Taking the New Atheism Seriously

The greatest argument for atheism is a poor argument for theism. The best way to build this poor argument is to play on the field designed by the atheist. To see these theses played out, visit this blog, which I find to be often well-reasoned within their parameters but too frequently giving in to the frustration that inevitably arises when they see people who don’t accept their premises or who aren’t as smart as they.

If you want to engage in this debate (naturalism/atheism/evolution), if your faith depends on winning it, or you want to make your children’s faith depend on winning it, then I recommend you read blogs like this. If you just read Christian apologists, your faith will not be strengthened and your children’s faith will become dependent on inadequate arguments and unsharpened knives.

Take it seriously and with genuine humility or you will enter a journey full of tears.

I point this out because I continually find Christians surprised at the number of Christian kids who go to college and lose their faith. The response is often to give them an apologetics class or, lately, a worldview class.

Two problems: one, the teacher rarely became a Christian because of an apologetic defense of the faith and two, the teacher usually, therefore, doesn’t understand apologetics very well.

I mean no insult by those comments. I take the issue too seriously for that.

My concern is that if the student sits through apologetics classes under teachers who aren’t all that serious about apologetics (which can be a frightening experience for people not otherwise inclined to it – or even for those so inclined), when they get to college they will have been more poorly equipped than had they never had such a class.

This holds particularly true at those schools who are driven by standardization and certification, two forces that do not arise from within the Christian “worldview” and therefore, by their very presence, risk undercutting every apologetic a school has to offer.

It would be more effective to build a school on a genuinely Christ-centered curriculum in a meaningful way (i.e. actually figuring out the relationships among the subjects and to Christ).

Atheism often results from the failure to cultivate the spiritual faculties of perception. To argue on their playing field without cultivating those faculties is to ask a blind man to describe light to one without eyes.

We value perception to little.

9 Responses

  1. “in fact, many if not most of my favorite philosophers are atheists — but the new atheists are not. ”

    Well, they do admit they aren’t advancing much that is new. It doesn’t help that Harris is a little kooky. Okay, more than a little.

    “The problem with the New Atheists isn’t that they reject God, it’s that they don’t understand what that even means.”

    I’m pretty sure they do. A being responsible for creation of the universe, running the afterlife and monotheistic faith x.

    “Dawkins portrayed the cosmological argument as declaring that there cannot be an infinite series of discrete causes when in fact Aristotle’s version — the most famous and influential version”

    He was specifically attacking Aquinas. How does Aristotle’s version work? Wiki is… unclear.

    “recognize that what the New Atheists are criticizing is not really Christianity, ”

    I’d object to that, but I live in a country where Jesus declaration that rich people can’t get into heaven is mangled into prosperity gospel.

    “A Christian worldview “assumes” certain things about God, man, the universe and relationships among them. ”

    I don’t think there is a shared Christian worldview. You have different interpretations that vary wildly- the Catholic Church, prosperity gospel, liberation theology and alvinism all have their own worldviews.

    • Dawkins attacked Aquinas’ summary of Aristotle’s argument in the Summa. I don’t think he was aware that what he was attacking was a summary, nor whose work it was a summary of.

      Aquinas does have fuller treatments of the cosmological argument (Dawkins also missed those), but all of them presuppose a close familiarity with Aristotle’s argument, and it can’t be understood without that familiarity.

      If you wish to understand Aristotle’s formulation, you’re going to have to read his “Physics” (I’d suggest the Sachs translation, it has very helpful notes). Aristotle makes the argument in the end of the book, but because he reasons dialectically (his later arguments presuppose that you’re familiar with his earlier ones and that you have grasped the direction of the Physics in general), you’re going to have to read the whole thing. Reading other summaries of it simply won’t do.

      As to your claim that the New Atheists understand their own claims, that is in flat contradiction with the evidence. Dennett himself frankly admitted that he doesn’t understand what the “ground of all being” might be, and that perhaps he would believe in that.

      The New Atheists almost invariably fail to take notice of the ontico-ontological difference; that is, the difference between being and beings, the difference between beings which possess the structure of motion, and that pure act which is structurally beyond motion (as Aristotle characterized it), or again the difference between compound created beings and the “simple” uncreate (as the early Church fathers characterized it).

      Oversimplified, the distinction runs something like this: there are discrete beings which are always bound by opposites; we might call them finite beings. But all those beings are said to have being by virtue of being itself, which cannot itself be a discrete being. The difference between finite beings and being itself is requisite to even ask the question of God, since theology declares God to be at once being itself, and beyond being (how this works out is very complicated).

      There are a couple ways to get a grasp on the basic question of the ontological difference: one is to read the introduction to Martin Heidegger’s “Being and Time”. Another is to read Aristotle’s Physics very, very carefully (my essay might help if you wish to do that: http://tearingdownthemaskofmaya.blogspot.com/2009/08/structure-of-motion-in-aristotles.html ).

      The problem with the New Atheists is that they have neither the training or the willingness to even understand the basics of the claim they are denying.

  2. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I find it hard to take the New Atheism seriously, and that article doesn’t help. Rosenhouse’s review is atrociously reasoned, both in its parts (I’ll provide examples if I’m pushed), and as a whole (it’s essentially an argument from personal incredulity). While I’m skeptical about Ward’s English-style idealism, Rosenhouse didn’t present Ward’s arguments as arguments, he just excerpted the parts he disagreed with, and then argued against them in a way that exhibited his ignorance of the basic issues.

    There are atheists worth reading — in fact, many if not most of my favorite philosophers are atheists — but the new atheists are not. Read Hume, Kant’s arguments about the existence of God in the Critique of Pure Reason, Spinoza, Marx, Heidegger, or Nietzsche.

    The problem with the New Atheists isn’t that they reject God, it’s that they don’t understand what that even means. They don’t understand the basic arguments for God (Dawkins portrayed the cosmological argument as declaring that there cannot be an infinite series of discrete causes when in fact Aristotle’s version — the most famous and influential version — actually relies on there being an infinite series of discrete causes). And not only do they not understand the good arguments for the existence of God, they don’t even understand the good arguments against God’s existence either–just look at how they’ve mangled Hume.

    • Thomas,

      I think we’ve each looked at the argument from a different angle. I was more concerned with how “my team” was playing the game and you were watching how the other team was.

      My concern is, one might say, as a coach, while yours was, one might say, as a player.

      I don’t mean to content that there arguments are essentially persuasive; I’m more concerned that very few Christian kids can handle them as easily and as well as you can.

      And I’m not sure they should be able to. That’s why we have the church, which is where the mind of Christ is at work.

      It’s a horribly unfair burden for the, let’s say, not intellectually inclined to carry.

      So I’m concerned that we put this burden on too many people’s shoulders and they can’t carry it.

      AS an aside, are you suggesting Kant was an atheist?

    • Andrew,

      I agree with your main point, as well as your solution for it. I was just adding a change of inflection: take classical education and apologetics seriously so you know not to take the New Atheism seriously.

      I whole-heartedly agree that apologetics (especially when it is built on the foundation of a classical education) should receive more attention.

      In addition to a training in apologetics, if Christian education (both in school and in church) were to put more of an emphasis on teaching its own tradition, I believe this would be enormously helpful. Someone who is well-grounded in Church history and orthodox Christian theology would be immediately able to recognize that what the New Atheists are criticizing is not really Christianity, as well as be able to seize more fully on the tradition that already belongs to one as a Christian.

  3. Could you elaborate on what you mean by Apologist and Worldwide View please.

    • Eggplant

      An apologist is one who defends a position. For example, an apologist for Christianity is one who defends Christianity, while an apologist for atheism is one who defends atheism.

      To be more precise, I used the term “worldview” by which I am referring to the perspective on everything that a person holds when he believes a certain way.

      A Christian worldview “assumes” certain things about God, man, the universe and relationships among them.

      An atheist’s worldview makes different assumptions.

      Does that help?

      • Not really, but thank you for trying.

        If I had to guess, i thought you meant someone who apologises for their belief… which didnt really make that much sense, unless maybe it was compared to someone who didnt care what other people thought perhaps.

        Forgive me for this, cos I feel really stupid asking it, but why would someone who defends a belief be called an “apologist”.

        And thank you for the world-wide explanation… thats like your regular stereotypical example of a christian or an atheist.

        • Apology comes from a Greek compound: apo and logos, which means to say something on behalf of or in defense of something. Over time, apology changed its meaning from a defense to an explanation and then finally to an “I’m sorry.” But in scholarly circles and some popular ones it still holds its original meaning.

          Please don’t feel stupid asking questions here. My learning curve is very steep so if we’re going to have to hesitate asking questions I’m in big trouble.

          What did you mean by “stereotypical”? Overly simplified, lacking nuance? If so, I agree, sort of. I’m trying to get at the essence of the positions without worrying about every single qualification that could possibly be developed. i recognize the difficulty of that and am open to being challenged, but I also believe that each position does have an essence.

          Sometimes we need thick black lines to be able to tell what we are talking about. Thenwithin those lines we can refine our understanding as we grow.

          Thanks for hanging with us.

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