The article really fails to persuade me. I have no love for Baron Black, but he does make good arguments. A few points:1. The old atheists were so much better than the new ones—wittier, better writers, more cogent, and less militant. This argument can be made only by those who have never really read Russell, Mencken, Ingersoll, and Mill; the claim is based on pure ignorance.
That's a pretty absurd claim if you know much of anything about Black. He's most certainly read all those writers and I would agree with him that they are much more nuanced in their arguments than anything Hitchens has ever written. Hitchens is entertaining to be sure, but he isn't on par with the names above. Not even close.
I'll make this point clear with on of my favorite videos from Russell where he summarizes his ideals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8h-xEuLfm8
There is quite a gulf between that message and the one we hear from new atheists.2. Without religion we wouldn’t have a good source of morality. Seriously? Is Black ignorant of the long tradition of secular ethics beginning with the ancient Greeks? Or does he think that that morality is dubious if it doesn’t come from God? If that’s the case, does he know about Plato’s Euthyphro argument—to my mind one of the great triumphs of philosophy? Black says this:. . . without some notion of a divine intelligence and its influence on the culture of the world through the various religions (though the principal religions are not interchangeably benign or influential) there would be no serious ethical conceptions. Communities untouched by religious influences have been unalloyed barbarism, whatever the ethical shortcomings of some of those who carried the evangelizing mission among them. Without God, “good” and “evil” are just pallid formulations of like and dislike. As Professor Lennox reminded me, Dostoyevsky, scarcely a naive and superstitiously credulous adherent to ecclesiastical flimflam, said “without God, everything is permissible.”
Plato's argument couldn't have been made without some notion of a divine intelligence. It is quite literally built on the notion of divine intelligence. While it might do a good job of raising hard questions about it, even dismissing it, the fact remains the idea of God is needed to even make the argument in the first place.
Furthermore, from a historical and sociological perspective, Greek philosophy was the religion of the Greeks for a period of their history. Platonism itself can be defined as a form of theism. So Black's point about having no serious ethical conceptions without religion does hold strong here.That’s palpably wrong. Atheists are no more immoral than religionists, and we don’t engage in killing other people in the name of our nonbelief, nor do we try to force ridiculous strictures about sex, diet, and genital-cutting on everyone else. The more atheistic countries like those in Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe are, if anything, more “moral” (and less socially dysfunctional) than highly religious nations like America, Saudi Arabia, and much of sub-Saharan Africa.
Black isn't saying explicitly that atheists are immoral. A better retort here, instead of pointing out all the bad things religions have done, would be to point out that a society can grow past needing to think of God in a literal sense, and function quite effectively in a secular manner. Just like how the Scandinavian countries grew out of theocracies.3. Atheism is a “faith.”
You have to acknowledge here that Black is using the definition of atheism as a belief there is no God. I know, in the atheist community atheism is a lack of belief, but that isn't as standard a definition as atheists pretend it to be. Really believing there isn't a God is something that requires faith because even though that's the most probable situation, it isn't something that can be supported with evidence.
But so what? We all have beliefs in things we can't say have solid evidence. What should matter is how good the evidence we do have is.4. Science isn’t leading to progress, just to more mysteries.
Agreed. Poor argument.5. The idea of a multiverse is “diaphanous piffle.”:Nor can the atheists ever grapple plausibly with the limits of anything, or with the infinite. They rail against “creation” — but something was created somehow at some point to get us all started. They claim evolution debunks Christianity (though all educated Christians, including Darwin, acknowledge evolution) — but evolution began somewhere. When taxed with the extent of the universe and what is beyond it, most atheists now immerse themselves in diaphanous piffle about a multiverse — but the possible existence of other universes has nothing to do with whether God exists.
Black has a point. Things like evolution and the multiverse are very weak arguments against God. They might do a good job of showing us religious myths and stories are untrue, but that can be done in any number of ways. A good many Christians have given up thinking these stories to be literally true themselves a very long time ago. The only places you see this today are in pockets of the world with low levels of education.6. Religion is the repository of right and wrong, and that, rather than the truth of scripture, is its value.Religious practice can certainly be targeted as a pursuit of the hopeful, the faith-based and the uncertain. But they badly overreach when they attack the intellectual underpinnings of Judeo-Christianity, from the ancient Judaic scholars and the Apostles to Augustine to Aquinas to Newman; deny the existence of any spiritual phenomena at all; debunk the good works and cultural creativity and conservation of the major religion; and deny that the general religious message of trying conscientiously to distinguish right from wrong as a matter of duty and social desirability is the supreme criterion of civilization. The theists defend their basic position fairly easily and only get into heavy weather when they over-invest in the literal truth of all the scriptures — though the evidence for veracity of the New Testament is stronger than the skeptics admit, including of Christ’s citations of God himself: “And God said …” [Black’s ellipses]
Scripture does have value in so much that it contains the philosophical history of our culture if we like it or not. In exactly the same way the works of the Greeks contain the philosophical history of our culture and of Christianity. If more people could understand that value and take it for what it is, instead of taking it literally, we'd all be better off.