Shorter Tim Crane: Religious belief cannot be accounted for merely in
terms of the ignorance or irrationality of human beings; it must be
accounted for in terms of the wanton ignorance or irrationality of
David B. Hart muses about a new book featuring fifty essays the "new" atheists. His credulity, so robust when it comes to matters of the Spirit World, has apparently met its match in the Bad Writing of Smug Humanists:
Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God.
But why should that be, when no one believes in God based on arguments?
Anyway, reading Hart's piece, which is (simple probability being what it is) only mostly horrible,  was at least worth it qua set up for the withering riposte waged by Ars Artia in the first comment:
Any comment I could make about the content of this essay would necessarily be banal (one does not want to join the ranks of Daniel Dennett, et al). I can only acknowledge that the intellectual and spiritual power of David Hart steadies one's spine, so to speak, for the terrible things that already exist and may lie ahead. This essay provides hope. There are still men of faith, courage, and good will on earth. Can they prevail?
1. In fairness, I found his enthymematic riffing amusing, even edifying. One must take the sweet with the bitter.
Daniel Davies (a.k.a. d squared), usually so right about so much, has published two posts in one day on the two topics he consistently gets wrong.
The first is about the "new atheist" v. "accommodationist" debate. It's a tiresome business, made every bit as tiresome by the indiscriminate flailing of the accommodationists as by the ululating polemics of the new atheists. (See how I did that? I mentioned two opposing cohorts, and then positioned myself as socially and philosophically superior to both by using carefully chosen epithets, all without really dealing with the merits of the competing claims. (One can learn much from the accommodationists.))
DD apparently thinks that Dawkins is getting his comeuppance because, after all, his being called an "utter twat" by mean atheists is only a taste of his own medicine. Yes, finally - payback for all those times Dawkins called this religious figure or that an "utter twat." Whatever.*
The second, and far more egregiously wrong, post is about the nylon v. tortex guitar pick debate. DD blithely claims that "[n]ylon is for jazz, tortex is for rock." What utter tosh. Dunlop's Gator Grip picks are superior for both idioms.
*I realize that the real moral the authors of the linked-to pieces mean to draw is that there is justice in Dawkins' finally being abused by denizens of his own forum, which abuse heretofore had been heaped only upon Dawkins' critics. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to spot the gaping hole in this argument.
The claims that are made about God bear no resemblance to real
knowledge. This becomes immediately apparent if you try adding details
to God’s CV: God is the eternal omnipotent benevolent omniscient
creator of the universe, and has blue eyes. [Mention of eye colour and] it suddenly becomes obvious that no one knows that, and by
implication, that no one knows anything else either.
Russell Nieli is disappointed by James Atkinson's The Mystical in Wittgenstein's Early Writings. In the main, he's disappointed because Atkinson "simply doesn't understand the kind of
higher level ecstatic experiences that lie at the heart of
Wittgenstein's Tractarian project, and has little empathy for what
Wittgenstein is trying to accomplish when he says that God and the
meaning of the world 'must lie outside the world.'"
This criticism may be apt. But I want to express annoyance at a common mysical trope Nieli appeals to, viz., that "rapturous-ecstatic experience...carries the experiencer beyond the
realm of normal reality and beyond the capacity of speech to express." In other words, religious experience is unique because it is ineffable; and because it is ineffable, it gives the experiencer access to a world beyond ours.
This Boston Globe piece about a new breed of researchers interested in the relationship between secularity and societal health relates their finding that "some of
the world's healthiest societies have the lowest levels of piety." Which shouldn't, but of course will, come as a surprise to most.
The article also suggests that the influence of the New Atheists has done more good than harm. From page 3 of the article:
[S]ome [of the researchers] cite the influence of "New Atheist"
polemicists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have
spurred nonbelievers inside and outside the academy to be more
strident. But the researchers say they're eager not to replicate the
errors of wishful thinking that [Columbia University psychiatrist Richard] Sloan pointed out in the work on
No, I didn't think "strident" was the right word either.
In his critique here of the "new atheism," Julian Baggini is right on one important point : the new atheists "attribut[e] to reason a power it does not have." Though I think I have in mind a point slightly different from Baggini's. 
Responding in part to this post, Charlie Huenemann contends that Alvin Plantinga's theological arguments are "obtuse."
By all accounts, of course, Plantinga is a very nice, very smart man. So naturally, Charlie worries that this harsh, unnuanced, categorical judgment might make him (Charlie, not Plantinga) a jerk.
If so, I suppose I'm a jerk too, since I agree that Plantinga's arguments are obtuse.
But jerks have their own rules of etiquette, and we can reflect on what the appropriate approach -- appropriate, that is, for a jerk -- should be in our exchanges with our theistic-minded brethren. This topic came up in another thread at Utah State's philosophy blog, in which I argued:
Almost all atheists and all theists are (more or less) equally
competent believers generally. But each group believes it has a claim
to knowledge about the existence of God about which the other group is
(generally) epistemically incorrigible. The only thing for either group
to conclude, then, is that the others are simply deluded about the very
narrow question regarding the existence of God.
Again, this is not to say that anyone should go around calling those
afflicted with this delusion as “delusional” simpliciter. Besides being
impolite, it’s just inaccurate. I certainly do believe that theists are
deluded about the existence of God (along with some collateral
matters), but otherwise are as nondelusional as the next atheist
(including about the nonexistence of gods generally, save, of course,
the “One True God” of their own idiolect). Now, exactly what the
appropriate stance is to take toward the other group regarding this
subject is an interesting question, and I’m not sure I know that
answer. But one stance that strikes me as thoroughly inappropriate is interpretive charity. Other kinds of charity — “therapeutic” charity, or perhaps quietistic charity — sure, but not the interpretive kind.
The issues will of course change depending on the maturity of the interlocutor, how settled his views are, the kinds of arguments being lodged, and so on. So there's probably no one-size-fits-all approach. Not having time to blog this morning, I thought I'd throw the thread open to see if anyone had any thoughts. How should we engage in "debate" about religion? As fully-cooperative Gricean conversational partners? As alms givers? As confessors? As therapists? As quietists? As countersophists? As satirists? As...? (Or...not at all?)
An anonymous account of an exchange between Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett is here at Prosblogion.
After Dennett's remarks, the author, who claims once to have been a "Dennettian," had this to say: "Dennett has revealed a deep wickedness in his character. I will never take him seriously as a philosopher again."
Now, I myself have been disappointed by Dennett's efforts in these kinds of exchanges, and accepting this account at face value, I'd agree that a different approach is called for in this type of forum. Even so, I see little in the account that could be shocking to a "former Dennettian." Dennett hasn't exactly been in the closet about his view that theism is a rank fantasy.
UPDATE: An mp3 of the talk is available for download here. (H/T Rob Sica.)
Reading Mike Almeida's "Excusing God," I'm reminded of what a strange piece of reasoning is the so-called Free Will Defense ("FWD").
FWD goes like this:
God values free will very highly.
Free will entails the freedom to choose wrongly and commit evil.
God cannot cause a person to do good without undermining free will.
Therefore, it is possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil, viz., the importance of free will.
Plus, it's possible that the residual, "natural" evil is caused by the acts of demons or other evil spirits. 
Faced with such an argument, one could do worse than simply stand back and let it all be. For it is a marvel of fatuity, and surely part of its perfection is the prophylactic resistance to both logic and common sense it seems to induce (or trade upon). But, well, let's indulgeourselves, as anthropologists, if nothing else. Three points, focusing just on the value of free will as it is assumed in the argument.
First, how much of an unalloyed good can God actually think free will is? Not much, apparently, since God imparted free will to but a small subset of the world's motile heterotrophs. Given God's awesome powers, we can only conclude that by his lights giving free will to chihuahuas and narwhal and iguanas (not to say honeybees and blister beetles and sea
urchins) would just be overdoing it. [1.5]
Second, if God thinks that free will is such a great thing for humans, it is interesting that all humans lack free will at least someofthetime, and that at least some humans lack free will all of the time.
Third, and most importantly, human beings themselves place nothing like this kind of unqualified value on the exercise of free will.  To the contrary, the person who believes that to thwart free will at the margin of saving a baby from an abusive father would be to commit an evil, for example, is probably not the person anyone would want in their church group. A fortiori, it is unlikely anyone would want to pray to such a person, either. Or so one might have thought.
1. Seriously. Real-life philosophers of religion have actually said this. 
I just now realized I never got around to Part II on "risky philosophy." So let me do that now, discussing what it is that makes risky philosophy "risky." I can think of three risky effects, which respectively I'll call mysterianism, specious legitimation, and misdirection by abstraction. I'll discuss these below the fold.
The problem of evil has elicited myriad attempts at theodicy. Many of these "proofs" engage in a rich set of complex rhetorical and logical maneuvers. It can be tempting to engage with these on a case-by-case basis. But doing so almost always involves a lot of risky philosophy. We should look for lower-risk solutions where available.
The post title comes from an essay by Georges Rey , in which he discusses what he calls the "philosophy fallacy":
The idea that one needs powerful philosophical theories to settle [whether there are gods, witches or ghosts] might be called the “philosophy fallacy.” [P]eople are particularly prey to it in religious discussions, both theist and atheist alike; indeed, atheists often get trapped into doing far more, far riskier philosophy than they need (247-248).
Lately I've been revisiting the question of whether there is any point at all in debating religious claims. For awhile (a very short one) I'd "closed the book" on the topic, taking to heart Daniel Davies' wisdom: "[A] sensible man does not spend his precious and decidedly finite waking
hours talking or thinking in any great depth about that in which he
does not believe."