While many faith-based responses to antireligious rants by Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great), Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), et al. have been published, some of the more interesting critiques have come from fellow atheists. Theodore Dalrymple—an atheist and a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute—has a lively and thoughtful piece in the institute’s City Journal.
Dalrymple’s basic, but crucial observation is that this latest spate of antireligious book lack originality. “[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,” he writes. “They advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14.”
The piece also criticizes these writers’ deeply condescending attitudes toward people of faith, as well as their selective use of evidence in support of a foregone conclusion (“First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness”).
Dalrymple is at his best when challenging the new atheists on their own intellectual consistency, questioning, for instance, Dawkins’ wisdom in suggesting “a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists…without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them.”
At times, the prose is as self-important as, well . . . Christopher Hitchens. And there’s enough gratuitous name-dropping to make even a young graduate student blush. Still, it’s a sharply written and argued piece.
See also the Berlin weekly Jungleworld’s interview with Mitchell Cohen—reprinted in Dissent—in which Cohen, another atheist, offers some useful context for the debate. —Steve Thorngate