Jerry Coyne tells us, “the New Atheists are not ignorant about theology” and writes:
Over the past year and a half I myself have waded through the morass of Sophisticated Theology™, and have found it dire and laden with bad argument. I have read Plantinga, Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Aquinas, and modern “science-friendly” theologians like Barbour, Haught, Polkinghorne, Swinburne, and the like. Take my word for it—there’s nothing there beyond the use of fancy words to justify beliefs arrived at in advance.
But why would anyone take his word for it? As an activist, we can be fairly certain that he read those works in full-blown Closed-Minded Debunking mode. No different from the way a zealous Young Earth Creationist might read Coyne’s book on evolution. Science has shown once people become polarized on an issue, exposure to contrary arguments can actually entrench positions. So Coyne’s response is entirely predictable for a neurobiological perspective and thus rather meaningless from the perspective of truth.
Look, it’s clear to me the New Atheists are ignorant about theology and that perception has nothing to do with whether or not that we can cite a list of theologians they have read and supposedly debunked. The perception comes from the New Atheist positions themselves.
Take, as one example, the core New Atheist position that science has shown that God does not exist. This position is not only bad science, but bad theology.
For if you inquire exactly how is it that science has shown the non-existence of God, you’ll find the New Atheists to be relying on some hyper-charged God-of-the-Gaps position. New Atheists believe that if God did exist, scientists should be constantly befuddled by natural reality. Nature should be loaded with phenomenon that could not be explained by natural laws and/or chance, forcing us to invoke supernatural intervention as the cause. Scientists everywhere would throw up their hands when trying to conduct experiments, because God would be constantly intervening to make things happen in a supernatural way.
In other words, New Atheists think that if God exists, science should not exist. They might not put it like this, but this conclusion is entailed by their core positions about science and God.
So does anyone really think it is good theology to insist that God’s existence must be coupled to a reality that is so chaotic, incoherent, and inscrutable such that science could not exist? Does anyone think it good theology to insist that God, if He exists, must interact with His creation as an all-powerful Trickster?
Coyne is wrong. We know he is ignorant about theology because of the way he justifies his atheism, not because of any library assignment.