As most of you clever people will know, in 2006 the British Biologist/Arch-Atheist Richard Dawkins let loose his bestselling and controversial book The God Delusion. It is a book remarkable in its incoherence, yet an entertaining read. In pretty much any bookstore you visit, it can almost always be guaranteed to be seen near the entrance. This is a fact that has come to irritate me recently (I visit a lot of bookshops). Irritation aside, The God Delusion obviously struck a chord among the public as it has sold over 2 million copies worldwide since it was first published. In his highly entertaining book he argues that faith in a God is irrational, dangerous and mentally degrading. His main aim in the book is to show the reader how religion is harmful and a hinderance to society and he also attempts to refute traditional arguments for the existence of God, claiming that God almost certainly doesn’t exist. This is by no means the first time he has expressed his contempt towards religious belief and sentiment because some of Dawkins’ previous literature contains anti-faith rantings too such as The Blind Watchmaker. In it he argues against Creationist explanations for our existence, and attempts to show that evolution by natural selection is the answer to the mystery of creation. Including his many books, he has also made several TV documentaries for channel 4 such as The Root Of All Evil , The Enemies Of Reason and Faith Schools Menace? which can all be purchased on DVD. Dawkins has now become something of a major celebrity and his work has become extremely influential. He is a darling to the media and can often be found waddling lamentably into discussions to offer his opinions on God.
‘I am utterly fed up with the respect we have been brainwashed into bestowing upon religion’– Richard Dawkins
So what is this New Atheism? Around the time The God Delusion was published, militant Atheism gained considerable momentum giving rise to many other anti-faith books. Two years earlier American author Sam Harris wrote a book called The End Of Faith, so things had already taken off and the seeds had already been planted for this movement to grow in America. Other influential books that were published in the following years include Breaking The Spell by Daniel Dennett and God Is Not Great by the strangely flatulent Christopher Hitchens. Several other authors in more recent years have followed in their stead with God The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by physicist Victor Stenger and Against All Gods by philosopher AC Grayling.This growing movement is usually referred to as the New Atheism and the bestselling authors just mentioned are its megaphone.
Ironically, Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins and Dennett often refer to themselves as the Four Horsemen (taken from the book of revelation) but the Four Horsemen are only a small part of a much larger movement across the world. Their primary agenda is to eradicate faith and to urge society to stop having any respect towards belief in God of any kind. Basically they believe that the sooner religion is dead, the better. One of the main motivations behind the New Atheism seems to be the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, as it was a prime example of the dangers of religious fundamentalism. Those events disturbed everyone but after 9/11 it was extremely tempting, yet foolish, to argue that the fundamentalists who killed so many innocent people, represented religious people in general. Regrettably, this temptation obviously has not been resisted.
‘Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience’ – Christopher Hitchens
So what’s new about the New Atheists? Well the answer is nothing much. They basically have they same objections and arguments as the atheism that came before it, but they are different in their attitude towards faith. The attitude they have seems to be aggressive, intolerant and vitriolic. One of the chief characteristics of the New Atheists is their scientistic attitude and their attempts to use science to support their ardent disbelief in God. According to them science has killed God and any attempts to reintroduce him would be to commit intellectual suicide. Over all, they have many other objections, but science seems to be their primary weapon and they wield it like a sword which, unfortunately for them is extremely flimsy. The tremendous outrage and indignation against religious belief that has been put forward by these atheists, is not something completely new in recent times. After the Second World War there was the existentialist craze led by Jean-Paul Satre and then the ‘Death of God’ movement in the 1960s which bear a close resemblance to the recent resurgence of vocal atheism. In reality, the New Atheism is not new at all.
Today the God debates are now firmly back in the public square and in many ways people like Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have done a good thing. Ironically the first reason is that in many people’s eyes, they have made atheism a less plausible position. I think it is fair to say, although many would disagree, that the New Atheists have received some pretty damning criticisms towards their approach and arguments. Secondly, in light of the scathing criticism that has been issued towards faith communities, many believers have been compelled to think more about their worldview and to present reasons for their beliefs in a more robust way. Such movements as the New Atheism have inspired countermovements with a renewed interest in these important questions. Interestingly, since the 1970s there has been a great renaissance of christian philosophers who have genuinely contributed to the progress of western philosophy. Alvin Plantinga was primarily responsible for this movement and philosophers like William lane Craig, Richard Swinburne and William Alston joined Plantinga in leading a resurgence of serious christian thought with many others following. Christians once again, have a seat at the table.
“The renaissance of Christian philosophy has been accompanied by a resurgence of interest in natural theology, that branch of theology that seeks to prove God’s existence apart from divine revelation”.-William Lane Craig
Since all the God bashing literature sold so well over the past few years and the New Atheists war cry has been heard, there has been a large amount of responding literature and effective criticism from Theologians, Philosophers, Scientists and even other Atheists. Some notable responses have been by Oxford theologian Alister Mcgrath, philosopher William Lane Craig and the venerable John Lennox who is a Professor of Mathematics and Philosopher of Science. Many of these responding books are listed on the ‘recommended reading’ page. In April, I was fortunate enough to attend one of Lennox’s lectures in Oxford, which was fascinating. Mcgrath, Bill Craig and Lennox have debated several times with the New Atheists and many of these can be viewed online.
In future posts I will attempt critique the New Atheists philosophical and scientific arguments and try to show that a theistic worldview makes much better sense out of our reality and existence in the universe. I feel that the issues put forward by them and others need to be addressed properly in civil discussion and debate. Although my main objectives are to challenge the claims of the New Atheists and to defend Christian theism, my intention is also to open up the discussion a little and hopefully take it further….