The New Atheist Agenda
Nearly thirty years ago John Lennon sang the song, “Imagine.” The words went like this:
Imagine there’s no Heaven It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Imagine there’s no heaven… You may say that I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one
In other words, according to Lennon, the source of much evil in the world is religion, belief in God, life after death, and a universal moral code. Would the world be a better place if faith in God were eliminated? Many atheists now think so. Leading atheist spokesman Richard Dawkins states, “Imagine with John Lennon a world with not religion. Imagine, no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as “Christ killers”, no Northern Ireland “troubles”, no honour killings”, no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (“God wants you to give till it hurts.”) Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing one inch of it.”1 The goal of the new atheists is to rid the world of belief in God and religion and replace it with reason and science. The new atheists believe religions which embrace a belief in God, particularly Christianity, are not just irrational but dangerous, and, therefore, must be extinguished.
The new atheists are not presenting new arguments; however, their method of promoting their ideas very aggressively with strong, confrontational, and condemning language is unique. They have gained a following amongst the young academic crowd, and they have been quite influential in public education. Some of the notable atheists who have written popular works include Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, and Christopher Hitchens.
In this work we will cover four popular arguments presented by the new atheists. The first is that belief in God is irrational. The second argument is that science has clearly proven God does not exist. Third, religion, in particular Christianity, is dangerous. Fourth, religion is the result of a natural manmade evolutionary process motivated by man?s need for a divine father figure and the need for meaning in the universe.
In this series, we will examine these arguments and determine whether belief in God is irrational, or if there are good reasons for belief in a creator.
Argument 1: Belief in God is Irrational
The new atheists allege that faith in God is the result of irrational thinking; thus, a rational person would not believe in God. Sam Harris states, “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them “religious” otherwise they are likely to be called “mad, psychotic, or delusional.”2
In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins states that belief in God is the result of delusional thinking. He asserts that belief in God is a delusion built on empty assertions rather than evidence. He states, “Faith is blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence.”3 His conclusion is that there is no evidence to support the existence of God. In fact, all the evidence goes against God. The assertion that belief in God is irrational is not a new argument but instead a very old one.
It is true that many who believe in God are not able to present reasons why they believe. However, Christianity is not founded on “blind faith.” Instead it is faith built upon the evidence; there are good reasons that make belief in God a reasonable conclusion. One significant individual who has come to believe in the existence of God is Antony Flew. Flew was this generation’s greatest atheist philosopher. However, Flew, through philosophical reasoning, came to believe in God.
Flew states that he wrestled with three key major scientific questions. First, how did the laws of nature come to be? Second, how did life come from non-life? Third, how did the universe come into existence?4 The naturalist answers, which are heavily dependent on Darwin’s theory, provided unsatisfactory answers. Flew discovered that the classical theistic arguments provided the best answers in light of the evidence. The cosmological argument (or argument from first cause) and the teleological argument (or argument from design) provided a much more reasonable answer 5 (For more information, read the article Case for a Creator at probe.org.)
For centuries, Christian apologists have presented these and several other reasoned arguments for the existence of God, and many have come to a belief in God as Flew did. Antony Flew’s conversion from atheism to theism deals a devastating blow to the arguments of the new atheists. Not only was he a titan among atheist philosophers, but he is also another example that demonstrates belief in God is not irrational. Reasoning individuals who are willing to study the evidence and follow it wherever it leads may find a strong case for a creator.
Argument 2: Science Proves God Does Not Exist
The new atheists allege that science and faith are at war with each other. Therefore, “real” scientists must be atheists, for science clearly proves God does not exist.
How do these atheists explain the display of design in the universe? Dawkins believes Darwin’s theory answers the design argument. However, recent discoveries reveal the shortcomings of Darwin’s theory. Darwin’s theory fails to explain the cause of the universe. It also fails to present evidence that that life came from non-life. There is also the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record, and there is no mechanism for macro-evolutionary change. Mutations and natural selection have failed to conclusively show they can produce macro- evolutionary change. In short, the new atheists place a lot of faith that Darwin’s theory will answer these challenges.
Science and the Christian faith are not enemies. In fact, the more scientists study nature and the universe, the more they continue to discover complexity and design which make it highly improbable such complex systems could have come about by chance or natural forces. For this reason, the number of scientists who are acknowledging an intelligent creator continues to grow. This is a fact the new atheists neglect to acknowledge.
Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome project and author of The Language of God, tells how the order and precision in the DNA code led him from atheism to belief in God.
Collins states, “Many will be puzzled by these sentiments, assuming that a rigorous scientist could not also be a believer in a transcendent God. This book aims at dispelling that notion, by arguing that belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are in fact complimentary with the principles of science.”6
Physicist Stephen Hawking states that his study of the universe reveals that, “The overwhelming impression is one of order. The more we discover about the universe, the more we find that it is governed by rational laws… You still have to ask the question why does the universe bother to exist? If you like, you can define God to be the answer to the question.”7
Francis Collins and Stephen Hawking are just two examples of numerous award-winning scientists who acknowledge the scientific evidence points to a creator. The more we learn in the various fields of science, biology, microbiology, astronomy, physics, and the like, the more the evidence continues to point to design. The complexity of life and the order displayed in the universe make it more reasonable to conclude a God created it; the greater leap of faith would be to conclude it all occurred by chance and natural forces.
Argument 3: Belief in God is Dangerous
The new atheist movement asserts that religion is dangerous, for it is the catalyst for much of the conflict in the world today. Many assert that religions teach intolerance and discrimination. To build their case, however, the new atheists unfortunately attack misrepresentations of religions, especially Christianity.
For example, in The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins states, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: a jealous god and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”8 What Dawkins displays is his superficial understanding of the Bible. Certainly no Christian believes in a God as described by Dawkins.
Another error is the misuse of labels. New atheists apply the term “fundamentalist” to evangelical Christians as well as fundamentalist Muslims, creating the illusion the two are equivalent in their teachings. When Dawkins points to the example of the Islamic riots against the Danish cartoons, he equates this incident, not with Islam, but with all religions.9 However, a careful study reveals that there is a vast difference between Jesus’ teachings and Muhammad’s teachings. This difference is also revealed in the lives they lived (See my article on The Lives of Muhammad and Jesus at probe.org.) A careful reading of the New Testament quickly reveals that violence goes against the nature of Christ’s teachings who instead taught His disciples to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”(Mt. 5:38-48.) Application of the true teachings of Christ would lead to a peaceful rather than violent society.
New Atheists allege that religions promote division by the creation of “in” groups and “out” groups. Indeed there are religions which discriminate, including some Christian groups, but, in Christianity such discrimination is a perversion of the teachings of Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice and gift of salvation is offered to all (Jn. 3:16.) Throughout His life Jesus reached out to those despised by the culture, and many of His disciples died in foreign fields preaching salvation to all. Even in the Old Testament, the mission of Israel was to be a blessing to all the world (Gen. 12.) Application of true Biblical teachings would lead to non-discrimination.
A significant point that the new atheists do not mention is the destructive consequences of atheist philosophies. Nietzsche predicted with the death of God would lead to a moral relativism which would result in blood in the streets.10 Atheism has led to one of the most destructive forms of government the world has ever witnessed. Hitler was greatly influenced by Darwin and Nietzsche. In fact it is a well-known story that at the first meeting of Mussolini and Hitler, The German leader presented Mussolini with a copy of Nietzsche’s writings. Hitler’s Nazi government and Marx’s Communism has lead to the death of millions in the 20th century. Historian Paul Robinson referred to Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini as the three devils of the twentieth century. The Asian counter parts created equally destructive regimes. Millions were put to death under the regimes of Marx, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung. In all atheistic communism led to the death of over 100 million lives. The new atheists allege that belief in God is dangerous but the facts reveal atheism has shown itself to be a great danger.
Argument 4: Religion is the result of an evolutionary process
New atheists assert religion was created out of a need for a father figure, desire for comfort in a cruel world, or fear of the unknown. New atheists rely on the work of James Frazer and his book the Golden Bough, written in the 19th century. Frazer taught that religion developed through a natural evolutionary process, which first began with animism, a belief in spirits in nature. The worship of nature spirits eventually led to polytheism. As time went on, one of the many gods came to be viewed as the most dominant. This dominant god alone was eventually worshipped, and monotheism developed. This was known as the evolutionary theory of religion. New atheists believe man’s need for God will eventually end, and atheism will be the end of this evolutionary development. Unfortunately, the new atheists once again are not presenting a new theory but reiterating an old theory which has been shown to be flawed.
One of the flaws of this theory is that it was influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution and lacked serious empirical evidence and study.11 One of the most significant and well researched works was produced by anthropologist Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt in his 4,000 page treatise, The Origin and Growth of Religion. His research of hundreds of cultures revealed that monotheism is the oldest of religions. The development of religion was discovered to have gone in the opposite direction of the evolutionary theory. All cultures began with a belief in a heavenly father. This monotheistic faith eventually degenerates to polytheism and then animism. This theory is called original monotheism (See my article, The Origin of Man’s Religion at probe.org.) The evidence displayed by Schmidt, and later anthropologist Don Richardson, is consistent with the progression of religion as revealed in Romans 1. Serious research and evidence appears to favor the Biblical model.
The new atheists present few new arguments. The arguments are not new; however, the method and strategy of this group are unique. How should we meet the challenge of the new atheists? 1 Peter 3:15 states that we must “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We are called to love those who question or even attack the Christian faith. Christians must answer their challenges with humility and grace. Christianity is a rational faith, and when the teachings of Christ have been followed, it has been a peaceful and very powerful force for good in the world.
The atheists allege the belief in God is irrational however atheism leads to some very irrational conclusion. If God does not exist, what is the meaning of our existence? Atheism’s answer has been, that life is ultimately meaningless. All that we live for and achieve will eventually end in extinction with the death of mankind and the universe. Many atheists thinkers readily acknowledge this awful conclusion. Dr. William Provine, biology professor at Cornell University stated the implications of atheism clearly. He stated is God does not exist, there is “no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics and no ultimate meaning in life, no human free will.”12 Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russel wrote:
… man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins …13
If God does not exist, one must face the conclusion that life is ultimately meaningless. However, no atheist consistently lives out this conclusion. All atheists attempt to find or live as if there is meaning in what they do and the life they live. Their inconsistency shows that this is a most unreasonable position. Psalm 14:21 states, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” Might it be the new atheists who are irrational?
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2006), 23-4.
- Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: Norton, 2004), 72,
quoted in Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2006), 113.
- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 198.
- Antony Flew, There is a God (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007), 91.
- Ibid., 89.
- Dr. Francis Collins, The Language of God (2006), p. 3.
- Gregory Benford, “Leaping the Abyss: Stephen Hawking on Black Holes, Unified Field Theory and Marilyn Monroe,” Reason 4.02 (April 2002): 29 quoted in Antony Flew, There is a God (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 2007), 97.
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2006), 51
- Dawkins, 46-50. quoted in Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Mariner Books, 2006), 113. 3 Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 198.
- Amy Orr – Ewing, Is Believing in God irrational? (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 208.
- Alister McGrath and Joanna McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 60.
- William Provine quoted in Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 92.
- Bertrand Russel, Why I Am Not A Christian (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957), 107.