|The Early Days of a Better Nation|
Thursday, July 26, 2007
With a bible and a gun
The word of God lay heavy on my heart
I was sure I was the one
- U2, 'The Wanderer'
In comments below, Renegade Eye asks why I haven't said anything about the new atheists. I've read the new atheist books by Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Onfray. I haven't read Hitchens' book yet but I've read and listened to enough of Hitchens on religion to have some idea where he's coming from. I've also read David Mills' Atheist Universe, the first (self-published) edition of which preceded them all as a surprise success. I don't really have much to say about them, so instead I'm going to give lots and lots of links.
But first, I should mention that I clean forgot a third atheist paperback, and one I'd written about elsewhere at that: Jacques Monod's Chance and Necessity, (1970, translated 1971.)
The first 21st century atheist books were popularizations of atheist arguments that had developed within philosophy. (A few humanist philosophers in Britain had become Guardian columnists: Julian Baggini, Simon Blackburn, A. C. Grayling. In the US it was a bit different: atheist columnists felt isolated. (Via.)) Daniel Harbour's An Intelligent Person's Guide to Atheism (2001, paperback 2003) and Julian Baggini's Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (2003) were both well-written and, in their differing ways, original. But the only way they prefigured what was about to break was that were each published as part of a series of brief guides to large subjects. Baggini explicitly counselled against atheist militancy: "Religion will recede not by atheists shouting condemnation, but by the quiet voice of reason slowly making itself heard."
On September 15 2001 the voice of reason, or at any rate of Richard Dawkins, made itself heard in a very different tone. Dawkins followed this up within days with a call to stop being polite about religion, repeated here and here, and reprinted in his essay collection A Devil's Chaplain (from which I quoted it after Beslan, which was my moment of having had enough of being polite - though what actually got me to rejoin the National Secular Society was this (PDF).)
OK, on to the links.
Michael Fitzpatrick puts forward materialist arguments against, as he puts it, baiting the devout. Ronald Aronson has a more sympathetic radical take. Terry Eagleton wrote a hilariously pretentious review of The God Delusion, which called forth P.Z. Myers' memorable Courtier's Reply, as well as some patient and puzzled commentary by my fellow SF writer Adam Roberts.
The charge that Dawkins et al are 'atheist fundamentalists' led to the formulation of Stacey's Law. Stacey is not the only one bored with the anti-Dawkins backlash.
The prominence of the new atheists has led to more atheists coming out. One reporter who worked the religion beat for years explains how he lost faith. (Both via.) Dawkins himself has a very civilised conversation with one of his Christian critics, the eminent scientist Francis Collins.
Another scientist, David Sloan Wilson, criticises Dawkins' speculations on the evolutionary origins of religion, to which Dawkins gives a spirited reply; their disagreement is discussed here. There's further intelligent commentary on the cognitive and behavioural roots of religion by Abbas Raza, Pascal Boyer, and Paul Bloom (these two via an earlier good piece by Raza.
Former fundamentalist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman is interviewed on the documents. Taner Edis, a physicist from Turkey and harsh critic of Islam's relation to science, warns secular humanists against their own simplistic interpretations of the Muslim world and Islam, particularly the egregious tripe peddled by Sam Harris.
If you make through all these, you may be relieved to hear from John Emerson: I’m surprised that people are still talking about “God” any more. I disproved his existence a couple of weeks ago. Despite this amazing feat of logic, the discussion will, no doubt, go on.