Andrew Brown, man about town

newatheistcrusaders1There is a kind of pro-faith left commentator who spends all his/her time attacking ‘New Atheism’. The sophistry runs like this. It is not that we are religious ourselves, the commentators say – oh, no, god forbid. We are wise men and women with no need for delusions.

But religion is essential for social cohesion. When you New Atheists attack religion, don’t you see that you’re taking away the only meaningful thing in the lives of the poor, stupid, downtrodden masses? Don’t you see that you’re puncturing the only worthwhile comfort in their vapid, struggling lives? Take away religion, and there will be riots in the streets, planes falling out of the sky, and invasion by the French.

As well as being immensely patronising, this is basically a neoconservative position, adapted unconsciously from Leo Strauss. Like him, the pro-faith left believe that faith is a noble lie, a necessary illusion to keep the masses in line.

Their arguments are also reminiscient of American conservatives during the eighties and nineties, who pressed for secular humanism to be classified as a religion so that they could, constitutionally, demand equal time with it in schools.

In this spirit Andrew Brown weighed in recently with a pointless and disingenuous article on ‘New Atheism’, making the point that none of the New Atheists are philosophers (apart from Dan Dennett, A C Grayling, Julian Baggini… er…)

It’s too silly to bother with – as Jonathan West points out, many of the arguments Brown identifies as New Atheism are hardly new, and some can be traced back to Thom Paine. But Brown then followed that up with a response, explaining why he didn’t mention any atheists who are also philosophers:

Dennett has written some extraordinarily offensive and unpleasant things to and about me. Sometimes he appears ashamed of this, for his abuse concludes with a warning not to publish it any further. But in any case it makes me reluctant to believe that I can write about him in a fair-minded way.

Poor kid. But aren’t professional journalists supposed to be able to rise above personal grievances of this kind?

Brown then goes on to two major distortions. He accuses Richard Dawkins of ‘asking whether the state should not have a right to remove the children of fundamentalist Christians to protect them from their parents’ beliefs.’

This creates a Daily Mail type image of godless social workers dragging crying children from loving religious parents, but Brown (or maybe his subeditor) shoots himself in the foot by providing a link to the page of Dawkins’s book where it is made clear that he advocates no such thing.

Ophelia has kicked the lie into touch:

Brown provides a link to the Google copy of page 326 so that we can all see that – Dawkins did not say what Brown said he said. He quoted Nicholas Humphrey arguing in an Amnesty International lecture in 1997 that children ‘have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas’ and that parents have ‘no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge’ and that ‘we as a society have a duty to protect them from it.’… Dawkins then says that such a strong statement needs, and received, much qualification.

Brown also claims that Sam Harris ‘advocates the systematic use of torture’. He does not. Harris, in The End of Faith, compared torture to collateral damage and argued that ‘collateral damage is worse than torture across the board.’

Put simply: why are we happy to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis but not happy to torture someone who has set a ticking bomb in the centre of New York? Harris claims that there is no real argument against this ‘ticking bomb’ scenario (farfetched though it is) and, thus, no real argument against torture in any and all circumstances. I don’t agree, but Harris’s case is well within the terms of rational discourse.

To extrapolate from it, as Brown does, that Harris advocates ‘systematic use of torture’ Abu Ghraib style, is a malicious falsehood. For as Harris says:

I considered our mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to be patently unethical.  I also think it was one of the most damaging blunders to occur in the last century of U.S. foreign policy. Nor have I ever seen the wisdom or necessity of denying proper legal counsel (and access to evidence) to prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

It seems that Brown has form on misattributing quotation. Richard Dawkins writes (at comment 24) that:

Incidentally, on one of Andrew Brown’s books, his publishers had such a hard time finding endorsements from distinguished people to put on the cover, they resorted to fine-sounding quotations which, if you looked carefully, turned out to have nothing to do with Brown’s book. The only quotation that mentions Andrew Brown, or his book, was the following, from Dan Dennett: ‘I wouldn’t admit it if Andrew Brown were my friend. What a sleazy bit of trash journalism!’

Perhaps this was the cause of the mysterious animosity between Dennett and Brown.

At the end of his parade of bullshit Brown has the nerve to state sarcastically that he ‘can hardly wait for this conclusion to be quotemined’.

It’s well worth reading the comments to Brown’s piece – the thread contains loads of intelligent contributions and Brown’s deceptions are taken apart embarrassingly quickly.

Read the thread and watch a man make a complete fool of himself in front of hundreds, possibly thousands of people.

The best comment is from Steve Jones, who responds to Brown’s claim that Dan Dennett has written ‘extraordinarily offensive and unpleasant things to and about me.’

Steve says: ‘Can you give us links to all his comments about you so we can decide if they were offensive and unpleasant or merely accurate?’

Ha!

(Image via Josh Timonen)

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3 Responses to “Andrew Brown, man about town”

  1. luke Says:

    The amount of angry press that the “new atheists” have generated is always entertaining, because besides more scientific evidence against theism, most of what the new atheists have to say philosophically about the non-existence of God isn’t new. Why, then, are pro-theists so terrified of the new atheists? Is it simply that they are bringing long-known philosophical evidence against God’s existence to a larger audience than ever before?

    Also, regarding religion and child abuse, I was sent to a religious school for the first through eighth grade. I remember learning that masturbation was a sin in probably the fifth grade. Now I know it is perfectly normal and healthy. I really don’t see how telling an incredulous young child that something that is tied to his own self esteem and sexual health is bad for him could not be considered abusive.

  2. maxdunbar Says:

    Good point – Guardian writers normally have no problem in recognising that abuse need not be physical. So why the silence over religion and child abuse?

  3. Stop worrying, Andrew Brown! « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] The Guardian’s CiF Belief blog has provided readers with much entertainment in the form of moronic pro-faith commentator Andrew Brown. Now he is at it […]

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