Robert Grant works in the Department of Philosophy at Trinity College in Dublin where he is a tutor of philosophy. He is also a research analyst with RelateCare.
It is not only religious people that take issue with the New Atheists (NA), namely the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkings & Christopher Hitchens, and their vitriolic methodology & rhetoric against religion. Grant explains that the NA argue that “religion should be banished. It obstructs the progress of the human race; and progress based on the pursuit of science and reason.” Grant goes on to say that:
“At first I was sympathetic to their cause. I too was angry with the hypocrisy and false piety of religious leaders, their cover-up of abuse, their oppressive views on homosexuality, contraception and the treatment of women. Not to mention that I don’t believe in heaven, hell, miracles or the power of prayer.”
However, when Grant took the time to consider the arguments of the NAs he found “their understanding of religion intellectually shallow, and their faith in science and reason naive and dangerous.”
It was the implication of ridding the world of religion or the NA idea that if “we get rid of religion we get rid of evil” that Grant finds dangerous. In fact, 20th century history has well proven this to be a dangerous idea, and past secular attempts for utopia, writes the atheist John Steinrucken “have not merely come to naught. Attempts during those two centuries to put into practice utopian visions have caused huge sufferings” (1).
However, as Grant believes, it is not religion that is the source of all evil and the NA argument that it is “is a fool’s errand: the capacity for oppression and intolerance is not unique to the religious, or the secular. Rather it is part of our corruptible nature.” Philosopher Paul Copan argues that “Because Atheists are not constrained by any moral principles except those of their own devising, they find themselves free to pursue their heart’s desires, unhampered by any constraints. This is moral anarchy, and it is a direct result of Atheism as a worldview” (2).
Furthermore, regarding science and reason the NAs “argue that we ought to put our faith in science and reason to deliver us from evil and usher in a future of unfettered human progress,” however, argues Grant “This kind of thinking misunderstands the role of science and technology” especially because “Technology and science are morally neutral: they are tools that can be used for good and for bad. We use science to feed the hungry, explore the universe, cure disease, and to create nuclear weapons, chemical and biological warfare, gas chambers, and bureaucratic systems of surveillance and oppression.”
“The danger in assuming that science and technology are inherently good is that it tempts us to have blind faith in whatever they allow us to do. We are seduced into assuming we no longer need to be cautious and wary of our tendencies for violence and domination.” According to Grant it is our nature that is “something we have not yet mastered.”
Visit Grant at his website.
1. Steinrucken, J. 2010. Secularism’s Ongoing Debt to Christianity. Available.
2. Copan, P 2011. Is God a Moral Monster? p. 19 (Scribd ebook format).