Article on Wilson on religion

Posted on February 19, 2008


Just finished writing a short article on David Sloan Wilson’s account of religion and how it relates to his view of the New Atheists. Here’s a paragraph from it:

Wilson makes a vital point – “The discerning liberal (or any intellectual) would be a fool to assume that atheism stands for pure reason, just because it doesn’t involve the gods.” In fearing that New Atheism assumes this link he is, in effect, fearing that it is turning into an ideology. It is this that he seems to have in mind by his talk of ‘stealth religions’, as Massimo Pigliucci has pointed out. While I think that Wilson’s worries are very much overstated, the central point stands – it is vital to avoid the temptation of the false certainty that ideology brings – a temptation atheists are not immune to. Life requires of us a fine balancing act between trusting our current beliefs enough to be willing to act on them and yet not being so certain of them that we become unable to improve upon them. Maintaining this balance requires that we remain open to the possibility that our most cherished beliefs turn out to be incorrect and that, in turn, requires that we value evidence regardless of where it leads to. Wilson’s call for the study of religion well captures this side of the balancing act. However, in opposing the idea of an atheist movement he seems to have somewhat forsaken the other side – the need to act on the fallible beliefs that we do possess. We can not wait for all the evidence to be in before we act on global warming or on religion.