How To Be A Good Atheist

A few years ago, David Bentley Hart wrote a  review of a book called: 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, co-edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. On Amazon the book is described thus:

“50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists presents a collection of original essays drawn from an international group of prominent voices in the fields of academia, science, literature, media and politics who offer carefully considered statements of why they are atheists.”

Hart’s original article can be found at the First Things website, but here’s a snippet of his sigh-ings against what he delicately calls the “sheer banality of the New Atheists”:


“How long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for? . . .

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

If that seems a harsh judgment, I can only say that I have arrived at it honestly. In the course of writing a book published just this last year, I dutifully acquainted myself not only with all the recent New Atheist bestsellers, but also with a whole constellation of other texts in the same line, and I did so, I believe, without prejudice. No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any. . . .

I came to realize that the whole enterprise, when purged of its hugely preponderant alloy of sanctimonious bombast, is reducible to only a handful of arguments, most of which consist in simple category mistakes or the kind of historical oversimplifications that are either demonstrably false or irrelevantly true. And arguments of that sort are easily dismissed, if one is hardy enough to go on pointing out the obvious with sufficient indefatigability.”

2 thoughts on “How To Be A Good Atheist

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  1. Hart went on quite a rant. I briefly went through the book and some of the reasons given and I found many valid reasons. I thought it ironic that Hart brought up the cosmology argument… when I was first challenged about my atheism, that was one of the first arguments the theist made! It was based on that, I learned how to argue it better. Therefore, it’s not exactly an atheists argument, it is the theists as well.

    After years of going back and forth, I have made it my custom to say “at the end of this debate, I will be no closer to proving there is no god and you will be no closer to proving one exists”. which often leads to the other asking me to listen to them… and the arguments are always the same. To each his own.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful reply David. You are of course quite right that many aspects of the debate goes back and forth. I suppose my primary reason for highlighting Hart’s comments is to debunk the crass “scientism” of much of what passes for atheist/Christian “debate”!
    Bertrand Russell famously declared there was “Not enough evidence” for God! Today, there is almost universal scientific consensus that the universe had a beginning about 14 billion years ago, which brings into play the very old “kalam cosmological argument” for God, which states:

    Premise 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
    Premise 2: The universe began to exist.
    Conclusion: The universe has a cause….and that cause is the “Being that didn’t begin” which is God.

    I like Bertrand Russell as a philosopher, but I do think his demand for more evidence plays directly into the circularity of the debate. He doesn’t want to believe, therefore he won’t because, tah-dah…there’s not enough evidence.

    Anyhow, I wish you well and am glad you’re reading Hart’s work. He’s certainly no sluggard, and by the sound of it, neither are you.

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