Sunday Sermon: Enter strawman

Oh, goody. Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum is proposing a “New Agnosticism” to combat the horrible “New Atheist” trend of actually expressing an opinion about religion. Yeah, there’s nothing like a bit of “plague on both your houses” when you’re trying to shift the Overton Window to frame your views in a more favorable light. But I don’t think that’s a good excuse to misrepresent people and then portray yourself as a victim of them.

Rosenbaum claims to be offended by the notion of agnosticism as “weak-tea atheism,” but then tries to claim the difference between agnostics and atheists is that agnostics don’t claim to know the answer to the God question — as if atheists automatically do (or think we do). “Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence,” he says.

Ironically, while accusing atheists of fundamentalism, Rosenbaum aligns himself pretty closely with the sort of fundamentalist who insists that nothing short of absolute certainty (or the illusion thereof) is worth bothering with. He demands that his atheists critics answer the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” as if failure to answer automatically requires being agnostic on the question of whether there are any magical deities hanging around.

Why is there something rather than nothing?  Beats me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tentatively assume (based on their respective track records) that science has a better shot than religion at providing an answer. And it certainly doesn’t mean I have to assume supernatural causes until natural ones are discovered.

Also, he repeatedly asserts that atheists are like fundamentalists, but instead of citing examples of such atheists, he merely cites (numerous) examples of other people who agree with him that there are such. Is this guy actually putting forth an actual argument against any actual form of actual atheism? Or just setting up some “New Atheist” cartoon caricature of a “true unbeliever” to object to?

Would it be any less disingenuous of me to say I reject Christianity because I don’t want to be like one of those Christians who carries a bag of stones with them in case they see a gay person or someone working on Sunday?

(Robyn Hitchcock video via Clusterflock)

3 responses to this post.

  1. I like pairing such questions with a comparable version of the assertion they’re trying to make…

    “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
    “Why is there a god rather than no god?”

    Really, it’s two questions each (does X exist?, and why does X exist?), but the parallel helps ensure the same standard of evidence is being applied in both directions.


  2. Posted by Andy on July 5, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Good post. The Rosenbaum piece was just plain uneducated. Good for you for being part of the push-back.

    I like the above comment a lot, too.


  3. Posted by BrianE on July 6, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    This was a horrible article that clearly shows just how disrespected and almost purposely misunderstood atheism is. Nobody wants to acknowledge that our viewpoint has any credit, and so they trump out the same old cliches and strawman. Getting very irritating!


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