September 9, 2014

Principles of New Atheism

Principles of New Atheism

As you have undoubtedly heard, Victor Stenger died recently. He was an influential voice writing on atheism, and it is clear that his contributions will be missed. I really enjoyed his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, which I read in 2008 (you can find some thoughts on it here). I'd like to get around to reading more from him one of these days.

John Loftus (Debunking Christianity) recently posted the graphic above, which he said he found on Stenger's website and suggested that it may have been based on another of his books, The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. I have not read that one yet, so I cannot say I am familiar with how Stenger argues for the points above.

As I scanned down this list, I realized that I had no idea some of these were supposed to be part of what some continue to call "new atheism." The only ones on the list I've ever associated with this so-called "new atheism" would be the first two. Then again, I don't find "new atheism" to be a particularly meaningful label. The only thing new about it seems to be that the news media has finally decided to pay attention to atheists. That is nice, but does having a larger platform really make something new? I then realized that I do not agree with everything on this list of principles.

Although I certainly haven't found any satisfactory answers to suffering in the pages of the Christian bible, many Christians insist that it has helped them greatly during periods of suffering. I'm not sure whether that is what is being referenced here. If so, I'm willing to consider the possibility that some Christians have been helped by something they found in their "holy" book. Denying this does not strike me as a particularly important or necessary part of anything related to atheism.

A more significant departure comes with the notion that atheism is a "positive philosophy." I don't see atheism as a philosophy at all; it is merely an answer to one specific question about gods. The moment one extends beyond that, one is dealing with something broader than atheism (e.g., humanism, naturalism, various socio-political ideologies).

Last, I'm not so sure about the claim that atheism is growing. I have seen the same data you have, and they show some growth among those who report being religiously unaffiliated (i.e., the "nones"). But relatively few of these people are atheists, and the percentage of people in these surveys who identify themselves as atheists seems to be fairly stable. If there has been growth here, it has been quite small. Sure, we can say that the real numbers are much higher and they look low due to stigma. I'd agree with that up to a point. But I'd prefer to guard against too much wishful thinking here and be cautious about reading things into the numbers that may not be there.

I suppose I also tend to be cautious because we have seen the influence of fundamentalist Christianity in the U.S. wax and wane before. It has been counted out many times, only to come roaring back with another "awakening." I know that the Internet is suppose to be the death of religion, and there is clear evidence that many markers of religiosity are in decline. Maybe this really is the beginning of the end for religion. But if so, I don't imagine that any of us will live to see it disappear.

In any case, it sounds like this should be the next of Stenger's books I read. Perhaps I'll be persuaded by his arguments on these points.
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