A comprehensive examination and defense of a nondogmatic atheism.
Many have rejected the “new atheism” of the last two decades on the grounds that it’s arrogantly cocksure and intolerant of even a sliver of dissent. Honigmann (Buying and Selling a Small Business, 2007, etc.) aims to construct a more modest atheism that emphasizes an abiding skepticism regarding one’s beliefs. To that end, he begins by sketching out a guiding epistemology, which defines truth in practical terms as “conformity to that which may be reasonably asserted,” and atheism as a “provisional rejection of belief in the existence of God.” The author then turns his attention to the basic arguments for and against God’s existence, including a consideration of Jesus’ divinity and the nature of faith as a mode of belief. Honigmann also confronts the idea that an atheistic cosmos leaves man gripped by an existential confrontation with meaninglessness, or that it makes morality metaphysically and rationally insupportable. He refers to the ideas of the unjustly neglected theologian Paul Tillich to fashion uncompromisingly atheistic responses to these challenges. Finally, the author recommends a special governmental board, the “Office of Religious Information,” whose duty would be to examine competing religious doctrines and settle controversies. Philosophical debates regarding the rational status of religious faith are characteristically venomous in other books, so Honigmann’s attempt to defend his atheism without recourse to strident, ad hominem attacks is admirable. His atheism permits not only an openness to revision, but the possibility of theoretical détente with a sense of spirituality. He also refuses to allow his atheistic stance to necessitate a thorough materialism, which certainly distinguishes his effort from others in the genre. Problematically, the author’s desire for comprehensiveness sacrifices depth, as he considers far too many argumentative maneuvers to handle any one with real rigor. For example, a chapter-long discussion of faith will be disappointing to anyone familiar with the searching investigations in the Christian philosophical tradition. Also, Honigmann’s political recommendations seem starkly inconsistent with his skeptical epistemology; if these issues are too complex to be decisively settled, why appoint a board of experts to do precisely this? Despite these failings, though, this book is still an excellent introduction to atheistic thought.
An argument for godlessness that’s rational but appropriately humble.