Along with the statement that “religion poisons everything,” New Atheists can be characterized by a second sentiment. The second “pillar” of the New Atheist faith is that science has ‘disproved God or a need for God’. A major reason New Atheists feel that they can claim this truth is because they claim no miracles or supernatural events are possible. A miracle however, is defined as “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws (and is considered to be divine).”1 Atheist’s attacks on such beliefs began during the Enlightenment when miracles could not be reconciled to the modern, rational view. “Armed with this presupposition, scholars turned to the Bible and said, ‘The Biblical accounts cannot be accurate because they contain descriptions of miracles.’”2 Van Harvey, who is a modern critic of miracles and the biblical Jesus, supports this presupposition by saying, “Science has proven that there is no such thing as miracles.”3 This statement is surprisingly careless for Harvey.
The definition of a miracle itself says that such an event cannot be explained by natural laws. To say that one can scientifically prove or disprove a miracle is either changing the definition of a miracle or is showing an ignorant approach to the field of science. One could definitively say that science can only speak for the natural realm available to the senses. It would be a complete leap of faith for a scientist to claim the ability to disprove the supernatural realm. Such a statement of faith contradicts the New Atheist disavowal of faith.
Besides the argument against miracles, the atheists believe that they can disregard the Divine through the argument of morality. Dawkins extols that the “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”4 Hitchens often declared that the God of the Old Testament was a wicked and selfish individual.
Interestingly enough, the New Atheists tend not to use scientific or historical proofs when dealing with this topic. The reason they do not is simply because science can not teach a system of ethics. Unfortunately, that does not keep the New Atheist philosophers from preaching personal opinion. Even their atheistic colleague Michael Ruse notices, “Dawkins is engaged on a moral crusade, not as a philosopher trying to establish premises and conclusions but as a preacher, telling the ways to salvation and to damnation. The God Delusion is above all a work of morality.”5 Atheists clearly state that their primary standards of belief rest on science and reason. But this argument on the morality of a deity takes the form of personal crusades and opinions instead of a verifiable hypothesis. Remember, the New Atheists have hoisted the standard of science and reason, so the arguments they make must fall within those realms to be consistent. However, the New Atheists base their arguments on faith claims rather than scientific evidence.
They also say that the weakest point of Christianity is the moral dilemma of a loving and just God. The least believable portions of the Bible, they claim, have to do with a loving God sending people to Hell. However, history shows us that many cultures understood consequences of evil behavior and consequences of good behavior. Turning the other cheek and the concept of forgiveness are a rare exhibition for many cultures. Eastern and Middle-Eastern countries have harsh justice systems and little understanding of the concept of forgiveness.
Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who teaches theology at Yale University, says, “If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence- that God would not be worthy of worship.”6 New Atheists assume that their Western, moral objections to God and Hell are the most critical. This assumption borders on arrogance and exhibits a narrow cultural worldview. Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ criticism of the God of the Bible assume supreme importance while disregarding historical and Eastern cultural barriers as well. They preach personal beliefs in an attempt to prove that God is not a moral being. Reason and science cannot prove or disprove that a loving God would not send people to Hell. By making such assumptions, New Atheists take steps of faith unfounded by any evidence. Such faith claims contradict their disavowal of faith.
The last point of my critique will focus on the supposed conflict between science and religion.
To see my complete paper critiquing New Atheism (and my complete list of sources) see this link: Revised New Atheism Paper
Dictionary.com (accessed December 3, 2012).
Van Austin Harvey, The Historian and the Believer; The Morality of Historical Knowledge and Christian Belief (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1966), 68.
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006), 51; 59).
Michael Ruse, Defining Darwin (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2009), 237.
Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 303-304.