Lantern Carriers of Different Lights: The Evangelical Response to the New Atheists.

Lantern Carriers of Different Lights:

The Evangelical Response to the New Atheists.

 

In his work The Gay Science[1], Nietzsche writes of a mad atheist who enters into a village of fellow atheists who are all clueless as to the full ramification of their belief. Surely there is, in our own present time, no short supply of lantern-carrying atheists who are dead-set upon their own quests to “illuminate” those of us from the presupposed ‘bondages’ of religion. Often referred to as “The New Atheists,” they practice a form of Materialist Atheism in that they vehemently deny any potential metaphysical or non-rational ontology. There is, in their view, nothing beyond the potential of science or reason that one is either able, or should even attempt to grasp.  It is the goal of this paper to try to ‘find a lantern,’ with the intended purpose of shedding some light into this conflict. We will examine three works by different advocates for each respective side. For the side of Materialist Atheism: God is not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, The End of Faith – Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. While there has been a general response across the entire theologial/ideologial continuum, this project will focus on the response of the Evangelical segment. Reponses examined will include: Atheism Remix by R. Albert Mohler Jr, The Twilight of Atheism – The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World by Alister McGrath, and The End of Reason – A Response to the New Atheists by Ravi Zacharias.

 

Materialist Atheist Selection #1: Christoper Hitchens’s God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything

The first book that we will consider is a popular work by the author Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens has a well-deserved reputation as a hard-biting polemicist and his style is definitely not hidden in his book. In the introduction, entitled Putting It Mildly, Hitchens makes clear that he is not doing this because of some kind of grave injustice perpetrated upon him: “I am inflicting all this upon you because I am not one of those whose chance at wholesome belief was destroyed by child abuse or brutish indoctrination.”[2] Hitchens goes on to elaborate on what he proposes to be his “four irreducible objections to religious faith.” That it 1) wholly represents the origins of man and the cosmos,” and that 2) “because of this error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism,” 3) “that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression,” and 4) “that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.” Hitchens then describes what might be considered a functionally nihilist ideological ontology, by making a self-referential description of the thought he espouses and that of others, or so he says, who like him trumpet that: “Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely on science and reason, because these are necessary rather then sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.”[3] He goes on to indirectly make the Anti-Foundationalist/Marxist/Critical Theory assertion of language: that language essentially “goes all the way down”[4] – in that he asserts that they (i.e., Materialist Atheists[5]) believe that “(s)erious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Elliot then in the mystical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and – since there is no other metaphor – also the soul.”[6] Hitchens adds that he believes the beauty of their belief is that they are open and have disagreements between themselves. “We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold to our convictions dogmatically…” In a characteristically derogatory tone, he adds that “There is no need for us to gather every day, or every seven days, or on any high and auspicious day, to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness.”[7] Hitchens seemingly never misses a beat when it comes to an opportunity to make a snide or haughty remark. He does, however, perhaps begrudgingly refer to as “great” past Christian painters, composers and thinkers such as “Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman,” but appends his comments with

These mighty scholars may have written many evil and foolish things, and been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the globe in the solar system, let alone the universe, and this is the plain reason why there are no more of them today, and why there will be no more of them tomorrow. Religion spoke it’s last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable or nebulous humanism…[8]

He goes on to assert the traditional Feuerbachian interpretation[9] of religion: that it essentially is a reflection of man’s own idealism[10] and that science is much more interesting then any theology or biblical history.[11] He concludes with gratuitous apologies for both Marx[12] and Freud,[13] and that religion is to be enjoyed[14] but only from a historical context, echoing Daniel Dennett’s commentary of seeing religion as only having value from a histori-cultural context.[15]

Later chapters include lurid titles such as Religion Kills, in which he proposes to outline the various atrocities (both past and ongoing) that are uniquely particular to religious matters such as the Serbian Conflict, The Crusades, Baghdad, Bethlehem, and the catholic/protestant conflicts in Belfast, Ireland. He goes on to talk about dietary laws, in A Short Digression on the Pig; or, Why Heaven Hates Ham. Hitchens attempts to expand the discussion from the culinary to the issue of health in chapter 4, A Note on Health, to Which Religion Can Be Hazardous, in which he proposes that religion is largely to blame for the continued spread of AIDS, pestilence and the continued practice of distinctly unhygienic religious rituals.[16] Hitchens, in chapter 5 entitled The Metaphysical Claims of Religion, argues that because religion comes from the past, it represents an uneducated view of reality – a past that essentially represents ‘the bawling and fearful infancy of our species…” and therefore, is “a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs).” Hitchens also explores the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate in Chapter 5, citing what he claims to be obviously flawed or ridiculous and/or inefficient aspect of our physical state.[17] He then makes his case for atrocities both in the Old[18] and the New Testaments,[19]as well as for the nature and origin of the Koran.[20] In The Tawdriness of the Miraculous, he cites various situations where things that were proposed to be supernatural, but were in fact perfectly normal. He cites examples employed in the process of making Mother Teresa a Saint,[21] the “notorious” annual liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro in Naples, [22] as well as how other religions have used various effects of nature to ‘over-reach’ them as being spiritual or metaphysical in origin.[23] He argues that the beginnings of religion are almost always corrupt,[24] and that religion, contrary to conventional wisdom, supposedly never makes people behave any better.[25] Nor does he find any value in Eastern Religion, as a suitable alternative,[26] and that because of such alleged precepts, which include:

  • “Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
  • The doctrine of blood sacrifice
  • The doctrine of atonement
  • The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
  • The imposition of impossible tasks and rules.”

 

Hitchens argues that because of these “religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.[27] He further argues that raising your child to be religious can certifiably be considered “child abuse”[28] and argues that a secularist ideal is always better then a religious one.[29] He counter-argues against many of the common counter-assertions given against it.[30] Hitchens concludes his book by arguing that what is needed is a “New Enlightenment” to essentially wash away the ‘damaging and deprecating vestiges’ of religion from the greater society of Man.[31]

 

Materialist Atheist Selection #2: Sam Harris’ The End of Faith – Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

Sam Harris continues in the same style of Hitchens – in that he has no room for any allowance of “faith”  – or even the presumed reality of a metaphysical reality behind it. He opens his book with a chapter entitled Reason in Exile in which he argues that the essence of faith is the antithesis of reason.[32] Harris then argues that it is only “because the church has been politically hobbled in the West” that we have the ability to approximate reason in our day-to-day lives.[33] He argues that it is only through the gross and profound ignoring of the implications of the precepts of their own faith that modern people of faith are even able to live in the modern world,[34] and that idea of being fully reasonable, yet dedicated-to-one’s faith is a completely mythological state.[35] He cites numerous individuals who have openly declared to war between faith and reason to be officially over. [36]

 

In his chapter entitled The Nature of Belief, Hitchens has no use at all for the term “faith” which – for him – is “a belief in, and life orientation toward, certain historical and metaphysical presuppositions.”[37] Hitchens briefly engages Tillich, but describes him as being “parish of one” for trying to “cast away ‘idolatrous faith,’” arguing instead that the larger portion of Christianity embraces something much more crass and essentially non-philosophic in nature. For everybody else,

“The truth is that religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern – specifically in propositions that promise some mechanism by which human life can be spared the ravages of time and death.” [38]

 

In a chapter entitled In the Shadow of God, Hitchens goes to great lengths to explore the historical underbelly of the church, with references to the crusades, torture, inquisitions, and anti-Semitism; which he luridly describes as “integral to church doctrine as the flying buttress is to a Gothic cathedral, and this terrible truth has been published in Jewish blood since the first centuries of the common era.”[39] After thoroughly excoriating the historical role of the Christian church, he moves on to Muslims in a chapter entitled The Problem with Islam, which he describes as being “a fringe without a center.”

 

Harris then argues for a “science of good and evil.’ He says that the fact that “different times and cultures disagree about ethical questions should not trouble us,”[40] and that “if there are right and wrong answers to ethical questions, these answers will best be sought in the living present.”[41] He argues that

 “There will probably come a time when we achieve a detailed understanding of human happiness, and of ethical judgments themselves, at the level of the brain. A scientific understanding of the link between intentions, human relationships, and states of happiness would have much to say to about the nature of good and evil and about the proper response to the moral transgressions of others.[42]

 

Harris concludes his book with what seems to be an apologetic for the practice of mediation[43] and an extended quote which he “selected at random from a shelf of Buddhist Literature,” which he invites the reader to try to “find anything even remotely like this in the Bible or the Koran.”[44] In a section titled Afterword, he address the issue that this and other similar statements mark End of Faith as “not a truly atheistic book,” but rather a “stalking horse for Buddhism, New-Age mysticism, or some other form or irrationality.” Hichens defends his argument for the use of mediation by saying that it is not on par with an assumed sense of spirituality, but rather “requires that a person pay extraordinarily close to his moment-by-moment experience of the world.”[45]

 

Materialist Atheist Selection #3: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion

Dawkins continues much in the same vein as Hitchens and Harris.  In a chapter entitled A Deeply Religious Non-Believer, he describes his position.

Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain. An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand.[46]

 

As a closing thought for the first chapter he states:

It is in the light of the unparalleled presumption of respect for religion that I make my own disclaimer for this book. I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently then I would handle anything else.

It may be ironic to some, but in the very first paragraph of the next chapter, The God Hypothesis, he writes:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character of all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Those of us schooled from infancy in his ways can become desensitized to their horror.[47]

It does not take an overactive imagination to hear the responsive voice of any given reader, being seemingly reciprocally induced to chide the author with the trite & sarcastic, but commonly overheard hyperbolic phrase: “Please tell me Mr. Dawkins, how do you really feel about this?”

 

Dawkins then defines “The God Hypothesis,” which he seeks to argue against, as a belief that “there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed us and created the universe and everything in it.”[48] Dawkins describes his opposing view: that “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of evolution.”[49]

 

Dawkins goes on to attempt to prove the validity of the one assertion over the other, exploring the issues of secularism and faith/religion as they related to the Founding Fathers of the United States[50] as well as a study financed by the Templeton Foundation that purported to show the ineffectiveness of prayer in medical treatments.[51]

 

Dawkins then moves on to a chapter entitled Arguments For God’s Existence, in which he reviews many of the classic “proofs” for the existence of God. These are Thomas Aquinas’ five ‘proofs;’ The Unmoved Mover, The Uncaused Cause, The Cosmological Argument, The Argument from Degree, and The Teleological Argument, or Argument from Design.[52] He then discusses various other a priori/ontological arguments, and then ‘arguments from beauty,’ personal experience, and scripture. In the latter he explores a litany of supposed hard-to-deny inconsistencies within the Bible, citing various scholarly skeptics such as Bart Erhlman, Robin Layne Fox, and Jacques Berlinebalau. [53] He then cites and responds to “Pascal’s Wager,” as well as “Bayesian Arguments,” as they were cited from Stephen Unwin’s popular book The Probability of God.[54] He then offers an entire chapter of arguments against the probability of God existing in a chapter entitled Why There Almost Certainly Is No God. Dawkins treats his readers with subsequent chapters on The Roots of Religion,[55] and The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?[56]  Dawkins then goes on a lengthy “analysis” of the “quality” of the Old & New Testaments describing them as;

“Not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors and copyists, unknown to us  and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.”[57]

 

Dawkins follows this up on the next chapter, What’s Wrong With Religion? Why Be So Hostile?  with his exact assessment:

As a scientist, I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and to not want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps that intellect.[58]

 

Dawkins concludes his book with a chapter that purports to illustrate the deleterious effects that religion has upon children, echoing both Harris’ and Hitchen’s likewise assertions that it is moreso often a form of child abuse in Childhood, Abuse and the Escape from Religion, and ends with a discussion, A Much Needed Gap, where he argues that religion need not take any special place either emotionally, existentially, or educationally; that there is no excusable place for it – whatsoever.[59]

 

Evangelical Response Selection #1: Ravi Zacharias’ The End of Reason, A Response to the New Atheists.

Ravi Zacharias is himself a former atheist[60] and is now considered to be a genuinely “insightful and accomplished philosopher.”[61] Zacharias, whose audio programs Let My People Think[62] and Just Thinking[63] have established him as a serious scholar with wide readership and influence. In the initial part of the book – which consists only of forward, prologue, essay, and then notes – he describes himself as having been a former atheist growing up in India, born into a family of the highest caste of Hinduism.[64] He describes how Nietzsche himself wrote of the “universal madness” that would “break out when the truth of what mankind had done in killing God dawned on us.”[65] Zacharias talks about the madness that enveloped Nietzsche toward the end of his life, and how Zacharias, as did several of his friends did successfully, eventually tried to take his own life.[66]

 

Zacharias begins his rebuttal by talking about ‘origins’ – and cites “the odds of random life” occurring, citing Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science – that they have proposed that the calculated odds of “our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000124 – a number that exceeds all imagination.”[67] Zacharias offers more statistics against the improbability of spontaneous non-metaphysically guided evolution (or the otherwise creation of life as being possible) and then moves on to what he describes as the lack of answers, subsequent existential alienation, despair and emptiness that materialistic evolution induces. He cites Voltaire, Sartre, and Nietzsche for their “honest and consistent” views in this regard – then discusses the life of Michel Foucault – and how he chose to instead embrace the lunacy of LSD and a personal motto of “it is forbidden to forbid.” He describes how this led Foucault into deep into sadomasochistic practices and eventually an untimely death from AIDS.[68] From here, Zacharias moves on to the issue of morality – and he engages Sam Harris, in Harris’ argument that Foucault was not the direct result of atheism,[69] arguing that

For Harris to deny that Foucault is a product of atheist thinking would mean that he would have to reconsider is appraisal of all forms of Christian expression with the same judgment. Harris just happens to borrow from a worldview better then his own, while castigating it at the same time. [70]

 

He then goes on to explore if reason alone can be a source of moral judgments, which he argues that it cannot, saying,

Christianity teaches that every single life has ultimate value. In secularism, while there is no ultimate value to life, the atheist subjectively selects particular values to applaud. This game is played every day by the relativist camp, while it refused to allow the other side the benefit of playing by the same rules. [71]

 

             Some of the strongest words of rebuke that Zacharias employs are directed towards Harris’ descriptions of Muslim and Christian communities, while displaying 

“Rather amazing prejudice” in ignoring “the tinderbox of angst among these youth in France. Shame on him for his callous statements and pathetic misrepresentations he employs in his hostility to a people and their beliefs!” [72]

 

Zacharias goes on to chide Harris for his references to Buddhism – observing that in Buddhism there is no “self,” and that all of the ‘passion’ that Harris argues with would in fact be seen as intrinsically sinful.[73] Zacharias concludes with an argument that

Europe is demonstrating that it’s secular world-view – one that Harris applauds – cannot stand against the onslaught of Islam and is already in demise. In the end, America’s choice will be between Islam and Jesus Christ. History will prove before long the truth of this contention. [74]

 

Evangelical Response Selection #2: R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s  Athiesm Remix, A Christian Confronts the New Atheists.

Mohler’s book is the shortest of all those reviewed here, clocking in at only 108 pages. Mohler divides his book into four sections: The Endgame of Secularism, The Assault on Theism, The Defense of Theism, and The Future of Christianity. His book is based on the W.H. Griffith Thomas Lectures, which he delivered in 2008 at the Dallas Theological Seminary.[75]

 

Mohler traces the rise of theology, starting with Nietzsche,[76]  “what historians now call the ‘Victorian Loss of Faith,’”[77] the Russian Revolution,[78] and what Max Weber described as the “disenchantment” with the enchanted world.[79] He references the work of Charles Taylor and his work A Secular Age, in which he traces the phases of secularism – which begin in being able to believe, to being able to not believe, and then unable to believe; that those who initially provided freedom – take it away by describing people who do believe in God as “dangerous people who do dangerous things.”[80] In the second chapter, Mohler gives short biographies of Richard Dawkins,[81] Daniel Dennet,[82] Sam Harris,[83] and Christopher Hitchens.[84] He defines eight distinct issues that all the “four horseman”[85] hold in common: an “unprecedented boldness,”[86] a “clear and specific rejection of the Christian God of the Bible,”[87] an explicit rejection of Jesus Christ,[88] that the arguments that they provide are grounded in scientific argument, [89] that it refuses to tolerate even moderate or liberal forms of belief,[90] that it attacks toleration of faith by others,[91] that they question the rights of parent to provide religious instruction; often equating it to “child abuse,”[92] and that “religion itself must be eliminated in order to preserve human freedom.”[93]

 

In his third chapter, Mohler reiterates that need for a cogent, intellectual response from Evangelicals to their challengers.[94] He refers to McGrath’s book, The Twilight of Atheism,[95] which actually preceded Dawkins’ book, but remains an “instructive analysis of atheism as a worldview in the West.”[96] Mohler points out that even though it seems to be “an example of very poor timing,”[97] it still serves as a very good response to what it foresaw as coming[98] because of its macro-view and accurate analysis of the situation. A second individual that Mohler references is the widely influential theologian and philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who serves as John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.[99] He points out that the crux of Plantinga’s argument against Dawkins is that his work is almost “so philosophically vacuous as to be unworthy of serious consideration.”[100]  Mohler quotes Plantinga in regards to Dawkins, as saying

Why, you might even 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. [101]

 

Mohler concludes his book with the acknowledgement that a continued engagement is necessary. He cites a number of responses that are taking place, in addition to the default evangelical response, such as the feminist theologian Tina Beattie, who is professor of theology at Roehampton University in London. Mohler points out that she sees the New Atheism as a “primarily British and American phenomenon.”[102] She refers to the debates as being “testosterone-charged,”[103] and argues that a feminist theological interpretation has an opportunity to move the conversation forward by “reversing” the patriarchal structure of the classical Christian tradition to one that will dethrone authorities such as the Bible in terms of theological method.  Mohler also discusses the response of John F. Haught, senior fellow in science and religion at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, who complains that the entire affair is, “in the end, theologically uninteresting.”[104] Haught, who is a liberal, sees the entire conversation as existing between Atheists and Conservative Christians.[105] Both Haught and Beatie are “appalled by the identification of Christian theology with biblical literalism,” and Haught shares Plantinga’s assertion that the New Atheists “lack a first-year student’s knowledge of philosophy and theology.”[106]

 

Evangelical Response Selection #3: Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism, The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern Word.

McGrath’s book – of the three evangelical responses detailed here – is the longest and most scholarly. It is also different from the two books by Mohler and Zacharias in that it is not a direct response – but rather an indirect response to them in that it addresses them from a “macro” viewpoint, rather then a point-by-point basis. As Mohler points out, it actually predates the works by Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens. McGrath takes a ‘bird’s eye’ view and examines the entire atheistic movement historically and then traces both its preliminary successes – and what he diagnoses as its ultimate present and forthcoming failure. Rather then attacking their arguments piecemeal, he explores the entire school of thought as well the origins of their ideology.

 

McGrath begins by exploring the roots of classical Greek atheism and follows the various itinerations of the expression through various historical timeframes. He explores its context within the French Revolution,[107] and then explores its “intellectual foundations” in Feuerbach,[108] Marx,[109] and Freud.[110] McGrath then explores what he refers to as “the failure of the religious imagination” though the works of Shelly,[111] Eliot,[112] and Swinburn. [113] McGrath then explores atheism’s philosophic roots and its attendant “Death of God” notion in the characters of Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Camus.

 

McGrath follows this with a discussion regarding the resurgence of religion in a chapter entitled The Unexpected Resurgence of Religion.[114] Like Zacharias, McGrath began his own intellectual journey as an atheist, having read and been influenced by A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic and Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian. McGrath goes on to say that the principle cause of his atheism was that he had become a Marxist, and that he felt that it “held the key to the future.”[115] McGrath talks about the explosion of Pentecostalism, especially in Latin America, where Marxism is in full retreat before its expansion. In one of McGrath’s few pointed assertions he makes note that where “in some deplorable cases, Marxism made use of firing squads and force in securing its power base, Pentecostalism seems to put its trust in the power of God to change people’s lives.”[116] In what, for some, might be an interesting turn-around, McGrath argues that it is Protestantism’s “lack of imagination”[117] that even made atheism “an attractive alternative,” further citing that it was the freedom intrinsic to Christianity, that even allowed ‘a move away from the sacred’ to take place.[118] McGrath then explores the issues of Modernity,[119] Postmodernity,[120] and the “Embarrassing Intolerance of Atheism.”[121] In a chapter entitled The Atheists Revolt, McGrath tells the story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her eventual murder.[122] In his concluding chapter End of Empire, McGrath cites various arguments for Atheism’s continual receding appeal from society. He argues that atheism has changed its roles, and that rather then being a ‘liberator’ it has become an oppressor, that it has offered no suitable and reliable alternative the community that naturally springs from aggregates of people sharing their faith together both individually and corporately, and that, in general, it has offered no long-term vision that can equal in its existential effect that which the faith (Christian or otherwise) offers. 

 

Concluding Observations

One interesting note that can be made about all the books reviewed, is that those which take a side of Materialist Atheism are rather lengthy, whereas those of the evangelical response (with the exception of McGrath’s book) are decidedly concise. A second observation that can be made is that the average tone between them is markedly different as well. The defender of Materialist Atheism/New Atheism are all very patronizing and condescending, especially Hitchen’s book – which, as was pointed out before – never seems to miss a chance to make a pretentious and ostentatious remark about anybody ‘on the other side,’ even as Dawkins, for example, states that he does not do so any more then he need, though he clearly does anyway. The writers on the evangelical side all practice a very warm and engaging style – one that once one has spent time reading “the opposition” becomes actually quite refreshing.

 

All three Evangelical responses anchor their faith in Christ and the scriptures as a matter of faith. In each case, their opposition seems to allude to alternate foundations beside “reason.” Harris offers a retreat into the field of neuroscience as suitable a futuristic, eventual source for ethical guidance,[123] Hitchens offers “literature” in a potentially Marxist/Critical Theory alternative to any presupposed scriptural foundation, and Dawkins finds adequate foundation for everything exclusively in science.

  

McGrath’s argument that the so-called ‘liberator’ is now an actually an oppressor appears to ring true throughout all three books reviewed. But it can be argued that the Christian’s side is potentially more inclusionary because of its acceptance of the ‘Ottoian other’[124] – whereas the other side adamantly accepts only what it understands and sees as a suitable foundation, which is generally understood as being science. But as Michael Polanyi argues in his book Personal Knowledge, Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, the history of science is full of “anomalies,” which – when eventually understood – radically impacted previously dismissed or ignored understandings.[125] Science is itself an ever-changing set of assumptions – and to build assumptions upon assumptions is potentially a dangerous endeavor ontologically.   In each case, all of the defendants of atheism found no suitable role for faith or religion, outside of a limited historical value – instead, they all revert back to science and reason as preferred foundations, with others foundations (as previously noted) being indirectly asserted.  Hitchens does not discount the ‘historical poetry’ of religion – as he describes the possibility he might ironically potentially be found sitting “quietly in the back of some old Celtic or Saxon church,” referencing Philip Larkin’s poem “Church-going.”[126] Religion can only be enjoyed tangentially – but not directly, as it no longer has any direct use or need for implementation. For Hitchens it is all relegated to gazing, as it were, at stain glass windows. There is no other purpose in it. All three authors appeal to reason and the accessibility of science as the only suitable foundation of an understanding of the world. Hitchen’s accusations of solipsism may contain a degree of irony – because, generally speaking – all three responses argue for a spiritual reality beyond the innate capacities of the mind. If science can be seen as an extension of the senses, then it is the New Atheists who would seem to be more prone to actually flirt with Solipsism. In terms of an arguable continuum, Materialist Atheism would positionally be closer to an exclusively cognitive-only understanding of the world, albeit one whereby science functions as an extended cognitive/neurological ‘sense capability.’ The accusations of ‘wish-thinking’ cognitions vs. a grounding in reason/rationality (and as a logical extension, science), also would seem to be infirm, as there is a distinct difference between faith and fantasy. For to believe in something that cannot be proven, is different then adhering to a purposefully and randomly created construct. The difference in this can be seen in the ancient Greeks and the ways that they viewed their Gods, as merely metanarrationally-cultural content carriers – vs. actual revered and existent deities.[127]

 

In regards to the interplay between faith and belief, Hitchens makes four references[128] to the early church father, Tertullian, who is credited with the motto Credibile est, quia ineptum est, (“I believe it because it is absurd,”)[129] though none of the Evangelical responses base their defenses upon such a notion. Although Mohler offers a criticism of Tillich  (stating that it was in part his liberal theology that potentially provided a substrate for the thinking of materialist atheism’s attempted resurgence[130]) McGrath’s, Zacharias’, and his own defenses mirror Tillich’s own stated distaste for the irrational.[131] In Mohler’s critique of John F. Haught, who (as noted before) sees himself as a third party observing ‘all the fuss’ between the atheist’s posture and conservative Evangelical Christians – Mohler points out Haught’s embrace of Evolution as a de facto ontological reality to be believed and embraced, which he is apposed to. Mohler’s conservative side shows as he relegates members of this camp to the ‘liberal’ side of things – and contributes their positions as the partial cause of the ongoing situation. But another theologian and scientist from a generation past, who helped legitimize the belief of an ongoing evolution as part of God’s spiritual plan, himself highlighted the responsibility that such an evolution would in fact bring – echoing Zacharias’ own struggle with an atheism-induced suicide attempt. In How I Believe, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin warns us,

Consider all around you the increasing number of those who are privately bored to tears and those who commit suicide in order to escape from life…The time is close at hand when mankind will see that, precisely in virtue of its position in a cosmic evolution which it has become capable of discovering and criticizing, it now stands biologically between the alternatives of suicide and worship.[132]

 

In closing, one figure that does stand out in the intersection of faith and science is Richard Feynman – who was himself an avowed atheist.[133] Feynman is widely regarded as an intellectual of immense proportions, and his biography by James Gleich was appropriately titled Genius. Dawkins registers his respect for Feyman,[134] but Feynman registers a very different view of Faith, one standing in marked contrast with those who have followed him.  They call for the complete dismissal of faith and religion from all ongoing aspects of life and culture. In contrast, Feynman establishes and defends faith as a crucial part of the very fabric and success of Western civilization. In his last essay entitled The Relation of Science and Religion, in his book The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Feynman asserts,

Western civilization, it seems to me, stands by two great heritages. One is the scientific spirit of adventure – the adventure into the unknown” and that “the other great heritage is Christian ethics – the basis of action on love, the brotherhood of all men, the value of the individual – the humility of the spirit. [135]

 

Feyman further argues that “These two heritages are logically, thoroughly consistent,” and then he concludes with a question – that in light of all the harsh criticisms of the New Atheists and their ‘responders’ – remains very poignant and integral to the discussion still today.

So far, have we not drawn strength and comfort to maintain the one or the other of these consistent heritages in a way which attacks the value of the other? Is this unavoidable? How can we draw inspiration to support these two pillars of Western civilization so that they may stand together in full vigor, mutually unafraid? Is this not the central problem of our time?

 

I put it up to the panel for discussion.[136]

 

And so the conversation – goes on.

 

 

Bibliography

Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de. How I Believe. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.

 

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008.

 

Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

 

Dumas, Andre. Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Theologian of Reality. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971.

 

Feynman, Richard P. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. Campbridge: Perseus Publishing, 2000.

 

—. What Do You Care What Other People Think? New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

 

Gleick, James. Genius – The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. New York: Pantheon Books, 1992.

 

Gleijzer, Richard R. and Michael Bernard-Donals. Rhetoric in an Antifoundational World – Language, Culture, and Pedagogy. London: Yale University Press, 1998.

 

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith – Religion, Terror, and Future of Reason. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

 

Hitchens, Christopher. God is not Great – How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2009.

 

Jr., R. Albert Mohler. Atheism Remix – A Christian Confronts the New Atheists. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.

 

McGrath, Alister. The Twilight of Atheism – The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. New York: Galilee Doubleday, 2006.

 

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Good Reads. 16 4 2010. Good Reads. 16 4 2010 <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/94578.The_Gay_Science_with_a_Prelude_in_Rhymes_and_an_Appendix_of_Songs >.

 

Pals, Daniel L. Eight Theories of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

 

Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge – Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964.

 

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951. 3 vols.

Zacharias, Ravi. Let My People Think, Ravi Zacharias, Archives, Christian Radio Ministry Broadcast. 16 4 2010. Ravi Zacharias. 16 4 2010 <http://www.oneplace.com/Ministries/Let_My_People_Think/archives.asp&gt;.

 

—. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries :: Just Thinking Radio Program. 17 4 2010. Ravi Zacharias. 17 4 2010 <http://www.rzim.org/resources/listen/justthinking.aspx >.

 

—. The End of Reason – A Response to the New Atheists. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

 


[2]. Hitchens,  4.

[3]. Ibid., 5.

[4]. This is not a direct quote from Hitchens, but rather comes from the thought of Terry Eagleton, as introduced/summarized by Micheal Bernard-Donals and Richard R. Glejezer, from their introductory essay to the collection of essays, Rhetoric in an Antifoundational World, Language, Culture, and Pedagogy, pg. 5. The essence of this idea – of language being the only true foundation – comes from Eagleton’s essay in the book A Short History of Rhetoric, pgs. 86-97. Antifoundationalism is one of the streams of Marxist thought popular in academic thought. Eagleton is a professed Marxist.

[5]. This is capitalized, without irony, as a religious term.

[6]. Hitchens, 5.

[7]. Ibid., 6.

[8] Ibid., pg 7.

[9] “Feuerbach’s basic point is not hard to grasp. Both Hegel and Christian theology, he said, make the same error. Both talk about some alien being – about God or the absolute – when what they are really talking about is humanity.” Pals, 133.

[10]  “Thus the mildest criticism of religion is also the most devastating one. Religion is man-made.” Hitchens, 8-10.

[11] “ …I shall be surprised if you can still go on gaping at Moses and his unimpressive “burning bush.” Ibid., 8.

[12] Ibid., 9.

[13] “Marx and Freud it has to be conceded were not doctors or exact scientists. It is better to think of them as great and fallible imaginative essayists.” Ibid., 10.

[14] Ibid., 11.

[15] Dennett, 516 and 520.

[16] Hitchens details the practice of peri’ah metsistah – which, he claims is still practiced by Hasidic Jews. The rite involves the priest sucking off the newly circumcised infants foreskin and ritually spitting it out.

[17] Hitchens, 83 & 87.

[18] Ibid., from the chapter Revelation: The Nightmare of the “Old” Testament.

[19] Ibid., from the chapter The Evil of the “New” Testament.

[20] Ibid., from the chapter Revelation: The Koran is Borrowed.

[21] Ibid., from the chapter The Tawdriness of the Miraculous, pg 145.

[22] Ibid.,  from the chapter The Tawdriness of the Miraculous, pg 142.

[23] Another example is that of King Sihanouk, of Cambodia, who knew which day that flooding of the Mekong and Bassac rivers would crest in such a way, that at their confluence they would appear to flow backwards back into the lake of Tonle Sap (Ibid.,  141).

[24] Here Hitchens describes the History of the formation of the Mormon church, and the commonly accepted history or Joseph Smith. (Ibid., 161).

[25] Ibid., from the chapter Does Religion Make People Behave?

[26] Ibid., from the chapter There Is No “Eastern Solution.”

[27] Ibid., from the chapter Religion as an Original Sin.

[28] Ibid., from the chapter Is Religion Child Abuse?

[29] Ibid.,  from the chapter A Finer Tradition: The Resistance of the Rational.

[30] Ibid., from the chapter The Case Against Secularism.

[31] Ibid.,  from the chapter The Need for a New Enlightenment.

[32] Harris, 13-15.

[33] Ibid., 16-17.

[34] “…Intellectuals as diverse as H.G. Wells, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Max Planck, Freeman Dyson, and Stephen J. Gould.” Ibid., 15.

[35] “From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more then a failed fundamentalist.” Ibid.,  16-17.

[36] Ibid., 17.

[37] Ibid., 64-65.

[38] Ibid., 65.

[39] Ibid., 92.

[40] Ibid., 171.

[41] Ibid., 171.

[42] Ibid., 175.

[43] Ibid., 217.

[44] Ibid., 216.

[45] Ibid., 235.

[46] Dawkins, 35.

[47] Ibid., 51.

[48] Ibid., 52.

[49] Ibid., 52.

[50] Ibid., 62-63.

[51] Ibid., 86-87.

[52] Ibid., 102-103.

[53] Ibid., 118-119.

[54] Ibid., 132.

[55] Ibid., 191.

[56] Ibid., 241.

[57] Ibid., 268-269.

[58] Ibid., 321.

[59] Ibid., 393.

[60] Zacharias, 8.

[61] Ibid., 8.

[64] Zacharias, 24.

[65] Ibid., 27.

[66] Ibid., 27.

[67] Ibid., 35.

[68] Ibid., 45.

[69] Ibid., 45.

[70] Ibid., 45.

[71] Ibid., 59.

[72] Ibid., 77.

[73] Ibid., 89.

[74] Ibid., 126-127.

[75] Mohler, 13.

[76] Ibid., 21.

[77] Ibid., 23

[78] Ibid., 27.

[79] Ibid., 29.

[80] Ibid., 37.

[81] Ibid., 39.

[82] Ibid., 43.

[83] Ibid., 49.

[84] Ibid., 52.

[85] Ibid., 52.

[86] Ibid., 52.

[87] Ibid., 55.

[88] Ibid., 56.

[89] Ibid., 59.

[90] Ibid., 60.

[91] Ibid., 62.

[92] Ibid., 62.

[93] Ibid., 63.

[94] Ibid., 65.

[95] Ibid., 66

[96] Ibid., 67.

[97] Ibid., 67.

[98] Ibid., 67.

[99] Ibid., 79.

[100] Ibid., 79.

[101] Ibid., 79.

[102] Ibid., 91.

[103] Ibid., 91.

[104] Ibid., 95.

[105] Ibid., 95.

[106] Ibid., 99.

[107] McGrath, 21-45.

[108] Ibid., 51-59.

[109] Ibid., 60-66.

[110] Ibid., 67-78.

[111] Ibid., 122-126.

[112] Ibid., 127-132.

[113] Ibid., 133-137.

[114] Ibid., 177.

[115] Ibid., 177.

[116] Ibid., 197.

[117] Ibid., 207.

[118] Ibid., 200.

[119] Ibid., 220.

[120] Ibid., 225.

[121] Ibid., 230.

[122] Ibid., 245.

[123] Harris, 175.

[124] “At one time or another in their lives, he writes, most people encounter something truly extraordinary and overwhelming. They feel gripped by a reality that is “wholly other” then themselves – something mysterious, awesome, powerful, and beauty. That is an experience of ‘the holy,’ an encounter with the sacred.” Pals, 199.

[125] “Contradictions to current scientific conceptions are often disposed of by calling them ‘anomalies’; this is handiest assumption in the epicyclical reserve of any theory.” Polanyi, 293.

[126] Hitchens, 11.

[127] “But we must never forget that in Greek thought this separation of god from the world stayed at a level of thought without ever developing into a formal confession of faith.” Dumas, 2.

[128] Hitchens, 57, 71, 219 and 260.

[129] Ibid., 71.

[130] “Thus, Tillich, along with Beattie and Haught, serves to remind us of a road that Christian theology must not take. We simply cannot follow the programs offered by liberal theology and the theological revisionists.” Mohler, 105.

[131] Tillich, 92-94.

[132] Chardin, 44.

[133] What Do You Care What Other People Think, by Richard Feynman pg. 25.

[134] Dawkins, 409.

[135] The Pleasure of Finding Things Out – The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman, pg. 256.

[136] The Pleasure of Finding Things Out – The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman, pg. 256.

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About hollerscholar

I'm a theology & philosophy student, writer, web developer, and medical laboratory professional.
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