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Adam C. Scarfe
UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG, CANADA
Against Atheism: Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris are Fundamentally Wrong
By Ian S. Markham
West-Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. x + 162 pp., hb. £45.00, pb. £14.99; ISBN: 978-1-4051-8964-4/978-1-4051-8963-7.
As the title suggests, this book is intended to defend the Christian faith against the charges made against it by three of the members of the New Atheist movement: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. In the opening chapter, Markham attempts to outline the major arguments that are set forth by his opponents, a task that he thinks has not been done fairly by the New Atheists in waging their critical attacks on religion. The most important of these is that there is a lack of credible reasons for the existence of God and that there are stronger arguments for atheism. Here, Markham is right to characterize Dawkins’ less-than-scholarly treatment of traditional arguments in The God Delusion as ‘a little too cavalier’ (13), but he does little to examine Dawkins’ objections to them and/or to erase the evident logical problems that plague them. Instead, Markham is concerned with Dawkins’ claim that ‘any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution’ (14), which is a new way of re-stating the age-old objection to the cosmological argument that the principle of sufficient reason is invoked when setting up the premises, but is suddenly taken away when it comes to explaining the existence of the Prime Mover. Along the lines of Saint Anselm’s ontological argument which stipulates that God exists, but is non-temporal and non-spatial, Markham responds with the claim that ‘God is more analogous to ideas than to atoms’ (16), and that Dawkins’ suggestion may be true for entities in the material world, but not for those in the transcendent realm. In taking issue with Hitchens’ argument that the Christian God cannot be said to be behind evolutionary processes, because then he could be characterized as a ‘fumbling fool … a tinkerer, an approximator, and a blunderer’ (17) and we might add, presiding over a mass holocaust of organisms, Markham insists that while natural selection is a long, drawn out process, and one that is very cruel and painful, it is a necessary one that furthers God’s plan of creating a universe where love can flourish. Markham speculates that the length and cruelty of this process of development through which ‘creatures have emerged on Planet Earth capable of giving and receiving love’ (64) demonstrates the true cost of love, love
Adam C. Scarfe, March 6, 2011. If you would like to cite this article, please do so as follows: Adam C. Scarfe, ‘Review of Against Atheism: Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris are Fundamentally Wrong,’ Ars Disputandi [http://www.ArsDisputandi.org] 11 (2011), 33-36
from a Nietzschean point of view. for Markham. in the essay. 27. Daniel Dennett. the New Atheists have forgotten the biological origin of rationality and science. as quoted by Markham. In short. Review of Against Atheism having arrived in humanity and exemplified by the life of Christ. According to Markham. the New Atheists naïvely assume the God’s eye view. On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense. and morality are useful metaphysical constructions which have assisted the human species to organize itself in cooperative groups and to help procure what it needs from the natural world to survive.org] 11 (2011) 34 . according to Nietzsche. Dennett argues that religion is the byproduct of group selection which galvanizes people toward shared life-meanings. truth. Markham would have done well to have provided a treatment of the work of the remaining Horseman of the Apocalypse. an objective space outside of their biological makeup. rationality. and have no objective foundation. In this book. two things that the New Atheists’ emphasize so highly in distinguishing themselves from religious believers. and enhances cooperation among them. especially. A chief strategy that Markham utilizes in carrying out his apologetic task can be described as a kind of ‘pincer move’ against the New Atheists. one which works within the scientific model that was prevalent in the author’s time and place. Christ’s death on the cross exhibits a God ‘who has identified with the pain of all in creation’ (124). Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). as random outcomes of evolutionary processes. and today. while proclaiming that humans have evolved through natural selection. Markham suggests that the creation story in Genesis offers a poetic expression of this lengthy process of evolution. whereas he feels that the atheism of Nietzsche is far more authentic in that it truly recognizes the full ramifications of the death of God. Scarfe. But the New Atheists still ‘believe in the possibility of the human mind to describe the world accurately [and that] some worldviews are truer than others’ (37). are also reducible to the biological interpretation. the underlying drive of life to appropriate from other beings and to increase its power over its environment. Markham charges that if Nietzsche is correct. Markham denigrates his New Atheist opponents as espousing a ‘cozy’ form of ‘middle-class university’ or ‘Oxbridge atheism’ (45. And. we have forgotten that these are useful fictions in terms of the purpose of survival. According to Markham. and one that could have been understood by readers at that time and place. In so doing. At any rate. and religion must also be interpreted as chance inventions of nature. then rationality and the discourse of science. we cannot escape from the biological interpretation that knowledge. art. thereby failing to consider both the full ramifications of their position as well as its logical self-reflexivity. namely. namely. Nietzsche was right to point out that language. in which he enlists the help of the more radical atheist.Adam C. the real atheistic Ars Disputandi [http://www. 146). truth. On this note. Given that biology has shown that human beings have descended from other life-forms and that the human mind is the result of gradual evolution over millions of years. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. morality. truth. For Nietzsche. establishes social structure. and morality are manifestations of the will-topower. we wrongly consider them to be objective and real. knowledge. knowledge.ArsDisputandi. But. thereby ‘advocate[ing] an atheism that doesn’t really challenge anything’ (146).
with a full realization of its colossal ramifications for human existence. Markham draws on data set out by physicist and philosopher of religion. it goes through a rather conceited phase.org] 11 (2011) 35 . there is. when a new discipline emerges. in physics. He asserts that ‘science is now a reason for faith’ (64). Atheists might here object that generating some doubt over Dawkins’ speculation does not justify a skyhook. who is a defender of the anthropic principle.’ obviously referring to Dawkins’ views as well as perhaps to the staunch materialist and mechanistic metaphysic that is emphasized via biology’s modern synthesis of natural selection and genetics. In any case. who in Divine Action. nor productively advances a dialogue between religion and science. no equivalent ‘crane’ to do the heavy lifting as there is in biology. He accepts natural selection and the idea that the ‘spiritual sense’ has evolved in humanity because of its survival value. And he concludes that this discipline is ‘going through its teenage phase as a discipline’ (65). with a distinctive set of tools and insights. He writes that biology is a relatively new science that has made extraordinary progress. Markham sets the option of a universe in which life looks like it was intended into contrast with Dawkins’ speculation that life emerged randomly with a mathematical probability that is commensurate with the vast number of the galaxies and star systems in the universe. While Markham states that his position here is not related to the Intelligent Design hypothesis. Review of Against Atheism challenge leaves us with a choice between keeping God and rationality or going the Nietzschean route. and that it is even possible that there are multiple universes. Markham chooses the former. provides some of the best evidence for the existence of God. Darwinian natural selection. While finding that physics provides evidence for the God principle. Paul Davies. in which the constants in the universe appear to be exactly what is needed to produce life. and explicitly physics. as yet. Faced with this choice. Markham argues that on the basis of this data. and he characterizes modern physics as ‘faith-friendly’ (78). and that these cannot have been put into place by chance. his distinction here is perhaps less than satisfactory (see 69). Nevertheless. he also believes that the spiritual sense is tapping into an objective reality. Markham uses Ockham’s razor to dispatch the latter’s option and he emphasizes the frustration that Dawkins feels in relation to the fact that. Markham is less impressed with the less faith-friendly biology. One of Markham’s more questionable theses is that science. But he claims that ‘so often. ‘we are living in a universe where it looks as if life was always intended’ (68). The anthropic principle involves the notion that human life on this planet would not have been possible unless innumerable factors and variables came together in order to make it just right for life. namely. into real communication with God. suggests that the oddities of quantum physics open up the possibility that the material world is ‘open to a purposive shaping’ (119). Markham concludes that ‘cultivating the religious sense should be seen as not simply compatible with Ars Disputandi [http://www. namely.Adam C. I find this to be a throwaway comment which neither takes seriously the challenges that modern biology poses for religious belief. But he does not consider other options. Scarfe. In defending his claims. Yet.ArsDisputandi. Markham furthers his arguments by drawing on the work of Keith Ward.
religious books and DVDs. but as arising out of science [where] God can be found both at the level of the discoveries in physics and in the very intuitions underpinning science’ (79). Markham downplays the notion that the New Atheist movement is gaining steam and that it is driving people away from the faith discourse. open to the possibility of revision and an act of trust in God’ (139). One final criticism that can be waged against Markham in this section of the book is his lack of scrutiny of the fundamentalist and apocalypticist content of Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series. Dawkins ‘is “sure” that there is not a God [and] in this respect it is appropriate to describe him and his fellow travellers as ‘fundamentalist atheists’ [for whom] there is no room for ambiguity or humility or nuance’ (141). and Islamic extremism. Markham closes his book with an expression of his uncertain and provisional belief that ‘a certain strand of Christianity is coherent. that ‘religion is here to stay’ (128) and that atheists will remain in the minority.Adam C. have sold on an equal plane. which demonstrates his commitment to unifying reason and faith. Surely. faith is ‘grounded on reasons. In this way. the Left Behind series is not the type of discourse that should be said to represent religion as such.ArsDisputandi. Markham remains mute on this issue. seeing the former exemplified in the hubris of the New Atheists and in the certainty with which they proclaim that God does not exist. he charges that the New Atheists are just as uncompromising in their lack of appreciation of the faith discourse as fideist Christians are in not even trying to understand their secular opponents. which aims to ready believers for the end times and for their rapture into heaven. He argues that the New Atheism is mostly a short-lived reaction against 9/11. Review of Against Atheism science. which may be said to indoctrinate the unwary into a polarizing ‘I’m saved. such as the Left Behind series. He holds that while ‘“faith” is a leap beyond what we know about this world and an act of non-rational trust that God is there’ (137). you’re not’ mentality. and explains the complexity of the data’ (142). In addition.’ Yet. Scarfe. Thus.org] 11 (2011) 36 . Markham is against both secular fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism. He also cites that while Dawkins and company have sold millions of copies of their books. Markham argues. or to represent the form of religion that should be ‘here to stay. as well as to actively promote the hastening of the fire-and-brimstone end-times scenario. According to Markham. As such. religious violence. Ars Disputandi [http://www. he believes that the position of the New Atheists is aptly construed as a ‘fundamentalist [form of] atheism’ (7). plausible. It is clear that Markham is a pluralistic. open-minded Christian believer.
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