Thursday, March 15, 2007

Theophobe Reading

In the last few years there has been a spate of new books with old ideas about religion by atheist authors. Sam Harris (Letter To A Christian Nation, The End of Faith), Daniel Dennett (Breaking The Spell), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), and now Christopher Hitchens. Hitch's new book, out in May, is called God is Not Great and here is a quote on why he wrote the book:

I was quite young when I came to the unsurprising conclusion that there was no supreme being who had created the unknown universe and the known world, let alone a supreme being who took an interest in my doings or those of anyone else. I could be asked, I suppose, how I knew this. My first response would be that I learned it from those other humans who were making absurdly large claims that they could never in a billion years have even a slight chance of proving. My second response would be that we now have better explanations than “god” for everything that we do know about, and no sillier explanation than “god” for those numberless things that we cannot know about. Those who claim to “know” the mind of this indefinable entity are therefore wrong by definition and are arrogantly assuming an authority that no human can dare to claim.

In spite of the huge imbalance between the two sides, one resting its claims on reason and evidence and one insisting on “faith,” this ought to be a private dispute between two different mentalities. And I have spent many enjoyable evenings on just this point. The argument about god is the beginning of all intellectual arguments: it is how one works out how to think, which is always much more important than what one thinks. I hope to show in the book that I do understand the pulse that underlies belief.

So this has now become everybody’s business and bids fair to be the dominant subject for the rest of our lives. I thought it was time to re-state the traditional and hard-earned reasonings by which humanity emancipated itself from medieval rule and brought about the triumphs and advances of science and the Enlightenment. I also thought it might be a good moment to show that all the claims of established religion are bogus, and man-made, and undeserving of anything but contempt and ridicule. My hope is that the book will become a part of the long-overdue fight-back against superstition, sexual repression, political fanaticism, and all the other ways in which the “faith-based” have chosen to present themselves.

I'm unimpressed with Dawkins as a philosopher but I might give Hitchens a try and see if he brings anything new to the table. Hopefully he'll fare better than Dawkins at the hands of Plantinga: You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.

No comments: