Posted by: cLamb | March 3, 2009

Surprises Regarding the New Atheism

I must admit that when I heard that we would be studying New Atheism this semester I was very interested but at the same time a little wary. A big reason for my decision to become a theology major has been my interest in and admitted ignorance of other faith traditions. This is why I was excited to begin a study of atheism. I was uncertain though, of how it would challenge my own Christian faith. Atheism, unlike most other religions, takes the time to pointedly denounce religious faith by attacking it and finding holes in belief. The first text we looked at, Dawkins’ book, began by saying that the purpose of the book was not only to inform but to bring the faithful to the side of the faithless. This worried me, could my faith withstand the attack? Surprisingly, thus far I have not felt significantly challenged in my own convictions. However, I do know (based on conversations with other classmates) that this is not the general response to the material. So it has brought me to thinking: is this a testament to the strength of my own faith? Possibly. But more so I feel that this is attributed to the fact that I have failed to see strength in the arguments of the New Atheists in such a way that the point away from God. One thing I have challenged myself to do in a critical reading of the texts is to not be quick to denounce the claims of the New Atheists. I have tried to see their point and to give credence to their arguments. I have found some assertions to be so ridiculous that I cannot take them seriously. Surprisingly though, I have found some of their arguments (quite a few in fact) to be very sound up to the point where they conclude in a Godless universe. On a certain level I have agreed with many of the claims of Dawkins and even Harris (though I have also disagreed with many). However, even with my understanding of the New Atheist perspective in many lights, I have failed to reach the same conclusion as these atheists. An understanding of their scientific and rationalistic world-views, and even living in agreement and in accordance with some of them, has still failed to show me evidence of a Godless world. My own opinion is that one can side with the New Atheists on some (obviously not all) issues and still conclude that there is a God. In fact, through most of my reading of the works of the New Atheists, I have been left asking: So how does this mean there is no God? Thus, my expectations have been far exceeded already in the course. My expectations were either that I would see the side of the New Atheists all together and be at odds with the Christian tradition, or I would denounce all their claims in their entirety and maintain my previous theology. Instead, I have found the assertions of the New Atheists to be lacking in their purpose to delegitimize the existence of God, even though some of their methods articulated which should lead to that conclusion have a certain degree of truth.

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Responses

  1. Cat,

    I could not agree more with your statement that one can agree with certain points that the New Atheists make without being an atheist. For example, I find the criticism that the New Atheists have with Catholic social teaching regarding sexual morality and contraceptives, especially in AIDS-ravaged Africa, to be more than valid. In this and other ways, I feel that the New Atheists have done a commendable job in challenging the Church in regard to its social teachings.

    However, it is important for me and any other person to realize that questioning the earthly and fallible Church is not the same as denying the existence of God. At the end of the day, forms of respectful dissent and questioning are healthy and show that one cares about the Church, the body of Christ physically present to us today. As long as I still have faith in God, even if it is experiential, not scientifically testable, or just a feeling of something higher and just beyond my comprehension, I am a believer. In this realization, this class has helped me to both critically and respectfully evaluate the Church and strengthen my faith through the acceptance of the postmodern idea of experience as personal evidence for the existence of God.


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