new atheism

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Book Review: “Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists” by David Glass

anc-glassEveryone seems to be talking about atheism. The so-called “New Atheists” are out and proud. Their books are in every bookstore, waiting to perpetuate ideas about religion: that it is evil and causes violence, that its adherents are positively irrational or even delusional, and more. Dressed to impress, atheism is sporting “new clothes,” and David Glass, in his Atheism’s New Clothes, seeks to expose them. Glass explores the primary works of the “New Atheism”: Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great, Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

Glass starts Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists by outlining the claims of the new atheism. One problem with this movement is that it rejects theistic belief simply because it is, according to them, simply obvious that theism is false and so they do not bother to interact on a scholarly level with theistic discussions.[1] In particular, the new atheists define faith in a way which is most helpful to their own case and refuse to interact with theologians on the topic. Harris goes so far as to argue that they can ignore what theologians say because they are allegedly irrelevant to the faith of the faithful.[2] However, Harris’ argument is based upon reading Hebrews 11 in “the right way,” which is of course his own reading that is not based upon the Greek or even exegesis of any sort.[3]

Glass counters the contentions of the New Atheists’ by exploring a number of Christian responses to faith throughout history.[4] He notes that the consensus is that “within Christianity it is entirely appropriate to provide arguments and evidence for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity… note that the New Atheists fail to engage with any [view of faith outlined by Glass] or any other well-thought out view on the subject.”[5]

Another prominent aspect of the New Atheism is that science is alleged to undermine belief in God. They rail against a god-of-the-gaps and make it out as though that is the only way religion has interacted with science. Glass, however, notes that “science took root in a monotheistic, and specifically Christian culture, rather than a polytheistic or pantheistic culture… The question here is how such scientists [Christians who were scientists] could really have engaged in their work of science by its very nature removes the need for God as the New Atheists maintain… They thought of their work as expressing how the universe behaves in accordance with the laws God had put in place.”[6] In contrast to the notion that believers propose God to explain what science cannot, Glass stresses that, like Swinburne, it is more a matter of explaining why science explains.[7]

Can miracles occur? The New Atheists immediately appeal to Humean types of arguments, but Glass argues that these fail. In fact, it seems that here it is the atheist being unreasonable, for “it seems that no amount of evidence would be considered adequate to make it reasonable to believe a miracle had occurred.”[8]

Glass then turns to evidence for the existence of God. He outlines over the course of two chapters a cosmological argument—one which argues from the beginning of the universe—an argument from the orderliness of the universe, and an argument from consciousness.[9] The arguments Glass presents are fairly familiar, but by tying them into a discussion of the New Atheists’ responses (or lack thereof), Glass provides a valuable resource for answering the objections of those who use a similar tactic. For example, in response to the fine-tuning argument from the orderliness of the universe, Glass notes that the New Atheists’ “reasoning seems to be that the mere feact that some… scenario might be possible is all that is required to make it preferable to theism as an explanation…”[10] Yet, Glass notes, this leads to some things which the New Atheists would not find palatable, like the notion that “miracles such as the resurrection occur naturally somewhere in the multiverse without God having to bring them about.”[11]

Glass uses a chapter to focus upon Dawkins’ arguments against God specifically. He notes that Dawkins wavers between a Humean argument and a Darwinian argument: on the one hand he seems to argue that miracles are in principle impossible; on the other hand, he argues that Darwinism has undermined belief in miracles. Yet the arguments themselves offset each other. Why argue that Darwinism undermines the miraculous origins of life if miracles are, in principle, impossible?[12] Furthermore, Glass argues that both arguments ultimately fail to challenge belief in God.[13]

The New Atheists all seem to think that they can explain religion by showing how it evolved. By using the concept of a “meme”—an idea which can evolve just as much as any biological organism—they hold that religion has evolved as a useful capacity, but we have outgrown its usefulness.[14] However, Glass points out that even if this could explain how religious belief can arise, it would not explain away religious belief as untrue.[15] In regards to Christianity in particular, the argument would do nothing to explain the historical evidence for the religious practice.[16] More fundamentally, however, the argument could be applied to any area of knowledge, and therefore undermine all belief. It is self-defeating.[17]

Glass goes on to analyze theism as opposed to materialism in regards to morality. Although materialism may be able to explain how we have moral beliefs, “it does not tell us whether we actually have such an obligation [to be moral].”[18] Religion is very often based upon revelation, the notion that God has revealed truths to humans. Glass argues that the New Atheists’ rejection of revelation is based upon a number of assumptions and faulty arguments.[19] A particular problem is their terse dismissal of revelation based upon conflicting revelations. Glass asks, “Is it really the case that there is no evidence to distinguish [the truth claims of various claimed revelations]?” and argues that there are, in fact, ways to determine the truth of a revelation.[20] Atheists also claim that the Bible in particular has a morally reprehensible code, but Glass notes that much of this is based upon a misunderstanding or naïve reading of the text.[21]

Finally, Glass argues that Christianity in particular is based upon a claim which can be investigated: the resurrection of Christ.[22] He argues from a minimal facts perspective; that is, he argues that there are certain historical facts which must be explained by a hypothesis and that no rival theory to the resurrection succeeds in explaining these facts.[23] As he closes his work, Glass notes that only on theism can life have real meaning, purpose, and rationality.

There have been a number of works written to respond to the New Atheists, and interested readers may wonder where Atheism’s New Clothes stands out. Glass provides perhaps the most in-depth look at the specific arguments of Dennett and Dawkins in particular. Furthermore, the book is presented not just as a response to the New Atheists but as an apologetic primer. It contains a number of arguments for the existence of God and an extended defense of the truth of the Gospels as well as the resurrection of Jesus. These qualities make it essential reading for those looking to respond to atheists who make claims similar to the New Atheists’. The thoughtfulness with which Glass approaches the arguments of the New Atheists and his in depth analyses make it a worthy read for those looking to respond specifically to the authors of the four aforementioned books. Christians should not let this book pass by.

This review was originally posted at Apologetics 315.

[1] David Glass, Atheism’s New Clothes (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2012), 24ff.
[2] Ibid, 39.
[3] 40.
[4] 42ff.
[5] 51.
[6] 69.
[7] 72-73.
[8] 86.
[9] 93ff.
[10] 133, emphasis his.
[11] Ibid.
[12] 151ff, see especially 163 for this apparent problem.
[13] 158ff.
[14] 180ff.
[15] 184ff.
[16] 187-189.
[17] 190-195.
[18] 212.
[19] 238ff.
[20] 243ff.
[21] 249ff.
[22] 265ff.
[23] 286ff.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Guest Post: “The Presumption of Popular Atheism” by David Glass– In this post, David Glass, himself an able response-man to the New Atheism, highlights one primary argument atheists make regarding theism: that theists have all the burden of proof on their side.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The New Atheist Novel” by Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate

tnaa-bradley-tateThere are moments in which you pick up a book and are delivered into a completely unexpected and fresh-feeling experience. The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11 was one such experience for me. Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate take readers on a journey through the literature of four modern authors who, they argue, are representative of a new form of novel: the “New Atheist Novel.” This novel is a kind of counter-mythology which invents the transcendent within an atheistic universe. Bradley and Tate analyze the work of Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Philip Pullman, and Salman Rushdie. The authors show how some have shifted their polemic after 9/11 to viewing religion as a kind of one-size-fits all mentality that has no distinction between liberalism and fundamentalism.

Bradley and Tate apply critical theory to the works of fiction presented in this book in incisive fashion. They draw out themes of the authors analyzed in order to show how often they are just as guilty of irrationality as those against whom they pontificate through the voices in their novels. 

Ian McEwan’s fiction, they argue, shows a distinctly New Atheist bent. He sees religious persons as ultimately violent and anti-intellectual. Interstingly, McEewan’s vision of transcendence develops through music and the written word. His post 9/11 writings show a more distinctly anti-Islamist bent, which sees religion as a failure of the imagination. However, Tate and Bradley argue that McEwan’s imagination is itself failing in its capacity to see the radical Muslim act of terror as inherently symbolic and transcendent itself.

This kind of analysis proceeds across the authors analyzed, from Martin Amis’ cliché-filled war against cliché to Salmun Rushdie’s more even-handed but nevertheless anti-theistic vision of the “Quarrels over God.” The analysis of Philip Pullman’s work is perhaps the highest point of the work, as it shows how even in disagreement, one might learn from the “New Atheist Novel.” Pullman’s work shows the myth of the death of God as a kind of human transcendence and freedom from restraint. This vision may be seen as a sometimes on target critique of religion which sometimes becomes authoritarian and too bent towards heresy-hunting. Tate and Bradley ultimately see Pullman’s fiction as a kind of neo-heresy which is attempting to purify religion of its alleged bent towards fundamentalism and too-small vision of deity.  

The book’s usefulness goes beyond simple critique. Instead, it gives readers a chance to interact with all literature in a critical fashion. Moreover, Bradley and Tate are not entirely unsympathetic to the “New Atheist Novel” and show how it may help to inform future discussions. The critical interaction is not merely critical but also constructive.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in the book is that its thesis doesn’t seem to carry throughout. The “New Atheist Novel” makes its debut with McEwan, but by the time the author’s reach Rushdie’s slightly more amiable vision of religions in conflict, it seems to lack cohesion as a concept. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the “New Atheist Novel” is more of an “Anti- (or Alter-) Theistic Novel” which encompasses not mere anger against religion but rather a critical and sometimes polemical and mistaken vision of the “religious other.” Thus, it seems in the end the “New Atheist Novel” namenclature might not be inaccurate after all, but I tend to think–and the authors reinforce this–of the “New Atheism” along specifically Dawkinsian lines of thought, and Rushdie and Pullman’s works did not seem to fit this usage of the term. A minor gripe, but one worth noting.

This is a book well worth reading and referencing. Don’t be deceived by its length (111 pages of text); it truly has an enormous amount of useful information and discussion. I took a monstrous amount of notes on this book given its length. It will get you thinking, whatever your own view. I recommend it without reservation.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote!- The New Atheist Mythology– I share a quote from The New Atheist Novel which discusses the notion that there is a mythology growing up around atheism.

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2011).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- The New Atheist Mythology

tnaa-bradley-tateEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The New Atheist Mythology

I recently finished reading The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11. The book was simply phenomenal as it applied critical theory to four novelists in order to draw out various themes in their works and parallels with the writings of the “New Atheists.”  I’ll write up a review at some point, but for now I want to highlight the central theme of the book:

[I]t is possible to detect an obscure… reason for the massive popular appeal of the New Atheism: it constitutes a new and powerful creation mythology that–like all mythologies–performs an implicit anthropological service… For Dawkins… it has become de rigueur to wax lyrical about, say, the ‘breathtaking poetry of modern cosmology’ (whatever that means) even amidst attacks on the ‘fairy story’ that is monotheism. (7, 9, cited below)

The book analyzes various novels in light of this theme: that the New Atheists are, in a sense, creating a rival mythology to the monotheism they denigrate, and this expands into literature in various and interesting ways. In a sense, this mythologizing about the power of the human mind, the wonders of the cosmos, or the beauty of poetry is a project to create transcendence in a worldview which, by definition, rails against the transcendent. It is a kind of creation myth which allows for meaning to seep into the meaningless.

What do you think? Can humans live without a mythology? Is wonder a necessary part of the human condition? Why do you think that even the “New Atheists” have put forward such lyrical and mythological language in their writings?

As I said, I’ll try to get a review of this book up ASAP.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Arthur Bradley and Andrew Tate, The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy and Polemic after 9/11  (New York: Continuum, 2010).

SDG.

The Crusades: Wanton Religious Violence?

gb-starkThe Crusades are often cited as the prime example of the evils of religion and of Christianity specifically. The picture is often painted of an innocent world on which Christians came in violent fervor, raping and pillaging as they went. But this picture of the Crusades is inaccurate on a number of levels. Here, I’ll explore the historical context of the Crusades with an eye towards seeing why they occurred. I’ll wrap it up with a discussion on violence and religion.

The Historical Context of the Crusades

The Crusades were not just some bubbling up of violence latent within all religions. Instead, they were part of a history of conquest across the Asian and European continents. Prior to the Crusades, there was a sweeping conquest by the Muslims of territory formerly possessed by various Christian nations.

Muslim invasions had pressed in on all sides. Rodney Stark, in his extremely important work on the Crusades, God’s Battalions, notes the conquests which had pressed in on Europe from all sides. After surveying a number of Muslim conquests, he notes:

Many critics of the Crusades would seem to suppose that after the Muslims had overrun a major portion of Christendom, they should have been ignored or forgiven… This outlook is certainly unrealistic and probably insincere. Not only had the Byzantines lost most of their empire, the enemy was at their gates… (32-33)

Prior to the Crusades, it is absolutely essential to note that the invaders were, quite literally, at the gates. Constantinople was threatened in the East, and Spain was overthrown in the West. Europe was under assault. The map below illustrates the situation in the time during and before the Crusades well.

The question of the Crusades must be understood within this historical setting: much of the land which European countries had controlled had been taken, by force. Furthermore, those who had taken these lands were knocking on the very gates of Europe, having already crossed into Europe in many places. Stark’s words, therefore, seem to ring true: is it really genuine to assume that these invaders should have been ignored or forgiven? Is that the reality of “secular” nations? It seems to me the very fact that so much land had been lost, as well as so much wealth, would lead many to war for “secular” reasons rather than religious reasons.

crusade-map

Regarding the beginning of the Crusades, Stark writes:

[T]hat’s when it all [The Crusades] started–in the seventh century, when Islamic armies swept over the larger portion of what was then Christian territory: the Middle East, Egypt, and all of North Africa, and then Spain and southern Italy, as well as many major Mediterranean islands including Sicily, Corsica, Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, Malta, and Sardinia. (9)

So the Crusades were not unprovoked mass murders of innocents. But they were indeed quite brutal, and involved no small amount of very un-Christian activities. Raping and pillaging has no part in the Christian worldview. But Stark once again has a sobering point: war was hell. “[I]t was a brutal and intolerant age” (29). The criticism of brutality equally applies to both sides, but it is also equally anachronistic about the realities of that time. This is not to say that the horrors which occurred were not awful; it is to say that to criticize the Crusaders or Muslims as though they were doing something extraordinarily brutal for their time period is extremely short-sighted.

The Crusades as a Polemic Device

The Crusades were not all-good or all-evil affairs. Like virtually any part of human history, both good and evil intentions and outcomes were involved. To view the Crusades as either an entirely evil affair showing how religion is ultimately prone to violence or as a benevolent attempt by loving people to liberate lands that were rightfully theirs is to grossly oversimplify the historical reality. Unfortunately, modern looks at the Crusades have largely leaned towards the former of these positions, without any acknowledgement of the historical context as noted above.

Instead, the Crusades were a complex of historical events which were often brutal, often provoked, and never motivated for just one reason. To say that the Crusades are a typical example of the violence of religion is, frankly, ahistorical. Was religion involved? Yes. Were there even “religious reasons” involved in the motivations for the Crusades? Clearly. But the general movement with recent attacks on Christianity has been to argue that the Crusades were purely religious instances of religious brutality. The historical perspective provided above provides evidence against that limited perspective.

The Crusades have been used as a kind of polemic device against Christianity. Whenever it is argued that Christianity is reasonable, someone inevitably brings up this historical period. Readers will note that this historical perspective has not attempted to explain away the Crusades. Instead, I have argued for the notion that these events were historically complex, involving a number of factors beyond purely war for the sake of a faith.

As Keith Ward has noted:

It is… beyond dispute that the Crusades were a major disaster… The Crusades can be seen as justified defense… but their conduct and continuance rapidly became unjustifiable on any Christian principles. (68-69, Is Religion Dangerous? cited below)

The point is simple: there were many motivations behind the Crusades, some of them justified. Yet in carrying out the Crusades, many horrible actions were taken which were unjustifiable. Does this somehow disprove Christianity? Not on Christianity’s own principles, on which we expect to see people acting as sinner-saints in the process of sanctification.

Crusade The Taking of BeirutReligious and Secular Violence

Apart from the historical outline given here, there is another, equally important point: the dichotomy between religious violence and secular violence is simply a myth. The reason for this is because human actions are far more complex in their motivations than a simple dichotomy of one or the other reason. In our everyday experience, we know that the decisions we make are very rarely made for only one reason.

Oddly, Stark is able to note that “many historians have urged entirely material, secular explanations for the early Muslim conquests…” (13). This, in contrast to the many historians and new atheists who continue to press that the Crusades were entirely religious in their provocations. The unfortunate truth this reveals is the very human tendency to simplify history beyond the point of breaking. Human actions, particularly corporate human actions, have extremely complex motivations behind them. They are not all-or-nothing affairs which happen due to one reason or another. Very often we make decisions for a combination of reasons of differing strengths, weighing options against each other whether we realize it or not.

By utilizing the Crusades as a rhetorical device–a polemic weapon–many have done damage to the historical events themselves. Worse, they have engaged in faulty reasoning and attacked the religious other due to their own emotional hatred. The Crusades were not all-good or all-evil affairs. They were affairs of human history. To forget that is to drown them in a sea of obfuscation. Let us get beyond simple polemical attacks on the “other.” Let us instead engage in honest history and dialogue with our neighbors.

Links

The Myth of “Religion”: Constructing the Other as an enemy– I explore the notion that religion is violent and argue that one of the major difficulties with this notion is that the distinction between secular/religious is a myth.

For an interesting exploration of some aspects of Muslim Philosophy, see my book review: The Closing of the Muslim Mind.

Essential reading: Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Pacifism, Matthew 5, and “Turning the other cheek”– Glenn Andrew Peoples discusses pacifism in the Christian tradition and some of the arguments in its favor. Ultimately, he finds these arguments wanting.

Sources

Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

Keith Ward, Is Religion Dangerous? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006).

Image Credit:

The image of the map is from this page with free resources for instructors. I do not claim credit for this image, nor do I claim that the makers of this resource in any way endorse this post.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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