Critique of New Atheism

Here are the first and second part of the characteristics of New Atheism that I wrote in the past couple weeks. You should check them out before you read this post, if you haven’t read them yet.

I thought it would be good to wrap-up this introduction to New Atheism with some of my thoughts and complaints with this new movement. These are not all of my views, but some more of the more important ones. Let me use a disclaimer that I don’t pretend to think that these are true of all New Atheists. These are just general characterizations of some of the leaders and most vocal individuals in the movement. If you are an atheist and are offended by some of the characterizations, just know that I’m not lumping everyone into the same pile.

1. They unfortunately horribly mischaracterize Christianity. Like I said in the previous posts, they are notorious for straw-man arguments. That is when you define that which you are arguing against in a way in which it would be easier to tear down. They often equate the most radical extremes, and present them as being mainline.

For example, I believe it was Pat Robertson who said that Katrina was a way of God judging the New Orleans region and punishing them for their sin. Now, obviously, this is not the view of mainline Christianity, but some Atheists don’t seem to be concerned with that. They’ll present a wacko theory like that and then castigate all of Christianity.

Their priority is obviously not in presenting an accurate view of Christianity, and I doubt they could do that if they tried. But that taken into account, they usually fall quite short and seem content with presenting an incomplete or largely skewed picture of what a Biblical Christianity would be.

An example of this failure to present accurate and biblical Christianity is their insistence on pointing out the ‘failures’ of the Bible. They love to point to Old Testament passages about the law and the penalty for adultery or a disobedient child, and say how absurd those passages are. They aren’t really interested in giving an accurate explanation or interpretation. But they aren’t Bible scholars, and they are more interested in searching the Bible for errors, then for looking for a way in which it could possibly not mean what they think it does. Recently I was taking a survey about Christianity. It was obvious that the purpose of this survey was to show the ‘ridiculous’ passages in the Old Testament. One question was about who created evil. Their answer was God, and they pointed to a verse in Isaiah where they translated a word that should mean darkness, and said it meant evil.

2. Another critique I would have is their seeming lack on interest in actually debating. For all of Richard Dawkin’s rhetoric about most intelligent people being Atheists, he has largely avoided taking part in a serious debate with a credible and biblical apologist. The closest thing is debating radio personalities, bloggers, and Sam Harris even debated Rick Warren. I think even Rick Warren would say that he is not necessarily the greatest apologist of the Christian faith.

Now, this could be something that I’m totally wrong on, and if you have heard of a solid debate, please alert me and let me know. But it seems odd to me that individuals who believe (and sincerely so) they are so intellectually superior to those who believe in silly myths of God and the foolish book that is the Bible would fail to take the opportunity to prove that on a larger stage. Why not debate a leading Christian apologist, humiliate him, and be done with it? I’m positive that there are Christians who would be totally willing to do this.

The purpose of these debates wouldn’t necessarily be for those immediately involved, as neither would leave persuaded of the opposing view. But the value, I believe, would be in the world seeing that these loud claims of New Atheism, is just that, loud claims.

3. Another critique is one that is actually shared by many Atheists, and that is that some of these New Atheists are incredibly smug and arrogant. Their writings often wreak of the superiority complex that they carry themselves with. Dawkins has no problem saying that you have no right to press your religious beliefs on your children, but doesn’t see hypocrisy in his ability to do just that when your child gets to college. This is a point that many atheists agree.

Recently, I’ve been reading through a book called “The Dawkins Delusion” and it is written by a colleague of Dawkins at Oxford who happens to be a Christian who used to be an atheist. While I don’t agree with everything he writes, he does echo this sentiment and says that many colleagues who are atheists do not appreciate the arrogance that Dawkins, Harris, and others carry themselves with. If anything, this may be a situation where Daniel Dennett seems to depart. He isn’t as aggressive in his writings, and doesn’t draw such dramatic lines in the sand. I realize that there are New Atheists out there who aren’t as arrogant and stuck up as they are, and I also realize that Christianity holds its own arrogant following, but it seems to be more characteristic of this movement.

4. this leads me to another point, and that is that you can get them to admit that they cannot prove that they are 100% sure that God does not exist. They admit that they cant prove it, but then Dawkins would come out with a childish reaction, saying that neither can he deny the existence of the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’. This is nothing but an updated version of Bertrand Russell’s ‘Celestial Teapot’, where Russell said no one could disprove the fact that there is a teapot revolving around the Sun.

They think that they are using shattering rhetoric by using this type of language. They say it is equally absurd to believe in the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ as it is to believe in God. This is absurd on so many levels, the first being that NO ONE has ever believed in the F.S.M. It’s just stupid, as there is NO evidence, on ANY level for its existence. A Christian would point to the fact that there is a creation that needs a Creator. This is a point that I believe Atheists become very cheap on. They say that the argument for a first cause is a fallacy because that first cause must have a source that is greater than itself. They outright reject the possibility of the biblical doctrine that God is eternal.

5. My last critique here is New Atheism’s claim to science. They say that science is basically the only truth out there, and is the greatest pursuit of mankind. Our society should be run by science and the new truth is that which science reveals to us. The problem with that is that what we know scientifically is constantly changing, and our world, scientifically speaking, will be completely different in 100 years, nevermind 20 years. If science is the new truth, then truth will be constantly changing. I’m not trying to create a straw man argument here, but trying to remain faithful to my understanding of the topic. That is, that New Atheism trumpets science as being the main source of truth in our world, but ignoring the fact that science is constantly changing, and correcting previous misconceptions.

They also seem to ignore the scientists who are respected in the world, but come to different conclusions than they do. One would be Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project. He is mocked by Harris, even though Harris will never be a slice of the scientist that Collins is. Harris, himself, according to his Wikipedia page, is pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience, using functional magnetic resonance imaging to conduct research into the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty. Since I am not a scientist, nor the son of scientist, I asked my sister to provide a write up on Harris’ involvement in science, and she has already provided some interesting thoughts, foremost that he isn’t in neuroscience, but in psychiatry, which is very much a soft science. I look forward to posting her thoughts in the future.

Like I said at the top, this isn’t meant to cover everything, and I’m not trying to paint everyone with one broad stroke. I realize that there are those out there who do not exhibit these characteristics. In the future, I hope to post some thoughts on Harris’ book “Letter to a Christian Nation” and from the “Dawkins Delusion” book I’m presently reading. Stay tuned, as there is more to come in the future!

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4 comments on “Critique of New Atheism

  1. Samuel Skinner says:

    1 Pat Robinson is mainstream in the US. We are a country where we have Bush, possibly the worst prsident in our history, with a steady 30% approval rating. Not to mention that the biblical idea of disasters is divine punishment. Also faith by definiton doesn’t adhere to rational standards. The rest is the courtiers reply.

    2 Hutchins vs Al Sharpton. Just use google video. It won’t kill you

    3 Smug? I sense psycological projection. They don’t declare they are smarter than believers, just that they are right..

    4 Say way the teapot is invalid. You simply invoke the “creation requires a creator”. Dawkins demolishes it in his book.

    5 Science is the only path to knowledge. If you claim religion is constant you must have never heard of gnostic, arians, shittes, sunnis, reform judism, reformation, council of Nicea, etc. Heck “creation ex nilo” was worked out in the 300s by a commitee. Not to mention this statement is double speak. After all if it was unchanging why would theologians exist?

    there is more flaws, but its late, I’m tired and you won’t change your mind. After all a quick google search will get you to reasonable responces to these statements.

  2. ehudadams says:

    1. Pat Robertson may have a following in the US, but he DOES NOT represent a Biblical Christianity. On the scale of Biblical Christianity, he’s is so far out on the branch, he’s practically in another tree. And I find a hole in your logic. If our country was full of mindless Christians, why would Bush only have a 30% approval rating? I agree that he has his shortcomings, but his place in history will be realized only when we can look back at the full effect of his administration. And if you look at Congress’ approval rating, its actually 10 points LOWER than Bush’s. And I’d assume you would say that a majority in Congress is anti-Bush, so figure that one out.

    And the thing about biblical idea of disasters is divine punishment is way off base. It is true that the Bible recounts disasters as being sent by God, but that doesn’t mean we can go and assume that all disasters are God-sent. The reason we know those is because it is recounted in the Word of God. Anyone that comes to you and says that a disaster is brought by God is a heretic who claims to have a knowledge of God that He has not revealed to us.

    2. hahaha, Al Sharpton?! AL SHARPTON?! Honestly, I didn’t look it up because I don’t think I need to waste my time with that. I believe i said that i would want them to debate a “credible and biblical apologist”. Al Sharpton is not that. He’s the equivalent to a race-ambulance chaser. This is the same guy who helped Tawana Brawley and the Duke lacrosse case, when neither were never even close to being true. Please, he is NOT what we’re looking for here. that’s just ridiculous. please. seriously.

    3. What about Dawkins saying that “Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists.” that doesn’t sound smug?! Harris’ writings wreak of arrogance. They say, we’re right, you’re stupid for disagreeing.

    4. The idea that Dawkins ‘demolishes’ the idea that creation necessitates a creator is laughable. That is your opinion, and I don’t intend to change that opinion, but there are many intelligent (yes, intelligent people can be Christians) who whole heartedly disagree with his argument. There are even many Atheists who think his reasoning is absurd. Have you read “The Dawkins Delusion”? It’s written by a colleague of Dawkins at Oxford. You should read through it. It’s a quick read.

    5. Did I say religion is constant? If I did, I misspoke. I agree that much or religion is corrupt and misleading. The Word of God remains forever. Theologians exist so that we can study the Word of God and ask ourselves what it means and how to understand it, and what impact it should have in our lives. Though the Word of God remains the constant truth, there can be different ways of understanding some of the deeper points.

    the idea of creation ex nihilo was not ‘made up’ then. It was agreed that that was the way the Genesis account says it happened. That before any creation existed, God existed, and He created everything out of nothing. They didn’t come up with the idea then, but agreed on it. And that is the way it happened with other councils, like the one at Nicea in 325. The problem was, if I remember correctly, that people had an incorrect view of Christ, so the leaders got together at Nicea and came up with a statement that they believed the Word of God taught. It’s about battling heresy.

    and when I say the Word of God is constant, I’m not talking about subtle changes in manuscripts over time. They were inspired in their original autographs, and our job is to get the text we have in our hands as close to those autographs as we can. I realize that there are subtle changes, and NONE of those changes effect any doctrines of the Bible. By all accounts, the Bible has been relayed with GREAT accuracy.

    6. I realize that neither of us will be swayed by what the other is saying, but I feel that if someone comes on my blog with these statements, that I must defend myself. And, no, I didn’t need to Google up responses. Believe it or not, I think for myself and study these things out. I believe your assumption that I must rely on Google in order to defend myself is further evidence that many New Atheists struggle with arrogance.

  3. ehudadams says:

    also, one more note I forgot to write. I have a difficulty elevating science as highly as many would like to because it is always changing. We’re constantly learning more and more about who we are and many of the things that we thought to be truth have changed. The reality is that science is constantly changing, sometimes confirming our ideas, sometimes totally changing them. Many of the conclusions we come to through science will be corrected by further study in the future. I find it very difficult to put our highest trust and authority in something that changes so frequently and something that is constantly showing us how little we know about ourselves and our world.

  4. Samuel Skinner says:

    Yeah it is hard to put trust in someone who changes to reflect reality and easier to put it into a blockhead who boulders on.

    1 Okay how about Veggie tales? You know the childern’s cartoon? Is that mainstream? Because where I live they have posters everywhere for there new movies. The problem I have is they had one episode (to be fair it was the only one is saw) where they did the Joshua at Jericho story, doing it all cute and coming away with the moral “obey god”. What wrong? When they won they killed every man, women, child and animal in the city. Condoning genocide isn’t a good thing. As for the stats I might be wrong. Still one third of the population thinking like you is scary.

    2 Sorry, I don’t know any credible bible apologists. I personally don’t think they exist. Yes, I know they can have degrees and be smart, but their arguements still suck.

    3 Compared to believers “we know everything there is to know and you are damned to burn in hell?”. The fact is he didn’t say that- he said nearly all scientists are atheists and the more prestigious the higher the corralation. At least that is what he wrote in his book. Would it be arrogant to say people who believe in creationism are idiots?

    4 It isn’t my opinion. Hint- there are things called facts in the world. Dawkins isn’t the only one who riddled it with holes. If there are flaws with his arguement state them. otherwise it appears that you are using a psylogical coping method to avoid examining your own beliefs.

    5 The word of God is constant? Well since the interperetation chnges how the heck do you know yours is correct? And if any interpretation is okay then you canuse the bible to argue for atheism.

    6 I am arrogant? You just declared the majority of Christiamdom heretics! You do relize that god causes disasters as punishment was the majority view until recently when it was disproven by science (there are alternativ explanations- see continental drift, meteorology, etc). So, wait you really do follow science! The word is unchanging, but your interpretaion is revealed to be flawed whenever science reveals it can’t be true!

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