Wednesday, June 26, 2013

New Atheism: newer approaches and some questions...

For the past year or so I have been watching recorded debates with regular frequency. Most of this started when Christopher Hitchens died in Dec of 2011; the internet had informed me that I should care and so I googled and youtubed my way to google-university to learn a bit.

I watched video after video of Hitchens and must admit was enraptured: what an eloquent, poised and provocative speaker (Honestly, I still think Hitchens is amazing). My journey continued and I learned about the New Atheists and watched countless debates featuring the "Four Horsemen" and during that time started to listen more and more critically to what I was hearing and, alas, to appreciate more and more the argument their opponents were making. NOTE: I said appreciate not stand behind.

Today I find myself concerned. My self education has led me to people like David Bentley Hart. Hart has a mixed background, but part of that mixed background involves both patristics and the history of western philosophy. Yesterday, I listened to a criticism of his on Dawkins' The God Delusion and I must say it made sense to me. Specifically, he attacked Dawkins' use of the Aquinas' 5 ways. I am by no means an expert in philosophy but kept it as a major up until my least year in college, so I'm not wholly uninformed on the subject, and even I can remember that Aquinas' 5 ways were meant as a layman's guide on how to think about/recognize god and not a proof of theism per se. Then Hart moved on to discussing the "Four Horsemen" in general and their version of the history of the church and bible and I'm left thinking: why put yourself in this position. Listening to Dawkins debate evolution vs creationism is entirely different.

Now, make no mistake, I still think religion is nonsense. I also would very much like much of modern religion to go the way of other faiths and hobble off toward Mythology where it can mutate until we think it's quaint like we do with greek mythology today. But I worry about over stating positions and without sufficient evidence.... Stated more directly: if you want to make a strong argument pick those pieces you feel the strongest about. This is particularly true when your argument is a book.  And I want to make sure I've stated this. I'm not claiming I could have done better than Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris or Dennett. Moreover, I'm very much of the opinion that this group of, um, Atheist Knights are  very good at provocation which incites debate and I think that's valuable for critical thinking. Why weaken your overall position (or at least the perception of it) by introducing additional pieces that are easily picked apart by someone who is an expert in that field.

And we don't need to go there!!!

Honestly, I don't really see why we need ever go farther than: where's the empirical evidence in direct support of god? However, assuming you want to make a play that goes after the bible why go any further than what the sectarian experts themselves recognize: the bible as constructed today is based on a mixture of fragments and complete books but these same texts differ from one another... Are most of these discrepancies trivial? Yes, but not all of them are and anyway it doesn't matter. The text we have to go on is either the inerrant word of god or it isn't.

Should the atheism movement refocus its effort on evidence and shy away from debates on ethics, a priori morality and whether god is the author of evil?