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Here, we analyze the movement from two very different perspectives, the intellectual and the political.

On the intellectual side, one may ask what if anything New Atheism has contributed to the debate. The political aspect raises the question of the effectiveness of the distinctive New Atheist strategies for attacking religion. This essay addresses both of these questions in turn, arguing that overall, the movement must be deemed a failure.


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It is I think fair to conclude, as have many commentators, that the New Atheists have contributed little if anything to the debate from an intellectual or scholarly perspective. What characterizes the New Atheism as a distinctive movement, I would argue, is above all this rhetorical strategy rather than genuine intellectual engagement. The New Atheist position has had occasional philosophically informed defenders. However, Johnson relies on arguments that even he admits are not found in the New Atheists, including arguments made long before the New Atheists Johnson, , p.

Why Is Philosophy Important for Atheists?

From reading the New Atheist works, one would get the impression that any respectable scientist must be an atheist. In fact, this is surprisingly far from the case. If science can definitively demonstrate the truth of atheism, then apparently, most scientists have not yet received this message. The guiding philosophical premise of the New Atheism, to the extent it has one, is that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis to be assessed just like any other scientific claim.

PHILOSOPHY - Religion: Pascal's Wager

In fact, the claim that religious belief can be analyzed as a scientific claim is highly dubious. In practice, New Atheists make virtually no use of the scientific method to assess religion, apart from a cursory mention of studies failing to demonstrate the empirical efficacy of prayer Coyne, , p. Critics have pointed out the flaw in seeing religion as an empirical discipline line science, for religion is the study of transcendental questions rather than empirical ones, such things as meaning, purpose, and value—precisely the sorts of things that are outside the competence of science see,e.

Now of course it may be that there are no such transcendental entities, but determining whether such entities exist or not is itself by no means simply an empirical question within the scope of the sciences. This empiricist assumption leads inevitably to the New Atheist caricature of religion as based on mere blind faith and wishful thinking. But a more sophisticated view of religion would suggest that it should be seen as more like the humanities as an interpretive rather than an empirical discipline.

Again, this is not to defend the claim that religion is true, but only to say that it is by no means unproblematic to insist that religion must provide the same sort of evidence that one would expect in science or that scientists bring any special expertise to this question. The New Atheists have occasionally claimed that their declaration of victory in the religion debate is motivated by and justified by recent developments in the sciences. However, neither identifies just what these specific new developments are, or just what they have added to the debate.

There is however one incident in which the New Atheists pointed to a specific, recent scientific discovery as evidence that science has finally achieved a definitive answer to religion. This question, he claims, has been a basic support for the theistic view, in that it is claimed we need a creator to explain why the world exists at all. But Krauss insists that science has now answered this question so that a deity is no longer needed. In a nutshell, his argument is that the laws of quantum mechanics can be understood as giving an account of how the universe could originate from nothing.

Richard Dawkins added a glowing afterward to the book, even comparing Krauss to Charles Darwin in the scientific dismantling of religion. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is devastating. Albert wrote: The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists unsurprisingly of relativistic quantum fields.

And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren't, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on—and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place.

Case closed. End of story. Albert, It only pushes the question back: where did those laws come from? Hence, it says nothing at all about the ultimate origin of the universe or whether a God is needed to explain it. Agnosticism is an epistemological category; it describes someone who is not sure whether there is a God or not. Typically, the agnostic has the view that there is insufficient available evidence to draw a reasonable conclusion one way or the other, and as a result the responsible attitude is to suspend judgment. While some authors in the past have offered criticisms of believing or argued against the existence of God, atheism as we know it is a relatively recent development.

People began to consider the possibility of a fully viable alternative to theism after Darwin, and the practice of giving a direct philosophical argument for the nonexistence of God became common even later. There are surprisingly few good general overviews of the topic. Rowe covers the central issues, particularly concerning the problem of evil, but it does not summarize several important recent threads of argument. McCormick parallels this bibliography and discusses the important arguments at some length. Smart is not up to date with the key literature. Baggini , Krueger , and Flynn give useful but introductory accounts of the central issues.

Baggini, Julian. Atheism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, A useful philosophical introduction to the topic and several related issues such as atheism and ethics. Flynn, Tom, ed. The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, A useful but somewhat eclectic survey of important people, movements, and concepts in atheism.

200+ Living Philosophers of Religion and Their Best Work

Not confined to philosophical sources. Krueger, Douglas E. What is Atheism? A Short Introduction. Take all short paper scores and multiply by. Multiply your final exam and final paper scores by. Add all of those results. Anyone with 5 or more unexcused absences will receive a 0 for class attendance and participation. Everyone is expected to come to class prepared, having read the assigned materials, and ready to participate in the class discussions.

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New Atheism and its critics

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2. Definitions of “Agnosticism”

Topics and reading assignments are subject to change. I will make specific reading assignments from these admittedly too long lists of readings. Findlay, J. Martin, Michael.


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Drange, Theodore. Grim, Patrick. Wykstra, Stephen. Allston, William. Cosmological Arguments Against the Existence of God:. Dawkins, Richard. Salmon, Wesley. Everitt, Nicholas.