New phrases: The “New” Atheism

Well, seeing that Sinistre* and Antisophie have given their own posts on new words and phrases (and how typical for S* to use pwnd as a word! I considered one of my own. I, along with many other philosophers, have recieved an invitation to write articles for an internet encyclopaedia, and one of the articles that they asked for writers on was: the “New Atheism”. Given that I spend most of my house in solitude reading modern philosophy by candlelight, I hardly get to come across new words, or people, for that matter.

The notion of a “New Atheism” on the one hand was new, that there was such a phrase, was, at one, a sort of validation of this phenomenon that is going on; namely, of the sudden emergence of writers and publications who write on the issues of religion and secularity and things around it. But on the other hand, I thought it such an odd term; what is new about the new atheism?

One response is to say that it reflects a growing acceptance, and change in shift of societal trends. Back in Jesuit school, it was heresy of the highest order to say one was an atheist; now, apparently, I look at many of my friends facebook profiles and find they are an atheist. Many people think I am an atheist, but, as with most things, I can’t just give a straightforward answer. Normally when I think of something, I try to reflect on it, see how it impacts on other issues, and see various facets and tensions of an issue, very often either I just stop thinking about it or get confused, or just follow a thought until the phone rings, to say that I ever come down on an issue and say something like “I have such and such …. as a position” is far too flippant. I don’t work that way.

For instance, once, someone asked what do you think of error theory? I didn’t give a one-sentence answer, I just thought out loud, what did they mean? what is at stake? what issues are at hand here? By default I tend not to favour error theory, but not because it is an anti-realist thesis, but because of its specific denial of truth condition statements of morality. But I may reply to say error-theorist about what?

I don’t do this whole thing about “having a position”. Yes, I may come down consistently on the same conclusions on the same issues, for instance, Metallica is a shit band. But I will always be willing to put my cards on the table and see my hand before I put them down to play. Cos sometimes the hand may not be good enough to win and we have to stick. I find that this “New Atheism” consists of many philistines, both culturally and intellectually. Oft repeating arguments that need not be repeated, just read Hume and you shall find this argument there, you are not original, furthermore, if you learned from the past you avoid repetition, further to that, you avoid their own pitfalls that you yourself may invoke.

That’s what I liked about the Jesuits, always cultured, always aware…
Michael

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One thought on “New phrases: The “New” Atheism

  1. Hello again…

    “I, along with many other philosophers, have recieved an invitation to write articles for an internet encyclopaedia, and one of the articles that they asked for writers on was: the “New Atheism”.”

    How do I get in on that gig, exactly? :-/ I would love to have somewhere beyond my blog to include some of my philosophy, but as a game designer I seem to be a priori excluded from the philosophy party. 😦

    “What is new about the new atheism?”

    Here are some thoughts:

    1. It’s a current phenomena, and thus qualifies as new in the literal sense.
    2. Unlike earlier atheism, such as Russell, it is blissfully naive of the history of atheism.
    3. Case in point, New Atheists seem to tend towards seeing Hume as an atheist, which a study of his work does not validate. (He did dislike Christianity, though, but not believing in Christianity is not the boundary condition of atheism! Hume, it seems either believed in a god that was neutral to humanity, or was agnostic)
    4. Unlike earlier atheism, “New Atheism” has the odd side effect of increasing interest in religion (rather than decreasing affiliation with religion)
    5. New Atheism is neo-Darwinist ideology positioned as opposition to theism instead of as opposition to alternative scientific perspectives upon evolutionary theories, which is also a new phenomena.

    What fascinates me about it is the brilliant way that by trying to use science to bear on theology, the New Atheists manage to make the same category error that Young Earth Creationists make when they try to bear theology on science. Pricelessly entertaining!

    Best wishes!

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