Swinburne: On the "New Atheists"
Visiting Scholar Richard Swinburne discusses with CCT Associate Director Steve Porter if there is anything “new” about the arguments proposed by the “New Atheists.”
A lot of attention has been given to the new atheists, Dawkins and Harris and these folks. I guess two questions. One, is there anything really new about the arguments that the new atheists are proposing against theism, against in some cases just religion more generally? And how should an average Christian think about and deal with the new atheists? Should they be concerned about these arguments?
I don’t think there’s very much new in it, and I don’t think it’s very sophisticated stuff. All they’re writing, I mean … Richard Dawkins is a great expositor of evolutionary theory and a very clear thinker on that, but when he comes to write about religion, his writing is [laughs], I think the average atheist philosopher would say, not of a very high class. And similar criticisms — I haven’t read all these people — might apply to some of the other authors.
But they are making, in a popular form, certain well-known objections to Christian and Christian ideas. And these objections in general, I think have been around all the time, ever since there have been thinkers about God. Possibly one or two new slots, but. And the answers have been around all the time, and I don’t think any of these thinkers go very seriously into the traditional answers on this matter. But there’s no doubt they’ve had an influence, a considerable influence. And it’s an interesting sociological fact why they have had such prominence as to do that. I mean, in Britain I think I know why Richard Dawkins has had this influence.
The BBC and Channel 4 have given him [laughs] a lot of prominence. But he writes clearly and starkly, so it’s right that we should take account of what he has to say. But it’s a pity that the more sophisticated answers to what he has to say haven’t had quite that prominence. But I think that in some ways, all these new atheists are a good thing because they have, they will, they are beginning to force Christians to think about these matters in rather greater detail. And maybe in the end, much good will come of it.