Is Atheism the same as Humanism? If not, what is the difference? Who are the major atheist thinkers of history and what are some of the different approaches or lines of inquiry for studying atheism further? In our summary of Julian Baggini’s book Atheism, we have already covered how to better define atheism, explored his summary of the case for atheism, examined how both ethics on the one hand, and meaning and purpose on the other, can be integrated into an atheist worldview, looked at how Baggini uses history to advance his case for atheism, summarized how Baggini critiques some of the traditional arguments for the existence of God and why he thinks such arguments and counter arguments are not decisive for either theism or atheism. Now we will summarize his final remarks before offering an evaluation of his book.
Baggini closes his book by offering other lines of inquiry for those interested. For example, he did not have time to explore the peculiar contributions and thoughts of the great thinkers (Hume, Nietzsche, Freud, etc.). He avoided discussing “the more sophisticated defenses of theistic belief” (Plantinga and Cupitt) because he wanted a less antagonistic approach (108). The science vs. religion issue is “a little tired” and is discussed many times over, but there are threats to religious belief from science Baggini did not have time to cover (109). Another area of discussion not treated in this introduction is the claim made by many that religious belief is nonsensical or incoherent (claims brought to public attention by A.J. Ayer). Staying faithful to his overarching concerns, he does not think such an approach (claiming religious beliefs are “gibberish rather than just false”) is the best way “to engage with religious believers” (109).
Baggini admits that the label Humanism (which he defines as “simply atheists who believe in living purposeful and moral lives”) fits his “positive atheism” but would rather stick with the term “atheism” for purposes of clarity. There are self-proclaimed “Christian humanists” and some atheists avoid the label “humanist” because they think being a member of a humanist organization is a “quasi-religious” endeavor. Furthermore, there are anthropocentric ideologies that have been associated with humanism, but many atheists (like Baggini) don’t have any interest in glorifying homo sapiens as the superior species. For these reasons Baggini prefers the word “atheist” over “Humanist” but will admit to being a humanist (with a lower case h).
Although “in many ways, the whole purpose of the book has been to dispel this image” of atheism as sinister, the author claims atheism’s true dark side concerns the “scary” thought that no benevolent Father is out there watching over us who is unquestionably good. This maturity of perspective is the loss of a child-like innocence and false sense of security. Atheism accepts the harsher realities of life for what they are and does not “seek to shield us from the truth by myth and superstition” (111).
In our next post I will offer my own evaluation of Baggini’s book as a whole. This will include both criticism and laudatory remarks. I will attempt to answer questions like: Does Baggini do justice to the rational defense for theism? Do his arguments for why an atheist worldview can fit comfortably with ethics and meaning work? Is Baggini’s less dogmatic atheism a better alternative to what he calls “militant” atheism? What are the strengths and weaknesses of his approach?