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Dispatches from the atheism debates

Dispatches from the atheism debates

In The New York Times (remember – you only get so many free views per month unless you subscribe), Gary Gutting describes a series of perhaps subtle points of thought being refined within self-selected spheres of atheism.

Gutting takes us to Columbia philosophy prof Philip Kitcher, who’s trying to find a way through the Dawkinses and Hitchenses and the chilling bluntness of their God-is-not-so-get-over-it routine:

There are those — Dawkins, for one example; existentialists like Sartre, for another — who are invigorated at the very thought that there is no guiding power in the universe. Many others, however, need convincing that atheism (or secular humanism, as Kitcher prefers) has the resources to inspire a fulfilling human life. If not, isn’t the best choice to retreat to a religion of hope? Why not place our bet on the only chance we have of real fulfillment?

Kitcher has a two-part answer. First, he offers a refined extension of Plato’s famous dilemma argument in “Euthyphro” to show that contrary to widespread opinion, theism is not in fact capable of grounding the ethical values that make life worthwhile. Second, to show that secularism is capable of grounding these values, he offers a sophisticated account of how ethics could have evolved as a “social technology” — a set of optimally designed practices and norms — to satisfy basic human desires.

Kitcher’s case is open to serious objections, but it has the conceptual and logical weight that is lacking in the polemics of the scientific atheists. It also lets Kitcher enter into genuine dialogue with believers like the philosopher Charles Taylor, whose defense of religion in “A Secular Age” offers an essential counterpoint to almost everything Kitcher says.

h/t Simon Sarmiento through a Twitter link


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