LS has been kind enough to transcribe the cover story of “The Catholic Answers” magazine, volume 24 number 3, July/August 2010, which arrived at his parents’ house for our enjoyment. And by enjoyment, I mean facepalming. Yes folks, it’s another game of…
Count The Fallacies!
There’s everything from logical fallacies to outright factual errors. Can you find them all? Or better yet, can you read the whole article without vocalizing your annoyance? Grunts count!
The New Atheists,
Why do they want to erase faith?
By Robert P. Lockwood
(Shutterstock: Robert Lockwood is an award-winning Catholic columnist, editor and author. He serves currently as the communications director for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and was president of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing from 1990 to 1999)
“You even throw like an atheist.” –Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby) to a self-described atheist who threw away the neighborhood kids’ baseball in “Going My Way” 1944
They have emerged on The New York Times best-seller list spreading the cause of scientism while try try to rid society of what they describe as “idiots” who carry on the “poison” of professed religious belief. Who are these “New Atheists” and how do we reply to their accusations against believers?
What is Scientism?
The roots of the New Atheists are found in “scientism,” a philosophy or worldview that teaches that there is no knowledge save that derived through science. Scientism attempts to explain “the meaning of life” based on alleged purely scientific principles.
Scientism grew out of the fascination with science and explaining the functioning of the world during the European Renaissance of the 15th century. It spread during the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries and reached its zenith in the 19th century.
Scientism, however, is not science. It is how Charles Darwin’s observations of sea tortoises on the Galapagos Islands becomes a philosophy of “survival of the fittest”; and Karl Marx’s screwball economic theory based on alleged scientific principles of history becomes communism.
Scientism wielded its greatest influence in the late 19th century when it proclaimed everything from phrenology to communism as rational and offered scientific solutions to the difficulties that plague humanity. Science was to replace religious beliefs and liberate humanity from the shackles of faith. Instead, scientism introduced the world to virulent racism, communism, fascism, and genocide. Scientism laid the philosophical groundwork for the horrors of the 20th century. And it is far from dead.
Several notable authors offer a basic sampling of the best-selling catechisms of the New Atheists: Sam Harris in “The End of Faith,” Christopher Hitchens in “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion.” Together, they claim to represent the inevitable future—the ultimate progress of rational and scientific man over irrational and religious humanity—and in recent years their actions have grown decidedly more provocative.
Hitchens and Dawson announced plans to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested when he visits England in September 2010. They claim that he is responsible for “crimes against humanity” because of the Church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse. It is a nonsensical charge when one considers that Pope Benedict has provided dramatic leadership in addressing this tragedy. But the real world and the New Atheists often part company.
In July 2008, Paul Z. Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota, desecrated on his blog what he claimed to be a consecrated host and announced: “Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything, God is not great. Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet”
The New Atheists are not satisfied with simply harboring their own beliefs, or even challenging religious belief. Rather, they now present an aggressive, in-your-face agenda with events such as “Blasphemy Day” in 2009, where they offered to trade pornography for Bibles or to “de-baptize” people with hair dryers.
Such sophomoric antics get them quite a bit of attention, but it is disproportionate to the actual number of their followers. The Pew Center estimates that 93 percent of Americans believe in God, and that even in Europe religious belief is on the upswing after years of decline following world war II.
Responding to them does not require a degree in theology, philosophy, or science. Plain old common sense suffices.
The understandable tendency among believers has been to view the New Atheists as pseudo-intellectual elitists arguing warmed-over 19th-century European anti-clerical tirades. It can be added that, for the most part, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris produce material almost solely for the enjoyment of their fellow atheists.
Hitchens, for example, stakes out four essential positions: First, religious faith misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos (by believing that a creator exists who created the universe and life); second, this belief compounds its “poison” by defining humanity as “servile” to this creator; third, religious belief is the cause and result of dangerous sex-ual [Not a typo, wtf?] repression; and, fourth, religion is grounded in wishful thinking about life after death. Hitchens uses these points to argue that Religion is simply a man-made construct created by individuals who exercise authority over others. He supports the claim with an unending series of horror stories where so-called religious people have done evil and violent acts throughout history.
Most of the New Atheists reflect these positions, but add their own twists. Richard Dawkins argues that since religious thinking is virtually universal, it is the result of faulty “memes”–cultural ideas that are somehow naturally transmitted from one mind to the other. In the case of religious views, he compares this transmission to a virus.
Like Hitchens, Dawkins sees religion as a faulty and unnecessary prop to morality and suggests that faith has done nothing but subvert science, foster fanaticism, and encourage bigotry.
Dawkin’s reference to “memes” is simply taking one unproven postulated theory and presenting it as scientific fact. And, as Dawkins admits, the universality of religious faith in the human experience is an unavoidable fact. The difficulty for his position is that this universality defines humanity and the human experience. To call it a “virus” is to define human nature as a virus.
The New Atheists can claim that religious faith is man-made, but the very universality of such faith argues that it is intrinsic to humanity, rather than created under false pretenses. You would have to envision a universal con job devised by a surprisingly smart fellow in prehistory, incessantly imposed eons after eons on all of humanity, generation after generation, culture after culture, over hundreds and thousands of years.
Hitchens’ listing of historical barbarities allegedly committed in the name of religion is simply non-sense. It would be the equivalent of denying the truths of science because certain scientists invented chemical weapons or beat their spouses.
To state that religious faith subverts science is equally preposterous. Science grew under the auspices of faith, and many scientists past and present have been men and women of deep religious belief.
As to dangerous sexual repression, with a sky-high divorce rate, out-of-wedlock births, a worldwide epidemic of STDs, pornography, sexual violence, and rampant abuse, let’s put it this way, sexual repression is hardly the problem in contemporary culture.
To claim that religion fosters fanaticism and encourages bigotry flies in the face of historical fact. The genocidal history of the 20th century—ev3erything from the Holocaust to Stalin’s decimation of the peasants, to the slaughter in Cambodia by the Kjmer Rogue—had its collective roots in rejection of religious belief. But dismissing the word games of the New Atheists does not mean that they should be treated cavalierly.
The New Atheists all share a religious expression and religious principles from anywhere but the sacristy. This is not just a matter of removing God from the Pledge of Allegiance. They would forcibly expunge the very idea of God from public life. This has been seen before in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
Dawkins, for example, would forbid parents to raise their children in a religious faith. Hitchens argues that any kind of role for religion in public life is a dangerous voice that he wants silenced.
And that’s why they simply cannot be ignored. A response is needed to their claims by believers. No matter how badly they throw a baseball.