The evolution of atheism scientific and humanistic approaches

From History of the Human Sciences

Atheism has achieved renewed vigor in the West in recent years with a spate of bestselling books and growing membership in secularist and rationalist organizations. The publication of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion in 2006 was a major cultural event. It signaled the beginning of a phenomenon now commonly known as the ‘New Atheism’. This article sets the context for the emergence of the movement. The author recognizes two streams of thought, scientific atheism and humanistic atheism. The first closely associated with Darwinism and Enlightenment rationalism, the second aligned with the rise of the social sciences and pioneered by Marx and Feuerbach. The study presents historical analysis to contextualize and enrich understanding of the trends. It outlines the growing tension between the two distinct streams within the movement and considers how the relationship between the two should be a focus of future research.

Abstract

Atheism has achieved renewed vigor in the West in recent years with a spate of bestselling books and growing membership in secularist and rationalist organizations, but what exactly is the nature of this peculiar form of non-belief? This article sets the context for the emergence of the ‘New Atheism’ with a review of the dominant theory of atheism’s dialectical and theological origins, and an examination of major historical episodes in atheistic thought. The author argues that a significant development has received insufficient attention: the 19th-century split in atheism that produced two distinct streams of criticism. The first is scientific atheism, closely associated with Darwinism and Enlightenment rationalism. The second is humanistic atheism, aligned with the rise of the social sciences and pioneered by Marx and Feuerbach. The contemporary atheist movement is primarily rooted in the scientific tradition, excluding the humanistic approach on epistemological and political grounds, though emerging tensions within the movement suggest the humanistic tradition still plays a role. relationship between these two approaches within the movement should be a focus of future research.

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Article details
Stephen LeDrew⇓ (2012). The evolution of atheism Scientific and humanistic approaches History of the Human Sciences , 25 (3) : 10.1177/0952695112441301

     
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