The New Atheism and the Bahá'í Writings

By Ian Kluge

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #102
Bosch Baha'i School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 18–22, 2011
(see list of papers from #102)

published in Lights of Irfan, volume 13, pages 137-202
under new title
"The New Atheism — A Bahá'í Perspective"
© 2012, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    In this paper we shall examine four of the foundational works of the new atheism movement which has become a strong presence in current debates about the role of God and religion in human existence both past and present, and the role of religion in regards to society, education, science and in public discourse in general. After an examination of the specific attributes of the new atheism and its relationship to the `old atheism,' the paper examines issues raised by the four central new atheists — Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and Dennett — and examines them in light of the Bahá'í Writings on such subjects as ontological and methodological materialism, the principle of sufficient reason, the origin of reality, causality and final causes, the problems of auto-creation or self-generation, God as a "scientific hypothesis," and the difficulties undermining the new atheists' own theories of for explaining the enormous power that religious belief holds over people.

    We shall also examine the new atheists' handling of philosophical arguments about God's existence, faith versus reason, secular-humanist ethics, as well as their claim that morality and religion are not only distinct but antithetical to each other. The problems inherent in the new atheists' scriptural literalist and non-evolutionary readings of religion will be examined.

    This paper explores some of the areas in which the Bahá'í teachings and the new atheism agree, although these are fewer than the points of disagreement. New atheists and Bahá'ís can agree that enormous crimes have been perpetrated in the name of religion; they can also agree that religion and science have had a rocky relationship, especially in the last two centuries, and that religion has not always fostered the independent investigation of reality. Surprisingly, the Bahá'í Writings and the new atheism also agree on the subject of realism in ethics, epistemology and ontology.

    The paper concludes that despite significant foundational differences between the Bahá'í Writings and the new atheism, there are still five important areas where fruitful dialogue and cooperation can take place.

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