One debate, many responses: Questions about Amie van Wyk

posted: 3063 days ago, on Sunday, 2009 Jul 05 at 22:40
tags: atheism, atheism media.

Interpreting texts is a tricky game.

Some weeks ago, Prof Amie van Wyk wrote an essay that was published in a widely-read Afrikaans newspaper. Part of his essay dealt with atheism, and posed a number of challenges to atheistic thinking.

As an atheist I welcomed his essay, because it is the first I know of that directly challenges atheism, thereby giving it currency in the popular press and mind. There are, of course, regular broad-sides in By expressing pro- and anti-atheism arguments, but this is AFAIK the first time an essayist has set out something approaching a formal refutation.

Yet as I read and re-read the essay (keeping in mind the author's need to be concise) I became more and more puzzled.

Are these truly the best counter-arguments a theist could come up with? They seemed naive to me. Yet the author is a respected academic and is regarded by some as being theologically very liberal in his point of view. The challenge to me is to understand why the author chose the words he did.

The first and simplest possibility is that I don't understand his arguments; they are beyond my capability to grasp. While my ego rejects this solution, the scientist in me is willing to accept this. After all, I know a number of theologians who are much brighter and wiser than I am, so the fault may well lie with me.

It is also possible that van Wyk does not know much about atheism. Perhaps he interviewed a few Goths (you know, "coffin kids") and thought that all atheists think like that. I understand that, at least at one university, the rational defence of one's faith against other religions is taught but atheism is not addressed. So perhaps all theologians are skilled in "religious apologetics" but are relatively clueless when it comes to nontheists. But I find it hard to believe that a serious thinker isn't aware of strong opposition.

So perhaps van Wyk does know a lot about atheistic arguments. Then why the rather silly counter-arguments in his popular essay? Maybe he thinks the general newspaper reader knows nothing about atheism, and by presenting them with some cheap rhetoric they will be able to defend themselves against the occassional naive atheist they encounter. This meme-spreading suggests a rather wicked agenda that I don't easily attribute to the author.

With the proper deference and respect to the parties involved, this boils down to: I'm wrong, he's an idiot, or he's a manipulating bastard. None of these solutions, singularly or in combination, are appealing.

What other explanations are there, I wonder?

Related links

  1. Original article: Three debates, many questions
  2. Response by Auke Slotegraaf
  3. Response by Bruce Dickson
  4. Response by Paul
  5. Response by Clinton Armitage

nothing more to see. please move along.