Saturday, November 02, 2019

A long but thought-provoking read

I found the title a bit click-baity/misleading and I don't agree with everything the author, Scott Alexander, says, but I thought some of you might enjoy a look at this: "New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed."

I think Alexander missed at least one key point, if we stipulate that "New Atheism" is on the wane or at least less in the spotlight: I know for myself -- and if there's one thing two decades of life online has taught me, it's that I have essentially no unusual thoughts -- that I became less inclined to participate in anything to do with atheism not because of disenchantment or frustration or evolution of the movement or any of the other reasons Alexander discusses, but simply because of this: I felt done.  That is, I read Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, Myers, Dennett, Coyne, et al, in large part because they were so good at articulating what I had previously felt but had not been able to say.  Once I soaked up their clarity of thoughts, I felt as though I had completed a course, was enriched, and could move onto other things.

Three other notes, again speaking personally:

1. I do agree with Alexander that, over time, it felt less and less worth rehashing the same arguments with people inclined to disagree.

2. Finding and sharing examples of religious loonies saying loony things -- here, more often with people already inclined to agree -- started feeling like a joke getting stale.

3. I do continue to worry about the continuing problem of religion's clout in the political world, particularly in the US, and I sometimes think I should be doing more about this, but, as with all things political these days, I've largely stepped away, both to preserve my own stomach lining, and because I can't think of anything to do that would give me a sense of making a measurable contribution.

Finally, as far as the assertion of Alexander's title goes, I think it's a bit early to say (at least compared to Sparta!), but it does seem to me that it's at best an exaggeration to say "New Atheism" failed. At minimum, it seems to me, a lot of consciousness was raised. Also, I strongly suspect a large amount of credit is due to the "New Atheists" for the non-trivial recent increase (that Alexander does show) in people in the US self-identifying as having no religious affiliation. Further, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence out there concerning people who once felt trapped in some overly religious community, who were helped to break free by the "New Atheist" movement. So, again, I think it's a little early to publish an obituary: profound social change usually proceeds in fits and starts, in flare-ups and dormancy. Let's talk again in another generation.

(h/t: Scott Aaronson ← a link worth visiting for other reasons, too)

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