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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Friday, August 17, 2007

The unbelievers strike back

On Wednesday night, I addressed the Rationalist Society, here in Melbourne, on "The 'New Atheism'" - the publishing phenomenon that we've seen recently, with a flood of books by such writers as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Michel Onfray. I gave a defence of these writers: although I have no great problem with deists, pantheists, and genuinely moderate religious believers, I do have a serious problem with people who want to impose their religious views on others. In current circumstances, I think the new atheism is both necessary and desirable. If the authority and credibility of religion are coming under sceptical scrutiny, that is a positive social development.

Although I was kind of preaching to the choir, I had a reasonable audience (20-25 people, quite a few of whom are prominent in various secularist circles), and the talk elicited some good discussion about what needs to be done to counter current attacks on the separation of church and state.


Blake Stacey said...

I wonder if Dawkins' recent broadening of emphasis will change how people use "The New Atheism," that phrase of dubious merit. (I swear: it makes an intellectual enterprise sound like a beverage!) I'd love to see an upswing in the usage of "the New Skepticism" or "the New Enlightenment".

Russell Blackford said...

I think we're stuck with the New Atheism for that particular batch of books, but what is needed is, indeed, a New Enlightenment, and there is room in it for people who have some kind of belief in a (deist, pantheist, Einsteinian, or whatever) god and/or some kind of connection with a (genuinely moderate) religious tradition. On the other hand, I think it inevitably involves hostility to a lot of mainstream and fundamentalist religious views. I don't see how the New Enlightenment can show any friendliness to what comes out of the Vatican, for example.

Give us our Enlightenment back.