Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Atheists - Now the "Big 4"

The new New Yorker has yet another article written by Anthony Gottlieb - a long one - on the "Big 4" of contemporary atheism (formerly known as the Big 3): Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and now Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens has been on a lot of TV talk shows recently. He's colorful, and maybe a misanthrope.
The Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens idea that persons who are "moderately" religious in fact help radical terrorist religious fundamentalist to survive is "dreamily incoherent."
The essay, "Atheists With Attitude," has a nice little summary of the history of atheism beginning with Celsus' “On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians” (written in 178 A.D).
Gottlieb thinks there are at least five hundred million atheists in the world, placing atheism fourth behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.
Gottlieb concludes, atheism "is also by far the youngest, with no significant presence in the West before the eighteenth century. Who can say what the landscape will look like once unbelief has enjoyed a past as long as Islam’s—let alone as long as Christianity’s? God is assuredly not on the side of the unbelievers, but history may yet be."
- religion is on the rise globally (Philip Jenkins's work)
- belief in God may be "hard-wired" in persons (see Plantinga's and Calvin's sensus divinitatis)
- Just as it's hard to tell what "belief in God means," it's also hard to tell what atheism means to individual people. Armand Nicholi of Harvard, in his brilliant The Question of God, wonders whether Freud really believed in God in spite of what he wrote in The Future of an Illusion.
- And "numbers" of adherents mean... what? The early followers of Jesus in the Gospels were massively outnumbered. When it comes to truth, at least in the sense of logic, "numbers" (ad populum arguments) are fallacious.
All this is now being closely watched...