New Atheism is a literary movement that sprung up in 2004, led by prominent authors like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. Although they were right about a lot of things, the New Atheists missed something essential about the role of religion.
John Gray is a British philosopher whose latest book, Seven Types of Atheism, explores the history of atheism. It’s both an affirmation and a critique of atheism, written by an atheist who is aware of all its contradictions.
[Gray:] The New Atheists — Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others — attack religions in the sublime confidence that these religions are myths and that they themselves harbor no myths, but that’s not true.
In many cases, the New Atheists are animated by 19th-century myths of various kinds: myths of human advancement, myths of what science can and cannot do, and all kinds of other myths.
Genesis is not a theory of the origins of the world. It’s not obsolete, primitive science. It’s not a solution to the problem of knowledge. Religion isn’t like that. Religion is a body of practices, of stories and images, whereby humans create or find meanings in their lives.
In other words, it’s not a search for explanation. Even if everything in the world were suddenly explained by science, we would still be asking what it all means.
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