Atheists don’t own reason
By Tom Gilson
The new atheists--participants in the contemporary anti-religion movement led by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, among others--are working overtime to tell the world that reason favors atheism, and atheism alone. Richard Dawkins leads his Foundation for Reason and Science. Sam Harris is founder and chair of Project Reason. The upcoming March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. is the new atheists’ latest and most visible attempt to send the message that reason belongs to the atheists.
For years, though, knowledgeable critics have been calling attention to new atheist' rational fallacies, emotionally loaded rhetoric, and illegitimate, selective use of evidence. It's time now to add that up together and recognize what it means: the new atheists have no business proclaiming themselves the defenders of reason, simply because they don't practice it competently.
Of course that's not what the new atheists want us to believe. It is religion, they say, that is the antithesis of reason. Sam Harris assures us in "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason" (p. 55) that "faith is what reason becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse-constraints like reasonableness, internal coherence, civility, and candor."
What happens, though, when we examine the new atheists' own "reasonableness" and "internal coherence"?
In his best-selling "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins devotes an entire chapter to unscientific anecdotes supporting his belief that a religious upbringing is abusive to children. (See also "Religion's Real Child Abuse.") Actual science shows exactly the opposite: spiritually engaged teens are healthier than others on multiple dimensions. Such abandonment of science is surprisingly irrational for the man who was formerly Oxford University's Professor for the Public Understanding of Science.
But rational and logical errors are pervasive throughout "The God Delusion," so much so that University of Florida philosopher Michael Ruse, an atheist, would endorse Alister and Joanna Collicutt McGrath's "The Dawkins Delusion?" by saying, "'The God Delusion' makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why."
These are, unfortunately, not isolated examples....
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