Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Whatever are the new atheists thinking of?, a friend asks

I received this letter from Gil, a West Coast software engineer, who has been thinking, as Theodore Dalrymple has, about the spate of anti-God books recently put out by new atheists. He writes to say:

Dear Denyse,

Our church is getting involved in Angel Tree, a ministry reaching out to children whose mothers or fathers are in prison. This is being organized by Tristan Greth, our youth pastor, a former rock star who ended up in prison for drug use many years ago. Angel Tree volunteers give gifts, in
person at Christmas time, to the children of people in prison, with personal notes from the inmates to their children. Check it out:

Tristan is an amazing guy. He is an extraordinarily talented bass player who has gotten our praise band involved in Teen Challenge, a Christian drug rehab program with an 85% longterm success rate, unheard of in the secular world.

Here's the thing that mystifies me: What are the "new atheists" thinking when they talk about Christianity as the source of evil? What kind of alternate multiverse are they living in? Where are the atheist-inspired Angel Tree ministries? Where are the transformed lives, like that of
Tristan Greth (and mine, I might add)?

The most ironic thing of all is that the nihilism and despair of atheism is based upon a lie -- a materialistic world view that the science upon which it is supposedly based is progressively refuting with each new discovery.

You are free to share my comments in any way and with whomever you like.

As you wish, Gil!

If an atheist group did similar work, would it call itself NO Angels! Tree? Hmmmm. I dunno ... doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?

As Mario and I discuss in The Spiritual Brain, a materialist worldview encourages ideas like "it's all in the criminal's genes"(and thus passed on to the children?) Or "there is no free will" (and therefore no hope?). Not a very good prospect for long term ministry.

Gil's own story is remarkable, and I hope to tell it in a suitable venue.

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Physician and essayist Theodore Dalrymple doubts God but dismisses "new atheists"

Theodore Dalrymple takes on the "New Atheists" in City Journal, and it is all the more interesting because he himself has doubted the existence of God since a school assembly at age nine.

He thinks but little of this spate of anti-God works, saying, for example:
This sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance, reach an apogee in Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith. It is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness; it makes Dawkins’s claim that religious education constitutes child abuse look sane and moderate.

and also
Lying not far beneath the surface of all the neo-atheist books is the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules. It can be summed up in Christopher Hitchens’s drumbeat in God Is Not Great: “Religion spoils everything.”

But I will spoil it no more for you.

Toronto journalist David Warren writes to say,
Hitchens & Dawkins are, or were, both capable of charm & wit -- including, even, self-deprecatory wit. It disappears in their atheist tracts. What appears in its place is just the worst sort of narrow, sneering, vindictive,
religious-style bigotry, that any religious person is supposed to be on his
guard against. Which is to say, they do not know what they are talking about; it is "beneath them" even to do the most elementary research into the actual histories & actual beliefs of the people they are attacking; & they will throw any missile that comes to hand, without considering its provenance. It is the flavour of Ulster at its very worst; or worse still, for there is not even a thin pretence of charity.

Dalrymple is by contrast modern, "post-Christian" European at its best. He is not a believer, but he does, actually, know something about Christianity, & he is aware of the need to retain specific virtues -- including charity, including humility -- that were inculcated in the Christian tradition. He is deeply concerned about the preservation of civilization (see his writings on every other subject; for he is a brilliant observer of post-modern life, from the angle of having been a doctor in places like prisons).

I got the same impression as Warren in both cases (the neo-atheists and Dalrymple), but didn't manage to put it half so well.

P.S.: David Limbaugh comments on Christopher Hitchens here.

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Service note

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), anoverview of the intelligent design controversy, and of Faith@Science. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.