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Old 12-26-2010, 02:32 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Lack of Philosophical Grounding in Modern "Pop" Atheism

Since we have so many atheists on the forum, I thought I'd stir the pot a little bit.

Since the popularization of modern atheism at the start of the 21st century (largely after the combination of a rise in terrorism fueled by Islamic fundamentalism and, more long term, the rise in Christian fundamentalism in the United States) there have been a number of books presented that appeal to modern atheists. The problem is this:

Atheism used to be a position held largely by privileged, educated members of societies with substantial infrastructure and so it had a strong grounding in the philosophical and theological traditions, who were familiar with both the theological arguments (ontological, cosmological and teleological) and the logical or epistemological structures said arguments violated.

While atheism is still, largely, a movement that has its roots among more educated individuals, the popularization of the movement and the texts produced by less philosophically grounded individuals (especially Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitches; though I have to admit that I personally have a major soft spot for Hitchens and totally understand the appeal of Dawkins and Harris) totally lack critiques of (a) the theological propositions that they actually want to attack and (b) miss the mark in terms of the fundamental flaws in the modern practice of theology.

This is not a critique of popular atheism becoming "like a religion." That's horsesh*t.

This is not a critique of tact of writers as confrontational. There's plenty of great literature attacking theological arguments that is written in a confrontational style. Agitation is often necessary.

The problem is that (especially) Dawkins and Harris don't seem to ever have read Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Antony Flew's Theology and Falsification or even Bertrand Russell's Why I am Not a Christian. Often Dawkins, in critiquing teleology, is making arguments that existed (more eloquently) in the work of David Hume some 250+ years ago, and he doesn't bother to establish the philosophical grounding of his critique, which is immense and worth writing about.

It seems to me if one is going to argue for a position, it can be really, really helpful to know the history of the position.

If I'm going to argue that evolution is a substantial theory, I should read Darwin through Watson and Crick through Gould through Dawkins. You don't have to reference it. You don't have to look like an ivory tower, inaccessible intellectual (though I relate to those folks better, personally; and Hitchens and Dawkins and Harris appear that way, anyway) but these guys should know the arguments that they're dealing with, so that they can see the variations and identify the core of the argument. Otherwise, it looses so much of the force that really well established atheists have been building since the invention of God.
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