Phil Kitcher and the Critical Examination of New Atheism

As I've argued, one of the reasons I find the New Atheist PR campaign so troubling is that it is has radicalized a movement that feeds on anger and fear and that offers little more than complaints and attacks. New Atheism turns on a binary discourse of us vs. them. In the rhetoric of the New Atheist movement, you're either with us or your against us.

The New Atheists risk alienating moderately religious Americans who otherwise agree with secularists on many important issues. Moreover, the movement lacks any kind of positive message for what it means to live life without religion. Other than selling books and further polarizing the public, where is at all going? To what end?

As an atheist and as someone who cares about the public image of science, I am certainly not alone in my reservations about the The New Atheism movement.

In fact, last week, on CFI's Point of Inquiry podcast, host DJ Grothe interviewed the philosopher Philip Kitcher on his new book "Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith." Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and is past author of "Science, Truth, and Democracy" and "Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism." I encourage you to listen to the full podcast, but here are a few excerpts of what Kitcher had to say:

DJ Grothe: Did you write the book to sell secular humanism, or maybe in a more limited way atheism to the public? All these anti-God books are the real rage right now, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens...your book is addressing some of the same topics, are you addressing the same audience...

Kitcher: Well I'm actually not happy with any of the books you mentioned, I haven't read all of them. The ones I have read and the parts I have read of others, suggests to me that there is a biting tone about them, which is of course being picked up in the press. They are in many ways unremittingly negative books, they want to get rid of this stuff, they want to sink it, they want to throw it away.

DJ Grothe: Without providing much of an alternative, they are attacking...

Kitcher: Right, and without seeing that while religion has in so many places and at so many times given rise to extremes of human unhappiness and suffering and continues to do so today. On the other hand, it has also provided a lot of consolation, a lot of meaning, a lot of genuine uplift for people. I think to simply snatch this away, and in effect say, in the voice of a very commanding doctor, "Oh read a couple pages of the origin, and you will feel better in the morning," Um, that's simply not enough. I think there has to be something more about the contribution of secular humanism than we see at the moment.

Later in the interview, Kitcher describes the central question of his book as "How do we make sense of human values and how do we move forward in a post-religious age?"

In part, he says his book addresses "why the kinds of things that you get from Dawkins and Dennett and so on, really strike people as shrill, unfeeling, and unsatisfying." According to Kitcher, even if the critiques of religion are true, there is no reason for atheists to gloat, instead they should be actively exploring alternatives and replacements to religion. He says he is skeptical that you can tell people that religion is a myth and believe that the public will respond. Instead, Kitcher views the persistence of religion as a product of threat and unease in life and society. Without offering a positive vision and alternative to religion, supernatural beliefs will always exist.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less

Carl Sagan on why he liked smoking marijuana

Carl Sagan liked to smoke weed. His essay on why is fascinating.

Photo: Photo by Robert Nelson on Unsplash / Big Think
Mind & Brain
  • Carl Sagan was a life long marijuana user and closeted advocate of legalization.
  • He once wrote an anonymous essay on the effects it had on his life and why he felt it should be legalized.
  • His insights will be vital as many societies begin to legalize marijuana.
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less