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The Logic of New Atheism

John on July 29, 2008 at 10:19 am

Watching Richard Dawkins’ BBC special The Root of All Evil?, it becomes clear that the man is intentionally — and dishonestly — using people’s fear of Islamic extremism as a cudgel against Christianity. Dawkins, at least, is clever enough to make it sound good, if only for a moment. Others following in his footsteps may not be so lucky.

Case in point, Minette Marrin has a piece in today’s London Times titled, “To beat extremism we must dissolve religious groups.” Sounds ambitious for a thousand word article, but let’s see where she goes with it:

Four out of 10 Muslim students in Britain support the introduction of sharia into UK law for Muslims, according to a YouGov poll. Almost a third of them said that killing in the name of religion was justified; 40% said they felt it was unacceptable for Muslim men and women to associate freely; and nearly a quarter do not think that men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah.

[...]

More than half of the Muslim students were in favour of an Islamic political party to support their views in parliament. A third don’t think or don’t know whether Islam is compatible with the western notion of democracy, and a third said they were in favour of a worldwide Islamic caliphate based on sharia.

It goes on and on like this for another half a dozen paragraphs. Nearly the entire article is a criticism of admittedly disturbing trends toward Islamic extremism. Then, suddenly — no, make that bone-jarringly — we reach a hinge point in her argument:

Religion is as long as a piece of string; true faith lies in the heart of the believer and is rarely susceptible to argument. Clearly, for lots of Muslims Islam is not a doctrine of gentleness, tolerance, sexual equality, forgiveness, democracy and all the rest. For countless others it clearly is.

Is she’s still talking about Islam…? In part. But with this rather ham-handed maneuver we’ve now broadened to a discussion of “religion.” This sudden expansion of scope is confirmed in the very next paragraph, the opening line of which should be preserved as a kind of precis of what’s really new about new atheism:

What follows inescapably from this is that religious people and their views should not be officially recognised in groups. Religion should not be allowed a public space or public representation.

Literally in a span of one paragraph we’ve gone from a discussion of disturbing trends within Islam to the banning of all public religion. The potential threat posed by one religion (or one branch of one religion) becomes a justification for a wholesale elimination of all religion. What can we call this type of thinking? Just to recap the logical ineptitude on display here…

  • 800 words about Islamic extremism designed to bring to mind the 7/7 bombers and make readers worry where it all might be heading.
  • One line abruptly shifting the topic to “religion” in the broadest sense.
  • Conclusion: We must eliminate all religion from public life to save ourselves.

Yes, it’s hard to believe the Times of London published something that stupid, but I suppose that’s how it goes when you’re being carried along by the zeitgeist. I’ve come up with my own version of this argument which I’d like to share. It’s based on the sporting world, but I think it’s as sound as Ms. Marrin’s argument:

  • There have been a number of “doping” scandals in cycling recently which threaten to ruin the sport.
  • Sports are based on competition and competiton drives many to cheat.
  • Eliminate all televised sports.

QED! No more doping scandals! Wait, I have one more:

  • Several hundred words demonstrating that Marin’s piece is foolish.
  • And by the way…
  • Minette Marrin clucks like a chicken.

Bet you didn’t see that coming.

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