Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Standing up for "new atheism"

Russell Blackford was one of many interesting people that my wife and I met at the AAI convention in Burbank, California last fall. Oddly, I happened to meet him while sitting with Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution is True). At one point Jerry began speaking to another attendee when Russell and I had a brief conversation about our, mutual, dislike for the idea of the accommodationist position.

Russell has so eloquently expanded on his support for "new atheism" and his rejection of accommodationism in a recent article in "The Philosophers' Magazine":

In recent years, we have witnessed a flood of books, aimed at the popular market, issuing robust challenges to theistic religious belief. A rather puzzling expression, “the New Atheism”, has been applied to this body of work, particularly the contributions of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. They, in turn, are sometimes referred to, apparently with affection, as “The Four Horsemen”.

The most prominent books in this New Atheist flood are, perhaps, Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Hitchens’ God is Not Great. But then there are The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, both by Harris; The Atheist Manifesto, by Michel Onfray; Breaking the Spell by Dennett; Against All Gods, by AC Grayling; Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; and God: The Failed Hypothesis, by Victor J. Stenger. The list continues, and the titles show that the authors mean business.

Why, however, do we need this “New Atheism”, and what’s so new about it? There’s a sense in which nothing is very new here, and a great deal of journalistic hype is involved. But there’s something to the idea, all the same. Here’s the deal.

Religious teachings promise us much. They offer a deeper understanding of reality, more meaningful lives and morally superior conduct, and such extraordinary (if illusory) benefits as rightness with a Supreme Being, liberation from earthly attachments, or a blissful form of personal immortality. It all sounds good, and if some of these teachings are rationally warranted it would be well to discover which. At the same time, however, religious teachings can be onerous in their demands; if they can’t deliver on what they promise, it would be well to know that. I take it, then, that there is an overwhelming case for rational examination of religious teachings. Even if reason can take us only so far, we ought to explore just how far.

Continue reading at TPM: The Philosophers' Magazine

Russell Blackford is co-editor, with Udo Sch√ľklenk, of the recently-published 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists (Wiley-Blackwell). I was given this book as a gift and am almost finished reading it - it is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.


Anonymous said...

Darn, you got to sit with the great people. Us regular folk had to sit in the back of the room.

sarniaskeptic said...

Well, that clearly explains who "anonymous" is. I definitely wasn't up at the "speakers'" table - it was just that Jerry Coyne had joined our table in discussion with another one of our tablemates.

When I told Jerry that I had enjoyed his book more than Richard's (Why Evolution is True vs The Greatest Show On Earth), he defended Richard's book for speaking about subjects that Jerry didn't/wouldn't because, to many, they are tedious and boring but are really important in the study of evolutionary theory. I've actually considered writing a blog entry on this because I think that Jerry is right - some of Richard's book is tedious but it hammers home the FACT of evolution and the overwhelming support for the theory of natural selection.

I am looking forward to Montreal this year. I'm doubtful that they'll be able to match the line-up of AAI 2009 in Burbank but it will still be a great excuse to go to Montreal and hang out with other like-minded people.

Anonymous said...

There are anonymous comments that are not me BTW.

Just tell me ASAP when the tickets go on sale so I too can get the VIP tickets and join the elites in the front.

Just hope that the convention will all be in English..... Went to one convention (work related) and half the talks were in french. That was a real downer! Hope that people get their passports! Hate to see only Canadians there. Those Americans are needed to make the convention.