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Sunday 20 April 2014

Richard Dawkins is the John Snow of Religious Studies

That is to say, he knows nothing.  It doesn't matter how smart he is in biology (and whether he is or not is not for me to say, not being an expert on that subject), he and most of the new-atheists are absolute ignoramuses at religious studies.

Case in point: for Easter, the Richard Dawkins Foundation pushed around this meme, pointing out the alleged origin of the word Easter:

I'll not that I'm not absolutely sure whether the Richard Dawkins Foundation ("Official") has anything to do with Dawkins directly, and I certainly doubt he wrote this caption himself; but this is an example of an endemic problem the man himself has engaged with: he doesn't actually know anything about religious studies yet is quite willing to spout off any old bullshit he hears. I've read him do it over and over again in articles, and in videos.  When he talks about science, he is (or at least, appears to my layman's eyes and ears to be) rigorous and demand rigorousness from his opponents; in fact, that's one his chief damning criticisms of them.  But when he's dealing with religion, history, and other humanities, anything goes.  As if history wasn't a discipline. As if the study of religion was something anyone could do; or rather, no one really needs to do.  Its all so stupid, right? So why should we have to fucking know anything to criticize it?

Now, here's the thing:  "Easter" is not called "Easter" in Latin, or any of the romance languages (as far as I know). It is called "Easter" in English, from the time of the Saxons; which seems very strange if it made a jump of thousands of years after the ancient goddess Ishtar stopped being worshiped in that form (and thousands of miles away from where she was ever worshiped), and at least hundreds of years after the Latin church started practicing the festival of Christ's supposed resurrection, which they called Pascha (where the Spanish "Pascuas" comes from; both coming from the Hebrew term Pesach).

There's no question that the christian Easter rites borrowed from pagan rites, but that still doesn't excuse repeating something that just isn't factually true (the supposed Ishtar-Easter connection). This just shows off how little certain critics actually know, and it ends up giving all criticism a bad reputation as fanatical and not fact-based.

There is indeed a potential connection: Eostre (Saxon) comes from Ostara (old Germanic) which may derive, from great distance, from Astarte which was another name for Ishtar.
All of these (and many other feminine deities, like Inanna or Babalon) are a type of love-goddess sometimes described by the archetype of "The Red Goddess".

And yet the fact that there is such a connection, but the Dawkins foundation gets their facts wrong anyways through bad scholarship and bad reasoning, is only more ironic and more disappointing.

New atheism is very stupid at these things. And the problem is that they are mimicking (as usual) the same errors that the religious set make in the opposite direction: that idea I expressed above: if its stupid, then why do I need to actually know anything to mock it?  "I can just engage in sloppy thinking and get away with it because it isn't something serious like Science/The Bible" (take your pick).
By engaging with that mentality toward the humanities, all of New Atheism is committing the exact same error that the anti-evolutionist and Creationist fanatics they so hate do to them.

The New Atheists would be outraged if some Creationist were to make some ridiculous claim about the hummingbird because he hasn't actually studied biology; but they feel completely free to say whatever they like about religious studies because they just assume you don't actually have to know anything about these things.
They don't know their Ishtar from their Eostre, their Dhammapada from their Mahabharata, their Augustine from their Duns Scotus.  Things that are complex they want to reduce to schoolboy taunts, but it leaves them looking like schoolboy-level thinkers.  To anyone who actually knows anything, they come across looking like idiots. 

Belief may be a simplistic matter of faith or doubt; but religious history, religious philosophy, and religious sociology are not. They are complex.  And when it comes to being capable of engaging in debate that doesn't seem infantile, the supposed luminaries of the new-atheist movement seem utterly unarmed.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia


  1. Huh. Well, I don't say that what you say is wrong, as these tendencies to talk loud without having a real inside knowledge can be found everywhere - but when I never saw this picture on the website of the RDF... instead, amusingly, I found this: ;)

  2. Yes, its good there are people questioning the bullshit claims; but you'll note that said claims came from the Dawkins site in the first place! Almost NONE of those claims about Horus are true, btw. They're completely made up, total bullshit. And instead of having to "investigate", if there was anyone on the Dawkins site who had the least modicum of actual TRAINING in Religious Studies, history, egyptology, etc. they wouldn't have these problems in the first place.
    But the underlying problem with New Atheism is that they come out of a tradition of radical positivism that rejects the humanities entirely. They just don't think those things are important; except they are, because they're the real foundation-stone of all civilization.

  3. I 100% agree. Dawkins is a really vocal example of a tendency I've seen time and time again in academia for people who are very, very erudite when it comes to their own specialisations (though actually, biologists of my acquaintance say that Dawkins is highly overrated and has failed to keep up with recent developments in the field enough to stay relevant) to assume that their erudition translates to every other field of knowledge - especially, as you point out, those fields they don't have much respect for because they don't believe it's as rigorous or technical or clever or "real" as their own field.

    I swear, nine times out of ten, if you see an academic with otherwise conventional credentials saying something utterly goofy, it's because they're running their mouth about a subject which doesn't actually come under their area of expertise. (See, for another example, James Watson's regular foot-in-mouth gaffes about race and intelligence; just because you understand how a DNA molecule is put together doesn't mean you understand intelligence and the capacity for reason and how the brain conjures those things - and indeed, if Watson had studied more psychology and neuroscience he'd know that so many environmental factors play into attainment in IQ tests and other methods of intelligence assessment that we're a long way away from making any sort of definitive statements about genetics and intellect.)

  4. It wouldn't surprise me if Dawkins has slowed down as a serious academic. If I was making the kind of money he's making from the Atheism circuit, I'd be doing the same.

  5. Just like politics I can clearly see that both sides have their angels and demons. These New Atheists are starting to act like whiny ass demons. They don't like the fact there are people who prefer to stay out of the "debates". What really pisses me off with new atheists is how they go after agnostics.

  6. What pisses me off is that, precisely like online evangelical fundamentalists, they take a serious subject of argument and reduce it to something stupid. But what pisses me off even more about the New Atheists is that they don't think they're doing that; they think that they're being very smart while they act like fucking idiots about subjects they've done no effort to research.

  7. .

    Actually, Easter and the Easter-egg came from the Egyptian Isis.

    In Egyptian Isis was called Ast or Est, from which we derive Ester or Easter (referring to a star or the heavens). And remember that Isis-Est was a fertility goddess, as much as she was the Queen of Heaven.

    And the Easter-egg came from the spelling, because Est was spelt with the easter-egg glyph. So yes, there are associations with fertility in the symbology of Est (Isis). Oh, and Ishtar (Isht-ar) came from the Egyptian Est (Isis), and not the other way around.

    (See: Cleopatra to Christ)

  8. Its fairly unlikely, again, given that Easter is a Saxon word, and not used in the Latin countries. While cults of Isis did exist all over the Roman empire, the Romans specifically did NOT call the holiday of Christ's resurrection "Easter". They called it "Pascha".
    On the other hand, not much evidence of Saxon Isis-worshippers around...

    As for Ishtar and Isis, there may indeed be some kind of etymological connection, but you'd have to go very very far back in history. And iconologically, Ishtar is clearly derived from the sumerian Inanna and not Isis. No one was saying, by the way (at least no one here) that "isis" came from "ishtar". The two are quite different in outer appearance and qualities, in any case.