Reasons to Believe

The "New Atheism" Phenomenon, Part 2 (of 3)

In the first installment of this series I wrote about the phenomenon known as the “new atheism.” In 2007, four books advocating atheism (the view that no God or gods exist) made the bestseller list. These four horsemen of atheism include Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great), and Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell).

In part one I listed two of five reasons why these new “in-your-face” atheists are so zealous for their worldview. I mentioned that while traditional atheists have always viewed religion as being illusory, the rise of radical Islam and the perceived mixing of religion and politics, among other things, have influenced new atheists to now view religion as dangerous.

In this article I will explore a third factor that has contributed to the emergence of this more strident type of atheism.

3. Reaction to the Intelligent Design Movement:

In the last decade or so a new movement has appeared in the marketplace of ideas that has sought to challenge the atheistic, naturalistic, Darwinian paradigm concerning the origin and development of life on planet Earth. This new movement is known as Intelligent Design (ID). It advocates the “scientific” view that the complexity of life on this planet is best explained in terms of an intelligent causal agent. Some of the leaders of this crusade include Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski. The efforts of these leaders and others to make ID a part of public school science curriculums has been hotly contested in courts throughout the country.

The new atheists, by and large, view ID as religion, not science. They also equate ID with young-earth creationism (YEC), the scientifically inaccurate view that God created the world by divine fiat some six to ten thousand years ago. Put off by YEC, new atheists feel that the whole ID campaign has invaded their turf by advocating religion under the guise of science. Worse still, new atheists believe that the advocates of ID resort to politics to win a battle that can’t be won through objective scientific analysis.

Unfortunately, amidst the media firestorms and controversies, the various differences amongst Christian opinions on the origin of the universe (such as old earth creationism and theistic evolution) often get overlooked. Alternative models that allow and invite scientific testing to determine the credibility of their explanations (like RTB’s creation model) end up neglected or ignored.

Additionally, new atheists contribute to the struggle between Darwinism and ID by dogmatically guarding evolution as irrefutable fact. (Frankly, physicists seem far less self-conscious about criticizing Einstein’s theories than biologists in their treatment of Darwin’s theory.) At its purest level, the scientific enterprise ought to be a dispassionate and objective pursuit of truth about the natural world, submitting all theories and models to continuous and exhaustive testing.

Yet it seems that some within the secular scientific community have decided to permit only naturalistic explanations and anyone who challenges this position will not be granted a place at the table of scientific inquiry. Many atheists appear to hold on to the theory of evolution with a seemingly religious fervor, as illustrated by comments made by Dawkins:

“It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”

If the atheists are right about religion being irrational and illusory, then it would seem that creationism would be dealt a greater defeat if secular scientists would allow its responsible advocates a place at the table and then dispassionately falsify its claims.

Also, the Christian worldview would likely be viewed with more legitimacy if science was perceived as being of great value to believers. Christians trained in the natural sciences can and should work hard to earn a rightful place at the table of scientific inquiry.

In part three of this series I will briefly explore two other issues that I think are helpful in understanding the emergence of the so-called new atheism.

For more on the Christian worldview and how it relates to the atheistic worldview of naturalism, see my new book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Subjects: Atheism, General Apologetics

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.