Posted by: JLLH | May 13, 2009

It’s like reading John Haught sans…you know, the whole Christian thing

03_thefourhorsemen

I just read a critique on the “friendly atheist” website on an article written by Julian Baggini regarding the rhetoric of the Four Horsemen. Baggini, an atheist himself, is the author of the Very Short Introduction to Atheism and his opinion sounds strikingly familiar to theologian John Haught. Baggini questions the effectiveness of New Atheism’s “antitheism,” a quality Haught terms the “intolerance of tolerance.” He says the Four Horsemen embellish the significance of science in revealing answers about the world and says that their approach lacks “balance and modesty.” I need to quote him because he sounds so much like Haught it’s freaky:

“For me, atheism’s roots are in a sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us. That means the real enemy is not religion as such, but any kind of system of belief that does not respect these limits on our thinking. For that reason, I want to engage with thoughtful, intelligent believers, and isolate extremists.”

I think it’s great that there are voices within the atheist community that are not only outwardly critical of New Atheism but able to identify and articulate the qualities needed in an argument (humility, openness and honesty) in order for the viewpoint to be constructive and

What was the atheist response? Interestingly, it wasn’t the same old narrow and acrimonious intolerance that Haught and Baggini critique and that I unendingly encountered this semester as I searched the blogosphere for material for my paper. For the most part, the responses were similarly critical of the methodology the Four Horsemen use to form their conclusions as well as the rhetoric they exercise to advertise them. Similarly, the website Edge.org offers a moderate, thoughtful and intelligent atheist opinions on the very subject matter that Haught other theologians ask the New Atheists to engage. These moderate and informed voices contribute significant numbers to the atheist community and are comprised of scholars who have access to the realm of academia. So one question that comes to mind is, why don’t they get more publicity? Ironically, it’s probably because they don’t exercise the provocative rhetoric that simultaneously draws public attention and undermines the argument’s effectiveness and legitimacy.

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