Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Catastrophe Of Atheism

Damon Linker and Kevin Drum, neither of whom I could hope to beat in a fair fight on much of anything, have been engaged in a bit of back and forth on the topic of atheism, and now Andrew Sullivan has joined in the discussion as well.

You can read through the links above - and it might be worth your while to, if you're at all curious about how the big boys discuss this sort of thing - but there was one point in Linker's article that I wanted to pick apart a bit, which is this:
What’s most disappointing is Drum’s failure to grasp the culminating point of Hart’s essay, which, as I take it, is this: the statements “godlessness is true” and “godlessness is good” are distinct propositions. And yet the new atheists invariably conflate them.
For the record, I think Drum is probably right that Linker is misrepresenting him a little bit, but that's a side issue. My main point would be this. Although I sympathise with Linker's general stance (though every time anyone on either side of this debate uses the word "invariably", you immediately get the sinking feeling that this is just the latest attempt to build a convenient straw-man you can tear to pieces at leisure), I think he is perhaps framing it incorrectly. Whilst I agree that his two propositions are distinct, and should not be conflated, I don't believe that that is what is happening here. To my mind, the "new atheists" are thinking in conditional terms: given that godlessness is true, it is good that we know it is true.

This is not the same thing as saying it is good to not believe in God. It is merely the suggestion that we are better off knowing unpalatable truths than we are living in ignorance of them. Now, that in itself is hardly axiomatically true, so there is work to be done in proving it holds in this particular case - and I share Linker's frustration that said work seems to be somewhat lacking - but it's clearly a different problem.

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