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Theological Notebook: America Articles on the New Atheism

I've been impressed with this past week's May 5th edition of America, the Jesuit journal of opinion that I've praised in these pages more than once. While the cover understandably featured a fairly standard picture of Benedict XVI on his then-current tour of the eastern United States, the real meat of the issue was a five-article series of reflections upon "The New Atheism" by a panel of serious scholars – a series that deserved far wider circulation than America unfortunately would be able to guarantee. The popular buzz given to the authors called "the New Atheists" over the last year or two is more than balanced by the considered treatment of these writers, but these are less likely to be found in the pages of The New York Times, I fear.

The collection consists of:
The Madman And the Crowd
For the new atheists, God is not worth a decent argument.
By Michael J. Buckley

Called to Love
Christian witness can be the best response to atheist polemics.
By Stephen J. Pope

True Believers
Have the new atheists adopted a faith of their own?
By John F. Haught

An Evangelical Moment?
To combat the rise of atheism, Christians must first look to themselves.
By Richard J. Mouw

Catholicism and The New Atheism
By Richard R. Gaillardetz
It is a further misfortune that you cannot access all of these articles (or that I cannot post them without getting into trouble again), especially the one by Michael Buckley, S.J., author of the magisterial At the Origins of Modern Atheism, who was in the midst his academic specialty in his response to the New Atheists. His critique of the method of the New Atheists goes directly to their principle flaw, which is their evasion of rational examination while all the while dressing up in the clothes of "reason" and "science" so as to gain the rhetorical advantage of such associations:
Serious inquiry, by contrast, moves in the opposite direction: it begins with the question and then looks for the evidence or arguments that can resolve it. Concern about question and method in the discussion of the existence of God is not a pedantic nicety. It is required if one is to think carefully through the great issues raised by contemporary atheism, and it urges the directive primacy of the question and its care. The central challenge is not that someone has denied the existence of God. In one form or another that denial has been with us for millennia. The central challenge is that much of the eristic manner of interchange has so corrupted the question and the method as to make discussion impossible.

Dawkins transmutes the question of God into the question of religion, but seems to think the question of religion comprises not the beginning of universities and hospitals, nor the cathedral of Florence and the music of Palestrina, nor a pervasive care for the poor and the suffering, but instead an index of evil events and stupid choices throughout history. His selection of “examples,” however overstated, instantiates what the history of rhetoric has asserted over thousands of years: that the choice and marshaling of examples is the induction of the sophist. A thesis can be asserted, or a list constructed and examples selected to prove anything.
The whole of the article is an able demonstration of what I think is the most interesting phenomenon of the past century, and which the New Atheists demonstrate against all their intentions: that the banner of Reason seems to have entirely transfered from the Enlightenment atheists to the camp of the theists. Never since the critique of the Enlightenment shook loose much of the lazy thinking that had attached itself to Christianity has it been so easy to make a powerful intellectual case for Christianity. This seems true across the fields: from history and archaeology to philosophy and logic to the physical sciences and cosmology, much less the much-maligned science of theology, there is a stronger cumulative case for Christian faith to be made than perhaps at any point since the Resurrection of Jesus was a living memory. And I wish the full article by Buckley was available so that the simple pleasure of it could be had by all readers. Still, the publicly-available Richard R. Gaillardetz article makes for some interesting reading, as one would expect from that gifted author.

If you can find America at a newstand or a local library, I recommend making the trip to pick up this issue.
Tags: atheism, christianity, cultural, faith and reason, historical, philosophical, secularism/modernity, theological notebook
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