Culture At Large

Not-so-new atheism

Andy Rau

An article by Peter Berkowitz at the Wall Street Journal today jabs back at the recent wave of "new atheist" books, arguing that behind the fierce writing and charismatic authors, they've not presented much in the way of new or terribly persuasive arguments against religion. Berkowitz focuses primarily on Christopher Hitchens' much-publicized God is Not Great: Hitchens may be eloquent, he says, but "his arguments do not come close to disproving God's existence or demonstrating that religion is irredeemably evil."

I have not read any of the many "new atheist" tomes on the market this year, but I've read (and linked to, as TC readers can attest) quite a few articles and online debates by and about the atheists writing them. And I'm glad Berkowitz has written this article, because I have to admit: as a Christian, I have not yet read or heard from these authors anything that feels particularly faith-shaking. It's not that Dawkins, Hitchens, and company are stupid, or that they don't raise important issues and questions. It's just that the issues they do raise--old favorites like the apparently "evil" behavior by God in the Old Testament; religion allegedly causing only violence and bigotry; supposed contradictions in the Bible; etc.--have been pondered and addressed by generations of quite intelligent Christian writers and thinkers. When I read (for example) an angry denunciation of God's "barbaric" actions in the Old Testament, I wonder: is this author unaware of what Christian scholars and theologians have said about this issue over the centuries? Is he aware of them but just finds them unsatisfactory? If he's aware of Christian scholarship on the issue, why launch yet another volley of these same old critiques instead of addressing the Christian explanations for them?

To be fair, I've read more than one Christian essay or book that made the same mistake--valiantly battling atheism or evolution or whatever without stopping to wonder if their arguments might have been answered already.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Books, Theology & The Church, Theology