Posted by: searcygr | March 30, 2009

A New Respect for the New Atheists

freedomevolvesLast Friday, as I was looking through some science magazines in the lobby of Macelwane Hall, I was surprised when I picked up the May 2003 edition of Science News: The Weekly Magazine of Science and saw a book review of Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves.  I wondered if this could be the same Daniel Dennett that we had spent the better half of a semester discussing in this senior seminar.  Well, a quick google search revealed that the New Atheist Daniel Dennett is in fact the author of this book which was reviewed in a science journal.

 

Initially, I was confused.  Overlap between my biology coursework and theology is rare outside of the usual creationism vs. evolution debate or conversations concerning the compatibility of science and faith.  But here, a major player from my theology class had blatantly appeared in Macelwane Hall. 

 

After considering the problem I was having in approaching Dennett as a respected scientist, I realized that the reason I was surprised to see his work featured in a scientific journal was because I did not respect him as a theologian, rhetorician, or even as a scientist.  In our discussion of the New Atheism, I have always come away with the feeling that the New Atheists are flawed in their logic and have misapplied their science to matters of theology.  Somewhere along the way, I made the irrational leap and assumed that because of these faults the New Atheists were not scholarly or did not have anything useful to say on any topics.  I lost respect for the New Atheists, probably because I expected more depth and deeper intellectual argument from them. 

 

However, here I was forced to remember and accept that many of the New Atheists are highly intelligent and respected in their fields of choice.  Just because Dennett does not mount a sound theological argument, this does not mean that he is not a good scientist.  In fact, in Freedom Evolves he apparently tackles ideas regarding freedom, determinism, evolution, morals, neuroscience, and economics which make my head spin.  I was forced to respect Dennett for his work with subjects to which I have never been exposed.  Truly, his work seems highly intellectual and involved.   

 

In short, this run in with the scientist Dennett caused me to realize that the New Atheists deserve much more respect than I give them.  They are successful and published authors in fields other than the popular culture theology of the New Atheism.  They are scholars who deserve my respect even though I disagree with their applications of their fields of study to theology and attempts to illogically disprove my God.   

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Responses

  1. Last week, I was reading an article about Dawkins the evolutionary biologist in an issue of Discover magazine and had an experience similar to Garrett’s response to reading an article about Dennett. I think Garrett did a fantastic job describing how we sometimes allow our notions about these world-renowned scientists to be skewed by their works as New Atheists concerning religion and monotheistic thought. It is important to remember that we can oppose or disagree with their thoughts about religion, but we cannot completely dismiss them as intellectual inferiors. As scientists, these men have made valuable discoveries and expressed innovative theories to help science progress, which we must respect.

    The key is keeping an open mind. It is perfectly acceptable to disagree with these scientists when they present ideas with weak evidence and illogical presumptions. However, we must always be open to their works and thoughts, preventing ourselves from narrow-mindedly dismissing their ideas. We must give them a fair trial, whether in the scientific community or in the realm of religion.

  2. This is also something hard for me to swallow. I have a professor right now who appears to me a genius in the field of astronomy. Today in class I heard a lot of arguments about ‘knowledge’ that were very similar to what Dawkins has written. I respect that he is well beyond my level of comprehension in his field and this makes me question whether my own understandings of a different field have any weight of their own against knowledge so vast. I am finding a new call to grow out of my naïve viewpoint that people either know what their talking about with everything or aren’t worth listening to at all. It has also been an opportunity to grow a little bit of a backbone in regards to my own experiences and judgments and not dismiss them as irrational just because someone acclaimed has a different opinion or argument.

  3. I have to agree that I have caught myself feeling similar sentiments towards the new atheists. All the holes that I have found in there self-proclaimed “convincing and converting” arguments have caused them to lose quite a bit of credibility in my mind. As I have said in many of my posts I try to see the side of the new atheists in each argument they mount. Their loss of credibility is not reflective of my inability to take their argument into account. In fact I have found many assertions to contain at least partial truth. The reason that I have discounted their credibility is because they pretend to be authorities in theological discussion, and I think many of their deeply theological arguments stem from either a lack of understanding or lack of knowledge on the subject. They are ultimate in their denunciation of religion yet I feel that they do not really know as much as they claim to about it. I guess this self-proclaimed authority on all matters of intellect have caused me to at times doubt their contributions to science. I then have to catch myself as Garrett had to and realize that their knowledge of one has no bearing on the other; especially since they themselves claim science and religion to be two completely different and incompatible spheres. In fact I have often been curious to learn about their contributions to science It is good to be reminded though once again that these scientific men are in fact guided by science as they claim to be.


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