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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Voicing our disbelief

Voices of Disbelief, the book that I am co-editing with Udo Schuklenk, is going off to the publisher in the next few days. Our formal deadline is 1 December, and we'll go very close to making it. We now have all the essays, and there's only one that one of the authors (a late recruit to the book) is still tweaking a little bit over the weekend.

On the way, we lost a few people who'd been lined up, since some had personal difficulties or overwhelming professional commitments, but we made up for it by accepting some essays that were quite a bit longer than we'd originally envisaged. The result is 50 essays ranging from about 500 words to about 6000 words. Two are collaborations, so we have 52 authors in all, including the two editors. Udo I have each contributed an essay, and we've also collaborated on a brief introduction. Overall, the book will be a bit over 120,000 words, maybe more like 125,000.

Thanks again to all contributors. Here's our final roll call of essayists in alphabetical order. They can take a bow:


1. Peter Adegoke
2. Athena Andreadis
3. Julian Baggini
4. Gregory Benford
5. Ophelia Benson
6. Russell Blackford
7. Susan Blackmore
8. Damien Broderick
9. Lori Lipman Brown
10. Sean M. Carroll
11. Thomas W. Clark
12. Austin Dacey
13. Edgar Dahl
14. Jack Dann
15. Margaret Downey
16. Taner Edis
17. Greg Egan
18. Nick Everitt
19. Prabir Ghosh
20. A.C. Grayling
21. Joe Haldeman
22. John Harris
23. Marc Hauser
24. Philip Kitcher
25. Miguel Kottow
26. Stephen Law
27. Dale McGowan
28. Sheila A.M. McLean
29. Adèle Mercier
30. Maryam Namazie
31. Kelly O’Connor
32. Graham Oppy
33. Christine Overall
34. Sumitra Padmanabhan
35. Tamas Pataki
36. John P. Phelan
37. Laura Purdy
38. James Randi
39. Michael R. Rose
40. Julian Savulescu
41. J.L. Schellenberg
42. Udo Schuklenk
43. Michael Shermer
44. Peter Singer
45. J.J.C. Smart
46. Victor J. Stenger
47. Peter Tatchell
48. Emma Tom
49. Michael Tooley
50. Ross Upshur
51. Sean Williams
52. Frieder Otto Wolf

That's an exciting and extraordinarily diverse group of people. They have not been expected to agree with each other or to follow any particular line ... and there will, indeed, be some disagreements. And yes, the book should be all the stronger for that. As Udo says, we are not the Vatican- it's not up to us to set out a body of dogma that our contributors must subscribe to. We have neither the power nor the inclination to do that. We will not be offering a substitute for the Bible - although that compilation of many documents has its own contradictions - but rather an anthology of thoughtful essays by clever and reasonable people who agree about some things (none of them subscribes to belief in the Abrahamic God or any other gods marketed to us by the world's religions) but disagree about others. They have varied attitudes to the historical role of religion and what role it should play in the future.

Our best estimate at the moment is that the book may be available about August next year: for various reasons, modern publishing involves fairly long lead times. When it appears on the shelves, you'll see that it has something for everyone, from austere philosophical articles to relatively lighthearted biographical pieces - to some not-so-lighthearted ones! Some authors have encountered religion at its best; some have encountered it at its worst; none actually sees any good reason to believe its supernatural claims.

Personally, I have some good memories of my younger days when I was involved in the local Anglican youth group and the Evangelical Union on my university campus, and indeed I trace some of my very closest involvements with people I love dearly from those days. I don't doubt that local churches can provide community and much else that is of value, and my good experiences among the bad undoubtedly make me less hostile to religion than some other atheists whom I encounter. Nonetheless, I think that the intellectual and moral credentials of religion must be challenged at a time when it demands too much in the way of political influence and social "respect" (for which read immunity from satire or criticism).

Contrary to the once-common view that all the heavy lifting was done by the Enlightenment philosophers, Darwin, 1960s social iconoclasm, and so on, and that religion was on the way out, it is not only persisting but in many ways actually resurgent. As I argue in my own essay, the struggle of ideas is far from over, and this is a good time to dispute the unwarranted prestige enjoyed by the many variations of orthodox Abrahamic theism ... not to mention other religious systems that demand "respect" and political deference.

There's no time like now to voice our disbelief.

6 comments:

Greg Egan said...

Thanks for your (and Udo's) hard work in creating this book, Russell! And it's an honour to appear beside someone like Prabir Ghosh (after whom the protagonist in one of my novels was named).

Joshua said...

Wow, Peter Singer, John Harris and Julian Savelescu! All in the same book?! It's a dream come true!

Russell Blackford said...

It's probably happened before, Joshua (that's the sort of thing that Udo would know) ... but not in a book like THIS.

And I expect that Greg has appeared with quite a few of these people before, but again in very different books from this one. Thanks, in return, to him and all the other contributors.

Phil said...

Terrific, I hope your publisher meets the projected August release: I'll be teaching "Atheism Old and New" in Fall '09 and would love to use it. Congrats!

Russell Blackford said...

Oh hope so, too, Phil. Drop me an email, and I can put you in touch with the folks at Wiley-Blackwell.

Wayne said...

Please bear with me while I Quote from a great speech;
“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.” Barak Obama, inaugural speech 2009.

With all that in mind;

Christians don’t have the right to monopolies on morals, civic duties, education policies, medical dilemmas or scientific directions. Muslims don’t have a right to dictate on alcohol prohibition, dress codes or women's issues. Jew’s can’t expect special treatment when it comes to discrimination laws and Hindu’s don’t get to set the menu. Nonbelievers have to get in line if they want the same respect others receive in regards to being entitled to your opinion.

My choice to be known as a non-theist, should not distinguish nor discredit me when commenting on any of the above subjects but represent the thrust of my argument as a guide and a courtesy to others involved in any debate where it is relevant. Their particular beliefs should not influence my logical processes when assessing their input and all participants put in the same boat. Recently, I have noticed, Atheists have been making a pain of themselves when commenting on others rights to believe what they will, in a similar way that new bourn (again) Christians do until they have matured in the faith or till youthful exuberance exhausted.

Let us all settle down when it comes to telling people what they can or cannot believe and join together in BO’s vision of ushering in a new era of peace.

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