Sunday, July 4, 2010

The New Atheism - Should Christians be concerned?

The New Athiesm - Should Christians be concerned? What is it?

Since 2004 there has apparently been a resurgence of Atheism; well that's according to David Steele writing in Philosophy Now - May 2010. This is what some would call, The New Atheism. The debates between Atheists and Christians have been around for years, but the discussions have hit the ears of many in the last few years, especially with the vocal advocacy and authorship of people like Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion).

So firstly what is an 'atheist'? Or what is atheism? Much seemingly pedantic discussion is made about what the true definitions of these terms are, but firstly the narrow view of atheism is this: a-theism (a - from the greek meaning  'without' and theism/theos from the greek meaning 'deity'). The narrow view is thus labelled as without a deity, or rather, a belief that there is no God. This definition is saying that Atheists do not believe there is one God; one who supremely cares for this creation. They do not believe in what is called monotheism. Ernest Nagel (1901 - 1985) says in relation to atheism, 'I shall understand by 'atheism' a critique and a denial of the major claims of all varieties of theism' (cited in Philosophy Now - May 2010, p.6). The reason this is labelled a narrow view of atheism, is because this labels those that are polytheists (many gods) as atheists. A hindu would be far from labelling him/herself an atheist! So the definition of atheism has broadened over the years. In the broad sense atheism, according to Michael Martin, standardly refers to the denial of the existence of any god or gods and this therefore encapsulates the Christian monotheism and also polytheism. This type of definition of atheism tends to be the one that the general public hold to.

Michael Martin says, 'In Western society the term atheism has most frequently been used to refer to the denial of theism, in particular Judeo-Christian theism. This [theism] is the position that a being that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good exists who is the creator of the universe, and who takes an active interest in human concerns, and guides his creatures by revelation' - and all the Christians read this and say, 'Yep! Amen!'

Exhaustive empirical evidence does not exist to prove the existence of such a wonderful God - only faith. Faith that comes by hearing the Word of God, and a relationship that forms because of someone acting on that faith/trust and believing that Jesus is who he says he is, and does what he says he does.

Christians know there are questions that are unanswerable and discussions that are hard to 'win'. The fact is though, that failure to respond adequately to an intellectual argument about faith does not render the faith inadequate; it merely means someone is unable to respond with theological prowess that dumfounds the other! The questions exist, no Christian doubts that:
* If God knows the future, how can we have free will? (Cicero)
* What was God doing before He created the world? (Augustine)
* Must God, if he exists in the mind, also exist in reality? (Anselm)
* Can an omnipotent being be constrained by justice and goodness? (Al-Ghazali).
* Why does a loving God allow suffering to good people (the general public ask this one!)

So this new atheism, or the old, same atheism revamped in the eyes of some... Tim Madigan says this apparent resurgence in atheism is due to a variety of reasons and some of these being, the collapse of the Soviet Union, revulsion against religious fundamentalism, a concern over collusion between church and state, and the growth of the internet and the dissemination of ideas and 'free' thought that this enhances (Philosophy Now - May 2010, p. 4). Whatever the reasons, the good news about Jesus remains the same. God sent his one and only son [Jesus] into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save it, through him.

Turn to Jesus today. 

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  1. The "new atheism" is the same atheism as the "old atheism." The "new atheism" is simply a continuation of thought that is close to hitting (or has already hit) its tipping point. It's no wonder that theologians like Dinesh D'Souza, William Lane Craig, Ed Feser, et al are tripping all over themselves to write book after book accompanied by several column miles found in conservative think tank journals and various youtube diatribes. The reasons are as obvious as the nose in front of your face. The nose that can smell cash. (Most of this is directed to armybarmy and his linked Ed Feser article.)

    There are four authors of moderately successful books and/or columns criticizing religion directly: Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris. These criticisms have brought out every theologian howler monkey looking for a chance to snipe these "new atheists" in the hopes of finding their own piece of the cash cow.

    And what is THE argument of the theologians? Why the "new atheists" haven't paid due reverence and/or diligence to theology, of course. Theology, these howler monkeys say, has value. It is a subject, after all, that has been written about for centuries. "You didn't argue Acquinas! ACQUINAS!!!" one can imagine them saying.

    Sam Harris said it very well when he said (I'll paraphrase from memory) that he is in pursuit of the truth about God from a different trajectory than the theologians. Therefore, the work of the theologians has no impact at all on Harris's work or ideas. Just as the aspiring cosmologist need not be imminently familiar with the profundity of the works of astrology before he begins his studies and the aspiring chemist need not be thoroughly versed in Isaac Newton's millions of words concerning alchemy, the "new atheists" need not thoroughly investigate the claims of theologians as the entire subject is bogus.

  2. Whilst I would not call myself an atheist, I am at a point where I think that 'no god' is a reasonable possibility. What I am as certain as I can be about is that fundamentalist Christianity, as I see frequently espoused at various blogs (paticularly from those that identify with 'primitive salvationism' philosophies), has so many flaws in it an ultimately portrays God as an evil tyrant that I would want nothing to do with, much less worship.
    I'm not sure the more liberal understandings of Christianity are any less flawed, but at least they are more attuned to the reality of human need and suffering in the here and now and not so focussed on an afterlife that is quite likely not to exist.


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