Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Got the Four Horsemen, Where's My Savior?

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I have a few days before school starts. So I checked out the (in)famous books by Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens from Brandeis's library today. I'm going to check out Dawkins' book from the local library as soon as they make my library card. (I also checked out Wright's Three Scientists and Their Gods as well as Zuckerman's Society Without God, the former because I like what I've heard from Wright and the latter because I forgot to put it back on the shelf and thought as I approached the check-out desk that maybe it's hashgacha pratis that I had it with me :P )

These books are considered the best atheism has to offer. What would be your best recommendations of faith-defenses and in particular, Jewish apologetics? (R' Gil recommended a book by Jerome Gellman, but they don't have it in either library I have access to)


  1. There hasn't really been much Jewish apologetica in the last hundred years or so. Either way, if you want my honest opinion (and I'm playing against my own team here :-p) I think you're going about this all wrong. First of all Hitchens and Harris and Dawkins are hacks; I don't say that just because of the fundamental disagreement we have, but because they just aren't good at what they do. Dennet's book, as I recall, never addresses the viewpoints you seem to be trying to pit against each other directly. If you want "the best atheism has to offer," as opposed to "the most popular works discussing atheism," you should start by reading Hume and Kant, or studies of Hume and Kant, or even popular summaries of their work on religion, or whatever. Specifically, Kant discusses the proofs of God in an appendix to the Critique of Pure Reason, and Hume has the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Follow that up with whatever papers you want from modern writers, there are plenty, both on the theistic and atheistic side, to choose from. At the end of the day, the New Atheists (ironic name) are just channeling Hume and Kant, only (in the case of the non-philosophers) usually mis-construing them.

    If you insist on something Jewish, I was browsing through Strand once and stumbled upon Elliot Dorff's "God book." I don't remember what he calls it; I don't like him, and think he's a pretty shitty scholar. But he's trained as a philosopher, and the book actually looked fairly competent.

    And the (real) honest opinion: granted you should take this judgment with a grain of salt seeing as we've never actually met, but if you've cashed your chips I'm not quite sure why you're bothering with the reading after the fact. Moreover, if you're looking for some sort of counterpart to the New Atheist writings from a theist or Jewish or both perspective, well simply put, it doesn't exist except in Aish form. I'm not sure what you're after, but from the (remarkably vague) impression that I have based on a request like this, it looks like you're barking up the wrong tree.


  3. I find that Dennet, the professional philosopher, is by far the best of the four. While all are articulate and studiously rational, Hitchens is given to angry hyperbole and Harris is too touchy-feely.

  4. R' Gil:
    I'd forgotten about that post, thanks for the references, I'll see if I can find them at the libraries.

    Thanks for that insight. And thank you also for your other comments, particularly on the vlog post. It's good to know more than one person went to the trouble of watching!

    If you have specific critiques or could recommend negative reviews of the works I'm reading, I would be much obliged. People rant and rave about them -- or to put it another way, "There is no God and Dawkins is his prophet" -- so naturally my curiosity's been aroused.

    Alternatively, if you have easier atheist works than the ones you mentioned (although Kant is a theist and what do I know of Hume), I'd also be much obliged; for me, it's the summer, dude.

    Like Anthony Flew, I don't ever cash my chips 100%. I cashed my chips with the haredim in 2006 and the MOs in 2008. I make decisions when I think I've come to a thought-out conclusion after a searching cheshbon hanefesh. Sometimes those decisions change. I go with what I think is right, I read what I think is fascinating, and I think the journey's exciting in a way. I try to always be open to new interpretations of the world and would be interested in yours.

  5. Totally respectable. I don't mean to come off too harsh/critical here, more inquisitve.

    Kant's views on God were actually open to interpretation (like just about anything else he wrote.) My professor last semester declared him an agnostic. Me, I think you could claim Kant as a theist too. That said, he wrote the most devastating critique of the proofs of God in the history of philosophy. Now I haven't read the Critique either - which is why I recommend a study or summary on Kant (you know, not quite "Kant for Dummies," but there are some more serious works along those lines out there).

    I believe David Novack put out a response to Dawkins in Azure, and some dude put something in First Things. Negative reviews of the specific works, I wouldn't know.

    However, now that you bring up Anthony Flew, I remembered the genre that was eluding me when I made my first comment: the whole past half century. Check out the work of J.L. Mackey, J.J.C. Smart, Flew himself, Graham Oppy, Michael Martin for atheism. The reason I'm willing to recommend their work despite having never read it, is because they're serious philosophers that were engaged in the topic for serious periods of time - neither of which I can say for the pop-atheists. As for theism, for reasons I'm sure a good psychologist could explain, I wouldn't know - I only seem to remember the atheist authors. However, I think the following books would serve your purpose fairly well:

    Also, for some blurbs and stuff, here's a fun website:

    Finally, as Walter Kaufman said somewhere, there's plenty of grey area between theism and atheism. I recommend you check out the work of Mark Johnston, Emmanuel Levinas, and Hilary Putnam's view (Putnam discusses this issue in a very short section of his book on Jewish philosophy, which is written for a wide audience. I recommend you check it out in general.)

    I'll send along more as I remember. Much success in your quest!