The Atheist’s Guide to Reality

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although it came out late last year, Alex Rosenberg’s book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions hasn’t been getting the press it deserves. Indeed, the comparative attention lavished on Alain de Botton’s much less interesting Religion for Atheists seems downright unfair. Probably Rosenberg’s title is largely to blame. He has all but admitted choosing it as a marketing ploy. This was probably a mistake. The title does the book no justice, since one thing The Atheist’s Guide has relatively little to say about is atheism. This has led people like this Independent reviewer to focus on complaining that the book offers little to atheists (more sensitive to logical solecisms than de Botton, Rosenberg declines to offer them religion) while ignoring its real topic.

Continue reading “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”

Advertisements

What would it take for you to believe?

Would this be sufficient...?

What would it take for you to believe? It’s an interesting question to put to any atheist, and often the answer can come as quite a surprise…to them. Given that you are aware of the arguments for God’s existence and find them to be un-compelling, which of any of the standard religious experiences would manage to make a believer out of you? A voice from the heavens? “I would probably dismiss that as some sort of audible illusion. Probably thunder, or an airplane, that I’m mishearing and falsely interpreting as a voice.” A direct appearance, before your very eyes, of an angel, or even of God Himself? “Likewise, I’d think I was hallucinating. I’d probably ask myself what I’d eaten that day! Or who had spiked my drink!” What if the apparition came back day after day, and you knew there was no extraneous cause? “Then I’d think that I had gone mad.” Really, the answer is that for many atheists there is simply nothing that they could experience that could convert them from their position. And then they are surprised when they meet the exact same attitude in their theistic opponents!

So, considering this, a sentence caught my eye recently in the abstract for an article on ‘Militant Modern Atheism’ that I happened to stumble across; in talking about the contemporary debate between theists and atheists, “The challenge [for the militant modern atheist] is to develop a well-articulated and convincing version of secular humanism.” This is followed by, “Meeting that challenge is, I claim, one of the central problems of philosophy today.” The author is sensibly responding to the deficiencies of the particular variety of ‘militant modern atheism’, and is pointing out that they need to offer a little more, by way of an incentive to the believer that they wish to persuade to their position, than merely Continue reading “What would it take for you to believe?”

The Global Reach of Human Rights, Amartya Sen

Society for Applied Philosophy 2011 Annual Lecture

The Global Reach of Human Rights

Professor Amartya Sen

Tuesday 14 June 2011
5pm at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford
(Doors open from 4.30pm)

The lecture will be followed by a reception for Society for Applied Philosophy members. Further Information.

The Society for Applied Philosophy sponsors an Annual Lecture to be delivered by a philosopher who has made an important contribution to the field of applied philosophy broadly construed.

Listen to past lectures:

2010: Militant Modern Atheism, Professor Philip Kitcher

2009: Measuring Development, Poverty and Gender Equity, Professor Thomas Pogge

2008: Naturalism, Normativity, and Applied Ethics, Baroness Onora O’Neill (Inagural SAP Annual Lecture)

New Found Faith in Science

Newton by William Blake: Have scientists really turned their back on religion?

Atheists, look away now; scientists are not on your side. Or at least not as much as one might expect, according to recent evidence. In a study conducted by professor Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University, Texas, 1700 scientist were surveyed, along with 275 who were interviewed, as to their religious persuasion. Around 50% were admittedly religious in the traditional sense, and a further 20% were “spiritual” in a nonsectarian way. While religion amongst scientists is shown to be less prevalent in comparison to the population of the nation the data was collected in (the USA), this remains a surprising result. Continue reading “New Found Faith in Science”

Free Podcast: “Militant Modern Atheism”

The 2010 Society for Applied Philosophy Annual Lecture “Militant Modern Atheism” was delivered by Professor Philip Kitcher (John Dewey Professor of Philosophy and James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization, Columbia University) on Friday 19 March 2010. In this podcast Professor Kitcher discusses his ideas with the Rt Revd Lord Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, and Professor David Archard, Chair of the Society for Applied Philosophy. Listen to the SAP podcast of the interview with Professor Kitcher (34 minutes and 34 seconds; 39.73Mb).

Tragic atheism, why?

Over the last month I’ve seen a bunch of posts debating religious belief similar to this from Damon Linker:

Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God, the new atheists rudely insist, usually without argument, that atheism is a glorious, unambiguous benefit to mankind both individually and collectively. There are no disappointments recorded in the pages of their books, no struggles or sense of loss… The studied insouciance of the new atheists can come to seem almost comically superficial and unserious.

I’m totally in the dark about why Linker thinks a loss of faith should be accompanied by a permanent sense of loss.

When a kid learns there’s no Santa Claus, there usually is a sense of loss:  it’s sad to find out that there’s no benevolent toy-maker.

But this sense of loss is short-lived. It doesn’t take long to realize that Christmas is pretty awesome, even without Santa. You get time off work, you give and get presents, you spend time with family and splurge on food.  Before long, you realize that Santa has nothing to do with what’s great about Christmas– and he never did.

A Santa-believing analog of Linker would say: “Those who claim to embrace happily a Santa-less Christmas have failed to grapple with the true horror of Santa-less-ness. I can respect those who don’t believe in Santa. I just can’t respect those who aren’t made permanently gloomy by their non-belief.”  This is a silly thing to say!  All the good stuff about Christmas is still there.

Related articles:

Hume on Miracles
By James E. Taylor, Westmont College (June 2007)
Philosophy Compass

The ultimate case against Christianity?

If you like to be entertained and you don’t mind F-bombs, watch this very unsafe-for-work talk by Richard Carrier.  He argues that Jesus did not exist.

I do wonder how effective this line of argument can really be.  Carrier spends a lot of effort showing that New Testament gospel accounts are inconsistent and implausible.  For instance, at one point the Sun is supposed to have gone out for a few hours — but later on, no one seems to remember that it happened. Also, according to Carrier, some of the New Testament writers seem to have in mind a purely spiritual son of God, not a flesh-and-blood Jesus.   Continue reading “The ultimate case against Christianity?”