Sunday, 12 August 2007

"Militant" Atheists

Recently, on Richard Dawkins' website, there have been a lot of articles posted(as it is a fairly balanced website that posts different points of view) arguing for the idea that the current crop of atheist writers are "militant" and encouraging an vehemently anti-religion point of view, as well as promoting and overly dogmatic view of certainty. Here are a few examples of this kind of thing: One, Two.

This criticism of the "New Atheists" as vehement and nasty is ridiculous. I have read Dawkins' The God Delusion, Harris' The End Of Faith and Letter To A Christian Nation, Hitchens' God Is Not Great, and Dennett's Breaking The Spell. I guess if you wanted to define "militant" as "feels strongly about something" you could make Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris look militant. But the word "militant" implies a much more aggressive, hateful attitude, possibly involving inciting violence against people. The "New Atheists" do no such thing. Dennett actually bends over backwards to be fair to religion, and its point of view is philosophical, rather than arguing against the existence of God or arguing from a political/religious harm standpoint. Hitchens' book is fairly confrontational, but that is not the same as being militant.

So why do the religious keep bringing up this point? Bear in mind it's not just the fundamentalists that make this kind of arguments(who often believe that they are being "persecuted" because gays can get married in Massachusetts) but also more liberal religious people. It may be down to the fact that religion appears to have gone uncriticised in the public sphere for so long and it has got used to its position as untouchable. I don't know what these people want the "New Atheists" to say. "Excuse me...but I think...that your god possibly isn't real, maybe?"

And to criticise the dogmatism of the New Atheists is even stupider. This is a simple case of projecting onto the opposition what one does yourself--in this case certainty on whether God exists. Based on the evidence we have(and don't have that we would expect if God existed), atheism is the most reliable current position. Dawkins specifically says his argument doesn't disprove God, only makes him incredibly unlikely. Hitchens' book deals more with the atrocities of religion, although he does make some arguments against the existence of God by criticising eg. the argument from design. Harris' books are based on current affairs as well as arguing for atheism. So they are anything but dogmatic, and they admire skepticism greatly.

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