Reason Rally: The Problems With New Atheism

Why is the New Atheism not a threat? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The Reason Rally is largely a work of the new atheist movement. This has largely taken off after 9/11 with atheists seeking to have an even more prominent role in society. Mind you I have no problem with that. Atheists have as much right as anyone else to seek to change the laws to be in accordance with what they think is best and they have every right to state their views publicly, meet publicly, etc.

The problem is not that they are doing this. In reality, I do not see the new atheists as a problem. Rather, I see them as a blessing in much the same way The Da Vinci Code was. The Da Vinci Code started a conversation and Christians who were interested would better inform themselves about the truths of what it is they believe. I believe the New Atheists have done the same thing. They’ve made the dialogue public.

However, the blessing is not only have they made the dialogue public, but they have not presented a very strong case and one that a series at any church that was led by someone skilled in apologetics could train someone to answer. Due to their being seen as authorities, they are taken far more seriously and leading many atheists to think this is the cream of the crop.

If it is, then the crop has gone very bad. Dawkins, the leading speaker of the new atheism is not qualified in philosophy or theology or biblical studies to speak on any of these matters, but does so anyway. The atheist thinking “The God Delusion” presents sound arguments, walks away thinking, as an example, that the Thomistic arguments are easily dealt with.

That is, until he meets a Thomist who knows those arguments.

At that point, the atheist sadly usually does not see the flaws in the arguments, but instead still holds to them because, well Pope Dawkins has spoken and the case is closed. The reality is Dawkins could go to anyone out there who studies Thomism and be told that his positions are straw men and the arguments he has do not work.

Furthermore, with the high interest in science, we can expect to see more of scientism from the new atheist side. No Christian should be anti-science, but we should all be anti-scientism. We need to realize that there are other forms of finding truth out there and for most of us, the most important truths we know are not scientific in nature.

The benefit for us is this verificationism is easily dealt with. As I have stated earlier, for an atheist like this, science for them is essentially what Scripture is for the Christian. Instead of having Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and quite likely we can expect Meyers to be next in line.

With Dawkins being a leading speaker at this rally, we can expect more of the same. What this will do is just lead to further reinforcement. Just as much as Christians can cloister themselves away from the world at times in isolation to reinforce one another in beliefs that they hold without evidence, atheists can do the same. This is not to say all Christians believe without evidence. I certainly don’t and several others don’t. This is to say that there are several who do. There are several atheists of the Dawkins type who also hold their anti-religious beliefs without evidence.

Thus, not only do I think the Reason Rally is not really a threat, but it will also be a boon to Christians. If atheists want to keep availing themselves of material by the new atheists, we can expect that their side will ultimately suffer. Let us not make the same mistake however of growing lax in our efforts and make sure the sources we have and the ones we choose to have represent us are the best that they can be.

What atheists need to do is in fact distance themselves from meetings like the Reason Rally and to avoid the new atheists. They are better off going to older atheists of the past. Not only that, they need to make sure that they avail themselves of evangelical scholarship so they can be sure they know what their opponents are really arguing.

If atheists want to still go to this rally, please do go ahead. The more I see there, the more hope I will have for the spread of Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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11 Responses to “Reason Rally: The Problems With New Atheism”

  1. Simplexion Says:

    Cool! Let’s all talk about Gnu Atheism. Oh yeah? Atheists have as much right to seek to change laws in accordance with what they think is best? Excellent. As opposed to what religious people think is best, because they are told by a book, rather than actually thinking about it. Yay, for veiled attacks on the reason people hate religion getting into politics!

    The crop has gone bad! Very bad. You know… unlike that amazing crop of people who have read an old book too much. The Gnu Atheists only have Biologists, Physicists, Neuroscientists, and all other ists that are well studied. Pfft… silly Dawkins doesn’t have the ability to argue against Christianity because he is not qualified in theology or biblical studies! Because it is so hard to read the Bible compared to studying the intricacies of evolution.

    To argue to Christianity… you don’t need any fucking qualifications at all but you want people arguing against your particular brand of crazy to have exceptional qualifications.

    Seriously, what serious sceptic really gives a shit about Dawkins. He makes arguments from bad to fantastic in his writings and talks. A sceptic does not hold any particular person in high regard. I do not let 1 persons statements become my gospel. I take in all the evidence and make the best evaluation of it I can.

    Thomism… you are talking about that great first cause argument you brought to me for “evidence” that theism is necessary. Yeah, that is a fantastic argument for believing in the Christian god. Well done.

    “I believe there are better ways to find truths because I disagree with some evidence and facts.” Don’t be anti-science, be anti-scientism, or something. Yep, because that is what being a sceptic is. Only using science to some to a conclusion. There are these things Homo sapiens like to call “reason” and “critical thought”.

    This is to say that there are several who do. There are several atheists of the Dawkins type who also hold their anti-religious beliefs without evidence.
    What does this even mean? Anti-religious beliefs? What? Seriously? I think Dawkins, like many other sceptics (I am not going to use the word atheist, as it is stupid), Dawkins argument is against the damaging effects of religion, not religion itself. What evidence for religion is there (don’t bring out the first cause stupidity again)?

    I am pretty sure his anti-religious attitude comes from evidence. The evidence that religion causes people to blow themselves up in the name of it, stop women from making choices, spread AIDS, sacrifice children, circumcise boys (horrible) and girls (horrific), etc… the list goes on forever. These are all reasons to be anti-religion.

    Do you know what is a threat to religion? Education. That is what you should be fighting against. If you want your religion to continue you are going to have to destroy education and continue to make people stupid. You just have one of the biggest problems ever, the Internet. This allows people to become educated, yes, in bad ways too. You should fear the medium you are using to write these blogs more than anything. Your religion have very little chance against education. When education becomes prevalent, religion shrinks.

  2. apologianick Says:

    Simpleton: Cool! Let’s all talk about Gnu Atheism. Oh yeah? Atheists have as much right to seek to change laws in accordance with what they think is best? Excellent. As opposed to what religious people think is best, because they are told by a book, rather than actually thinking about it. Yay, for veiled attacks on the reason people hate religion getting into politics!

    Reply: Sorry Simpleton. I support separation of church and state and believe moral truths are known outside the Bible. Wow. Two false assumptions in one paragraph.

    Simpleton: The crop has gone bad! Very bad. You know… unlike that amazing crop of people who have read an old book too much. The Gnu Atheists only have Biologists, Physicists, Neuroscientists, and all other ists that are well studied. Pfft… silly Dawkins doesn’t have the ability to argue against Christianity because he is not qualified in theology or biblical studies! Because it is so hard to read the Bible compared to studying the intricacies of evolution.

    Reply: Actually, yes it is hard to read the Bible as it’s ancient liteature from a different time, place, and culture, and in a different language. To really understand it best, one would need to study those languages and the culture as well.

    Furthermore, one does need credentials to speak as an authoity on religious matters. If one does not have a degree yet, they need to be well-studied in the field.

    I also do not think Christians without proper study in science should comment on science. Only let those with expertise in the field speak as an authority. Sorry, but scientists are not automatically experts in other fields. Being knowledgeable in neuroscience does not carry over to philosophy.

    Simpleton: To argue to Christianity… you don’t need any fucking qualifications at all but you want people arguing against your particular brand of crazy to have exceptional qualifications.

    Reply: See above. Another false assumption.

    Simpleton: Seriously, what serious sceptic really gives a shit about Dawkins. He makes arguments from bad to fantastic in his writings and talks. A sceptic does not hold any particular person in high regard. I do not let 1 persons statements become my gospel. I take in all the evidence and make the best evaluation of it I can.

    Reply: That’s right. No serious skeptic should care about what Dawkins says.Yet despite that, he’s speaking at the Reason Rally. Furthemore, he makes fantastic arguments? Certainly not against theism. All of them are atrocious.

    Simpleton: Thomism… you are talking about that great first cause argument you brought to me for “evidence” that theism is necessary. Yeah, that is a fantastic argument for believing in the Christian god. Well done.

    Reply: It’s one you were unable to deal with due to severe dunning effect.

    Simpleton: “I believe there are better ways to find truths because I disagree with some evidence and facts.” Don’t be anti-science, be anti-scientism, or something. Yep, because that is what being a sceptic is. Only using science to some to a conclusion. There are these things Homo sapiens like to call “reason” and “critical thought”.

    Reply: Actually, I make it a point to disagree with no facts. I also do use reason and critical thought, unlike you who buys into the Jesus myth theory with no basis for it and even when told by those with credentials why it is wrong, still live on blissfully ignorant.

    Amazing you claim to be anti-scientism while asking above what scientists agree.

    Simpleton: This is to say that there are several who do. There are several atheists of the Dawkins type who also hold their anti-religious beliefs without evidence.
    What does this even mean? Anti-religious beliefs? What? Seriously? I think Dawkins, like many other sceptics (I am not going to use the word atheist, as it is stupid), Dawkins argument is against the damaging effects of religion, not religion itself. What evidence for religion is there (don’t bring out the first cause stupidity again)?

    Reply: Considering what you’ve said about religion on my blog, I’d say it’s self-evident. Isn’t this the guy anyway who said religion sends planes into buildings?

    Simpleton: I am pretty sure his anti-religious attitude comes from evidence. The evidence that religion causes people to blow themselves up in the name of it, stop women from making choices, spread AIDS, sacrifice children, circumcise boys (horrible) and girls (horrific), etc… the list goes on forever. These are all reasons to be anti-religion.

    Reply: It causes the spread of literacy, the founding of numerous hospitals, the advance of science, the rise of capitalism, the end of slavery, etc.

    Meanwhile, how many people have been murdered in the name of atheism in the 20th century?

    Simpleton: Do you know what is a threat to religion? Education. That is what you should be fighting against. If you want your religion to continue you are going to have to destroy education and continue to make people stupid. You just have one of the biggest problems ever, the Internet. This allows people to become educated, yes, in bad ways too. You should fear the medium you are using to write these blogs more than anything. Your religion have very little chance against education. When education becomes prevalent, religion shrinks.

    Reply: No. I don’t fear that. I have a concern with the inability to critically analyze information. For instance, your usage of Wikipedia. The article could have been written by a PH.D. in the subject or it could have been written by a 15 year-old in high school. The blog you visit could be written by a PH.D. or a 15 year-old in high school.

    Simpleton. The poster child of fundie atheism.

  3. Walt Says:

    Nick,

    Thanks for this post, I have a few comments and look forward to continued discussion.

    “Dawkins, the leading speaker of the new atheism”
    —He certainly is the keynote speaker of the Reason Rally, but I wouldn’t say he’s the leading speaker in general if that’s what you mean. He’s spent most of his public career promoting the theory of evolution by natural selection, and he most often says that scientific education is his passion. I would hope that many atheists (I’m new at this and don’t know many) would look elsewhere for philosophy…Sinnot-Armstrong, perhaps.

    “the atheist sadly usually does not see the flaws in the arguments, but instead still holds to them because, well Pope Dawkins has spoken and the case is closed.”
    —Dawkins is a respected evolutionary scientist and educator. His job is to promote the public understanding of science, and he’s had a pretty good go at it. I don’t see a comparison to the Pope here, because Dawkins would never claim that any of his statements are divinely inspired. I’ve never heard anyone refer to him as Pope Dawkins outside of this blog, but it would be fascinating to me if you have.

    “No Christian should be anti-science, but we should all be anti-scientism.”
    —Is there another word for what you call scientism? Would this be materialism, that nothing exists other than observable/testable matter?

    “As I have stated earlier, for an atheist like this, science for them is essentially what Scripture is for the Christian.”
    —I don’t understand this analogy, because science is a process for obtaining knowledge whereas Scripture is a body of sacred knowledge. Would you flesh out this analogy or point me to where it has already been explained?

    “There are several atheists of the Dawkins type who also hold their anti-religious beliefs without evidence.”
    —I’m not saying anything new here of course, but where does the burden of proof lie with a specific religious doctrine? If a Dawkins type says “I don’t believe in this theist god because there is no evidence,” then does this type need to provide evidence for the perceived lack of evidence?

  4. apologianick Says:

    Wilt: He certainly is the keynote speaker of the Reason Rally, but I wouldn’t say he’s the leading speaker in general if that’s what you mean. He’s spent most of his public career promoting the theory of evolution by natural selection, and he most often says that scientific education is his passion. I would hope that many atheists (I’m new at this and don’t know many) would look elsewhere for philosophy…Sinnot-Armstrong, perhaps.

    Reply: If you do not think he is, I am curious who you think would take his place. Dawkins’s problem is he still buys into the idea that religion and science are at war. For fundamentalists, both Christians and atheists unfortunately, they are.

    Wilt: —Dawkins is a respected evolutionary scientist and educator. His job is to promote the public understanding of science, and he’s had a pretty good go at it. I don’t see a comparison to the Pope here, because Dawkins would never claim that any of his statements are divinely inspired. I’ve never heard anyone refer to him as Pope Dawkins outside of this blog, but it would be fascinating to me if you have.

    Reply: I don’t know of anyone else who has. Dawkins would not claim this, but for many a new atheist type one encounters on the blogosphere and such, his words have that authority. The God Delusion is seen as a magnificent presentation of atheism when it should be seen as a tragedy for the atheist community.

    Wilt: —Is there another word for what you call scientism? Would this be materialism, that nothing exists other than observable/testable matter?

    Reply: No. It simply refers to the belief that the best way we have of knowing whether any claim is true is the scientific method or in a stronger form that the only kinds of true statements are ones that are scientifically verifiable.

    Wilt: —I don’t understand this analogy, because science is a process for obtaining knowledge whereas Scripture is a body of sacred knowledge. Would you flesh out this analogy or point me to where it has already been explained?

    Reply: The point is we have a new priesthood. In the past, the church was the highest authority and the dispenser of knowledge. Today, that has transferred to the scientific community. Look up at what the Simpleton said. He asks what scientists accept the first cause argument. Even though it is not scientific, for the Simpleton, it doesn’t mean science is not the authority on it.

    Wilt: —I’m not saying anything new here of course, but where does the burden of proof lie with a specific religious doctrine? If a Dawkins type says “I don’t believe in this theist god because there is no evidence,” then does this type need to provide evidence for the perceived lack of evidence?

    Reply: Then he should be an agnostic. Note there are other claims. Dawkins claims that a reasonable case can be made that Jesus never even existed. Not at all. He claims faith as believing something without evidence. No evidence for that. He treats the gospels as second century works in “The Magic of Reality.” No evidence of this.

    If an atheist makes a claim about Christianity, he needs to back it and if he wants to claim atheism, he needs to give evidence that there is no God.

    • Wilt Says:

      If you do not think he is, I am curious who you think would take his place. Dawkins’s problem is he still buys into the idea that religion and science are at war. For fundamentalists, both Christians and atheists unfortunately, they are.

      —I suggested Sinnot-Armstrong. In the first chapter of Morality without God he repudiates several strong claims made by Dawkins. Regarding Dawkins, my understanding is that he is at war with the type of religion that rejects science. He had an incredible interview in my opinion with George Coyne, where Dawkins makes it clear that his problem is with a God of the Gaps, a problem that you and I share as well.

      I don’t know of anyone else who has. Dawkins would not claim this, but for many a new atheist type one encounters on the blogosphere and such, his words have that authority. The God Delusion is seen as a magnificent presentation of atheism when it should be seen as a tragedy for the atheist community.

      —There’s a huge difference between Catholics believing everything that the Pope says because the Pope says he is infallible and atheists believing everything that Dawkins says despite the protests Dawkins would have that they believe everything he says. Ignorant readers do not reflect anything on the author. The only part of that original statement I disagreed with was your “Pope Dawkins” title because it suggests that Dawkins would accept such an honor/curse.

      No. It simply refers to the belief that the best way we have of knowing whether any claim is true is the scientific method or in a stronger form that the only kinds of true statements are ones that are scientifically verifiable.

      —I’m sure the answer to this question involves heaps and heaps of philosophical tomes, but would you give me an introduction to the types of questions we know cannot and will never be answered scientifically? If you’ve already explained this elsewhere, then I hope you’ll just send me there.

      The point is we have a new priesthood. In the past, the church was the highest authority and the dispenser of knowledge. Today, that has transferred to the scientific community. Look up at what the Simpleton said. He asks what scientists accept the first cause argument. Even though it is not scientific, for the Simpleton, it doesn’t mean science is not the authority on it.

      —I would again point out the difference between accepting a priesthood (what priests do) and being viewed quite a bit too highly (what many popular authors have experienced). If I were to ferociously argue that W. Craig was very nearly infallible, you would correctly point out my error but would not assume that Craig accepted such a ridiculous claim.

      Then he should be an agnostic. Note there are other claims. Dawkins claims that a reasonable case can be made that Jesus never even existed. Not at all. He claims faith as believing something without evidence. No evidence for that. He treats the gospels as second century works in “The Magic of Reality.” No evidence of this.

      —It’s clear that the Jesus Myth is a hot-button issue here, but I would never argue against his existence. Dawkins doesn’t tempt me to do so either. Regarding agnosticism, I do think it’s clear that Dawkins is an agnostic atheist – that he doesn’t believe in God (atheist) because he recognizes no evidence that he exists, not that he can prove he does not exist (agnostic). If I’m wrong about his view, and Dawkins does claim that he can prove that there is no deity, then I hope you’ll point me to the right sources that will clear up my confusion here.

      If an atheist makes a claim about Christianity, he needs to back it and if he wants to claim atheism, he needs to give evidence that there is no God.

      —I would ask for a bit of clarification here. Is there a difference between rejecting a positive claim (saying, “I do not think that life evolved by natural selection”) and substituting a positive claim with an alternative positive claim (saying, “I do not think that life evolved by natural selection, but I do think that it originated by special creation”)? Asking the same question more to the point, is there a difference between saying, “I do not think that any god exists” and saying, “I am sure that no god exists.” ? Again, my understanding is that Dawkins rejects god’s existence because there is no evidence but does not claim that god definitely does not exist.

  5. Simplexion Says:

    I’m going to clarify something here. I avoid as much as possible calling myself an atheist. I do, however, call myself a sceptic. The problem with being a sceptic is that you are also an atheist (I am not going to get into a “no true Scotsman” argument about who is and isn’t a sceptic).
    You don’t choose to be an atheist any more than you choose to not believe in fart goblins, fairies, psychics, or unicorns. It is hard to be a fundamental atheist, however being a fundamental anti-theist is possible.
    Calling someone a fundamentalist atheist is one of the strangest things someone can do. Is a new born baby a fundamentalist atheist, and yes… they are atheists. They have no idea about any religions or gods. Plants are atheists too, and most animals would be (some might believe in gods, we just can’t read their thoughts). Rocks are atheists as well. To be an atheist, no thought at all has to occur.
    It just means you don’t have a belief in a deity. Anything that doesn’t hold a belief in a deity is an atheist. It is impossible for an inanimate object to be religious (even a religious object like a cross is an atheist), but it can most certainly be referred to as an atheist.

    So… with all that said. Why should Dawkins be an agnostic? He is agnostic in the sense that he says things like “There is probably no gods,” because he knows it is impossible to prove that something does not exist. If he said “There is definitely no gods,” he is opening himself up to having to prove something does not exist, which you can not do.
    Also, just because someone claims that something exists does not mean you should have to accept that it is possible, especially when the person making the claim can only present dismal philosophical evidence that doesn’t really make the existence of this thing any more reasonable. Especially when this evidence requires special pleading to work.
    Like with your cosmological argument. You used special pleading by saying that the first cause has to be sentient (or other bizarre reasoning) and therefore a deity. this makes it impossible for someone to argue that it doesn’t need to be a deity, because you have made it a prerequisite of the debate.
    I can respond and say “Why does the first cause have to be a deity?” and you just respond with “…because I said so,” or more special pleading.

  6. Daniel Hunter Says:

    I’m of the impression “New Atheism” is, essentially, a political movement. While the high-profile certainly goes to rudimentary repudiations of perceived superstition, the expressions of dissatisfaction with the influence of religion in public policy-making seem to be pretty consistent across the board.

    The challenges related to legislation of issues like abortion, marriage, health care, and taxation to name a few, are further complicated by competing moral certainties. These certainties are informed to no small degree by various religious positions. These positions can be reflected in policy-making and, for those who do not share them, the need to vocalize is being increasingly seen as an imperative.

    What emerges from this imperative is a vocal and engaged constituency challenging the foundations of those positions held by the religious which are seen to infringe on the rights of those who do not.

    NIck, you appear to welcome the emerging proponents you variously characterize as unqualified, mis-informed and inept as an opportunity to showcase the superiority of your ontological arsenal. Your disdainful simplification of the intent and capabilities of those you dismiss as woefully unarmed in the face of superior intellectual firepower, I hope you’ll forgive me for saying, struck me as more than a little sanctimonious.

    While confidence in your ability to debate the finer points of philosophical constructs may be well-rooted, your supposed ends toward advancing the cause of Christianity is to my observation considerably less so. All the self-validating Thomistic jiu-jitsu in the world won’t make someone who doesn’t believe in a theistic world-view agree to their rights and privileges being influenced by that belief.

    It appears you are framing this as a battle for souls, when I think it’s really a battle for equal protection under the law.

  7. apologianick Says:

    @Daniel.

    I’ve read the new atheists. That’s why I say about them what I say about them. It’s not simplistic. It’s just the hard facts.

    As for public policy, that’s the way the system works. People vote in accordance with their belief system and as a Christian, I can vote in accordance with the moral positions that I hold just as much as an atheist can. We can come forward and argue those positions.

  8. Walt Says:

    @apologianick

    That’s a simplification of how the system works. People vote, however the will of the people is subject to the Constitution as interpreted by an intentionally and necessarily unelected judiciary. So, the system ultimately depends on what is written in the Constitution. This is why government-endorsed religion is unacceptable. I think that many atheists attempting to draw the eyes of the happy majority to the Constitutional need for equal protection under the law/will of the people.

  9. apologianick Says:

    Walt. When have I said that the government should officially endorse Christianity and make our nation a theocracy? I see this charge pushed about often but as far as I know, only some reconstructionists think such a thing and they are far far in the minority.

    • Walt Says:

      That’s fair. I think I was looking for an argument that wasn’t there. The upshot though is that you’re calling me Walt now 😀

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