Atheism 2.0: Alain de Botton

Atheism 2.0: Alain de Botton comments at TED.

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Eric MacDonald

Let’s Keep New Atheism Strident

Those of us who are convinced, on good grounds, that there is no basis for belief in a god of any sort that would be religiously meaningful, have no intention of building atheist temples and listening to atheist sermons, even if, it seems, there are some atheists, like Alain de Botton, who think this is a good idea, and some theists, like George Pitcher, that particularly rebarbative Anglican priest, who begins his piece of Daily Mail pap with words of terrible banality:

There’s something divine in the air. Agnostics and atheists are beginning to nod respectfully in the direction of the Almighty, while still, of course, maintaining that He’s not there.

Synopsis of what Frank Furedi first said at Spiked on 1st Feb, 2012

How atheism became a religion in all but name

It was only a matter of time before someone proposed an ‘atheist temple’, given the religious-like zealotry and dogma of the New Atheists.

…[I[t was inevitable that sooner or later the New Atheist crusade would mutate into a quasi-religion. Alain de Botton’s recently published Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion is an attempt to absorb into atheism the current therapeutic and spiritual fads that influence Western elite culture. De Botton has proposed building temples for atheists through the UK. ‘It’s time atheists had their own versions of the great churches and cathedrals’, he says. Unlike the New Atheists, De Botton does not adopt an aggressive approach towards religion, which means his attitude does at least contrast to that of Dawkins or Harris.

Not surprisingly, many New Atheists have strongly criticised the idea of an atheist temple. The explicit formulation of ‘religion for atheists’ is abhorrent to those who have made a religion out of their disbelief. But for all that, in all but name the New Atheism has transformed itself not only into a secular religion but into an intensely intolerant and dogmatic secular religion.

Read the rest here.

Richard Wiseman.

I sent out a tweet saying that I thought the idea of a temple of atheism was a very silly idea.  Alain then emailed me to say that he had been misreported in the press.  I suggested that he wrote something to set the record straight, and he kindly sent me the following piece….

.Here he does a bit to set the record straight.

Delia Lloyd: Do atheists need ‘a cathedral of their own’?

John GrayAlain de Botton’s atheist temple is a nice idea, but a defunct one …Guardian.

An atheist temple? — Crooked Timber There are 800 comments well worth reading.

The highlights:

  • 0:32: Implicit snark directed toward Richard Dawkins
  • 4:00: Begins tirade about how education, in contrast to religion, fails to provide guidance for how to live (e.g. how can we be moral?). Here de Botton neglects the fact that in countries where religion has taken a nosedive, morality remains high—indeed, often higher than in religious countries.
  • 7:00: Says that we need to “structure time” through calendars, so we can think about certain things at certain times.
  • 7:50: We need rituals. 
  • 8:30: We need to learn the art of oratory, which supposedly is so important in religion.
  • 9:40:  We need to adopt ritual baths from the Jews: a fusion of brain and body.
  • 10:40: We need to learn how to use and interpret art as propaganda: art should be didactic, and explicitly so.
  • 12:30:  We need to learn how to foster sociality by forming institutions. The Catholic Church is his example; all we need is a secular institution like the Vatican: multinational, branded, and with a clear identity.

temple an aberration, not divine inspiration

Alain de Botton wants ‘temples for atheists’ (Wired UK)

More about Alain de Botton’s proposal here.  His new book, Religion for Atheists, says religion offers people many needed things, and atheists shouldn’t give them up.


de Botton wants to pick and choose from religion and keep the good parts for atheism, which is a nice idea, but he seems to be totally lacking in sense and discrimination in what the virtues of religion are. And then, unfortunately for him, he picks a few examples of something he thinks religion got right, and one of them is education. Fuck me.

He suggests looking at how churches teach the ‘facts’ of their faith, and is quite enthusiastic about the importance of repetition. Repeat things five times, he says, and then you’ll master it; he just suggests replacing God and Jesus with Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Has de Botton ever been anywhere near a classroom?

Let me give an example from my teaching; I’m familiar with what he proposes. For instance, I teach genetics, and one of the big concepts there is linkage and mapping. I’ve stood up and lectured on Sturtevant’s original mapping experiments; I’ve given the class the numbers from his observations, and had them do the calculations themselves; I’ve then had students come up to the whiteboard and show everyone how it is done; and then I’ve gone through it again on the board, step by step. The students nod and smile, theyunderstand, give ‘em these numbers and they can trot through the calculations without hesitation.

Then on the test I give them the same problem, but I change the names of the alleles, swap in a zebrafish for a fruit fly, and half the class is totally stumped. “But you didn’t teach us how to do that problem,” they whine.

Repetition doesn’t work. It’s great for memorizing dogma, but it’s awful for mastering concepts. Students don’t understand, they just learn to robotically reiterate.


Hmm, I don’t know. It’s very sweet of Alain de Botton, but I don’t know. A temple to atheism…

The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre (151ft) tower to celebrate a “new atheism” as an antidote to what he describes as Professor Richard Dawkins’s “aggressive” and “destructive” approach to non-belief.

One, De Botton is not a philosopher. (He writes poppy books that mention philosophers here and there. That doesn’t make him a philosopher.) Two, as we all know to the point of mind-numbing tedium, Dawkins’s approach is not destructive (destructive of what? what’s he destroyed?) and it’s usually not all that aggressive. Forthright, yes; sometimes acerbic, yes; but aggressive, no, not really.


On Temples for Atheists Cathyby


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