Christopher O. Tollefsen

Dismantling the new atheism

Christopher O. Tollefsen
By Christopher Tollefsen
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July 5, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, collectively known as the “new atheists,” embody one of the most aggressive recent manifestations of both “scientism” and ”naturalism.” This new atheism is characterized by extreme forms of both scientism, a view about knowledge that holds that only what can be demonstrated scientifically deserves to be considered knowledge, and naturalism, a view about reality that holds that only the material world is real. Hence it is hostile to religion in all forms, viewing it as merely a kind of superstition; it is likewise hostile to much “folk” understanding, including traditional claims about the nature and source of morality.

It is thus good news for everyone that Alvin Plantinga, one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, has addressed and, I should say, systematically dismantled, the claims of the new atheists in his recently published book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Plantinga’s book, generally written at a level accessible to any educated person, is essential reading for anyone concerned not only with theclaims of the new atheists and what can be said contrary to those claims, but also, as I shall discuss below, with their way of making those claims, for they have adopted a style hostile to the very idea of public discourse, a style that now threatens almost every area of contested moral and political discourse in our country.

Plantinga defends two claims throughout his book. One is that there is “a superficial conflict but deep concord between theistic religion and science;” the other is that there is “a superficial concord and deep conflict between naturalism and science.” The bulk of the book is devoted to the first claim. Plantinga begins by discussing the conflict between theism’s claims that God acts in the world as a creator, sustainer, and guide (claims common to at least the three Abrahamic religions), and Darwin’s claim to have discovered the means—random mutation plus natural selection—by which later species, including human beings, have evolved from earlier species.

The claim of the new atheists is that Darwin’s “dangerous idea,” as Dennett calls it, proves that there is no divine agency responsible for the world. As Dennett explains, “an impersonal, unreflective, robotic, mindless little scrap of molecular machinery is the ultimate basis of all the agency, and hence meaning, and hence consciousness, in the universe.” But the claims of Darwin show no such thing: even if Darwinism accurately identifies the mechanism by which evolution has occurred, Plantinga notes, “it is perfectly possible that the process of natural selection has been guided and superintended by God, and that it could not have produced our world without that guidance.”

Moreover, there is a very good reason for thinking that the world as it is would not have been possible but for God’s agency, and that is the existence of creatures with minds. Theists believe, as Locke put it, that it is “impossible to conceive that ever pure incogitative Matter should produce a thinking intelligent Being.” Mind, theists believe, can only come from mind (or Mind). So, on the basis of this argument and several others, Plantinga concludes Part I of his book by claiming that the conflict between Darwin and theism is only apparent.

The conflict is somewhat greater as regards other scientific claims; in particular, many claims coming from evolutionary psychology and historical biblical criticism are, as far as they go, incompatible with some or all aspects of, for example, Christian belief. That all human action is a result of mechanisms selected because they enhance the power of one’s genes to reproduce is clearly incompatible with Christian normative demands to love one’s neighbor: one is not doing that if one’s actions are really undertaken for the propagation of one’s genes. And to varying degrees, the claims of historical biblical scholarship are either in conflict with revealed religion, if those claims deny straightforwardly the possibility of supernatural action in the world, or fall far short of the claims of religion, if they methodologically abstain from using any but naturalistic assumptions.

Yet none of these claims, argues Plantinga, provides defeaters for religious belief; and the reason for this is that the evidence base against which a Christian, for example, assesses the claims of evolutionary biology or biblical scholarship, includes claims that cannot be known only by science’s methodological naturalism.

Most prominently, Christians hold that some truths are known by faith, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; faith, like knowledge, is thus aimed at the truth. Plantinga writes, “My evidence base contains the belief that God has created human beings in his image. I now learn that, given an evidence base that doesn’t contain that belief, the right thing to believe is that those mechanisms [of faith] are not truth-aimed; but of course that doesn’t give me any reason at all to amend or reject my belief that in fact they are truth-aimed.”

In other words, if we take evidence gathered only from one source of truth, we will fail to have a defeater for a claim that appears true on the basis of all of the possible sources of truth: so even though the witnesses say they saw me slash a colleague’s tires (perceptual evidence), if I remember being out of town that day (memorial evidence), then the witness claims do not defeat my belief that I did not slash the tires.

But can’t the new atheists simply help themselves to the premise that science is the only source of knowledge? We might wonder on what basis they could: surely it is not a claim of science that science is the only source of knowledge. But this, as we will see, is only one way in which extreme naturalism threatens to be its own worst enemy.

In the third part of the book, Plantinga turns to the question of whether in fact theism might be in concord with contemporary science, rather than in conflict. After looking at, and giving a fairly weak endorsement to, some arguments in support of intelligent design and fine-tuning, Plantinga argues that in fact the theistic worldview is as a whole deeply consonant with the goals and successes of contemporary science.

This is because theism holds, as atheistic naturalism denies, that God has created us in his image, as rational beings. But as rational, yet finite, beings, we are truth-seekers, and for the theist it makes perfectly good sense to think that God has also created a world that is available to us to know: “God created both us and our world in such a way that there is a certain fit or match between the world and our cognitive faculties.”

Plantinga then identifies a number of features of our world, and our cognitive relationship to that world, that are much more likely, and make much more sense, on a theistic than on an atheistic picture: the reliability and regularity of nature, and its working in accordance with law; the role of mathematics in the understanding of nature; the possibility of induction; the appropriateness of theoretical virtues such as simplicity; and even the empirical nature of science, which Plantinga argues is underwritten by the contingency of divine creation. In all these respects modern science is deeply compatible with theism, a fact that renders unsurprising the further fact that all the great founders of modern science were theists, working from a deeply Christian background.

So the conflict between science and religion is, Plantinga shows, largely bogus (and I have only scratched the surface of his arguments here). But things are even worse from the standpoint of naturalism, for on the naturalist account, there is no good reason to think that our cognitive faculties are truth-tracking. After all, it is not because those faculties contribute to true beliefs that they are selected for in the Darwinian account; it is because they are likely to contribute to survival.

Can the naturalist expect, as the theist clearly can, that her cognitive faculties are reliable, i.e., that they lead to true beliefs? Since natural selection does not select for truth, or truth-tracking faculties, but for other unrelated properties, we have no reason to expect so given naturalism. Of course, we have very good reason to think our beliefs are reliable; so this claim should not bother most people. And non-naturalistic theists will believe that even if evolution is true, God has overseen evolution with a view to the reliability of our cognitive faculties. The naturalist cannot rely on any such claim.

But since the inability to rely on cognitive faculties as reliably truth-tracking is a defeater for any belief whatsoever, it is a defeater also for naturalism; accordingly naturalism turns out, on Plantinga’s argument, to be self-defeating, and cannot be rationally accepted.

So Plantinga gives a wealth of argument for the theist to use against the claims of atheism. And in this, it must be said, he exercises considerably more intellectual virtue than his opponents. Plantinga’s early chapters are devastating in revealing that the prime architects of the new atheism almost inevitably gravitate toward straw-man characterizations of their opponents’ views, attribute venal motives to their opponents, and fail to investigate the intellectual sources of Christianity, giving no weight, for example, to the classical arguments of Aquinas and Locke, or the arguments of contemporary theists such as Swinburne and van Inwagen. Their rhetoric is inevitably condescending, as the development of the recent cult of the “flying spaghetti monster” makes clear.

But what is worse, some of the new atheists seem to have adopted this strategy deliberately. Plantinga quotes from a blog post of Dawkins in which he says that those unconvinced by the new atheists “are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”

Plantinga speaks of the “melancholy” with which one should view this spectacle; yet it seems increasingly characteristic of an important strand of intellectual, if the word is appropriate, approach to the most contentious issues of the day. Those who dissent from academically “respectable” views about religion, evolution, global warming, sexual ethics, the nature of marriage, and the value of unborn human life are increasingly addressed with scorn and public shaming rather than intellectual argument and reasoned discourse; and their opponents are often unwilling even to acknowledge their good will and good faith. This is not a strategy compatible with a love of truth or a love of neighbors, and those on its receiving end should not, of course, respond in kind. The wealth of argument in Where the Conflict Really Lies points to an altogether better path.

Christopher O. Tollefsen, Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina, is the editor of Bioethics with Liberty and Justice: Themes in the Work of Joseph M. Boyle. Tollefsen sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse. This article has been republished from Public Discourse with permission.

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Luka Magnotta http://luka-magnotta.com
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Gay porn star admits dismembering ex-lover and molesting his corpse on film

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

Montreal gay porn actor Luka Magnotta admits killing and dismembering his ex-lover and molesting his corpse on film, but pled not guilty on Monday to all five charges filed against him.

Magnotta shocked the world in June 2012 by allegedly killing and cannibalizing a 33-year-old university student from China, Jun Lin, then posting a video of his actions and the results online. He later hid some of the dismembered parts in the garbage, but also mailed parcels containing body parts to political offices in Ottawa and schools in Vancouver.

He was charged with first-degree murder, committing an indignity to a body, publishing obscene material, mailing obscene and indecent material, and criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other MPs.

Magnotta's lawyer Luc Leclair is basing the not guilty plea on the defendant having a history of mental illness, thus making him not criminally responsible.

Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier said he intends to prove that Magnotta planned the alleged murder well before it was committed.

"He admits the acts or the conducts underlying the crime for which he is charged. Your task will be to determine whether he committed the five offences with the required state of mind for each offence," Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer instructed the jury, according to media reports.

However, some authorities have pointed out that Magnotta’s behavior follows a newly discernible trend of an out-of-control sexual deviancy fueled by violent pornography.

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Dr. Judith Reisman, an internationally-recognized expert on pornography and sexuality, told LifeSiteNews in 2012 she believes Magnotta’s behavior “reflects years of brain imprinting by pornography.”

“His homosexual cannibalism links sex arousal with shame, hate and sadism,” said Reisman. Although cannibalism is not as common as simple rape, she added, “serial rape, murder, torture of adults and even of children is an inevitable result of our ‘new brains,’ increasingly rewired by our out-of-control sexually exploitive and sadistic mass media and the Internet.”

In their 2010 book “Online Killers,” criminology researchers Christopher Berry-Dee and Steven Morris said research has shown “there are an estimated 10,000 cannibal websites, with millions ... who sit for hours and hours in front of their computer screens, fantasizing about eating someone.” 

This underworld came to light in a shocking case in Germany in 2003, when Armin Meiwes was tried for killing his homosexual lover Bernd Jürgen Brandes, a voluntary fetish victim whom Meiwes picked up through an Internet forum ad seeking “a well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed.”

After the warrant was issued for his arrest, Magnotta was the target of an international manhunt for several days until he was arrested in Berlin, where police say he was found looking at online pornography alongside news articles about himself at an Internet café.

The trial is expected to continue to mid-November, with several dozen witnesses being called to testify before the jury of six men and eight women.

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Janna Darnelle

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My husband divorced me for his gay lover - then took our children

Janna Darnelle
By Janna Darnelle

Every time a new state redefines marriage, the news is full of happy stories of gay and lesbian couples and their new families. But behind those big smiles and sunny photographs are other, more painful stories. These are left to secret, dark places. They are suppressed, and those who would tell them are silenced in the name of “marriage equality.”

But I refuse to be silent.

I represent one of those real life stories that are kept in the shadows. I have personally felt the pain and devastation wrought by the propaganda that destroys natural families.

The Divorce

In the fall of 2007, my husband of almost ten years told me that he was gay and that he wanted a divorce. In an instant, the world that I had known and loved—the life we had built together—was shattered.

I tried to convince him to stay, to stick it out and fight to save our marriage. But my voice, my desires, my needs—and those of our two young children—no longer mattered to him. We had become disposable, because he had embraced one tiny word that had become his entire identity. Being gay trumped commitment, vows, responsibility, faith, fatherhood, marriage, friendships, and community. All of this was thrown away for the sake of his new identity.

Try as I might to save our marriage, there was no stopping my husband. Our divorce was not settled in mediation or with lawyers. No, it went all the way to trial. My husband wanted primary custody of our children. His entire case can be summed up in one sentence: “I am gay, and I deserve my rights.” It worked: the judge gave him practically everything he wanted. At one point, he even told my husband, “If you had asked for more, I would have given it to you.”

I truly believe that judge was legislating from the bench, disregarding the facts of our particular case and simply using us—using our children— to help influence future cases. In our society, LGBT citizens are seen as marginalized victims who must be protected at all costs, even if it means stripping rights from others. By ignoring the injustice committed against me and my children, the judge seemed to think that he was correcting a larger injustice.

My husband had left us for his gay lover. They make more money than I do. There are two of them and only one of me. Even so, the judge believed that they were the victims. No matter what I said or did, I didn’t have a chance of saving our children from being bounced around like so many pieces of luggage.

A New Same-Sex Family—Built On the Ruins of Mine

My ex-husband and his partner went on to marry. Their first ceremony took place before our state redefined marriage. After it created same-sex marriage, they chose to have a repeat performance. In both cases, my children were forced—against my will and theirs—to participate. At the second ceremony, which included more than twenty couples, local news stations and papers were there to document the first gay weddings officiated in our state. USA Today did a photo journal shoot on my ex and his partner, my children, and even the grandparents. I was not notified that this was taking place, nor was I given a voice to object to our children being used as props to promote same-sex marriage in the media.

At the time of the first ceremony, the marriage was not recognized by our state, our nation, or our church. And my ex-husband’s new marriage, like the majority of male-male relationships, is an “open,” non-exclusive relationship. This sends a clear message to our children: what you feel trumps all laws, promises, and higher authorities. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want—and it doesn’t matter who you hurt along the way.

After our children’s pictures were publicized, a flood of comments and posts appeared. Commenters exclaimed at how beautiful this gay family was and congratulated my ex-husband and his new partner on the family that they “created.” But there is a significant person missing from those pictures: the mother and abandoned wife. That “gay family” could not exist without me.

There is not one gay family that exists in this world that was created naturally.

Every same-sex family can only exist by manipulating nature. Behind the happy façade of many families headed by same-sex couples, we see relationships that are built from brokenness. They represent covenants broken, love abandoned, and responsibilities crushed. They are built on betrayal, lies, and deep wounds.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

This is also true of same-sex couples who use assisted reproductive technologies such as surrogacy or sperm donation to have children. Such processes exploit men and women for their reproductive potential, treat children as products to be bought and sold, and purposely deny children a relationship with one or both of their biological parents. Wholeness and balance cannot be found in such families, because something is always missing. am missing. But I am real, and I represent hundreds upon thousands of spouses who have been betrayed and rejected.

If my husband had chosen to stay, I know that things wouldn’t have been easy. But that is what marriage is about: making a vow and choosing to live it out, day after day. In sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, spouses must choose to put the other person first, loving them even when it’s hard.

A good marriage doesn’t only depend on sexual desire, which can come and go and is often out of our control. It depends on choosing to love, honor, and be faithful to one person, forsaking all others. It is common for spouses to be attracted to other people—usually of the opposite sex, but sometimes of the same sex. Spouses who value their marriage do not act on those impulses. For those who find themselves attracted to people of the same sex, staying faithful to their opposite-sex spouse isn’t a betrayal of their true identity. Rather, it’s a decision not to let themselves be ruled by their passions. It shows depth and strength of character when such people remain true to their vows, consciously striving to remember, honor, and revive the love they had for their spouses when they first married.

My Children Deserve Better

Our two young children were willfully and intentionally thrust into a world of strife and combative beliefs, lifestyles, and values, all in the name of “gay rights.” Their father moved into his new partner’s condo, which is in a complex inhabited by sixteen gay men. One of the men has a 19-year-old male prostitute who comes to service him. Another man, who functions as the father figure of this community, is in his late sixties and has a boyfriend in his twenties. My children are brought to gay parties where they are the only children and where only alcoholic beverages are served. They are taken to transgender baseball games, gay rights fundraisers, and LGBT film festivals.

Both of my children face identity issues, just like other children. Yet there are certain deep and unique problems that they will face as a direct result of my former husband’s actions. My son is now a maturing teen, and he is very interested in girls. But how will he learn how to deal with that interest when he is surrounded by men who seek sexual gratification from other men? How will he learn to treat girls with care and respect when his father has rejected them and devalues them? How will he embrace his developing masculinity without seeing his father live out authentic manhood by treating his wife and family with love, honoring his marriage vows even when it's hard?

My daughter suffers too. She needs a dad who will encourage her to embrace her femininity and beauty, but these qualities are parodied and distorted in her father's world. Her dad wears make-up and sex bondage straps for Halloween. She is often exposed to men dressing as women. The walls in his condo are adorned with large framed pictures of women in provocative positions. What is my little girl to believe about her own femininity and beauty? Her father should be protecting her sexuality. Instead, he is warping it.

Without the guidance of both their mother and their father, how can my children navigate their developing identities and sexuality? I ache to see my children struggle, desperately trying to make sense of their world.

My children and I have suffered great losses because of my former husband’s decision to identify as a gay man and throw away his life with us. Time is revealing the depth of those wounds, but I will not allow them to destroy me and my children. I refuse to lose my faith and hope. I believe so much more passionately in the power of the marriage covenant between one man and one woman today than when I was married. There is another way for those with same-sex attractions. Destruction is not the only option—it cannot be. Our children deserve far better from us.

This type of devastation should never happen to another spouse or child. Please, I plead with you: defend marriage as being between one man and one woman. We must stand for marriage—and for the precious lives that marriage creates.

Janna Darnelle is a mother, writer, and an advocate for upholding marriage between one man and one woman. She mentors others whose families have been impacted by homosexuality.

Reprinted with permission from the Public Discourse.

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