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 DragonScholar
    April 18, 2007

    I see the “Dawkins is the Pope of all Atheists” Strawman is alive and well – especially int he mind of D’Souza, a moral midget who has frankly said he sympathizes with terrorist rage against the US.

    Secondly, if he thinks by manipulating a terrible event for his own ends is going to make me feel his religious believes hve value, he’s obviously even more ignorant than I’d previously thought.

    I would probably be considered an atheist (note: I find a lot of religious terms too limiting). I somehow am going on with my life, mourning the terror, appreciating what I have in light of this horror, and hoping for the future. I don’t feel a need to exploit a hideous mass murder, but D’Souza apparently does.

  2. #2 Glen Davidson
    April 18, 2007

    Did you notice that no Zoroastrians or animists were asked to speak at any of the memorials? What could be the reason, is it because they’re like atheists, unworthy to be asked to make a eulogy?

    Or do you suppose that religious folk might prefer rabbis, imams, priests, and ministers to be speaking to them at the time when religious rites are typically performed?

    Now to be fair to Dinesh, the poetry that most people really seem to like to surround death is not typically an atheist strong point. I expect that the “softly spoken magic spells” (Pink Floyd, Dark side of the Moon) conjured up by pious saints (liars, for the blunt) will never be the stock in trade of atheists, though I’m sure that poetry for the intellectuals at the time of death could come from any number of atheists.

    So bring in the pious falsehoods at this time. I don’t recall any secularists taking the time to whine like D’Souza about the same old useless shit being shoveled out by the religionists (some probably did, but who cares?). We’re not really troubled by fairly tales and pious frauds being given lip service for the sake of emotions and weak minds, we simply don’t want to be told to make way for them every time some idiot insists that their claims of reality be taken seriously.

    I expect that in the officially atheist Soviet Union, it would have been as out of place to invite some pious rusty old fart in to give the eulogy for a secular intellectual, as it would be to call in Dawkins to comfort a bunch of Abrahamic believers (plus a healthy number of secularists, no doubt). It’s simply gauche to try to make something of the fact that following protocol and responding to the sympathies for the bereaved at this time of sorrow leaves out atheistic British scientists.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  3. #3 H. Humbert
    April 18, 2007

    For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way–molecules acting upon molecules.

    And for moronic theists like D’Souza, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way–a ghost wearing a flesh suit damaging other ghosts’ flesh suits.

  4. #4 Glen Davidson
    April 18, 2007

    For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way–molecules acting upon molecules.

    For anybody who understands science, theist or nontheist, that is one of the unavoidable interpretations available.

    But because we actually have a rich and varied capacity for understanding, we recognize the self-ordering of molecules and the emergence of properties which make life into something that is so much more than mere atoms and molecules. Indeed, anybody who looks at a computer as if it were nothing other than atoms, molecules, and crystalline arrangements, would be seriously inadequate as a scientist.

    And humans are so much more than just computers. Indeed, we are so unique that we cannot be designed, for only evolutionary contingency could produce something so complex, so precious, and so irreplaceable (either as a species or as individuals). We are not Frankenstein’s creations, nor replaceable machines of some ethereal designer, we are the wonder and beauty of present complexity unreproducible events which tie us inextricably with our fellows and with the ancestors who produced and cared for us, just because we belonged to them (and not to some God who can snap his fingers to replace us with the equal or better).

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  5. #5 John Danley
    April 18, 2007

    The VA Tech tragedy is yet another reason why human accountability should prevail over supernatural explanations. No one is going to learn or resolve anything by attributing the event to the “devil’s work” and the grieving process to “God’s grace.” Maybe we’ll use our cognitive resources in a more productive manner and stop blaming Richard Dawkins when shit hits the fan.

  6. #6 Skeptyk
    April 18, 2007

    The Strawkins strikes again. Strawkins is my name for the strawman of Richard Dawkins that is so popular among theopologists. Any resemblence to actual persons is slim to none.

    Just kick around the Strawkins and your column practically writes itself. I am so disgusted by the vultures who dance their pinhead angels on the memories of the murdered.

    (BTW, the real Richard Dawkins does a beautiful memorial. Examples here: http://edge.org/documents/adams_index.html)

  7. #7 Sastra
    April 18, 2007

    The argument that “materialism” negates things like love, morals, and meaning is probably the most common, popular argument against atheism. Yes, it’s a category error, where people confuse things like abstractions and ideas with supernatural spirits and souls. “You can’t see ‘love’ under a microscope, therefore a materialist will say it can’t exist.”

    Couple this with a childlike understanding of morality as “obedience to your authority” and “what you get punished for when you don’t follow it” and you’ve got a nasty little conglomeration of Bad Arguments appealing directly to the unthinking intuitions of the primitive human brain. And just as cleek can cleverly reduce the fallacy into the language of the “logical prowess of a stoned 8th grader” (comment #23), it can be paraphrased very skillfully into a much more sophisticated form in order to demonstrate the logical prowess of the respected theologian, bemoaning the metaphysical inability of Naturalism to account for metaphysical Meaning.

    And, there is a possibility it can get worse. According to an recent AP news story, the killer’s final note is

    “a typed, eight-page rant against rich kids and religion… Cho indicated in his letter that the end was near, and that there was a deed to be done, the official said. He also expressed disappointment in his own religion, and made several references to Christianity.”

    So there’s going to be some sort of connection with being “against religion.” Doesn’t sound good. D’Souza and his ilk will practically orgasm if so.

  8. #8 Sastra
    April 18, 2007

    Ah, Paul C, but of course Giovanni’s use of the word “tragedy” is “heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.” Remember, in a natural, material universe nothing is tragic or comic, nothing is good or bad, it’s all atoms bumping into one another. You just can’t avoid that religious symbolism and meaning.

  9. #9 Epistaxis
    April 18, 2007

    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

    Wow, you esteem Dawkins as much as them?

  10. #10 hyperdeath
    April 18, 2007

    Why on earth would he make a public statement? It has absolutely nothing to do with him.

    I’m starting to think that Richard Dawkins should explicitly state that he believes the Holocaust occurred. If current trends continue, his critics will take his silence as evidence that he’s a Holocaust denier.

  11. #11 Kseniya
    April 18, 2007

    Wow, you esteem Dawkins as much as them?

    Apparently, D’Souza does.

  12. #12 Scott Hatfield
    April 18, 2007

    I can’t speak for PZ, but I hold Dawkins in far higher regard than most political or religious leaders. Why? Because their ilk is largely interested in the exercise of power, while Dr. Dawkins is concerned with the question of what is true. I greatly prefer the latter.

  13. #13 CalGeorge
    April 18, 2007

    Dinesh is a turd enjoying his days of being a standout piece of shit on the right-wing scum pond, but eventually his writings will regarded with pitiless indifference and he will be seen as someone who created an intellectual life devoid of “deeper meaning.”

    Richard Dawkins is a giant next to that twerp.

  14. #14 kanaadaa
    April 18, 2007

    For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way–molecules acting upon molecules.”
    And for moronic theists like D’Souza, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way… The world is full of sin after the Fall of Adam and the curse of God – Cho was sinful so he shot people up randomly; those he killed were covered by the sin of Adam so they were died; Din’turd would be pleased to know that those kooky theists who protest at funerals blaming death and destruction on our evil ways, evilutionism and other things share his sentiments.

  15. #15 ZacharySmith
    April 18, 2007

    Science Pundit brings up an excellent point…

    While I don’t mean to downplay the tragedy of 33 senseless deaths at VT, a death toll of 33 is a pretty slow day in Iraq.

    If there were this much wailing and gnashing of teeth every time people in Iraq got killed (both US personnel and Iraqis), perhaps the situation there would be very different now.

    Back to the topic, I’m not familiar with this D’Souza person, but all I can say is: What an Asshole! (yes, with a capital A.)

    What the fuck does Dawkins’ not being invited to speak at VT have to do with anything? Have Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or Ken Ham been invited to speak? I guess VT must not be a god-fearing school!

    How about any prominent Muslim clerics? Jewish?

    Where are the god-fearing people?!

  16. #16 MAJeff
    April 18, 2007

    If you think D’Souza appears mentally challenged, do NOT read today’s article by Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe. We really did get stuck with some pretty shitty right-wing columnists here in Boston. Jacoby’s an idiot, and Howie Carr is Imus in a hooded sheet.

  17. #17 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.

  18. #18 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.

  19. #19 Loren Petrich
    April 19, 2007

    Richard Dawkins has wondered in The God Delusion why more believers in a Heaven of everlasting happiness are not more like the Abbot of Ampleforth, who said about Cardinal Basil Hume dying that

    “Congratulations ! That’s brilliant news. I wish I was coming with you.”

    The Catholic way of death

  20. #20 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”?

  21. #21 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”?

  22. #22 Colugo
    April 19, 2007

    Andrew Stuttaford of the National Review reacts to D’Souza:
    http://tinyurl.com/3bvfa6

    “Nor am I surprised that Professor Dawkins (of whom I’m not a fan) hasn’t been invited. Why would he be? If this is the best that those arguing for religion (and I know that it’s not) have to offer us, then the obvious riposte to Mr. D’Souza’s staggeringly feeble argument is that “we need something more than religion.””

  23. #23 Uhuh Yeah Right
    April 19, 2007

    I followed the link to your sight from Digg. I read your opening salvo and then the retorts, responses, and the “FCK NGGRS ND THSTS” comment (please someone give HIM a gun).

    Straight to the point, Dawkins uses literary devices to make scientific claims. Meaning is a human construct, our observations about the universe are human. Nothing exists without humans to experience it, because we are incapable of excorporeal sensing without proxy. If you can’t follow me, just reread a few times, I won’t dilute concepts for you the way Dawkins does.

    The existence of deities has oddly been debated for so long it seems as if humans must have no memory at all. That there has been more than one deity claiming to be the only one and these deities never display themselves in an unmbiguous way is cause for one of sufficient capacity to move on to more interesting phenomena. There is nothing to plumb there but emotion.

    Deities are not delusions. By definition a delusion must be a fixed belief that isn’t shared by a large number of people. Can’t be said without overt misdirection there, so one can dismiss Dawkins out of hand simply because he is talking out of his cloaca.

    I don’t know why humans crave deities so. Though ‘why’ is likely related to you readers who crave atheism. Your thing about belonging to a cohesive group who will be sympathetic to your nonsensical ramblings about the impossibility of deity smacks a lot of the glue that holds theists together.

    Regarding the ‘right winger’ you all enjoy eviscerating, well, he is a sociopath. You do not matter to him.

    Regarding the individual with the gun and all those notches on his pistol grip. He was a sociopath, you do not matter to him.

    Where are all the atheists now? Huddled around their homefire on scienceblog where no on can see them.

    You have come half way to reality folks, rejecting deities, the home stretch lies ahead in embracing the large issue of how to continue to perceive forever. After all, deities are in part the moron level solution to the problem of death.

    Here’s to watching your struggle with delight.

    Right

  24. #24 Kseniya
    April 19, 2007

    Deities are not delusions. By definition a delusion must be a fixed belief that isn’t shared by a large number of people. Can’t be said without overt misdirection there, so one can dismiss Dawkins out of hand simply because he is talking out of his cloaca.

    No. I disagree. You’re the one talking out of your shapka. A delusion is a fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact. Numbers have nothing to do with it.

    Silly but useful example: If 99% of the population under the age of 6 believe in Santa Claus, that does not make the belief NOT a delusion. Anyone care to disagree?

  25. #25 The Constructivist
    April 20, 2007

    Time out. Check out Dawkins introducing Douglas Adams’s reading from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I’ve got a link at Mostly Harmless. OK, go back to arguing refreshed and cheered up.

  26. #26 Anton Mates
    April 20, 2007

    If 99% of the population under the age of 6 believe in Santa Claus, that does not make the belief NOT a delusion. Anyone care to disagree?

    It depends whether you’re talking about “delusion” in the psychological sense, where it’s considered a symptom of mental illness. In that case, it is necessarily a rare belief without social sanction; otherwise you could have just picked it up from your peers, so it doesn’t provide any evidence that there’s something wrong with you.

    Dawkins, of course, is using the term in its ordinary sense, not the psychological one. But many of his opponents find it convenient to pretend he’s using the latter sense, so that they can claim, “Dawkins thinks religious people are all insane!.” Even though he’s explicitly said that there’s lots of perfectly sane, moderate believers.

    That’s framing for you, I guess.

  27. #27 Kseniya
    April 22, 2007

    Keith, Anton – of course you are right about the strict psychological definition, but I intentionally did not mine the DSM because, as you implied, neither does Dawkins.

    See, “the ordinary sense” is not covered by a single definition – it includes a few different shades of meaning. I figured if commentor #125 was going to rely on a cherry-picked dictionary definition to justify his dismissal of Dawkins, I may as well offer one of the several dictionary definitions which contradicted him – not because it described the diagnostic criteria found in the DSM, but because it so obviously and accurately express what Dawkins meant.

    Point being, if one has to quote-mine Webster, ones argument is probably pretty shaky.

  28. #28 Jack
    January 7, 2008

    By the way Jan Andrea, Jackhole is an insult to all us Jackii.
    Who is the Idiot that wants to FCK NGGRS ND THSTS? What a JRK!

    Wow, what a dick. No, I’m sorry, that’s an insult to penii everywhere. What a jackhole.

  29. #29 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.

  30. #30 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?

  31. #31 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.

  32. #32 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?

  33. #33 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.

  34. #34 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.

  35. #35 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?

  36. #36 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.

  37. #37 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.

  38. #38 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.

  39. #39 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.

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