Is the ‘New Atheism’ for the win?

Like Ozymandias, I look at the world with multiple screens at once with a randomly circulating feed of different sources in my antarctic base (well that’s almost true, anyway). A lot of my RSS fees seem to indivate that there is a gradual success of the new atheist movement.

THe decline in the communal role of religion has the inevitable effect of institutional changes. Declines in numbers of church-goers or clergical members could be said to be based on this grassroots decline. I suspect that the increased interest in institutional organisation, namely, offices, councils, and authorities, is driven by our lack of interest at the local  and communal basis of religious life.

An initial distinction should be made. When we understand the ‘new atheism’. We should distinguish between a cultural mindset whereby we see an increased amount of criticism about supernatural beliefs, against a set of authors. What a Dawkins or a Hitchens belives is not to define those of all atheists and secularists, just imagine the irony of perceiving them as prophets or authorities. They probably see themselves as saying what we are all thinking, and to some extent they may be accurate.

There is some criticism of this movement, and a lot of it is good. I’ve made point of in the past at how the ‘new atheists’ are ignorant of the ‘old’ atheists. They are also putting forward arguments which aren’t particularly hard hitting. Antisophie once wrote that she is ‘Anti-stupid’, and it seems to me that a sense of dogmatism or complacency is made about the argumentative worth of atheism, or a dogmatic acceptance of the falsity of all religious beliefs tout court.

It is an interesting fact that there are a slowly mobilising group of professional analytic philosophers who also happen to be Christians. There are some metaphysicians who are usual suspects of being a Christian in this issue but what has taken me by surprise is that a number of philosophers of language and epistemologists are Christian. Looking at their names and my vague familiarity with their work; they tend to be either do quite formal and technical work, they are foundationalists and are the kinds of philosophers who love to use symbols. In short, they are no fools

It is much to my amusement that I heard that William Lane Craig took part in a debate with Christopher Hitchens. This is a joke. William Lane Craig has written on issues such as the philosophy of time and the relation of physics to Christian doctrine; and Hitchens is famous for being a friend of Princess diana and being an editor for Vanity Fair. While I do not question the eloquence or writing style of the latter, I don’t expect him to have a view about Eternity or perdurantism that is superior to the likes of McTaggart. It’s the pugilistic equivalent of Mike Tyson against a parkinsons-ridden Cassius Clay.


3 thoughts on “Is the ‘New Atheism’ for the win?

  1. This weekend, St. Clements near where I live hosted a “Green Festival”, focussed on how to improve the quality of life in Chorlton, the town where the church is based. The event was extremely well attended.

    It strikes me that churches are reaching out and finding new ways to support their communities. And that this is a hugely positive trend.

    As for “New Atheism”, when I find a “New Atheist” who can talk reasonably on both Hume AND Nietzche, I’ll take them seriously. :p

  2. Indeed, churches as centres of community is a dimension that I do not think that a significant number of atheists do not acknowledge. There is, I note, a small movement of people who popularise themselves as ‘agnostics’ (Mark Vernon, for instance). This camp of people acknowledge things like the aesthetic merit of a Widor performance which is almost always performed in a church: due to that piece of furniture that is in a lot of churches, namely, an organ.

    Christianity has imposed as much to western culture in music as it has in philosophy and science; perhaps the most obvious impact is from our literary and musical heritage of the likes of Thomas More, Blake, Handel, Bach and so on.

    An issue comes up which is larger than a simple atheism vs. theism notion: what of the status of community? One narratives of our age is that people in industrialised areas are increasingly impersonal and centres of ‘community’ are eroding. Of course, there are exceptions. LETS schemes, for instance, or the resurgence of traditional community-based activities, like boxing clubs.

    This is an instance where the government cannot come in and simply fix things. We seem too reliant on that kind of solution. Though one can envisage ‘schemes’ like voluntary and NGO initiatives; I suppose something ‘from within’ a community should emerge to establish a notion of community. This may be the saving grace of religion. I quite like the notion of a coffee morning or a cheap lunch; especially in these cash-strapped times. Which reminds me of how inferior the players at the local choir are compared to my musicianship.


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