When I used to teach the philosophy of religion or arguments for the existence of God, 20, 25 years ago it didn’t provoke a lot of discussion in the classroom. Now it’s really escaped from the classroom.  It’s in the public square and it’s interesting why now. 

Clearly 9/11 had a lot to do with it.  The more dangerous aspects of absolute belief; undoubting belief. We’re all in terror of this right now, so this certainly had something to do with it.  I think also the political alliance that took place in the last administration between free market advocates and family values, evangelical Christians as a political, as a large and powerful political movement had something also to do with the push back from the other side. 

Important decisions that affect us all like stem cell research or gay marriage being decided by people from a particular religious background with a particular religious agenda - this was distressing to other people and so there was a push back.

I also think there is something about the progress in the brain sciences, in evolutionary psychology in particular so that religious belief is now something that scientists are looking at and trying to explain and I don’t think it's an accident that the most prominent atheist writers come from that domain, Richard Dawkins from evolutionary biology.  Sam Harris, Dan Dennett are also interested in evolution and evolutionary psychology, so I think that that also is a way to try to now explain religious belief as a way of toning it down.   

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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