I know you don’t like Richard Dawkins (I like him, and I enjoyed his “Greatest Show on Earth” book), and I’m not very fond of Sam Harris, but I don’t see how “new atheism” is undermining anything at all. Quite the contrary: there was not much atheism to speak about some years ago. There was practically nothing.
I think Mehdi Hasan’s reason for framing the discussion this way is to challenge the presupposition that the New Atheists are promoting rationality. What they might have succeeded in doing is to embolden some atheists to come out of the closet. People who felt that they would isolate themselves by declaring their belief in the non-existence of God, can now socialize more easily in their own faith group. But this isn’t much different from the tribalism that exists among religions.
It’s very odd to hear Lawrence Krauss express the view that religion will die of its own accord — an expectation that grew with the Enlightenment and yet which has proved baseless.
The thing that I find hardest to understand about the New Atheists is their dogmatic zeal. It prevents them from making an earnest attempt to understand religion from an evolutionary perspective. Whether carried by genes or memes, features of human existence that have endured for as long as the species, can generally be assumed to be adaptive in some way.
Religion doesn’t have to have religious meaning, yet the compelling evidence that a search for meaning and the representation of that search in religious behavior has persisted for tens of thousands of years, strongly indicates that religion has a vital role in human life.
Trying to understand why religion exists is a much more interesting exercise than preaching on why it has no value. Curiosity is the engine of science and yet the New Atheists seem to suffer from a significant curiosity deficit. As one sage once put it, you can’t understand something and try to change it at the same time.
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