Why Russell was Wrong IX: Only Theists are Biased?

accusationThis next section struck me as more than a bit judgmental:

Now we reach one stage further in what I shall call the intellectual descent that the Theists have made in their argumentations, and we come to what are called the moral arguments for the existence of God. You all know, of course, that there used to be in the old days three intellectual arguments for the existence of God, all of which were disposed of by Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason; but no sooner had he disposed of those arguments than he invented a new one, a moral argument, and that quite convinced him. He was like many people: in intellectual matters he was skeptical, but in moral matters he believed implicitly in the maxims that he had imbibed at his mother’s knee.

It seems very simplistic simply to say that Kant settled the matter of the old arguments once and for all. I know of no expert on Kant who would say that.

In fact, Russell presents an odd dichotomy where he seems to trust Kant far more than anyone else I’ve read when Kant happens to be arguing against theism, but dismisses him as blindly indoctrinated when he argues in favor of theism. One should definitely react to these kind of bold, partisan declarations with more than a touch of skepticism. Why should we reject Kant’s theism as bias, but not Russell’s atheism?

If it is an irritation that Russell offers no answer for this in his speech, it is a major problem that the New Atheists have not done so in years of campaigning. They seem to assume that political anger at fundamentalist churches (which I largely share, incidentally), the wish to appear “too intelligent” for religion, and the human tendency to jump on the bandwagon with movements proclaiming trendy values aren’t irrational reasons to become an atheist. But these are hardly the only irrational reasons why a young person might be tempted to become an angry anti-theist.

Christopher Hitchens, in fact, proudly admitted that he never doubted his atheism. He claimed to have “tried”, but held that the idea of theism seemed too ridiculous for him to even seriously consider. In a group of thoughtful people, such an admission would have come at a great cost to one’s intellectual credibility, but his fans didn’t hesitate in cheering his bold declaration of personal bias.

None of this is to suggest that we should make the same mistake in the opposite direction. There are many reasonable atheists in the world, and unreasonable theists. But what one cannot say, and what the New Atheists’ passionate, and generally incoherent, rantings have so thoroughly disproved, is this strange idea that atheism is somehow inherently a mark of freedom from biased thinking.


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