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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kitcher and Dennett on the "New Atheism"

Over at Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne discusses a new article by Philip Kitcher, published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, and a response by Daniel Dennett (Dennett gave permission for the entirety of his response to be published at Why Evolution is true).

I've now read the Kitcher article, as well as the responses by Dennett and Coyne, and I must say that it's a fascinating discussion. I don't agree with everything that Kitcher says, but I do think that he makes some powerful points that expose not so much errors in the "New Atheist" writers as possible limitations to the "New Atheist" approach, or why it might be considered incomplete. For his part, Dennett is rather conciliatory - he seems to agree that there is some force to at least some of what Kitcher is saying. Jerry Coyne doesn't agree with everything that Kitcher is saying, but he quite rightly takes it seriously and offers some thoughtful paragraphs of his own.

I like this discussion because the two "sides" are discussing in good faith, they share a common goal (the promotion of naturalism and secularism), and they are focusing on specific points rather than simply dismissing each other or attacking each other's overall view of the world. There's an attempt here to get to grips with important specifics, from people with very similar worldviews (in particular, all agree that supernatural religion as we know it is untenable in the light of reason, all agree that this should actually be said publicly, and all agree that the state should not be guided by thinking based on supernatural claims but solely by secular considerations).

It also helps that the points Kitcher is making are quite similar to some that I make myself in a piece that, alas, won't be readily available to you unless you want to flex your credit card - my essay "Science and the Sea of Faith", published earlier this year in the electronic anthology The Tangled Bank, edited by Chris Lynch.

Unfortunately, Kitcher's piece may likewise not be available to you unless you can read it online via a university library. However, I'll try to summarise it over the next few posts. I'll be discussing this exchange for the next couple of days, so don't go away. This post is just to whet your appetite.

Edit: Here is a better link for The Tangled Bank.

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