I cut and paste Drum and continue with my comment.
TRUTH AND BEAUTY....Lee Siegel is — what? Nervous? Uncomfortable? Anxious? I'm not quite sure, but he's something over the recent release of several books attacking religion:
I'm not a particularly religious person. These arguments don't offend me or my beliefs. But they make me concerned nevertheless, because I think they strike a blow against something more important (at least to me) than belief in God. In their contempt for any belief that cannot be scientifically or empirically proved, the anti-God books are attacking our inborn capacity to create value and meaning for ourselves.
....When our anti-religionists attack the mechanism of religious faith by demanding that our beliefs be underpinned by science, statistics and cold logic, they are, in effect, attacking our right to believe in unseen, unprovable things at all....After all, you cannot prove the existence of truth, beauty, goodness and decency; you cannot prove the dignity of being human, or your obligation to treat people as ends and not just as means.
Let me get this straight. Lee Siegel himself is "not a particularly religious person." But he nonetheless thinks that attacks on religion undermine our ability to believe in "truth, beauty, goodness and decency."
This is nuts. After all, Siegel presumably believes in all these things. If cold logic hasn't stopped him, why should it stop anyone else?
I don't happen to care one way or the other whether atheists write books promoting atheism, but surely Siegel understands the difference between believing in an actual existing deity who controls the physical universe even though there's no evidence for it, and believing that human emotions are real even though they have no physical existence? This isn't really a subtle distinction. If it weren't, then Siegel's own lack of religiosity would undermine his ability to engage in flights of imagination. But, as this op-ed demonstrates, it doesn't.
On a personal level, I can understand why religious believers get tired of being pilloried as irrational zealots. Conversely, though, I get tired of believers who seem to think that atheists are incapable of morality, awe, appreciation of beauty, or the ability to lead a meaningful life. It's even more tiresome coming from someone who is himself not a believer and really ought to know better.
Oh (not mine either) God. I think I agree with Lee Siegal and disagree with you (both experiences are painful in the extreme).
In the passage you quoted (I will *not* read the rest of what he wrote) he didn't in any way suggest that religious faith is required for belief in, say, gooness. He argued that the scientific method can't show us what is write and wrong, what goodness is or tell us why to be good. This will come as no shock to anyone familiar with science and as a cliche to anyone familiar with the philosophy of science. His claim is so obvious that you can't believe he meant that which he clearly wrote.
Seigal is, quite clearly, criticizing logical positivism not atheism. The logical positivists always had great difficulty explaining why they didn't consider all statements about right and wrong to be hypocritical meaning in fact "I like this. Do so as well." That was a real philosophical problem. It helps explain why it is hard to find logical positivists in philosophy departments these days (meaning since about 1945).
The idea, central to logical positivism, that any claim which can not be tested empirically is nonsense is philosophical poison, with which logical positivism committed suicide (it asserts itself to be nonsense as it clearly can not be tested).
Dawkins et al haven't heard about the apostasy of the logical positivists. Seigal objects to their argument, roughly that which is not science is false or meaningless, not their conclusion.
It is not necessary to doubt that one can believe in right and wrong without believing in God to accept logical positivism. I believe in right and wrong but not in God or logical positivism.
update: Look Mr Drum don't bring my mother into the debate, because if you do. I will ... I mean I will ... admit you have a point.
My mother is much closer to being a logical positivist than I am and does not believ3 in objective moral truth.n This disbelief does not prevent her from being a wonderful person and atheist saint. I'm her son, so don't trust me but you can ask anyone who knows her. The belief that the word "truth" should be reserved for valid science and mathematics does not prevent her from being very very good. I believe in objective moral truth and, well I'm better than Dick Cheney but I don't dare go far beyond that.
Seigal is worried about the possible long term effects of the belief that there is no truth outside of science (and mathematics). I agree that he is being silly, as this belief is common among atheists many of whom are very moral people. However, it is a belief that goes beyond simple disbelief in God and, in particular, is a belief which do do not share. I agree with Drum conclusion that Seigal (intellectual spazzatura) is confused, but I disagree with Drum's argument, because Drum fails to notice that Seigal criticizes Dawkins' argument not his conclusion.