It depends where you start

Emily Manuel at Religion Dispatches talks to Adam Kotsko about his new book, which is about atonement. She mentions someone posting on his blog that “we haven’t really thought through a proper atheism yet.”

Right. I think that you can see this with the New Atheists. Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ and Dennett’s books are a kind of simplistic critique of religion that’s basically not going to change anyone’s mind. I think there has to be more to say about religion other than the fact that it makes no sense as an empirical claim. That’s just too obvious to be interesting. I think that we as a society deserve a better form of atheism.

The claim that the simplistic critique of religion is not going to change anyone’s mind is, frankly, simply ridiculous. He hedges it with “basically” but it’s not clear exactly what the hedge is – the simplistic critique will superficially change anyone’s mind but just not basically? I have no idea what that means.

The claim is ridiculous because it’s not true, and it’s easy to find out that it’s not true.

It’s also not even plausible. Why would the simplistic critique of religion not change anyone’s mind? Is everyone’s mind changeable only by complicated critiques? Certainly not. Most of the time it’s the other way around, surely – a clear easily-grapsed critique with few moving parts is the best way to change someone’s mind. That’s true even for clever people. “I’m going to take Lilac Road.” “Lilac Road is closed for repairs.” “Ah – I’ll go via Pepperville Drive then.”

The thing about the simplistic critique of religion is that lots of people have never been exposed to it. A lot of religious belief is what people have because no one has ever offered them a critique of it, simplistic or otherwise. Sometimes just realizing that there are people who don’t think the magical being exists at all is indeed enough to change anyone’s mind.

That doesn’t mean that’s all there is to it, of course, but it does mean it’s a lot too hasty to announce that it’s not going to change anyone’s mind.

Sure, there’s more to say than that religion makes no sense as an empirical claim, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth saying that religion makes no sense as an empirical claim. By all means say more if you want to, but don’t ignore the value of saying that. It may be too obvious to Adam Kotsko to be interesting, but that doesn’t mean it’s too obvious to everyone to be interesting. If you’ve never thought of it before and then you do, it can be quite interesting.

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