Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Notes: Atheism's New Clothes by David H. Glass

Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are the leading lights in the contemporary atheism movement known as The New Atheism. Their particular brand of atheist belief and secularist agenda has been popularised by a plethora of books, lectures, debates and TV appearances, of which Dawkins' "The God Delusion" is probably the most well-known in the UK at least.

David H. Glass is a physicist, and philosopher who believes that the New Atheist movement is deeply flawed in its methods, arguments and  therefore in the conclusions it draws. In "Atheism's New Clothes" he spends three-hundred plus pages explaining why he finds their proposals to be erroneous, their reasoning circular, their use of evidence suspect, and their understanding of both faith and philosophy to be woefully inadequate. 

Beginning with a chapter which serves as a good introduction to the New Atheists, Glass then begins his critique with a discussion of rationality, reasoning, and the ways in which Philosophy uses these tools coherently, and the ways in which they can be marshalled to argue for Theism, as well as for Atheism. Glass does not present one single argument for Theism, upon which all else hangs (this book is too subtle and nuanced for that), but demonstrates in each area that he explores, the ways in which the available evidence suggest the likelihood of a God - allowing a genuinely multi-disciplinary case for Theism to emerge across the different areas he assesses.

The second section deals with science - which is clearly Glass's homeground. While not seeking to take issue with the New Atheists appreciation of the detailed mechanisms of natural selection; he does rather powerfully point out the limits of science to provide meaning, values, and explanations for things entirely beyond its scope. Most significantly Glass's reading of the evidence is that the 'fine-tuning' of the universe is another hint of deity, which multiverse speculations fail to explain-away. Glass's ability to range across physical and biological sciences, as well as interact meaningfully with the worlds of philosophy and theology make this book a unique and valuable contribution to these current debate.

The historical section of the book, in which he confonts the New Atheist's claims about the alleged negative effects of faith on humanity is probably the easiest section of the book to read. Glass' argument is not simply that the reading of history of the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens is grotesquely selective, but further that a Theistic (and specifically Christian) reading of the same examples of human evil is both more faithful to the evidence, more internally coherent, and more persuasive. Going even further, he argues that the Atheist arguments of writers such as Hitchens in this field, use the categories of 'good' and 'evil' without any objective or compelling reason to define the terms in the way in which we all do. 

The final section of the book moves away from exposing the woeful inadequacies in the New Atheist literature, and to addressing his reasons for belief in God - in a specifically Christian way. This final section is a good, short and highly readable account of essential Christian apologetics demonstrating the inherent rationality of belief firstly in God, and then in categories such as revelation, and in the historical figure of Jesus Christ.

The final chapter pulls these threads together with a comparison of Christianity and The New Atheism as both intellectually satisfying and subjectively meaningful alternatives - commending the former as preferable on both counts.

One of The New Atheism's greatest weaknesses is its tendency to seek to shut down debate and refuse to engage with the best theistic arguments. Many fans of The God Delusion, (for example), have swallowed the arguments Dawkins proposes without critique - and have place their faith in his grossly over-confident assertion that a materialistic philosophy of existence is the only, inevitable result of serious engagement with science. It is not; and Glass admirably demonstrates why this is the case. Fans of "God is not Great", "Letter to a Christian Nation" and "God Delusion" would do well to compare Glass's book with these works in order to be able to come to  fair and reasonable judgements for themselves in the light of both sides of the argument.

Atheism's New Clothes is available online here

Glass is a regular contributor to the website, "Saints and Sceptics"

Chapter One of Atheism's New Clothes is online here

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