Okay, I’ll bite. The man is a liar and a blowhard. A strawman-builder from the get-go:
“Though the atheists claim to represent the side of reason,” he asserts in his book, “their arguments more often than not are ideological rather than rational.”
Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. Period. If that’s all it takes to constitute an ideology, then not collecting stamps is an ideology. (Aphilatelism?)
Williams has joined the ranks of fleas with an anti-atheist tome entitled Greater Than You Think: A Theologian Answers the Atheists About God. Why does the world need this book? (That is, in addition to the plethora of recent releases with the same Christian apologist/anti-atheist agenda?) Because there has been a “surge in neo-atheist literature” in recent times, with books by Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens making the best-seller list, and as a consequence:
most people only hear one side of the story. They become indoctrinated with the atheistic arguments without ever hearing a reasoned response.
You have to ask yourself what parallel universe this guy is inhabiting, because he’s certainly absent from this one if he can utter the phrase “most people only hear one side of the story” with a straight face, given that he means “the ‘atheist’ side.” Actually, the problem is that, regarding belief and especially regarding non-belief, most people do only hear one side: and that is precisely what is prompting individual atheists, prominent and not-so-prominent, to speak out. Williams’ ridiculous statement reminds me of British Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor’s call for Christianity to be given unopposed air time on the BBC–anything less would be “Christophobic,” according to the Cardinal. Both men are either completely disconnected from reality, or telling lies.
As for the “indoctrination” charge: your side of the debate is familiar to everyone, Williams. Apologists keep telling us how your religion is the bedrock of Western civilisation. Being exposed to dissenting and critical voices does not constitute indoctrination, unless you have an idiosyncratic interpretation of that term that have neglected to share with us.
Just to name a few, atheists claim that religion is inimical to science, and that the Christian Church in particular sought to stamp out scientific research. They charge that “religion kills” and has been responsible for most of our wars and social ills. They say that religious belief requires the renunciation of reason and the embrace of willful blindness. They assert that religion does not contribute to moral improvement, and that it makes people sour and sad, rather than joyful.
It bears repeating: atheism is simply the lack of belief in gods. Nothing more, nothing less. What individual atheists think about religion is a separate matter, and you will find among atheists varying degrees of agreement and disagreement with the claims above, none of which are necessary to the definition of atheism. So when you assert that “atheists claim x” and “atheists claim y,” and provide no evidence that atheists (all of them) make such claims in unison, you are making a strawman argument. You are telling lies, and nobody is obliged to dignify your mendacity with a response. That’s part of the reason why I’m not going to defend Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris or Dennett against your blather: to do so would be to give your strawman undue credit.
There is one thing, however, that simply cannot be passed over in silence, and that is Williams’ historical revision regarding the history of science and the Church. Williams actually says the following:
Science grew out of the fertile humus of Christian culture. The Catholic Church, in particular, was at the forefront of scientific investigation and sponsored scientific research the way it patronized the arts. Some of history’s greatest scientists — Newton, Pasteur, Galileo, Lavoisier, Kepler, Copernicus, Faraday, Maxwell, Bernard, and Heisenberg –were all Christians, and Gregor Mendel — the father of modern genetics — was a Catholic priest. The Jesuit order in particular spearheaded much scientific study.
“Science grew out of the fertile humus of Christian culture.” Tell that to Hypatia of Alexandria, who was seized by a Christian mob during Lent, at the urging of Saint Cyril, stripped naked, and had the flesh torn from her bones with roof tiles. Tell that to Giordano Bruno, burnt at the stake for heresy. (And if it is objected that we don’t really know whether Bruno was declared heretic on the grounds of his Copernicanism, because his file is missing, ask how a culture that foments the burning of people at the stake for heresy could possibly be conducive to the flourishing of scientific inquiry.) Tell it to Galileo, who was fortunate enough to evade being burnt for his beliefs, but was placed under house arrest by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (in those days known as the Inquisition) for printing his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. There is no single atheist position on the relationship between religion and science, of course. Some see little conflict. Some, like Richard Feynman, see fundamental conflict . . . or at least incompatibility. Feynman addresses the charge that science=atheism=communism as follows:
I would like to remark, in passing, since the word “atheism” is so closely connected with “communism,” that the communist views are the antithesis of the scientific, in the sense that in communism the answers are given to all the questions–political questions as well as moral ones–without discussion and without doubt. The scientific viewpoint is the exact opposite of this; that is, all questions must be doubted and discussed; we must argue everything out–observe things, check them, and so change them.
For this individual atheist (i.e. yours truly), dogmatic religion–particularly a dogmatic religion that punishes heresy–is the antithesis of scientific inquiry and not its stimulus. To say that a religious culture in which the answers to all questions are determined in advanced, and any dissent is punished, provides “fertile humus” for a mode of thinking in which all questions must be doubted and discussed is a contradiction.
I’m looking forward to Mojoey’s review of Greater Than You Think, if he can be bothered wasting his time.