Jeff: I think the New Atheists are doing things which are a fundamental betrayal of the basic rules which must underlie all discourse concerning matters so serious as religion. It affects people like John Loftus, who has some interesting ideas, but invariably ruins the possibility of serious discourse with him by propagandistic tactics. A kind of atheist fanaticism is brewing, which makes undermines the very process which makes atheist-theist dialogue at all rewarding.
Take this comment from Matt earlier in this thread:
(1) Did Dawkins ever say that ridicule and mocking were a valid substitute for reasoned discourse? No, of course not. We both know that there are people on both sides of the fence who are beyond the discourse of reason. Sometimes, people need to be shock-and-awed from their position by satire, ridicule, and mockery.
No, no, no, no, no, heavens no. This is a poison pill that is going to effectively wipe out serious and interesting exchange on religious subjects. It means that I can try to persuade you to believe as I do, and since my arguments are sooooo good, if you don't buy them, then we have to use ridicule tactics on you. Defenders of each side have to do their best to make their case, it may persuade some, but not everyone, but that's what argumentation is for. As Lewis says, argument has a life of its own, you follow the argument where it leads; there are aspects of the belief decision process that we may not be able to put on the table, and so we do our best and leave it at that. If we are Christians, we leave the rest in the hands of the Holy Spirit. If we engage in rational discourse concerning these matters of profound significance existentially, we make a commitment to the process of following the argument where it leads.
It is, for example, very easy to come up with a description of evolution that makes it look stupid. I've heard it a million times. If I do that, and then let out a horse laugh, have I made an argument against evolution? Of course not. Distinguishing real absurdity from the appearance of absurdity generated by a tendentious description is part of what we need to do to learn how to think. Dawkins and those that follow him are so opposed to religion that getting peopel to reject religion is more important than being faithful to the process of rational discourse. The end justifies the means, even if that means isn't really a rational process at all. Some of his statements make him sound like a schoolyard bully who will do anything to get what he wants, in this case, to turn people into atheists.
This seems to me to be caused by hatred. I understand the frustration he has experienced as an evolutionary biologist, (I've been told that all evolutionary biologists get a lot of hate mail from Christians), but that doesn't make his tactics acceptable.
Not only that, but when he calls raising a child in a religion child abuse and compares it to sexual abuse, he is implying that the government should have the right to interfere with this process, as the government does interfere when there is sexual abuse. This is something that undermines something that previous atheists have attempted to defend, and that is the separation of church and state.
I noticed that some people at SO, some of whom I respect greatly, think the quality of my blog has gone down of late. If so, I suspect it is because I have been reacting to this poisoned intellectual atmosphere, and have probably not found very constructive ways of doing so.
C. S. Lewis did a lot of things in his life, including Medieval and Renaissance scholarship (his "day job, as it were), children's literature, science fiction, devotional writing, and, of course Christian apologetics. But I wonder if one achievement is insufficiently noted, and that is his presiding over the Oxford Socratic Club. This activity resulted in the Anscombe critique of his AFR, and actually launched the career of Antony Flew as an atheist philosopher. But his effort to sustain an open environment where these issues can be discussed is, in my view, maybe one of his greatest achievements. I recommend reading the essay he wrote about the founding of the club.