The New Atheism

The next Salon will be on held at 7 PM on Wednesday 6 February, also in the Brunswick Inn, when Dolan Cummings will discuss ‘The New Atheism’ and ask ‘What’s the point?’ To register, email: MailTheSalon@aol.com

From the controversy over teaching ‘intelligent design’ in schools, to arguments over prayers at council meetings or religiously based opposition to euthanasia, abortion or gay marriage, atheists have crossed swords with religious believers over a number of issues in recent years. And the critique is not limited to mainstream religion: champions of science, reason and evidence have also sought to expose the pretences of clairvoyants and alternative-health charlatans.

There is a consensus among many educated people that religious values distort rather than contribute to private morality and public debate, and that evidence should always trump faith. But can anything amounting to a value system in itself be built just on atheism, or is atheism no more than a lack of belief in gods? There is a growing identification with a non-religious, atheist, and humanist approach as a cultural movement, especially among bright young people. For many, atheism implies support for such progressive causes as the ‘right to die’ and LGBT equality, human rights and liberal education. But is atheism always the same as ‘humanism’? Is it really the idea of ‘atheism’ doing the work in these causes? Are there really such things as atheist values? Aren’t there as many religious people who also have liberal, progressive and humane ideas – especially in societies like Europe where religions have responded to humanism by emulating it in many ways? And aren’t there many religious people – perhaps a majority – who are just as committed as atheists are, maybe even more so, to the idea of a secular state? If so, what is the point of atheism?

About Dolan Cummings:

Dolan is an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Ideas, having been its research and editorial director from 2001 to 2010. He continues to edit the IoI’s online review Culture Wars (www.culturewars.org.uk), where he writes about books, films and theatre. He is also one of the co-founders of the Manifesto Club, a campaign group for freedom in everyday life. He recently wrote a report, 28 ¾: How Constant Age Checks Are Infantilising Adults (September 2010). He has edited two collections of essays, The Changing Role of the Public Intellectual (Routledge, 2005) – the introduction is available here – and Debating Humanism (Imprint Academic, 2006).

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