Why a Manual for Creating Atheists Isn’t

I’m hoping to publish in another forum a more detailed review of Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists, so my comments here will not be especially comprehensive. But I was, in some important ways, rather disappointed with the book, and I want to express a bit of that disappointment here.

At some point, I must have mentioned that I’m not a huge fan of New Atheism. Not that I think New Atheism is especially different from Old Atheism (and really I’m done capitalizing all of that). It’s just that more cerebral–even if celebrated–thinkers like Bertrand Russell have been replaced by more inveighing–even if invoked–bomb-throwers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. (Daniel Dennett is, frankly, an excellent philosopher who doesn’t do quite so much of the bomb-throwing that Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens engage in. And I couldn’t resist the wordplay and parallelism in that sentence.) And bomb-throwing often lacks much subtlety.

So it is with Boghossian’s Manual. My greatest complaint on an initial read is his tone. I think Boghossian wants to encourage charitable discussions with genuine wonder. But he seems unable to shake off the coils of the more strident critique of theism that characterizes the Four Horsemen (Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett–though I think there’s a lot less stridency in Dennett’s work). Suggesting theists don’t get to sit at the adults’ table for serious discussions and representing as charitable dialogues that come across as scornful to a relatively sympathetic reader are just not likely to train nontheists to approach theists with real charity and openness.

Setting all other criticisms aside–and many other criticisms can be levied–Boghossian’s Manual may come across to those sympathetic to the value of religious life (with or without faith per se) as casting a too jaundiced an eye upon too many theists. And that is not, I think, terribly likely to advance the conversation.

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5 thoughts on “Why a Manual for Creating Atheists Isn’t

  1. Thanks for writing. I think you’re absolutely right that Boghossian is not going to advance the discussion at all. I am writing a series of blogs on his while reading through his book. I’m at the end of chapter 2 but not very impressed. Thanks.

    • Thanks–I agree. And it’s not being an unsympathetic reader, in my case, as a humanistic Jew. But even taking his definitions as they are (and I agree they are problematic), the tone of the book is so strikingly bad that I can’t imagine it producing the good apologists it seeks.

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