Of course, I have made the claim that the so-called New Atheists (who are really poorer, more boisterous versions of older atheists) lack substance on several occasions. Today's Wall Street Journal has an article by Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and teacher at George Mason University School of Law, that makes the same claim. According to The New New Atheism, the big selling books by the new atheists lack any real substance.
They [the New Atheists] contend that from the vantage point of the 21st century, and thanks to the moral progress of mankind and the achievements of natural science, we can now know, with finality and certainty, that God does not exist and organized religion is a fraud. The disproportion between the bluster and bravado of their rhetoric and the limitations of their major arguments is astonishing.
Mr. Berkowitz then focuses on the latest in the books attacking Christian and theistic belief, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, and raises several good points. Here is a sampling:
Mr. Hitchens anticipates that critics will point to those crimes against humanity, dwarfing religion's sins, committed in the name of secular ideas in the 20th century. He attempts to deflect the challenge with sophistry: "It is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or Nazis or Stalinists." But who is behaving defensively here? Mr. Hitchens is the one who unequivocally insists that religion poisons everything, and it is Mr. Hitchens who holds out the utopian hope that eradicating it will subdue humanity's evil propensities and resolve its enduring questions.
Nor is his case bolstered by his observation that 20th-century totalitarianism took on many features of religion. That only brings home the need to distinguish, as Mr. Hitchens resolutely refuses to do, between authentic and corrupt, and just and unjust, religious teachings. And it begs the question of why the 20th-century embrace of secularism unleashed human depravity of unprecedented proportions.
Even were he to concede that religion doesn't poison everything, Mr. Hitchens presumably still would cling to his claim that the findings of modern science prove that God does not exist. Thanks to the knowledge we have attained of how the natural order actually operates--in particular the discoveries of Charles Darwin and modern physics--he concludes that "all attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule."
This conclusion, however, contradicts that of the late Stephen Jay Gould, to whom Mr. Hitchens himself refers as a "great paleontologist" and whose authority he invokes in support of the proposition that randomness is an essential feature of evolution. Noting surveys that showed that half of all scientists are religious, Gould commented amusingly that "Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs--and equally compatible with atheism."
Later on in the article, Mr. Berkowitz makes a comment that is absolutely enlightened.
In making his case that reason must regard faith as an enemy to be wiped out, Mr. Hitchens declares Socrates's teaching that knowledge consists in knowing one's ignorance to be "the definition of an educated person." And yet Mr. Hitchens shows no awareness that his atheism, far from resulting from skeptical inquiry, is the rigidly dogmatic premise from which his inquiries proceed, and that it colors all his observations and determines his conclusions.
I know I couldn't have said it better.