Theo Hobson Theo Hobson

Did Richard Dawkins’s ‘New Atheists’ spark a Christian revival?

Richard Dawkins (Credit: Getty images)

The battle between New Atheism and religion was never likely to have a clear winner. It was never very likely that the arguments of Richard Dawkins and co would topple the towers of theology. Nor was it likely that the atheists would provoke the sleeping giant of faith into rising up and crushing the impertinence for good.

I suppose atheists can claim that their cause is making steady progress, with organised religion continuing its gentle decline in the West, but the more honest among them might admit that the energy of their movement fizzled out long ago. Secular idealism opted for identity politics instead, making the pontifications of white male know-it-alls sound dated and uncool.

Believers, on the other hand, are likely to be more bullish. They might observe that New Atheism was widely disdained by agnostic thinkers, and that one or two prominent atheists have changed their tune, most recently Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But maybe they shouldn’t be too bullish either. Most of the agnostics who have criticised New Atheism have stopped short of advocating religion. A good example is Tom Holland. New Atheism prodded him to write a defence of Christianity’s centrality to the West, but he hasn’t come out as a believer. Much the same is true of Jordan Peterson. Atheism may have fizzled out, but no bold new theology has emerged.

I therefore have my doubts about a new book called Coming to Faith Through Dawkins. It claims a bit too much: that the hubris of New Atheism has backfired comically, and sparked a new mood of Christian confidence. It’s a collection of essays by people who were keen on Dawkins for a time, and then became Christians.

It’s not surprising that there are plenty of such people. Any God-curious youth in the 2000s was bound to engage with Dawkins, and maybe Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens too.

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