The "New Atheists" | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | Editorial | Homiletic & Pastoral Review | August/September 2011
Books promoting atheism have been selling very well in recent years. The main proponents, the “New Atheists,” are biologist Richard Dawkins, philosophers Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, and journalist Christopher Hitchens. A recent closely-argued, philosophical refutation of their naturalism or “mechanical philosophy” was written by Edward Feser (The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, St. Augustine’s Press, 2010). Feser offers a brilliant, careful analysis of the New Atheists’ position and shows that it is based on old philosophical errors and manifests a high degree of intellectual dishonesty, philosophical shallowness, and massive ignorance in the fields of history and theology.
Edward Feser knows what he is talking about, since he used to be an atheist. But after studying the arguments of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas he came to see that materialism and naturalism cannot survive serious rational analysis. Human experience is permeated with awareness of the reality of purpose and design in the world, which cannot be explained by claiming all that exists is matter in motion with no final purpose. Experience also shows that the human mind is essentially different from all material things because it grasps universal ideas that are independent of time and space. The obvious conclusion is that the human mind and soul are immaterial, because they can reflect back upon themselves when they know that they know. No material thing, tied to time and space, can do that.
The driving force behind the thinking of the atheists and materialists is opposition to religion. According to Feser, secularism is an “anti-religion” religion that has its own dogmas and morality, which is really immorality. The moving force behind this atheism is not reasonable argument, but a willfulness that there be no God. For, if there is no Creator God who is the First Mover of all things, then there is no purpose to the universe, no immortality of the soul, no natural moral law, no final judgment or accountability for how one lives one’s life. In effect, it makes man into a little god who creates his own reality and is not morally accountable to anyone for what he does or thinks, especially in the area of sex.