There is a new atheism afoot in the marketplace of ideas, and it presents a far more potent challenge to the Christian worldview than the atheism of former times, R. Albert Mohler argues in an important book released in 2008.
In Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheism (Crossway), Mohler engages the central arguments of four contemporary atheists, whom he calls “The Four Horseman of the Atheist Apocalypse:” Oxford University scientist Richard Dawkins, Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett, author Sam Harris and pundit Christopher Hitchens.
Mohler, who serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, chose Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens because “they are four figures who have especially come to embody the New Atheist movement.”
All four have argued against theism in best-selling books, some of which have spent significant time on the New York Times Best-Seller List, including Dawkins’ 2006 work “The God Delusion,” Dennett’s 2006 book “Breaking the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon,” Harris’ 2004 book “The End of Faith,” and Hitchens’ 2007 work “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”
The New Atheism promotes the development of a purely secular society, Mohler argues, a secularism that views the death of all religions as the expected natural progression of Darwinian naturalism.
“I believe what we see in the rise of the New Atheism is something of the endgame of secularism,” Mohler said.
After tracing the rise of atheism in the first chapter, Mohler gives biographical sketches of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens in the second and sets forth eight characteristics that distinguish the new atheism from the old. While the old atheism had negligible societal impact, the new atheism is more aggressive and has gained momentum within the broader culture, Mohler writes.
The new atheism is marked by:
· An unprecedented new boldness.
· A clear and specific rejection of the Christian God of the Bible.
· An explicit rejection of Jesus Christ.
· Arguments grounded in science.
· A refusal to tolerate even moderate and liberal forms of theism.
· An attack on the toleration of any form of religion.
· A questioning of the right of parents to instill religious beliefs in their children.
· A fundamental assertion that religion itself must be eliminated to preserve human freedom.
In the third chapter, Mohler assesses two refutations of atheism, one by Oxford theologian Alister McGrath and another by Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga. McGrath and Plantinga have exposed the fundamental flaws in the naturalistic assumptions that undergird Dawkins’ atheism, Mohler argues, and both thinkers have shown that Dawkins lacks even a superficial understanding of the Bible and basic Christian doctrine.
The Christian’s response, Mohler says, must not be merely to refute the arguments of atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens, but also to articulate a Christian worldview, one that insists on the fundamental doctrine of God’s self-revelation in Scripture as a starting point.
“In the end, evangelical Christians must remember that the burden of our concern is not merely to refute atheism or argue for the credibility of theism in any generic or minimal form,” Mohler writes.
“Instead, our task is to present, to teach, to explain, and to defend Christian theism. On this point, the defense of biblical theism reveals the great divide in intellectual thought to be not merely over the existence of God but over the question of whether he has spoken.
“The materialism and naturalism that are so central to the New Atheism simply reject the category of revelation out of hand. This, in the end, is the real impasse. The issue is not merely metaphysics, but epistemology.”
In the final chapter, Mohler examines the future of Christianity in light of the new atheism. Pro-atheistic arguments from Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens present evangelicals with an opportunity to clarify their own theological positions, Mohler asserts. He reminds readers that the new atheism, though vocal and disproportionally represented in colleges, universities and the mainstream media, actually represents the worldview of a very small minority of Americans. Most Americans express some belief in God, he argues.
“The Christian church must respond to the challenge of the New Atheism with the full measure of conviction,” Mohler writes.
“We are reminded that the church has faced a constellation of theological challenges throughout its history. Then, as now, the task is to articulate, communicate, and defend the Christian faith with intellectual integrity and evangelistic urgency. We should not assume that this task will be easy, and we must also refuse the withdraw from public debate and private conversation in light of this challenge.”<!--