Friday, March 30, 2007

Atheists pop heroes examined by Michael Novak

Saw this over on the Thinking Christian site - I added a hyperlink - great piece of Christian skepticism: is extremely difficult to engage on the same level with Harris, Dennett, and Dawkins. All of them think that religion is so great a menace that they do not have much disposition for dialogue. The battle flags they put into the wind are Voltaire's Ecrasez l'infame! Meanwhile, all three pretend that atheists "question everything" and "submit to relentless, almost tedious, self-criticism." Yet in these books there is not a shred of evidence that their authors have ever had any doubts whatever about the rightness of their own atheism. Self-questioning about their own scholarly indifference to their subject; about the horrific brutalities committed in the name of "scientific atheism" during the 20th century; about the restless and mercurial dissatisfactions in atheist and secular movements during the past hundred years; and about the demographic weaknesses thereof--all such questions are notable by their absence. Moreover, although an atheist zeitgeist dominates university campuses in America, it has not proved persuasive to huge numbers of students, who hold their noses and put up with it. Why does atheism persuade so few? Our authors never ask.


It was, then, a huge disappointment to me to find that Dennett,
Harris, and especially Dawkins paid no attention to the actual conversion experiences and narratives of fidelity, which are so common in the prison literature of our time. Moreover, none of them ever put their weak, confused, and unplumbed ideas about God under scrutiny. Their natural habit of mind is anthropomorphic. They tend to think of God as if He were a human being, bound to human limitations. They are almost as literal in their readings of the Bible as the least educated, most literal-minded fundamentalist in Flannery O'Connor's rural Georgia. They regale themselves with finding contradictions and impossibilities in these literal readings of theirs, but the full force of their ridicule depends on misreading the literary form of the Biblical passages at stake, whether they be allegorical, metaphorical, poetic, or resonant with many meanings, for the nourishment of a soul under stress. The Bible almost never pretends to be science, or strictly literal history.

Most of all what surprised me is that, while all three authors write as if science is the be-all and end-all of rational discourse, these three books of theirs are by no means scientific. On the contrary, they are examples of dialectic--arguments from within one point of view, or horizon, addressed to human beings who share a different point of view. Surely, one of the noblest works of reason is to enter into respectful argument with others, whose vision of reality is dramatically different from one's own, in order that both parties may learn from this exchange, and come to a deeper mutual respect. Our authors engage in dialectic, not science, but they can scarcely be said to do so with respect for those they address.

1 comment:

  1. Insightful post.

    There's no doubt that among atheists many fail to exegete (portions/ or all of) Scripture according to it's genre and then oppose the findings they come up with (a strictly literal interpretation being the most prevalent), but there's also refusal among many to be open and consider additional methods of interpretation, even when this is pointed out to them, which reveals their natural opposition to God and his Word resulting from the sin nature.

    It's also not unusual to come across some of the most ardent atheists whose method of debate reduces to "It's all a lie, therefore I don't want to have anything to do with those who espouse it", for in dealing with the truth and those who hold forth the truth (especially apologetically), atheists are forced to deal not only with the limitations of the flesh, the weaknesses of their own position, and the sins of their own hearts, but with the futility of their own life, knowledge and pursuits.