The Angry Atheists

When Jerry Falwell died on May 15, 2007, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked the caustic atheist Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) for his reaction. Cooper said, “I’m not sure if you believe in heaven, but, if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?” Hitchens held nothing back. He took a deep breath, smirked, and said, “No. And I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.” Cooper was taken aback. “What is it about him that brings up such vitriol?” Hitchens said, “The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend.” Hitchens told Cooper he thought Falwell was “…a bully and a fraud” who was essentially a Bible-thumping huckster.

I was introduced to Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza in my World Views class at Colorado Christian University. One of the weekly assignments included watching a debate between D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens. I was shocked at the amount of venomous, loaded, sarcastic language Hitchens kept throwing his opponent. Hitchens always came across as a bombastic bully better at delivering witty zingers than compelling arguments. D’Souza writes, “A group of prominent atheists—many of them evolutionary biologists—has launched a public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice.” He notes a comment made by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion, displaying Dawkins’ anger at God:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infaticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

In a Christianity Today article dated March 13, 2008, Tony Snow writes, “There are two types of Christian apologetics. One makes the positive case for faith; the other responds to critics. Dinesh D’Souza’s delightful book, What’s So Great About Christianity, falls into the second category. It sets out to rebut recent exuberant atheist tracts, such as Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.” Snow notes that these so-called militant atheists tend to combine argument with large doses of bitter biography. Hitchens has gone so far as to state, “…religion poisons everything.”

Dr. David Jeremiah, in his book I Never Thought I’d See the Day!, said, “When I write of the anger of the atheists, I am not primarily referring to the classic atheists such as Bertrand Russel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. The atheists I am writing about are the ‘New Atheists.’ The term ‘new atheism’ was first used by Wired magazine in November 2006 to describe the atheism espoused in books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Lewis Wolpert’s Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Victor Stenger’s The Comprehensible Cosmos, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great.

WHY ALL THIS ANGER?

How can people  be so angry with God if they do not even believe He exists? Moreover, why would those most indignant about God feel such compulsion to literally preach their anti-God religion with the type of zeal we typically see from evangelists? Do they consider atheism to be their religion? Today’s front line atheists have truly ramped up the volume of their objections. They once held private their personal opinion that God does not exist. Today, they find it necessary to go on talk shows and lecture circuits announcing their belief in loud, shrill, militant voices.

The Pew Research Center (2019) published an article indicating that in the United States the ages 14–17 are very influential in terms of an individual adopting atheism. Of those who do embrace unbelief in the United States, many do so in their high school years. The average age group when most people decide they do not believe in God is 18-29 (40%). Theodore Beale declared, “”…the age at which most people become atheists indicates that it is almost never an intellectual decision, but and emotional one.” The Christian apologist Ken Ammi concurs in his essay The Argument for Atheism from Immaturity and writes, “It is widely known that some atheists rejected God in their childhood, based on child-like reasons, have not matured beyond these childish notions and thus, maintain childish emotional reactions toward the idea of God.” It is likely some great trauma or loss has caused the young atheist to not only reject God but to be filled with anger and resentment.

Men such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are known for taking a look-back-in-anger, take-no-prisoners type of atheism. They, and most other active but not-so-famous atheists, reject the term “militant,” and refuse to explain their anger. Antony Flew, atheist-turned-believer and apologist, said, “What was significant about these [men’s] books was not their level of argument—which was modest, to put it mildly—but the level of visibility they received both as best sellers and as a ‘new’ story discovered by the media. The ‘story’ was helped even further by the fact that the authors were as voluble and colorful as their books were fiery.” Their delivery sounds a lot like hellfire-and-brimstone preachers warning us of dire retribution, even of apocalypse.

It’s obvious that atheists in the West today have become more outspoken and militant. The “average” atheist balks at the term militant, claiming it has no place in non-belief; only in radical, violent extremists like the Christians of the Crusades and Islamic terrorists. Fine. Let’s take a look at the meaning of militant: “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.” No, these new atheists do not seem to be violent, but you don’t have to be violent to be militant. They are surely combative and aggressive, often using rude, brutish, insulting confrontation in lieu of substantive comebacks. Dinesh D’Souza says what we are witnessing in America is atheist backlash. The atheists thought they were winning—after all, Western civilization has adopted pluralism and moral relativism—but now they realize that, far from dying quietly, Christianity is on the upswing. This is precisely why the new atheists are striking back, using all the vitriol they can command.

For example, consider the title of some of the books the new atheists have written:

  • The God Delusion—Richard Dawkins
  • The End of Faith—Sam Harris
  • God: The Failed Hypothesis—Victor Stenger
  • God is Not Great—Christopher Hitchens

SOMETHING IS LACKING IN THIS NEW ATHEISM

Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and others refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of whether God exists. None of them even address the central grounds for positing the reality of God. Flew notes Sam Harris makes absolutely no mention of whether it’s possible that God does exist. Moreover, these new atheists fail to address the pesky question Where did the matter come from that forms our universe? They don’t discuss rationality, consciousness, or conceptual thought. I’d love to know where they believe our intellectual capacity, as well as metacognition—thinking about thinking—and who we are and what life really means came from. Neither do they present a plausible  worldview that explains the existence of law-abiding, life-supporting, altruistic behavior. They have no plausible explanation for the development of ethics and truth.

Flew goes so far as to comment, “It would be fair to say that the ‘new atheism’ is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy that was renounced by even its most ardent proponents. In fact, the ‘new atheists.” it might be said, do not even rise to logical positivism. Hold on. Let’s take a minute to look at positivism so we’re on the same page as Flew and his argument. Simply stated, it is a Western philosophy that confines itself to the data of experience and excludes a priori or metaphysical speculation. It has also been known as empiricism and, later in the 20th century, analytic philosophy.

WHAT THEY WANT

For the militant atheists, the solution is to weaken the power of faith and religion worldwide and to drive religion completely from the public sphere so that it can no longer have an impact on academia or public policy. In their view, they believe a secular world would be a safer and more peaceful world without the concept of religious faith. D’Souza writes, “Philosopher Richard Rorty proclaimed religious belief ‘politically dangerous’ and declared atheism the only practical basis for a ‘pluralistic, democratic society.’ These ideas resonate quite broadly in Western culture today.”

Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?—Richard Dawkins

Dinesh D’Souza writes, “It seems that atheists are not content with committing cultural suicidethey want to take your children with them. The atheist strategy can be described in this way: let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’ beliefs.” In other words, militant atheists are more concerned with indoctrinating our young students against their parents’ religious influence through promoting an anti-religious agenda. It’s been said that Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.

Christopher Hitchens, who was an ardent Darwinist, wrote, “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?” Hitchens accused religion of preying upon the uninformed and undefended minds of the young. He did not take kindly to Christian parochial schools. He boldly stated, “If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”  Sam Harris likened belief in Christianity to a form of slavery! Biologist E.O. Wilson recommended using science to eradicate religion by showing that the mind itself is a product of evolution and that free moral choice is an illusion.

Sam Harris goes further, saying atheism should be taught as a mere extension of science and logic. Harris says, “Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” Dawkins believes faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to small pox virus but harder to eradicate. He writes in The God Delusion, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Sigmund Freud regarded religion as a illusion (rather than a delusion, which is a psychiatric term), but he was by no means militant, combatant or completely closed-minded on the subject. In fact, he often invited religious leaders to his home to discuss the merits of their faith. He at least seemed open-minded, albeit not convinced.

Philosopher Richard Rorty argued that secular professors in the universities are out to “arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” It’s as if these atheist professors intend to discredit parents in the eyes of their children, trying to strip them of their fundamentalist beliefs, making such beliefs seem silly rather than worthy of discussion. D’Souza writes, “The conventions of academic life, almost universally, revolve around the assumption that religious belief is something that people grow out of as they become educated.”

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As children, we certainly spend a great amount of time in school. Basic psychology tells us early child development encompasses physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor development between birth and age 8. A continuum of care—from preconception through the formative years—is needed to safeguard and maximize children’s developmental outcomes. Indeed, the first five years of a child’s life effect who a child will turn out to be. The beliefs, emotions, and action-tendencies represent the accumulated experiences people have had while trying to get their needs met, which plays a key role in personality development. Accordingly, personality develops around our motivations (our needs and goals). Children of Christian parents who grow up in an environment that consistently presents and lives the Gospel enter public school with an understanding of Who and What God is. This is more pronounced if they attended a parochial school prior to entering college. Secular professors want to dismantle that belief system in the interest of empirical science and truth.

Militant atheists have come out of the shadows of private belief with the intention of attacking theism in general and Christianity in particular. They are no longer content with deciding for themselves that there is no God. They feel compelled to poison the minds of young college students, steering them away from their faith, by bombarding them with science, logical positivism, Darwinism, pluralism, and moral relativism and… well, whatever works. Just as long as they can convince the world that God is dead one college student at a time.

Praise God that He lives so that we may live.

References

Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Bantam Press.

Jeremiah, D. (2011). I Never Thought I’d See the Day! New York, NY: FaithWords.

Pew Research Center. (2019). Age and Distribution Among Atheists. Retrieved from: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-family/atheist/

Snow, T. (March 13, 2008). “New Atheists are Not So Great.” Christianity Today. Retrieved from: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/25.79.html

A Light in Darkness: A Christian Response to Moral Relativism

Which Way America

AMERICA IS IN A DARK season. The news is chock full of stories about murders, mass shootings, racial unrest, sexual immorality, genocide, terrorist threats, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. This is the backdrop against which biblical principles are being challenged and pushed aside in a modern culture of pluralism and so-called open-mindedness. Atheists today have taken on a militant posture. No longer content with merely not believing in God as a personal choice, they have taken to calling Christians delusional, stupid, crazy, elitist, bigoted, gullible, narrow-minded. Richard Dawkins—author of The God Delusion—says, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Christopher Hitchens said parents “forcing” their Christian faith on their children is nothing short of child abuse. He compares belief in an all-powerful deity to believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Karl Marx said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”

Gallup on American Opinions on Moral Acceptability

News stories on the networks and in newspapers show a growing moral and social crisis in America today. Our nation has been taking a position against God in landmark cases for the last five decades: teacher-led prayer was forbidden in public schools (1962); Roe v. Wade sanctioned abortion on demand all throughout America (1973); display of the Ten Commandments was forbidden on publicly-owned property (2005); Obergefell v. Hodges sanctioned same-sex marriage (2015), and today the debate over gender identity issues are in full swing. Ask Americans about their personal views on moral issues, and they are more likely than ever to hold a liberal position. Ask them specifically about morality in America, and you will see they are becoming more pessimistic with each passing year. A recent Gallup poll found a widening embrace for numerous moral issues, including record-high acceptance for gay relationships, divorce, pornography, polygamy, and physician-assisted suicide.

CHRISTIAN MORALITY

Christian morality used to be something people were afraid to violate. In May 2017, Gallup and LifeWay Research released polls indicating 4 out of 5 Americans are worried about the moral state of our country. One poll shows 77 percent believe the country’s values are getting worse—the highest level since Gallup started tracking this topic in 2002. Historically, social conservatives, including evangelicals and other people of faith, have been the most negative about American morality; raising concerns about the liberal shift on issues involving family, sexuality, and sanctity of life. Democrats and Republicans look at the issue of morality differently—liberals and moderates are concerned over declining moral values, but, their focus is on the growing lack of respect or tolerance for others. They are also worried about the lack of proper parenting, which many believe to be at the root of this moral downturn.

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

Some believers, me included, feel the reason morality is failing is because far too many laws regulating moral behavior have been repealed. A great deal of Christian pastors, apologists, evangelists, and writers have taken heed to the falling numbers, but decades of pitting “Christian worldview” against “moral relativism” has caused the forming of habits that are rather hard to break. For example, many Christians assume the reason for rampant immorality in our culture is due to people rejecting the idea of absolute right and wrong. Many believers think discussions over morals are likely to end with, “Well, you have your truth, and I have mine. Let’s just agree to disagree.” I believe disputes over morality in America are stronger today than they’ve ever been. But if we view these disputes through the lens of “moral relativism,” our understanding of today’s culture will suffer—our Christian witness will be severely blunted.

DO BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES SHAPE YOUR VALUES?

The apostle Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV). Certainly, this is not an easy task. Moreover, it is not necessarily helpful to “preach” down to those we disagree with given the heavy-handed presence of moral relativism in America. How can we apply a Christian worldview to social and political issues? In addition, how can we communicate biblical morality effectively in a secular society?

exegesis banner 2.png

First, it is important that we interpret Scripture correctly. Too often, Christians have expressed their sociological preferences on issues like homosexuality and abortion without proper biblical exegesis. The result is often a priori conclusions built upon the foundation of improper proof-texting. We should take a lesson from the apostle Paul’s direction that the first priority of Christians is to preach the Gospel. He refused to allow individual distinctions to hamper his effectiveness. In fact, he said, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV). As believers, we must stand firm for biblical truth; however, we must recognize the spiritual needs of those with whom we vehemently disagree regarding lifestyle or moral convictions.

Second, Christians should carefully develop biblical principles which can be applied to contemporary social and medical issues. Too often Christians jump immediately from Scripture to political and social programs. Unfortunately, they sometimes neglect the important intermediate step of applying biblical principles germaine to a particular social or cultural situation. Foundational biblical precepts that undergird the law of God in the Old Testament are essentially values or social norms steeped in Jewish law and tradition. The Torah contains 613 commandments or precepts, which include “positive” and “negative” commands. Christians in the 21st century are not obligated to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses. This is the central message of Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Colossians. In fact, Colossians 2:14-15 tells us that on the cross, Jesus took away the requirements of law-keeping. Of course, there are laws in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that Christians are bound to, but this is not because they are in the Mosaic Law. Rather, as Christians we are bound to obey the command and example of Jesus. We are to tread gently, motivated by love, not hatred.

Love should characterize Christians, especially when the days are dark and filled with hate.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

We must look to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to determine the “rules” of Christianity. I am not saying that the laws of the Old Testament are meaningless. Not at all. Examples of what the Hebrews did and how God responded—blessings versus curses—are great lessons for us today. Paul writes, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did… These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11, NIV).

For the Christian, the current social crises are indeed troubling. But Jesus called us “the salt of the earth and the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13). In these dark days we need to respond as salt (i.e., godly preservative in a rapidly declining culture) and light (i.e., evangelists who shine brightly in a dark society). We need to cultivate a biblical perspective on the current social crises. And we need to respond as God’s people, with God’s perspective, regarding the events of these days.

Will we let our light shine in the midst of this dark season of uncertainty? Will we keep our focus and trust on Him as our sovereign King? Will we point others to Him as we allow our light to shine for Him? Or will we live in a manner that serves to detract others from Christ? We cannot forget that it is our joy and privilege to shine as lights in the darkness.

The Self and the “New Atheists”

Paradoxically the most important oversight of the new atheists is the most human datum  of all: themselves. The ultimate supraphysical/physical reality that we know from experience is the experience itself, namely, ourselves. Once we acknowledge the fact that there is a first-person perspective, “I,” “me,” “mine,” and the like, we encounter the greatest and yet the most exhilarating mystery of all. I exist. To sort-of “reverse think” Descartes, it’s as if we’re saying, “I am, therefore I think, perceive, intend, mean, interact.” But who is “I?” “Where” is it? How did it come to be? Your self is obviously not just something physical (anatomical), just as it is not merely something supraphysical (or spiritual, if you prefer). It is an embodied self, an ensouled body; “you” are not located in a particular brain cell or in some part of your body. The cells in your body keep changing and yet “you” remain the same. If you study your neurons, you will find that none of them have the property of being an “I.” Of course your body is integral to who you are, but it is a “body” because it is constituted as such by the self. To be human is to be embodied and ensouled.

In a famous passage in his A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume declares, “When I enter most intimately into what I call myself…I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception [itself].” Here Hume denies the existence of a self simply by arguing that he (meaning “I”) can’t find “myself.” But what is it that unifies his various experiences, that enables him to be aware of the external world, and that remains the same throughout? Who’s asking these questions? He assumes that “myself” is an observable state, much like his thoughts and feelings. But the self is not something that can be thus observed. It is a constant fact of experience and, in fact, the ground of all experience.

Indeed, of all the truths available to us, the self is at the same time the most obvious and unassailable and the most lethal for all forms of physicalism. To begin with, it must be said that denial of the self cannot even be claimed without contradiction. To the question, “How do I know I exist?” a professor famously replied, “And who’s asking?” The self is what we are and not what we have. It is the “I” from which arises our first-person perspective. We cannot analyze the self, because it is not a mental state that can be observed or described.

The most fundamental reality of which we are all aware, then, is the human self, and an understanding of the self inevitably sheds insights on all the origin questions and makes sense of reality as a whole. We realize that the self cannot be described, let alone explained, in terms of physics or chemistry: science does not discover the self; the self discovers science. We realize that no account of the history of the universe is coherent if it cannot account for the existence of the self. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and naturalists like Carl Sagan, want to explain our perceptions solely in terms of sensory perception and our neurochemical reactions to them. They claim it’s all binary, just like computer processing: zeros and ones.

Even if that were remotely so, how did life, consciousness, thought and the self come to be? The history of the world shows the sudden emergence of these phenomena – life appeared soon after the cooling of planet earth, consciousness mysteriously manifested itself in the Cambrian explosion, language emerged in the “symbolic species” without any evolutionary forerunner. The phenomena in question range from code and symbol-processing systems and goal-seeking, attention-manifesting agents at one end to subjective awareness, conceptual thought, socialization and the human self at the other. The only coherent way to describe these phenomena is to say that they are different dimensions of being that are supraphysical in one way or another. They are totally integrated with the physical and yet radically “new.” We are not talking here of ghosts in the machine, but of agents of different kinds, some that are conscious, others that are both conscious and thinking.

Carl Sagan always adhered strictly to a materialistic perspective when discussing the emergence of Mind, which he defined as “intelligence that is inseparable from the brain.” I read his book The Dragons of Eden during my first semester at Penn State University in 1980. Sagan discussed the search for a quantitative means of measuring intelligence. His chief tenet was that brain-to-body-mass-ratio is an extremely good indicator for intelligence, with humans holding the highest ratio, and dolphins the second-highest. Sagan attempted to explain the evolution of the human brain with the Triune brain model first developed by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean. According to MacLean, the human brain is structured in three parts: the reptilian complex, the limbic system, and the neocortex. He reduced human experience to localization of basic brain function and electrochemical processes.

human-brain-in-parts

The reptilian complex (R complex) is the situs of species-specific (reptiles, birds) instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays. The limbic system (which includes the hypothalamus and the hippocampus) is a set of interconnected brain structures responsible for feeding, reproductive behavior, and parenting. The Neocortex is exclusively found in higher-functioning mammals, specifically humans, and is responsible for development of language, abstract thinking, planning, and perception. This is precisely the concept relied on by proponents of evolution to explain how the human mind has developed over hundreds of thousands of years. It’s noteworthy that the standard-bearers of evolution cannot properly explain how the human mind is “aware” of itself.

Man has created computers capable of processing information and providing data measured in speeds so fast it is impossible to comprehend. The latest is a teraflop, which is a unit of computing speed equal to one million million  (10 to the twelfth power) floating-point operations per second. It is used to quantify the mathematical ability of a computer’s processing unit. Saying something has “6 TFLOPS” means it is capable of handling 6 trillion floating-point calculations every second. To put this into perspective, a traditional calculator may need only 10 FLOPS for all its calculations. So when we start talking about megaflops (a million floating-point calculations), gigaflops (a billion) and teraflops (a trillion), you can see what sort of power we’re talking about.

But no matter how fast a computer can “think,” it is completely incapable of knowing it’s a computer, or realizing that it is computing. Humans, on the other hand, are aware of awareness, are conscious of the fact that they are in the midst of figuring out a problem, and can even grasp the impact their decision will have on their circumstances, their immediate environment, the rights or circumstances of others around them and, ultimately, the long-range impact on human history. Whether it will ever be possible to teach a computer to be “aware” of such ramifications will likely remain a mystery for millenia to come.

References

Flew, Antony. (2007). There is a God. New York, NY: Harper Collins
Sagan, Carl. (1977). The Dragons of Eden. New York, NY: Random House