The Danger of Soft Atheism | Very Rev. Robert Barron | CWR Blog
Many atheists overlook the decisively important role that a religious tradition plays in the development and ratification of doctrine
A very instructive exchange between Gary Gutting, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, and Philip Kitcher, a philosophy professor at Columbia, just appeared in the pages of The New York Times.
Kitcher describes himself as a proponent of “soft atheism,” which is to say an atheism distinct from the polemical variety espoused by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Unlike his harsher colleagues, Kitcher is willing to admit that religion can play an ethically useful role in a predominantly secular society. I won’t delve into this feature of Kitcher’s thought, for I have explored the Kantian reduction of religion to ethics elsewhere, but I would like to draw attention to one particular move made in this interview, since it shows, with remarkable clarity, one of the fundamental misunderstandings of religion common among atheists.
Prompted by Gutting, Kitcher admits that he finds all religious doctrine incredible. Pressed for an explanation of this rather extreme position, he points to the fact of the extraordinary plurality of religious doctrines: Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, animists, etc. hold to radically different accounts of reality, the divine, human purpose, etc. And since all religions rely fundamentally on the same ground—some revelation offered to distant ancestors—there is no rational way to adjudicate these differences.
Indeed, the only real reason that I am a Christian, he would maintain, is that I was born to Christian parents who passed the founding stories onto me. If you, as a Jew or Muslim or Hindu, have different foundational stories, there is no reasonable way I can convince you or you can convince me. It’s just your cockamamie myth against my cockamamie myth.