Julian Baggini is the author of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction so you would think he supports anyone who defends the idea of atheism.
So in my book, I tried to articulate the grounds for this [atheist] view with as little reference to the religious alternative as possible. The new atheism, however, is characterised by its attacks on religion…
This antitheism is for me a backwards step. It reinforces what I believe is a myth, that an atheist without a bishop to bash is like a fish without water. Worse, it raises the possibility that as a matter of fact, for many atheists, they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity.
The new atheism has also, I think, created an unhelpful climate for atheism to flourish. When people think of atheists now, they think about men who look only to science for answers, are dismissive of religion and over-confident in their own rightness. Richard Dawkins, for example, presented a television programme on religion called The Root of all Evil and has as his website slogan “A clear thinking oasis”. Where is the balance and modesty in such rhetoric?
For me, atheism’s roots are in a sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us. That means the real enemy is not religion as such, but any kind of system of belief that does not respect these limits on our thinking. For that reason, I want to engage with thoughtful, intelligent believers, and isolate extremists. But if we demonise all religion, such coalitions of the reasonable are not possible. Instead, we are likely to see moderate religious believers join ranks with fundamentalists, the enemies of their enemy, to resist what they see as an attempt to wipe out all forms of religious belief.
We’ve all heard those claims before — that Dawkins, for example, is militant or angry, when in fact he is nothing of the sort. Of course, if you’re looking for a reason to criticize someone, you can always find it.
But Baggini doesn’t stop there. He has a lot of other problems with the authors.
For one, they aren’t giving people an alternative to religion. If you lose your faith in God, you still may want that emotional high you get every week, and the sense of community you get with a church, and a safe place to go when things aren’t going well for you. The New Atheists don’t touch on these subjects in too much depth.
As for ripping on religion, that’s part of their schtick. They wouldn’t have been bestselling authors if they didn’t ruffle a few feathers and make people uncomfortable. I think it may have been a wise move to criticize all forms of religion rather than just the fundamentalists, but I hope we can move on from that now and focus on other aspects of living an atheistic life.
I’m not a huge fan of the tone in their books (except for Dennett), but I would argue the books have helped. They have begun a number of discussions between religious and non-religious people and they have inspired a whole lot of people to leave their faith. For that, we should be grateful to the authors.
I’m guessing most of this site’s reasons on on the side of the authors. Obviously, no one is suggesting the authors should stop writing. But even atheists who love the authors must find some faults in their styles and messages. What are they?
What other concerns do you have about the New Atheism?
What do you wish the authors would do differently?
Are they doing more harm for atheists than good?
(Thanks to Even for the link!)