Fever of Unknown Origin: What is New About Atheism?

Sickwomaninbed

In medical terminology, “fever” refers to the term “pyrexia” ( from Greek purexis, from puressein ‘be feverish,’ from pur ‘fire’) meaning an elevation of body temperature. However, anyone who has experienced a fever knows the condition is not that simple. Misery loves companionship, and a fever is no exception. If you conduct an internet search like Google, you get this definition: “an abnormally high body temperature, usually accompanied by shivering, headache, and in severe instances, delirium.” [1] Alongside this symptom trails a multitude of discomforts as we all may attest. In medicine, whether human or veterinary, we encounter patients with elevated body temperature for which we frequently do not have an obvious culprit hence the name “Fever of Unknown Origin.” The method of treatment is not always apparent immediately until further investigation is made. What does any good doctor say? “We are going to have to run some diagnostic tests” of course.

Before you perform laboratory tests, you must first get to know your patient. This task involves acquiring a thorough history. To get a good history, you must first ask some questions. If a person claims to be an atheist, you should ask them “What  do you mean by atheist?” [2] Sometimes the claim being made by the individual does not mean what they think it means, or is not the correct term to describe themselves. An atheist lacks faith in God, believes there is no god, or requires awareness of gods. An agnostic either believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a god or is noncommittal on the issue. [3] The difference between the two result in two distinctly separate worldviews. To put it another way, the atheist states there is no God, while the agnostic says either he can’t know or he does not know if God exists.

Since the turn of the 21st century, atheism in the West has moved in a particular direction with a significant militancy and veracity against faith in God particularly.  The “New Atheist” terminology not only asserts there is no God nor gods but seeks to rid the world of all religious belief and practice. The question we seem to be asking is this: Is this really a “new” phenomenon, and if so how is it different from “old” atheism? In taking a good history, it is helpful to look at history itself. During the French Revolution in the late 18th century, radicals established the “Cult of Reason” in an attempt to replace Christianity with state-sponsored atheistic practices without God. Today one has to look no further than North Korea, China, Vietnam, Laos or Cuba to observe suppression of religious practice and Christianity in particular. Although this emergence is “new” in the West, its tenets are well established.

The New Atheist concept has emerged today as a consequence of the popularity of writings by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens to name a few. The consistent theme of their books is the marriage of science and reason, or naturalism, against religion and supposed irrationality. As professor John Lennox of Oxford University puts it:

“The new atheism is an old atheism, except it’s much more aggressive. The new atheism wants to destroy religion. That’s a very different thing. The arguments are not new, it’s the aggression that’s new.” – John Lennox [4]

The amplification of New Atheism in America appears out of increased media and secular attention. One example often cited is an article from Wired in November 2006 by Gary Wolf, himself an atheist, elaborating on the strategies of Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. Combined with increased cultural acceptance and fueled by social media, the debate over God’s existence vs. naturalism can enter a conversation instantaneously with all the sarcasm and vitriol that rallies behind it. In the article, Wolf exposes “the religion of reason” the atheists envision.

“Yes, there could be a rational religion,” Dennett says. “We could have a rational policy not even to think about certain things.” [5]

Now, wait a minute. Are not these intellectuals promoting themselves as the great thinkers of today? If they disagree about something, well let us just decide not even to discuss it. The issue is either black or white in this logical fallacy, so since they are right, let’s just move along. Nothing to see here. The distinction is clear: once you reject one set of beliefs, by default you are accepting another. Unless you refuse to think about it in the first place. The presupposition of their beliefs creates an a priori (from the very beginning) objection. Their reasoning postulates beforehand certain assumptions that have not yet been tested, but cannot be verified by their own standard and are self-defeating. The statement that “science knows” or “everyone agrees” are a matter of “just-so” arguments. Science as a discipline is a method, not an intelligence. Individuals, namely scientists must interpret the data that science provides. The interpretation of data is based on presumptions derived from observation. Philosophy is integral in the manner in which we all make reasonable judgments based on logic.  The scientist must make a deduction from scientific observations and as a result, is bound by his or her own philosophical filter. The question I wish to ask is: “If you refuse to think about certain things, how can any policy or platform deem itself “rational?” The corner that the atheist has painted themselves into seeks to follow the same argument in spite of the evidence, where the theist seeks to follow the evidence to where it leads them and then draw a conclusion. To conclude beforehand the outcome then is to presuppose and for the atheist, this is nothing “new.”

 

[1] Source- google.com search “Fever”

[2] Koukl, Greg. Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2009. Pp. 42-46

[3] Source- grammarist.com/usage/agnostic-atheist

[4] Lennox, John C. Gunning For God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target. Oxford, England: Lion Hudson 2011. p. 16

[5] Wolf, Gary. “The Church of the Non-Believers.” Wired, 1 Nov. 2006, http://www.wired.com/2006/11/atheism/.

Be careful, that dog will bite you.

Germanshepherdbite

I remember as a youngster riding my bicycle everywhere. My best friend and I would leave at 9 a.m. on any given Saturday. If the weather permitted and we had no baseball game that day, we rode around our local neighborhood all day until it was so dark you could not see. Dad would signal for me to come inside by turning on the porch light on the final lap before bedtime. We set up sophisticated ramps and jumps using plywood. My 20″ Sears and Roebuck Spider bike with a banana seat was the ideal cruiser, long before the advent of trick bikes and foot pegs of today. Baseball cards or balloons adorned our spokes creating a rumble as authentic as any motorcycle the teenagers had.

On one day in particular, however, we stopped at my friend’s house to get some water from the garden hose in front. We screeched to a halt and dumped our bikes at the corner of the driveway, as was tradition because our parents always knew where we landed because of the location of our bikes. As I turned to make my way to the front porch, I was leveled by a large dog, sinking his canines into the right side of my chest. Just as quickly, the dog was gone, and I lie bleeding and confused on the ground. We soon realized that my friend’s dog had been asleep in the garage, and when we arrived, he became startled and pounced in defense of his domain. Undaunted, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled back to my house to inform Dad. He proceeded to take me to the emergency room for treatment and thanks to a tetanus shot, wound care and some antibiotic ointment I survived to tell the story some 50 years later.

So what happened to the dog? He had been previously vaccinated for rabies and had no prior complaints, so he went on to live a full life I suppose. Local authorities did keep him under “house arrest” for ten days as required by animal control after a bite. I would imagine from this dog’s perspective it suited him well because the house is where wanted to be in the first place. Looking back, I can see many similarities with the manner in which we humans often respond to adversity. I still went forward later in life to become a veterinarian, in spite of what many would consider a childhood trauma concerning a very robust, protective German Shepherd.

So as a veterinarian, how would I examine this historical event? Consider first my friend and I. We had our view of the world, just two kids riding their bikes, our “worldview” if you will. We had drawn a circle around our world and preferred to stay in it as long as possible. Nonetheless, something came along and challenged our view of that world. We could no longer trespass into the dog’s realm in a secure way. What do you do when your worldview is shaken or challenged?  As Christians, we have our worldview, and many are content to draw a circle around it and hope no one invades our “private” dominion. As children riding bikes all day we had joy. The dog interrupted that joy for apparently no reason in our minds, but our mere presence elicited a violent response. Does this sound a bit familiar in today’s culture? Sometimes our existence, our witness gets broadsided by the widespread consensus of society.

Second, upon further evaluation, what was our response to the dog’s attack? We sought out a person of authority, namely my dad. We looked for assistance from a source that we did not just “hope” would solve our problem, but that we were “certain” could help us. He was ready to give an answer to our problem. I was sure he would know how to heal my wounds and prevent me from having the incident happen again. It follows, therefore, that as Christians if an aggressor challenges our worldview, we should seek out wisdom and authority concerning the truth. The skills and knowledge we seek are through apologetics. Unwittingly as a child, I was seeking my dad to model 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer for the joy that is in you with humility and grace.” If he could tell us what to do next, we could go back to riding our bikes, and our life was restored- our worldview so to speak.

As Christians, if we seek authority in disciplines such as history, philosophy, archaeology, science, logic, and so on, the truth is undeniable. The answer is clear. But here is the rub. We cannot forget the last part of the verse concerning “humility and grace.” You must be careful, or that dog will bite you. Our quest is to be God’s ambassador for the Gospel, not its adversary. Today as a veterinarian, I still face aggressive animals, and occasionally people are not so kind either. But we all have to address the conflict both in our work and in our faith. To avoid being bitten, we have to do our research and point out that specific behaviors akin to the aggressive dog are harmful and painful. With aggressive dogs, you must approach with caution and go slowly. Their trust must be gained and rewarded with positive responses. For a canine, this reward is frequently a treat. In essence, a treat is an answer that the dog desires. In life situations heeding this advice can be fruitful.  Listen to understand. Ask questions to clarify. Respond with wisdom and truth. Eventually, that dog no longer wants to bite, but instead wants more of what you have because of observing the rewards.  In the instance of a person, they can have the same as what you have, with the fullness of joy and the peace that accompanies it. So come on, are you ready to “be the Dad” (or the Mom) ?