Keith Ward’s take on The New Atheism

Image Source: http://www.keithward.org.uk/images/MG_3226.jpg
Image Source: http://www.keithward.org.uk/images/MG_3226.jpg

In the beginning of the twentieth century, the atheists movement got hold on a different avenue of popularity. They became to what is now called The New Atheists. Although they have no new arguments, the only difference they have from the previous skeptics was their attitude. They are far more aggressive, far more militant, and far more hostile towards religion.[1] Their arguments and lines are far more hard-hitting than the previous skeptics, perhaps on the personal level. From the previous skeptics, I mean the skeptics starting from the Enlightenment.

Among the New Atheists are Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. They were called the Four Horsemen of Atheism. The tone they used in addressing religion is of mockery and ridicule, for believing out of credulity. Although not so much with Dennett.

The goal of their writings, as Dawkins point it, is to raise consciousnesses. That is, “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”[2] Nothing gets clearer than that. Removing the spiritual aspect in ones life is their utmost priority.

It is intended to raise consciousness – raise consciousness to the fact that to be an atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one. You can be an atheist who is happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled.[3]

That is, if naturalism (the view that nature is all there is to it and there is no spiritual reality) is the correct view, not to mention a splendid one, while simultaneously producing a “happy, balanced, moral, and intellectually fulfilled” life, then perhaps we need to bid the belief in God a farewell.

Moreover, their theses can be summed up in one statement: Religion, far from being the solution, is the problem that needs to extinguished. For instance, being motivated by the tragic event in 9/11, Harris published a book entitled The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2004), arguing that religion is the problem. This is also true for Hitchens, who by the title of his book clarifies their slogan: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007). Although their attacks are distributed to the different religions in the world, still they try to single out Christianity to absorb the hardest blows. Their books, having gained mass popularity, ended up to be best-sellers indeed, read by millions.

On the Preface of The Case for Religion

The New Atheists literature, although with much popularity, are not free from critical assessment. For any conclusion dismissing religion (overlooking the intellectuals behind it) right away without charity, is worthy of closer examination. This is what the British philosopher-theologian and scholar Keith Ward does in the preface of his 2008 edition of The Case for Religion.

Ward began the book by saying that:

a number of books have appeared claiming that religion is a virus, that it is based on a delusion, that it poisons everything it touches, or that it is both irrational and immoral. These books have achieved a certain popularity, but intellectually the consensus is that there is very little to be said for them.

He goes even further by providing his reason for it:

The reason for this is, quite simply, that their authors have not done the necessary research into the vast amount of scholarly material concerned with religion that has been built up over the last hundred years or so in sociology, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and the serious and difficult scholarly study of individual religions. Reading them is rather like reading books purporting to be about science, which have got all their information from casual conversations with people who failed A-level physics. It is as though scholarship in these disciplines is simply not worth considering. Instead, the authors just spin arbitrary definitions of religion out of their own heads, use extremely selective examples from the literature, and show no evidence of having done first-hand research themselves. So instead of careful, considered, nuanced treatments, we have prejudice, bile, hatred, scorn, parody, and drivel.[4]

In short, far from giving religion a fair treatment, the New Atheists have instead caricatured it and believe that that would dismantle its historical and philosophical heritage. For instance, on Dawkins:

There is enough prejudice, hatred, and stereotypical thought in our world without academics adding to it, and apparently taking pride in doing so. One obvious example of this is when Professor Richard Dawkins characterises religious belief as ‘believing without question whatever your grown-ups tell you’ (The God Delusion, p. 174). This might be a good idea if the person in question is a five-year-old, but it is a ludicrous suggestion to say that the immensely rational, sophisticated, original, and questioning theology of Thomas Aquinas was all a case of believing whatever his parents had told him.[5]

Ward then continues by pointing out their inconsistency. That is, while they claim to be concerned with scientific method by requiring to examine all facts carefully, they ignominiously failed to examine the facts from religion cautiously. They unwittingly dismissed it by scorn instead.

One example of their inconsistency is by Dennett. By claiming to scientifically explain religion, Dennett argued that – as the “Darwinian algorithm” explains the origin and the evolution of species, it will also explain the origin and the evolution of religion. The problem about this hypothesis is that it is not a scientific one. That is, in so far as explaining its origin and development scientifically, he instead failed miserably by ending up arguing with his speculative philosophy.

Ward in result points out that the real problem is “the blurring of the boundaries between testable science, speculative philosophy, and social psychology (which often looks for closely observed patterns of coherence rather than lawlike predictions).”[6]

Another one is the outrageous claims of Dawkins. That is, in claiming to deal with the God of the Old Testament fairly, he unfortunately never went further than the book of Judges, and then concludes by saying that “the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” [7] He never went to passages like in Isaiah in which the God whom he attacks says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (66:13). He never event went to the Psalms. And that’s not a pretty objective move.

Conclusion

In concluding this blog, I want to restate its most important point: any conclusion dismissing religion (overlooking the intellectuals behind it) right away without charity, is worthy of closer examination.

There’s a lot of books I’m going to recommend reading for your further examination. Of course I would recommend Keith Ward’s The Case for Religion. Nevertheless, giving a list of readings couldn’t be a better idea. Here are some:

  • Ravi Zacharias, Beyond Opinion (Thomas Nelson, 2007) and The End of Reason (Zondervan, 2008).
  • William Lane Craig, God is Great (IVP Books, 2009).
  • Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion (SPCK Publishing, 2007).
  • David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion (Basic Books, 2009).
  • David Aikman, The Delusion of Disbelief (Tyndale House Publishers, 2008).
  • Robert B. Stewart, The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue (Fortress Press, 2008).
  • John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Lion Pub, 2010).

[1] Please note that the term religion here is to mean any kind of worldview that considers a spiritual reality. That is, a general notion. It may include Christianity, Islam, and etc.

[2] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Bantam Books: 2006), 5.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Keith Ward, The Case for Religion (Oneworld Publications Limited, 2008), vii.

[5] Ibid., viii.

[6] Ibid., xv.

[7] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 31.

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