Saturday, 3 November 2007

Rowan Williams and the 'New Atheists'

Butterfliesandwheels has an article by Edmund Standing that tackles Rowan Williams's attack on the 'New Atheists':
"When believers pick up Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, we may feel as we turn the pages: 'This is not it. Whatever the religion being attacked here, it's not actually what I believe in,'...The religious believer says that moral integrity, self-introspection, honesty and trust are styles of living that connect with the character of an eternal and free agency, the agency most religions call God. Agree or disagree, but I would say to critics, at least grasp that that is being talked about. Often the atheist seems to be talking about something else."
I've noticed the rise of this 'New Atheist' tag, which seems pretty misplaced given that the likes of Dawkins of Dennett have been saying this sort of thing for years, and there's little new or different to previous generations of atheists (I'm rather a fan of Mackie's 'The Miracle of Theism' myself). It seems that the coverage and the theistic backlash are the only aspects that can be considered novel.

In summary Standing concludes:
"No, Dr Williams, the atheist is not 'talking about something else', but the very beliefs you proclaim to be true. Dressing up Christian ideas about God in language such as 'an eternal and free agency' is nothing but the creation of a smokescreen of meaningless jargon in an attempt to make superstition appear sophisticated....Have Dawkins, Hitchens, and numerous other atheist thinkers grossly misrepresented Christianity? Can Christian believers justifiably claim that the religion they find written of by such thinkers is something other than the one they at least pay lip service to? No, and no, again. Must Dawkins and others undertake an arduous trawling through centuries of theological waffle in order to reject religious belief? Absolutely not."


John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The archbishop is 100% correct. The problem is the atheist writers don't care and they don't need to care since their audience doesn't care either. As long as it comes to the comforting conclusion that everything is right and God does not exist, they'll plunk whatever monies for their Dawkins and Hitchens bibles. It all seems so petty and childish. Why do they spend so much time on Christianity? Their books read like bargain shelf space alien conspiracy novels.

Bill said...

Although I'm firmly on the side of Dawkinses and the Dennetts, I do sometimes wish they'd look a little more closely at the targets they attack.

The 'New Atheists' (inadequate name, I agree) are very good at dealing with the sky-god religion of evangelicals and fundamentalists. But that traditional view of God is a straw man - the Enlightenment dealt with it 250 years ago.

Rather, they need to get to grips with the more immanent, quasi-pantheistic view of God proposed by 20th century theologians and referenced here by Williams. As the old God was vulnerable because of his simplicity, the new one is equally vulnerable because of his complexity. Dawkins needs to deal with this version of religion as well as the version which, although it remains the greatest threat to life and liberty, was, in philosophical terms, put out to grass by Hume and co. in the eighteenth century.

pj said...

"As the old God was vulnerable because of his simplicity, the new one is equally vulnerable because of his complexity."

What is this new sophisticated theism I keep hearing about? I've read a little of the ideas of such luminaries as Antony Flew, Alister McGrath, John Cornwell, and others. The most 'sophisticated' argument I've come across is the old 'god as a metaphor' bait and switch.