Quote note (#212)

John Gray on the supernaturalism of the New Atheists:

The belief that we live under some kind of supernatural guidance is not a relic of superstition that might some day be left behind but an evolutionary adaptation that goes with being human. […] It’s a conclusion that is anathema to the current generation of atheists – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and others – for whom religion is a poisonous concoction of lies and delusion. These “new atheists” are simple souls. In their view, which derives from rationalist philosophy and not from evolutionary theory, the human mind is a faculty that seeks an accurate representation of the world. This leaves them with something of a problem. Why are most human beings, everywhere and at all times, so wedded to some version of religion? It can only be that their minds have been deformed by malignant priests and devilish power elites. Atheists have always been drawn to demonology of this kind; otherwise, they cannot account for the ­persistence of the beliefs they denounce as poisonously irrational. The inveterate human inclination to religion is, in effect, the atheist problem of evil.


… the belief that without religion human life would be vastly improved sustains and consoles many a needy unbeliever – which confirms the essentially religious character of atheism as a movement. […] … The irony of the new atheism is that it is pre-Darwinian.

January 21, 2016admin 30 Comments »


30 Responses to this entry

  • Simple Simon Says:

    Gray’s article begins with this line: “The new atheists decry religion as a poisonous set of lies. But what if a belief in the supernatural is natural?” He includes Daniel Dennett in his list of “new atheists”. Does he not know of Dennett’s book, “Breaking the Spell”, the sub-title of which is “Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”? Gray says that the “belief that we live under some kind of supernatural guidance” as “an evolutionary adaptation that goes with being human” is anathema to the new atheists. But this is simply untrue regarding Dennett. It is precisely religion as an evolutionary phenomenon that the book mentioned above explores. It is Gray who is a “simple soul” is mischaracterising the new atheists.


    anonymouse Reply:

    Have you read Dennett’s book? Gray’s accusation is a lot truer than you think, as most of the “scientific investigation” he purports is tacky business beside what he actually discusses throughout, which itself is not much, aside from propaganda. Dennett is probably the worst offender of the bunch, all things considered.

    (I am an atheist, by the way.)


    Alex Reply:

    The residual supernaturalism of the ‘new atheists’ is surely neither an inability to perceive that religion might have an adaptive functionality nor an unwillingness to credit it with such. It is the concern with truth exemplified by their strenuous efforts to demonstrate that religion is a delusion. How would Dawkins or Dennett reply if asked whether the shape of a bird’s wing were true? It’s similar to the moralism of the chest-thumping nihilist who excoriates the religious for lacking the courage to face the Howling Void, as though a transcendent value could be assigned to courage.


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 12:06 pm Reply | Quote
  • grey enlightenment Says:

    the biggest threat to region are other religions (islam), not Dawkins and other atheists


    Jefferson Reply:

    The biggest threat to any single religion is an alternative that allows easier acquisition of status/holiness. See: American Jews and Christians going Universalist, Atheists/Universalists going Muslim, capitalists (especially their children) going communist, etc. Dawkins poses no threat to Christianity/Islam/Judaism because he’s crafting his appeals for conversion along lines that have already been thoroughly mined by universalism; there is no status/holiness left in atheism’s well.


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 12:21 pm Reply | Quote
  • John Hannon Says:

    “Atheism is no more a religion than not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

    – someone somewhere on the internet responding to the claim that atheism is itself a form of religion


    Grotesque Body Reply:

    If I had no kids to bequeath an inheritance to, I wouldn’t bother collecting stamps either.

    Fedoras love to make these oh-so-clever analogies that look like clinchers on the surface, but never actually investigate their implications, in this case isomorphy between hobbies and religious practices.


    Exfernal Reply:

    Have you missed the negation? What about the analogy stating laser hair removal as a hairstyle?


    Grotesque Body Reply:

    I think once we’ve gotten to the point where we’re thinking of religion as the same kind of thing as superficial practices like stamp collecting and hairstyles, it’s already too late.

    John Hannon Reply:

    “Fedoras” – got it now.
    Had to look it up in the Urban Dictionary to stop wondering how a hat could commit a category error.
    Young folk and their hip jive – be honest admin, had you ever heard of this one before?


    michael Reply:

    yes but its not Mere Atheism is it?


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 1:19 pm Reply | Quote
  • Erebus Says:

    It’s not complicated. Schopenhauer has been over both sides of this debate, and that over 160 years ago.

    “…the needs of the people must be met according to their powers of comprehension. […] Just as there is popular poetry, popular wisdom in proverbs, so too there must be popular metaphysics; for mankind requires most certainly an interpretation of life, and it must be in keeping with its power of comprehension.”

    …Furthermore, although the author of the article writes about “justice” and “supernatural punishment”, I believe that the phenomenon of religion has very little to do with justice and salvation. The themes of justice and salvation are mere cultural artifacts that are not common to all religions. At root, religion has to do with meaning — it is, as previously noted, an interpretation of life. And most men must have an interpretation of life, as we do not know from whence we came, and we do not know where we’re going — and, most importantly of all, mankind is not equipped to think about the infinite.
    (…The problem is what to do with the prospect of infinite time. If religion makes sense of this world, it reassures man that whatever shall come next — whether it be eternal salvation or something else — must also make sense. If this world is an absurdity, then man has no such reassurance, and must face the infinite alone.)


    John Hannon Reply:

    “… mankind is not equipped to think about the infinite.”

    Equipped or not, mathematicians think about infinity all the time – although thinking about THE infinite is perhaps more the province of mysticism. In fact mystics typically strive not merely to think about the infinite but to realize their ultimate identity with it by re-equipping their brains via meditation. The problem of “what to do with the prospect of infinite time” is then simply dissolved in abidance as the eternal Witness in the timeless Now.
    Or something like that. Allegedly.


    Grotesque Body Reply:


    It’s all about meditative immanence, maaaaaaaaan.


    John Hannon Reply:

    Ah yes, Leary.
    My late friend Brian Barritt, whose autobiography “The Road of Excess” I helped publish, spent a good deal of time with Leary, co-writing “Confessions of a Hope Fiend” with him and assisting in the production of his “Eight Circuit Model” of consciousness.


    Were Leary still around today, no doubt he would find the “neurotheological” work of Todd Murphy of great interest –


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 1:25 pm Reply | Quote
  • Dark Psy-Ops Says:

    Meh, i’ll take my chances in hell.


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 2:24 pm Reply | Quote
  • Orthodox Says:

    Vox Day destroyed them more thoroughly in the Irrational Atheist. Many of their arguments aren’t even rational, or intelligent. And Dawkins is already on the slow march back to, at minimum, a pro-Christian position as a matter of public policy.


    TheDividualist Reply:

    Come on, Dawkins made *one* tentative remark.


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 2:36 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jefferson Says:

    Religion is not a great word. It has come to be bound by explicit declarations of magic, which allows magical thinking presented as “rational” to be assigned as something else. A true un-religion would be passivism, in which one acknowledges that he knows very little, and so ought not make any decisions.

    Faith is a requirement, since the limits of any individual’s first-hand knowledge are so small. From there, any axis/issue/idea upon which faith can be tested will eventually become a vector for holiness competition. Religions codify these arenas, and place limits on how far these competitions can go through an organic power structure. At least, until Martin Luther broke Christianity and holiness competitions started iterating as fast as information could flow (hence the acceleration with film/tv/Internet). Any evolutionary question about holiness signaling need simply look at WWII Japan where literal devotion to their god emperor increased cohesion and will to fight well past the limits of any other social technology.


    TheDividualist Reply:

    Not sure we are exactly on the same page, but instead of religion one could say willism, voluntarism or agencism. Namely that the will of agents is highly important. Thus, there is God’s will behind anything, and at the other end of the scale parapsychology like telepathy or telekinesis is an agent affecting the world directly through his will, and generic magic like Wicca are halfway between the two, they want parapsychology type things to happen but through the will of higher beings, not themselves, as they use prayers in their rituals. So it all boils down to wills affecting the world.

    The opposite point, commonly called atheism but should perhaps be called antivoluntarism or simply mechanism, is that wills don’t matter much, everything is up to mechanisms, like evolution or economics.

    If we look at it this way, we see something strange. Progressivism is allied with atheism or antivoluntarism or mechanism, despite the fact that it is highly voluntarist: it is all about a small elite exerting will to change the world. And conservatism is allied with religion or voluntarism or willism, believing everything is up to God’s will and yet believing that God apparently does not really want progress in the Progressive sense (such as ending wars, ending poverty) to happen. These make strange bedmates, it would make sense for a Progressive to believe in Providence and for a conservative to believe in unchangeable mechanisms….

    And is Gnon mechanism or will?


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 2:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • Quote note (#212) | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 3:57 pm Reply | Quote
  • S.C. Hickman Says:

    It all comes down to that age old battle about causality: who or what started the show to begin with? What if the show’s a shame, a façade, and everything is dead; there being no beginning to begin with, no crack in the abyss, no big bang to plug your (ok, let’s leave sex out of this!)… into too. What then? Religion and Atheism are answers to false questions about causality. Much rather should we worry about the effects we still believe in than the causes which seem like an occasional event to splice the world in half. The straw man wins every time…


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 4:50 pm Reply | Quote
  • Mark Citadel Says:

    Thanks to Dawkins, atheists have a delightful meme called ‘the memetic theory of religion’, that religion is actually some kind of weird cultural virus that somehow became universal for several thousands of years.

    New Atheism has largely become uninteresting as Christianity has been completely toppled from any position of authority anywhere in the West. It served its purpose for the Cult of Progress, and now its being gradually sidelined in favor of agendas that can demonize whites in general instead, which is what this ridiculous Oscars fiasco is about (black people should now get Oscars for being black… apparently). The arguments of the New Atheists, where they broke any new philosophical ground at all, were sophomoric at best, not helped by the weird trend of the movement to idolize non-philosophers, such as a biologist, a neurologist, and a… journalist? However, politically, that is irrelevant. The facts are clear:

    1) Religion is a universal adaptive group trait, and the secular state is a myth. We do not have secularism, we have a hyper-destructive, ever-evolving cult which masquerades as having no ideology at all, while enabling a class of Terminator inquisitors to purge thought criminals.
    2) The sociopolitical effects of Traditional Religions lie mostly in their effects on individuals, which only manifest when people actually believe them, which is why the case for an airy pretend-paganism is so awful.

    I never like when Progressives look at human universals and try to put them down to conspiracy and wicked institutions. They did this with ‘the Patriarchy’, they did it with ‘white privilege’, they did it with ‘the tyranny of kings’ and after several hundreds of years of trying, they’ve pretty much succeeded at doing it with ‘religion’. Simply put, the Progressive stands in opposition to the organic state. He despises the organic state. Is organic man a sexist bigot who believes in the divine realm beyond this world? Yes. But in being thus, he trumps Modern man in every way conceivable.


    Grotesque Body Reply:

    “weird trend of the movement to idolize non-philosophers, such as a biologist, a neurologist, and a… journalist?”

    I always thought of the Fedora Horsemen as a product of technocracy. The scientists tell us what the empirical ‘truth’ is, and the journalist/pop historian/rhetorician supplies the social proof for righteous outrage against Christianity.

    “But in being thus, he Trumps Modern man in every way conceivable.”

    Hear, hear (altered to capitalise on the possibly unintentional pun).


    Anomaly UK Reply:

    The Dawkinsite “memetic” concept of religion is simplistic and inadequate, but even so, it is not at all the “devilish power elites” view that Gray attributes to Dawkins.

    And if you claim Dennett’s view of the mind “derives from rationalist philosophy and not from evolutionary theory”, you don’t know who Dennett is. His published work is almost entirely about how the human mind evolves and what it evolves to do.

    Gray is so infuriating sometimes… As a description of Tumblr-level “New Atheism”, of course, his critique is spot-on, but associating those names with it is just dishonest.


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 7:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • Grotesque Body Says:

    For those who’ve read it, I think Ferguson’s account of Kissinger as an idealist demonstrates at least a few of the reasons why ‘supernatural forces’ are in some sense indispensable.


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 8:23 pm Reply | Quote
  • dirigible Says:

    Gray is simply opposites trolling.

    Evolutionary psychology doesn’t make the products of a psychological feature true, it just makes the psychological feature a fact. This is the difference between a penguin having wings and it being reasonable to threaten to execute anyone who claims they cannot fly.

    The sustaining nature of held opinion is a psychological feature of human beings, not a sole feature of religion. The strongest argument you can make is that Monty Python fandom and religion have psychological roots, not that Monty Python fandom is proof that God exists.

    Now, about Marxism as a religion…


    Posted on January 21st, 2016 at 11:31 pm Reply | Quote
  • aliad1 Says:


    Progressivism is solipsism. A million other voices crying out are silenced because they are mere mechanics that are of no account. Only the Will of Progress exists, which can never be looked at because it is always behind and above the examiner. If you try to turn and critique Progress you reveal yourself as in rebellion against Will and obviously a mere mechanical babbling mish-mash who most be silenced.

    At the other end of the spectrum there is an awareness of a million different will with a million different purposes that will never all be focused on the same goal. So the best we can do is to provide a common mechanical framework for all those wills to react within. And over this is Gnon, a force so alien and so immiscible to human persuasion that it is folly to deal with it will to will, and so the question has little consequence.


    Posted on January 22nd, 2016 at 8:56 pm Reply | Quote
  • mdc Says:

    Religion is an evolutionary relic of a time when our ancestors could not determine rational causes of any phenomena. To the most primitive religions, practiced by the most primitive people, there is no supernatural because everything is magical. Every object has a spirit and no observation is reproducible. There is no external reason why anything happens.

    The tendency toward religion is probably much weaker in the more intelligent and rational people. Not gone, but weaker and more abstract, and in some probably as good as gone.

    Ask an atheist who was brought up religious how he experienced his religion at the time he was religious. Ask the same questions to an adult who is still devoutly religious. You will see very quickly that the atheist was never religious in the same sense. Most adult religious believers, for instance, think they have personally heard the voice of god on at least one occasion.

    To a high IQ, high rationality person, being religious is just persuading oneself to parrot a lot of phrases and make reflexive certain thought processes, i.e. an ideology. To a low IQ, low rationality person, the world really is infused with magic, that directly affects their daily lives.


    Posted on January 24th, 2016 at 11:37 am Reply | Quote
  • P. George Stewart Says:

    John Gray pretending to be clever, as usual.


    Posted on January 24th, 2016 at 10:22 pm Reply | Quote

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