Why This Boor

1 have decidcd to write the present book in order to expose the fundamental flaws and fallacies that make the new atheism much less impressive than it may initially seem to be. I cannot treat each author in detail nor respond to every point, but it is not necessarv to do so in order to expose their shared inconsistencies, The new atheists have so much in common with one another as well as with earlier kinds of atheism that what I shall have to say in criticism of one, apart trom some minor discrepancies, generally applies to the ochers as well. This conclusion is especially true of the world view rhey share with many scientists, philosophers, and other contemporary intellectuals. I am referring here to the increasingly influential vision of reality that I earlier called scientific naturalism. Because of its importance in shaping the mind-set of all the new atheists> including many whom I am not able to mention, 1 shall list here its main tenets:

1. Apart from nature, which includes human beings and our cultural creations, there is nothing. There is no God, no soul, and no life beyond death.

2. Nature is self-originating, not the creation of God.

3. The universe has no overall point or purpose, although individual human lives can be lived purposefully.

4. Since God does nor exist, all explanations and all causes are purely natural and can be understood only by science.

5. All the various features of living beings, including human intelligence and behavior, can be explained ultimately in purely natural terms, and today this usu Lilly means in evolutionary, specifically Darwinian, terms-

To these tenets of scientific naturalism, the new atheists would add the following:

6. Paith in God is the cause of innumerable evils and should be rejected on moral grounds,

7. Morality does not require belief in God, and people behave better without taith than with it.

These shared assumptions, the intellectual foundation of the new atheism, require a response it we are to get to its roots, In a previous book. Is Nature Enough?Meaning and Truih in the Age of Science, 1 have argued at much more length that scientific naturalism is an incoherent and self-subverting belief system, but I cannot repeat the whole argument in this briefer discussion, I mention the earlier, and much more academic, wTork in case some readers are looking for a considerably amplified version of some of the criticisms I present here as they apply to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens*

I proceed as follows: In chapter 1 I ask just how new the new atheism is, In this first chapter 1 intend to provide a brief summary of the claims of each of our three authors, asking if any features might merit special consideration. I observe that the works under study provide a fresh and sometimes entertaining exposition of important issues, but they are essentially the same as those that have preoccupied religions and theologies for generations. Five persistent questions naturally arise in any discussion of atheism, and these serve as the topics for chapters 3-7: Does theology matter (chapter 3)? is God a 'hypothesis'1 that science can confirm or reject (chapter 4)? Why are people inclined toward religious belief at all (chapter Can we be good without God (chapter 6)? Is the idea of a persona! God believable in an age of science (chapter 7)?

Chapter 2 asks just how atheistic die new atheism is. What would a Nietzsche, Camus, or Sartre think of Dawkins, Harris, and I litchens? Here I distinguish between the "hard-core1 atheism of several classic critics of religion on the one hand> and die new lisoft'Core" variety characteristic of our new atheists on the other. Then 1 ask how well the latter measures up to the rigorous standards of the former. Finally, in chapter 8 I offer a specifically Christian response to the questions treated in chapters 3-7. For some readers this last chapter will be seen as optional, even though for me personally it is the most important, My first seven chapters avoid approaching the new atheism from an exclusively Christian point of view. Instead, my critique is styled in such a way thai non-Christian theists (especially Jewish and Muslim believers in God), as well as atheists and agnostics can easily follow along. Only in the concluding chapter do I sketch a Christian theological response. I show in chapter 8 that what our new atheists understand by "God" has almost nothing to do with what Christian faith and theology today understand by that name.

The deeper I became involved in the writing of this book, the more evident it became to me that I was offering a critique not only of the new atheism but also of the kind of religious thought, ethics, and spirituality against which it is reacting. I suggest that there are reliable and more interesting theological alternatives to both. However, even though the new atheists reject the God of creationists, fundamentalists, terrorists, and intelligent design (ID) advocates, it is not without interest that they have decided to debate with these extremists rather than with any major theologians. This choice of antagonists betrays their unconscious privileging of literalist and conservative versions of religious thought over the more traditionally mainstream types—which they completely ignore and implicitly reject for their unorthodoxv. The new atheists are saying in effect that if God exists ar all, we should allow this God's identity to be determined once and for all by the fundamentalists of the Abrahamic religious traditions, I believe they have chosen this strategy not only to make their job of demolition easier, but also because they have a barely disguised admiration for the simplicity of their opponents' views of reality. The best evidence of their own attraction to an uncomplicated world view can be found in their allegiance to the even simpler assumptions of scientific naturalism.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment