David Hart’s oh-so-high-minded critique of the New Atheism pretends that any atheism that does not confront Thomas Aquinas and Nietzsche head-on and with the nuances that they deserve, should earn, not our praise, but our contempt, to which Kevin Drum pragmatically retorts:
Hart would like us to believe that anyone who hasn’t spent years meditating on Aquinas and Nietzsche isn’t worth engaging with, but walk into any Christian church in America — or the world — and you’ll find it full of people who understand God much the same way Hitchens and Dawkins do, not the way Hart does. That’s the reality of the religious experience for the vast majority of believers. To call a foul on those who want to engage with this experience — with the world as it is, rather than with Hart’s abstract graduate seminar version of the world — is to insist that nonbelievers forfeit the game without even taking the field.
So: do the New Atheists recycle old arguments? Of course they do. But that’s not because they’re illiterate, it’s because those arguments have never been convincingly answered. . . . To say that God is is best understood as an absolute plenitude of actuality doesn’t really advance the ball so much as it merely tries to hide it. . . .
To say merely that Christianity is comforting or practical — assuming you believe that — is hardly enough. You need to show that it’s true. And if you want to assert that something is true, the onus is on you to demonstrate it, not on the New Atheists to demonstrate conclusively that it isn’t. After all, in the end the only difference between Hart and Dawkins is that Hart believes in 1% of the world’s religions and Dawkins believes in 0% of them. It’s Dawkins’ job only to question that remaining 1%. It’s Hart’s job to answer him.
Hat tip: Gato Precambriano
It’s not a book about whether or not Christianity is true.
It’s a book about how the “New Atheists” lie too much while making their case that it ISN’T true.
It’s as if….you (or Kevin Drum I suppose)…can’t even understand things that they read.
Hart appeals to Nietzsche as a famous example of an atheist who was more honest than Hitchens, Dawkins, etc., and he gives AMPLE evidence of this. That is the whole point of the book. He is appealing for more knowledgable and honest atheist thinkers.
Seriously, you could probably have figured this out just be reading the dust jacket.
I agree with Hart that Nietzsche is important and that contemporary “new atheists” tend to ignore him, but it should be remembered that Nietzsche never made any direct case against theist arguments, but instead went straight to the consequences (which he tried to bravely face and work out under the assumption that God does not exist).
Theists generally think Nietzsche failed in his effort to overcome nihilism, and so they obviously want to bring focus on Nietzsche so that contemporary atheists don’t squirm around the consequences of their atheism.
But theists have also had over two millenia to home in on and refine their arguments for the biblical God’s existence. The God posited by theist philosophers has also had over two millenia to make a somewhat subtler case. The truth is that both projects have largely failed. Neither the God of the Bible believer nor the God of the theist philosophers are especially convincing to those with enough education and intellect to follow the arguments for them.
What this means is that if you have a personal need to believe in God as understood by the monotheistic religions, you’ll rationalize your way there somehow, if you don’t, there’s nothing compelling in the arguments for God that are likely to draw you away from agnosticism or atheism.
I wish the case was better for God’s existence. But the truth is that we live in a world of flux and death that does not speak to us as to why these things are so. We’re all guessing, but can’t bear agnosticism, so we take sides (ignoring the problems of the side we take).
A nice dose of Socratic humility before the ontological mystery would suit us all better, but the reality is that our positions on God are part of our immortality projects (connected to the groups that give us self esteem and provide us with meaning). So we’re locked in against one another and can’t admit the obvious: that we don’t really know what or where or why (if there is a why) we ultimately are.