It's pretty sad, not to mention telling, when some religious folks like Denyse O'Leary (see also here and here)and Alister McGrath resort to prophecies about atheism's pending demise, Over at the Mindful Hack O'Leary has posted some thoughts on the matter. They are like most non-scientific predictions, loaded with wish-thinking and presumably some sort of confirmation bias.
After she lets us know that lots of atheists - namely one: the philosopher Michael Ruse - have a big beef with Richard Dawkins, one of the current so-called "New Atheists" who's gotten a lot of press for saying that religion is not immune to criticism, that it's factual proposition that God(s) exist(s) is so improbable as to be a deluded belief, and that religion as practiced and believed by too many people endangers humanity. His arguments are those that have existed for centuries, but he has the added bonus of the overwhelming majority of the modern scientific enterprise behind his assessments of religion. But I am digressing...
O'Leary wants us to know that the atheists are a desparate lot:
McGrath’s historical analysis sheds some light. He identifies three thinkers as founders of modern materialist atheism: Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72), Karl Marx (1818-83), and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939. Why these founders? Feuerbach was the first to treat God simply as a construction of the human imagination, essentially replacing theology with religious studies. In other words, when we ask why people believe in God, we do not entertain the idea that God has revealed himself in some way. God does not actually exist, and therefore the causes of belief are sought in society or nature.
I can only do so much with Feuerbach, Marx, and Freud, but I will tackle them briefly. Feuerbach, whose work I know only peripherally as a critic of Christianity, believed that human beings are animals infused with thought, will, and emotion. Because we feel so much for ourselves, we wish a being - God and Feuerbach's case - the Christian God into existence who is a paragon of our own image. Marx regarded religion as the "opium of the masses" but not an opiate as a mere diversion. He really thought of it as a medicine that provided the proletariat, the common man, with a respite from the nasty pains of the capitalist industrial society. Though Marx may have been a religious skeptic, he certainly sympathized with belief. Freud, like Feuerbach, thought of religion as an illusion, a manifestation of human wish-thinking. Obviously, we can spill millions of words on these men's thoughts.
Perhaps they had had so much trust in the power of their arguments that they believed that religion would one day fade away, though this seems unlikely. Freud also believed the religious impulse is delusional. While I sympathize with these men, they hadn't 20th- and 21st-century science behind them.
The 18th-century thinkers from d'Holbach and Hume to Jefferson and Paine created a marvelous basis for intellectually and ethically defensible atheism. And while Jefferson and Paine were highly critical and skeptical of relgious claims, they correctly innoculated us against sectarian battles by formulating a nation that separates church and state in which (like Canada too) people can privately address their own religious beliefs. Great. I'm glad. That wall of separation has served us well.
But in a way, whether or not a political system works well for people's private beliefs, that doesn't mean that people's private beliefs are reflected by reality nor that they are true. Not one shred.
O'Leary and McGrath think that Keats and Shelley weren't so bad because they had some sense of "transcendant ideas" like Aristotle and Plato. This is an appeal to the authority of the Greeks, but it's a red herring. When you consider the findings of modern cognitive science (see Pinker, Ramachandran, and Dennett) we find no reason to believe that we have souls. We are material. All of the evidence that we have supports the material proposition and none of it supports the ephemeral phantasmata of the soul. Not one shred.
It's alleged that if we are to accept that we have no souls, that then we are left with nothing but cruelty. Please. Can we stop trying to throw new paint on the gulag? The problem of Stalin is only tangentially an atheist problem. The real problem was true belief or true faith in the end of capitalism and the triumph of his own schizophrenic interpretation of Marxist-Leninist pending triumph. He had NO good evidence to suggest that it would happen. He was a myopic fanatic who believed that he was the inheritor of history. His fervor had all of the hallmarks of religious zealotry, not the strength of reason. Look at or listen to any moral philosopher or listen to or read the words of Dewey, Hook, or Kitcher or the respect and reverence for altruism amongst the "new atheists." These are not the post-modernist relativists that push us around on slippery slopes and not the cruel boogey men and women that O'Leary and McGrath try to assert we are. If anyone is using the po-mo arguments of separate but equal epistemologies, it's the IDists with their damnable forms of religion.
O'Leary ends thusly:
The story of atheism also provides a warning for prophets, religious or otherwise. Fifty years ago, who would have thought that post-atheism would better describe European society than post-theism? Trustworthy prophets should have a better track record.
Did I just see her throw a brick in her own glass house?