Interesting article from Gary Wolf in an unlikely source (Wired Magazine?) about ‘The New Atheists’, a group of non-believers seeking to inspire (evangelize just doesn’t seem appropriate) atheists everywhere to ‘come out of the closet’. The idea here being that: 1) there must be a great mass of people out there who call themselves agnostics when they are really atheists; 2) these people need to be mobilized in order to put down the destructive force of religion. Wolf, who identifies himself as part of their target market, takes the reader along for the ride on his own personal journey to discover whether he should respond to their call.
Wolf’s conversion adventure is centered around his interviews with three of the movement’s leading members - evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, neuroscientist Sam Harris, and philosopher Daniel Dennett. Each man world-renowned in his field; each with his own special point of emphasis in the reason and need for an un-revival. Yet, despite his favorable disposition towards their non-theistic foundations (along with an understanding of Christian apologetics so pathetic that it could only have come from its opponents), the call does not resonate with Wolf.
“When prophets [i.e. the New Atheists] provoke real trouble, bring confusion to society by sowing reverberant doubts, spark an active, opposing consensus everywhere – that is the sign they've hit a nerve. But what happens when they don't hit a nerve? There are plenty of would-be prophets in the world, vainly peddling their provocative claims. Most of them just end up lecturing to undergraduates, or leading little Christian sects, or getting into Wikipedia edit wars, or boring their friends. An unsuccessful prophet is not a martyr, but a sort of clown.
“Where does this leave us, we who have been called upon to join this uncompromising war against faith? What shall we do, we potential enlistees? Myself, I've decided to refuse the call. The irony of the New Atheism – this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism – is too much for me.”
But why does he arrive at this conclusion? Despite the gaping holes he pokes in the arguments of Dawkins, Harris and Dennett (one wonders if there might there be more:), it's not as if Wolf is about to lose his faith in the non-existence of God (…if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous…).
But perhaps I should stay quiet, maybe even relieved or grateful for his conclusion. Perhaps he is serious about his agnosticism, and is genuinely open to the possibility that God exists.
Or perhaps he has discovered that it is just easier to shut down the investigation there and remain in a position that is extremist in its own right - one that requires no defense and nothing of you. He can have it; sounds a little too much for me.