Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Importance of Being a Dick, Part II

If I get a chance today, I'd like to spend quite a bit of time poring over Phillip Kitcher's recent essay on "militant" atheism, as well as Dan Dennett's response (posted at WEIT for the time-being). Both of these guys are serious thinkers, and despite Kitcher's facepalm-inspiring invocation of the "militant" canard, he seems to be saying some mostly downright reasonable things.

But even before I get a chance to read it in depth, I want to point something out: The content of Kitcher's essay, though it purports to be a critique of the Gnu Atheism, is actually a huge win for our side. We are seeing the Overton Window in action here folks. As Dennett points out right in the first paragraph of his response:

I went to some lengths in Breaking the Spell to distinguish two spells one might consider breaking: the taboo against looking "too closely" at religion, holding it up to the same harsh light of rational probing to which we subject all other important phenomena, and the spell of religion itself....Kitcher ignores my distinction but in fact is in nearly perfect harmony with my positions on them. His essay is an example of breaking the first spell: he writes with unflinching candor about the shaky status of any religion adopted on what he calls the belief model, and uses that spell-broken perspective to look hard at the prospects for keeping...perhaps the only surviving mode of religion that can provide the benefits he wants to preserve...

(italics in original, bold added)

This is exactly right -- while Kitcher is kinder to the institution of religion than most Gnu Atheists (myself included), he does not pull any punches in regards to the implausibility of the truth claims of religion. And as a result of the visibility of the Gnu Atheism over the past several years, he can write this and still seem downright conciliatory. Imagine if he had written this in, say, 2000 -- Kitcher would have come off as the strident and shrill one!

Although Kitcher's use of the word "militant" and his digs at a somewhat strawmanny version of Gnu Atheism are unfortunate, overall it seems to be a very candid and mature discussion of the role of religion in society. Just as with the media reaction to Stephen Hawking's comments on God, it is the Gnu Atheists who have paved the way for that kind of public discussion.

Keep it up, dicks!

1 comment:

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