IEET > Rights > Fellows > Russell Blackford > FreeThought
Voicing Our Disbelief
Russell Blackford   Jan 5, 2010   TPM  

In recent years, we have witnessed a flood of books, aimed at the popular market, issuing robust challenges to theistic religious belief. A rather puzzling expression, “the New Atheism”, has been applied to this body of work, particularly the contributions of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. They, in turn, are sometimes referred to, apparently with affection, as “The Four Horsemen”.

The most prominent books in this New Atheist flood are, perhaps, Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Hitchens’ God is Not Great. But then there are The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, both by Harris; The Atheist Manifesto, by Michel Onfray; Breaking the Spell by Dennett; Against All Gods, by AC Grayling; Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; and God: The Failed Hypothesis, by Victor J. Stenger. The list continues, and the titles show that the authors mean business.

Why, however, do we need this “New Atheism”, and what’s so new about it? There’s a sense in which nothing is very new here, and a great deal of journalistic hype is involved. But there’s something to the idea, all the same. Here’s the deal.

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Russell Blackford Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, an attorney, science fiction author and critic, philosopher, and public intellectual. Dr. Blackford serves as editor-in-chief of the IEET's Journal of Evolution and Technology. He lives in Newcastle, Australia, where he is a Conjoint Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle.


Very interesting article Russel, but I still son’t see any need for assertive, “militant” atheism.

I am, of course, against the interference of religion in public policy, and against the interference of religious persons in the private lives of others.

But I affirm the right of everyone, including religious persons, to believe what they want to believe in the privacy of their own heads, or of their chosen group of interlocutors.

To deny this right is to open the door to bigotry and fundamentalism—the same bigotry and fundamentalism that have resulted in holy wars and the inquisition. Let’s not open that door, and continue to believe in the fundamental principle of live-and-let-live.

@Mike: I disagree. This is thought-policing.

Note that I agree that reason and science should take precedent over faith and superstition, in public policy making.

But I have no issue with those who think that there are “different ways of knowing” or “different paths to truth.”, and stand behind their right to discuss and practice their conviction, as long as they don’t try to force me to listen.

Note that similar arguments based on “covert damage” can be (and have been) used by “moral majorities” to oppress minorities whose chosen lifestyle they don’t approve of.

“..when believers try to pass dogma-based laws, etc.”

What if a group of legislators, whether they’re religious or atheists, try to pass a law that they claim only /coincidentally/ coincides with Biblical (for instance) dogma? Say, for instance, an anti-abortion law.  Should we disbelieve the religious legislators but not the atheist ones?

@Mike: No one that I know of is trying to deny the rights of believers to believe what they want.

This is good. Your not only nonsense, but is also actively harmful made me think otherwise, but I see I was mistaken.

It is important to resist all temptations to police other person’s private thoughts, sensibilities and dreams. Doing so would be a first step on a very slippery slope towards outcomes that we don’t want to see again.

This does not mean that we should not do our best to promote rationality and scientific thinking as the best way to manage our world and our society.

@ Mike Treder—So, sticking to the issues, and not focusing on where one /gets/ one’s ethics is the way to go, right? So why do I still suspect that if a legislator were to promote a law that you don’t like, you would quickly Google the man’s name, find out if he went to a church, uncover the severe views of the pastor, and use that as a weapon against him?

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