I sometimes imagine a Q & A session in which I get to ask Richard Dawkins why Philosophy Departments do not dedicate any time and resources to debates over the existence of Santa Claus.
In response to critics, like fellow atheist Michael Ruse, that he knows nothing of philosophy or theology, Dawkins blithely responds that one does not need to have studied Leprechaunology to confidently assert that Leprechauns don’t exist.
We are told over and over again that belief in God is akin to belief in the tooth fairy.
This assertion is so patently false it is hard to know exactly what to do with it. (I suspect that may be part of its appeal, in fact.) Which great atheist has, like Bertrand Russell, been momentarily troubled by the ontological argument with respect to Leprechauns or even, only slightly more seriously, Zeus? Which great thinker has put forth proofs for the existence of the Easter Bunny?
It seems to me that continuing to peddle such arguments admits of two explanations. Either Dawkins et al actually find them credible, in which case they are making a monumentally embarrassing mistake, or they know that they are not credible and continue to peddle them anyways because they seem to get the job done.That is to say, one way or the other, the New Atheism is here precisely imitating what it takes religion to be doing. That is, the New Atheism is either being hopelessly misinformed and is useful only as a comfort to the weak-minded, or it is cynically preying upon the weak-minded by offering bad arguments for things people want to believe anyway for reasons that have nothing to do with reason.
Which do you think is the case? Is Dawkins simply blind to how bad his argument is, or is he cynically employing it knowing that it is bad? Or is there some credible third option I’ve overlooked?
Brett Salkeld is Archdiocesan Theologian for the Catholic Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan. He is a father of four (so far) and husband of one.