Sunday, June 29, 2014

New Atheism and its fleas.

Sir, Alister McGrath (Faith, Feb 10) has now published two books with my name in the title. If I seem "grumpy", could it be because a professor of theology is building a career riding on my back? It is tempting to quote Yeats ("Was there ever dog that praised his fleas?") and leave it at that. I will, however, dignify his article with a brief reply. - Richard Dawkins, Letter to the Times, Feb 2007.
 Lothar Lorraine posted an interview with Christian apologist David Marshall on the subject of militant atheists.  I am not familiar with Marshall but I gleam from the interview that he is a standard American apologist: new atheists don't understand religion, new atheists are mean, atheist Marxists and self-worship killed lots of people etc etc. The usual stuff. Oh and he really really wants you to buy his books.

New Atheism was good business for obscure theologians and dime a dozen apologists who wouldn't ordinarily secure a publisher.  Richard Dawkins once amused himself by counting the number of 'fleas' who built careers off the back of his worldwide best seller The God Delusion. But unfortunately for the fleas and their publishers, the new atheist movement is over. Hitches is dead, Dennett was never outspoken, Harris is concentrating on his other interests and the 73 year old Dawkins is very quiet of late. I suspect future academic fleas will find it much harder to secure publishers without a high profile atheist to nibble.

But atheism itself is growing, not fading. The seeds planted by New Atheists have sprouted into a large number of small grass root atheist movements in the post 60's Western tradition of single issue groups whose success depends upon their ability to persuade established political parties to support their cause. Personally I welcome this development because although I disagree with religious faith, my primarily concerns are political. And on that note:
Lotharson: And why do you view this notion as “patently absurd”?
David Marshall: Of course they don’t have any evidence for that, because they haven’t bothered to do any research. I have. (See our recent book, True Reason, including one chapter with Dr. Timothy McGrew, also the relevant chapter in The Truth Behind the New Atheism.)
It’s the height of irony — every single New Atheist bases his critique of Christianity on the objection that Christians demand faith without checking the facts first — but none of them bothers to check the facts about THAT first. Alister McGrath and I both highlighted this irony already in our books on the New Atheism, which were among the first to come out, but our objections haven’t stopped the flood or even quelled it a little.
Lotharson: How do you personally see “faith”?
David Marshall: Christian faith means “Believing and acting upon what you have good reason to think is true, in the face of existential difficulties.” 
Marshall, in-between the tedious self-promotion, misses the point. A New Atheist concern is not 'what is faith' but 'why does religious faith merit political privilege'. If faith is nothing more that "[b]elieving and acting upon what you have good reason to think is true, in the face of existential difficulties", why does religious faith deserve extra rights above those who do not believe in divine revelation?
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