A field guide to the “New Atheism”

Much has been written about the success of recent books by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. David C. Steinmetz, the Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of the History of Christianity at the Duke University Divinity School, offers a useful guide to two of the most prominent “New Atheists.”

Probably the best-known of the so-called new atheists are the journalist Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University.

Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England, and, like Dawkins, educated at Balliol College, Oxford. His book, God Is Not Great, makes it clear that he regards religion as an enemy of civilization, an entirely toxic enterprise that ruins anything it touches.

Religion has its origin in what Hitchens regards as the perfectly understandable human fear of death (since humans are the only animals who know in advance they are going to die) and in the hope, completely unfounded, that there is some way to avoid this grim, but inescapable, fate.

Ever the pugnacious contrarian, Hitchens is witty, combative, sarcastic, intelligent and generally outrageous. He loves to rip out the shirttails of the pious (whatever their religion) and set fire to them.

Dawkins is a somewhat different animal. He was raised as a rather conventional Anglican, but abandoned his faith at 16, when he was persuaded that evolution, and not divine providence, accounted for the rich diversity of the natural world. If purely natural processes provided satisfying explanations for the world as it is, then belief in God became for Dawkins a redundant luxury.

In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins spells out his conviction that reason embraces conclusions based on evidence alone, while faith believes assertions based on no evidence whatever. Worse yet, faith often contradicts evidence that undercuts what it wants to believe.

Professor Steinmetz also offers a summary of the rejoinder to these arguments by Oxford Professor Alister McGrath:

The Oxford theologian Alister McGrath — himself an adult convert to Christianity from atheism — challenged Dawkins’ view of faith as irrational. McGrath was convinced that Christianity provided him with a richer, more coherent and therefore more intellectually satisfying account of reality than atheism had ever offered. He conceded that his starting point was not reason alone but felt that his position was nevertheless thoroughly rational.

McGrath echoes the argument of St. Augustine that reason needs to be oriented toward the truth so that it can function properly. Faith is not about swallowing as many groundless propositions as possible. It is about an essential alignment with the way things really are. Otherwise, reason is clueless about things that genuinely matter.

Read the entire article here.

The “New Atheism” is not limited to the literary set. A group of enterprising atheists have presented a video “Blasphemy Challenge” on You Tube, urging atheists to show their confidence by denouncing the Holy Spirit. Over one thousand videos have been posted on You Tube in response to this challenge.

One response well worth viewing is that of Father Mathew Moretzs of St. Pauls Episcopal Church in Yonkers, New York. His response can be found here.

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