Thursday, August 19, 2010

Atheism Opposing Viewpoints ed by Beth Rosenthal

Atheism Opposing Viewpoints ed by Beth Rosenthal is a collection of essays which offer two sides of various arguments, few of which actually address anything but politics.  While I would have been content to read opposing essays about whether morality and ethics can be taught in a context that doesn’t include religion or how atheism has not proven to be a better force in society than traditional religious institutions, I don’t really want to read debates on whether prayer belongs in a school or how religious freedoms are threatened by legal decisions.  Even the few essays that purport to be about ethics seem to focus more on how wrong the other side is rather than exploring the validity of one point over another.

Perhaps the fault lies in the brevity of the essays themselves.  These are deep topics worthy of long discussion. Unfortunately, these essays are never more than ten pages long and one is even as short as three pages long–not including the inevitable “box” of side information that the editors seemed to think is necessary for each and every essay.

The editors also seem to think the readers are idiots and need to be told that Nietzsche is a German philosopher whose first name Friedrich in [bracketed insertions] that are an insult to anyone’s intelligence.

Illogical arguments abound throughout the text.  Perhaps if the authors had been allowed to write essays with more depth you wouldn’t find anyone suggesting that the reason interest in Islam rose after 9/11 [which the editors conveniently explain in a bracket occurred in 2001 and refers to a terrorist attack that occurred in America] was the result of religious furor and not merely an intellectual interest in better understanding the thought that could lead to such a heinous act.  (After all, as I write this review I am also reading The Koran not because I am religiously curious but merely intellectually so.)

And let us return to the example of extraneous bracket mentioned in the previous paragraph.  This books is written in English and published in the United States so I think it’s safe to say that most of the readers will be 1) Americans and 2) know what “9/11" means.  But I am fairly confident that the editors hope their readers will be too dumb to know things so they will overlook the poorly framed arguments, especially the ones that are flat out false.  When one writer mentions the flaw in Darwinism by highlighting the evolution of wings, one can only respond with the roll of the eyes because there are many explanations for why birds would evolve from flightless wings because they do, indeed, serve a purpose.

Should I even be surprised that most of the writers seem to not done their own research?

The simple fact that the “atheists” most mentioned are those who are part of the new-Atheism, a group that has been criticized for being condescending towards those who still embrace a belief in God.  Most atheists are not so extreme nor hostile.  Rather, they believe that if others choose to continue to believe in a God (or Gods) then a mutual respect should be afforded to those who believe as to those who do not.  The fact that extreme viewpoints are argued on one side while a more balanced argument is used for the other suggests that this book may even have a hidden agenda.  Page for page, there definitely seems to be a preference for one argument over the other.

This book is not only an insult to the reader’s intelligence it is an insult to the merit of a sincere discussion and debate about topics that deserve far better treatment than this trite text affords.

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