Sunday, 18 December 2016

Answering the New Atheism, by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker

Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins Case Against God, 2008 Emmaus Road

The title of this book is perhaps slightly misleading. 'Answering the New Atheism' implies that the book will address some of the other 'New Atheist' writers, such as Christopher Hitchens, when in fact it is entirely a critique of Richard Dawkins book 'The God Delusion.'

This is a book of two halves. The first half deals with the origins of life. Our authors argue that Dawkins believes in an anti-God, that is, Chance and that blind chance can explain any phenomena. They argue from the Anthropic Principle that it is improbable that life would have emerged by chance and that it is even more probable that it would have evolved to the complexity of form we know today. I think there is perhaps a danger of a 'God of the Gaps' dilemma creeping in. Hahn and Wiker seek to find God in the improbability of life's emergence, but this would fall apart if science manages in the future to provide better models for abiogenesis. Hahn and Wiker do not explicitly advocate Intelligent Design in this book, but they come perilously close to it with their reasoning, with all the problems it entails. The second half is more satisfactory. It addresses the failure of Dawkins to come up with a coherent account of morality. The final chapter, King Richard, is unhelpful and unnecessary. It speculates on how if given political power, it would be logical for Dawkins to use totalitarian measures to suppress religion. This is Punch and Judy philosophy. Dawkins could just as easily have written a chapter suggesting that Hahn and other Catholics might consider establishing a new inquisition to deal with atheists. Furthermore, there is no engagement with some of the statements that Dawkins has made about being a 'Cultural Christian.' What are we to make of those?

I would have expected our authors, being Catholics, to have spent more time addressing Dawkins failure to understand Aquinas' Five Ways to Prove God and perhaps to have majored on this. They would have been on surer ground there than on the origins of life. I was also disappointed to find that Hahn and Wiker reject Pascal's Wager. They point out that one cannot simply decide to believe, for faith is a gift of grace. However, while one cannot make oneself believe, there are many things one can do to make oneself more disposed to be receptive of faith. One can go to church, one can talk to believers, one can read Christian books (like Answering the New Atheism!) and one can even pray, even if uncertain of the existence of God. In other words, one can attend to the 'means of grace,' as Calvinists call them.

It's clear that Dawkins was out of his depth writing about theology and the philosophy of religion. Perhaps this allows our authors at times to fall into the trap of a sneering contempt for the man. Unfortunately, while Hahn is a good writer, he cannot match the wit and eloquence of Dawkins. It's also arguable that Hahn is outside of his own expertise in addressing the relationship between religion and science.

I think Scott Hahn is a great writer and apologist. I also think this book does contain some good arguments that are destructive of Dawkins' position. However, I still felt disappointed with it on the whole.

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