I lied. To be fair at the time yesterday when I wrote that I’ve no intention to write post after post in defense of the words and tone used by the New Atheists I did mean it. And as this will be only the second post, albeit it’s two in a row, that I’ve devoted to picking on Lennox picking on the New Atheists I’ve hardly written post after post in their defense. But I’ve got nothing much else to say about the remaining pages of ‘The last nail in God’s coffin?’. Plus I know that the way Lennox plays with the words that he puts pressure on is going to be important when I get around to writing about his slippery definition of faith, so I feel there’s some value in looking once more at how he manipulates language.
Lennox (18) quotes Atkins’ claim that “science and religion cannot be reconciled, and humanity should begin to appreciate the power of its child, and to beat off all attempts at compromise. Religion has failed [emphasis mine], and its failure should stand exposed. Science, with its currently successful pursuit of universal competence through the identification of the minimal, the supreme delight of the intellect, should be acknowledged king.” He then continues, “This is triumphalist language. But has the triumph really been secured? Which religion has failed, and at what level?”
And as with yesterday’s quote, anyone with a high schooler’s ability to read can see that Lennox’s question of “Which religion has failed?” is connected to Atkins’ “religion has failed” in the word ‘religion’ only. Lennox refers to any singular religion while Atkins refers to religion in general. I put the whole quote in from Atkins’ rather than just the sentence containing religion because I wanted to show that for Lennox there was already plenty of ammunition there without resorting to sliding from one nuance of meaning for religion to another. I’m not sure whether to be impressed with the skill that Lennox has in tracking down words that his opponents use and twisting them to his benefit, or his chutzpa for doing so without regard for being caught.
And for me there are niggling points about the Atkins quote. It’s obviously in relation to the debate about science and religion, but is this the finale to a well reasoned argument that would justify such ‘triumphalist language’? If science ‘should be acknowledged king’ what were the conditions of the contest? In short, what was the context that this quote was taken from?