Voicing our disbelief
By RUSSELL BLACKFORD - TPM THE PHILOSOPHERS' MAGAZINE
Added: Tue, 05 Jan 2010 00:00:00 UTC
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, âthe New Atheismâ, 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 âThe Four Horsemenâ.
The most prominent books in this New Atheist flood are, perhaps, Dawkinsâ The God Delusion and Hitchensâ 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 âNew Atheismâ, and whatâs so new about it? Thereâs a sense in which nothing is very new here, and a great deal of journalistic hype is involved. But thereâs something to the idea, all the same. Hereâs 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 canât 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.
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