Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Quick Thought Toward the New Atheism and the Reason Rally

by Rob Lundberg, Director 
Fredericksburg Apologetics Project

A couple of years ago, I was speaking in one of the break out session speakers at an apologetics conference in Chesapeake, VA.  The topic my talk was “Who Really Holds the Crutch?  Christianity or Atheism?” (You can find the general summation of the talk here)  While at the conference I had the privilege of meeting the infamous John Loftus, who would be debating David Wood that evening.    I also had the chance to meet my Facebook antagonist, who seems to have dropped off the circuit.

After completing my talk during the “Crutch” talk, we entered into the Q and A session, where I was called to task by a visiting atheist who took issue of my definition of atheism.   The definition I used was from the article on “atheism and agnosticism,” the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  In the article written by J. J. C. Smart on the subject of "atheism and agnosticism he states the classical definition of atheism as “the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.”

Many of those embracing this “new atheism” do not like this definition.  Whether it is those who would be considered as my antagonists on the local Fredericksburg, "hot seat" board under “Religion” or my wife’s cousin, the definition of classical atheism is not a welcome one.  With the coming of the Reason Rally in a few days, many of the folks rallying around the new atheism embrace a different definition of "atheism" than the classical definition.

 I would like to venture into the definition that the new atheists use in the attempt to show themselves  reasonable than one holding to a reasonable faith in Christianity.  The problem is that the new atheist's skirting of the classical definition fails rather miserably. First off let’s deal with some of the definition of atheism.   If we look at the word and break it down,  the alpha privative of negation (a - "no") and the root theos meaning "God," combined together, leads you to "the negation of theism, vis-a-vis, "the denial of the existence of God."  So if atheism is the absolute denial of the existence of God, or as Etienne Bourne defines atheism, “the absolute denial of the Absolute,” why do they try to redefine it?

Perhaps the classical definition gives too much of a negative connotation to the word atheism.  Think of it, someone saying that there is no God.  What would you think about that claim that God does not exist.  Whether we want to admit it, every person has a moral framework inside them that was put there by the God who created them, whether one wants to believe it or not.  It is not an intellectual step to disavow God, but a moral one.  The problem is that one has a moral framework, but is it a good one?

The new atheists, by claiming atheism being "a lack of belief" in God want to try and claim an "intellectual" high ground with this softer definition.  Try as they may, it is not a good definition, because it  proves nothing.  This is the same definition  my questioner threw down at the Q and A:

Questioner: "I don't like your definition of atheism." 
Response: "What is your understanding of the definition of atheism?"
Questioner:  "Atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of God."
Response:  "Why are you not a pantheist or something else, you obviously believe in something."

Indeed this is the case. The new atheist groupies do believe in something.  Reason.  Science.  Evolution.  The latest book written by Dawkins, Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, Dennet, Shermer, Meyers or someone else.

But if we look long and hard enough, without turning to a response to the aforementioned three (reason, science, or evolution), just looking at the definition of a "lack of belief" does not prove their brand of atheism as true.  Let me explain.

If I say that I have a lack of belief that something does not exist, it does not mean that that which I do not believe in is non-existent.  That which I am denying very well could exist, but I am just stating that I have a lack of belief that it does.  This is not atheism and if one wants to claim that it is atheism, they need to get honest with the real definition and "buck up."

So the Christian does not need to be worried when an adherent of the new atheism says, "atheism is a lack of belief in God."  Just tell them so what.  Your definition does not prove God's non-existence no matter how vitriolic you want to be and no matter how vehement you want to prove your point.  God very well could exist, and there are reasonable proofs that would conclude it reasonable to believe than not to believe in the existence of God.

So looking at science, and reason and the definition of the new kind of atheism is all the new atheist has in their clip.  But there are things that science cannot prove; evolution is just a theory with many holes in it.  And reason?  Calling thinking Christians names is not reasonable.  Claiming that scientific facts will eventually come and what they believe about God's non-existence will be true.  Well we are waiting on that something we may not see in our lifetime.  Take all this and then the definition of a lack of belief, which seeks to skirt the classical definition and what you have is one big meaningless system of mush that is inconsistent with reality.  And as an adherent to the new atheism attending the Reason Rally you really believe that?   How reasonable is that? 

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