Atheist Philosopher Points out Problems with The New Atheists

Thanks to this from Keith Burgess -Jackson’s website

Alvin Plantinga on the New Atheists

Alvin Plantinga 1

Apparently some of the dreaded “New Atheists” do think serious discussion is out of place in this area. Here is Richard Dawkins’s suggestion for dealing with those religious people he disagrees with: “We need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.” . . . Fence sitters, he says, “are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.” Maybe so. Of course some might also find this attempt to replace argument and reason with contumely and contempt less intimidating than mildly amusing. It is more appropriate, however, to view with melancholy the spectacle of discourse in this area lowered to a level beneath that of political discourse at election time, and to feel compassion for those who thus lower it.

(Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism [New York: Oxford University Press, 2011], 45-6, n. 24 [italics in original; ellipsis added])

Note from KBJ: What distinguishes philosophers from others is that philosophers would rather not persuade at all than persuade by irrational means. The whole idea of a fallacy is that of an argument that is psychologically alluring but logically infirm. Richard Dawkins is clearly not a philosopher, for he is determined to win converts to atheism by whatever means it takes, including “displays of naked contempt.” Maybe I’m biased (I am, after all, a philosopher), but I don’t see the point of this. Why does Dawkins care how many atheists there are? Okay; he cares because he thinks theists cause harm, and he wants the world to be a less harmful place. But does he seriously believe that someone converted from theism to atheism is going to cause less harm? Does no longer believing in God change one’s character or motives, so that one is less likely to aggress on others, for example? I don’t understand the logic. One gets the impression that Dawkins has an irrational hatred of religion (perhaps brought on by events in his childhood). Hatred makes people do pointless and destructive things.

Note 2 from KBJ: For those of you who don’t know, I share Dawkins’s atheism. I do not share his naturalism or his modus operandi. Atheism is a respectable attitude toward the world, one with a long and distinguished history. David Hume (1711-1776), for example, showed, in his life, that atheism is compatible with virtue, decency, and civility. Dawkins may think that he is furthering the cause of atheism, but he is setting it back immeasurably. He is a self-important, self-righteous bully.

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