Friday, 15 February 2013

What’s New about the New Atheism?

The New Atheism is the name that was attached, often pejoratively, to the series of six best-selling books by five authors including myself that appeared in the period 2004-2008. Since then many have joined the movement, with an upsurge in books, freethinker organizations and an exponential expansion on the blogosphere, spreading the word on atheism to thousands. The message of New Atheism is that it is time to take a far less accommodating attitude toward religion, including moderate religion, than has been exhibited in previous years by atheist authors and, in particular, by non-believing scientists.

In the United States science is locked in a battle with conservative Christians over the teaching of evolution and creationism in schools. So far, a series of court decisions going back to the mid-eighties has prevented attempts by some states to insinuate ‘creation science’ and its later version ‘intelligent design’ into the science curriculum of public schools as an alternative theory to Darwinian evolution. These decisions were all based on trial testimony that the proposals for inclusion were motivated by religion and thus in violation of the Establishment Clause of the US constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. Shaping up as the next stage of the battle is the attempt to permit the teaching of creationism in science classes as a matter of ‘academic freedom’.

While 87% of scientists accept evolution by unguided, purely natural processes, only 32% of the public does. Belief in unguided evolution among mainline Protestants and Catholics is about the same as among the general public, while only 10% of Evangelicals and 19% of fundamentalist Protestants acknowledge it. To maintain as much public support for science as they can, many science advocacy organizations, such as the National Center for Science Education, the National Academy of Sciences, and most professional scientific societies, have maintained a kid-gloves approach in their dealing with religion. Several have issued statements to the effect that no contradictions exist between science and religion and, in particular, that evolution and Christianity are compatible.