The New New (Actually Old, Pascalian) Atheists

So I thought this was interesting. In a discussion of the New New Atheists (no, that wasn’t a typo) in Harper’s, Christopher Beha cites Alex Rosenberg, a philosopher at Duke, who “insists that doing away with religion means doing away with most of what comes with it: a sense of order in the universe, the hope that life has some inherent meaning, even the belief in free will.”

Now, is it just me or wasn’t that kind of Nietzsche’s whole point some hundred and twenty or so years ago? So at least one of the New New Atheists is actually just like the Old Atheists. In any case, I appreciate the consistency.

Of course, this is a gloomy picture and Rosenberg acknowledges that it can create a certain angst in some:  “There is . . . in us all the hankering for a satisfactory narrative to make ‘life, the universe and everything’ (in Douglas Adams’s words) hang together in a meaningful way. When people disbelieve in God and see no alternative, they often find themselves wishing they could believe, since now they have an itch and no way to scratch it.”

So Beha asks Rosenberg what can be done about this. Response:

“Rosenberg’s answer in his book is basically to ignore it. The modern world offers lots of help in this effort. To begin with, there are pharmaceuticals; Rosenberg strongly encourages those depressed by the emptiness of the Godless world to avail themselves of mood-altering drugs. Then there are the pleasures of acquisitive consumer culture—the making of money and the getting of things.”

Well, at least this is honest — and oddly Pascalian in an inverted sort of way.

3 thoughts on “The New New (Actually Old, Pascalian) Atheists

  1. Although religion may function to bring a sense of order and meaning in life, it isn’t the only thing. I would draw attention to the neglect of philosophy as fulfilling these same ends. Beginning with Parmenides and continuing with Plato and Aristotle and all the way into the Scholastic philosophers, there was a concern to explain universals and how we know what we know. This was side-tracked, at least in the culturally dominant philosophical schools first by Nominalism and then by the dualism of Descartes. But, throughout these many centuries there have been philosophers who have continued to use not just material and efficient causation in their analyses, but formal and final causation as well. My own bias is that Aquinas successfully corrected Aristotle by adding an “act of existing” to material and formal causation and thus, created a vibrant philosophy of nature. When experimental science began to provide successful technologies, it felt empowered to push aside the natural philosophers with their explanations that did nothing to change our relationship to nature but only understand it. There have been from time to time realizations that experimental science even as it downplays formal and final causation is none-the-less driven by them, but there seems little appetite for exploring the consequences of this fact. And Rosenburg’s endorsement of mood altering pharmaceuticals and consumption to combat his ennui is just pitiful,

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