Monday, April 29, 2013

It ain't necessarily so

I hate the term the New Atheists. I am fed up with the way it is used to sneer at a group of modern authors who are simply the latest in a long-standing intellectual tradition that rejects religion and religious thought. What distinguishes them is that they are good writers and have a large, receptive audience. They have not had to deal with the hostility and persecution dished out to Richard Carlile or G W Foote; instead they are read by many, well-rewarded and face ineffectual opponents using some of the sloppiest arguments I have seen.

Rambling articles describe atheism as another form of religious faith (presumably in the same way that all anti-Fascists are Nazis, anti-Communists worship Stalin, and anti-atheists … you get my drift) or think that without the moral code and sense of right and wrong that religion brings we will sink into a pit of cruel depravity. Max Dunbar demolishes one of the worst examples here.

But what strikes me is that the defence of religion being mounted rarely contains a defence of the existence of god. Instead, all the discussion is really about the sociology of religion. And this is the crux of the argument. The religious believe in the existence of one or more supernatural or spiritual beings, whilst us atheists find the whole notion preposterous. Rather than take on the empirical evidence or discuss theology, it is more convenient for a predominantly secular audience to shift the debate away from the literal truth of religion to the function it performs. Yet, really the argument is simple. And, as far as I am concerned, there is no god.


Andrew King said...

I don’t take the alleged death of polemical atheism that seriously. It’s religion that’s looking seriously poorly to me, with many of its most thoughtful defenders having given up any attempt to convince outsiders that their core beliefs correspond to reality.

If the literal truth of your credo no longer really matters, why take Christianity, or Islam any more seriously than the Temple of the Jedi Order?

Anonymous said...

Aristotle's understanding of physics was wrong, but it may have been necessary to reach Newton. In the same way, religion may be wrong, but I hate to think what the past of the western world would have been like without Judaism and Christianity.

The distinctive feature of the new atheists is the mocking tone they adopt when speaking of religious beliefs and their consequences. A good part of history is being erased, mocked to death -- like Karl Barth, Dorothea Day, and Martin Luthor King.

Modern religion, at least in the west, is largely prompted by one question -- why is there something and not nothing? It is not the depth of stupidity to answer, "there are mysteries we do not understand, and among these is a supreme being."

Dawkins tone will be understandable when there are no mysteries left. Until then, he may be right but not so right that he can afford to mock someone with different beliefs.

-- cubic

The Plump said...

Perhaps you should read them more carefully cubic. Hitchens included a large section in praise of Martin Luther King in God is not Great, agreeing with his philosophy and politics but disagreeing with his theology.

Dawkins has spoken of being an agnostic not an atheist in the same terms that you mention. See

In regards to things that are mysterious, the general approach taken is to say that there are phenomena that we do not yet understand, but that they are explicable using scientific method and not through metaphysics. Modern physics is precisely trying to answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing and about the existence of matter and the universe. Its enquiries increasingly distance us from the notion of a supreme being.