Confronting the New Atheists By Mistake image

Confronting the New Atheists By Mistake

Regular readers will know that I am a David Bentley Hart fan, not just for his beautiful writing but for his philosophical clarity, apologetic fierceness and historical groundedness. He was asked in an interview recently what had prompted him to engage with the New Atheists in his two recent books, Atheist Delusions and The Experience of God, and he replied, rather intriguingly, that he hadn't really meant to:

Interviewer: Your last two books on Yale Press, Atheist Delusions and The Experience of God, both confront the so-called “New Atheism,” though perhaps in different ways and through somewhat distinct arguments. I’m curious as to whether you see these books as working together to present a larger vision of an appropriate Christian response to atheism. What led to your decision to address the new atheists, and is this a project that you will continue to pursue in future works?

Hart: Actually, neither book was conceived as a direct confrontation with the New Atheists. In the case of the former volume, the title was originally what now appears as a subtitle; the New Atheists, however, had just had their annus mirabilis in the publishing world as I began writing, and so it was convenient to use their books as a (somewhat comic) point of departure. They spared me the necessity of constructing straw men. Frankly, like many others in the academic world, I was rather naïve about the cultural effect those books would have, at least in the near term. They were all such poor books—shot through with historical ignorance and philosophical ineptitude, rhetorically crass or (in the case of Sam Harris) hilariously pompous—that I imagined no one would take them very seriously. I mean, the book by Christopher Hitchens was so spasmodically delirious and pointless, so full of historical errors and conceptual confusions, that it came across almost as a parody. So the New Atheists were at most a minor and marginal presence in that book, and had a somewhat aggressive title not been added to the volume it might never have been perceived as a contribution to that debate. The new book, on the other hand, is in fact a response to popular misconceptions about traditional understandings of God, and so might be seen as a confrontation with the New Atheists. But, really, their celebrity is already on the decline, except among their most ferocious disciples, and my book is no more concerned with them than it is with religious fundamentalists, metaphysical “naturalists,” certain proponents of intelligent design theory, deists, or those misguided Christian philosophers of religion Brian Davies calls “theistic personalists.” I sincerely doubt I will have anything more to say abut the New Atheists in future work.

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