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Monday, 9 January 2017

New Atheism and the Religion / Science War that Never Was

The belief that the relationship between science and religion has been one of unremitting war, with religion steadily retreating in the face of science triumphant, is a deeply mistaken reading of the history of science, but one that has been harnessed for anti-apologetic benefit. However, as historian of science Stephen Snobelen points out in his ongoing BioLogos series Science, Religion, and the New Atheism, this has not stopped the New Atheists from using it, and in the process demonstrating considerable naivety in the process:
In a video-taped discussion with Dawkins in 2012, the physicist Lawrence Krauss made the following (rehearsed) comment: “Maybe I’m not qualified to talk about nothing because philosophers and theologians are experts at nothing.” Clever, but hardly fair. With this witticism he renders irrelevant at least two and a half millennia of sophisticated philosophical and theological discussion of many of the questions he attempts to address in his book. Krauss seems to be suffering from a form of historical myopia, for several of the key concepts he discusses in his book—a universe from nothing, laws of nature, and the multiverse—were either introduced or embraced by religious thinkers centuries before his birth. (I do not mean that all religious thinkers embraced multiverse. Then, as now, some religious thinkers favour and some do not favour the idea.) The very title of Krauss’s book was first formulated by the early modern German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and resonated with theological meaning. Krauss’ statement is similar to Dawkins’ claim that theology is about nothing and that it is a non-subject (although in an apparent contradiction he has also qualified this claim by acknowledging that the scientific study of religion does exist). Sadly, an examination of A Universe From Nothing and The God Delusion reveal that both Krauss and Dawkins would have benefited from training in philosophy and the philosophy of science. The epistemology (including scientific epistemology) in these works is often either na├»ve or non-existent.
You can find the articles here. As the series progresses, they will be updated.

1. Science, Religion and the New Atheism: Introduction
2. New Atheism and the "Conflict" Between Science and Religion
3. New Atheists, the God of the Gaps, and What's Wrong with the "Conflict Thesis"
4. Carl Sagan and the Myth of the Medieval Gap
5. The Medieval Gap and New Atheists Today