Monday, October 08, 2007

Lee Siegel could try to be open-minded about reading secularist tomes

Siegel, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, takes to task the recent books of “militant atheists” like Christopher Hitchens (five-starred by me on Amazon), Victor Stenger (given an advance provisional five-star rating), Richard Dawkins (four-starred) Dan Dennett (generously three-starred) and Sam Harris (two-starred). Hitchens is by far the best of those I’ve read, as he is the only one to, metaphorically speaking, show that the Dalai Lama as well as the Pope has no clothes. Dennett barely touches on Eastern religion, as does Dawkins, and Harris tries to pretend that Buddhism isn’t a religion, and that it doesn’t have any empirical or philosophical problems, both of which are incorrect. (Hat tip to Kevin Drum for his discussion of this op-ed column.)

Siegel first cites things from Internet pornography to the Kansas Board of Education being overruled on trying to teach creationism intelligent design (creationism-lite) as examples of why we don’t have to worry about religious control in America. He ignores that, no matter how many setbacks in the field, the Religious Right won’t give up. After all, it trotted out intelligent design to replace creationism. Here in Texas, “under God” was added to the Texas flag pledge of allegiance this year by the state legislature. (How many states are nutbar enough to have a state flag pledge, anyway? The U.S. and the Philippines are the only two countries to have a national flag pledge.)

He then claims “the attacks in the book don’t make much sense.” Well, if you’re going to adopt the patristic Christian claim, “I believe because it’s absurd,” as Siegel does later in the column, well, of course, they won’t make sense. Logic doesn’t make sense in an illogical, self-contained, hermetically sealed thought system.

Finally, Siegel trots out this old chestnut:
For the imagination is what embodies concepts, ideas and values that cannot be scientifically verified and that have no practical usefulness.

He is, in essence, making the old claim that the atheist can’t appreciate the “spirituality” of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, let alone Handel’s Messiah, tying that with the canard about “soulless reductionistic science.”

I can surely appreciate the spirituality, or whatever, even of Mozart’s Requiem or Bach’s B minor Mass as much as any religious person, and said so in a newspaper column.

As for the “soulless reductionistic science” idea, I put up the quote of evolutionary biologist and science writer Robert Sapolsky:
Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.

In short, Robert Siegel doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. The title of his forthcoming book, “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” also labels him as some sort of Luddite.

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