"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 2 July 2012

Daylight Atheism: Buy this book

If I think back and ask myself how long I have been an atheist, the answer, probably, is most of my life. I can certainly remember declaring a disbelief in the Christian God at my cub scout meeting at the age of maybe nine or so when I was trying to avoid participating in the closing prayer. I left scouting soon afterwards.
However, my serious engagement with atheism as a philosophy and as a social movement is actually only a decade or so old, the first stirrings of which, like so many other “new” atheists originated with the events at the world trade centre on the seventh September 2001. I read Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith” soon after it’s publication in 2004 and already a fan of Richard Dawkins’ evolutionary writing lapped up "The God Delusion” a couple of years later followed swiftly by Dan Dennett’s .’Breaking the Spell’
But following this rush to print of atheist themed books and looking further for thoughts and analysis of the fundamentalist religion phenomenon and the secular response to it I turned to the Internet and the various atheist themed blogs to be found there. It was not long before my attention was caught by a prolific and erudite commenter going by the handle of Ebonmuse and I followed him back to his own websites, the popular blog Daylight Atheism and his collection of essays at Ebonmusings
Daylight Atheism: Adam Lee
The mind behind both of these excellent resources is Adam Lee and his first book also called Daylight Atheism has just been published for the Kindle. The book, particularly in the first half draws heavily on the essays found in Ebonmusings, but sewn together in a sequence of arguments that plainly and cogently make the case for atheism and explain the problems with the religious worldview. Lee tackles key theological and philosophical topics such as the problem of evil and succinctly rebuts the apologetics of theologians such as Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense. He also firmly defends atheism as a positive philosophy and gives the lie to the oft-heard religious assertion that we are all nihilistic, hedonistic, amoral communists. In this respect the opening chapters are a perfect atheism 101 both for newly minted atheists and the interested faithful alike.
What really sets this book apart from other atheist polemics is Lee’s suggestion for a post religion system of ethics. Following on from ideas developed on his blog, he calls it Universal Utilitarianism which he prĂ©cis as
Always minimize both actual and potential suffering; always maximize both actual and potential happiness.
He argues succinctly that he considers morality to be objective if from natural rather than Platonic origins and that his system both avoids the pitfalls of other forms of Utilitarianism while steering a clear path between Moral Relativism and Divine Command. Although more competent moral philosophers than me (most of them) may raise eyebrows at the casual assumption of objective morality, there is no doubt that his ideas offer a practical and pragmatic way for society to reach moral conclusions that are independent of culture and religion.
The book concludes with some powerful and, in places, quite poetic guidance for those people of faith contemplating doubt and the possibility that they are atheists for the first time. For mainstream readers in the U.K this section of the book may seem a little overwrought living as we do in a society where the usual response to saying you’re an atheist is “so what?” but in Lee’s America atheists are among the most vilified of minorities in the country and leaving religion can also mean alienation from community, family and lost opportunities for work. It is also worth remembering that in multicultural Britain we have ethnic communities where atheists are almost certainly struggling with the same issues and I would hope that his words would be just as comforting and useful to them as to his compatriots.
This book has been a long time coming. It was back in 2008 that I was privileged to see an early draft and along with several others allowed to offer my opinion. Finally published by Big Think, Lee’s blogging home since 2011, the finished product deserves a place alongside the now near canonical output of the original four horsemen.

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