Ben Myers: Ten propositions on Richard Dawkins and the new atheists

Religion / Science

Ben Myers has written a wonderful post on the situation between the newer expressions of atheism and religious believers. He uses Richard Dawkins’ writings as a focus for his comments.

Two of the best points he makes are quoted below:

” 8. There are two reactions to this sort of illiteracy that must be avoided. The first is the response of the right, which, when not hysterical, simply confirms the unquestioned assumption of the New Atheists that God is a huge and powerful supernatural being whose ways with the world are, in principle, open to empirical discovery and verification. This is the God of Intelligent Design. If ID is science, it is either bad science or dead science. ‘Bring it on!’ cries Professor Dawkins, gleefully rubbing his hands together. But even if it were good science (and, by the way, weren’t driven by a political agenda), it would be dreadful, indeed suicidal theology, for the god of ID is but a version of the ‘god of the gaps’, a god deployed as an explanation of natural phenomena, a hostage to scientific fortune, in short, an idol. The operation of ID can be successful only at the cost of the patient.

9. The second response is the response of the left, the liberals. On this Enlightenment view, science is given its due in the realm of ‘facts’, while religion is cordoned off from the New Atheists in the realm of ‘values’. There is a superficial attractiveness to this division of territory – Stephen Jay Gould called it ‘NOMA’, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria, separate but equal – but in the end it amounts to theological appeasement. For the realm of ‘facts’ includes not only the empirical, natural world but also the embodied, public, political world, while religion becomes the sphere of the ‘spiritual’, the interior, and the private. The church cannot accept this partition for Leviathan, the nation state, is a violent and voracious beast. Nor, however, is the church called to become the state: theocracies are inevitably gross distortions of power, whether the flag bears a cross or a crescent. Rather the church is called to be a distinctive polis forming citizens for the kingdom of God and sending them into the kingdoms of the world as truth-tellers and peacemakers.”

Actually the best point he makes is here in 9. I used to explain how I could be both a scientist and a priest by invoking the same logical idea: they represent non-overlapping areas of thinking. But the more I live out my life, the less useful that argument seems to be.

I object to any attempt to put ideas into ghettos. Whether the ideas be scientifically related or theologically. You can see what happens when religion puts science into a special ghetto – you end up with stuff like the Creationist museum. You can see what happens when you put religion into a ghetto – you end up with a faith that refuses to speak to contemporary culture (choose almost any sect, I’m thinking of the Amish, as an example.)

Do read the full post – it’s really worth it.

Read the rest here.

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Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Isn’t this piece by Kim Fabricius? I like it, but I like Damon Linker’s piece in The New Republic better. It’s in the issue of December 10 and available online.

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