Is Atheism Anti-theism?

An excerpt from the article "The New Atheist Movement is Destructive" by Julian Baggini:

Not reading The God Delusion, God is Not Great, Breaking the Spell and The End of Faith is perfectly reasonable. Why on earth would I devote precious reading hours to books which largely tell me what I already believe? These books are surely mainly for agnostics and open-minded believers. In fact, I think atheists who have read these books have more of a responsibility to account for their actions than I do my inaction. As the posters on the sides of British buses rather simplistically put it, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” God's non-existence is a fact atheists live with, not something that they should obsessively read about.

But if I haven't read these books, surely I should have no opinion about them? I think you’d be less sure of this if you had read How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard (or even not read it). In any case, my opinions are not so much about these books as the general tone and direction the new atheism they represent has adopted. This is not a function of what exactly these books say, but of how they are perceived, and the kind of comments the four horsemen make in newspaper articles and interviews. All this, I think, has been unhelpful in many ways. In short, the new atheism gets atheism wrong, gets religion wrong, and is counterproductive.

How does it get atheism wrong? When I wrote my own book on the subject, I believed that atheism was widely misunderstood as being primarily a negative attack on religious belief, on which it is parasitic.

But this can’t be right. Imagine for one moment that atheism triumphs and belief in God is eradicated. On the view that atheism needs religion, then this victory would also be atheism’s extinction. This is absurd.

It is only because of historical accident that atheism is not widely recognised as a world-view in its own right. This world view is essentially a very general form of naturalism, in which there are not two kinds of stuff, the natural and the supernatural, but one. The forces that govern this substance are also natural ones and there is no ultimate purpose or agency behind them. Human life is biological, and thus does not survive beyond biological death.

Such a worldview needs defending, and a special name, only because for various reasons, it is not the one that most humans have adopted. But the view itself is true whether or not there are people who disagree with it. In a totally atheist world, we may stop noticing that it is a view at all, in the same way that most people do not notice that they believe objects exist whether we perceive them or not. But it would still be a view.

So in my book, I tried to articulate the grounds for this view with as little reference to the religious alternative as possible. The new atheism, however, is characterised by its attacks on religion. “There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds,” wrote Richard Dawkins, quite typically, quoting approvingly Stephen Weinberg, who said, “for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.” Hitchens goes so far as to explicitly say that “I am not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist.”
This antitheism is for me a backwards step. It reinforces what I believe is a myth, that an atheist without a bishop to bash is like a fish without water. Worse, it raises the possibility that as a matter of fact, for many atheists, they do indeed need an enemy to give them their identity.

Cross-posted at Bazm-e-Rindaan


Anonymous said…
oh man!!
y arent u writing anything?
Awais said…
Is there any particular topic you'd like me to write about? :)
Anonymous said…
frankly speaking those posts which u write on philosophy goes beyond my head.lolz...
i like those which u write at random,
like dialogues sort ov..
Lea Verou said…
I wholeheartedly agree with the article, apart from this part: "It is only because of historical accident that atheism is not widely recognised as a world-view in its own right.".

Religion is not a mere historical accident. There is a human need for meaning, which led them to invent gods and saviors, authors and miracle-workers. Humans can't stand randomness. They need their lives to have a meaningful purpose.

That need is paramount - so much that neuroscientists have identified brain centers where they believe faith is based. Just like drugs, there are receptors for the "opium of the people" as well. Atheism has a much stronger enemy than God - man himself, creator of the gods.