The Most Penetrating Critique of New Atheism – Written by an Atheist

by Lenny Esposito

A lot of people have taken to critiquing the New Atheists. Some of the most eminent apologists (Craig, Copan, and Lennox among others) have written books cataloging the errors of their screeds. However, the most poignant review of the movement I’ve seen comes from an older article written by a fellow atheist. Physician Theodore Dalrymple provided this article for the City Journal wherein he examined the posturing and pronouncements of Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. His observations are keenly insightful.

Dalrymple writes:

The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree, for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14 (Saint Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence gave me the greatest difficulty, but I had taken Hume to heart on the weakness of the argument from design).

He then goes on to show some of the foibles of each of the main contributors to the New Atheist movement.  He notes, “One striking aspect of Dennett’s book is his failure to avoid the language of purpose, intention, and ontological moral evaluation, despite his fierce opposition to teleological views of existence.” In other words, Dennett keeps using language of purpose and design in trying to sell the argument that there is no designer and no ultimate purpose for life. In a parenthetical statement he writes:

And Dennett is not alone in this difficulty: Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto, so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them, says on its second page that religion prevents mankind from facing up to “reality in all its naked cruelty.” But how can reality have any moral quality without having an immanent or transcendent purpose?

Dalrymple notes that Dawkins “quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them…

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