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Chapter 1 - The New Atheism: How it All Started
Benjamin Yim  2017-11-26 07:56:31, 조회 : 98, 추천 : 5

Why God Won't Go Away
Alister McGrath
Chapter 1 - The New Atheism: How it All Started

        Hello to another beautiful day that has been given to us by God! Today, we will be officially starting our book, Why God Won't Go Away, by the author Alister McGrath. In which we shall look over chapter 1, The New Atheism: How It All Started.

        As I have slightly mentioned in the introduction for this book, the term 'New Atheism' was coined by an magazine writer who goes by the name of Gary Wolf. And his objective was to highlight four bestselling atheist thinkers: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. As we all may know, it is an impossible task to argue against anything if we don't know what we are up against. And so today, with this chapter, we will be looking at the argument of these four men.

        Sam Harris, the author of the bestselling book The End of Faith back in 2004, always butted heads with religion. He views religion as the main problem of 9/11, and his book contains mostly of him lashing out against religion. While he can, and does, admit that militant Muslims were at fault for 9/11, he feels that all religions deserve blame for this disaster. He views the fanatical Muslims as just another example of what the extent of religion can drive someone to do, and he argues that the world would be a much better place if no one believed in God at all.

        His main objective is not to defend atheism and their beliefs, but rather to bash on religion and make it seem as if it's dangerous and misleading. And to fulfill his objective, he went on to tell people that religion should be regarded as a mental illness, and that the only reason a lot of people tolerate it is because the world has gotten used to them. This was his breaking of the fundamental of American culture, which was the need to be respectful about religion. For Harris, religion needed to be ridiculed, made fun of, be pointed at, and laughed at.

        However, after reading the first chapter of Harris' book, there are some clear conclusions you can make. One, as we saw, he dislikes religion with a passion. And two, that he doesn't know what he is talking about. He doesn't know very much about religion. The only reason that Harris receives support, and made his book a bestseller, is because his supporters share the same ignorant feelings as he does. His analysis are based on alarmist rhetoric; excessive reliance on stories; an appeal to popular prejudice and predisposition rather than evidences; and he fails to engage with the many literature writings that are out there about religion. His analysis is so biased and inattentive to the evidence that many are left wondering if there is a disconnection between his passion and drive of hate for religion and the real world.

        For example, one of the most alarming parts of Harris' book is when he unfolds to us his own views of how to solve this "problem" of religion. In one section, he argues that some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. To him, killing such people could be regarded as just an act of self-defense. It almost sounds as if he is suggesting that if certain beliefs cause people to behave in a way that society deems as dangerous, then we have the right to kill that person. And since religion generates violence and hatred, it could be ethical, morally correct, and justified to kill religious believers in order to make this world a better and safer place.

        It would be fair to conclude, however illogical and simplistic his approach may be, that his aggressive position showed that there is to be a place for works that directly attacks religious beliefs. Harris essentially established the very voice for the New Atheism. However, the Atheist arguments against religion became a vicious account of something that was assumed to be equal to the dismissal of such an argument on rational and evident grounds.

        If we can say that Harris was the voice of the New Atheism, we can definitely say that Richard Dawkins was the very body. His work, The God Delusion, being published in 2006 became a huge hit among advocates of the New Atheism. And he makes his point clear from the very beginnings, he says, "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down." And in his own defense, just in-case his book does fail, he furthers an argument by saying, that religious people or "faith-heads" are immune to argument.

        Essentially, he placed the main approaches that became the very characteristic of the New Atheism. And while it's not possible for us to go over all the conclusions and approaches that Richard Dawkins makes, we will be looking at three core arguments that it makes.

        First is that faith is fundamentally irrational. Why? Because there is no evidence, to him, for the existence of God. He argues that those who believe in God are running away from reality, seeking comfort in a make-believe, fairy-tale world. He furthers his argument by saying that faith is "blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence." It's a "process of non-thinking" or "a persistently false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence." It's "evil precisely because it requires no justification, and brooks no arguments." And since religion is irrational, it cannot defend its beliefs by an appeal to reason or science. And so it forces its belief on people, especially by oppressive or violent means or by encouraging a culture of unquestioning obedience.

        To Dawkins, his second famous argument, the irrationality of religious believers has much force. The irrationality of religious beliefs directly parallels the irrationality of religious believers, who are willing to offer any intellectual justification for their faith. To the question, what sort of person would fly a plane into the side of a building full of people? Only someone who was mad, evil, and faithful. To Dawkins, religion has the ability to make innocent and peaceful people to have violent thoughts and behavior, especially by deluding them into believing that what they're doing is for God.

        His evidence for this argument is to look at the events of the Crusades and the Spanish inquisition. It is true that this raises deep concerns about the potential of religion to engender violence and oppression. And it is fact when we acclaim that the event of September 11, 2001, was also an act of irrational violence. These are disgraceful episodes taken place that includes religion, whether directly or indirectly.

        But while religion has been involved in some dreadful human tragedies, Michael Shermer counter-argues that it doesn't mean that is the only thing that it causes. He writes, "However, for every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go unreported... Religion, like ALL social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil."

        It's easy, sort-of, to make Dawkins' argument. How do you make it? By ignoring the good side of Christianity and the bad side of atheism, which Dawkins seems to be doing a good job. But when we remove his method of argument-making, and consider it from an objective view, atheism can't stand up too proud themselves. Nonreligious worldviews, such as Stalinism, can be just as oppressive as anything based on religious beliefs.

        But for Dawkins, reason and science alike are to be held to the highest level because they emphasize the importance of beliefs being based on evidence. Dawkins sees no evidence for a God, so belief in God can be dismissed as irrational and unscientific. Science represents reason; religion represents superstition. And he argues that the problems of the world are only occurring due to the conflict between religion and science, and we can only have peace once religion is eliminated. Simply put, he's saying that science and religion are locked in a battle to the death and the only winner can be science.

        Which is his third line of criticism, that deals with a lot of natural sciences. Richard Dawkins was very famous in his field of work, evolutionary biology. He published a book called The Selfish Gene back in 1976 and was well acclaimed for his works. And bringing his scientific background into play, Dawkins argues that scientific belief not only undermines belief in God but that it also explains it away as an unintended outcome of human evolution. What Dawkins is saying is that believing in God is an accidental by-product of the evolutionary process. To Dawkins, we were never meant to be religious, religion just came about by a misfiring of some useful gene.

        He seems to be making an interesting argument, however his argument isn't consistent with the evolution that we all know of, Darwinian evolution. Now, if Darwinian evolution concludes that evolution is a random process, then wouldn't all outcomes, whatever they may be, be an accidental or unintended outcome? To argue that some features were intended to occur is for Dawkins to self-destruct because that would mean someone had to design these features, and would remove the random in Darwinian evolution. However, if what Dawkins is saying is true, then ALL outcomes of the evolutionary process are accidental and unintended. Unless Darwin believes in some other evolutionary process that we don't know about.

        But if you ignore all of this, Dawkins intends to make it so that evolution did not intend that we should believe in God or be religious. And yet, we are now at a contradictory bump. In one of his other books, The Blind Watchmaker, published in 1986, he concluded the "fact" that nothing was ever intended to be what it is. In that book, he argues that EVERYTHING is accidental, even if it might look designed or seems to show other evidence of cosmic intentionality.

        Now, to further  this argument, while continuing to ignore the counter-arguments, Dawkins says that the belief people have in God is a virus of the mind. This virus, he believed, spread through populations in much the same way as a disease. The idea of God as a mental virus is also mentioned in The God Delusion, where he makes a fundamental analogy between the transmission of genetic information and cultural information. He called it a meme, totally not evidence-based. What this meme does is that it copies ideas and transmits it throughout the culture. And the functionality of memes work just like a virus, and infects people's brains. So, what he is saying, that these memes can make a non-religious person one day, randomly wake up, and become a religious person the next day. However, there is no evidence for these memes, and in a sense, from the very beginning, this debate was already over.

        As for the American philosopher Daniel Dennet, he took a similar approach to one of Richard Dawkin's common themes, which was about Darwin's theory of evolution. In his book Darwin's Dangerous Ideas, he argues that belief in God can be explained away on evolutionary grounds. In which he developed this idea in the book Breaking the Spell, published in 2006. Essentially, he was arguing that natural selection has programmed us to believe in God when there's really no God to believe in.

        However, he, like many of his other colleagues in the New Atheism, seem to have a lack of knowledge of what they are arguing. In general, it is important that in any argument, like I said in the first paragraph, that you should know what you're arguing against. From Daniel Dennett's statement it seems clear that he doesn't know what he is talking about. He says, "a religion without God or gods is like a vertebrate without a backbone." Now, some of you may not know what he is trying to use as an analogy. Vertebrates, a specific kind of species, by definition, have backbones, but following a religion doesn't necessarily mean worshiping God or gods. For example, Buddhism is a religion, but it does not have a God or gods.

        Now the reason why he attempted to bring this point across is because he wants to explain belief in God, like Dawkins, can be placed in evolutionary terms. To believe in God, he says, is a fantasy that once carried some kind of survival advantage. However, religion just cannot be simply be related to belief in God, no matter how convenient this might look in Dennett's agenda.

        Now to further show of his ignorance in his philosophy in the book Breaking the Spell, he directly tells us that he will gives us a quick summary of his own view of things, but will not support it with any reason or evidence because he feels his ideas don't need an explanation. And his only form of evidence is when he refers back to his other books that many people, fortunately, do not know about. And essentially, the only conclusion you can make, objectively, is that Dennett nor Dawkins' arguments carry much weight in them. And when you read this book, if you want, another important point is in that it leaves you with a deep sense of frustration and dissatisfaction because it leaves so many holes, gray areas, and unexplained statements.

        Why do I bring up Dawkins when we're talking about Daniel Dennett? Because he also refers to Dawkins' theory of the memes. Dennett argues that with our belief, there is a belief in belief. Simply put, it means we desire to believe, or have a sense that belief is basically good. He further argues that just as human beings have evolved a receptor system for sweet things, we have evolved some kind of "god center" in our brains. And it depends itself on a "mystical gene" that was favored because then it would allow for people to survive better. Unfortunately for Dennett, just like Dawkins, his argument is baseless on evidence or on any real finding, but just a mere speculation, an unproven hypothesis. Dennett's theories have been so heavily criticized by his peers for being evidence-free and only his own beliefs, that it was just brushed past and looked over by any real scientific researcher.

        And while Dennet believes that it is necessary to call on "the best minds on the planet" to study religion, such is its importance for humanity, what he has in mind for the "best minds on the planet" is not what everyone else is thinking it is. Simply put, he wants people from his own agenda, who has the same bias he has towards religion, and wants them to destroy religion, rather than to attempt to understand what they are. His objective? Make it look like research, but the main point is to destroy any or all beliefs of any religion.

        To summarize Daniel Dennet and his book Breaking the Spell, he present himself as a top-notch intellectual who offers evidence and arguments that will destroy faith. However, instead of faith, it destroys our patience, with his lackluster writing and struggling to make sense of a scientific field he does not really seem to understand. He offers speculations, at best, of theories that could work on someone who has been living under a rock his entire life, but not the normative person. His book leaves everyone else struggling to deal with the difference in his book of what was promised and what it actually delivers.

        As for Christopher Hitchens, he is much different from the rest of the pact, but also very similar. I'll explain what I mean. Hitchen's "God is Not Great" is by far the most entertaining of the New Atheist works. It is written with a fuming passion of anger about religion, and also adds some fuel with the events of 9/11. However, within such passion, there is an anxiety that is revealed even deeper, which is the fact that religion refuses to die. Not only does religion refuse to die, it also seems, to Hitchens, be putting an extinction to those who are atheist. He pronounces, "People of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction." And to those who follow Hitchens, we must resist religion as much as we can before it causes more chaos upon our atheistic lives.

        The book "God is Not Great" is a remarkable piece of work, mostly because Hitchens has a good way with words.  Most of it contains enhanced insults towards religion. However, written in the span of four months, the book does show some inconsistency and a lack of evidence and foundation for its arguments. Terms such as, "religion poisons everything," and "religion kills." He argues that all the problems that the world has is because of primitive superstition (in other words, religion). He argues this because religion holds us back from making any scientific advancements, and essentially "holds us back." His solution? Eliminate religion, which only leads to violence, intellectual dishonesty, oppression, and social division, and the world will be a much better and peaceful place.

        How does he support such a major claim? Simply by giving us examples, or stories. We look at one now. A Christian writer who goes by the name of Timothy Dwight, who was president of Yale University, opposed smallpox vaccination. For Hitchens, he argues that all religious people are like Timothy Dwight. "They're backward-looking fools... and stand in the way of scientific advancement." To him, religion poisons all human attempts at human progress.

        Now, there is no doubting that Timothy Dwight, a Christian, did deny the use of the smallpox vaccine. But, Hitchens forgets to mention that a president of Princeton University, Jonathan Edwards, one of the most widely known Christian regarded as America's greatest religious thinker, had died a few decades earlier after receiving the vaccine. Edwards was committed to this new medical procedure and wanted to demonstrate to his students that it was safe. Unfortunately, after his demonstration, it led to his death. And yet, Hitchens never mentions this Christian or religion person not allowing for science to make advancements, and Edwards even put his life on the line!

        Hitchens disregard for historical accuracy and presenting a piece of historical analysis in his own way is his main evidences presented in the book God Is Not Great. Now, to add to the last argument, we can look at George Bernard Shaw, who opposed smallpox vaccination in the 1930s, ridiculing it as a "delusion." I forgot to say that George Bernard Shaw was also a great atheist writer, something Hitchens would never mention. Now, Shaw, dismissed leading scientists whose work was cited in support of it, and he called them fools that knew nothing about the scientific method. If we were to use the same argument as Hitchens, then we can easily say all atheists are the ones who are dogmatic and are unwilling to take scientific advancement seriously. However, both claims don't work because it's not that simple.

        So this concludes chapter 1, The New Atheism: How It All Started, in which I hope you have been able to see the background of these four men's arguments and see what exactly we are up against. Although we are not able to look into a full-fledged biography of these people's lives, I hope this did bring some light upon their ideology and belief, and at times how unconvincing these people actually can be when looked upon objectively.  Thank you!

* admin님에 의해서 게시물 이동되었습니다 (2017-12-30 09:12)

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