These are not easy days for atheists. Not only is their worldview a minority viewpoint, and a relatively recent one at that, but it may be experiencing a progressive downfall. That is the thesis of the important 2004 volume by Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism.
Thus the atheists are working overtime to bolster their flagging fortunes. New books promoting the atheist religion have been appearing of late, in the attempt to rally the faithful and to continue the onslaught against the ghastly concept of belief. Never mind that unbelief entails as much of a faith commitment as does religion.
Thus Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and others have come out swinging, hoping to shore up their own belief system. Dawkins’ latest book, The God Delusion, is a secularist jihad, full of emotive rhetoric and ad hominem lashings. In it we are enlightened with these gems: religion is simply “nonsense,” while the God of the Old Testament is “psychotic”. Moreover, faith is a “virus of the mind”. With these helpful scientific explanations, I guess we will all convert to atheism now.
Writing back in the October 22, 2006 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, Dinesh D’Souza examines the issue of faith’s continuing vitality, and the failure of atheism to make a noticeable dent in it. He begins by citing two scenarios offered by Rev. Ron Carlson:
“In the secular account, ‘You are the descendant of a tiny cell of primordial protoplasm washed up on an empty beach 3 1/2 billion years ago. You are a mere grab bag of atomic particles, a conglomeration of genetic substance. You exist on a tiny planet in a minute solar system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe. You came from nothing and are going nowhere’.”
“In the Christian view, by contrast, ‘You are the special creation of a good and all-powerful God. You are the climax of His creation. Not only is your kind unique, but you are unique among your kind. Your Creator loves you so much and so intensely desires your companionship and affection that He gave the life of His only son that you might spend eternity with him’.”
Continues D’Souza, “Now imagine two groups of people – let’s call them the Secular Tribe and the Religious Tribe – who subscribe to one of these two views. Which of the two is more likely to survive, prosper and multiply? The religious tribe is made up of people who have an animating sense of purpose. The secular tribe is made up of people who are not sure why they exist at all. The religious tribe is composed of individuals who view their every thought and action as consequential. The secular tribe is made up of matter that cannot explain why it is able to think at all.”
“Should evolutionists like Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Wilson be surprised, then, to see that religious tribes are flourishing around the world? Across the globe, religious faith is thriving and religious people are having more children. By contrast, atheist conventions only draw a handful of embittered souls, and the atheist lifestyle seems to produce listless tribes that cannot even reproduce themselves.”
D’Souza then goes into a bit of demographics: “Russia is one of the most atheist countries in the world, and there abortions outnumber live births 2 to 1. Russia’s birth rate has fallen so low that the nation is now losing 700,000 people a year. Japan, perhaps the most secular country in Asia, is also on a kind of population diet: its 130 million people are expected to drop to around 100 million in the next few decades. And then there is Europe. The most secular continent on the globe is decadent in the literal sense that its population is rapidly shrinking. Lacking the strong Christian identity that produced its greatness, atheist Europe seems to be a civilization on its way out. We have met Nietzsche’s ‘last man’ and his name is Sven.”
Sociologists have tried to explain such facts purely in terms of economics and the like. But D’Souza argues that this may be insufficient. “The economic explanation is now being questioned. It was never all that plausible anyway. Undoubtedly, poor people are more economically dependent on their children, but on the other hand, rich people can afford more children. Wealthy people in America today tend to have one child or none, but wealthy families in the past tended to have three or more children. The real difference is not merely in the level of income. The real difference is that in the past, children were valued as gifts from God, and now they are viewed by many people as instruments of self-gratification. The old principle was, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ The new one is, ‘Have as many children as enhance your lifestyle’.”
The death of religion is quite exaggerated. As much as the atheists wish for its disappearance, it continues to grow and thrive. If it languishes in one part of the globe, it takes off in another. “The prophets of the disappearance of religion seem to have proven themselves to be false prophets. Even though the world is becoming richer, religion seems to be getting stronger. The United States is the richest and most technologically advanced society in the world, and religion shows no signs of disappearing on these shores. China and India are growing in affluence, and the Chinese government is not exactly hospitable to religion, yet religious belief and practice continue to be strong in both countries. Europe’s best chance to grow in the future seems to be to import more religious Muslims. While Islam spreads in Europe and elsewhere, Christianity is spreading even faster in Africa, Asia and South America. Remarkably, Christianity will soon become a non-Western religion with a minority presence among Europeans.”
It seems the real thing that needs explaining is atheism. Atheists are the ones who seem to be out of sync with reality: “My conclusion is that it is not religion but atheism that requires a Darwinian explanation. It seems perplexing why nature would breed a group of people who see no purpose to life or the universe, indeed whose only moral drive seems to be sneering at their fellow human beings who do have a sense of purpose. Here is where the biological expertise of Dawkins and his friends could prove illuminating. Maybe they can turn their Darwinian lens on themselves and help us understand how atheism, like the human tailbone and the panda’s thumb, somehow survived as an evolutionary leftover of our primitive past.”
Of course for the atheist who accepts his presuppositions as an article of faith, as indisputable dogma, such considerations will probably not stir them very much. They will just have to work harder to convince the rest of us that there is no meaning or purpose in the world, just “a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication. . . . [where there is] no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, 1995, p. 133.).