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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 24.3 > Two Kinds of Progressive Atheism

Two Kinds of Progressive Atheism

Human evolution need not be progressive. But in the case of our understanding and expression of personal goodness, it appears that it has been. Books like Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature and Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arcmake it very hard to deny that our understanding of what it takes to be a really good person, and also our ability to live up to it, are improving. Though there’s no shortage of bad behaviour to complain about, many nasty and violent tendencies are much less in evidence than they once were.

I see in such moral progress a connection to atheism. More specifically, I see a new way of providing convincing support for atheism. As a philosopher, I find this interesting. By “atheism” I mean the philosophical position that God does not exist, and by “God” I mean what most philosophers from the Greeks to now have meant (you can find the basic idea as far back as the Presocratic Xenophanes): an ultimate personal agent— a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and the creator of such things other than God as there may be. This idea has been used to do theoretical work in philosophy, and it captures the root idea of theistic traditions such as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. So there’s religious relevance too. Philosophy, for its part, is today largely atheistic (and I’m an atheist), but you can still find the existence of God hotly debated within its precincts. And of course in many cultural contexts outside of philosophy, including many regions of the Internet, God’s existence is a matter of urgent concern. So a new approach, a new way of making headway on God, may be of interest to many people. The atheism delivered by my new approach I call progressive. To ease us into the discussion of progressive atheism, and help us appreciate its significance, I’m going to start by setting out another way of defending atheism that might be called progressive, one that ends up getting into trouble. Seeing why it gets into trouble will at the same time provide the starting point for my own approach.

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PINKER ON POST-TRUTH & REASON Steven Pinker on “Why We Are Not Living in a Post-Truth Era: An (Unnecessary) Defense of Reason and a (Necessary) Defense of Universities’ Role in Advancing it” COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Coconut Oil: Health Food or Health Hazard? by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: The Persistence of Memory… and of the Memory Wars, by Carol Tavris ARTICLES The “Lost” Tribes of Israel • The Pentagon’s UFOs How a Multimedia Entertainment Company Created a UFO News Story • The Problem with the Walking Dead And How They Flummoxed Science for Centuries • The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould • Why the Human Brain Did Not Evolve to Accurately Represent the True Nature of Reality • Homeopathy’s New Clothes: Release Active Drugs • Pressured Apologies, False Confessions, and Witch Hunts • Two Kinds of Progressive Atheism • Surfing for Truth in All the Right Places: An Empirical Test of the Backfire Effect and How the Internet Can Reduce Anti-vaccination Attitudes REVIEWS Reviews of “A review of Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities” • “Spectacle of Illusion: Deception Magic and the Paranormal” • “The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost” • “Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture” JUNIOR SKEPTIC The Chilling, Changeling Chupacabra!