Archbishop Worries That Atheism is “Cool,” and This Makes Atheists Happy

Recent statements by Britain’s Archbishop, Rowan Williams, have provoked some interesting discussion. Williams has said, “Atheism is cool, so books about atheism are cool.” He’s thinking of books like The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins.

For news coverage, see the article by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, published in The Telegraph September 19, 2011.

Today I read a post about the Archbishop’s statement at an atheist blog hosted by Martin Pribble

Dr Rowan Williams PC, DPhil, DD, FBA the 104th...

Image via Wikipedia

. I then left a comment in the comments stream, which otherwise appears to be uniformly atheistic in orientation.

Here’s my comment:

Hasty generalization is a blight on much thinking on all sides of most issues. (I hope that statement isn’t an example of hasty generalization!)

In this case, the good Archbishop surely over-generalizes if he claims that a recent bump in the popularity of atheism is due to its “cool” factor. The explanation is far more complex than that, and the weighing of evidence for and against the existence of God is surely a factor for many people.

On the other hand, I think that Martin is a bit hasty in his generalization about theistic responses to current atheism advocacy. To be sure, there are books that pass over evidence and argument in breezy fashion and simply attack the messenger. But Martin implies that this is true of all published responses to Dawkins. He can’t be serious. One might, as he suggests, do a simple Google search to turn up more sophisticated treatments, of Dawkins’ work, yes, but also of the atheistic or naturalistic position more generally. Some are published by prestigious presses that are careful to publish only the best serious and academic work on such topics: Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Blackwell, and Routledge, for example.

Also, I notice that ad hominem rhetoric is tossed about on both sides of this issue. In the comment stream for this post, for example, Rowan Williams is chided in uncharitable terms and William Lane Craig is said to be stupid.

I’m new to this website, so I don’t know about its general tenor or the tone of regular commentators. But if the byline is “Attempting to make sense,” then I urge Martin to admonish his readers to take greater care to marshal evidence in support of their claims rather than to make safe and provocative assertions and tender emotional arguments.

If this site seeks to engage readers in meaningful dialogue, I suspect it will attract more thoughtful responses, from a spectrum of positions, if it monitors the discussion and facilitates reasoned debate. A wise proverb says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly.” In other words, if sophistry prevails, find someone else to talk to.

Last I checked, my comment was “awaiting moderation.”

Update: My comment at Martin Pibble’s site has been approved, so it now appears there, as well. I should note that here at my own site comments “await moderation” until “approved.” I believe a process of screening to be good practice.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking.

4 Responses to Archbishop Worries That Atheism is “Cool,” and This Makes Atheists Happy

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    Hello, Martin. I’ll amend as you request. It was not my intention to make it sound so, but to let readers know not to expect automatically to see my comment there. Thank you for bring it to my attention that this is one natural impression one my get. And thank you for posting my comment.

  2. Hi Doug.
    You make it sound like your comment was led “Awaiting moderation” by my choosing. That is how I handle spammers. If it your first time commenting, it gets held for moderation. It was approved as soon as I read it. Can you please amend your blog to reflect this? You make it sound like I was not going to approve it. This is simply not the case.

    Thank you for your comment.

  3. Doug Geivett says:

    It’s good to hear from you, Jeff. It’s unfortunate that popular impressions of atheism are shaped, by and large, by Richard Dawkins and others who perform in the same style. I know that your defense of atheism relies on different arguments and is expressed in a different tone.

  4. Hi Dr. Geivett — I agree with you about the value of (and need for) reasoned debate. I also agree with you that Dawkins and his supports cannot dismiss all theistic responses to the new atheism as shallow or incorrect. In fact, I would go even further than that and point out that even some atheist philosophers have also been critical of the arguments promoted by the so-called “new atheists.” I, for one, consider myself a supporter of Richard Dawkins qua biologist, but not of Richard Dawkins qua philosopher. (At least, not of Richard Dawkins qua philosopher, based on what I read in his book, The God Delusion.) I added a short entry about this to my blog earlier today.

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