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WORLDVIEW CRITIQUE: THE NEW ATHEIST
A PAPER SUBMITTED TO DR. VIDU ADONIS IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE COURSE APOL 500
LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
BY NICHOLAS LOMBARDI
SUNDAY, APRIL 28, 2013
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS NEW ATHEISM ......................................................................................1
FLAWS .......................................................................................................................................... 2-4 EVANGELICAL RESPONSE………………………………………………………………..4-5
INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS NEW ATHEISM? In a trivial sense, there is nothing new about New Atheism. In fact, everything that is being said by New Atheism‟s key proponents has already been said, and arguably said better, by Russell, Paine, Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and others.1 What is new about them is their tone and their emphasis.2 Although much of the content of the New Atheism may have precedents, it is original in its newfound urgency in the message of atheism, as well as a kind of atheistic social revival that has been fueled by the writings, lectures, and conferences of four intellectuals.3 This remarkable intellectual wave saw no fewer than five books by the New Atheists appear on bestseller‟s lists within the first two years of its inception. Sam Harris‟s The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Daniel Dennett‟s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins‟s The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens‟s God Is Not Great constitutes the foundation of the movement‟s canon. Said another way, “new” atheism is not entirely about new ideas, but a kind of evangelical revival and repackaging of old ideas.4 While the disbelief in God has always naturally created a specific worldview for its adherents, new atheism is characterized by a very different interaction with one‟s world. The New Atheists are much louder and shriller than their predecessors. This very specific change in tone centers on the fact that they are no longer content simply to deny God‟s existence. Hitchens
Amarnath Amarasingam, ed., Religion and the New Atheism; A Critical Appraisal (Boston; Brill, 2010),
18. John C. Lennox, Gunning for God: why the new atheists are missing the target (Oxford: Lion, 2011) 16.
Amarnath Amarasingam, ed., Religion and the New Atheism; A Critical Appraisal (Boston; Brill, 2010), Ronald Aronson, “The New Atheists,” The Nation, June 25, 2007, 11.
says: “I‟m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief is positively harmful.” Atheism has been widened, then, to include a bold attack on the existence of belief itself. Dawkins said: “I am utterly fed up with the respect we have been brainwashed into bestowing upon religion.” Hitchens has quickly summed up their point this way: “Religion poisons everything.”5 In essence, New Atheism is missional and passionate Atheism. As such, it has opened itself up to specific critiques and a tailored response. These items will be addressed next. Perhaps the best summary of this mission was met with roars of approval from a capacity audience at the University of Toronto when Hitchens and Sam Harris relayed their intentions respectively as: “I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt, and I claim that right” and “[my intention] is to destroy the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.”6 FLAWS The New Atheists have inherited the same flaws in their belief as their predecessors who have denied the existence of the supernatural. Over time, a great many attempts have been made to demonstrate God‟s existence by using logical arguments based on reason and nature. This approach has basically resulted in three classical proofs: the ontological, cosmological, and teleological. The ontological argument holds that if we can conceive of a Being that which nothing greater can be thought of, then this Being, must exist. The cosmological argument claims that there is a first cause, God, which does not have a previous activator, who both started
John C. Lennox, Gunning for God: why the new atheists are missing the target (Oxford: Lion, 2011) 16.
creation and keeps the universe going. Lastly, the teleological argument proposes that the design, order, and harmony of nature points definitely to an intelligent Being as their source.7 Each of these proofs have been significantly challenged. However, the teleological argument remains in high regard. This may be due to the fact that it helped convince Anthony Flew, the most famous atheist in English-speaking countries of the last century, of God‟s existence. 8 While all of these proofs remain relevant and useful, the New Atheist does require some special consideration. This consideration exists in light of their aggressive proselytizing, and its origins. The New Atheist revival, although seemingly arriving out of thin air, has a very acute beginning. According to the leading German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel it was the horrific incident of 9/11 that gave birth to New Atheism. A cover article entitled “God is to Blame for Everything” says; “Without the attacks on New York and Washington, there would be no New Atheism.”9 In an interview with the same magazine, Richard Dawkins admits that 9/11 “radicalized” him: “My last vestige of “hands-off religion” respect disappeared in the smoke and choking dust of September 11, 2001, followed by the “National Day of Prayer”, when prelates and pastors did their tremulous Martin Luther King impersonation and urged people of mutually incompatible faith to hold hands, united in homage to the very force that caused the problems in the first place.”10 To Dawkins, as well as the other New Atheists, the logic is simple. He would ask us to “imagine with John Lennon,” “a world without religion.” In page after page the New Atheist has spelled out in garish detail the entire history of horror and evil associated with religion. They wish you
Louis Kaplan, “The „New Atheists‟ Rebutted,” Midstream 26 (2011): 2. Ibid., 3.
John C. Lennox, Gunning for God: Why the New atheists are Missing the Target (Oxford: Lion, 2011) 17.
to imagine no suicide bombers, no witch-hunts, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no persecution of the Jews as “Christ-killers”, no troubles in Northern Ireland, no crooked televangelists, and no Taliban blowing up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, and no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it.11 Indeed, even a cursory glance around the world would show not only wars between different religious groups, but also vicious fighting between factions of the same religious group. If religion is the problem, then the solution is obvious. Get rid of religion. This is the New Atheists goal in a nutshell.12 All of this brings me to what I see as the New Atheists greatest fall. This line of debate that they are so fond of using to rail against religion is an informal fallacy. More specifically, it is an Ad Hominem argument and a matter of irrelevance. Put plainly, the actions of the aforementioned religious zealots have quite literally no relevance to the existence of God or the claims of Jesus Christ‟s deity. They are personal attacks meant only to divert attention from the Truth and elicit an emotive response. The actions of terrorists on 9/11 represent the theistic position in the same way a child with a magnifying glass represents empirical science. In Michael Poole‟s practical manual 10 Arguments That Don’t Hold Water; The ‘New’ Atheism, he deals with this exact fallacy. Primarily, he deals with the New Atheist premise that, “ Religion is evil because many bad deeds have been done by religious people.” He rightly sees this as a matter of truth and describes the attacks of Hawkins and Dennett as – functionalism –
Ibid., 18. Ibid., 18-19.
that is, an investigation of the functions served by religion and at no point an actual threat to the truth-claims of them.13 EVANGELICAL RESPONSE There are two key ways to evangelize a New Atheist. The first is to expose this Ad Hominem fallacy. Two examples should suffice in making this point. Poole again gives sound advise in this respect. According to him, “This strategy of trawling the human race for evil deeds associated with religion results in a bad argument for dismissing religion as evil.” He suggests simply making the same argument about atheists. One need only look to the mass murders of Russian communism under Stalin, Cambodian communism under Pol Pot, and not least of all Nazism under Hitler. Using this same broken logic one could claim that it is in fact the atheist agenda that results in amoral genocide. The second example that Poole gives even further highlights why such argumentation is bad. He supposes that someone collects all the bad stories about sex and produces page after page of stories about broken promises, rape, adultery, promiscuity, pedophilia, lust, bestiality and pornography and finally concludes that sex is bad for you and poisons everything. But what might a happily married husband and wife think? We can see here that both religion and sex involve powerful feelings, and, when they are abused, the results can be quite vile. However, they can be outstandingly good as well.14 Finally, the greatest evangelic approach to a New Atheist is to anecdotally take away their ad hominem argument. John 13:35 says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love on another (NIV).” Our public example as Christians has to be stronger than the New Atheist‟s preconceived notion of what religion causes. In a world that is tired of
Michael Poole, The 'new' atheism: ten arguments that don't hold water (Oxford, England: Lion Hudson
false promises and messages, the most convincing truths come from those who actually walk the walk.15 Lets change the way atheists look at Christians. When they even consider the implications of religion on society, let them see nothing but Christ through the love we show for each other. There is the story of an atheist doctor who showed up in a clinic in Africa and saw a young nun dressing the wounds of a leper. He said, “I would not do that for a million dollars.” The nun replied, “Me either”!16 To the New Atheist, obsessed with the “bad” caused by religion, this may be the only way to share the true Gospel with them.
Donnell Kirchner, “The New Atheists,” Spiritual Life 57 (2011) 198. Ibid., 199.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Aronson, Ronald. “The New Atheists.” The Nation, June 25, 2007. Kaplan, Louis. “ The „New Atheists‟ Rebutted.” Midstream 26 (2011) Kirchner, Donnell. “The New Atheists.” Spiritual Life 57 (2011): 195-200. Lennox, John C.. Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target. Oxford: Lion, 2011. Poole, Michael. The 'New' Atheism: Ten Arguments that Don't Hold Water. Oxford, England: Lion Hudson; 2009.
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