Atheism is generally defined as the lack of belief in God and/or the existence of supernatural/metaphysical entities. Historically, Atheism was presented as another intellectual way of attempting to understand the world. However, due to the large sophistication and expertise required in fields such as philosophy and theology, the majority of ‘atheists’ weren’t necessarily followers of the intellectual movement, but merely didn’t subscribe to the concept of religion for a possible plethora of reasons.
However, the arrival of New Atheism – a pseudo-intellectual movement – in the global sphere has amassed substantial amounts of followers, primarily due to it’s “evangelical nature”. As opposed to the original Atheism ‘movement,’ New Atheism focuses primarily on the faults of religion, both intellectually and morally. Another one of the distinguishing characteristics of the New Atheism movement is it’s focus on Islam. Due to the western origins of the original Atheism movement, there was little intellectual focus on Islam, dealing mainly with the Judeo-Christian understanding of religion. As a result, the general Muslim population today finds itself facing an opponent that they historically didn’t have to.
Despite not having to deal with a direct assault from Atheists, it would be intellectually and historically inaccurate to claim that Islam, and the scholars in the Islamic sphere, didn’t have to face movements akin to Atheism before. There are countless chapters and books authored by classical Islamic scholars that deal with the intellectual arguments posed by Atheists; scholars such as Ibn Hazm, Al-Ashari, Al-Razi, Al-Ghazali, and Ibn Taymiyyah to name a few. However, the challenge that New Atheism is bringing to the Muslims population, is a primarily moral and sociological one.
Having survived the onslaught of intellectual arguments for Atheism for around 1400 years, there were still no major Atheistic groups/movements recorded within the Islamic world. In order to change this phenomena, a moral and sociological approach had to be integrated into the charge against Islam, which was led by the four personalities commonly known as “The Four Horsemen.”
The goal of these ‘Four Horsemen’ was to paint any follower of religion, primarily Muslims, as backwards people who were opposed to any advancements in the world of science and technology. Playing off of political incidents such as the unfortunate September 11th incidents, they portrayed Islam, and religion as a whole, as a dividing force which has to resort to violence in order to cover for its ‘intellectual blemishes’. They, mainly Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, tried to explain religion away as a natural and evolutionary phenomenon which now has no use for society.
Richard Dawkins, probably the most famous of the four, approached the attack on religion by creating a false dichotomy between religion and science. A proponent of evolution by natural selection, he argues that if the theory of evolution is true, then all religions must be false. Suffering from an absurd lack of understanding of the epistemic fields and authorities of the topics at hand, namely science and religion, Dawkins posits that one can either be a proponent of religion or a proponent of science: but never both.
Having equipped the general public with pseudo-intellectual arguments masked as valid criticisms of religion, the Four Horsemen managed to launch a worldwide attack on religion. Now a religious person isn’t just looked at as someone who lacks intellect, but one who is completely backward, violent, and opposed to progress. This constant belittlement of religion, is what is causing a rising number of atheists across the world, including the Islamic world.
The simplest way to combat this intellectually weak attack, would be to educate the public about their own religion, and expose the absurdity of the New Atheism movement. As for their ‘intellectual’ arguments, they are the same ones that Muslim scholars have dealt with and responded to for centuries, but for the sake of ease, some of them have been mentioned here with their responses briefly. Most of their arguments can be explained away through a proper understanding of God and the purpose of life.
Richard Dawkins argues in his book “The Blind Watchmaker” that when one looks at the complexity of the universe, they might conclude that it was the work of an intelligent designer, however further scientific inquiry proves that whatever the ‘creator’ of this universe or the complex creatures in it, (which, according to Dawkins, is natural selection) must have been blind due to the seemingly ‘random’ mutations that take place which many times result in ‘failed and pointless’ ventures. However, this argument is incredibly weak since the Islamic concept, and most other concepts, of God is of a being that is All-Knowing and Wise which would mean that the onus of proof would be on Dawkins to prove that all these ‘random’ mutations were indeed random and not playing a role in the larger plan of God.
Another argument that is often presented is the problem of evil and suffering. The argument is that if a loving God exists, then why is that so much evil and suffering exists in the world? Yet again, the entire argument stems from a faulty understanding of the concept of God. The proponents of this argument try to present God as just a “Loving” being, while conveniently leaving out all the other attributes of God, such as the previously mentioned All-Knowing, Wise, and Just. With a holistic look at the attributes of God, it becomes impossible to prove whether this evil and suffering isn’t a part of God’s plan. Moreover, Allah SWT states numerous times in the Quran that this world is nothing but a test, and true justice lies in the hereafter.
Most of the arguments presented by the atheists follow a similar pattern. It might seem convincing at first, but when examined carefully, reveals a lack of understanding of the attributes of God and misrepresents the core claims of religion. Deeper understanding of Islam and the arguments in favor of Islam also strengthen the shield against charges by the atheists, however the purpose of this paper was to understand that these attacks, in and of themselves, are very weak. Moreover, the foundations of these arguments are based on misunderstandings of who God is according to Abrahimic religions in general, and islam specificly.