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After the New Atheist Debate

After the New Atheist Debate

Phil Ryan
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 208
  • Book Info
    After the New Atheist Debate
    Book Description:

    Lucidly written and clearly argued,After the New Atheist Debateis a book that brings welcome clarity and a solid path to the often contentious conversation about religion in the public sphere.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2046-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[x])
  3. Scriptural Abbreviations
    (pp. [xi]-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    Religion in the news does not represent the whole truth about religion in the world. Most believers don’t make the news: they lead quiet lives, shaped to a greater or lesser degree by religious beliefs that often help make them more caring and committed people. But while these grim news articles provide a one-sided picture of religion, they do not constitute a simple fabrication.

    No one should have been surprised, then, when a series of provocative and lively attacks on religion was published in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the rise of a politically assertive conservative Christianity. Six...

  5. Part One: The New Atheist Debate

    • chapter one Charges and Defence: An Overview
      (pp. 23-32)

      This chapter offers an initial overview of the New Atheist debate. We begin with an inventory of the New Atheist critiques of religion, and then consider some of the more straightforward rebuttals offered by the defenders. Recall, however, the delimitation noted in the introduction: this overview of the debate is truncated, leaving aside one of the debate’s central themes, whether it is reasonable to believe that God exists. Even with that deliberate omission, there is much to talk about.

      Critics of religion often argue that its various evil consequences are interrelated. Religion must be authoritarian, for example, in order to...

    • chapter two Faith, Reason, Radical Evil
      (pp. 33-48)

      All participants in the New Atheist debate agree that, in some undefined past, religious belief was the norm. In such a world, it would be natural to use religious language to justify any action, even to oneself. Recourse to religious language to rationalize action can be quite conscious and cynical. But not always: we are not necessarily clear on our own underlying motivations, and to understand those motivations we turn to the explanations that areavailable. Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues that “how individuals understand their relationship to their own actions and how those actions are generated is in part a...

    • chapter three Clashing Caricatures
      (pp. 49-63)

      To this point, we have generally focused on phenomena at a social level: religion, atheism. In this chapter, things get more personal, as we examine portraits ofbelieversandunbelieversas individuals. Imagine, if you can, sitting down to read the works of the New Atheists at a single go. What picture would you gain of believers and unbelievers? Or what would one think of atheists, if one had met them only in the pages of the defenders? Take the first approach, or the second, or both, and you would likely come up with something close to the following composite...

    • chapter four The Serious and the Wishy-Washy
      (pp. 64-82)

      There is a symmetry to these quotes. The New Atheist asserts that when believers get serious, they get ugly. The defender asserts that when atheists get serious, they get ugly. These claims are a vital support to the mutual demonization that characterizes the New Atheist debate. Each side can allow that there are decent members of the opposing camp, but then claim that the decent types are not fully serious, not true to their fundamental world view.

      Yet there is also an important difference in the claims. The New Atheist says that,as a matter of observable fact, there is...

  6. Part Two: Life Together

    • chapter five New Atheist Ethics
      (pp. 85-107)

      One of the important challenges facing the dream of a world without religion was articulated by Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov: if there is no God, is everything permitted? After examining various tactics by which New Atheists occasionally try to brush away the problem of ethics, this chapter will examine their attempts to address Dostoyevsky’s concern. As it is the most fully elaborated attempt, I will focus on Sam Harris’s “scientific” ethics.

      This chapter does not argue against the possibility of a “post-religious ethics.” Indeed, there is a sense in which we absolutelymustarticulate and defend such an ethics, one that...

    • chapter six The Defendersʹ Moral Foundations
      (pp. 108-119)

      In chapter 4 we examined the New Atheist claim that the most serious believers are the most dangerous, the most violent, the most intolerant. We did not critique the defenders’ equivalent claim, that the onlylogicaloutcome of serious atheism is a nihilistic immorality. Those atheists who do not seem “shameless, that is, inhuman” (Crean 2007, 157) are those who have not worked out the full implications of their faulty metaphysics: they continue to live on ethical principles grounded in the very belief system they scorn. When an atheist arrives at consistency, then “the grinning skull of atheist post-nihilism” reveals...

    • chapter seven Can We Live without Foundations?
      (pp. 120-141)

      The previous two chapters have shown that those parties to the New Atheist debate who claim to have identified a shared moral foundation are mistaken. I will jump from that finding to a general claim, which I simply stipulate: we must find our way in this world without shared moral foundations. The claim isintrinsicallyunprovable.¹ It is, however, falsifiable. But how? It is obviously not enough to point to an author or argument that one finds persuasive. One must demonstrate that one’s candidate for a moral foundation could appeal to people holding a wide range of metaphysical outlooks. So...

    • chapter eight Ethical Dialogue
      (pp. 142-158)

      We ended the previous chapter noting that a just society must work on its normative fabric, in part through dialogue. Though norms can be sustained and transformed simply by living them, a just and humane society requires ongoing ethical dialogue. This chapter will begin by reflecting on the nature of that dialogue, its goals, and its associated skills and virtues. We will then consider the problem of “public reason”: is it acceptable to advance “faith-based” arguments in all contexts? I will argue that it is not, and undertake the possibly hopeless task of persuading the believer who yearns for a...

  7. Conclusion: Is This Enough?
    (pp. 159-164)

    The warring camps of the New Atheist debate advance core ethical claims of the same form. Each side claims that it can put our shared ethical existence on a firm footing. For one camp, that footing requires that we embrace religious belief; for the other, that we abandon it. These claims are wrong. Wherever one’s sympathies lie in the New Atheist debate, we must acknowledge that neither religion, nor science, nor the zeitgeist, nor knowledge of our mortality, nor “innate human solidarity,” nor, I believe, anything else that might occur to the reader, can provide us with asharedethical...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 165-184)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 185-196)