Fever of Unknown Origin: What is New About Atheism?

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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/.

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