted – anything you like, in fact. And if I were there – I might soon want to be back at Strephon's house. But even so, there was something admirably irruptive and from-below, something Dionysiac and self-determined, something bloody-minded and unpersuadably stubborn about those little conventicles. The holy-rollers had pinned their hopes on an awfully long shot. But at least it was a hope in something bigger and better than meritocracy.

Real hope for serious social transformation – if anybody were offering such a thing – might give religious hope some competition. But what people are actually given is a choice between religious hope, however tenuous, and the no-hope of an educational regime that starts winnowing people into brights and not-so-brights in nursery school. Perhaps it's hardly surprising that people who got winnowed out early might feel more kindly toward God than toward the Brights -- toward a God who, as the famous young lady sings, is wont sometimes to put down the mighty from their seats, and exalt the humble; toward a Messiah whose low opinion of scribes and Pharisees – the liberals of their day -- is well-documented and pungently expressed.

The flyovers' atavistic churchiness is, I think, of a piece with their dislike of liberals – a dislike which wounds, and aggrieves, and puzzles the liberals themselves no end. Can't they understand, the liberals plaintively ask, that we have their best interests at heart? We're trained, educated, conscientious, highly professional people – why don't they trust us?

But it's one thing to acknowledge the priesthood of somebody who is a priest just because a bishop ordained him. Those are, after all, the rules of the church game. It's quite another to defer to a merit-priest whose claim to the office rests, overtly or implicitly, on his being born brighter than you are.

Americans, no matter how churchy, are not mediaeval peasants. They don't have to go to church; and if they do go, they can choose where to go, and what to believe. But the secular priesthood of liberal professionals tends to lodge itself in institutions that are difficult to avoid, like the schools, or the courts, or the social-service bureaucracy – all of which, really, fall under the rubric of my old heart-throb Diotima's professional specialty, “Victim Services”. That is, they serve victims in the sense that McDonald's serves burgers. The noteworthy thing about these institutions is that they have the state's monopoly on sanctioned violence to back them up.

In spite of our politicians' relentless, nauseating prattle about “faith”, the religion of Dawkins is our real, though unacknowledged, state church – the one that has the secular arm behind it. Our institutions are little avatars of Dawkins' idea of Evolution; selecting the fit and rejecting the unfit has become our way of life. And with respect to this orthodoxy, most Americans suffer from a certain dividedness of mind. They accept its premises but chafe, not quite knowing why, at its outcomes – unless those outcomes have been highly favorable to them.

Strephon isn't a bad egg, really, as human beings go. But the Church Of The Selfish Gene has already awarded him a favorable outcome, with brighter prospects ahead. He has a young man's praiseworthy delight in mischief and naughtiness, but unfortunately has found a way to indulge that impulse – or believe that he is indulging it – while at the same time he clings to the most fundamental truisms of the social world he lives in, as closely as any Tory squireen ever clung to the Crown and Mitre.

If God did not exist, Voltaire remarks, Man would have to invent him. Perhaps the old boy was right in a sense that he didn't intend. Any old port in a storm, and any escape route from a jail. If God provides an escape from the social and mental prison of Dawkinism, then maybe He's worth the invention. The Prophet Muhammad, sitting in his rather appealing paradise, certainly owes many of his recent adherents to revulsion against the civilizing efforts (carried out at gunpoint) of the enlightened West.

It's well recognized what an intensely human institution religion is – driven by human needs, rationalized by human fabulation and casuistry, its history thoroughly stained by human vice and vileness.

What is not so obvious, perhaps, is that Enlightenment offers no escape hatch from human history, either. Enlightenment, as we have come to know and be disappointed by it, is as much the product of a particular social order as was the mediaeval Catholic church. Enlightenment is the ideological firstborn of the bourgeoisie in its course of ascent. In its actual concreteness and specificity, Enlightenment serves the purposes of the bourgeois order that gave it birth as sedulously as the mediaeval Papacy served the feudal order.

Assertion can't simply be replaced by negation. The opposite of belief in God is not unbelief – it's belief in something else. For Dawkins, of course, it's belief in the all-controlling, all-determining gene, and for Strephon, I fear, it may turn out to be belief in the fundamental rightness of the social order that promises to deliver him a fairly cushy berth.

They would both, no doubt, call this progress. These affirmative beliefs – in the narrative of progress, in the explanatory power of mechanical genetics, and in the relative reasonableness and humanity of present institutions as compared with past ones – are the concrete content of Enlightenment as an ideology.

Religious institutions formed part of the prison that our forefathers escaped from. But it is Enlightenment that patrols the Panopticon where we, the living, are serving our own sentences. So to hear Strephon jeering at those dumb, unwashed, ill-educated believers was a little too much like hearing the jailer mock his inmates.

Comments (69)

George Jones:

This is totally great. Thanks.


Here's an interesting experiment by someone who seems to share Marx's sympathetic on religion:


MJS, thank-you. This is a magisterial post. I don't know if you're a fan of Terry Eagleton, but he wrote a famous slag of 'The God Delusion' in the London Review of Books.


He's also written a marvelous new book on ethics called 'The Trouble with Strangers'.

Not that you need Eagleton's help with writing or thinking; I just think you might like knowing that there are other people fighting something like your very good fight.


After all that time in the drawer, it just had to come out. Ah, the love for the little people and the dribbling over that mean pointy-headed Dawkins - touching, when ex-rads turn that libertarian way, pouring out love for haruspicence and embrace of that ole-timey balm called conservatism.
The references to "God" in this post surely have us atheists quaking.
I can hear the heavens throbbing with organ sounds.
It sounds like you are in your senescence - so I guess you are entitled your new old comforts.

Al Schumann:

Dawkins is an embarrassment to atheism. There we were, utterly indifferent to the existence of an omnipotent micromanaging psychopath, and what should come along but a nut with an evangelical cult and a need for attention that rivals the theocrats'.

Atheist, here. Though not of the evangelical variety.

Loved the post. Linked it.

I've always found Dawkins' compatriots, Dennet and Harris, somewhat of an improvement. Harris dug Ingersoll, and that gives him a credit or two. And Dennet, unlike Dawkins, manages to ask a number of intriguing questions (see, Freedom Evolves).

Two additional thoughts: yes, yes, yes - I've had the pleasure to attend some downright Dionysiac revivals, almost carnivalian, in historically black churches, tucked in the hills of Western, Mass. As an unbeliever.

Dionysian, for sure. Joy, inchoate revelry, emotional loyalties which survive intellectual difference, community.

And, I have a real problem with the paucity of evidence for Dawkins' primary thesis, the so-called Selfish Gene, driving along a relentless Evolution which doesn't resemble the staggering palimpset of diversity and mutuality I can see out my back window.

Well caught, that.

~ Jack


The problem with a species of atheist, and perhaps you are one of them, is that this sort of unbeliever treats with disbelief as an independent signifier of a host of other qualities which have no relationship to the unbelief, in the first.

Disbelieving God (and I certainly do) does not convey moral intelligence.

Dawkins manages to drum up an atheism which is simultaneously wedded to a sparse, mechanistic, hateful little credo that just happens to justify Dawkins' view of who rises (or ought to rise) to the top and why they should rule. And he doesn't even have the cleverness of an infinitely wiser, and more articulate doubter, the old Neetch. Nietzsche was commensurate to the tasks he set himself, and his fruitfulness spawned a riot of interpretations, even at the lonely end (Dionysus crying for the beaten horse).

The Neetch played, he leapt. Dawkins sputters at the press and presumption of lesser lights, the terrible hoi polloi, and names this niggardly meanness brightness.

Dawkins manages only to resemble a selfish gene writ large, and then palely, a schoolmaster scold grumbling away at the little boys not so industriously playing.


You guys aren't quite being fair to Dawkins. Why is it OK to just trash someone not because they are wrong, but because you just don't like their conclusions or their personality?

Who here has actually heard him speak? Was it in French? He's an important, sophisticated thinker, you just need to hear him in French in order to pick up all of the nuances:


Al Schumann:

Bob, I found that a most compelling presentation, in spite of my limited command of French.


I've always said, there's nothing like a poitrine.


JC, you might take another whack at the English language in that paragraph addressed to me. I think you lapsed into your native Serbo-Croat, leaving me on some other continent called coherence.
Al, if you were just fine in your utter anonymity before the atheist bestsellers hit, then you must delirious now.


the woodstock christ :

"Jesus hung out with whores and social outcasts, was remarkably casual about sex, disapproved of the family (the suburban Dawkins is a trifle queasy about this), urged us to be laid-back about property and possessions, warned his followers that they too would die violently, and insisted that the truth kills and divides as well as liberates. He also cursed self-righteous prigs and deeply alarmed the ruling class."


Dawkins doesn't really qualify as a pointy-head, by my criteria, anyway.


father smiff
as " witnessing
underground man"


" Ah, the love for the little people and the dribbling over that mean pointy-headed Dawkins - touching, when ex-rads turn that libertarian way, pouring out love for haruspicence and embrace of that ole-timey balm called conservatism. "

how hard headed of you joey
till that limp lilly of a final word

is this impatience or wrath ???

you might learn something by squeezing
a few wage souls entrails


"It sounds like you are in your senescence "

really ??

u sound like you got ass fucked
like toon hawkins at 10:11 pm

in your case
i bet it was
by jimmy swaggart
weeping warrior for christ
riding you
delirous with conquest
like you're a young fawn


poor Mjoe just hasn't been attending the right church. I think he needs a little pentecostal in his life:



Thanks, OP - you just jogged my memory bank - I'm recovering it all now - it was Jimmy, yes, and Pope John Paul, and an Ayatollah -
No, wait, that's not the image I'm getting -wait, OP, what is your mother doing in it? Was that you at the door that time?


mjs is just lucky that Strephon wasn't reading Walden Two aloud that weekend. Behaviours instead of genes.


An Atlantic article about 25 years ago entitled "Can We Be Good Without God" convinced me. Pretty much everything we in the West believe is good about human nature and society derives ultimately from Xian writings and practice, including Marx's passionate commitment to social justice. In some dialectical sense, even if God became irrelevant around the time of Voltaire, he (or belief in him) started a process we are still trying to work out. Hegel states this better than I can, so I'll leave it there.

Michael's point is different though, and finer. Who is it that's getting such a frisson from Hitchens and Dawkins et al? The smug liberal elite who have found this way of expressing their superiority over the masses, which their "philosophy" otherwise wouldn't allow them to.


Y'know, I *am* a conservative actually, in a funny way. Certainly I'm a conservative by temperament, though a Lefty by conviction. That's one of the reasons I get mad when people misapply the word. There's nothing conservative in my sense of the word about the people who call themselves conservatives in the US.

But I feel a whole nother post coming on.

Piety in all its atheistic glory is still pious.

Perhaps late, but:


Beware, Mr Smith. Being conservative triggers a whole lot of antipathy from those who imagine themselves heroes of/from "the left." Knee-jerkers don't like when you admit to following an outlook they've been trained to hate reflexively!


This is a really well-written, thought-provoking post, but I think it is founded upon some false assumptions about what Dawkins believes. It is certainly assuming that he's a social darwinian. It also assumes that he's a determinist. The gist here seems to be that Dawkins fortifies the status quo in a way that conventional religion once did (and still does). How then do you explain the following exchange between and interviewer and Dawkins:

"QUESTION: Now, if we are gene machines, presumably then our behavior is also programmed by genes -- you have made that case. But Christians would say that there is a thing called free will, and that free will gives us a genuine choice about our actions, that effectively free will allows us to override biology. What is your response to that as a scientist?

MR. DAWKINS: I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free will. Indeed, I encourage people all the time to do it. Much of the message of my first book, "The Selfish Gene," was that we must understand what it means to be a gene machine, what it means to be programmed by genes, so that we are better equipped to escape, so that we are better equipped to use our big brains, use our conscience intelligence, to depart from the dictates of the selfish genes and to build for ourselves a new kind of life which as far as I am concerned the more un-Darwinian it is the better, because the Darwinian world in which our ancestors were selected is a very unpleasant world. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. And when we sit down together to argue out and discuss and decide upon how we want to run our societies, I think we should hold up Darwinism as an awful warning for how we should not organize our societies."

As to why someone would read Dawkins now -- I think there might be more to it than just wanting to feel smarter than other people. There are a lot of conflicts in the world that seem, if not caused, at least fortified, by irrational religious beliefs and certainly American politics, degraded under the best conditions, has been made very much worse by the involvement of right-wing churches and synagogues.

The whole brights thing is kind of obnoxious, but I think an attempt to live a life free of superstition and encouraging folks to do likewise can't be a bad thing.

I think Dawkins is worse, more ham-handed, as a social theorist than he is as an atheist. Genes, we now know for sure, interact with proteins that are just as independent and determinative, plus macro-environments that are probably most important of all. Meanwhile, this dolt continues to talk about "gene programming" as if it could possibly explain the details of complex, mostly learned behaviors.

And "meme" is a tautology, a trick on one-sided science nerds who never learned thing one about people and societies.

Nonetheless, Dawkins has it that genes make memes makes atom bombs, end of story.

Now, that's dangerous.


There's another repugnant fellow among the religion-bashers -- I forget his name -- a few years ago when he first came out he was actually just a philosophy graduate student at Stanford. Glib he certainly was, but weightless as a debutante. He's probably working for a big investment bank now.

Solar Hero:

Dawkin's "The Ancestors Tale" moved me in a deeply religious way, which I guess just goes to prove a few of your points...

But regarding the Jensen article linked to above, note the date: 2006. Jensen quickly realized that mainstream religions like Presbyterianism are not the place to try and enact social change. I think less than a year later Jensen renounced the whole "join a church to make the world better" thing.

I sent him an email not long after he originally published the screed, telling him that if he was really interested in social change, only the Quakers and/or the UU's could really do it for him. But he wasn't interested in mixing spirituality and politics, he was just looking for a crowd to influence with his radicalness...

Solar Hero:

Yep, here it is:

Finding My Way Back to Church ... and Getting Kicked Out



You know, I guess I am one of those angry Atheists. Given how much religion and piety pervades modern American and British society-and usually of the most tedious kind, I guess I can understand why a Dawkins would be so testy sounding at times. Sure, he is another one of them evil professors you all love to attack...but does one have to throw one's lot in with the priests and wild-eyed preachers, a class that is even more suspect in my skeptical eyes? Sorry...I don't buy that.

Also...all of the good in Western Civilization is CAUSED by Christianity? I think there is a serious confusion of causality here. Does Christianity distill or express "good" things? Certainly...how can one deny that? Buyt to claim that "God" or "religion" is THE source? That's quite a claim, no matter what one magazine article or book claims.

Plus, religion makes TRUTH CLAIMS. Other, utterly non-Christian religions make their own truth claims, provide their own distillation of wisdom and provide their own social benefits. If God and Christianity is the source of "all good" does that mean that these other non-western cultures, with their own truth claims in opposition (in many cases) to that of Christianity have no truths? If Christianity is the source of truth, what about the truths of Buddhism, which are different, yet provide their own benefits to their societies. Maybe it is not "God" or religion which CAUSES the good, but something messier, innate even to the human animal and human societies? Given how much EVIL is created by religion, I am not so sure the calculus is so obviously in favor of religion.

As for "conservatism," fine. Not every "tradition" or religous text or folkway is automatically worthy of support or conserving, though. After all, the father who mowed down his daughter with a car here in the Bay Area firmly believed she was a slut who "dishonored" "the family" the village elders who had the sister of an erring teen raped because he was seen with the daughter of an improper caste...all tradition and conservatism in action.

A nice screed, but ultimately not convincing. But then, I am not a factory line worker or farmer so I guess my point-headed bureaucrat's opinion is unworthy of proletarian consideration.


Hmm. Living in a community where I am regularly visited by bouffant-armored Pentecostal women in floor-length polyester skirts who assure me that they have a choir I can sing in if I visit their pathetic excuse for an evangelical church (I am a Negro), I want to tell you: Dude, you are wrong. How wrong you are, dude. Religion is a misery and a disease. The small and intermittent charities it awards to the deserving poor are no payment for the havoc it has wrought upon the earth. It might look like a magical refutation of the smug oppression of the privileged American upperclass (especially if you have no close contact with it on a daily basis), but I will assure you that it is primarily and organically an instrument of wickedness. For modern America, it is the lock on the door to gay marriage, and in our recent antiquity it helped bad people feel better about, just to pick something at random, being slave-owners. These are glaring and obvious examples of its badness as an idea, but I can also tell you that it makes small, ordinary people smaller and more ordinary, and helps idiots hang onto dangerous prejudices that can, in the wrong circumstances, turn homicidal. Religion also plays an important part in the fabrication of a series of never-ending, horrifying wars fought for control of a ridiculously inhospitable desert which those of us who obediently sat through middle-school geography call ’The Middle East.' It is a laughable fairytale, and if there were any way to cleanse the planet of its despicable influence, I would drop any piece of jewelry down any available volcano to achieve it.

While the Dawkinsian ideal of a "meritocracy" is certainly stupid and offensive, and his view of evolution is probably hilariously inaccurate scientifically and also quite silly — I can put up with a snob class who view me as a moron or a unit of helpless unwashed massdom. I can’t put up with a bunch of True Believers who think that, as a child of Esau, I am doomed to a lifetime of servitude (and I can assure you that there are still people who feel that way), or, even worse, a government run by religious freaks who regard the instigation of a holy war as part of their duty as Americans. Not to put too fine a point on it, dude, but Matthew Shepard wasn’t murdered for being dumb.




Nice reply.

I think your appraisal of religion is a bit uncharitable. The good aspects of western religions (ethics, social justice) have been so deracinated and universalized that we don't associate them with religion anymore. Religion is like the rump party to secular ethics. Everything good about religion has been assimilated into our secular culture, so we no longer associate it with religion.

It's kind of like how in economics "we are a Keynesians now" and even the Austrians who go on and on about how horrible Keynes is don't realize that most of their worldview is Keynesian.

In a certain sense, "we are all Christian now" but the rest of us get to make fun of those in the actual church who are left holding all the unsavory superstitious, bigoted baggage. It's pretty easy to rip on them now for being the source of all evil, but you have to realize that your critique is being made in terms of historically Christian ideals, including a very Christian idea of what constitutes evil.


Emma is at least a touch harsh.

But isn't bob giving Christianity credit for originating a lot of ideas that it picked up and transmitted from earlier sources and not just Hebrew sources but sources that are arguably the common inheritance of humanity. Straighten me out, bob.


I'm not sure I'm really equipped to do that. I was just plagiarizing whatever Nietzsche I could remember.

I can take a stab at it, but I forget most of this stuff. What earlier sources are you referring to? The greeks? Innate human tendencies?


btw people, the new Thomas Friedman column is amazing. First sentence:

"I’m no expert on American politics, but I do know something about holes."

He also develops the concept of "Newocrats"



Certainly Greeks (on paper, anyhow), but also I don't think Christian influenced cultures have a monopoly on ethical standards (as ideals, of course) or that violations of ethical standards are monopolized by non-Christian influenced cultures.

But let's not argue. As a response to Emma your comment was ok by me, except for a quibble.


Fair enough. I wouldn't say that they had a monopoly on ethics, just that they helped to develop a form of principle-based universalist ethical thinking that I don't actually see in say Aristotle or Confucius or Homer, which is also the approach to ethics that has become dominant today.
I guess my defense of Christianity is basically akin to a defense of alchemy as a precursor to chemistry. It's very easy to point out how alchemists were stupid, but much harder to understand how much they contributed to science, and how much of their thinking represented innovations that we now take for granted.

I was waiting for someone to answer the question: How much projection CAN you fit into a single blog post?

I am normally a big fan of MJS, but you make the same well-meaning, albeit disheartening, mistake that Chris Hedges makes. You presume that by affirming the nonexistence of the supernatural, you ipso facto affirm some belief in social policy and political power. It just ain't so (if it were you wouldn't need several hundred words of meandering discourse, highlighted by an extrapolation from an anecdote, arguments from authority, and logical slipperiness, to demonstrate it).

Your post is completely undone at the very end, when you write that "Assertion can't simply be replaced by negation." That is just nonsense. One is not compelled to believe in anything else as a consequence of not believing in unicorns.

I too find Dawkins and his ilk don't have a very good grasp on social policy, politics, the exercise of power, and the nature of a state, and I think the 'brights' thing was retarded. But you'd do well to read what the man has actually written, and listen to what he has actually said.

Friedman has two a-holes, the main one being a centimeter south of his nose. So, sure, he knows his apertures.


"..., which is also the approach to ethics that has become dominant today."



um I'm not sure what you mean by "where"


The intent was sardonic humor, a snark on the state of ethical standards of the dominant classes in today's dominant societies.


ah ok


Oh - one more thing: I think that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster [MHNABUT] has done at least as much good (in promulgating anti-theocracy in the US) as Dawkins.

And lastly... Dawkins was a devout something-or-other in his youth, so the whole 'zeal of the convert' idea comes into play. He is right though, when he says that religious indoctrination of children is a form of child abuse, and that people who hear disembodied voices are best kept in a mental institution rather than permitted to found religions.

Maybe it was me who said that last one...




are you guys all on vacation, or what?

nothing on Obama's assassination program?



i'm in non post mode
till july 4th

comments require posts eh ??

why not turn this into an open thread


ah goddamnit

does this mean I'm going to have to follow you over to EV? I hate the commenters there. and Thoma too, that silly doofus.


and what of MJS and Al?
is the whole place on hiatus?


Nice that somebody noticed. I'm visiting family in sunny SoCal at the moment, and Owen has given up posting for some kind of belated atheist Lent.


I stuck a nasty looking hat pin into my Herr op doll the other day, but am willing to pull it out if everyone in the audience will believe in fairies.



nice passage

" In Massachusetts, the power to disapprove medical premium rates has been vested in the insurance commissioner since 1977. That authority had never been used before Thursday...But on Thursday, commisioner Murphy denied 235 of the 274 proposed increases"

mass-dembot pol wakes up ... 33 years later


boink that hat pin must have hit a sweet spot
i've been a rogue these past few days
believe in fairies
shit a grill em on the ole meat kabob


Good enough. I'm pulling out.


is on his vernal junket
to swan country
to swim naked with the yearlings


One thing to be said for religion is that it engenders a sense of wonder that was lost somewhere along this crazy journey called enlightenment.


"water, fire, air, and dirt. fuckin magnets, how do they work? and i don't wanna talk to a scientist. ya'll motherfuckers lyin and gettin me pissed"

"magic everywhere in this bitch"


are you guys all on vacation, or what?

nothing on Obama's assassination program?

You forgot to mention the WikiLeaks video.

But be advised that in the SMBIVA universe those are mere trifles when considered against the real work of class struggle: excoriating self-regarding Ivy League nephews reading Dawkins and uncritically applauding random incidents of worker on slightly-more-advantaged worker violence.

This site is a serious state of decay. Word to newcomers, read the items listed on the right under 'The Basics' and then move on.

As a drain on activist time and morale, this site really would have no peer, if, in fact, more than five people actually read it.


are you guys all on vacation, or what?

nothing on Obama's assassination program?

You forgot to mention the WikiLeaks video.

But be advised that in the SMBIVA universe those are mere trifles when considered against the real work of class struggle: excoriating self-regarding Ivy League nephews reading Dawkins and uncritically applauding random incidents of worker on slightly-more-advantaged worker violence.

This site is a serious state of decay. Word to newcomers, read the items listed on the right under 'The Basics' and then move on.

As a drain on activist time and morale, this site really would have no peer, if, in fact, more than five people actually read it.

Al Schumann:

YFA and YAA, you're an activist? That's wonderful. I'm sorry we've drained your time and morale. Please extend my regrets to the other four readers.


I'm vexed that the comment gremlin closed off the Perzeus Forte post. I had hoped that Perzeus and his anonymous German comrades might have frittered away some more activist time.

Problem fixed now. Perhaps there are still some activists out there who can be lured in by Perzeus' handsome face. He's a lot nicer-looking than Obama, if you ask me -- and a much better role model.


Al --

There really is no other way to put this:

You're an asshole.

Do you guys honestly believe what you're doing is useful?

You're a bunch of privileged brats working off grudges with other privileged brats.

As boring and useless as any Nation Magazine cruise.

Fuck you.


Perhaps there are still some activists out there who can be lured in by Perzeus' handsome face. He's a lot nicer-looking than Obama, if you ask me -- and a much better role model.

Believe it or not, there are other options.

Please don't assume that because I find your callous lack of seriousness amusing that I'm a liberal.

I am a working class socialist born and bred and I am pretty sure you're not.

Al Schumann:

YFA, your psychoanalytic stylings and authenticity strutting are compelling; puissant, even. You, and no one else, should be king of the socialists.


Al? Puissant?

Are you doing both sides of this exchange?

Al Schumann:

Boink, you give me too much credit. I've been aching to use "puissant" in a ludicrous way for ages, preferably while demoralizing activists and wasting their time. Thanks to YFA, I now know I can get to five of them. That's pretty good. And I get to use "puissant" too.

SMBIVA: a force multiplier, with lagniappe.

I am a working class socialist born and bred and I am pretty sure you're not.

I'd like to rephrase this to reflect how it reads to me, in the context of the author's prior posts in this thread:

I believe in dictatorial control over the people with whom I disagree, and when I have that power, I will kill every one of you disagreeable people. Power to ME, motherfucker! ABSOLUTE POWER!


Nowhere in your post do I see you disagreeing with Dawkins or making any argument against evolution. If all you dislike is his tone, which I agree is highly dislikeable, then why do on these pseudo post-modern tirades as if you are terrified to come out and say you believe having faith in absurdity is somehow better than accepting the uncomfortable truth?

If you are going to be a post-modern mystic then for the love of Dawkins be an honest post-modern mystic.

For instance:
I am not a bright (organizationally or the way you intend). I have not benefited from evolution. I'm not powerful or popular or likely to pass on my genes. Yet I recognize that the welfare line I'm in is composed of people who are not as genetically fit to succeed in an industrial world. I recognize that the honor roll at Harvard is made up of people with good genes. Unless we challenge evolution through eugenics or direct manipulation then we are doomed to keep living the same human drama that has played out since he stone age. The good genes rule and the bad genes serve. That's the way it is.

I'm a leftist who is not only a perfect example of Nietzsche's salve morality trying to get some benefit for the peasantry from the king but also someone who places a great deal of subjective value on the relative well-being of others. Evolution is true and the pack hunter always wins but I don't want my fellow betas to starve.

In other words, evolution is real, god isn't, and recognizing talent is not the same as justifying oppression.

Two words: Templeton Foundation.
We are suddenly seeing pseudo scientific, pseudo intellectual "respectable" pro-religious propaganda everywhere. I even saw a full page ad in the New Scientist suggesting a detente between science and religion with people from important schools lending their reputations and authority to this enterprise, I'm sure for big bucks.
Religion is bunk and totally incompatible with scientific endeavors.

Adam Doman:

I am an atheist, and I am not a marxist, but as a former marxist-leninist with an interest in how god or religion might relate to social change, you might find Ernst Bloch's book Atheism in Christianity interesting. Bloch was something of a renegade marxist who did with christianity what Walter Benjamin did with Judaism--showing a link between the messianic aspects of the religion and radical social movements and activities. I don't agree with either of them, but find their ideas challenging.


Your accusation to Dawkins and his followers - of being smug intellectuals enjoying their supposed superiority - could be turned easily against you, feeling superior to these 'evangelical atheists'.

Dawkins' book (which I did not read) was a big step into organizing a reaction to religions that are growing more fanatic, insane, dangerous and detrimental to our society, and helped a lot of non-philosophers to realize that a good case could be made against religion.

Yup, "non-philosophers" as opposed as "elitist intellectuals" like yourself who have an erection any time they can prove their superiority by dissociating themselves from the masses and their messiah.
Dude, you are elitist even towards what you consider the elite, that must feel good! :-P


A) Read and comprehend the works you presume to critique. Don't just skim the dust jacket at Borders.

B) Omit needless words.

"...the comfort, the justification, the atheodicy, if you will, that Dawkins' variety of mechanistic “naturalism” gives to the existing order."

No. Cancer researchers don't advocate cancer.

"All other apparent entities – species, biotic communities, kinship groups – are merely epiphenomena, insubstantial shadows cast by a Manchester School swarm of competitive, “selfish” genes-eating-genes."

All the genes are made of atoms, while you're at it, so is atomic physics the only worthwhile science, all others shadows?

"Evolution a la Dawkins sends some to Harvard, and some to the wall, and unlike God, is not to be questioned."

Yeah, read more than the dust jacket next time.

"Assertion can't simply be replaced by negation."

It can. See?

I won't spend any more time here. Look, reading and understanding stuff is hard work, believe me, I know. Yammering on and on and putting words together is not a substitute or a shield from those have done the work.

Deep down you know that you don't understand this stuff, and I know you know, etcetera. Try harder or don't write.

Easter is a marvellous feast and i have no doubt that your idea is bad because these hollidays are common. Some academic papers are based on christian novels.

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