Last night I presented the talk ‘Is the New Atheism Reasonable?’ at Thinking Matters Tauranga. It was split into two parts – the first was a bit of worldview and epistemology and the second more social commentary and history to refute the New Atheist claim that Christianity is somehow bloodthirsty.
To start my presentation, I looked at the question of Agnosticism and identified the two types: Soft Agnosticism and Hard Agnosticism.
Soft Agnosticism is the claim that “I don’t know, because I haven’t made up my mind yet” – a claim which is a simple admission of ignorance, and as such is a subjective claim that cannot be argued with.
Hard Agnosticism on the other hand is the claim that “I don’t know, because it’s not possible to know”, a common claim in our relativistic culture, seen as the most ‘tolerant’ view by those who hold tolerance up as the greatest good, and is typically used as an escape route to shut down a conversation about God.
I pointed out that Hard Agnosticism is actually an objective knowledge claim that requires justification in the same way the theist and atheist worldviews do. After all, they aren’t claiming “I don’t know because I don’t think it’s possible for ME to know”, but rather “I don’t know because, it’s not possible for ANYONE to know”– clearly an objective claim to knowledge which must be logically defended and justified – rather than used to passively avoid the subject altogether.
In the second part of my talk I addressed the most common charge that the ‘New Atheists’ make, the idea that religion in general, and Christianity in particular it is more than simply foolish, it’s also dangerous.
Take this quote from Sam Harris:
“If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion.”
And another one from Richard Dawkins:
“Regarding the accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deplorable and disgusting as those abuses are, they are not as harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place”
I pointed out that the logical conclusion of the above – if true – is to either make paedophilia legal, or make raising your children catholic illegal – and punishable by a longer prison sentence than paedophilia currently entails.
I then addressed the specific claim that Christianity was a perpetrator of witch hunts, crusades and wars across the ages – and refuted the claim by looking in more depth at four key points:
1) Christianity cannot be held responsible when people do un-Christian things
If you join weightwatchers and you do the opposite of what the program requires, and pack on the weight, is it fair to blame weightwatchers for your problems? The problem if religious violence in the name of God isn’t God’s responsibility, its the responsibility of those who disobey Him.
2) The crimes themselves have been exaggerated
The actual numbers needlessly killed in the Salem witch trials, the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades is not as high as the numbers the New Atheists claim.
3) The greatest evil in the world actually comes from those who deny God’s existence
Dennis Prager said:
“In this [20th] century alone, more innocent people have been murdered, tortured, and enslaved by secular ideologies such as nazism and communism than by all religions in history.”
The simple fact of history is that the greatest evil has always resulted from denial of God, not pursuit of Him. It doesn’t result from people zealous for God, it results when people are convinced there is no God to whom they must answer to (at least this has been true so far in history, we have yet to see how far fundamentalist Islam will go).
4) Christianity’s real record of goodness and influence throughout the history of the world
I listed off a number of significant contributions made by Christianity over the last 2000 years that we simply take for granted today, such as the value of human life, freedom and dignity for Women, our education system, the formation of science, the opposition to slavery, the formation of health care, and the numerous acts of mercy preformed by missionaries who serve quietly, unnamed and unnoticed throughout the world.
45 turned up and overall I enjoyed the night (chatted to others afterwards until midnight!) and was pleased with the feedback I got. Please feel free to post comments, corrections or criticisms below – I’d love to get more feedback!