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Advising Atheists (Loser Letters) 6

posted by Scot McKnight

LoserLetters.jpg

Mary Eberstadt’s new book, The Loser Letters , is clever fiction; it’s satire and she asks a question that evidently — in her view — is not taken seriously enough by the new atheists. And, to be fair, there was a report on CNN.com about the resurgence of atheism.
Where’s their theory of family and women and children and love? Why do they avoid this subject? Such are the new points and questions of Mary Eberstadt’s next chp.
Her point, in her satirical way, is that love and “something more” are learned through family love. Better avoid this topic, too, she says.
So: “most Atheist writing exhibits little knowledge, and even less interest, in certain subsets of our Species that are arguably of numerical and other significance” (79-80). Who? Family life, marriage, children, women.
Most people live in families and come to religious faith through families. That faith is iconically shaped by family love and faith and trust. She says when she lived in a family she was a textbook Dull; then she left family and it began to diminish but her choice not to foster faith and attend church were really only a decision to do what she wanted to do.
Comments deemed inappropriate or insulting will be deleted.

Two problems for atheism, so she advises the upper echelon about them:
Most parents, when they google over their eyes and lives of children, see something more. They’re not just random collections of molecules. The love of children sends them to the Loser (God).
Most atheists were either childless or most lived apart from families. Her words: “a good many Atheists … have been childless or otherwise living outside real families themselves” (89). Spinoza, Nietzsche and Rousseau … who did have five kids but gave them up for adoption.
And she says she’s studied their works and there’s nothing about women; not anything about how religious women are in the world. So, she suggests to them: “either females are intellectually deficient compared to males or something about the way they live gives them ideas that men don’t have” (90). She blames the kids. Kids, and their proximity to moms and women, generate more religious faith.
Human families and women and children (and their close ties) are the chief enemies of Atheism.


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Ray Ingles

posted April 6, 2010 at 8:07 am


Most parents, when they google over their eyes and lives of children, see something more. They’re not just random collections of molecules.

Name three atheists who say that people are “random” collections of molecules. Heck, name one.
Something I wrote about this a while ago:

We all recognize that arrangement matters critically. A bunch of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, chocolate powder, and so forth can be made into a delicious chocolate cake… or an inedible mess, depending on who’s doing the baking. And a baker can know precisely what is in a cake that they made, and exactly how it was made… and still enjoy eating that cake. It is true that the Mona Lisa is ‘just an arrangement of pigments on some canvas’ – but that arrangement is deservedly famous.

People are amazing, wonderful things. They are not ‘just bags of chemicals'; each person is an extraordinarily special, literally unique pattern and process of chemicals. The raw materials aren’t special, it’s the arrangement thereof that’s unique, valuable, and irreplaceable. We can know what people are made of (apparently entirely) and still find them precious and wonderful.

I don’t have less respect for people because they are, at root, ‘physical processes'; I just have more respect for what physical processes are capable of.



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Ray Ingles

posted April 6, 2010 at 8:28 am


Most atheists were either childless or most lived apart from families… Her words: “a good many Atheists…”

Which is it? “Most” or “a good many”?
I’m an atheist with four children. You can tell yourself I don’t love them if it helps you sleep at night, but neither I nor they are in any doubt.

And she says she’s studied their works and there’s nothing about women; not anything about how religious women are in the world. So, she suggests to them: “either females are intellectually deficient compared to males or something about the way they live gives them ideas that men don’t have”

Way back in “Loser Letters 2″ we discussed Eberstadt’s mistake here. Humans have a natural tendency to assume intelligent, purposeful action is responsible for things that happen unless a ‘mechanical’ explanation is found.
(
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_detection) Explanations that involve intelligent agents ‘fit’ better with human cognition. It’s not surprising that people would gravitate toward such explanations.
Women don’t have to be ‘intellectually deficient’ to naturally use the kinds of explanations humans tend to gravitate to.



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Ray Ingles

posted April 6, 2010 at 8:43 am


If you actually look at Loser Letter #6, Eberstadt makes a lot of sketchy claims herself. Like this one, claiming that in atheist writing “there?s plenty of mockery of Dulls who do think that children and family come first”. I haven’t seen that. References?
And things like:

“You know, like when we Brights say things like ‘The Thomistic doctrine of transubstantiation of essences is too contra-Newtonian to be countenanced by the twenty-first century’ ? when what we really mean is ‘what the hell, why should I waste an hour in church when all it?s going to do is remind me of rules I?d just as soon forget’? You Guys know just what I mean here! To take another example, it?s like when people say, ?There?s no logic to the efficacy of prayer and divine intervention in linear space and time? ? when what they really mean is, ?I don?t care if she?s young enough to be my daughter, I?m going to nail her in a heartbeat if I get the chance.? That kind of atheist self-deception thing!”

I hesitated posting that, since “Comments deemed inappropriate or insulting will be deleted” – but since it’s Eberstadt being inappropriate and insulting, I hope it might pass. This is a worthy contender for C.S. Lewis’ mantle?
But there’s more:

Similarly, I personally, couldn?t agree with You more that the believers? idea of what a ?family? is ? mother, father, and their litter ? is fully as retarded as any of the MANY other things the Church has been wrong about…

I’d like to see references to actual “new atheist” writing making such a claim, or anything similar.
Many people have pointed out that Eberstadt spends her time attacking strawmen, and not real atheist positions at all. Anyone want to address these examples?



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Larry

posted April 6, 2010 at 8:51 am


Name three atheists who say that people are “random” collections of molecules. Heck, name one.
Perhaps “accidental” would be a better word, but her point still applies.



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ChrisB

posted April 6, 2010 at 9:36 am


People love to attack the term “random” as if it were a straw man on our part.
If matter is simply a hiccup of the multiverse, if a collection of chemicals into a self-replicating pattern is a simple accident of nature, if intelligent life was simply one of many possible results, then random is as good a description as any.



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Ray Ingles

posted April 6, 2010 at 10:20 am


If matter is simply a hiccup of the multiverse, if a collection of chemicals into a self-replicating pattern is a simple accident of nature, if intelligent life was simply one of many possible results, then random is as good a description as any.

Nope. Even “accidental” doesn’t really work. Evolution, for example, has random components (mutation, genetic drift, etc.) and a very much non-random component – selection. We can see both the chance and the necessity that led to us, and appreciate the marvels while chuckling at the kluges.
This is why Eberstadt’s satire is so shallow. If she wants to attack a position, she needs to present it fairly. To write about it as if she actually believed it and not just how she imagines or would want someone to believe it. C.S. Lewis did this in The Screwtape Letters. Eberstadt simply doesn’t.



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Ray Ingles

posted April 6, 2010 at 10:31 am


We can turn part of Eberstadt’s point around, too. She points out that part of the reason people become, and behave, religiously is because of family ties and social pressure.
And, of course, she has her atheists telling themselves and each other stories about why they don’t believe, ignoring the “real” reasons they ‘reject God’.
But what if she has that reversed? We already know that social pressure can keep people acting as if they believe when they don’t: http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100321/preachers-who-don-t-believe-the-scandal-of-apostate-pastors/
The key point, of course, is that one can spin stories about why people “really” believe things endlessly. The only thing that matters is – who’s actually correct, and how do you know? At the end of “Loser Letter 6″, Eberstadt’s “A. F. Christian” claims to be about to get into that, the heart of the matter… but I’m not hopeful.



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