|Atheism and agnosticism around the world (Wikipedia)|
I was heartened to learn recently that atheists are no longer the most reviled group in the United States: according to the political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, we’ve been overtaken by the Tea Party. … I was wondering anew: why do so many people dislike atheists?....Those who wonder what it is that philosophers talk about in the classroom might read Antony’s piece from yesterday’s New York Times. In her essay, she explains that, contrary to (apparent) popular opinion, it is a serious mistake to suppose that being moral depends on God. Yes, being moral is consistent with the existence of God and a belief in God, but any view that insists that morality rests on God’s will is compelled to embrace doctrines that are, well, utterly unacceptable.*
To see what I mean, read Antony’s clearly-written piece.
As Antony points out, that point has been understood at least since the time of Plato, who made it more than two thousand years ago in his dialogue Euthyphro. It is an important point. And it is not difficult to grasp (I routinely explain it in my Philosophy 2 courses). It is a routine part of the college curriculum.
Nevertheless, unsurprisingly (I’m afraid), most people don’t understand it. And that’s a problem. It means that many anxious theists are inclined to fight a confused and unnecessary battle, for they fight atheism, imagining it to be an enemy that it is not. Oddly enough, a far more real enemy to a coherent and decent religiousness isn’t atheism but the kind of unreflective theism that seems now so common—the kind that relies on slogans and Straw Men.
I mention this because I want people to understand that philosophy is important and valuable. It is important like many other things are important—like enjoying poetry or understanding history or appreciating the complexity of language are important.
And it is in higher education that one learns these things. No, one does not learn them on the Oprah Winfrey Show or the Today Show. They aren’t embedded in the breezy verbiage of Better Homes and Gardens or Reader’s Digest.
We keep our best thinking in colleges. It’s true.
And, today, higher education has a very uncertain future. It is transforming. And it is losing what has always been best about it.
*I have written about this matter previously: Why morals cannot be rooted in religion.