Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The New Atheism: Five Links that Help [SK]

The new atheism is nasty: Religion is not only foolish, it's dangerous and should hardly be tolerated.

I suppose you might call it atheism with attitude, but it's really more than that. While the arguments presented are shallow and bombastic, the goal is to drive anything that smells of metaphysics from the public square AND, if Dawkins gets his way, even from the home.

The field of bioethics is not immune from the influences of this new atheistic attitude. Pro-life advocacy, we are told, is nothing more than an attempt to force irrational and intolerant religious absolutism on an unsuspecting public. Thus, it must be squashed. Although the articles below are not about bioethics per se, they deal with the principal claims these new atheists make.

1. Melinda Penner on Christopher Hitchen's God is not Great. Penner nails the key point, namely, that Hitch makes all kinds of moral claims about how bad religion is for society but not once does he adequately ground a single one of those claims. Nor does he ground his claims for rational oughtness. He can't do either, because his materialistic worldview won't let him.

2. Frank Beckwith on how Richard Dawkins assumes design in his critique of design advocate, Kurt Wise.

3. William Lane Craig on why design inferences are rational even if we can't fully explain the designer.

4. Doug Wilson debates Christopher Hitchens on the theme, "Is God Good for the World?"

5. Alvin Plantinga writes of Richard Dawkin's poor attempt at philosophy. "You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying."

I'll post more links on this topic as I find them.


  1. I am a fan of Richard Dawkins as a science popularizer, and not at all a fan of him as an anti-theist. Some religious beliefs and practices are harmful, and saying so shouldn't be out of bounds just because they're religious. However, blithely dismissing all belief as delusion is, as you say, shallow and bombastic. And really, I'm so glad that Dawkins' attempt a few years back to rebrand atheists as "Brights" didn't catch on. It would have almost made me embarrassed to be an atheist.

    All that said, we atheists have been hearing that we are dangerous and not to be tolerated since there's been atheism. (And by people with a lot more power and influence than a handful of authors.) Over 50% of Americans wouldn't vote for an atheist or want their son or daughter to date one of us. Religious bigotry by atheists isn't right, but religious bigotry against us isn't either.

  2. Jen,
    Thanks for your comment. You make two good points. First, it's entirely possible to admire some of Dawkin's science writings while rejecting his metapysical missteps.

    Second, I agree that it's foolish for some theists to reject an atheist for public office simply because of his/her atheism. Although atheists have a difficult time adaqueately grounding claims for moral and rational oughtness at the epistemic level, it simply doesn't follow they can't be moral people. Theists often ask the wrong question when they foolishly ask, "How can we be good without God?" The answer is easy: An atheist is certainly capable of acting morally while a theist may not always do so. The problem here isn't behavior; it's grounding: If morals exist in a vaccum or are merely the product of blind chance, why call certain behaviors good and not evil?

    All that to say, when it comes to holding public office, atheists should not be excluded merely because of their metaphysics. Indeed, if forced to choose between an atheist with a strong commitment to objective truth and a theist who functions legislatively as a relativist, I'll take the former even if he/she has trouble grounding moral claims.


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