interesting in that, to some extent, it fills the same niche as our book. I.e., it is aimed at disabusing people about atheism, rather than putting a full-blooded case for it. I think this book is very well written, but also rather weak in some ways. To be fair to the authors, that's partly because it's aimed at beginners in these debates. That will also affect 50 Great Myths: we can't assume an audience that is highly sophisticated in the sorts of debates that happen here on this blog, or over at Butterflies and Wheels or Why Evolution is true.We'll take the good press. But Blackford's remarks do provide an occasion for further comment about the difference between reasonableness and truth. Whereas it is correct to say that Reasonable Atheism does not make a full-blooded case for the truth of atheism, it does makes a full-blooded case for the reasonableness of atheism. We aim to disabuse religious believers about atheism insofar as they are inclined to think that atheism is unreasonable. Though we are committed fully to the truth of atheism (and correspondingly to the falsity of distinctively religious commitments), this is not what is at issue in our book.
As we have explained elsewhere [**](and as we explain in the book repeatedly), reasonableness is an epistemically weaker standard than truth, in that even false views can be reasonable. But reasonableness is a politically more potent feature of views, since liberal democratic governments and citizens are required to politically respect all reasonable views. What this means is that liberal democratic governments cannot legislate legitimately on the basis of reasons which expressly contradict the tenets of any reasonable view. To put the point in a different way: Reasonable rejectability defeats any proposed justification for state coercion. This is why even if what the Pope says about, e.g., abortion were true (note: we deny that it is), that the Pope declares abortion morally equivalent to murder does not count as a political justification for a law prohibiting abortion. Reasons proposed to justify coercive state action must meet a standard higher than truth-- such reasons must be beyond reasonable rejection. And reasons deriving strictly from religious authority are always reasonably rejectable.
We're not sure what weaknesses Mr. Blackford finds in the book. To be sure, our professional academic writing employs a far higher level of precision than is found in our more popular writing. But it's not clear to us that Reasonable Atheism lacks sophistication or dumbs down anything in order to be accessible to an audience of "beginners." Rather, Reasonable Atheism is aimed at a more modest epistemic goal, namely, showing that atheism is reasonable. Showing that atheism is reasonable is obviously easier than showing that it is true, so it's natural that our case should require less by way of precise and technical argumentation.
Although we appreciate current discussions of the truth of atheism (and, correspondingly, the falsity of religious claims), and try to follow threads on the blogs Mr. Blackford mentions, it should be noted that Reasonable Atheism is not intended to be a contribution to that kind of debate. We presuppose the truth of atheism. In fact, we hold that the philosophical debate over the truth of atheism has long been decided (perhaps since Hume, but definitely since Bertrand Russell). In our view, what matters now is the political and social debate concerning the role of religious conviction in liberal democracy. So perhaps Mr. Blackford's book isn't aimed at filling the same niche as Reasonable Atheism after all.