New Scientist is mostly a great magazine. But every few issues they run another really stupid article about religion and I have to write another letter to the editor. Here’s the latest.

“I do not call myself an atheist,” David Eagleman assures us (25 September 2010, p. 34). “I don’t feel that I have enough data to firmly rule out other interesting possibilities. On the other hand, I do not subscribe to any religion.”

Mr. Eagleman, if you do not subscribe to any religion, you are an atheist. Like it or not, that’s what the word means.

“What if we were planted here by aliens?” you ask. “What if there are civilisations in spatial dimensions seven through nine? What if we are nodes in a vast, cosmic, computational device?” These might be interesting possibilities (I guess), but they have nothing to do with atheism.

You say, “in the debates between the strict atheists and the fundamentally religious, I choose a third side.” But in this context, there is no third side. Do any of the gods described by planet Earth’s many religions really exist? You clearly believe that the answer to this question is No. That makes you an atheist. Sorry, but that’s what the word means.

This is not the only logical fallacy in your article.

I feel I should warn you that in condemning the “the amount of certainty” in books by “the new atheists”, you are making an awkward leap onto a crowded and flimsy bandwagon.

“Their books,” you say of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens, “sometimes feed a widespread misconception… that scientists think they have the big picture solved.” But none of these four men has ever claimed, in any book or speech, to have solved the big picture (whatever that means). Your target here is a straw man. The “certainty” you decry does not exist.

Your article is nothing like science, and nothing like news. I am dismayed to find it in New Scientist, where in general the standards are very high.

Roy Sablosky
Sacramento, California, USA