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The New Philistinism


Here is a polemical piece on the New Atheism I wrote for The American, the journal of the American Enterprise Institute. In part it summarizes points I’ve made elsewhere, but it is primarily a discussion of the New Atheists’ tactic (invented by my longtime admirer P. Z. Myers) of shouting “Courtier’s reply!” whenever someone exposes their utter ignorance of what some religious thinker they are criticizing has actually said – a piece of Orwellian doublethink which by itself would suffice to illustrate the extreme decadence into which much secularist “thought” has fallen, if that were not blindingly obvious already. (For the memory impaired, I suppose I need to repeat what I have acknowledged so many times – that not all atheists are worthy of the contempt the “new” atheists so richly deserve. J. L. Mackie, J. J. C. Smart, Quentin Smith, and Jordan Howard Sobel – to take just four examples off the top of my head – are serious thinkers whose work must be treated by the theist with respect. Dawkins, Myers, Harris, Dennett, et al. are not worthy to be mentioned in the same breath.)

Comments (14)

I'm tiring of the New Atheists and responses to them. I think their day has clearly passed. Their influence peaked in 2007 and early 2008, but has since diminished greatly. I think Christian apologists should move on and stop focusing so squarely on just the New Atheists.

BTW Ed, I'm not implying you do this at all...if anything (after writing your wonderful book) you only occasionally bring them up. For some Christian apologists their continued picking on the weak reasoning of the NA crowd only keeps them in the spotlight.

Here's a good example of what you describe here:



From the blog "Quick theory: Dawkins drives people crazy because he makes it look so easy (and so fun) to attack theism. If only he would huff and puff a little more, and admit to being intimidated by the depths of contemporary theology. But no: he treats it as simple-minded nonsense." she seems to think that this fact shows them in a good light

Also on the Blog:

"Peter Singer cited examples of Christians selectively cherry-picking morality from the Bible. After various Old Testament examples, Singer said “some will say ‘that’s the Old Testament, we follow Jesus.’ But,” he continued, “Jesus is not really much better.” He cited Jesus’ attitude to divorce and then elided Jesus with his followers by commenting on rich Christians who don’t seem to be following Jesus’ example. (How often the Galilean is judged by those who follow him! A logical fallacy but a powerful wake up call to Christians.)"

Is there a Problem with the comment I tryed to post earlier?


As it happens, the article was actually written months ago, and The American only got around to publishing it now. I think you're right that the subject has petered out a bit in the public mind. But the reason, I think, has less to do with people seeing how vapid Dawkins and Co. are and more to do with boredom and a desire to move on to the next hot topic. So, it seems worthwhile occasionally emphasizing that these people never deserved the attention they got in the first place.

Phantom Blogger,

Sorry about that, I don't really know why some comments get sent to me for approval -- a software issue of some sort, I imagine. Anyway, it's up now.

Phantom Blogger, we've explained this before, but I'll give it in a bit more detail: The system automatically holds any comment containing three or more links as a spam-blocking measure. Now, note this: The link that goes with your name _is counted_. Therefore, your comment has three links. As far as I can tell, that's all there is to it. If you keep the links to two or fewer (perhaps if you don't include a URL with your name, for example), it _should_ post automatically, as far as I know.

For whether Darwinism is really comparable to “Leprechology” is of course precisely what is in question, and anyone who actually knows something about Darwinism knows also that such a comparison would be ludicrous.

I think "ludicrous" is a little too strong a term.

Right sorry, I thought because there was only two links it would be ok, I didn't realise my Url counted. It was a longer wait than before and that's why I thought there was something wrong.

The women at the blog, In Living Colour appears to be a Professional Philosopher. Her blog profile says "This is a blog about philosophy, animals, ethics, books, religion, politics, and parenthood. I teach philosophy at Southern Methodist University in Dallas."

For some fun reading on Myers, read through Vox Day's blog archives. Vox has taken him to the wood shed for a thrashing more times than a human being should be able to handle.

Dr Feser, I enjoyed your article. It reminded me of the superb fencing scene in "The Princess Bride":

"Aha, I see you've mastered the Courtier's Reply! You are wonderful!"

"Thank you, I've worked hard to become so."

"I admit it, you are better than I am."

"Then why are you smiling?"

"Because I know something you don't know."

"And what is that?"

"I am not left-handed! Aha! Myers' Shuffle!"

"But I am not left-handed either! I find that Give-It-A-Name cancels out Meyers' Shuffle, don't you?"


But seriously, Ed, what is there in Darwinism per se that really rises above “Leprechology,” except for micro-evolution, which is not at all controversial? It seems to me that the Courtier’s-reply argument could be validly applied to justify not reading Darwinist literature. But I’d be interested to know what you as a moderate Darwinist would have to say about it.

You are most certainly correct. Western society has bored with them and gone back their previous Karen Armstrong meets Oprah "moral therapeutic deism" to quote Christian Smith. They had their chance and didn't really make their point...and you are right when you say they shouldn't have been given a voice in the first place.

I guess as a biblical studies guy who reads/comments on all types of theology/biblical blogs that I just got tired of the trolls a couple years ago (and ocassionally still today) and constant media coverage of the mass movement away from Christianity.

The media doesn't care anymore. They just had their largest, most marketed conference yet in Australia and most people didn't even realize it unless you were looking for news about it. Outside of the occsaionaly Guardian article, or the occasional post at Newsweek's "On Faith," they seem to have lost public attention.

In the previous comment I meant to write "mass movement away from Christianity" in quotes to suggest I was saying it sarcastically. Despite all of the fanfare, and a rise of non-religiosity (that actually happened between 1990-2001 when those figures doubled and has actually slowed greatly since then), there has not been a rise of atheism. The stats remain about the same for those who self-profess as atheists.

Is it not the age of the new atheism?!
well, just have a close look inside yourselves, inside your minds...so what do you see now: thoughts about "how to earn more money, how to realise myself in this life etc., or probably you are thinking how to help other people, how to bring them up, how to make this world better indeed, do we have this goals in our life now. NO
it’s an age of a new philistinism - we are growing up as a selfish society. With no God, but we don't need to forget that He created us, gave us the Earth with all its beauty etc.....

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