Modern Atheists Have No New Arguments

Just for the record, the title of this post is quoted directly from the subtitle of an article in today's Wall Street Journal by Sam Schulman entitled Without God, Gall is Permitted, subtitled "Modern atheists have no new arguments, and they lack their forebears' charm." He writes:

For the new atheists, believing in God is a form of stupidity, which sets off their own intelligence. They write as if they were the first to discover that biblical miracles are improbable, that Parson Weems was a fabulist, that religion is full of superstition. They write as if great minds had never before wrestled with the big questions of creation, moral law and the contending versions of revealed truth. They argue as if these questions are easily answered by their own blunt materialism. Most of all, they assume that no intelligent, reflective person could ever defend religion rather than dismiss it. The reviewer of Dr. Dawkins's volume in a recent New York Review of Books noted his unwillingness to take theology seriously, a starting point for any considered debate over religion.

The faith that the new atheists describe is a simple-minded parody. It is impossible to see within it what might have preoccupied great artists and thinkers like Homer, Milton, Michelangelo, Newton and Spinoza--let alone Aquinas, Dr. Johnson, Kierkegaard, Goya, Cardinal Newman, Reinhold Niebuhr or, for that matter, Albert Einstein. But to pass over this deeper faith--the kind that engaged the great minds of Western history--is to diminish the loss of faith too. The new atheists are separated from the old by their shallowness.

I personally found the article quite insightful, but I suspect skeptics would disagree. Ah well.


Zeteo Eurisko said…
An excellent response to Schulman:

By PZ Myers
BK said…
Well, you can call it excellent. I don't think its excellent. I think its more of the same hoo-hah. Like his very second sentence: "We must be effective to inspire such denunciations, and we must be striking deeply to cause so much obvious pain." No, not at all. My response to Mr. Myer (whoever he is) on this point would be: I can't speak for every Christian, but my concern isn't that you are effective, but rather that you (meaning the collective "new atheists") are mounting a campaign that is based on rhetoric which is designed to mislead and you are also basing your campaign on ad hominem attacks. You aren't effective with people who have a sense of understanding, at all.

Then, in the second sentence following the first quote from the article, Myer writes: "Yes, I want to see people become acutely embarrassed about holding beliefs that contradict reality; does Mr Schulman think that it is not a subject for humor that many religious people believe the Earth is 6000 years old?" Well, that's the problem, isn't it? You want to embarrass people rather than persuade, but your premise in incredibly shallow and unbelievable. You see, Christians don't have a view that contradicts reality. Now, the fact that you tack in onto a viewpoint (young earth creationism) which is very much in dispute within the faith itself shows that you are having to reach for straws to make your point.

Sorry, not impressed at all.
I think you can't generalise about athiests - there is a wide range of opinions among athiests.

In addition, while there may be few new "traditional" arguments, I think there are an increasing number of people who reflect relevatively recent post-modern perspectives. Several like to take what they consider to be good from Christianity and leave what they consider unbelievable. I would be hesistant to say such people were shallow.
BK said…

Just to clarify, the article is referencing a group that is known as the "new atheists" and include such luminaries as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. They are a small, vocal minority (even among atheists) who advocate belittling instead of discussing. They take positions that are simply absurd such as the claim that religious people are mentally ill. It is those people to whom the article is addressed, and I don't read it as applying to atheists generally or atheists who are not part of this over-the-top crowd.

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