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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label True Reason. Show all posts
Showing posts with label True Reason. Show all posts

Monday, April 14, 2014

Challenging the New Atheists

In the November 2006 issue of Wired magazine, Gary Wolf coined the term "New Atheist". In his article, "The Church of the New Believer" he defined the New Atheist as someone who will "not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God."1, In other words, there is a movement today where atheists are engaged in an ideological war with people of faith, and they feel they are on the side of virtue.

Three primary proponents of this "war against faith" (Wolf's term) are highlighted in the article - zoologist and evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins, End of Faith author Sam Harris, and philosophy professor Daniel Dennett. Although each seems to take a different tact in their approach to unseating the entrenched religious viewpoints of the masses, they all seem to argue that they advance their cause as a moral obligation.

Eroding the Moral Argument

The fact that Dawkins, Dennett and Harris all appeal to a moral framework in their belief system fascinates me, for by its nature, atheism has no objective standard by which to claim moral values. The article restates Dawkins position that bad ideas foisted on children are moral wrongs. But talking about things like moral rights and wrongs bring the question of good and evil into play and that requires a moral framework from which to judge things as being either "good" or "evil".2  One must have a basis to compare one's actions or ideas to classify them as falling into one category or the other .

This is one area where an atheistic worldview fails. Moral frameworks require a moral lawgiver who transcends humanity. In other words, moral laws require an all-good God who can tell us what's good and what isn't. Without God, then man is the ultimate arbitrator of what's good and what's not, which simply means that it's my opinion against yours. In fact, if evolution is true, if we really are here only due to a random series of natural processes, then saying we "shouldn't" do this or that is tantamount to saying a comet shouldn't have struck the earth and killed all the dinosaurs. So the primary premise of the New Atheists really rests on an assumption of God's existence while they try to deny that very existence! Every time they claim a moral reason for advancing their cause, they are trying to smuggle in a condition that could only exist if God does.

Self-Refuting Assumptions

The contradictory nature of Dawkins and company doesn't stop with morality, though. Dawkins admits in the article that the main point of contention is a clash of worldviews - those who hold to naturalism versus supernaturalism. Naturalism is the belief that the only things that can be believed are those things that can be measured by science. We see this in the article as it says how some scientists who hold to a supernatural world view have "implicitly accepted science as the arbiter of what is real. This leaves the atheist with the upper hand… There's barely a field of modern research - cosmology, biology, archaeology, anthropology, psychology - in which competing religious explanations have survived unscathed."

First of all, the second statement is really question-begging. Only if one assumes that we must nullify supernatural explanations for natural ones does one arrive at these "corrosive arguments". But, beyond that, the concept of scientific naturalism collapses upon itself. You see, one must first start with the assumption that the only things we can really know are those things that can be verified scientifically. But that particular premise - that we can only know something if it is scientific -cannot itself be discovered by any type of science. It is a statement of fact that cannot be justified by its own criteria. Imagine if I said to you "Only statements in Latin are true facts." Since that statement is in English, it doesn't meet its own criteria - it refutes its very premise and must therefore be false. The same is true for the scientific naturalist.

Dennett believes that "neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school." But again, science cannot test for God any more than it can test for love. They start with an assumption that supernaturalism cannot be true and then build a set of rules that by definition exclude supernatural causes from being considered evidence. However, the rules that they build do not themselves stem from scientific discovery, so they must be false.

Having Faith in Non-Faith

The fact that Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett hold to these rules is one example of how these "freethinkers" really are nothing of the sort, merely adherents to another form of faith. The article points to research by anthropologists that we humans are naturally wired for faith and atheism, when examined carefully, is simply one type of belief system with its dogmas and orthodoxy. The language throughout the article cannot escape this. We see Harris talking about a kind of "religion of reason" with a Sabbath and prayer. Dennett says that no rational creature would be able to do without unexamined, sacred things. Dawkins invokes morality in his position. But to build a religion on non-religion is also contradictory. And by the end of the article, the author begins to note this himself.

Wolf writes that "Dawkins' tense rhetoric of moral choice, Harris' vision of the apocalypse, their contempt for liberals, the invocation of slavery - this is not the language of intellectual debate but of prophecy." He then goes on to conclude that, while he is an agnostic, he couldn't be one of the New Atheists. "The irony of the New Atheism, this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism - is too much for me." Wolf claims that his desire to not be dogmatic about his nonbelief is reasonable. "It simply reflects our deepest democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we could be wrong."

My question to Wolf would be from where do the values of democracy come? This is certainly not the way evolution works, claiming survival of the fittest and let all the others go extinct. Indeed, as the New Atheists become more and more vocal in their opposition to faith in general and Christian faith in particular, they cannot help but draw upon the tenets of faith in order to make their points. And that, as rational beings should see, is telling evidence that they are wrong.

Recently, I've contributed to a book that focuses on the New Atheism movement and the problems inherent there. Entitled True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheists, it holds contributions from prominent apologists including William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, and Tim McGrew on why the New Atheism fails. Now, you may receive your copy as free thank you gift for supporting our efforts at Come Reason. Just click here for details.


1. "Church of the Non-Believers"  Wired Magazine, November 2006.  See for the full article.

2. There is, of course a third option, that the thing in question is neither good nor bad but morally neutral. Given the purposes of our discussion, though, the categories above will suffice to make my point.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Does the authoritative teaching of Christianity stifle reason?

Although G.K. Chesterton wrote Orthodoxy over 100 years ago, it continues to provide prescient, applicable wisdom for us today. At the beginning of chapter three in that book, a chapter entitled "The Suicide of Thought," Chesterton notes how the sages of our modern age trade on poor assumptions.

Concerning the rejection of religious authority, he writes:
Religious authority has often, doubtless, been oppressive or unreasonable; just as every legal system (and especially our present one) has been callous and full of a cruel apathy. It is rational to attack the police; nay, it is glorious. But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. For there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin.

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."
Chesterton here asserts that faith is not the enemy of reason, but that reason relies upon faith for its relationship to reality. While skeptics and atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris continue to shout that they have claimed the high ground of reason, Chesterton ably shows how those claims crumble, and he does so nearly a century before the New Atheists even made them!

The fact that the man or woman who holds to faith in Christ can truly be considered reasonable is made even more clearly with the release of the book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheists. I was fortunate enough to have contributed to this volume and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for ways to demonstrate how Christianity is intellectually as well as spiritually satisfying.
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