What is the New Atheism?
Question: "What is the New Atheism?"
Answer: The early 21st century has seen secularism and atheism promoted throughout the Western world with an ever-increasing vigor and militancy. This has led to the emergence of the “new atheists,” notable members of which include best-selling authors such as Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens.
The contention of the new atheists is, obviously, that there is no God. Adherents to the philosophy of new atheism believe that blind, natural forces are responsible for all of reality which we perceive. The new atheists do not restrict themselves to a passive disbelief. Rather, they are actively engaged in admonishing others to follow suit, to declare their non-belief in God, and to take the necessary steps to rid the world of religious belief and practice. As outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins puts it in The God Delusion, “I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself.”
An ironic feature of the new atheism is its strong faith in the inferiority of having faith. The new atheists erroneously redefine "faith" as an "irrational belief in the absence of evidence." This misrepresentation of the nature of faith is absurd, for faith is not essentially a strong belief in something, but rather the ground of Christian faith is believing in someone—God. A.W. Tozer said, “Faith rests upon the character of God, not upon the demonstration of laboratory or logic.” When one has faith in the character of a person, e.g. a mother or an aircraft pilot, one no longer needs to be skeptical or require strong evidence in respect to any service that he or she renders.
When it comes to things, Christians correctly approach the subject looking for strong evidence, while accepting that some matters may be beyond our current understanding. Indeed, many faith-filled scientists have been at the cutting edge of the scientific enterprise and test the evidence using thorough methods and techniques. The new atheists believe that empirical science is the only path to understanding reality. However, this is erroneous, since the very concept of "scientism" (the view that science is the only way to gain knowledge) is not itself subject to any scientific experiment and ultimately distills to a faith. Faith, far from being an "irrational belief in the absence of evidence," is a decision to reckon as true something that is not visible. Scientism is a metaphysical concept. Thus, the new atheists require faith of some description, even if not in God. Scientism is self-refuting, and thus should not be believed. Scientism could be summed up as the belief that “empirical science is the only way to be sure about anything.” Of course, we might well then ask, “What was the scientific experiment that established that empirical science is the only way to be sure about anything?”
In contrast, theism is aligned with the reality of a transcendent God. Biblical theism is based around a set of sensible concepts, one of which is that there is no such thing as an atheist. Clearly the atheists have faith of a sort, if only in their power to influence others to join their atheistic pursuits. But one wonders why, if they truly believe God does not exist, they spend their lives trying to disprove His existence. Does a man spend a lifetime trying to disprove the existence of unicorns or elves? Of course not, because he knows they don’t exist and wouldn’t bother. Even if he knows others believe in unicorns and elves, he doesn’t dedicate his life to trying to debate them out of that belief. Romans 1:19-20 declares plainly that all men do know God exists because God has clearly revealed that knowledge to them through the evidence of creation. Those that deny God are doing so out of the rebellion of a darkened heart (Romans 1:21). Rather than the intellectual the self-described atheist imagines himself to be, God has pronounced, “The fool says in his heart ‘there is no god’” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1).
Recommended Resource: The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists by Ravi Zacharias and Against All Gods: What's Right and Wrong About the New Atheism by Phillip E. Johnson & John Mark Reynolds
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