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An intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism

Daniel Harbour, London: Duckworth, 2001


Admitting that the atheist-religion debate has got rather tired, Harbour’s welcome move is the attempt to reframe the discussion.  He does not want to disprove God, so much as show that atheism is ‘superior’ to belief in God (theism).  To do so, he places both sides of the debate into the larger context of two worldviews:


Spartan Meritocracy (where you are open to new experiences and rethink your foundations etc)

Baroque Monarchy (where you never question your foundations).


Of course, atheism falls into the first category; Christianity into the latter.  Within three pages, the rest of the book becomes utterly predictable.  If there are closed-minded atheists, it is because they have been affected by Christianity. If there are open-minded religious scientists, it is because they have managed to switch their worldview while at work.


And the Jesus of history?  He is neatly dismissed with a one-page demonstration that the author prefers the caricatures of a bygone age, to the Jesus who has emerged from the world of contemporary, peer-reviewed biblical scholarship.  This is a long way from the scientific openness he claims to treasure, and it is far from the only example of selecting evidence to fit his predetermined theory.  But it is hardly surprising.  


Harbour’s whole project is based explicitly on the Enlightenment (see page 3).  The neat categories, the over-tidy distinctions, the shallow polarisation of differing positions are all traits of the negative side of Enlightenment thought.  And the greatest irony is that our world has now entered the Post-Enlightenment era, which Harbour refuses to recognise.  As such, the reader cannot help but see that the ‘Intelligent Person’s Guide to Atheism’, is – in fact – the product of that all-despised, unreflective, never-question-your-foundations worldview, the Baroque Monarchy.