Tag Archives: philosophy

David Bentley Hart on “The New Atheists”

David Bentley Hart has written a rather searingly critical essay on “The New Atheists” (e.g. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris). He laments the loss of the true skeptic of yesteryear (such as Hume, Neitzche, et al) and the shallowness of the New Atheists.

It’s a very long essay.  But from what I can tell, Hart is a master of the English language. The article is worth reading for that reason alone.

… a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another—say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called “humanism.” Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

…As a rule, the New Atheists’ concept of God is simply that of some very immense and powerful being among other beings, who serves as the first cause of all other things only in the sense that he is prior to and larger than all other causes. That is, the New Atheists are concerned with the sort of God believed in by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Deists. Dawkins, for instance, even cites with approval the old village atheist’s cavil that omniscience and omnipotence are incompatible because a God who infallibly foresaw the future would be impotent to change it—as though Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and so forth understood God simply as some temporal being of interminable duration who knows things as we do, as external objects of cognition, mediated to him under the conditions of space and time.

There are a number of books in this category I ought to read, including both Hawkins’ (The God Delusion) and Hitchens’ (God is Not Great).  But those should be read together with Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate and Hart’s recently released The Atheist Delusion.

Will I get to any of those books any time soon? Alas, it is unlikely.