Dawkins and Company Fail to Engage

I and other contributors to Cloud of Witnesses have observed before that the most visible leaders of the new atheism fail to properly represent religion and fail to engage the most articulate, sophisticated arguments for God’s existence and the rationality of Christianity.  Now Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, joins the throng of critics who have pointed this out, in a post at the New York Times Opinionator blog.

Religious believers often accuse argumentative atheists such as Dawkins of being excessively rationalistic, demanding standards of logical and evidential rigor that aren’t appropriate in matters of faith. My criticism is just the opposite. Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires.

The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one’s own intellectual problems. Dawkins simply does not do this. He rightly criticizes religious critics of evolution for not being adequately informed about the science they are calling into question. But the same criticism applies to his own treatment of philosophical issues.

. . . . [T]hose, like Dawkins, committed to believing only what they can rationally justify, have no alternative to engaging with the most rigorous rational discussions available. Dawkins’ distinctly amateur philosophizing simply isn’t enough.

The entire article presents a fine critique of Dawkins’s arguments for atheism.


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Book Review – Why You Think the Way You Do

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  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (August 1, 2009)
  • Amazon
  • Christian Book Distributors
  • In this book, Sunshine attempts to explain “the development of Western civilization from the perspective of the changes in worldview from the Roman Empire to the early years of the twenty-first century” (16). While referencing major thinkers on occasion, the interest is more specifically on the non-elite, wider culture. He further contends that one cannot understand Western culture without an understanding of Christianity (17). While this is likely true, Sunshine turns this survey of Western worldviews into an apologetic for Christianity, specifically Evangelicalism.

    Central to his argument is the premise that Christianity has had a positive cultural influence on the West, starting with its transformation and redemption of the Roman world in which it was introduced (54). While Sunshine would likely admit that sometimes Christians have done bad things in history, the overall effect of Christianity has been positive. Clearly, this is directly antithetical to the claims of the New Atheists. Consequently, Sunshine argues that the further Western culture moves away from Christianity, the more it returns to the barbarism of Pagan Rome (211).

    In the interest of accessibility, very few citations are included. This omission makes many of the more controversial historical claims hard to support in dialogue with others who may not share Sunshine’s interpretation. For example, while the flat earth myth has been thoroughly debunked, it would be helpful to cite that since it is a common myth (109). A citation for Pascal, Gassendi and probabilism would have been helpful since at first glance Pascal opposed probabilism in his Provincial Letters and Gassendi was interpreting Pascal’s barometric experiments rather than the other way around.

    While an interpretation of history is often an aspect of communal identity, this work could have benefited from a more balanced handling of the shortcomings of Christians within history. As it stands, the author’s evident bias for Christianity and conservative American political values (such as capitalism and democracy) comes off more like partisanship than a survey of Western worldviews.

    – Reviewed by Adam Reece

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    Recent Apologetics Reading of Note

    A few recommended resources I’ve recently come across . . .

    • 9 articles by Dr. Douglas Groothuis originally posted at the defunct TrueU.org.

    A Royal Ruin: Pascal’s Argument from Humanity to Christianity

    Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

    Learning From an Apostle: Christianity in the Marketplace of Ideas
    (Acts 17:16-34)

    Reincarnation and the Challenge of Jesus

    The New Age Worldview: Is it Believable?

    Understanding the New Atheism, Part 1: The Straw God

    Understanding the New Atheism, Part 2: Attacks on the New Testament

    What is Truth? (On the Nature and Importance of Truth Today)

    Why Believe That Jesus Is The Only Way?

    (HT: Manawatu CAS)

    • Introduction and first chapter of Peter Hitchens’s The Rage Against God, in which he describes his return to faith from atheism, and his differences with his brother, Christopher.

    The book’s trailer is also interesting . . .

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    Free Download of The Mormon Mirage, Ch. 8

    In May of this year biblical scholar and former Mormon, Latayne Scott, blogged a five part series for us on Mormonism (find part 1 here). If you haven’t read the new and revised 3rd edition of her classic book, The Mormon Mirage: A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today, you can now read Chapter 8 (including the end notes) on Scribd. Enjoy!

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    (Via Koinonia)

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