Last year I saw Hitchens on panel discussion at BookExpo
At the BookExpo, Hitchens appeared perfectly comfortable with the designation of his newfound genre. Standing up to the microphone, he began his talk, “If one cannot be erect, at least one can be upright.” And why shouldn’t God is Not Great do well by the religion market? I would venture that this literary intellectual is more comfortable there than in the Science section, where the entire New Atheist crew is stationed at the Barnes & Noble at
The Secular Conscience is not an atheist book (whatever that means), and I hope it won't end up in that section, esteemed though the company would be. Still, I've been wondering what the new categories imply about the ordering of our thinking.
As an editor with the secularist magazine Free Inquiry, I reserve a special subcategory in my heart for the Borders chain. When in 2006 Free Inquiry became the only magazine of note in
The more I hear this charge, the less I get it. Of course atheism is merely negative, if you classify it as a subcategory of religion. But that is precisely not the point.
Suppose you and I are building a house, and I voice a concern about whether the foundation will be stable without some solid bedrock beneath. You know that with enough of the right kind of clay for the foundation to settle onto, we don’t need bedrock, and so you reject my concern. In doing so, you are not being merely critical. You are making a criticism, but with the broader purpose of furthering a project that is itself constructive: building a house. Furthermore, your contribution is not an attack but a defense, a rebuttal of my skepticism about a part of that project.
Most of the great pre-Socratic thinkers of ancient
Today we can ask, what is the context of the current conversation about atheism? What is its broader purpose? In post-Enlightenment, post-Darwinian civilization, the dominant outlook is the naturalistic worldview, in which the universe is understood as a system of natural processes unperturbed by occult or spiritual forces. The world doesn’t get to cheat and bring things about by magic, but always by some causal mechanism. This is the outlook presupposed by all of the biology, psychology, and history with which we understand ourselves and our place in nature, as well as the physics, chemistry, medicine, and engineering by which we have transformed ourselves and our places. The open-ended investigations of the empirical sciences—in which people like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are engaged—are gradually filling in an ever-more coherent and complete naturalistic world-picture.
Against the backdrop of this naturalistic conversation, it is the supernatural theists who are the naysayers—evolution can’t account for living things, physics doesn’t explain where the universe came from, morality is impossible without transcendent enforcement, and all the rest. It is the believers who are the skeptics, doubters of the foundations of modernity, and the atheists who are shoring up the construction project.
So when atheists today are accused of being negative, they can respond: that depends on what you are talking about. One day, if Dawkins and Hitchens are running the store, you might well find the religion books in the philosophy or literature section, instead of the other way around.