Some Thoughts on the New Atheism
The two books leading the charge are Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation and Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion. I plan to review both for The Christian Research Journal soon, but I offer a few preliminary comments. (The other is by Breaking the Spell, by Daniel Dennett, and I will not comment on it.)
1. These two books are offering nothing new by way of critiques of theism or specific religions. Christian philosophers and biblicla scholars have responded to all the charges before. What is different is their severe tone. Religion is not just wrong, but terribly dangerous. It should scarcely be tolerated. To demonstrate this, one must argue that a belief is both false and deleterious. That doubles the intellectual load--and produces a fair amount of bombast.
2. Harris especially assumes that all believers are fideists or rely on the worst possible arguments. This is false. A debate with Bill Craig would demonstrate this in short order. When Harris's book was discussed on NPR, the host said, "Should religion, which is based on faith and not reason, have a say in public policy?" Talk about the fallacy of the complex question! Some people's faith is unsupported by evidence and argument, but this is not true of all religions people. It is not true of me, for example. So, the good old straw man makes another appearance to supply the fallacy.
3. Harris and Dawkins are correct in demanding that religious worldviews supply good arguments for their beliefs. Blind faith is no virtue in Christian teaching and apologetics is not optional (Acts 17:16-34; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3).
4. Harris in particular conflates all religious claims: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. They are all of a piece in being irrational, false, and dangerous. He thus commits the fallacy of hasty generalization. Believing that one will receive the ministrations of exactly seventy two virgins after dying in a jihad is an order of belief far different than believing that since Jesus Christ rose from the dead in space-time history, one who believes in him will enter paradise after death as a martyr (which precludes anything resembling jihad). Christianity is well supported apologetically; Islam, which denies the central tenets of Christian, is not. For example, it denies that Jesus was crucified--a fact affirmed by virtually every biblical scholar in the world today. The fact that both are "religions" says nothing about their relative epistemic status.
5. Harris and Dawkins are wrong in saying the religious moderates (this probably includes evangelicals to them) give safe haven to religious extremists, such as jihadists. Their reasoning seems to be that moderates give religion a pretty face and insulate it from rational testing. That means that radicals' religious beliefs cannot be intellectually critiqued either. Some moderate may make this claim to intellectual immunity, but I do not. As an evangelical (or historic Protestant) I believe that (a) religious beliefs should hold water philosophically and historically, (b) that Christian fulfills the condition of (a) and that (c) Islamic militants' religion is at once false, irrational, and dangerous. I fail to see how my "moderate" religion encourages, shields, or emboldens radicals in any way whatever.
There is much more to be said. This is but a preliminary blast of the trumpet. The rest of the troops will follow later.