Baha'i View on the "New Atheism" and its "Moral Landscape," A

By Mahyad Zaerpoor-Rahnamaie

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)

    The new century has witnessed an unprecedented surge of technological advances leading to new neurological studies that have opened uncharted frontiers in the study of the brain and its functions. Armed with such findings, Neurologists/biologists/philosophers/social commentators such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others have intensified new debates on the evolutionary origin, role, necessity, and ramifications of religious beliefs. The onslaught of what is now called the "New Atheism" on religion has dominated the public discourse through the media, best selling books, and lecture halls. Attack on religious faith and its validity is by no means a recent phenomenon. However, there are at least six distinct differences between this new surge and its more traditional version:
    • The new arguments are no longer confined to the academic/philosophical domains but are based on valid biological/neurological research.
    • The intellectual ability and honesty of the main stream believers are seriously questioned.
    • The possibility of any overlapping ground for compromise between belief and rationality is entirely denied.
    • The questions of ethics, morality, and values, traditionally discussed in the realms of philosophy and religion, are offered to be legitimate domains of scientific studies and logical scrutiny, the final arbiters between good and evil.
    • The global social impact of the new religious revivalism and zealotry has added a crusading/evangelical tone to the discourse initiated by the new atheists.
    • The concept of a religious faith as a private domain of scores of people is seriously questioned.
    This article is a two-fold attempt to first discuss the major common stances of new atheism and, second, to explore how a Baha'i response to such stances could be formulated. In the wake of the rise of the religious right in the U.S. and their influence in public policy making on one hand and the ascendency of radical Islam and its threat for the West, on the other, new atheists feel an imminent lethal threat from the "true believers". Therefore, they have taken an attitude of the defiance and combativeness. Oddly enough, and despite a real ontological divide between the teachings of the Baha'i faith and an atheistic view, there are a substantial amount of commonalities between the two. It is the final aim of this article to emphasize more on these common points as a ground for further dialogue:
    • Religion must agree with science and rationality otherwise it is vain imaginings
    • Science and Rationality are valid tools of discovery of reality
    • There is an urgent need for a global ethical system above and beyond Multiculturalism and relativistic view
    • Literalistic interpretation of the Holy Scriptures of the past is a major source of enmity and conflict between adherents of different religions.
    • The past scriptures will not be an adequate base for the present day human condition
    • There is a basic/biological human need for transcendence and spirituality.

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