Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Atheists?

I am not an atheist. I'm not at all sure about the Catholic religion I was raised in, despite my continuing affiliation with that Church. Too many questions for me about dogma and doctrine and a great deal of outrage at the outrages members of the clergy and episcopate have visited on children around the world. But all this has to do with religion, not with the idea of God or the existence of God. Indeed, one of my oft-stated problems with the increasingly strident tribe of atheists is that many of them appear to have their real beef with religion, and specifically the monotheistic religions. Now, I grant you Christians, Muslims, and Jews carry a great burden. If there's only a single God, then He has to be supreme over all the contenders, right? Even it's another one God. So we have the centuries old spectacle of This Religion hating That Religion because it isn't This Religion. And so this dismal history of the ways of men with God over the centuries is all any self-respecting atheist inclined to be polemical needs. 

But really, some of these anti-god polemicists are just ridiculous. I read a piece in yesterday's USA Today that's a great example, by Karl W. Giberson, a physicist, college professor, and member of the Church of the Nazarene. Giberson, active for many years in the faith-science discussion. He believes in evolution. In his piece, Giberson argues against the position now being taken by some atheists that faith is totally incompatible with science, indeed that scientists who are not atheists cannot be true to science. Well, this is absurd. Several winners of the Nobel prize are theists. And the very notion that to be a a good scientist, somebody ought to give up their faith . . . well, I don't think it comes close to passing the common sense test. Here's Giberson:

For the sake of argument, let us set aside questions about the truth of religion vs. the truth of science. Suppose there is no such thing as religious truth, as Richard Dawkins argued in The God Delusion. Allow that the "New Atheist Noise Machine," as American University communications professor Matt Nisbet calls it, has a privileged grasp of the truth. Even with these concessions, it still appears that the New Atheists are behaving like a boorish bunch of intellectual bullies.
There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don't comport with science. And the demand seems even more peculiar when it is applied so indiscriminately as to include religious believers with Nobel Prizes. What sort of atheist complains that a fellow citizen doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist?

What sort, indeed?
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