Saturday 4 June 2011

The Rev. Canon Dr. Giles Fraser, Sniper-in-Chief

Giles Fraser
Is Giles Fraser attending the World Atheist Convention in Dublin this weekend? I don't know what he was expecting, but he seems to have been surprised by one of the speakers, Richard Green of Atheism UK (whom I was pleased to meet at the most recent Winchester Skeptics in the Pub). Anyway, Fraser has written up his reaction in the Guardian.
What is distinctive about Atheism UK, Green insists, is that it's an atheist organisation for all atheists, including those not committed to humanism. "We cater for atheists who are not humanists," he says.
A laudable goal, I would have thought. I'm all for inclusion. But Fraser manages to look down his nose at it.
These days, atheists who are not humanists are an unfamiliar breed. Most atheists, and in particular the new atheists, regard themselves as committed humanists. Indeed, they are new in name only for they appeal back to the atheistic humanism of the Enlightenment, with its optimism about human nature and strong belief in the power of human reason and the inevitability of progress.
It's no good castigating the "new" atheists for not being new — this soubriquet was coined not by the likes of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett, but by their detractors (such as, dare I suggest, the Rev. Canon Dr. Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral).
The sunny optimism of the Enlightenment – not least its commitment to progress and a sense of the intrinsic goodness of human nature – was profoundly dented by the horrors of the first world war and the Nazi death camps.
Three paragraphs in, and we're on to the Nazis. Well done Giles!
The Enlightenment hadn't found another word for sin.
Why on earth would it need to?
And just as Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, a developing anti-humanism started to announce what, in less gender-conscious times, Foucault was to call "the death of man". Indeed, Nietzsche himself insisted the belief in humanity was itself just a hangover from a belief in God and, once God was eradicated, the belief in human beings would follow the same way.
It may come as a surprise to Fraser, but Nietzsche is not the atheist God — because, well, you know, it's in the description: "atheist". Nor do atheists, or even humanists, need a belief in human beings. Speaking about belief in this way is simply a misuse of the term, much like bemoaning atheistic denial of "sin".
Richard Green's "atheists who are not humanists" could meet in a phone box. Indeed, the new atheists simply duck the challenge made by atheistic anti-humanism, believing their expensive scientific toys can outflank the alleged conceptual weakness of their humanism.
Aside from the pejorative sniping it doesn't surprise me that Fraser makes a specific quantitative claim without backing it up. And who says that "atheists who are not humanists" are in favour of anti-humanism (whatever that is)? As for expensive scientific toys outflanking the alleged conceptual weakness of their humanism — what does that even mean?
Thus they dismiss the significance of philosophy just as much as they have always done of theology – as if the two were fundamentally in cahoots.
I see little evidence of atheists or humanists dismissing the whole of philosophy (A. C. GraylingDaniel C. Dennett, Stephen Law — to mention just three atheist philosophers off the top of my head). As for theology, Giles you can keep it. I've no use for your kind of theology, especially as you seem to believe it doesn't even have to be true.

Eric MacDonald has read Fraser's peanut and dismembers it with a sledgehammer.