Atheist Noam Chomsky disses New Atheists

Noam Chomsky, linguist, writer, and political activist, has long admitted—is “admitted” the right word now?—that he’s an atheist. Nevertheless, according to the Ideapod and Attack the System blogs, he has no love for the ideas of New Atheists. These quotes appear to be about ten years old, but I thought they were worth reproducing here.

(Note: the quotes appear identically in two places, but I haven’t been able to ascertain the original source.  They might come from a series of videos featuring Chomsky at the University of Wisconsin, but I haven’t had time to go through them all. If the quotes aren’t accurate I’ll simply withdraw my responses.) Here we go:

As an atheist myself, I’ve found these “new atheist” writers to be an embarrassment. First, none of the prominent ones are genuine religious scholars, historians of religion, or cultural anthropologists who can, for instance, examine the cultural, historical, literary, or linguistic contexts in which the varying parts of the Bible were written to provide an explanation of why fundamentalist biblical literalists are, well, mistaken and ignorant. There are plenty of genuine scholars of religion whose work examines religious beliefs and sacred texts within their proper framework, such as Robert Price, John Loftus, Daniel Barker, Hector Avalos, Bart Ehrman, and D.M. Murdoch. These are the skeptics who are worth paying attention to.

Earlier in the quotes (not shown), Chomsky mentions Hitchens, but I’m sure he also has Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins in mind. And yes, people like Price and Dan Barker were steeped in religion as erstwhile believers, and have attended seminary or worked as ministers, and so know the Bible, but I contend that one can forcefully criticize the truth claims of religion without such a background. After all, just ask any Christian two questions: “What is the evidence for your beliefs?” and “How do you know that your religion, as opposed to Hinduism, Islam, or Mormonism, is the correct religion?” Any intelligent laymen who isn’t a religious scholar can still take apart those arguments.

Further, explaining the context of how the Bible was written is not going to convince fundamentalists that they’re “mistaken and ignorant”. That may show the rest of us that they are, but we already know that, and that’s not the main goal of New Atheism.

True, scholars like Price, Loftus, and Ehrman have more ammunition than most of us.  They may know more than we, for instance, about how there’s no extra-Biblical evidence for the existence of a Jesus person, or that archaeologists find no evidence for the Exodus. But to a large degree this exegesis and historical reconstruction is unnecessary. For the task of New Atheism is different from the task of religious scholars, cultural anthropologists, and so on. The brief of New Atheists is to examine (and thus dispel) the evidence undergirding religious beliefs, and to call attention to the harms of believing in the absence of good evidence. That is, our job is to show that faith of any sort, but especially religious faith, is not a virtue.

The task of the others is narrower: to examine (and dispel when necessary) claims of scripture, to find out who wrote religious scripture and when the Bible, Qur’an, etc. were written, who copied who, and to dissect the historical origins of religious belief. All of that can promote nonbelief, but for most it’s not their explicit aim. If you’re concerned with skepticism, as Chomsky seemed to be, The God Delusion is in fact a more powerful argument for nonbelief than are the narrower (but still often excellent) writings of, say, Bart Ehrman. And, in fact, writers like Loftus and Barker often make arguments that are identical to those of New Atheists like the “four horsemen.” What Chomsky is doing here is raising the Credentials Argument without realizing that it’s largely irrelevant to New Atheists.

He goes on:

Second, they typically conflate atheism with stereotypical liberal or radical left-wing politics when there’s no inherent relationship whatsoever. See Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hume, Nietzsche, and Mencken.

Note that none of these people were “genuine religious scholars, historians of religion, or cultural anthropologists”!

And no, New Atheists don’t conflate atheism with a political viewpoint; it just happens that most New Atheists are on the Left. I’m not aware of any of the big voices in new atheism deliberately conflating nonbelief with politics in an “intersectional way,” though some, like P. Z. Myers, insist that “proper” atheism must go along with a particular left-wing ideology. For most of the rest of us, atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods and the tenets of religion. And some of us, like me, feel that promoting nonbelief will be speeded up by changing society in progressive ways.

Third, like the late Madalyn Murray O’Hair, they come across as narrow-minded and ill-informed bigots whose only purpose is to antagonize religious people.

This old canard doesn’t deserve refutation. Suffice it to say that the writings and talks of New Atheists have indeed changed the minds of thousands of people, and they’ve admitted in in places like Dawkins’s “Converts Corner”. In contrast, I doubt that Chomsky has ever turned a single believer into a nonbeliever! The “antagonism” and “bigot” cards are simply played by those who can’t answer New Atheist arguments, and raising those is unworthy of Chomsky.

NOTE ADDED LATER: It’s possible that up to this point I haven’t been quoting Chomsky, but Keith Preston, whose name is given on this post from Attack the System. (I say this because there’s a line between the quotes above and those below. I haven’t yet been able to check the attribution to Chomsky. If the quotes above are from Preston, consider my refutation that of Preston’s ideas, not Chomsky’s.

Chomsky goes on:

. . . I haven’t been thrilled by the atheist movement. First, who is the audience? Is it religious extremists? Say right-wing evangelical Christians like George Bush (as you rightly point out)? Or is it very prominent Rabbis in Israel who call for visiting the judgment of Amalek on all Palestinians (total destruction, down to their animals)? Or is it the radical Islamic fundamentalists who have been Washington’s most valued allies in the Middle East for 75 years (note that Bush’s current trip to the Middle East celebrates two events: the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel, and the 75th anniversary of establishment of US-Saudi relations, each of which merits more comment)? If those are the intended audiences, the effort is plainly a waste of time. Is the audience atheists? Again a waste of time. Is it the grieving mother who consoles herself by thinking that she will see her dying child again in heaven? If so, only the most morally depraved will deliver solemn lectures to her about the falsity of her beliefs. Is it those who have religious affiliations and beliefs, but don’t have to be reminded of what they knew as teenagers about the genocidal character of the Bible, the fact that biblical accounts are not literal truths, or that religion has often been the banner under which hideous crimes were carried out (the Crusades, for example)? Plainly not. The message is old hat, and irrelevant, at least for those whose religious affiliations are a way of finding some sort of community and mutual support in an atomized society lacking social bonds. Who, in fact, is the audience?

Here Chomsky says, wrongly, that believers already know that the Bible isn’t literally true or that religious scriptures inspired violence (viz., Reza Aslan and Karen Armstrong). Chomsky’s wrong. Literalism is the watchword of most Muslims and many Christians: millions of Americans believe in the literal truth of Genesis, the creation story, and Adam and Eve, and the Catholic Church insists that Adam and Eve were the real ancestors of all of us.

The audience for New Atheists is clear: those who are on the fence about religion, young people, and believers who are willing to be open-minded in examining their beliefs. This has been noted repeatedly by New Atheists. And none of us want to hector the “grieving mother”, for crying out loud! I’m surprised that someone of Chomsky’s considerable intelligence could write a paragraph like that.

Furthermore, if it is to be even minimally serious, the “new atheism” should focus its concerns on the virulent secular religions of state worship, so well exemplified by those who laud huge atrocities like the invasion of Iraq, or cannot comprehend why they might have some concern when their own state, with their support, carries out some of its minor peccadilloes, like killing probably tens of thousands of poor Africans by destroying their main source of pharmaceutical supplies on a whim — arguably more morally depraved than intentional killing, for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere. In brief, to be minimally serious the “new atheism” should begin by looking in the mirror.

Without going on, I haven’t found it thrilling, though condemnation of dangerous beliefs and great crimes is always in order.

Here Chomsky is demanding an intersectional atheism aligned with his own political stansd. There is no necessary connection between believing in God and your views of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy. What Chomsky is doing here is simply asserting that atheists shouldn’t engage in extend to “state worship.” While there is a psychological connection between, say, the manipulation of people by religion and by the ideologies of Stalinism and Nazism, it’s by no means clear that adhering to U.S. policy, or generally to a government’s agenda, is “secular state worship.”

I needn’t go on; we all know that sometimes Chomsky goes off the rails, blinded by his own “religious” desire to blame America for all the world’s wrongs.

h/t: Nicole Reggia


  1. Kevin
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    1. Being a religious scholar will benefit almost no one. How is knowing about the history of Judeo-Christian traditions useful if you want to explain advantages of learning math and science to uncover knowledge about the natural world?

    2. The audience atheism speaks to is the entire human race. Anyone willing to listen is the audience.

    3. “State worship”. I know of no atheists who are state worshipers. He is confusing conservative principles for secular ones. Einstein said it best: nationalism is a disease. Chomsky should know that.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Chomsky is not saying atheists ARE state worshippers. He says they should devote more moral energy to refuting state worship.

      • Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Yes. tat was a typo and now corrected.

      • Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        This man’s pomposity and arrogance blows my mind.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 11, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          + 1.

          I’ve never had much time for Chomsky outside his area of expertise, though there is a quote of his I use from time to time.

          When he explains his own actions of domestic terrorism, his logic and justification simply don’t work imo. He even seems to realize this himself when someone asks the right questions though of course he never admits it.

          I sometimes think that the reason some people have such an issue with the new atheists is they’re jealous of the clarity of their argument. You don’t actually need to be one of the horsemen to hold your own in an argument because it just makes sense. Others have to convert people to their cause by getting them as children, removing outside influence, keeping them away from alternative opinions, using emotional blackmail, and similar methods. We new atheists just say our bit and leave people to work out on their own we’re correct.

          • BJ
            Posted April 11, 2017 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

            Excellent post Heather, and I completely agree. I think Chomsky has contempt for New Atheists (just as he always seems to have contempt for anyone who supports anything he disagrees with — especially anything that has to do with the West) and knows that they’re a big part of his po-mo crap starting to die out everywhere but the halls of academia. It’s only in those halls where they can indoctrinate people and, as you said, New Atheists don’t have to indoctrinate, while Chomsky and people like him do. He hates what is essentially the better fighter in the ring with him.

          • DiscoveredJoys
            Posted April 12, 2017 at 3:30 am | Permalink

            Agree wholeheartedly – except I was always doubtful of his ‘universal grammar’ concept. A concept which he has quietly modified over the years and now for which ‘other explanations are available’.

            The strength of an academic’s defence of his concepts does not necessarily indicate the worth of those concepts.

            • BJ
              Posted April 12, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

              Yup, turned out his so often hailed “universal grammar” idea was complete BS, so, rather than admitting error, he just tried to very subtly change things around to fit new info that contradicted him.

  2. Ian Clark
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Religion is a failed hypothesis. It is appropriate that biologists are at the forefront of educating their fellow humans about where they really came from, and where they go after death (i.e. nowhere except into biological decay).
    We will know when religion is gone from a country when schools in that country are teaching evolutionary biology in grade 1. Chomsky is simply wrong about the need to understand religious texts and history – it is irrelevant to scientific progress.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think it is irrelevant, even specifically to scientific progress. Studying religion from a historical, sociological and scientific perspective is not only interesting but is very arguably useful. For one example, science, as in the process, the methods, is all about accounting for human fallibilities that would otherwise prevent us from figuring out our reality. A better understanding of human fallibilities could only be of help with that. And I think we can all agree that there are some major fallibilities involved with religious thinking and how pernicious and tenacious it is.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Some of the sciences are social sciences like psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology, which of course study religion.

  3. Richard Bond
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I do not have to be a carpenter to recognise when a chair wobbles.

  4. Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    acceptance of God, puts pressure on the libertarian lifestyle, this is it there is no other world , when proof of God Most High becomes obvious, that shell of defiance cracks , it’s the day the bully leaves the room and everyone starts being themselves . If political leaders read the old scriptures, and applied them they would probably acquire the wisdom that accompanies the writings, if you want to fall in love as you say, you have to give your heart for nothing but love in return, in the world we live in giving it all, is rare. Happily, i have proof of God’s mighty existence. If you read the blog i have, in particular the cloud pictures, you’ll see it for yourself. the world is two spirits, the dark and the light, the light is always giving, as the sun does, when it shines on us, thanks for the post. religions by nature, have been controlling, but if you step back and examine it, they are just climbing gear, guides as to divine assistance and knowledge of God’s ways. amen.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      If political leaders read the old scriptures….like Exodus:

      Exodus 21:20-21 If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.


      Deuteronomy 20:10-17 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. . . . This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

      However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.

      No, I think I prefer my modern politicians to leave off the love of the old scriptures.

      • JohnE
        Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        Come on Diana,don’t you know that only the GOOD parts of the bible actually mean what they say? Like so many of the other wonderful mysteries inherent in religion, the BAD parts of the bible can’t possibly mean what they say, no matter how plain the language. This is a fundamental principal of biblical hermeneutics that you obviously don’t understand. 🙂

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          Yes true, including Jesus’s “only through me” which means no matter how good a person I am, since I’m an atheist or even if I just don’t hear the “good news” because I’m somewhere where Christians are not, I will be tortured forever by having me skin burn off, heal and then nurn again. Forever.

      • Posted April 12, 2017 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        i like your quote, but that was before the advent of Jesus, practice love, forgive your enemies, and peace will result

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 12, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

          But isn’t, according to Hebrews 13, Jesus, who is God, the same yesterday and today and forever? Jesus must stand by all those dictates from the Old Testament.

        • Posted April 12, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

          Squeeze me?

          Are we referring to the same Jesus here?

          The one from the Christian Bible?

          Who came here solely to prepare us for his imminent return, at which time he’ll lead his armies in an all-encompassing battle which will leave behind no survivors? And those who fight on his side get to be his pets, whilst those who don’t are handed over to his brother for infinite torture?

          And who commanded to his followers that they get an head start on the bloodbath in that parable of Armageddon in Luke 19?

          Who came not to bring peace but a sword?

          And whose Father drowned the whole planet, murdered all the Egyptian first-born sons, and commanded Moses to rape all pre-pubescent Midianite girls after slaughtering their parents?

          You know…Hitler kissed babies, and only killed mere millions rather than the entire population. Does that make him a love-and-peace god like Jesus? Just how low is that bar these days?




          • Posted April 13, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

            Jesus came to teach you love, put an end to all wars and to live in peace, if you can’t imagine that, then you can’t live in peace, forgiveness was the message ,there is a demon, and the hatred people sow adds fuel to the fire. In the world we live in, those who want to control our lives are fighting a loosing battle. Most people don’t understand that sharing is what most people are afraid to do. Thanks for your words ben, happy easter

            • Posted April 13, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

              Jesus came to teach you love, put an end to all wars and to live in peace

              But Jesus himself — in red letter text no less — explicitly said that he came not to bring peace but a sword, and that he’ll infinitely torture those who dare love their closest family more than they love Jesus.

              Can you cherry-pick pleasant-seeming aphorisms from Jesus’s collected sayings? Of course — but, again, that’s the case with all monsters. As I wrote, Hitler kissed babies; what more could you ask for?

              And if you can’t understand that sincerely peaceful and loving individuals don’t bring swords instead of peace and are perfectly happy for you to love anybody and everybody…then you’ll never understand why the peace you preach is the peace of the mass post-genocide grave, the love you preach is of the wife-beating husband.

              Humans are doing a not-miserable job of groping towards a more peaceful and compassionate society. The world today, heartbreakingly imperfect as it is, is far less horrific than that of a couple millennia ago. And it’s because we’ve stopped trusting flim-flam men in robes and started demanding independently verifiable evidence — that’s the whole point of the Enlightenment.

              So why are you clinging to the shaman’s robes?

              Presumably, part of the answer includes that you think there’s more reason to believe that Jesus was really real than any of the countless other Pagan demigods of the era. When you understand why you laugh at the notion that Perseus was born of a virgin mother and the father of Heaven in accordance with the prophecy, you might begin to understand why the same notion of Jesus is equally ridiculous.

              At that point, you might be inclined to trace out the actual arc of the Jesus myth. The short version is that he’s an ancient Jewish demigod, with the earliest mentions in the Old Testament — the clearest being Zechariah, where he’s got all the theological and spiritual elements (including “Prince of Peace” and the architect and high priest of YHWH’s celestial temple), but none of the familiar biography. Philo of Alexandria (who was at the scene when Jesus was allegedly doing his mission but never even hinted at anything remotely like him or the events of the Gospels) explicitly equated Zechariah’s Joshua with the Logos, which was Philo’s life’s work. Paul’s description of the Christian Jesus, the oldest on record, is theologically indistinguishable from what Philo wrote of the Logos, save Paul attributed the Mithraic Eucharist of his home town to Jesus’s Last Supper. Finally, some time after the Roman conquest of Judea, Mark invented a biography of Jesus in full Homeric style; nothing before him refers to most of the biographic details there, and everything after does.

              Again, had I written that preceding paragraph about any other ancient demigod, you wouldn’t have blinked an eye. Of course Hercules is perfectly mythical, and of course his Twelve Labors were a literary invention, and so on. And of course Orpheus’s life has the same arc of trial / descent into Hell / redemption through love / resurrection / eternal bliss as Dionysus’s, because Orpheus was intentionally cast in Dionysus’s mold.

              Because that’s what all those ancient deities — Jesus most emphatically included — actually were: pious fictions.

              So why are you smart enough to see through all the fictions save one?




              • Posted April 13, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

                the sword is the words of truth, amen

              • Posted April 13, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

                Even if you sincerely believe that, it is inescapable that innumerable Christians over the millennia took the sword literally — just look at the Crusaders, the Conquistadors, the Nazis….

                So why would somebody as allegedly all-knowing and all-loving as Jesus be so perversely stupid as to use the worst possible analogy, one that equates violence with speech?

                And what on Earth makes you so sure that you’re so much smarter than all those millions upon millions of Christians who came before you such that you alone have figured out the hidden secret opposite-than-the-plain-text meaning of Jesus’s words that remained opaque to every generation before you?

                If it helps: the experience you’re having right now is that of cognitive dissonance. You have an overwhelming portion of your life devoted to the dual proposition that you’re a Christian and that it’s a good thing to be a Christian — and yet you’re continually confronted with plainly contradictory evidence that pretty clearly shows that it’s actually not a good thing to be a Christian, that Christians who happen to be good people are such in spite of their Christianity.

                So, Cognitive dissonance theory says that you have to resolve this conflict, and you can do so in one of two ways. You can, as you are, do your damnedest to ignore or reinterpret the contradictory evidence, or you can accept that your initial premise actually is faulty.

                It’s perfectly natural to be terrified of even contemplating that second path, but, in reality, it’s the path that leads to a far more peaceful and fulfilling and meaningful life.

                If it helps…imagine the advice you’d give to somebody who still, in this day and age, sincerely worshipped Quetzalcoatl, the outsider’s perspective you’d have of that particular folly….




              • Posted April 24, 2017 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                quetzalcoatl, do you actually know the history in south america, and the history of the stones, well done, it is a subject people should be made aware of.
                But getting to your fundamental theory, the sword of truth, are the words the come from Holy Spirit, the spoken word. I assume there are still those in shock, at having murdered the son of God, and if this is your fear, it was an honest mistake, it’s the same with every power hub, when the threat arrives they do what the organisation decides regardless of the good news. Thanks all the same for your comments, they are interesting and they ask serious questions. As Jesus would say, or God for that matter, the wisdom of the world will be proved to be rubbish when compared with the word of the divine, and such is the truth, building walls across a border that can’t be policed firstly, and poisoning the world with the notion, that man made power can overcome everything. I have more reasons to know this than most, having beaten the odds many times with help from above. The last remaining issue in the world, is for the world to realize, it wasn’t created by men, amen. happy days, and thanks again.

              • Posted April 24, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

                I assume there are still those in shock, at having murdered the son of God, and if this is your fear, it was an honest mistake, it’s the same with every power hub, when the threat arrives they do what the organisation decides regardless of the good news.

                Do you understand just how utterly bewildered you would be by somebody accusing you of fear of Batman’s righteous vengeance? How any response would feel completely inadequate were somebody to accuse you of not wanting to get on Santa’s naughty list? How confident you’d be of assessing somebody as insane were they to describe their personal conversations with Tinkerbell and their travel plans to Never-never Land?

                The Christian fantasia is every bit as bizarre and incomprehensible outside the context of fiction, and you would do yourself a great service to grow out of it, just as you’ve (presumably) already grown out of various other childhood delusions.

                It seems obvious, based on your own accusations of fear, that you yourself actually do fear that, if you stop clapping, then Tinkerbell will die, Santa will put you on the naught list, and Batman will go mediaeval on your sorry ass. But, if you can understand for a moment why such fears are not merely unfounded but grossly counterproductive to the quest of living a moral and fulfilling adult life…

                …then you will understand why the exact same fears are every bit as personally destructive when clothed in Christian sacraments. (Not to mention, of course, every bit as much the product of a fevered imagination.)




              • Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

                thanks for the reply ben, and it makes sense, but from my point of view, there is the over riding principle of why do we exist in the first place, and more importantly, who is the talent giver. From experience, i have encountered what most people in this world only read about, and while that may sound vague, it’s as vague as saying your DNA is impossible to view with your eyes, and only visible under a microscope. I can assure you ,that what has been written in old scriptures, and that includes Islam, is there to warn us of our follies, in thinking we are the masters of the world and our universe. Hope your day goes well. thanks for your comments, they ask searching questions

              • Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                there is the over riding principle of why do we exist in the first place, and more importantly, who is the talent giver

                Not only are those perfect examples of “begging the question,” they can only even hypothetically make sense within the long-since-falsified ancient superstition of Aristotelian metaphysics.

                As to, “begging the question,” consider the classic example: “Tell us, if you would, the precise date when you stopped beating your wife.” If you’re a bachelor who’s never beaten anybody in your life, how on Earth are you supposed to answer?

                Your questions assume that “Why?” is a meaningful question that can have a meaningful answer to existence. But, consider, for example, how odd it would be to wonder why everything on Earth is south of the North Pole. Why isn’t there anything north of the North Pole?

                To be fair to Aristotle, his metaphysics is a not-bad approximation of the everyday world we humans find ourselves in. Your coffee cup will not, indeed, slide across the table unless you push on it, and it will stop moving as soon as you stop pushing on it. But we now understand that that’s a gross oversimplification of what’s going on, and a fuller accounting reveals that the cup resists movement because the table itself is pushing back on the cup.

                Aristotle would consider that absurd. The table has no mind, no wants, no desires — and no hands, either, with which to mount such an effective resistance. And, yet, it is beyond even an hint of a doubt that the table pushes back on the cup.

                That you should wonder “who” “gave” you talent is as absurd as wondering where the mind of the table is that coordinates its careful resistance of your efforts of sliding the cup.

                As to holy scriptures…whatever literary merit they might or might not possess, you don’t have to get past the opening verses to know how absurd they are and their utter lack of relevance to reality. I mean, seriously? An enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard is the source of the pain of childbirth? Do I really have to explain all that’s worng with such — let alone what’s worng with taking it seriously (outside of an anthropological or literary context)?




              • Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                thanks Ben for your lengthy comments, they are informative, i wonder at times what inspire da vincii and others to create the works of art they did. while today we value them on a monetary basis, i wonder about the inspiration for them, and why these talented men would go to such lenghts to do as they did. cheers again

              • Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

                First, one of the hallmarks of maturity is the ability to honestly answer, “I don’t know.” And an even more important skill is to recognize that all forms of ignorance are not equal.

                For example, I know not the names of the welders who assembled the frame of the 1955 VW Beetle sitting in my driveway right now. However, despite my ignorance, I have nigh-unshakable confidence that none of them were named, “qSZgJkMI.” Simply because I don’t know the answer doesn’t mean that all possible answers have equal merit; I can be confident I don’t know the correct answer at the same time as I can dismiss various proposed answers. To continue the analogy, it’s much less unlikely that one of the welders was named, “Letitia” — but I still remain overwhelmingly confident that no “Letitia” was amongst the welders. Tell me that one of them was named, “Georg,” and I would agree that that’s a reasonable possibility, not to be dismissed out of hand…but I also wouldn’t put any great confidence in it. But show me pay stubs or other similar documentation that match the VIN to the date of manufacture and the like…and now you’ll have my attention. There’d still be skepticism (Are the documents authentic? Might he have been sick that day?), but I’d then be happy to (provisionally) build upon that conclusion in support of others.

                Turning to da Vinci, I would be certain that I could not give a full accounting of his inspiration. I also have no doubt that your calumny about the modern worth of his works being solely monetary is false, to the point that you should be ashamed for suggesting it. You clearly appreciate his works for non-monetary reasons; how dare you deny that I and others might also share such an appreciation? Do you really think you alone, or only your coreligionists, have the insight or humanity to appreciate da Vinci’s works for their artistic or aesthetic or educational or other merits?

                And, again, at the same time as I cannot tell you exactly what inspired da Vinci, I would be confident that he was not inspired in any, way, shape, or form, by Galactic Overlord Xenu.

                I can express similar confidence that, should he have sincerely drawn inspiration from a belief in the reality of some of the same gods as you yourself believe in, his belief in their reality is sufficient cause for inspiration entirely independent from their actual existence.

                One can be sincerely and unequivocally convinced in the correctness of a proposition and act accordingly and yet be perfectly worng; the sincerity of belief is no indication of the correctness of the belief.

                For proof…just look at all those who’ve fallen victim to a confidence scam. They really did believe that they were investing wisely…and, yet, their money still vanished, and no amount of sincerity of belief will cause their investments to be repaid.

                That, incidentally, is the explanation for the development of the tools of science. It’s not perfect, of course. It is, instead, merely the most reliable (yet still imperfect) means we have yet to develop for assessing the trustworthiness of beliefs.

                And when you understand why “faith” was the first thing to get tossed from science and why it’s the one unforgivable sin in science, you will begin to understand why the beliefs you faithfully hold should be the ones you treat with the greatest skepticism and try hardest to disprove and let go of quickly at the first signs of inconsistency.

                …but only, of course, if you value wisdom….




              • Posted April 28, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

                great commentary Ben, you can hit the nails well, as for my comment on Da vincii, as wisdom goes as you rightly say, we don’t use it often enough and allow ourselves to be dictated to by the price tag. i am more speptical than you probably, but when i have conclusive cast iron proof of something i don’t deny it. If you read the post fully i never suggested you valued art on a monetary basis, a lt of people do, it’s the emperor’s clothes syndrome, after all, reality TV and the media interest in its’ bigger performers that Got Mr Trump elected if your honest, the media men know this, two billion worth of free publicity pushed the ball in his favour, and of course the desire for change. At least it is not a case of more of the same. As for scams and such, this is a sad human trait ,taking advantage of the hopes and aspirations of those who want to trust. If you read the old scriptures, all this stuff is set out in detail. Thanks for your comments, they are very engaging, happy days.

              • Posted April 28, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                As for scams and such, this is a sad human trait ,taking advantage of the hopes and aspirations of those who want to trust.


                The common thread in all scams, of course, is an abuse of trust. It’s the “con” in “confidence man.”

                It’s so common, in fact, that any time anybody insists one should trust them either without bothering to verify their claims or despite a failure of independent verification, one knows with certainty that a scam is under way.

                You, yourself, are caught in the oldest and most persistent such scam, incidentally. When you understand why you’re proud to wear your faith on your shoulder, just as every other victim of every other scam, you’ll understand for yourself why the “religious” modifier for “faith” in no way legitimizes faith itself.

                You wouldn’t buy an used car on faith, so why on Earth should you buy an entire worldview, complete with morality, on faith?

                And, make no mistrake, you do buy it, paying dearly, and on the installment plan, every time you toss some money in the collection plate….




              • Posted April 28, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

                They didn’t believe the miracles either when they saw then before their own eyes until it happened a few times, i know, it’s hard to fathom, but they say it’s a gift Ben, it all depends on what you put your dollar on i suppose. Thanks for the comments, seriously, we all need to question what is going on, and your comments certainly do that, cheers.

              • Posted April 28, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                And, yet, the only record of those miracles is in a book that itself is even more outrageous than Harry Potter and Star Wars combined. Neither Harry nor Luke believed in miracles before they witnessed them with their own eyes.

                Have you yourself thrust your hand into Jesus’s side to feel his intestines?


                Such was the standard of proof that Thomas famously demanded.

                Why are your standards so much lower, that a translation-of-a-translation of a copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy of a text with known-unreliable provenance dating most optimistically to a century after the “fact” in an era when similar fantastic stories were being sold on every corner…why are your standards so low that that should suffice for you, rather than actual personal physical examination of the body of the Risen Christ?

                Indeed, as far as standards of evidence and credibility go, the Bible makes the weekly two-headed Elvis / Martian love child stories in the checkout aisle seem as solid as a CERN physics experiment.




              • Posted May 2, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                Ben, thanks again for your reply, i assume you have put your trust in the divine power and been disappointed, or others have informed you it wasn’t possible, anyway, to put your mind at ease, i encountered the Holy Spirit of God myself, so i know first hand of the other world that exists, it’s not myth but those who don’t want to accept it make their choices, but having encountered the miraculous on countless occasions, how the power of Spirit changes everything, i feel it only right so say it as i have personally experienced it. The world is divided at this moment, the extremists on one hand, who have their vision, and those that want peace and well being, peace comes at a price, very few are able to deal with, like giving up their perjudiacial view of the world, we are better than you, what would you know, i’ll force my opinion till you eat it almost, there is that pressure on people everywhere, and religions per se are not outside it either. The point to wonder on, is this, if what i believe to be true turns out to be absolutely wrong, where do i stand, do i persevere because it’s in the interest of the family or do i become true to who i am. when you have encountered the real Holy Spirit Ben, it changes everything. Thanks again for your comments, have a good day.

              • Posted May 2, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

                i assume you have put your trust in the divine power and been disappointed

                Oh, come on. Can’t you hear for yourself how hollow that rings? Do you no longer yourself believe in Santa because you were disappointed by the sweater you got from him rather than the bike you were hoping for?

                or others have informed you it wasn’t possible

                Do you need others to inform you that no amount of faery dust will let you fly off to Neverland? And did you not yourself do Newton’s famous gravity experiments in your school science class?

                i encountered the Holy Spirit of God myself, so i know first hand of the other world that exists

                …and, of course, it’s totally real, unlike those hallucinations of false gods that the Hindus have, or the Muslims have, or the First Nations people have, or….

                You do know, do you not, that your profoundly moving experiences are something pretty much everybody has felt? And that there are very reliable ways to induce them both with and without the use of pharmaceuticals? Indeed, your Christian prayer is a much less consistent pathway to Paradise than peyote. But it would never cross your mind that a First Nations medicine man is more in tune with the true nature of the divine than you yourself, of course.

                i’ll force my opinion till you eat it almost, there is that pressure on people everywhere, and religions per se are not outside it either

                Religions not outside it!? Good lord, man — what planet are you living on?

                Overwhelmingly, religions are far and away leading the charge!

                In the States, it’s been the most devout Christian denominations who’ve most consistently fought the hardest against civil liberties, most recently same-sex marriage, but, before then, the Civli Rights Act, the Suffragist movement, the Civil War — hell, it was the least religious, the deists and the Unitarians, who had to stand up against the most religious in order to build the Wall of Separation between Church and State in the first place.

                And just look at the mess of the Middle East right now. You do realize that the Islamic State running around raping girls and burning reporters and tossing gay men off buildings is…well…devoutly Islamic, no? And that their practically-indistinguishable cohorts in Saudi Arabia are every bit as faithful and barbaric?

                I’ll give you another hint: it’s a religious institution that’s been running the biggest international child prostitution ring for its leadership, and they’re headquartered in Rome.

                The point to wonder on, is this, if what i believe to be true turns out to be absolutely wrong, where do i stand, do i persevere because it’s in the interest of the family or do i become true to who i am

                Well, there you go. You’ve just admitted that you don’t actually believe, but you’re pretending to do so because you think it’s better for your family.

                Do you really think so little of your family that they can’t handle the truth? Do they really love you so little that they’d abandon you if they thought you weren’t pretending as hard as they’re pretending?

                As for what you’d lose by giving up your childish superstition…well, statistically, odds are excellent that you’d lose your existential angst. It’s the religious who’re so obsessed with what they’ll do after they die that they forget to live; the sane realize that this is our one-and-only chance, so why waste it worrying about fantasies with no bearing on reality whatsoever?

                Put it this way. How worried are you that Set will weigh your soul more heavily than his feather? And isn’t that exactly as worried as you’d be about Satan and Hell once you admitted to yourself what rank nonsense it is?

                So why are you getting so worked up about what Satan’s got in store for you when you stop kissing his kid’s brother’s ass?




              • Posted May 6, 2017 at 7:22 am | Permalink

                Ben, you are so off the wall it’s enlightening, but if you think about it, why would a world that prides itself on power, want to accept the possibility, of there being a higher authority, a global consciousness, the reminds people of other possibilities than the one that brought the world to the brink in terms of poisoning the oceans, the human psyche as well. The argument is a very simple one, the mere possibility of the presence of God upsets so many, and if that awareness of God grows, as is happening, the numbers don’t lie, it sort of tweaks the memories of many. Each one of us comes from a long line of persons, and in those lives lived, there are real memories, which finds it’s way into our lives in our habits and dislikes. The wisdom of old if applied would sort out all our problems. As God says, the wisdom of this world will be pure foolishness when compared with the wisdom of God, just food for thought. By the way, my Faith has cost me dearly, amen, but the rewards will be eternity. Thanks for trying to rubbish my comments, happy days

  5. yiamcross
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I see no need to become intimate with every detail of a religion in order to debunk it. I don’t suppose many, if any, christians, have studied every other religion in depth in order to reject them over their chosen faith.

    I simply find the argument that there’s a god, any god, completely unconvincing and have seen no evidence to suggest there is a need for one much less that one might exist.

    The fact that the religious cling to their faith in spite of a number of contradictions, errors of fact and many contradictions within their holy text is a mystery to me. No reasonable, rational person would cling to a hypothesis which had been shown to be similarly erroneous and I have to seriously question the judgment of anyone who does.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Chomsky is focusing too much on Christianity, which is only one particular form theism may take (or, perhaps, it’s a dozen forms, given the numerous interpretations.)

  6. J. Quinton
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    After all, just ask any Christian two questions: “What is the evidence for your beliefs?” and “How do you know that your religion, as opposed to Hinduism, Islam, or Mormonism, is the correct religion?”

    This is really the only refutation needed for people who insist that atheists must be scholars of religion in order to be true atheists.

    Why is it that theists get a free pass to believe whatever they want without reflection or scholarship but atheists need PhDs in multiple areas of the humanities to be valid?

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Indeed. The next thing I’d ask Chomsky is what stance he thinks we non-experts *should* take on religious claims. We’re weong to be skeptical? We have to meet those claims with credence simply because Mssr. Courtier doesn’t think we have the appropriate letters after our name?

      Well, shoot! I only have degrees in music. I guess I can only assert agnosticism about the existence of Poseidon if I want to maintain my intellectual integrity.

      • Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Why Poseidon? I think your competence is about Apollo and the Muses.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      “Why is it that theists get a free pass to believe whatever they want without reflection or scholarship but atheists need PhDs in multiple areas of the humanities to be valid?”

      ….Out of politeness — they’ve been free pontificate about unsolvable, unknowable mysteries for millennia, and it would be impolite to take that away from now, just because science has ruined it all for them by finding a huge bunch of answers that were supposed to remain unknown.

  7. Pliny the in Between
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    A perfect example of the fact that religion is just one of the many tools people use to feel morally superior.

  8. Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Sounds like Chomsky is being his usual curmudgeonly self.

  9. Sshort
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    “That is, our job is to show that faith of any sort, but especially religious faith, is not a virtue.”

    Again, Professor, a beautiful parsing. Your work is invaluable.

  10. GM
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Bart Ehrman needs to write a book where he takes the Christian doctrine and picks it apart piece by piece explaining how exactly it was that we got each element of it historically. It was, of course, usually by textual forgery, making up things out of thin air, and political infighting, but the details are very interesting, and few people are in the position to do it properly.

    It may take 10 volumes or something of the sort given his rather verbose writing style, but it needs to happen.

    However, he prefers to write less inflammatory shorter books of much less ambitious scope.

    And the overall effect of his message is much diminished as a result.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Thank you Bart Ehrman for writing the books you’ve written. I have most, if not all, of them and have read all I have as well as the works of many other authors.

      Bart Ehrman needs to write whatever he feels like writing without instruction from his readers who may, instead, politely suggest work(s) they’d dearly love to see him write.

      A 10 volume (or more) point-by-point explication of Christian doctrine, historical or otherwise, would not benefit anyone. It’s not possible to do because of the great diversity of beliefs drawn from many different religious sources throughout history (reinterpreted and revised over the centuries)in both the parent religion, Judaism, and Christianity. And, it’s unlikely that a world that tweets would take the time to read such a work.

      The more authors we read that hold varying viewpoints, the more likely we are to encounter facts and ideas that resonate with us.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Bart Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God” is the beginnnings of this project.

  11. Historian
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Since Chomsky’s quotes are about ten years old, he was in the vanguard of so many supposed atheists who came after him. His advice to New Atheists is simple: shut up about arguing that gods do not exist. Spend your time attacking governments that are destroying the world. Criticizing religion will alienate too many religious allies of the causes Chomsky believes in. For one of the world’s most prominent public intellectuals, his attitude is highly anti-intellectual. It seems that for him arguing for a truth must be suppressed for the good of the movement against corrupt, capitalist states, particularly that of the United States.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      The funny thing is, those who came after him are still attacking Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens even though he’s been dead for 6 years, and still complaining that atheism is a white privileged male disease while ignoring all the non-white, non-male, non-privileged who have been routinely and unsurprisedly promoted by the above said and have been covered here too ever since Jerry started the site.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Chomsky’s aim is admirable, but he is fighting for peace without hurting anyone’s feelings. That will be as successful as having sex to obtain abstinence.

      Accommodating, for example, an unreformed religion, like Islam, will bring peace to Gulf states about as easily as counting all the fish in the oceans.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Chomsky also seems to be utilizing the ever popular “hey, stop being an activist for THAT cause; instead, become an activist for THIS cause.”

      Which, of course, also means “atheists, shut up.”

  12. Steve Gerrard
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    So we must study astrology for ten years before we are allowed to recognize it as bunk? That’s a tired old argument to make.

    The question of gods deserved and received some attention in the 19th century, but it has been laid to rest long since.

    The New Atheists are really just trying to point that out.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Yep. The evidence which is not there for Dawkins’ unsophisticated view of god is also not there for the most deeply rarefied version of god either.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I think that, because religion makes claims about the natural world, those religious people making such claims must possess advanced degrees in physics, biology, geology and palaeontology.

    • wendell read
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Let’s suppose that someone believes ‘X’ to be true. Let’s further suppose that ‘X’ contains internal contradictions and assertions that are contrary to fact. If someone points out these problems to him is it likely that he will give up his belief in ‘X’? Based on an understanding of human nature and experience, the answer is “probably not”

      An understanding of WHY he believes ijn ‘X’

    • wendell read
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Let’s suppose that someone believes ‘X’ to be true. Let’s further suppose that ‘X’ contains internal contradictions and assertions that are contrary to fact. If someone points out these problems to him, is it likely that he will give up his belief in ‘X’? Based on an understanding of human nature and experience, the answer is “probably not”

      An understanding of WHY he believes in ‘X’ is essential if someone is going to convince him that ‘X’ is not true. This obviously requires study and knowledge of ‘X’ among other things.

      • Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        An understanding of WHY he believes in ‘X’ is essential if someone is going to convince him that ‘X’ is not true. This obviously requires study and knowledge of ‘X’ among other things.

        Not necessarily, and perhaps not even mostly.

        There’re two basic possibilities: that the person knows of the facts and reasoning behind the truth, or that the person is ignorant.

        If the person is ignorant, you don’t need to know anything about that person’s position. Instead, simply make the positive case for the truth and respond rationally to challenges the person makes. A rational person will adapt to a new situation given new information — though, to be sure, few of us change on a dime.

        If the person already knows but persists in ignorance, either some form of cognitive dissonance or fraud is at play. In neither case is that person going to be convinced any time soon.

        There’s a third possibility, of course: the person could actually be correct, and you’re the one in error….




        • wendell read
          Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          There are always exceptions of course, but for the most part I think when pointing out problems you will find that cognitive dissonance comes to the fore with a vengeance.

          True, no immediate change in belief is likely to take place soon, but with continued discussions, based on an understanding of the reason for his beliefs, progress can be made.

      • Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Not so. I’ve met many people who told me they gave up religion when their religious belief in creationism was dispelled by the facts. The reasons for their belief–parental indoctrination, were irrelevant. Read some of the testimony at “Converts Corner”. Sometimes just realizing the lack of evidence for what you believe is sufficient.

        • wendell read
          Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          Those whose reasons for belief are “parental indoctrination” are often willing to accept facts and change their mind. Many people’s beliefs however are at the very core of their understanding of what life is all about. “Facts” are easily ignored by such people.

  13. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I lose interest when people base their disagreements with others on the basis of pedigree. It’s really not much different than engaging in ad hom.

    • ALe
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      It is a form of ad hominem. He’s arguing about the person and their lack of credentials instead of addressing the points being made.

  14. Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    “Literalism is the watchword of most Muslims and many Christians…”

    It’s odd that someone as adept as Chomsky at noticing connections between language and power hasn’t noticed the inevitable connection between literalism and authoritarianism.

    And of course, what criticism of new atheists is complete without suddenly bursting into song about the Iraq War? And never any mention of the fact that Hitchens supported it on humanitarian grounds. He didn’t support the wholesale slaughter of half a million Iraqis, (or one million if the numbers need to be inflated any more to outscore Syria).

    I suppose it’s Dawkins who goes around bothering grieving mothers.

  15. Bruce Swanney
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Chomsky’s apparent desire to be a curmudgeon has, in this case, clouded his ability to be objective.

  16. Timot
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Did you see Conrad Black’s attack on atheism in the National Post?

  17. Curt Nelson
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    The more I learn of Noam Chomsky the less I think of him.

  18. CJColucci
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure what Chomsky had in mind, but let me make out a more plausible version of what I think he might be trying to say and see what reaction it gets:

    1. That there probably isn’t a deity of any interesting sort is obvious and has been for a long time. The arguments accessible to non-experts, like the New Atheists, haven’t really changed since the 18th century.
    1-a The “New Atheists,” therefore, aren’t saying anything particularly new.
    1-b Scholars of religion, anthropologists, etc., are, however, bringing new things to the table, and are, therefore, more worth listening to than overhyped recyclers of the obvious.

    2. Given 1, 1-a, and 1-b, the New Atheists have no potential religious audience that they have any prospect of convincing. Preaching to the choir and bucking up morale is all very well, but that’s about all they can do.

    3. Random political comments not really related to the main point.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Chomsky that it should be obvious and it has been for a long time that the supernatural is history. Unfortunately, there are billions of people who need enlightenment and without external input will continue to only listen to the voices in their heads.

      But Chomsky is forgetting that religious scholars have had centuries to work out the inconsistencies of the supernatural. They still bring nothing new to the table. He’s giving them a pass but not New Atheists?? He really does not like to hurt people’s feelings.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I see it simpler: what Chomsky had in mind was to promote himself at the expense of worthier people.

  19. Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I have no objection to sharing the planet with religious people as long as they aren’t trying to force their beliefs on all the rest of us by law and/or war.

    Almost all Christians I know, or have met, are unable to use the tools they insist atheists must use. Most of them haven’t even read the whole bible, let alone scholarly works. Most don’t know much about their religion beyond what they were taught by their parents or the church as children. And, most have spent little to no time thinking about what they’ve been taught or reading other source materials. There is little point in trying to converse intelligently with such people. That doesn’t mean you can’t love them as fellow human beings. No throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  20. Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Chomsky clearly has in mind that we shouldn’t be upsetting all those nice people going to church potlucks and playing Bingo in the basement on Wednesday evening.

    And I’ll even grant him that they’re lovely people who do all sorts of good things and sincerely credit their religious belief for the good they do.

    The difference is that he’s far more contemptuous of them than I could imagine being.

    I have no doubt that those nice people would keep having potlucks, playing Bingo…and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless and all the rest, even after somebody pointed out to them that the Emperor isn’t merely naked, not only invisible, but perfectly nonexistent.

    Chomsky clearly fears that they’ll turn into raving monsters if even the slightest hint of a rumor to that effect reaches their ears.

    Seems to me that Chomsky has at least as much religious faith in the power of religion as the religious themselves have in their gods.



  21. darrelle
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I have only a general knowledge of Chomsky and so know that he is considered by many to be very notable in his field. These quotes don’t help support that, though I don’t expect or demand perfect uniformity or perfection of any kind from any human. But jeeezuss. Chomsky’s arguments quoted in the OP are just plain underwhelming coming from a noted scholar.

    The last quote in the OP leads me to wonder if Chomsky was responding to something Hitchens said about him that had pissed him off. That might explain the “going off the rails.”

  22. Hauntedquest
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Chomsky has constructed a narrative about the world some time in the 60s and 70s (both in terms of politics and in terms of linguistics) and since then refuses to budge. Only, the world and our knowledge about it is changing, slowly passing him by as he sits in his chair.

  23. Randy schenck
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Chomsky has done for atheists what the regressive left has done for liberals.

  24. Craw
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Well he’s right that Ehrman et al are worth paying attention to. They supply *yet another set of reasons* to reject religion. Their arguments are indeed very different from arguments based in evolution or neurobiology. Why that should count *against* people whose arguments are based primarily in the latter studies is a puzzle. Independent confirmation is a good thing.

  25. Greg Geisler
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Chomsky doesn’t think that believers actually believe the Bible is true? I guess he’s not a big fan of polls or statistics. The majority most certainly do believe the truth-claims made in it. The New Atheists are necessary (and desperately so) because the Fourth Estate is gutless and impotent when it comes to calling out the ridiculous claims made by religions. If these cowardly institutions can’t speak up when some maniacal zealot like Mike Huckabee appears on national television and proclaims that every word of the Bible is absolute truth then we need the audacity of the Four Horseman, the FFRI, CFI, Satanic Temple and others to compensate for the temerity of these organizations who are so afraid to offend the faithful.

  26. dabertini
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I think it is high-time that biblical scholars take a science course or two and then come back and try and reason with an atheist. Maybe then they will understand the meaning of the word EVIDENCE. Until then, I will trust an atheist scientist more than a biblical scholar to pour over meaningless scripture and give an accurate account of the foibles of religion. We have plenty of EVIDENCE of that from this site alone.

  27. Tom
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    For some time I have bracketed Mr Chomsky with the late Gore Vidal. Both immensely talented tried to scale the heights of genius but never quite made it.
    Since it is easier to have blamed the “system” than admit to their own shortcomings their paths through later life shared many similarities.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      ‘Since it is easier to have blamed the “system” than admit to their own shortcomings their paths through later life shared many similarities.’

      This is unfair to both Chomsky and Vidal, but more so to the latter, with whose work I happen to be pretty familiar. Gore Vidal was a literary genius who has left us with a Nobel-worthy body of writing that of course he will never now be honored for in Stockholm. As an essayist, nonpareil; as a novelist, especially in the U. S. history series, including ‘Lincoln,’ superb; as a controversialist/polemicist, perhaps the best since Mencken and the equal, I think, of Hitchens.

      In this website’s context of atheism, I recommend one of his lesser-read fictions, ‘Live from Golgotha.’

      • bencbt
        Posted April 11, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for this well-expressed comment. I always like Vidals work, and Hitchens, too.

  28. Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I’m one of two people who happen to like both New Atheists, and Noam Chomsky.

    Chomsky is mistaken when he assumes that religious questios are in the domain of sociology or theology. This appears to rests on a different definition of religion, which is more Durkheim than Dennett. He conceives religion as “a way of finding some sort of community and mutual support in an atomized society lacking social bonds”.

    He is wrong to pretend this was all there was to it. He is also wrong to think that it was e.g. Richard Dawkins who trespassed into sociology or theology without proper training, rather than the other way around. Dawkins, like many others (including cat-loving ones), was apparently summoned because religious believers were contesting and undermining science, in particular evolution. New Atheism as a movement emerged because of religiously motivated activity in politics and society in the aftermath of 9/11. Islam flew planes into buildings. Many in the West reacted by taking Christianity as the banner to rally around. Religions emerged as menacing forces as they also provided explanation to disregard dire warnings on Climate Change.

    But in part, New Atheists, especially the movement that sprung into existence, not always made clear what its aims were. It often times sold itself as “debunking religion”. Though I like Richard Dawkins’ “God Delusion”, including its title, I can see in retrospect that it indeed misses the whole social dimension, and assumes the premise that it all rested on religious truth-claims — which is likewise too one-sided. It is permissable when you are familiar with the material, but it is not always clear from the outside.

    I’m not saying religions are right, or any of that. I also strongly reject NOMA. My point here is that religion is on one side in the business of providing an explanation of the universe and its origins. And on the other side, it’s a weird social glue that doesn’t require its claims to be true, only socially costly. Ironically, being not true is as effective as truth. True things can be accepted easily, whereas it requires committment to perputate not-true ideas. The costs to maintain religious practice makes it effective to tune people in to similar goals, and to discourage free-loaders. Truth claims are only one way to convince people to maintain a tradition.

    • Peter N
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      +1, as the young people say. But I disagree with you slightly — I think that the cost of maintaining religious beliefs is actually low. Take a literal reading of Genesis, for example: there is actually very little cost, social or otherwise, to proclaiming “Goddunnit!” and disbelieving in abiogensis and evolution due to natural causes, and putting Jesus Fish stickers on their cars for good measure. True Believers lead their lives like everybody else, and the rest of us generally only smile and nod indulgently. Creationism and other forms of True Belief are cheap and painless badges of tribal membership.

  29. josh
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Every time I read Chomsky he comes off as both ignorant and shallow. Perhaps his writing on linguistics is actually brilliant, but no great intelligence comes through in his public persona.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      His ideas on language are fine. His writing is turgid.

      Pinker is a far better exponent of Chomsky than Chomsky ever was.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      + 1

  30. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    The explosion in popularity of atheism in the 2000s was due in part IMO to a visible rise in religious madness in the world. Many Americans felt themselves caught in the cross-fire between the malicious fundamentalism of Islamic fundamentalists and the stupid fundamentalism of George W. Bush, arguably the first president to do a lot of manifestly dumb things with an overtly visible religious rationalization.

    Scientists in general are less ideologically motivated than humanities scholars, and do a bit more plain-speaking without jargon. And Dawkins is pretty good at showing that many (if not all) arguments for religion are just plain fallacious.


    That said, the quarter-truth (and perhaps not especially consequential) of Chomsky is occasionally New Atheists do in fact get into the domain of history of religion and in that area say some dubious things. (A fellow Oxford atheist of Dawkins that he could have benefited from is Robin Lane Fox author of “The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible”.)

    Two very scatological cases in point:

    1) Dan Barker in “Losing Faith in Faith” discusses the story of the Israelites invading an enemy town and the invading captain ordering the roundup of everyone who “pisseth against a wall”.
    Barker thinks this is some sort of arcane religious prohibition like eating pork. It is actually a Hebrew euphemism for men in general, which only the King James Bible translated literally- all other English language bibles just say “men”. (Compare King James (2 Kings 9:8) “The whole house of Ahab shall perish: and I will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall” to Revised Standard Version “For the whole house of Ahab shall perish; and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel.”) Honestly, Dan could have done a little homework here.

    2) Even more scatological in nature, the Song of Songs has a brief verse referring to a female sexual climax translated in the Jerusalem Bible as “I trembled to the core of my being” but which unfortunately emerged in the King James Bible as “My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.” Compare RSV “My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me”. (It is more likely that an Elizabethan scholar than an Biblical one would catch the problem here. I spend about three times as much time with Shakespeare as I do with the Bible, and figured out what was happening right away.)
    But Annie Laurie Gaylor in “Woe to the Women” immediately assumes the worst possible reading of the King James version of Song of Songs 5:4.

    Any one familiar with the endless stream of jokes revolving around that fact that Brits use “knocked up” to mean wake up or “fag” to mean cigarette (not to mention “spook” to mean undercover police agent) would think to double check what exactly King James means by pissing against walls or movement of bowels. (And no one thinks that Robert Burn’s poem of giving hunting advice to a young man “Cock Up Your Beaver” has any intended ribald meaning on the part of Burns. “”)

    I heartily approve of most of the FFRF’s political endeavors (and have found Dan Barker charming all 3 times I have chatted with him), but this sort of thing actually IS a tad embarrassing.

    Now, I’m dubious about some of the enterprise of cultural anthropology, but I still noted that after the publication of “The God Delusion” no less than three cultural anthropologists published books arguing the case that religion can be evolutionarily useful contra Dawkins’ claim that it is effectively a “spandrel” (though I don’t think RD uses that word.) One is by a long-standing opponent of RD, David Sloan Wilson “Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society” (with perhaps a bit too much of an agenda of his own). See also “Darwin’s Apple: The Evolutionary Biology of Religion” by Mitchell Diamond, and “Evolving God” by Barbara King.

    • bencbt
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      +1 – and thanks for the careful explanation.

  31. Gimmepaws
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your piece, Jerry.
    But I also think that Chomsky’s “intelligence” clearly has its limits.
    His vicious treatment of Sam Harris clinched the deal for me: I will hold my tongue with anyone who still respects him, but Chomsky is an ass, in my book.

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      I agree with you but Sam can be a little arrogant ass himself – re his treatment of Peterson in their first podcast.

      • Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t call Sam arrogant. He invited Peterson back because he thought they were both talking past each other. I couldn’t see Chomsky giving someone a second chance or respectfully disagreeing with them.

        • Eric Grobler
          Posted April 11, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

          I called Sam a “little” arrogant – yes Sam was gracious enough to have a second debate, but perhaps was not a gracious host in the first.

  32. Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    In all seriousness, who in the world can take Noam “everything that’s ever gone wrong in the world for all of history is the fault of the US” Chomsky seriously? He’s a senile idiot.

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps a senile genius – but still senile!

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      I have a suspicion that his idiotism is due to far more than senility.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      Yet, I take it that you would not prefer the likes of Mitt “No Apologies” [for America] Romney over Chomsky? I myself appreciate Chomsky’s holding the “100% Americanism”/”American Exceptionalism” crowd’s feet to the fire. They never tire of announcing to the world how “exceptional” Amuricuh is.

      Anyway, what evidence do you have that Chomsky is “senile”? Because you do not agree with him? Did Chomsky himself directly post here, I reasonably assume that “Da Roolz” would not allow one to thusly label him in this thread.

    • Larry
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      Ashley: “He’s a senile idiot.”

      Ad hominem. You lose.

  33. Eric Grobler
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I think a valid criticism of the “New Atheists” is that they lack a understanding of PSYCHOLOGY rather than religion.
    (Not than most pshychologists are any better!)

    One can make a strong argument that God does exist as a psychological archetype, meaning that through evolution the concept of the supernatural and other concepts around it is part of our DNA.
    Follow from that, atheists (or people without religious culture) can easily fall prey to ‘secular religions’ like communism.

    Something irritating that many atheists do (and bleeding heart psychologists or liberals) is to imagine that other people are just like themselves.

    I remember a Dawkins radio interview where a caller asked if there is no God what would stop him from raping is neighbours wife. It could be that Dawkins, you and I have no such urges and thus do not need the fear of God to behave civilized.

    We need a serious debate on how to construct a “secular religion” that does not decend into madness like the current SJW crowd while upholding common sense traditional religious values and give the majority of people meaning.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      I don’t agree that we need a secular religion to replace superstitious religion. Most of northern Europe is atheistic, for instance, and doesn’t have a “secular religion” in any meaningful sense. I believe they abandoned religion because their societies are ordered in a way that they don’t need religion.

      • Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        I’m not even sure what he means by secular religion. If he means we need religions to become more secular, then fine.

        If he means that atheists need some kind of substitute for religion and that this needs to be separate from the state the way we demand religions be, I can’t make any sense of that at all.

        • Eric Grobler
          Posted April 11, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

          “I’m not even sure what he means by secular religion.”
          I used sloppy language.
          I mean a system of secular values that replaces religious values and to some degree satisfies the social/psychological benefits of religion.

          A mix of secular Buddhism, Enligtenment values and some values in the American constitution would be my choice as a dictator!

          “If he means that atheists need some kind of substitute for religion”
          Would you agree that communism was/is a “secular religious subsitute” for many atheists?

          The question is – if you remove religion, are people drawn to other absolutist ideas.
          The SJW’s for example are behaving like fundamentalist Christians in my humble opinion.

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted April 11, 2017 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        “I believe they abandoned religion because their societies are ordered in a way that they don’t need religion.”
        And secular countries like Sweden, Germany and France were very (perhaps extremely) successful until the 1990’s.
        But Europe is going downhill very fast.

        I think traditional structures (like marriage) that were in place until the 90’s are falling apart.

        I consider myself a radical atheist, so please do not consider the points I make as an endorsement for Religion/Christianity.
        I think we should just take notice of these sociological effects.

        * if people are religious/collective creatures by nature and you destroy the old system, i think they will be drawn to other irrational ideologies, perhaps more dangerous.
        – Traditional marriage, gender roles has been eroded, besides demographic implosion we do not know the long term psychological effect.
        – Nihilism, can less intelligent people (or certain personality types) cope with the realization that there is no objective meaning in life?
        – Toxic education – Schools, the Humanities and social sciences have been overrun with post-modernist relativism which in my opinion poses an existential threat to Europe.

        I do not think we have a coherent philosophical and ethtical structure in place. (a western form of confucianism)
        Enlightenment values is being destroyed as we speak.

        • Posted April 12, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          Yes, I find it provocative that the human brain contains specific circuits, which when activated, produce an intense positive emotional perception of divine revelation, transcendent meaning, the numinous.

          Be nice if we could help the folks who are addicted to that feeling a way to access it without the burden of religion.

        • Dire Lobo
          Posted April 12, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

          – Traditional marriage, gender roles has been eroded, besides demographic implosion we do not know the long term psychological effect.

          Wait, we do not know the long term psychological effect, but we DO know that it is going cause a “demographic implosion”? Which means what exactly? Sounds to me like a population crash, which is the opposite of what is actually happening in the real world.

          • Eric Grobler
            Posted April 12, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

            “which is the opposite of what is actually happening in the real world.”
            Demographic trends are very different in Asia/Europe vs Africa for example.
            Many Arican countries fertility rates are above well above 5, whereas Germany, Spain, Korea, Japan are well below 1.5 (2.2 is replacement rate)
            These top heavy demographic pyramids will cause huge social problems in Europe and Asia.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Are you actually criticising Dawkins for believing that, free from the restraints of religion, people wouldn’t run about raping each other?

      • Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        Moreover, history proves that if reproductive-age religious males are freed from the restraints of laws (e.g. if they invade a city during war), many of them will run about raping.
        I mean men from a religion that is against rape in principle; we also know religions that actually prescribe rapes.

        • Larry
          Posted April 11, 2017 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

          With or without ideological restraints, be they secular, religious, or fascist, we are evolving apes, with all the problems, predispositions, and opportunities that this fundamental reality presents. Evolving apes.

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted April 11, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        “people wouldn’t run about raping each other?”
        I accuse him of exactly that.
        One could say regarding human nature there are the pessimists and optimists.
        The optimists believe all people are equal and all people are inherently sensitive/kind.

        I have a more Freudian, Lord of the Flies view – children need to be socialised and molded into civilized creatures. It could be that upto 40% of men (I just pull a number out of my ass) are prone to violence and are extermely dangerous without a strong culture/religion.

        Liberal sensitive individuals like Dawkins, me and you obviously cannot imagine how any man can get a erection when a women is crying. As a sheltered child in the 60’s I did not even know rape existed and I found it very difficult to understand how it is so common, the explanation is obviously that some humans are just brutes by nature.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Something irritating that critics of atheists sometimes do is assume that religious people are a strange breed unlike atheists. New Atheists, the argument goes, care about truth, honesty, and intellectual rigor. The religious, on the other hand, are simple folks without a whiff of any of those concerns! Why, bless ’em, their faith is just window dressing for their real focus — community and identity — and they incoherently realize this, but are too confused to be able to articulate it. Thus, the need for the critics of atheists. It is arrogant to think others are like you.

      Chomsky presumably says what the religious would say, were they not so shy.

      • Posted April 12, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Then to my mind, they should just form an accredited club to do their good works, these nice individuals but of course, there is no reward in the form of the afterlife and therein lies the problem.

        Why do they insist on having a greater good to motivate their actions? is it because they feel pathetic and feeble and what they do is part and parcel of a divine plan not something that they do in isolation for the action itself,
        is it not rewarding enough?
        This humble thing with a reward, all in all, it is a farce and a terrible cost as we now know better.

  34. Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Life is too short to become a ‘scholar’ of everything that needs debunking. I don’t even know if any reputable universities run courses on Atlantis, the Yeti or UFOs.

    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink


      The list of potential conspiracies is literally infinite. Maybe Jesus is talking to you, or maybe it’s the CIA’s brain control satellite communicating via your dental implant. Or maybe it’s not Jesus but Jesus’s twin brother, or maybe it’s Mossad instead of the CIA, and it’s not your tooth but that sore spot on the back of your neck. Or it could be Krishna in cahoots with the short skinny big-head aliens, or Kirk colluding with Elvis.

      In contrast, science converges on a single consistent set of answers from independent avenues of investigation.




    • Posted April 11, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Well said!

    • Filippo
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      In that Chomsky critiques (what he claims to be) the lack of religious studies credentials among the New Atheists, what are Chomsky’s formal credentials to justify his holding forth on policy and politics, or for that matter anything else other than linguistics? Not that I myself require him to be formally credentialed in order to hold forth on such matters. I myself don’t consider him any less qualified to so hold forth than many a political science/foreign policy Ph.D. There remains a place for autodidacts. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Chomsky forebear from holding forth on a given topic on account of his not being sufficiently credentialed.

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted April 11, 2017 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        Good point

  35. EB
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    I’m fairly confident that the first quote is not Chomsky and is likely by the blog author. The writing doesn’t match his style at all, and he has said elsewhere that he does not refer to himself as an atheist:

    “In fact, I don’t even know what an atheist is. When people ask me if I’m an atheist, I have to ask them what they mean. What is it that I’m supposed to not believe in? Until you can answer that question I can’t tell you whether I’m an atheist, and the question doesn’t arise.” See this article:

    • EB
      Posted April 11, 2017 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      He also has repeatedly denied the importance of one’s credentials when making arguments. What matters are the arguments themselves:

      ”In my own professional work I have touched on a variety of different fields. I’ve done my work in mathematical linguistics, for example, without any professional credentials in mathematics; in this subject I am completely self-taught, and not very well taught. But I’ve often been invited by universities to speak on mathematical linguistics at mathematics seminars and colloquia. No one has ever asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on these subjects; the mathematicians couldn’t care less. What they want to know is what I have to say. No one has ever objected to my right to speak, asking whether I have a doctor’s degree in mathematics, or whether I have taken advanced courses in the subject. That would never have entered their minds. They want to know whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting or not, whether better approaches are possible – the discussion dealt with the subject, not with my right to discuss it.”

      ”But on the other hand, in discussion or debate concerning social issues or American foreign policy, Vietnam or the Middle East, for example, the issue is constantly raised, often with considerable venom. I’ve repeatedly been challenged on the grounds of credentials, or asked, what special training do you have that entitles you to speak of these matters. The assumption is that people like me, who are outsiders from a professional standpoint, are not entitled to speak on such things.”

      ”Compare mathematics and the political sciences — it’s quite striking. In mathematics, in physics, people are concerned with what you say, not with your certification. But in order to speak about social reality, you must have the proper credentials, particularly if you depart from the accepted framework of thinking. Generally speaking, it seems fair to say that the richer the intellectual substance of a field, the less there is a concern for credentials, and the greater is concern for content.”


      • bencbt
        Posted April 11, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        Great points. I have noticed that an obsession with certifications and “right beliefs” is an indicator of weakness in the field – no real way to judge on the evidence so the credentials must rule! And thanks for pointing out the question about the Chomsky quote – I also thought it didn’t sound like him.

    • Posted April 12, 2017 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      Do note that the quote may have come from that series of videos to which I linked, so it may be from a talk and not comport with Chomsky’s writing style.

      • B_rus
        Posted April 12, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Probably not from those videos, since that talk was in 1989, and Ehrman (just to take one example)did not publish most of his books until the mid-2000s.

  36. Larry
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Correct if I am wrong, but isn’t Chomsky a great example of what he’s criticizing? I mean, he was trained in linguistics, but he pronounces on subjects for which he has no formal degree. That’s fine with me, but isn’t this what he is criticizing?

  37. Dan
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read two of Chomsky’s books. Too disjointed, throwing references from news magazines, newspaper articles, radio interviews, etc. in an inchoate way. It reads like the mad ramblings of a conspiracy theorist.

    But because his target is American exceptionalism and interventionalism, the left has made him into some kind of saint. I’d rather read Sam Harris, whose thoughts and reasons are very clearly presented even if you may disagree with it.

    Chomsky was an influential linguist once. I believe that is his only legacy worthy of respect. His political writings are best left gathering dust.

  38. ALe
    Posted April 11, 2017 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    “Is it the grieving mother who consoles herself by thinking that she will see her dying child again in heaven? If so, only the most morally depraved will deliver solemn lectures to her about the falsity of her beliefs.”

    Of course there is an inappropriate time and place to tell a grieving mother that her consoling beliefs are false. But that said, is it somehow morally superior to lie to her instead?

    And how far do we take this notion that the beliefs of grieving people should not be challenged? The grieving father of Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings pilot who intentionally crashed an airplane in a mass murder-suicide, maintains that his son was innocent despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We should just humor him, right? Because it would be morally depraved to deliver solemn lectures about the falsity of this grieving father’s beliefs?

  39. Jonathan Dore
    Posted April 12, 2017 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    The quiet atheism of Chomsky and the scholars he mentions was having no effect on American culture at large. It took the new atheists to actually start changing the percentages of believers and non-believers in the United States.

  40. Posted April 12, 2017 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    Chomsky gets away with this kind of moral bullying because no one ever challenges his implicit assumption of objective morality. Indeed, Sam Harris insists on propping up the delusion of objective Good and Evil, playing right into his hands. Someone needs to insist that he explain where he gets the right to declare others “morally depraved,” and why he thinks he’s such a paragon of morality that he can dictate moral rules to others. In the end his sublime moral rectitude is nothing but a mélange of personal whims and fashionable shibboleths. Belief in objective morality is just as delusional as belief in God.

    I admire and respect guys like Bart Ehrman, but the claim that only professional theologians are allowed to challenge belief in God is nonsense. In fact, Ehrman only challenges Christian belief. There’s no reason why a Moslem couldn’t point to his books and say, “See, I told you Christianity is nonsense. You need to convert to Islam.” To challenge religious belief per se, OTH, you need books like “Facts vs Faith,” and “The God Delusion,” and you don’t need a Ph.D. in theology to either write about or understand the arguments therein. If Chomsky wants to hear many of the same arguments from a professional theologian, he should try reading Meslier’s “Testament.”

  41. Elizabeth Stuart
    Posted April 12, 2017 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    Too often having left behind there sky gods people search for alternative philosophies to believe. The tasks is then taken up by pseudoscience. The aliens did it. These pseudo believes have now replace traditional religious ones.

  42. Posted April 12, 2017 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    It wasn’t that long ago that Christianity was putting people to death for the simple act of not believing (or not believing correctly)…A disturbingly large number modern Muslims are doing it today. This isn’t counting the discrimination and oppression that literally all organized religions visit upon those who don’t conduct their lives by the book. It’s only recently (historically) that we’ve been able to speak out as Atheists/Agnostics in western culture without fear of reprisal. That’s why it’s so important that we do so.

    Many Atheists believe that the world is headed toward some type if enlightenment that will see the decline (or at least moderation) of organized religion. But i don’t see that. Religion seems to ebb and flow with changes in politics and the general situation of humanity. Right now it seems like we’re experiencing a religious surge. American Christians are attempting to take over the government (and succeeding to some degree) by use of legislation. Many Muslims are trying to do the same; Control more governments by use of political power or force if necessary.

    Now may be the exact time then we need to speak out the most…while we still have the opportunity. I don’t think Chomsky understands this. I think he believes that if we just shut up and allow events to unfold on their own, people will inevitably somehow come to see the error of their ways. I don’t think he believes that things could revert to the bad old days of state sponsored burnings and beheadings.

    Freedom from religion is only maintained by actively opposing it. It’s too bad Chomsky doesn’t understand that.

  43. Dr. Bob
    Posted April 12, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I got as far as this before I burst out laughing:

    “There are plenty of genuine scholars of religion whose work examines religious beliefs and sacred texts within their proper framework, such as Robert Price, John Loftus, Daniel Barker, Hector Avalos, Bart Ehrman, and D.M. Murdoch.”

    Price, Ehrman, and Avalos are unquestionably “genuine scholars.” Loftus and Barker are known mostly because they are former pastors turned atheist. Presumably they studied “real” Bible and historical scholarship during their preparation for the ministry, but I don’t know that they are known for their own scholarship. But D.M. Murdoch?! Including her in this list is like including Kent Hovind in a list of serious archaeologists.

  44. Shane F
    Posted April 12, 2017 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    I think the point Chomsky is making is perfectly valid. What is the point in attacking the beliefs and traditions of good people? What does it accomplish? Who does it help when you tell a grieving mother that there is no afterlife? Most community aid groups are religious affiliated — should we protest them? The Quakers were fundamental in their housing of draft dodgers, for their opposition to war and to slavery, for running the underground railroad, and for giving a voice to social justice causes. Should we have refused their help?
    The point he has continuously made in the past is that the message of so-called new atheists is tired. God doesn’t exist. This is obvious and intelligent people know this. If they choose to believe beyond this – who cares. We should spend our time attacking actions and not philosophical beliefs.

    • Posted April 13, 2017 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      What is the point in attacking the beliefs and traditions of good people?

      Why conflate beliefs with traditions?

      It’s more than possible to be absolutely certain that the Bible is every bit as fictional as any other ancient text — and as unreliable a source of moral guidance the the others, to boot — and to be an observant Jew who keeps kosher and Shabbas and the rest.

      …which points to why it’s a really bad idea to conflate beliefs with traditions.

      If you believe that Jesus was the human incarnation of the divine Word that Spoke Life, the Universe, and Everything into existence, then you’ll at least be inclined to take Jesus’s words seriously if not literally. And the majority of those words, contrary to popular belief, preach war and torture and hatred and hellfire and damnation.

      And as we see endlessly, beliefs have consequences.

      I’m unaware of any “New Atheist” who challenges religious traditions, save for those that are harmful or oppressive (such as the body sack or FGM). Indeed, the most “strident” of the lot, Richard Dawkins, makes it a point to go to Christmas Mass to join in the music and pageantry.

      But the beliefs….




      • Shane F
        Posted April 13, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        Chomsky has repeatedly defended Dawkins and has said he doesn’t believe he belongs in the same group as Harris and later Hitchens.

        Religion is generally based in ones traditions and culture. It’s easy to separate belief and tradition in western society since consumerism and generally being interconnected has diluted it and removed tradition from our culture -food, music, customs and stories all abandoned for new forms.
        But we have to remember that even here most people are following as their father and his father before him did. And it’s the same all over. And for a lot of these people their religion is their tradition.

        To step it up a notch, imagine trying to categorize what is belief and what is tradition with a Tibetan buddhist or a Native American Indian. They’re one and the same and not really compatible without the other. That’s just an example but it’s also how it is in most of the world, at least to some extent.

        • Posted April 13, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          I’m sorry, but I just can’t make sense of what you’re writing.

          Dawkins is distinct from Harris…yet Sam, in reality, is a rather vocal advocate for Theravada Buddhism — to a degree that very much surpasses Richard’s affinity for the pomp and circumstance of Christian high holy days.

          Yes, people overwhelmingly inherit all sorts of cultural artifacts from their parents — including religion. But they’re in no way bound to turn themselves into carbon copies of their parents.

          Hell, for that matter, texting is an inescapable facet of modern Western culture — and it’s one that simply didn’t exist, period, when most people who are today parents were themselves born. If we as a culture can instantly embrace something new like that, why all the angst about suggestions that we don’t need to hold on to everything we inherit.

          Or are today’s kids to be blamed for having poor handwriting, not knowing what to do with an 8-track, and never having ridden an horse or trapped their own dinners?




          • Shane F
            Posted April 13, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

            My point was that while Chomsky has been seen as having a problem with the “New Atheists”, he has never had a problem with Dawkins. In fact, he respects the work Dawkins does even if he finds the some of the subject matter dull. It is in fact Hitchens and Harris he has had a problem with. He felt Hitchens became more rightwing over time and used atrocious acts to justify broken US foreign policy. And he has said Harris comes off as an Islamophobe with dangerous ideas.

            I was trying to bring it back to Chomsky and to illustrate the problems he has had with “New Atheists.”

            About tradition and religion, the problem is that you can’t simply strip religion away. In fact, it is usually the last part of culture to be lost when people move to the United States. This has been pointed out many times but (I may be getting the order slightly wrong) it is first music and art, then customs, language, food, and finally religion that is abandoned. People hold on to it.

            Science and natural history do a fine job of teaching fact without directly attacking belief.

            Education and equality are the best weapons against religious fundamentalism. We should be focused on ensuring quality science based education and equal access.

            • Filippo
              Posted April 13, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

              “And he has said Harris comes off as an Islamophobe with dangerous ideas.”

              Professor Chomsky should be no less concerned with anyone who “comes off” as an Islamofascist and supporter of FGM.

              • Shane F
                Posted April 13, 2017 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

                Are you saying Chomsky or Harris supports this?
                If you’re saying Chomsky, well, I don’t care to discuss lies.
                Harris I have no idea, but I would imagine not.

            • Posted April 13, 2017 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

              About tradition and religion, the problem is that you can’t simply strip religion away.

              And yet the evidence most emphatically says otherwise.

              Unabashed atheism has been a legitimate theological stance within Judaism for so long that it’s not even remarkable to goyim. As in, you’re not going to get much more than a weak smile out of the old chestnut, “What do you call the highly respected Jewish scholar who doesn’t believe in God? Rabbi!”

              Unitarians, especially the Universalists, have been deistic and / or atheistic for almost as long as they’ve existed.

              More than one branch of Buddhism is either entirely or effectively atheistic. Many go out of their way to deny divinity of the Buddha. (And, of course, many other branches of Buddhism are practically indistinguishable from Hinduism in all its polytheistic glory.)

              In Japan, most people are nominally Shinto or Buddhist, and almost none of them think any god is any more real than any Irishman thinks leprechauns are really real.

              In many parts of Europe, the same can be said of Christians — most nominally members of the Church but would think you a bit daft for suggesting that Jesus really was born of a virgin.

              And, of course, none of that is to deny that there still exists huge swaths of religious belief, especially in less stable societies or those with greater inequality.

              But where you get this notion that you can’t keep culture without keeping religion…I’ve no clue. It literally has no bearing on reality whatsoever.




              • Shane F
                Posted April 13, 2017 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

                That kind of illustrates my point. Education and equality are the best path to defeating ignorance.
                I meant that the only way to bypass the natural process by which a culture assimilates is to provide them with access to quality education. Judaism is a perfect example. I don’t have statistics but I would assume they have one of the highest rates of quality education among religious/ethnic groups. Church of England or their off shoot Episcopalians in the USA would be another example of a denomination where they shy away from the silly stories. It’s a product of actually receiving a religious education instead of the indoctrination you would receive from a Baptist or non-denomination seminary. The best private schools (k-12) in my area are Episcopalian. The worst is Pentecostal.

                My point is that it may be better to let education rid people of their ignorances instead of just telling them their wrong. People seem to come to the conclusion eventually.

                India is a great example. The affluent don’t generally believe stories but the poor often have crazy beliefs involving demons and monsters.

              • Posted April 14, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

                My point is that it may be better to let education rid people of their ignorances instead of just telling them their wrong.

                And, yet, both Richard’s “Convert’s Corner” and Jerry’s own inbox provide overwhelming examples of evidence to the contrary.

                Yes, we need to provide superlative public education to all children.

                But Jerry and Richard aren’t schoolteachers, and their talents would be wasted in the elementary school classroom.

                So why would you urge them to just sit quietly at the back of the bus? Especially when they’ve demonstrated such dramatic successes in…well…educating the general public?




              • Robert Bray
                Posted April 14, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

                I really wish to reply to Shane F, but WordPress wouldn’t let me, so I’ve used Mr. Goren’s button instead. So CofE and Episcopalians ‘shy away from the silly stories’? Even were this true, and I seriously doubt it is, neither church’s doctrine/theology ‘shies away’ from the silliest of all such stories: the supernatural. Once that door is propped open, anything goes, and the difference you tout between Episcopalianism and Pentecostalism shrinks almost to nothing.

              • Shane F
                Posted April 14, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                Robert Bray,

                It is true. The Church of England is harder to pin down since it is the state church, but it isn’t unlike the Episcopal church. It is of course still Christian/Catholic. The eucharist and the Book of Common Prayer are central to the structure of the church. This includes the supernatural.

                They’re both catholic essentially, but as Robin Williams put it, “Catholic-lite, same rituals with half the guilt”. Most Episcopal and Church of England services are purely by the book. Very traditional with the incense, songs, chants, mass, and selections from the Common Book of Prayer.

                The traditions without the evangelical aspects is part of the reason both are dwindling. Episcopal make up about 1% of the US now, Church of England is attended by less than a million in England and shrinking. But they’re overwhelmingly made up of highly educated and wealthy members. Something like 15 presidents were Episcopalians.

                This couldn’t be more different than a hardline Pentecostal church that believes in directly experiencing god. The Episcopal church would never allow such radical behavior.

                You couldn’t attend a service at each and think they are anything alike.

  45. Gary Yane
    Posted April 13, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    I have read some of Noam Chomsky’s books and I have viewed and listened to many of his lectures and I cannot claim to understand everything says, but I have never noticed him displaying any arrogance nor doing any self promotion. I do not believe he has shown any signs of senility either.

    Aren’t these types of comments against the rulz?

    • Wayne Tyson
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Debate Chomsky. All else is kangaroo court.

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