Posted by: Derek | July 5, 2010

Why the crusade against “new atheists” is silly

I wanted to drop in to share this post from Julian Sanchez:

There are a couple claims at issue here, and throughout the piece. One is just the commonplace observation that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris &c. can come across as arrogant jerks, which is fair enough, but then, who else is going to really proselytize for the absence of a belief? It’s like starting a non-chess-players club; plenty of people fit the membership requirements, but only those with an active hostility ot the game are going to feel the need to make a point of joining. In any event, this is at most an observation about a particular group of people; it doesn’t have much to do with the soundness of an atheist position as such.

I find the question “in what ways does an agnostic’s beliefs differ from an atheist’s?” much more interesting. The answer, of course, is “none.” The abstention from answering that so-called agnostics claim as their position amounts to disbelief, the very same position held by atheists, nothing more. As Sanchez writes, “An agnostic here would for practical purposes be an operational atheist who makes a point of saying “but I may be wrong” a little more frequently, or demurely refrains from asserting his secular background worldview too explicitly.” In effect, it’s a conceit to make agnostics feel more multicultural and sensitive to others’ strongly-held values, and it all boils down to their being “polite atheists” who refuse to call themselves such.

I also want to voice agreement with Sanchez that the question “why is there something instead of nothing?” is meaningless. Of course, I also think that the question “is there a god?” is meaningless for most intents and purposes, as a definitive answer is impossible, so this fits nicely along with my other beliefs.

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