In 2006, the widely acclaimed book of Prof Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion” was published. A reputed biologist at New College, Oxford, Dawkins ventured into the field of philosophy and theology and concluded that the concept of God is merely a “delusion”.
It is always productive when people delve into disciplines other than their own because it brings forth new ideas and fresh perspectives. Dawkins’ contribution is therefore significant because it did indeed stir things in the religious world and renewed the interest in the age old debate of God vs. Science. However, this is where his contribution ends as he does not bring anything new to the table that would further our understanding of the existence or absence of God. In fact, with his book he is simultaneously mocking the theists while undermining the intelligence of atheist community.
Dawkins was perhaps compelled to write his book as he faced a direct confrontation from the proponents of “Intelligent Design” theory in his own discipline. It is likely that the surge in the book sales might have surprised Dawkins himself. His message has resonated with the pulse of the time.
We are indeed living in an age when disregard of religion is higher than ever and Dawkins has cashed in on this sentiment. In the present times, religion is an easy target, many ironically branding it the root of all evil. The myopic view the media has taken towards religion, where only the most fanatic voices are the broadcast, has no doubt got people scared of any organized religion. Currently, the non-religious groups represent the largest growing demographic.
Over the last hundred years, there has been a seismic shift in the way life and world is viewed. At least three concepts have changed dramatically:
- God has been more or less replaced with marvel of the Universe and Cosmos
- Interest in “life after death” has shifted to life in this world alone
- The concept of “Soul” has been forgotten and has been replaced by anatomy and wellbeing of human body
With the shift from the “belief in the unseen” in the age of materialism, it was natural for the “New Atheism” rise. Its proponents (Dawkins, Harris and the late Hitchens) took a stronger line, which did not just question religion, but countered it with hostility and zero tolerance.
This radical approach has its own shortcomings. Firstly the fundamental arguments that are made to disprove god are simplistic and flawed. They might seemingly provide intellectual ammunition to the rising atheist community, but fall on their face when countered with robust logic. In fact the veterans of Atheism (Prof David Albert, Stephen Law, Richard Swinburne) themselves are embarrassed by the absurdity and the school boy errors in the founding arguments laid by the “New Atheists”. For example the widely used “ Russell’s teapot” argument which is as follows:
- Let’s assume that there is a teapot going around the earth
- There is no telescope on earth that can sight an object as small as a teapot
- There is no evidence to confirm its absence
- So the teapot must be present
- If teapot can exist with the absence of proof for it, similarly God must be present because there is no evidence to disprove it.
Reusing this argument (originally put forward by Bertrand Russell), Dawkins is trying to to make two points. Firstly he is sarcastically saying that in the absence of evidence of god, one is justified in thinking there is no God. And secondly, if there is a god than the burden of proof lies with one making the claim of a deity that is seemingly absent.
The teapot example fails because it is not the absence of evidence that the teapot exits but it is rather the presence of sufficient proof that it does not exist. To elaborate, no teapot was ever sent to space by us and there is no evidence of any extraterrestrial being putting it there. Thus to summarize, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (Thank you Dr. William Lane Craig ).
New Atheism has time and again failed in responding to the Contingency argument, the Cosmological argument, the Teleological argument and many other classical philosophical arguments pointing to the presence of a creator. It mainly focuses its attack on pluralism in theological concepts, criticism of varied interpretations and inconsistencies in narration to disprove religion. Furthermore they do it wearing the spectacle of materialism and with the wrong premise that Science can explain everything.
It is no doubt that science is a wonderful tool which has enhanced our understanding of the world. However there are a multitude of phenomenon that are still undefined and unquantified. The presence or absence of God or questions on morality are not for Science to answer. Similarly science doesn’t give the full answer to the age old questions, where did we come from and where will we go? What was the ultimate cause? If indeed it is used to answer these questions, the corollaries are inconclusive.
“New Atheism” also assumes that it is the only legitimate voice of science, while religion is incompatible with reason. In saying so, they completely disregard the scientific works religious figures from past. Yes, at times in history, religion has confronted science. However when looking at the whole picture one finds that there were a vast number of scientists that were inspired by religion. Furthermore, religion did not just inspire scientists, but also leading artists and philosophers of the times.
In the Quran alone, there are over 600 verses that command contemplation of the the world and creations. God has asked the believers to approach him through his signs. The Quran tells the followers not only to reason, but to convince people with the best of arguments. And yet, religious followers are often found at loss when confronting the new wave of atheism. This shows the decay in imparting knowledge of theological proofs and diminishing scholarship level in the communities. It does not imply that people who follow religion are disadvantaged because of their illogical, A-scientific and irrational approach.
It is time that we start showing the benefits that religion brings. It enriches lives and fulfils our intellectual needs about the major questions. It is a motivator for virtues and deterrent for harm in the society. It is a mechanism for self-reflection and self impeachment. Yes it can be at times hijacked and misused, but we need to protect it from this vulnerability rather than demolish the whole institution.
It is time for the religious demographic to rise up, regain scholarship and educate the world.