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What he said

From the Guardian.

Julia Neuberger, rabbi and Lib Dem peer asks Christopher Hitchens, journalist, critic and author

Q Why are you so angry about religion? Don't you think your very fervour - and certainty - make you just like the religious extremists you profess to despise. And where's the room for doubt in your analysis?

A Oh Christ, not this one again. Anthony Grayling puts it definitively out of its misery in Against All Gods, reprinted as his contribution to The Portable Atheist (ed. C Hitchens) entitled Can an Atheist be a Fundamentalist?

If I may, I will borrow his conclusion: "Any view of the world which does not premise the existence of something supernatural is a philosophy, or a theory or, at worst, an ideology. If it is either of the first two, at its best it proportions what it accepts to the evidence for accepting it, knows what would refute it, and stands ready to revise itself in the light of new evidence. This is the essence of science. It comes as no surprise that no wars have been fought, pogroms carried out or burnings conducted at the stake over rival theories in biology or astrophysics."

Clear? It's not a matter of "room" for doubt. The whole analytical method of humanist materialism is based on scepticism. We take nothing on faith. Imagine what a fortune could be made by a palaeontologist who unearthed human bones and dinosaur bones in the same layer of sediment. I will bet my house that this discovery will not be made, but my bet is not entirely, or at all, an article of belief. It is, rather, a conviction based on the study of evidence.

As to the manner in which I express myself, it rather depends on the antagonist. I'm normally renowned for my patience and good humour, but I admit to being easily bored and, when I come up against, say, a self-righteous rabbi, can be tempted to succumb to sarcasm. I think that may be where your confusion arises. Oh, and I do not "profess" to despise religious extremists. I really do despise them.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
burgonet
May. 27th, 2008 11:28 am (UTC)
Grumpy Jacobites, one and all!
-Blaming a mental image of John Gray snorting cocaine and soliciting exotic hookers for the above Burgo. (and reading Black Mass currently)
gbsteve
May. 27th, 2008 01:05 pm (UTC)
Do what?
burgonet
May. 27th, 2008 11:04 pm (UTC)
The old arguement that a militant atheist makes the same mistakes as a millenial Christian zealot.
I think that arguement has some merit.
gbsteve
May. 28th, 2008 10:43 am (UTC)
I don't think so. The Christian starts from a position of knowledge, the atheist from a position of ignorance, but a self-aware ignorance.
undyingking
May. 27th, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC)
He evades addressing the case where it's not either of the first two, but the third -- which is the interesting one in the context of the question.
killfalcon
May. 27th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)
Well, he has a good point, buried under the layers of reactionary ire and excessive wordiness. Clearly, he is a very angry man about something.

He could just have said "Doubt? All I do is doubt. That how I got to the point of not believing in the supernatural." Add in a bit about the scientific method and we're good.


All this reply really does is confirm that he's more self-rightous than the question-placer. I doubt that was his intent, unless he has a blog in need of more hits.
timgray
May. 27th, 2008 05:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this quote doesn't incline me to think that he's someone I have any interest in reading more about. The world does not need more angry arses.

I think he might find there's been a little bit more science-based hostility than he thinks. Certainly modern western medicine has a tendency to be aggressively defensive these days, though the toll is more likely to be measured in careers than bodies.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )