Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Relative Irrelevance of the "New Atheists"

Ann Arbor
I'm in my 14th year of teaching philosophy at Monroe County Community College. I currently teach three classes a semester - 2 Philosophy of Religion classes, and Introduction to Logic.

I have 80 total students in all three classes this semester.

Because this is philosophy we teach about things like meaning ("Does life have meaning?"), epistemology ("What can we know?" "How is it possible to know?"), moral theories, truth (e.g., the notion of truth in logic), and God ("Does God exist?"; philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God).

I poll the students and ask: "Have you heard of any of the following - Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Bart Ehrman, and William Lane Craig?" 98% of my students over the years have never heard of any of them. Their writings are a massive non-issue among the students I teach.

Occasionally, a student has heard of one or more of these. I then ask: "Can you tell me anything about Dawkins? Hitchens? Ehrman? Craig? What are they writing about?" 98% of these 2% who have at least heard of Dawkins et. al. can say nothing meaningful about their writings. 2% of 2% = .0004%. Only 4 ten-thousandths of my students can say at least one relevant thing about the "New Atheist" discussion.

Conclusion: The "New Atheist" discussion is relatively irrelevant among the college students I teach.

But...  are these same students interested in engaging in discussion over matters of meaning, truth, morality, and God? Do they want to talk about these things? The answer is: Yes, overwhelmingly so.