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!