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Atheist Faith: Old and New

Unlike the "old atheists," who were respectful of others who disagreed with them, "new atheists" are intolerant of all faiths.


Since long before the start of recorded human history, some have dismissed all notions of the supernatural as "mere myth and superstition." In every generation some have boasted that they are sure, "There is no God."

… a more strident breed of atheist is … arguing that civilized people need to join their "crusade" to end the tolerance of all sorts of "faith" …

Old atheists were respectful of others who disagreed

My logic professor once noted that even the Bible says, "There is no God"—as an example of the fallacy of quoting out of context, adding that he didn't know the context. One student helped by citing Psalm 14:1 "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Over the class laughter the prof replied, "Well, now you know what the Bible thinks of me"—since he had all semester been trying to convince us of atheism. Thankfully, he was what is now called an "old atheist," i.e., one who, in our pluralist culture, was still respectful of others who disagreed with him.

However, in the worlds of academe and some media, particularly since 9/11, a more strident breed of atheist is being heard. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Chris Hedges, etc. are now arguing that civilized people need to join their "crusade" to end the tolerance of all sorts of "faith," tolerance such as "old atheists" practiced for millennia.

God delusion

Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins' November, 2006 book, The God Delusion, has been a New York Times bestseller. It garnered him the November 13, 2006 Time cover story "God vs Science" in debate with human genome pioneer, Francis Collins, who believes in both God and science. His BBC two-part special arguing that religious faith is "The Root of All Evil" was telecast in the UK and Canada in 2006. Gary Wolf, editor of Wired, calls him the "leading light of the New Atheism."

End of faith

Sam Harris' first book The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award. In his 2006 book, Letter to a Christian Nation, he argues for a "conversational intolerance," in which we require that people's convictions really scale with the available naturalistic evidence. The time has come, he urges, to demand "intellectual honesty," and ignore the prevailing political correctness which prevents us from openly criticizing religion. The very notion that we should be free to believe whatever we please, has to be jettisoned the moment we comprehend that beliefs are simply actions waiting to happen. Research scientists who believe in God are dismissed as lacking intellectual honesty.

A Tufts University professor, Daniel C. Dennett, researches the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly concerning evolutionary biology and cognitive science. His recent Breaking the Spell is an attempt to explain religious beliefs and groups as products of evolution.

Former New York Times war correspondent and Harvard Divinity School graduate, Chris Hedges in January, 2007 made a media splash with American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America. He argues that Christian "dominionists" pose a danger to our democracy and, by extension, the world. He takes as representative of the Christian right the late R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North who once argued for replacing the US Constitution with Old Testament law. He laments pro-life rallies and weeklong classes on Christian evangelism, and argues that the movement currently resembles the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and '30s, movements that masked their totalitarian drive. Hedges' "old atheist" critics lament his hateful and intolerant tone.

Ban religion completely

Entertainer Sir Elton John recently stated, "From my point of view I would ban religion completely." His main gripe against religion centers on the negative attitude toward homosexuality in all the world's great faiths.

Started by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell in 2003, the "brights" movement already has members in 138 countries. "Brights" try to provide a positive-sounding umbrella term to describe various types of people who have a naturalistic worldview, without casting that worldview as a negative response to religion (as the terms "atheist," "infidel " or "non-believer" may be taken to do). Some say the world is "free of supernatural and mystical elements," some embrace philosophical naturalism, the view that the natural world of matter/energy is "all there is."

Sadly, atheists, both old and new, fail to acknowledge their own level of faith …

Dawkins mocks: If God brought the universe into existence, then who brought God into existence?

Sadly, atheists, both old and new, fail to acknowledge their own level of faith when they confidently assert that the natural world of matter/energy is "all there is." Dawkins loves to mock those who believe that there actually is any sort of creator-God to account for our universe coming into existence in the past, by asking: If God brought the universe into existence, then who brought God into existence? Granted, if something exists now, and if nothing pops into existence without cause, then something must have existed from all eternity. The data clearly indicate that our cosmos is not eternal. Stephen Hawking and others have for a long time been seeking a naturalist explanation for our universe's coming into existence. It is not irrational to think that their failures point toward an actual creator-God who never has come into existence, because that creator-God is eternal.

But it is irrational to think that any finite human can definitively identify what a creator-God would have to be like, and then definitively show that no such being exists now, nor ever has, and that there is no evidence anywhere of such being's existence in reality. It would require omniscience to demonstrate such notions, which all atheists (both old and new) must embrace by faith. Appeals to a Darwinian theory of natural selection (as atheists, both old and new, make) cannot rescue anyone from this dilemma. Sorry, many reflective thinkers in the sciences and others, cannot in good conscience take this leap of faith that atheism, both old and new, requires.

Al Hiebert, Ph.D., is the executive director of Christian Higher Education Canada (CHEC).

Originally published on the website, One on One International, February 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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