Richard Dawkins has been everywhere lately. Dawkins is even keeping an online journal while on his book tour. It’s full of amusing, if slightly mean-spirited, vignettes like this:
The large hall at Randolph Macon Woman’s College was packed. I gave a fairly short program of readings from The God Delusion, and then the bulk of the evening was given over to much more than an hour of Q & A. The first questioner announced himself as coming from Liberty (Falwell’s ‘University’), and he began by saying he had never been so insulted, yet simultaneously so amused, by any lecture. Many of the questioners announced themselves as either students or faculty from Liberty, rather than from Randolph Macon which was my host institution. One by one they tried to trip me up, and one by one their failure to do so was applauded by the audience. Finally, I said that my advice to all Liberty students was to resign immediately and apply to a proper university instead. That received thunderous applause, so that I almost began to feel slightly sorry for the Liberty people. Only almost and only slightly, however.
Needless to say, if there happens to be a God, Dawkins is going to the deepest Dantean circle of hell.
And here’s a Wired profile of Dawkins, Harris and Dennett by Gary Wolf. After summarizing their various anti-religion books – they don’t say anything that David Hume didn’t say better – Wolf concludes:
The irony of the New Atheism — this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism — is too much for me. The New Atheists have castigated fundamentalism and branded even the mildest religious liberals as enablers of a vengeful mob. Everybody who does not join them is an ally of the Taliban. But, so far, their provocation has failed to take hold. Given all the religious trauma in the world, I take this as good news. Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd. If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there’s always a chance we could turn out to be wrong.
Finally, there’s this profile of Harris, which actually went through the trouble of asking theologians and religious scholars what they make of these atheists:
The un-gospel according to Sam has found a huge audience, but every bit as striking is the counter-reaction to Harris among religious scholars. Mention his name to academics of just about every religious persuasion and you can almost see their eyes roll. Oh, that guy.
Harris has grossly oversimplified scripture, they say. He has drawn far-reaching conclusions based on the beliefs of radicals. As bad, his stand against organized religion is so unconditional that it’s akin to the intolerance he claims he is fighting. If there is such a thing as a secular fundamentalist, they contend, Harris is it. Even some who agree with his conclusions about the dangers of fanaticism find his argument ham-handed.
“I think this country needs a sophisticated attack on religion,” says Van Harvey, a retired professor of religious studies at Stanford University. “But pushing moderates into the same camp as fanatics, that seems like a very crude mistake.”
According to Harvey, not only has Harris picked a fight with those who could be on his side, but his solution — let’s all ditch God — is laughable given the role that religion plays in so many lives. Others say that he has taken these “Old Books” at their literal word, instead of studying the way that the faithful actually engage the scriptures. Put more simply, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“Religion doesn’t make people bigots,” says Reza Aslan, author of “No God but God,” a history of Islam. “People are bigots and they use religion to justify their ideology.”