September 29, 2012


The Once-Born and the Twice-Born : The militant quest for certitude among the New Atheists has a peculiarly old-fashioned feel about it (GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, 9/28/12, WSJ)

To anyone even casually familiar with the perennial debate between religion and science, both the New Atheism of the four horsemen and the "Neo-Atheism," as it might be dubbed, of Mr. de Botton seem peculiarly old-fashioned--retro, as we now say. And it is old-fashioned enough to recall a participant in that debate more than a century ago. The Harvard philosopher William James did not identify himself as an atheist. On the contrary, it was as a believer that he defended religion--but a believer of a special sort and a religion that the orthodox, then and now, would not recognize as such. If Mr. de Botton is a Neo-Atheist, James qualifies as a Neo-Believer.

His 1896 lecture "The Will to Believe" was prompted, James said, by the "freethinking and indifference" he encountered at Harvard. He warned his audience that he would not offer either logical or theological arguments supporting the existence of God or any particular religion, ritual or dogma. His "justification of faith" derived instead entirely from the "will" or the "right" to believe, to "adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, despite the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced." James knew this would not go down well with the students and philosophers in the eminent universities. To the obvious objection that the denial of the "logical intellect" is to give up any claim to truth, he replied that it is in defense of truth that faith is justified--the truth provided not by logic or science but by experience and reflection. Moral questions, he pointed out, cannot be resolved with the certitude that comes from objective logic or science.

...and the poor Materialists have never surmounted the problem that objective truth can only be derived via Faith, not Reason.
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Posted by at September 29, 2012 8:13 AM

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