In December, Oxford University Press will release “Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Michael Ruse (Florida State University). The publisher’s description follows:
Over the last decade, “New Atheists” such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have pushed the issue of atheism to the forefront of public discussion. Yet very few of the ensuing debates and discussions have managed to provide a full and objective treatment of the subject.
Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know provides a balanced look at the topic, considering atheism historically, philosophically, theologically, sociologically and psychologically. Written in an easily accessible style, the book uses a question and answer format to examine the history of atheism, arguments for and against atheism, the relationship between religion and science, and the issue of the meaning of life-and whether or not one can be a happy and satisfied atheist. Above all, the author stresses that the atheism controversy is not just a matter of the facts, but a matter of burning moral concern, both about the stand one should take on the issues and the consequences of one’s commitment.
On Monday, September 19, the New York Times profiled the evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in the lengthy Profiles in Science: A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy. (The Times’ online edition also features a filmed interview.) Though it is beyond this author’s expertise to assess the claim, many regard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976) as groundbreaking in its field.
Recently, however, Dawkins has become notorious for the strident atheism he articulated in The God Delusion (2006), an international best seller. The God Delusion argues that religious faith is not only irrational but socially dangerous. The NYT profile, though published in the Science Section, devotes substantial page-space to Dawkins’ perspectives on religion.
This Commentary will proceed in two posts. Post One will characterize Dawkins’ atheistic perspectives—as he relates them in his NYT profile—and contend that (1) atheism’s stance is not without justification and (2) neither is atheists’ sense of defensiveness, which is probably the basis for Dawkins’ popularity. Yet, despite my sympathy for nonreligious persons and respect for their beliefs, Dawkins’ vitriol and its underlying critical method are fundamentally defective. Forthcoming, Post Two will critique Dawkins’ unabashed prejudice toward religious devotion from two perspectives: (1) Terry Eagleton’s criticism that Dawkins lacks basic understanding of the variety and fullness of religious belief and (2) Alasdair MacIntyre’s theory that contemporary moral discourse in the socio-political sphere is broken to the point of interminability, a failing Dawkins exemplifies.