Posts Tagged ‘Russell Blackford’

Lighting a candle for reason

February 21, 2012

We begin Russell Blackford’s anthology 50 Voices of Disbelief today in A&P.

It’s “harder to keep the candle of reason alight” than ever, says Blackford, but the stakes have never been higher. He’s borrowing a light and a metaphor from Carl Sagan’s prescient warning in Demon-haunted World.

“Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. “

So another 50 voices of reason need to be heard. It’s not a time for the “blase atheism” young Blackford once predicted. “This is a good time for atheists, skeptics, and rationalists, for humanists, doubters, philosophical naturalists to stand up…”

My favorite line in Margaret Downey’s “Bye Bull” Story: “Do you want life after death? Create a legacy worthy remembering.” And take heart, we’re not alone. The #AtheistRollCall includes Paine, Jefferson, Franklin, Bell, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton,  Sagan, Einstein, Curie, Vonnegut, Chaplin, Hepburn, and many more… As Mr. Clemens said, “Go to hell for the climate, hell for the company.”

Nicholas Everitt believes “the non-existence of God can be proved beyond all reasonable doubt,” and is unimpressed by the “greater good” defense.  “If a thug shoots me in the leg, it’s good if here’s a compassionate person to care for me”… but better “with neither the shooting nor the compassion.” And then there’s all that “colossal animal suffering,” inevitable and deplorable in our world. (But note, that’s not an inevitability that could get an omnipotent creator off the hook.) He ends on a disquieting note, wondering if his instinctive atheism ultimately stands free of all reasons (no matter how good).  If so, doesn’t parity of reasoning-&-feeling require some sympathy for the instinctive theist?

Ophelia Benson’s been carrying the candle for reason and battling fashionable nonsense for many years. Here she punctures the perversity of a faith so familiar that it’s commonplace. Curse “our gormless credulity and docility and willingness to be conned,” and the hypothetical god of guile and misdirection who would gratuitously test us.   Why would an omniscient being need tests? If I already knew who’d get A’s and who’d fail I’d definitely not bother to give you a midterm. Well, actually maybe would. Tests are about process and pedagogy, not outcomes. But I never claimed to know it all, or to be the wise dispenser of pain and freedom and the gatekeeper of eternity. My tests are mostly painless and without ultimate consequence. (But you should still study.)

J.L. Schellenberg cleverly wonders if nonbelief itself isn’t its own evidence, and proposes evolutionary skepticism as the deepest objection to religion. “It’s easy for us to forget how ill-prepared our species may be for ultimate insight… if there is  a form of religion appropriate to our time, it will be a skeptical form of religion: religion without belief.” Cue Alain de Botton? Or Dan Barker? [Friendly Neighborhood AtheistIt’s Only Natural]

Five minutes in, Barker applauds the atheist bookshelf at his old Borders store. I was in my own local former Borders (R.I.P.) the other day, now a Barnes & Noble. Guess what I found there?


April 27, 2010

More final report presentations today. Thursday’s were great: Jeremy’s spiritual journey to atheism, through the marketplace of ideas; Lauren & Nic’s clever, smart brochure (I love that it includes my favorite Dewey quote!) to counter the fear-mongers who will inevitably accost our campus again; and Marie’s review of resources available to the un-closeted campus crusader. (Kidding. Nobody in our class is on a “crusade.” But it’s great to know that the Center for Inquiry now has an outpost here. Anyone have the contact info? They’re holding a big meet-up in June, btw.)

Freedom From Religion FoundationAmerican Humanist AssociationHumanist Society (they do weddings & funerals)… Brights

Looking forward to hearing next from Miso, Miranda & Elizabeth, Kyle & Matt, Dean, Kevin, and (a late addition) Garrett.

Our post-course A&S reading list will only get longer and better. Arriving with yesterday’s mail: The Atheist’s Primer, by Malcolm Murray. His approach is clear and unambivalent, beginning: To the question, “Does God exist?” the resounding answer is “No!”

This  would make a good companion to Rebecca Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, concerned as it is to look into the face of the best arguments, pro and con.

Murray doesn’t have much use for the idea of atheist spirituality, but that’s because he doesn’t sharply delineate spirituality from religion in rejecting the arbitrarily- and narrowly-theistic implication

that to be a true atheist, one must be indifferent to poetry, to nature, to art, to music, to love, to being awed… Merely because I like poetry, or nature, or painting, or love, or justice, or wisdom, or music, or architecture, hardly justifies metaphysical claims about the divine.

Atheists should reject spiritual “baggage,” but should not travel too light to function and flourish. What does that mean, precisely? Your call. And mine. And hers.

Then, there’s Julian Baggini’s Very Short Introduction to Atheism.You can stick it in purse or pocket and whip it out next time someone tries to hand you a Gideon Bible.

And: 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, including pieces by A.C. Grayling, Austin Dacey, Taner Edis, Michael Shermer, Dale McGowan, and the irrepressible Ophelia Benson.  Here’s the editor Russell Blackford, with Grayling: