Thursday, January 24, 2013

God and the New Atheism

Haught, John F. God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. Louisiville: Westminster John Knox, 2008. 124 pages ISBN: 978-0-664-23304-4

Haught's God and the New Atheism is a response to the new atheism of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. The author wrote this book "in order to expose the fundamental flaws and fallacies that make the new atheism much less impressive than it may initially seem to be" (xiii). Haught is Senior Fellow in Science and Religion at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. He is a leading figure in the field of science and theology. Haught was chair and professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University from 1970 to 2005. He has published many books on science and theology: Christianity and Science; God after Darwin; Is Nature Enough and others.

God and the New Atheism is scholarly but written for the general reader. The book is not a comprehensive rebuttal of the New Atheism but a good critique of the popular writings of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. He also critiques the atheism of Daniel Dennett. Haught shows how much of the new atheism is attacking straw men. He asserts that the new atheists are writing about fundamentalist Christianity. In addition, the new atheists know very little about the discipline of theology and how it works. Haught's explanation of the discipline of theology and how it is actually practiced is one of the strengths of this book.

Haught accuses the new atheists of being reductionists. Haught accepts science but critiques scientism. He states, "Scientism is to science what literalism is to faith. It is a way of shrinking the world to make it managable and manipulable" (38). Haught believes there are multiple levels of explanation and that faith and science are compatible. He gives as an example as the page of the book you are reading. He notes, "The page you are reading exists because of a printing press, because of the author's intention, and because of the publisher's request" (85).

Haught disagrees with the new atheists assertion that scence is a matter of evidence while belief is a matter of unfounded belief. The author disputes the idea that science is without belief. Haught writes: "Exactly what are the independent scientific experiments, we might ask, that could provide evidence for the hypothesis that all true knowledge must be based on the paradigm of scientific inquiry?"(45) This is scientism and not science.

Haught has written an excellent rebuttal to the assertions of the new atheists in laymen terms. He writes well and does a good job in communicating his ideas. The best part of the book is the describtion of how the discipline of theology actually operates. This book is recommended for those who like to have a better understanding of the new atheists and the Christian arguments against them.

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