Sep 27 2008

Debunking the new atheism

For some strange reason, I subscribe to a few atheism blogs. Lately I’ve added Debunking Christianity to the list, although I’m not sure how long it will stay; I’ve been largely bored and unimpressed with level of writing and thinking there. But, just when I thought I’d never agree with John Loftus on anything, he surprises me by doing a thoughtful review of John Haught’s new book, God and the New Atheism.  Here’s an interesting excerpt from Loftus’ post, in which he agrees with some of Haught’s criticisms:

As a theologian and philosopher of science, Dr. Haught effectively dismantles what I consider to be a few naïve understandings of the new atheists regarding faith and the scientific method. It’s a common mistake that applied and theoretical scientists unaccustomed to understanding the philosophy of science make. Is faith a belief without evidence? No. Do scientists come to their conclusions based solely on the evidence? No.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the new atheists, since I truly appreciate the impact they have had in raising the level of awareness for skeptics, but Haught is correct here, if in fact that’s what they think. Anyone who has seriously looked into the philosophy of science and read Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, Ian Barbour, Frederick Suppe, Paul Feyerabend, and even Karl Popper knows that science is not completely objective, that facts are theory laden, and that certainty as a goal is impossible to achieve, which leaves room for faith. Popper, for instance, talked of science progressing by “conjectures and guesses.” Feyerabend even argued that there is no such thing as the scientific method! Scientists themselves are people with passions, prior commitments, and/or control beliefs. In fact, there are many beliefs we have for which we have no evidence, as Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued–such things as I’m not dreaming right now, that I’ve existed for longer than 24 hours, that I am not merely a brain in a mad scientist’s vat which is being caused to remember the events of today in the year 2030, or that we’re not all living in something depicted by the movie the Matrix.

Granted, he doesn’t agree with most of Haught’s thinking, and I’m the last person to try to imply that. However, I’m impressed with Loftus’ intellectual integrity here, something which does indeed distinguish him from the crowd.  At least in this post.