He is one of those "sophisticated theologians" who dismiss modern atheists because we haven't spent years studying theology and because we haven't experienced the true existential angst of Jean-Paul Sartre. As a group, they hold to the position that the "New Atheists" are amateurs in the study of religion and their arguments can be easily dismissed.
These "sophisticated theologians" are the people PZ Myers mocks in The Courtier’s Reply. The point should be clear from the story but, just to be sure, let me state it explicitly. Sophisticated theology begins with the assumption that gods exist (usually the Christian god) then develops its elaborate apologetics based on that assumption. They ignore the real question which is whether their gods exist or not (i.e. is the Emperor wearing any clothes?) [see Courtier's Rely].
This group also seems to be remarkably naive about science and atheism in spite of the fact that they portray themselves as intellectuals. For example, let's look at a recent post (Jan. 25, 2016) by James McGrath on his blog Exploring Our Matrix: Atheism Disproved.
Atheism is easy to disprove. Watch:You would think that a sophisticated theologian would make the effort to understand the meaning of atheism as defined by people like Richard Dawkins and most of the other New Atheists. They (we) use the word "atheist" to mean a person who does not believe in gods. Dawkins makes this very clear in The God Delusion where he describes a strong atheist as one who knows for certain that there is no god. He declares that he is not one of those atheists. In fact, he is an atheist agnostic, however ...
I am being somewhat flippant, but as I have pointed out before (then using the example of the universe as god for pantheists), unless one defines clearly what one means by “god,” then one cannot make sweeping statements such as that “there is no god of any sort.”
- Cats exist
- Ancient Egyptians (as well as some current cat owners) worship cats as gods
- Therefore, gods exist
- Therefore, atheism is false
Or at least, one can make them, but they are easy to rebut.
I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.I am an atheist. I don't believe in supernatural beings. I don't believe in any of the gods that I know about. I don't believe that cats are gods. It's not up to me to define the kinds of gods I don't believe in. If you believe in one of them, then tell me what you believe and why, ... then I'll let you know whether I believe in your god.
If you want to define a "theist" as someone who believes that cats are gods but who doesn't believe in any supernatural beings, then we can have a discussion about your sanity.
James McGrath has not disproved atheism. He has proved that we are fully justified in using the term "sophisticated theologian" as irony.
He proves this even more effectively in his Facebook post where he says ...
I have often heard atheists say that they are like theists, except that they deny the existence of one more god than theists do.The actual quote from atheists like Richard Dawkins is ...
We can also point out that most atheists and theists share in common a tendency to make sweeping statements about "gods" or "other gods" not existing, when in fact in a number of examples they dispute their divinity, not their existence.
Sweeping statements are best avoided, as they tend to be easy to rebut. Click through for more thoughts on this topic.
[M]odern theists might acknowledge that, when it comes to Baal and the Golden Calf, Thor and Wotan, Poseidon and Apollo, Mithras and Ammon Ra, they are actually atheists. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. (Richard Dawkins, The Devil's Chaplain, p. 150)We believe in one less god than you do.1 This is not the same as "deny the existence of gods."
James McGrath did get one thing right. Sweeping statements are best avoided because they are usually easy to refute. That's not a very sophisticated way to behave.
1. Actually several less gods than most Christians believe in because most of them are polytheistic when it comes to supernatural beings. Even if they roll three of their gods into one, they often still believe in Satan, Saints, and angels.