Pharyngula

Dinesh D’Souza has a truly awful opinion piece up in which he basically accuses atheists of being hateful robots. Why? Because Richard Dawkins wasn’t invited to any of the memorials at Virginia Tech, and because he couldn’t spot any atheists in the crowds (I’m wondering what he thinks we look like, that he can say there weren’t any there.)

Is this really one of the prominent thinkers of the American Right?

Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing. Even secular people like the poet Nikki Giovanni use language that is heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.

Has Mr D’Souza tried asking around? I suspect that even when tragedies don’t occur, he has problems finding atheists. Does he think we vanish in a puff of smoke when evil occurs? We’re here. We’re mourning the death of those students and faculty, too — that we are left out of any public acknowledgment of our existence does not mean we do not feel the pain, too.

The atheist writer Richard Dawkins has observed that according to the findings of modern science, the universe has all the properties of a system that is utterly devoid of meaning. The main characteristic of the universe is pitiless indifference. Dawkins further argues that we human beings are simply agglomerations of molecules, assembled into functional units over millennia of natural selection, and as for the soul–well, that’s an illusion!

That is not quite correct. The universe is lacking any overarching cosmic meaning — it’s almost all empty and hostile to life, for one thing, which ought to give D’Souza a clue — but that does not mean that we individual human beings, atheist or not, don’t find meaning in our relationships with other people, in the interactions with our communities, in family and work. We have spouses and children. We love other people. We worry about those loved ones. When we see bloody horrors like the killings in Virginia, we feel empathy and regret and anger.

The only pitiless indifference here is D’Souza’s, who dehumanizes those people who don’t share his foolish faith and bestows on us a caricature of our beliefs — he is an unfeeling monster himself, who wants to deny basic humanity to us.

To no one’s surprise, Dawkins has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community. What this tells me is that if it’s difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way–molecules acting upon molecules.

Dawkins has not been invited to speak, true enough; it’s understandable, since he is living in a far-off country and doesn’t have any direct ties to Virginia Tech, as far as I know. Has the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, David Miscavage of the Church of Scientology, the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Premier of the People’s Republic of China, or David Hasselhoff been invited to speak? Shall we take that as a rebuke of everything they stand for?

I suspect that if Dawkins were asked, and if he felt it were appropriate, he certainly would have been willing to speak before the grieving families, and I’m sure he would have spoken words of consolation. They would not have been those false promises of religion, but they would have expressed the regret and concern that we all feel, theist and atheist. There were people in that crowd who were atheists. They lost people they cared about, and they were not babbling unfeelingly about “molecules acting upon molecules” … unlike this insensitive clod, D’Souza.

If this is the best that modern science has to offer us, I think we need something more than modern science.

Since D’Souza’s cranky remarks are based on distortions and lies about atheism and science built by bigoted proponents of a mindless religion, they reflect more on that religion than anything of science. We definitely need something more than the delusions D’Souza thrives upon.

Comments

  1. #1 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 19, 2007

    What this tells me is that if it’s difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil.

    First I feel sad for the shootings, now I have to feel sad for the stupid folks as well.

    The worst however is that some activists choose to demean the tragedy by using it as a speaking platform.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 19, 2007

    Btw, why is it that the spam filter stop sociological and biological terms as i_n_c_e_s_t, but not “nigger”?

    Fuck that.

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    April 19, 2007

    but that does not mean that we individual human beings, atheist or not, don’t find meaning in [...]

    Why does anyone call this “meaning”?

  4. #4 robert allen
    May 12, 2008

    D’Souza’s point is well taken: atheists can offer no HOPE in the wake of death- that’s why nobody wants them around. Imagine the members of a religious family mourning the loss of a loved one with an atheist in their midst. If ever there was a time that they needed to rely on their faith, now is it. And they KNOW what their atheist relative or “friend” is thinking- but, of course, doesn’t have the guts to say. He/she can only be compounding their misery.

  5. #5 Ryan F Stello
    May 12, 2008

    You’re absolutely right, robert allen.

    Why, when my father died two weeks ago, I must have been misinterpreting the compassion of our friends and the bond of our family as genuine sympathy and love.

    Or maybe it’s just that the opinions of Xians who probably have never experienced an honest loss in their lives are somehow skewed to the point where they no longer feel empathy or any real emotions.

    What do you say, Robbie? Is the love you feel for others conditional, based on their approach to religion?

  6. #6 Kseniya
    May 12, 2008

    There is such a thing as a compassionate lie, but basing a culture on the concept is probably a bad idea.

  7. #7 robert allen
    May 13, 2008

    Kseniya:

    First off, even if, per impossible, what theists are saying is false, it is not a “lie.” That would require that they not really believe that what they are saying is true. Insinuating that they don’t, al a Prof. Dennett, is not only unjustified and false, but insulting. Secondly, you make it seem as if the theists got together and imposed theism on our culture. The fact is, our culture became theistic quite naturally: people, for the most part, were drawn to the idea of a providential God. Finally, I’d like to know what you have in mind as a replacement for a “meme,” to use Dennett’s term, that has meant so much- nay, everything- to so many people?

  8. #8 robert allen
    May 13, 2008

    Mr. Stello:

    I am sorry for your loss and will pray for the repose of your father’s soul.

    As for substance, I did not say atheists couldn’t exhibit “sympathy.” (Although, like everything else about them, it would be of a shallow sort and, for that reason, disdainful.) I said they couldn’t offer hope, which is what mourners REALLY need. (If you had hope in the Resurrection, you wouldn’t be filled with the bitterness your snideness reveals.) I would add, now that you brought it up, that they can’t love either: for God is love, whom they refuse to know. My point is simply this- you can’t have everything. If you want to be an atheist, then you can’t expect NOT to a pariah within a community of God-fearing people.

    And, no, that doesn’t mean we don’t love you- we do. But we don’t have to like, let alone respect you for denigrating our most cherished belief.

  9. #9 Ryan F Stello
    May 13, 2008

    And, no, that doesn’t mean we don’t love you- we do. But we don’t have to like, let alone respect you for denigrating our most cherished belief.

    And that’s where your disgusting attitudes leads you: arguing that our mere presence is enough to denigrate you.

    As I said, my religious family did not have a problem as we shared the pain, my existence did not hurt their sense of hope, I know this for a fact.

    My snideness comes as a response to your own vile attitudes, not from what you believe. You don’t make an effort to understand what hope means to an atheist, but assumed that you do.

    In other words, your soullessness is why I am not a Christian; you are simply unable to understand what it means to be a decent human being.

  10. #10 robert allen
    May 13, 2008

    I did not say your “mere presence” denigrates my belief in God. No, that would require actual insults. I said your mere presence is something I would find hard to take under certain circumstances.

    Atheists have no hope, that’s the problem.

    Here you are concluding I’m indecent based on a few blog posts. That’s a bit of stretch, doncha think?

  11. #11 Ryan F Stello
    May 13, 2008

    I said your mere presence is something I would find hard to take under certain circumstances.

    Yes, what you would find hard to take. But that’s your problem, you made an assumption that all Christians share your own contempt when you imagined your scenario. You are unable to concieve that others who share similar religious beliefs do not have the irritation that you have.

    Atheists have no hope, that’s the problem.

    You have not endeavored to find what atheists do hope for in these situations, so your opinion is hollow.

    Here you are concluding I’m indecent based on a few blog posts. That’s a bit of stretch, doncha think?

    Yes, but the onus is on you to show to yourself that you are, in fact, a good person. You do not and cannot prove anything to me. However, since your blog posts lack humility and humanity, I feel more than justified in my assessment. Deal.

  12. #12 robert allen
    May 13, 2008

    Let’s just stick to philosophy and put the personal stuff aside. I’m never going to make you respect me and vice-versa. My main contention is, hope is based on the belief in a providential God- no God no hope. Again, you people think you can have everything and you can’t.

  13. #13 Ryan F Stello
    May 13, 2008

    Let’s just stick to philosophy and put the personal stuff aside.

    I’m not really interested in discussing philosophy with you because you’re not a respectable person. You bring nothing of worth in anything that you do. If Kseniya thinks you’re worth having a discussion with, I leave that for him.

    My main contention is, hope is based on the belief in a providential God- no God no hope.

    Well, obviously, when you get to define the terms.

    But you’re wrong from the Lutheran perspective: salvation is only possible as granted from God, but ‘hope’, being an aspect of God, was imbued in all at creation, since it was part of the ‘Image’.

    You can debate that against your own twisted version. As I said, I am not interested in parlay.

    Again, you people think you can have everything and you can’t.

    Who wants everything? Not I.

  14. #14 robert allen
    May 13, 2008

    Ah, but you don’t believe in God, so you don’t believe in any of his aspects, including hope. I can work with the Lutheran’s perspective and still make my point: no Imbuer, nothing imbued. Right? So you can’t believe there’s hope inside you. The most you can say is, yeah, if there were a God, then even atheists like me would be imbued with hope. But YOU can’t say you have hope simply because there is one conception of it according to which even atheists have it. Lutherans could say that, but you can’t. I actually think you and your co-religionists do have hope, though. It’s just that it’s buried so deep inside you, along with the faith you also suppress, that it’s useless to you and others.