Sunday, May 10, 2009

The New in New Atheism

This insight of Will Wilkinson's is a few weeks old by now -- an eternity in blog-time -- but it's one worth highlighting:

I also think it’s ridiculous that Christopher Hitchens represents the atheist side in approximately 75 percent of all debates about the existence of God. (Why should he hoard all the speaking fees!?) Why aren’t more philosophy professors–few of whom believe in God–standing up to fight for truth? Well, lots of them don’t like the dog and pony show of public debates, I’m sure. Lots of them don’t want to be impolite. But I’d also guess that they find the arguments so boring that it’s a drag to prepare. Nevertheless, this stuff matters and it’s important to wean the culture off superstition. Hitchens is more than pulling his weight, but I’m afraid most intellectuals who also happen to be atheists aren’t taking this culture war stuff seriously enough. So get in there faithless people! Mix it up!
Obviously, one reason for Hitchens's large share of the Village Atheist roles is his established readiness and familiarity as a pundit -- the people at the major television networks who book guests have long had Christopher Hitchens on their short lists because he's willing to discuss almost anything in almost any forum, and do so engagingly. Then he wrote God Is Not Great and made hhmself the go-to loudmouth for the instances, regrettably few though they are, when public affairs television deigns to hear from an atheist.

Hitchens has already done what Wilkinson would like to see done by a broader spectrum of intellectuals: leap into this fray at the risk of seeming impolite. No doubt Hitchens would agree, as would the other public intellectuals who have seen fit to speak and write candidly of the credibility of religious tenets.

This is what's trying to be new about new atheism -- to make non-belief visible and respectable, which is not to say well-liked. It can only get so far as long as so few public intellectuals are willing to step forward and speak with equal candor, let alone when too many public intellectuals who should know better are carrying the same old holy water.

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