For those who are unsure what the New Atheist movement is about, they can read my introductory post here on the 127Project blog. Otherwise, Simon Hooper describes New Atheists well when he says, “What the New Atheists share is a belief that religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”
My critique is based completely around a specific idea. The leading minds behind the New Atheist movement claim that their religion is not based on faith. In fact, Richard Dawkins defines faith as: “Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” Although this definition actually describes blind faith, I will use it to describe the New Atheists. A New Atheist often clings to three faith statements, which I will attempt to prove as being personal beliefs rather than “objective proof.” Throughout my entire critique, I am only holding the New Atheists accountable to one standard, their own self-proclaimed “objectivity.”
These atheists state that their beliefs rest on two legs which are science and reason. They claim that they do not accept propositions by faith but rather by using scientific evidence and reasonable observations. Dictionary.com defines faith as a “confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.” New Atheists have three confident beliefs which appear to go against information that history, reason, and science provide. The first “pillar” of New Atheist faith examined is the statement that “religion poisons everything.”
Christopher Hitchens wrote a book published in April 2009 entitled, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. His entire thesis attempts to prove that religion is responsible for massacres, rapes, violence, and hatred of free-thinking. He and most every New Atheist views religion as an enemy. Hitchens claims that religion has “retarded the development of civilization.”1
Hitchens makes a compelling case to believe that religion is the driving factor behind racism, intolerance, and persecution. He proves a that religious societies have done some awful things. Some individuals are too quick to assume that religion is to blame for these indecencies rather than the individuals’ sin nature. Historical evidence does not support this New Atheistic viewpoint.
- The French Revolution
This movement in the 1800s sacrificed many lives on the altar of reason. People rejected religious tradition and hierarchy in favor of reason and humanism. This rational and secular society spiraled out of control murdering between 16,000-40,000 people without trials or a fair defense during the “Reign of Terror.”
New Atheists are eager to point out religion’s fault for bloodshed but neglect to do the same for liberty and reason. Madame Roland, one of the leaders of the Revolution, became one of the victims of its terror. She said, “Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name.”2 Do the New Atheists criticize liberty as poisoning everything? I think not.
- 20th Century Dictatorial Regimes
What do millions of Communist Russian, Chinese, and Cambodian regime murders have in common? Anti-religious attitudes. Timothy Keller explains in his book The Reason for God that “these societies were all rational and secular, yet each produced massive violence against its own people without the influence of religion.”3 If religion poisons society, then fanaticism would disappear when religion was removed from the scene as well. Unfortunately for Hitchens and New Atheists, fanaticism accompanies godless societies as well. Keller says, “We can only conclude that there is some violent impulse so deeply rooted in the human heart that it expresses itself regardless to what beliefs it holds.”4 This picking and choosing of evidence is a characteristic of a faith commitment instead of unbiased, rational thinking.
Also, recent scientific studies and research contradicts this mantra of religion’s poisonous effects. A study on reproductive rates compared religious versus anti-religious belief system birth rates. The Sunday Times published the findings of this reproductive study in a January 2011 issue. Science editor John Leake wrote an article based on the findings entitled, “Atheists are a dying breed as nature favors faithful.” The study found that religious individuals have a 2.5% reproductive rate while atheists have a 1.7% reproductive rate. Common scientific statistics show that American citizens must have at least a “2.1% replacement fertility rate”5 to continue America’s growth. One could easily make the argument that religious individuals are more interested in helping develop their countries than the atheists. Not only do these hard statistics contradict the claim that religion poisons everything, but they also dispute the claim that religion has fought against the development of human civilization. A multiplicity of historical and scientific facts repudiate the claim that religion poisons everything which would mean that Hitchens and fellow New Atheists are clinging to a belief not backed up by evidence. This belief contradicts the New Atheists’ disavowal of faith.
The next critique will focus on a second faith statement: that science has disproved God or a need for a God.
To read my complete paper on the subject including all three critiques, click on the following: Critiquing New Atheism: Standing on Faith Claims Despite Disavowing Faith
Christopher Hitchens, “How Religion Poisons Everything,” Google Authors Forum, August 16, 2007, Mountain View, CA.
Alister E. McGrath, Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2007), 81.
Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 56-57.
Fred Elbel, “U.S. Birth Rates,” SUSPS, http://www.susps.org/overview/birthrates.html (accessed December 8, 2012).