Voices of Disbelief

Russell Blackford

Presentation to the Atheist Society, Melbourne, Australia. 10 March 2009.

This is an opportunity to talk about and promote the book 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, co-edited by Udo Schuklenk and myself. But also a chance to raise questions about the need for such books.

The editors are unashamedly seeking to subvert the authority accorded to religion. While the contributors are all aware of that, they have viewpoints of their own. It was never our intention to ensure that contributors toe any line. As a result, we have a diversity of voices. This is a good thing for a number of reasons:

My own motivation?

It is now jarring to see a statement, such as that in the 1990 edition of Kai Nielsen's Ethics Without God, that such things as Nielsen's own earlier works and J.L. Mackie's The Miracle of Theism (1982) were "essentially mopping-up operations in the wake of the philosophical and scientific developments since the Enlightenment."

A quarter of a century after Mackie's book, things look very different. The intellectual struggle of ideas is not over.

Contrast Christian apologist William Lane Craig (2007):

"The face of Anglo-American philosophy has been transformed … Theism is on the rise; atheism is on the decline. Atheism, though perhaps still the dominant viewpoint at the American university is in retreat." It appears to me that Craig is correct on this point.

He quotes atheist philosopher Quentin Smith (writing in 2001):

"Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism … began to sweep through the philosophical community; until today perhaps one-quarter to one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians … In philosophy, it became, almost overnight, 'academically respectable' to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today." The resurgence of influence from theistic positions is not only in the academy. But that's not how things have worked out. Organised religion has regrouped. I have been radicalised, to an extent, by the role of religion in such areas of public debate as bioethical issues surrounding the beginning and end of human life. Arguing against religious viewpoint on moral and political issues is not enough; often, we find ourselves arguing from different premises and talking past each other. The elephant in the room is that these religious viewpoints are fundamentally false: training in these systems of theological dogma, or promotion to positions of leadership in religious organisations, confers no expertise or genuine authority with respect to moral and political issues.

Religious leaders claim such expertise/authority, but the Emperor has no clothes, and we should be prepared to say so. It is worth attacking religion directly, and not just doing work in (say) secular ethics.

Final quote from my own essay:

"The situation is now very different, even in the supposedly enlightened nations of the West: a revived Christian philosophy is well-entrenched within Anglo-American philosophy of religion; deference is frequently given to specifically religious moralities during the policy-making process over such issues as stem-cell research and therapeutic cloning; and well-financed attempts are made to undermine public trust in science where it contradicts the literal Genesis narrative.

The struggle of ideas is far from over, and this is a good time to subject religion and all its claims to searching sceptical scrutiny. Those of us who do not believe now have more than enough reason to dispute the unwarranted prestige enjoyed by the many variations of orthodox Abrahamic theism (and other religious systems). We should challenge the special authority that is accorded, all too often, to pontiffs, priests, and presbyters. This is a good time for atheists, sceptics, and rationalists, for humanists, doubters, philosophical naturalists—whatever we call ourselves—to stand up openly and start debating. There's no time like now to voice our disbelief."


Introduction: Now More Important than Ever – Voices of Reason — Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk
Unbelievable! — Russell Blackford
My "Bye Bull" Story — Margaret Downey
How benevolent is God? – An argument from suffering to atheism — Nicholas Everitt
A Deal-breaker — Ophelia Benson
Why Am I a Nonbeliever? – I Wonder... — J. L. Schellenberg
Wicked or Dead? Reflections on the moral character and existential status of God — John Harris
Religious Belief and Self-Deception — Adèle Mercier
The Coming of Disbelief — J.J.C. Smart
What I Believe —Graham Oppy
Too Good to Be True, Too Obscure to Explain: The Cognitive Shortcomings of Belief in God — Thomas W. Clark
How to Think About God: Theism, Atheism, and Science — Michael Shermer
A Magician Looks at Religion — James Randi
Confessions of a Kindergarten Leper — Emma Tom
Beyond Disbelief — Philip Kitcher
An ambivalent nonbelief — Taner Edis
Why Not? — Sean M. Carroll
Godless Cosmology — Victor J. Stenger
Unanswered Prayers — Christine Overall
Beyond Faith and Opinion — Damien Broderick
Could it be pretty obvious there’s no God? — Stephen Law
Atheist, obviously — Julian Baggini
Why I am Not a Believer — A.C. Grayling
Evil and Me — Gregory Benford
Who’s Unhappy? — Lori Lipman Brown
Reasons to be Faithless — Sheila A.M. McLean
Three Stages of Disbelief — Julian Savulescu
Born Again, Briefly — Greg Egan
Cold Comfort — Ross Upshur
The Accidental Exorcist — Austin Dacey
Atheist Out of the Foxhole — Joe Haldeman
The Unconditional Love of Reality — Dale McGowan
Antinomies — Jack Dann
Giving up ghosts and gods — Susan Blackmore
Some thoughts on why I am an atheist — Tamas Pataki
No Gods, Please! — Laura Purdy
Welcome Me Back to the World of the Thinking — Kelly O'Connor
Kicking Religion Goodbye … — Peter Adegoke
On credenda — Miguel Kottow
"Not even start to ignore those questions!" A voice of disbelief in a different key — Frieder Otto Wolf
Imagine No Religion — Edgar Dahl
Humanism as Religion: An Indian Alternative — Sumitra Padmanabhan
Why I am NOT a theist — Prabir Ghosh
When the Hezbollah came to my school — Maryam Namazie
Evolutionary Noise, not Signal from Above — Athena Andreadis
Gods Inside — Michael R. Rose and John P. Phelan
Why Morality Doesn’t Need Religion — Peter Singer and Marc Hauser
Doctor Who and the Legacy of Rationalism — Sean Williams
My non-religious life: A journey from superstition to rationalism — Peter Tatchell
Helping People to Think Critically About Their Religious Beliefs — Michael Tooley
Human Self-Determination, Biomedical Progress, and God — Udo Schuklenk