Much of the debate over the new atheism can be understood by looking at the legacy of Spinoza and those who take modernity as so defined in the terms given by that philosopher. It is a frequent but unspoken stance on the issue of ‘secularism’. But it generates problems, and quite apart from the scandal over ‘atheism’ in the seventeenth and eighteenth century the work of Spinoza was too limited, despite its brilliant structure, to resolve the issues of theology. The phase of German Classical Philosophy had Spinoza as a subtext and his work was essentially acknowledged and then critiqued/transcended by figures like Kant. But if you look closely many scholars (check out Jonathan Israel) are still plying the Spinoza cult and we can see its limitations surfacing in the New Atheism movement. These Spinoza fans find him a convenient simplification of the issues, with a strong Biblical Criticism, a universal causality mould, and no nonsense on issues of free will, ethics, etc… Recognizable? We can trace this hidden cult in many of the proponents of secular humanism. But this contracted view is destined to create only chaos.
The whole new atheist movement needs an upgrade, or a complete replacement. The debates over god are mostly pointless. Nothing can be gained from such debates. They end as they begin, in dialectical confusion. Atheists win by default, given the gibberish of most theists, but then they get ambitious and declare that ‘god doesn’t exist’. They can’t prove this, and on inspection this is almost gibberish too. ‘God’ can’t ‘exist’, he/she/it must be beyond existence…
Their starting point was the primitive character of theology, as it were, but once this spectrum of critiques has made its point, it becomes a pointless debate on metaphysics. Noone can solve the ‘god’ question. The secular humanists would have done much better to bring the issues to a Kantian context.
The whole of German Classical Philosophy stood as a magnificent conclusion to the Enlightenment, but the whole movement got shunted aside in the 1840’s with the work of Feuerbach. And the whole left went in that direction. And the results were stillborn. You would think the new atheists could learn from this history, but they have restarted all over again, this time without any radicalism, indeed, listening to Harris on Isreal you wonder if he is a kind of neo-con.
The question of ‘god’ is easier to solve if we simply outline its versions and stand back from all of them. But we can’t decree ‘atheism’ because it is not possible to prove the non-existence of god.
The attempt to create a robust secularism has thus failed and this is a puzzle to its adherents who see their views as the inevitable outcome of modernity. But it won’t work that way. These arguments were carefully studied by the Kant generation, but this has been skewered (with a lot of help from the Spinoza cult). The result is the sad emergence of the secular humanist ignoramus, and these fellows have nearly spoiled the foundation of modernist thought. It was always thus from the time of Bertrand Russell (and before) with his style of cocky brilliance that was actually, as you can see from his history of philosophy, very limited in scope. Dawkins is a kind of Russell clone and the result is very appealing to young minds who don’t want anything to get too complicated.