The Raving Theist

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Sheep in Wolfe’s Clothing

April 29, 2004 | 12 Comments

Self-proclaimed public intellectual Alan Wolfe explains in The New Republic why it is that “believers have written the best books on atheism in recent years”:

Non-believers appear to have concluded either that the case against God is so obvious that it does not need to be argued or that the forces in favor of God are so powerful that atheism cannot get a fair hearing. Either way, American atheists seemed to have consigned themselves to those obscure corners of cyberspace where no respectable thinker ventures.

No respectable thinker except Professor Wolfe, although presumably he ventured here solely to confirm that there are no respectable thinkers present.

I’ve written over 600 essays on theology and atheism; has Wolfe written even one? His most recent work, “The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith,” catalogs merely what people believe, without bothering to examine whether any of it makes sense. It’s sociology, not philosophy. Somehow it concludes that Americans are now less intellectually rigorous about their faith and practice it more personally and individualistically, although it’s hard to see how this claim could be evaluated without an examination of the truth of any or all of the religions in question. A similar book could have been written about the varieties of astrological belief, and Wolfe might as well have tracked the devolution of star-worship from the property of royalty to the property of newspaper horoscopes. Astrology at its highest level is still garbage, and its truth doesn’t vary with whether it’s practiced individually or as a part of a mass delusion.

The two “best books on atheism” Wolfe cites — “Without God, Without Creed” (1985) and “At the Origins of Modern Atheism” (1987) — aren’t really “on atheism” at all. They don’t argue “the case against God” that Wolfe presumes has been so disreputably relegated to cyberspace. They are histories, rather than expositions, of unbelief. In contrast, Michael Martin’s “Atheism: A Philosophical Justification” (1990) and “The Impossibility of God” (2003), apart from being more recent, actually argue and prove the case against God. And they’re both in bookstores rather than cyberspace, although Martin does venture here on occasion.

Professor Wolfe himself is allegedly a nonbeliever. What are his reasons? I can see how, as Director of the The Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life he might be reluctant to press his case too forcefully, but at some point the difference between truth and falsity becomes almost as important as (apparently) the one between on-line and on paper. Unless, of course, Professor Wolfe has concluded that the case for atheism does not need to be argued or that the forces in favor of God are so powerful that it cannot get a fair hearing.
[Link via Jason Malloy]


12 Responses to “Sheep in Wolfe’s Clothing”

  1. Jarod
    April 29th, 2004 @ 11:28 am

    2 of my favorite books on supporting Atheism and disproving religion are George H. Smith’s “Atheism: The Case Against God” and “Why Atheism?”. They argue the case for atheism very persuasively.

    Professor Wolfe was pretty lazy if he couldn’t identify any decent books on making the case for atheism. Heck, just read the Bible – that’s probably the book that makes the best case for atheism!

  2. Kevin
    April 29th, 2004 @ 12:23 pm

    Jarod; unless, of course, you assume that it’s the divine word of god, or meant to be taken as a metaphor. Either way, it says precisely what you want it to, and you have a perfect excuse for claims like the one you just made.

    Damn it, I feel small and unrespectable now. *sniff* I’m just going to go cry in the corner… Wolfe is apparently the type of elitist who thinks that anyone who hasn’t been published can’t string two coherent words together. The masses can’t come to conclusions on their own, they need to be force-fed, which I admit is becoming increasingly true, but that’s no reason to assume that we’re all brainless gits.

  3. HexGhost
    April 29th, 2004 @ 1:42 pm

    I grew up as an atheist in very religious Oklahoma. It was very difficult not only being out of the mainstream religion, but actually being non-religious. When I bought George H. Smith’s “Atheism: the case against God” from a used bookstore, it was probably one of the best books I’ve ever bought. Finally I had a book that managed to say what I thought in a way that was clear and concise, and I could stand up to the religious furvor that existed around me.

    To the RA: do you have any of your essays published on your site so I could read them, or do you mean your posts daily when you say essays?

  4. June
    April 29th, 2004 @ 3:24 pm

    So, what’s my choice here? Either there is a God and TRA is not a respectable thinker, or there is no God and Wolfe is an idiot. Now let me see……

  5. hermesten
    April 29th, 2004 @ 6:23 pm

    I also like Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not A Christian”

  6. wmr
    April 30th, 2004 @ 10:11 pm

    My personal favorite is Antony Flew’s “God: a critical enquiry” which is a revised edition of his “God & Philosophy”.

    He starts by analyzing several aspects of the Christian concept of God, and concludes that, as an attempt at philosophical thinking, it is totally incoherent.

  7. Emily
    May 1st, 2004 @ 7:41 am

    “No respectable thinker except Professor Wolfe, although presumably he ventured here solely to confirm that there are no respectable thinkers present.”

    Hit me, baby.

  8. Redfred
    May 3rd, 2004 @ 3:05 pm

    Hmmmm.. I suddenly feel “unread” I have never read any book on Atheism, now the question is, Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

  9. Eva
    May 3rd, 2004 @ 3:19 pm

    BAD thing….because any religionist with any stupid argument may make you start believing, all of a sudden, in their version of g-d….
    and it would be very bad if our church lost a good one….

  10. Debbie
    May 3rd, 2004 @ 8:06 pm

    I’ve never read an “atheist book” either, although I suppose GB Shaw might fall into the category, and perhaps all the texts that have been classified as blasphemous texts by the Catholic Church at one time or another … but I’m not in any way concerned that a religious argument is going to be persuasive …

    … unless of course it is verifiably true. I would subject any argument to a test – does it fit in with the observable natural world, can I test the argument, is there unambiguous physical evidence? If the answer to all three of these questions is yes, the argument has to be taken seriously.

    Most major religions try to explain the physical world and present phenomena and “truths” to show that their God is real but in every case these explanations fall so laughably short of the truth that they demonstrate clearly that, never mind being the word and wisdom of a supreme being, most religious texts are clearly the word of unsophisticated, ignorant, mysoginistic, Bronze Age peasants.

  11. Redfred
    May 4th, 2004 @ 1:51 pm

    I will have to get out my reading spectacles, I would not want to be crept up on by an evil converter  I have been atheist since the day I was born and have fended off many a would be religious assault, fortunately perhaps the only ones who don

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