Modern religious faith, informed by critical biblical scholarship and historical studies, is more than able to fill the gaps that science can’t. Science as science has nothing whatsoever to say about most nonmaterial religious claims and it is as capable of assessing ethical issues as is a pair of calipers. These categories are truth-assessments, not (quantifiable) fact-assessments.
Nor is science aided by dupes among the “new” atheists. There is very little that Dawkins, Dennet, Shermer, Hitchens, Harris, Blackmore et al say that is not a knee-jerk reaction to popular notions about religion – Western religion at that, narrowly defined. While they quite rightly critique the flaws in the Abrahamic faiths, they show little sign of realizing that these flaws themselves are mostly archaic hangovers from religion’s pre-Enlightenment era. Theology long ago dealt with and responded to the objections that the “new” atheists, claiming science as their springboard, fling at popular religion.
We may or may not agree with theology’s responses. But the point is that the “new” atheists are mostly sparring against straw men in the guise of giant windmills. Doing so, they are guilty of keeping the debate on a primitive, combative literalist-popularist level. They also seem to be generally, blissfully, unaware of the vast sea of non-Western spirituality. Instead they beat the dead horse of pre-Enlightenment, popular Western-Abrahamic/monotheistic, Supernatural Theistic faith, without exhibiting the slightest awareness of the many other religious alternatives, or offering their readers multiple-choice options in this regard. This is either inexcusable ignorance, or it is conscious deception. In either case, it’s just plain wrong. Example: most of their criticism targets the Abrahamic notion of a creator deity, whereas in actuality there are many spiritual traditions that propose a NON-creator deity. Once the idea of a creator deity is removed, so is 90% of “new” atheist angst over the subject.
Moreover, faith – of which in the West there are at least four varying types – is (contrary to popular reports) is not always or necessarily the core of spirituality. The core of spirituality is the anchoring of self in Spirit (God, the Sacred, the Holy, the Divine) rather than in culture, church, state, political orientation, scripture, science, opinion, government, or any other human category. “New” atheists seem to be unaware that there are at least seven different types of atheism – in which a substantial number of believers also participate in (Relative Atheism, for example). Too many atheists seem to operate from an elitist ghetto whose prime motto might be phrased, “(Enlightened) Us against (unenlightened) Them.”
No intelligent discussion or honest debate can occur when “objective, science-based” atheists are as introverted, inbred and parochial as their counterparts in archaic, popular religion. They pride themselves on their high education, but their talk is mostly as unwashed, arrogant, and misguided as their religious polar opposites. Again, “real,” core religion is not about faith or belief. We all know people who believe all, or most, of the “right” things, but who are still jerks. Belief – or unbelief – is peripheral and tangential to the actual, critical, concrete issue, namely: the condition, the state, of the self relative to its spiritual transformation. Even atheist Sam Harris acknowledges this when he recommends meditation as a means of transcending the normative egoic self. So does Michael Shermer when he says “I think of myself as a spiritual person.” So does Susan Blackmore – sort of – when she admits that Buddhism is a system that has an inherent mechanism for transcending its own “memes.”
The “science vs. religion” gambit is a ploy consciously indulged in by all too many atheists for the purpose of lobbing pot-shots at their religious opponents. “Science-based, objective, educated” atheists should know better and reform their behavior accordingly. They should do their homework before shooting from the hip. So should religionists. Only when that day comes will the discussion have a chance of reaching a mature, responsible, adult level.