January 26, 2007
THE RAGING FUNDAMENTALISTS:
The Dawkins Delusion (Alister McGrath, January 26, 2007, AlterNet)
Every worldview, whether religious or not, has its point of vulnerability. There is a tension between theory and experience, raising questions over the coherence and trustworthiness of the worldview itself. In the case of Christianity, many locate that point of weakness in the existence of suffering within the world. In the case of atheism, it is the persistence of belief in God, when there is supposedly no God in which to believe.
Until recently, western atheism had waited patiently, believing that belief in God would simply die out. But now, a whiff of panic is evident. Far from dying out, belief in God has rebounded, and seems set to exercise still greater influence in both the public and private spheres. The God Delusion expresses this deep anxiety, partly reflecting an intense distaste for religion. Yet there is something deeper here, often overlooked in the heat of debate. The anxiety is that the coherence of atheism itself is at stake. Might the unexpected resurgence of religion persuade many that atheism itself is fatally flawed as a worldview?
That's what Dawkins is worried about. The shrill, aggressive rhetoric of his God Delusion masks a deep insecurity about the public credibility of atheism. The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure atheists whose faith is faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers, and others seeking for truth. (Might this be because the writer is himself an atheist whose faith is faltering?) Religious believers will be dismayed by its ritual stereotyping of religion, and will find its manifest lack of fairness a significant disincentive to take its arguments and concerns seriously. Seekers after truth who would not consider themselves religious may also find themselves shocked by Dawkins' aggressive rhetoric, his substitution of personal creedal statements for objective engagement with evidence, his hectoring and bullying tone towards "dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads," and his utter determination to find nothing but fault with religion of any kind.
It is this deep, unsettling anxiety about the future of atheism which explains the high degree of dogmatism and aggressive rhetorical style of this new secular fundamentalism. The dogmatism of the work has been the subject of intense criticism in the secular press, reflecting growing alarm within the secularist community about the damage that Dawkins is doing to their public reputation. Many of those who might be expected to support Dawkins are running for cover, trying to distance themselves from this embarrassment.
Pity the poor Darwinists, it's just one embarrassment after another.
Posted by Orrin Judd at January 26, 2007 9:46 AM