UPDATE: Josh Slocum has unearthed this quote from Dr. Shook, which may be relevant to our discussion:
Belief in a god fails any minimal standard of ordinary rationality. Like the kind of rationality we expect from eighth-graders. Only common sense sanity, of the sort we normally expect from adults and even teenagers, is sufficient to show why God-belief is irrational.
At one time, it seems, Shook didn’t think that deep knowledge of sophisticated theology was absolutely essential in debating religion.
Over at the Center for Inquiry, it looks like open season on atheists. First Mooney, then De Dora, then Ronald Lindsay (the president) and now John Shook, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, and Director of Education at the CfI—all have gone out of their way to criticize their atheist supporters for stridency, hostility, and ignorance. I’m not sure what’s going on over there—is this a covert policy or just coincidental buffoonery?—but the anti-atheist chorus has just swelled by one voice.
Shook has written an amazingly hostile and supercilious piece at HuffPo: “For atheists and believers, ignorance is no excuse.” If you’re a CfI supporter, go read it, if only to see where your money’s going.
Shook’s thesis is that believers and atheists alike—but mostly atheists— are profoundly ignorant of theology, making them unqualified for a chair at the debate table.
Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.
This reputation is a little unfair, yet when they profess how they can’t comprehend God, atheists really mean it. To listen to the loudest atheists, you can hear the bewilderment. And they just can’t believe how a thing like religion could appeal to any intelligent person. . .
Astonished that intellectual defenses of religion are still maintained, many prominent atheists disparage theology. They either dismiss the subject as irrelevant, or, if they do bother to acknowledge it, slim refutations of outdated arguments for a medieval God seem enough. Atheists cheer on such bold leadership, but what is really being learned? Challenging religion’s immunity from criticism is one thing; perpetuating contempt for religion’s intellectual side is another. Too many followers only mimic the contempt, forgetting that you won’t effectively criticize what you would not understand. The “know-nothing” wing of the so-called New Atheism really lives up to that label. Nonbelievers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of the freethought legacy.
Umm. . . I’m not so sure. True, Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens write a bit more strongly than, say, Bertrand Russell, but their arguments are not that different.
In fact, Russell, whom accommodationists see as a “good” 20th century atheist, attacks the same theological arguments considered by the Four Horsemen. Have a look at his Why I am not a Christian. Or read Hitchens’s collection, A Portable Atheist. If you do, you’ll quickly discover that New Atheism is simply a modern-day continuation of a freethought legacy going back to Spinoza. What’s “new” is only this: our arguments are given much more popular attention than before—in books, in newspapers, and on video. Atheism has become, if not popular, at least respectable.
Now Shook also takes out after ignorant religionists, but still manages to pin their ignorance on atheists. The faithful are simply following our example!
But don’t worry, defenders of religion say, there’s no need to learn deep theology or debate God, thanks to dogmatic atheism’s bad example. Just stick with faith; after all, who can argue with faith? Believers reveling in their ignorance are an embarrassing betrayal of their religion’s theological legacy.
And he continues the now-familiar plaint that atheists haven’t kept pace with sophisticated theology:
Christian theology has come a long way since St. Thomas Aquinas. Under stress from modern science and Enlightenment philosophy, it has explored cosmological, ethical, emotional, and existential dimensions of religious life. Many kinds of theology have emerged, replacing a handful of traditional arguments for God with robust methods of defending religious viewpoints. There are philosophical atheists who have quietly and successfully kept pace. The discipline of atheology is quite capable of matching these theologies with its skeptical replies, so atheists need not be intimidated. Taking theology seriously enough to competently debate God should not be beneath atheism.
I’m not a theologian, but I try to keep up with modern theology—not the angels-on-pins stuff, but the new arguments for the existence of God. Besides Aquinas and Augustine the Hippo, I’ve read, among many others, Martin Marty, John Haught, Reinhold Neibuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Terry Eagleton, Karen Armstrong, and even the odious David Berlinski. And regarding the arguments for God, well, I haven’t found anything in 20th century theology except obfuscation: arguments so opaque and muddled that they’re not only undeserving of refutation, but hardly capable of it.
And I’m not the only one. Presumably people who have been on the inside—smart people like Dan Barker and Eric MacDonald—are up on modern theology, and they find nothing in it. Neither do most philosophers, who, I think, probably agree with Anthony Grayling but aren’t so vociferous.
It all comes down to the evidence for God and for divine beings. If there isn’t any, then we needn’t take theological arguments seriously—except, perhaps, as an exegesis of the fictional, like those who endlessly debated The Lord of the Rings. And modern theologians simply haven’t coughed up any new evidence for gods. Apophatic theology, for instance, is simply a sophisticated ploy to avoid having to adduce evidence. I beg the deeply educated Dr. Shook to steer me to some new proofs of God, since he neither produces nor alludes to any.
Why is Shook so exercised about this? Could it be because he’s flogging his new book?
I expand on these observations from the front lines of the God debates in my new book, The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists, Believers, and Everyone in Between. . . Everyone needs a better education on the current state of the God debates. If atheists are going to produce a rational worldview capable of replacing religion, they must take religion and theology more seriously. If believers are going to defend a sensible faith capable of advancing civilization, they must become fluent in their reasoned theologies.
Well, Dr. Shook, show me some new evidence for God, for the divinity of Jesus and Mohamed, for the existence of the Hindu pantheon and the afterlife, for the intercession of a celestial being in the world, and I’ll start paying attention to the finer points of theology.