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Merry Christmas, Richard Dawkins

Not a good day for the New Atheists.

By 12.25.10

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New Yorkers and New Jerseyans were recently greeted by a festive Christmas billboard near the Lincoln Tunnel, which read: "You know it's a myth. This season, celebrate reason."

What might "celebrating reason" look like? Sitting around the dining room table, looking into your children's curious eyes, and regaling them with the nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche? Telling them not to bother with cookies and milk because Santa Claus isn't coming?  Reading them the latest Christopher Hitchens column as you tuck them into bed? What unspeakable joy!

An exaggeration? Maybe. However, what is not exaggerated is the puzzling effort by some atheists every Christmas season to ruin it for everybody else. Worse, they usually drag science into the discussion. This year, all I want for Christmas is for atheists to stop sullying the good name of science by associating it with anti-religious bigotry masquerading as reason.

The New Atheists claim to worship at the altar of pure, sweet reason, but they often make public announcements that are anything but reasonable. The most common claim is that science disproves the existence of God, and perhaps the second most common claim is that the world is becoming increasingly secular and no longer needs religion. Unfortunately for them, both statements are demonstrably false.

New Atheism is really the hijacking of science. People like Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins believe science alone explains the existence of the universe. Therefore, all the foolish people who buy into the concept of God are ignorant simpletons. Evolution and the Big Bang constitute everything important you need to know about the universe, morality, and life itself.

Sadly, this posture betrays a breathtaking ignorance of philosophy and theology. The tools and theories of science are beautifully equipped to answer, "How?" while the ideas of philosophy and religion are beautifully equipped to answer, "Why?" The Big Bang and evolution explain how we got here, but that is about it. Religion explains why we are here and what we are supposed to do about it.

Dawkins and company fashionably claim that organized religion is declining in a world that is becoming increasingly modernized. This is certainly true in some places around the world. In western Europe, most notably the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, the role of the church in society has largely taken a back seat to secularism. But while this is true for a few isolated pockets around the world, it is manifestly untrue almost everywhere else.

In his book What's So Great About Christianity?, Dinesh D'Souza tackles the "modernization-leads-to-secularization" claim head-on: "The thesis would predict that America would be the most secular society in the world. In fact, America is the most religious country in the Western world." He then goes on to describe the explosion of religious movements around the world, such as Christianity in China, Islam in Turkey, and Hinduism in India. These countries are simultaneously embracing technological advancement and traditional religion. Throughout much of the world, religious resurgence is occurring despite humanity's ceaseless march toward progress.

It will be a great day when we can all celebrate our faith (or lack thereof) during the holiday season without being harassed by those with whom we disagree. However you plan on celebrating this year, be it under a Christmas tree, beside a Menorah, or simply around a table with friends and family, may it be a time for peace, joy, and reflection. 

And whatever you do, please, keep science out of it.

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About the Author
Alex B. Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience and associate editor of RealClearReligion. He holds a Ph.D. in microbiology.