The New Atheism
A few thoughts from Thursday's discussion forum: The Dawkins Delusion?
Dr Greg Clarke (amongst other things, the newly appointed director of MSCI) gave a lengthy presentation followed by questions and discussion. I had hoped to be able to begin the night by showing some clips from The Root of All Evil? to set the mood, but this fell through.
Dr Clarke opened by asking 'why is religion back on the agenda?'. It was not long ago that religion in general and Christianity in particular were rarely mentioned in mainstream news media. However, even a casual glance today will turn up many examples (does anyone know of any research on this? i.e. the frequency of 'religious' issues in news media over the last few decades). Greg suggested three possible reasons: (a) post September 11 fascination with religious extremism. This is focussed upon, but not limited to, Islam. (b) The results of contemporary research indicating the positive benefits of religion. For example, one meta-study summarising hundreds of studies on the effects of relgion found that 79% of studies indicate a positive correlation between religious affiliation and life/health benefits (longevity, marital stability, mental health, etc.), 13% found no relationship, 7% gave confused results and only 1% discovered a negative correlation. It seems 'religion' is good for you. The imprecision of this term is a weakness of the studies, but since we're talking about public perception, this is a tangent. And (c) it is now possible to begin to look back on the twentieth century with a little distance and many commentators call it 'the century in which we lost God'. It was also, from one perspective, the century that demonstrated the failures of atheism as a social agenda.
The last few years have seen the rise of 'the new atheism', represented most prominently by Dawkins (but also by Hitchens - God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Harris - The End of Faith/Letter to a Christian Nation, Dennett - Breaking the Spell and Onfray - Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). Dr Clarke claimed that this movement represents the increasingly shrill declarations of those fighting a losing battle. He suggested that of all the responses to this publishing phenomenon - Christian anger, atheist delight, agnostic puzzlement - the least appropriate is that of the 'apatheist': I don't know and I don't care. Life is more precious than that. (More to come)
Twelve points for the best explanation of the relevance of this picture to this post.
Monday, July 02, 2007
The New Atheism