Believe It or Not
By DAVID B. HART - FIRST THINGS
Added: Thu, 13 May 2010 01:27:26 UTC
I think I am very close to concluding that this whole “New Atheism” movement is only a passing fad—not the cultural watershed its purveyors imagine it to be, but simply one of those occasional and inexplicable marketing vogues that inevitably go the way of pet rocks, disco, prime-time soaps, and The Bridges of Madison County. This is not because I necessarily think the current “marketplace of ideas” particularly good at sorting out wise arguments from foolish. But the latest trend in à la mode godlessness, it seems to me, has by now proved itself to be so intellectually and morally trivial that it has to be classified as just a form of light entertainment, and popular culture always tires of its diversions sooner or later and moves on to other, equally ephemeral toys.
Take, for instance, the recently published 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists. Simple probability, surely, would seem to dictate that a collection of essays by fifty fairly intelligent and zealous atheists would contain at least one logically compelling, deeply informed, morally profound, or conceptually arresting argument for not believing in God. Certainly that was my hope in picking it up. Instead, I came away from the whole drab assemblage of preachments and preenings feeling rather as if I had just left a large banquet at which I had been made to dine entirely on crushed ice and water vapor.
To be fair, the shallowness is not evenly distributed. Some of the writers exhibit a measure of wholesome tentativeness in making their cases, and as a rule the quality of the essays is inversely proportionate to the air of authority their authors affect. For this reason, the philosophers—who are no better than their fellow contributors at reasoning, but who have better training in giving even specious arguments some appearance of systematic form—tend to come off as the most insufferable contributors. Nicholas Everitt and Stephen Law recycle the old (and incorrigibly impressionistic) argument that claims of God’s omnipotence seem incompatible with claims of his goodness. Michael Tooley does not like the picture of Jesus that emerges from the gospels, at least as he reads them. Christine Overall notes that her prayers as a child were never answered; ergo, there is no God. A.C. Grayling flings a few of his favorite papier-mâché caricatures around. Laura Purdy mistakes hysterical fear of the religious right for a rational argument. Graham Oppy simply provides a précis of his personal creed, which I assume is supposed to be compelling because its paragraphs are numbered. J.J.C. Smart finds miracles scientifically implausible (gosh, who could have seen that coming?). And so on. Adèle Mercier comes closest to making an interesting argument—that believers do not really believe what they think they believe—but it soon collapses under the weight of its own baseless presuppositions.
- - BBC News Comments
A new poll suggests that atheism is on the rise in the US, while those who consider themselves religious has dropped. What's the cause? Two writers debate.
Robert F. Worth - New York Times Comments
A great article about Jerry DeWitt and the growing presence of atheist communities
Chip Rowe - Playboy Comments
Playboy Interview with Richard Dawkins
- - YouTube - townsquare Comments
Cara Santa Maria (Senior Science Correspondent, Huffingtonpost.com) leads this week's panel on 'The Point' to discuss these issues and more with Michael Shermer (Publisher - Skeptic Magazine), Sean Carroll (Theoretical Physicist - Caltech), and Edward Falzon (author of 'Being Gay Is Disgusting').
Kimberly Winston - Washington Post Comments
Last weekend, the Atheist Film Festival showed more than a dozen films about separation of church and state, freedom of religion (and no religion), the conflict between science and religion in public schools.
- - eBay auction Comments
Albert Einstein's Historic 1954 "God Letter" Handwritten Shortly Before His Death