With all the zeal and energy of a religious crusade, the new atheists have come out in force, rattling their secular sabres. They are on a fundamentalist crusade to rid the world of religion and faith. The new missionaries for atheism have embarked on an evangelistic mission to proclaim the merits of unbelief and the horrors of religious faith.
Their chief target of course has been Christianity. But Christians really need not fear this onset of atheistic jihad. Their attacks are often just so much bluster and rhetoric, with little actual intellectual ammunition involved. But what they lack in argument they make up for in numbers. Book after book has poured forth from the atheist camp in the past few years.
Consider some of the titles. The big daddy of them all has been The God Delusion by arch misotheist Richard Dawkins (2006). Other titles include Breaking the Spell (2006) by Daniel Dennett; The End of Faith (2005) and Letter to a Christian Nation (2006) by Sam Harris; God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) by Christopher Hitchens; and Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (2007) by Michel Onfray.
Unfortunately these titles have been selling like hotcakes. Hopefully more people are buying them than actually reading them, but their popularity shows how successful the militant atheists have been in their war against faith. As an example of this surge in atheist book sales, consider an experience I had in June of last year when I walked into a downtown Melbourne bookstore. These were the top five best sellers:
1. God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
2. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
3. Romulus, My Father by Raimond Gaita
4. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
5. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam by Michel Onfray
Three atheist diatribes and a New Age moonbat title made up the top five! No wonder why we are in big trouble, if that is the intellectual diet we are lapping up.
Nothing to fear
But if you actually read some of these titles, you will discover that they are in many respects fairly lightweight affairs. One thing seems certain: the authors all seem to have graduated from the same Atheist Academy. All their complaints and attacks seem remarkably similar and unoriginal. They roll out the same old tired clichés, red herrings, straw men and ad hominem arguments. There is really little of substance to these atheist jeremiads.
Indeed, you will quickly discover three main weaknesses in these works. First, they may claim to speak in the name of science, but much of their writing more accurately reflects scientism, not real science. Scientism is the idea that science alone is the source of truth. As Bertrand Russell put it some years ago, “Whatever knowledge is attainable must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.”
Aligned with this idea is philosophical naturalism, the idea that only matter matters. There is no supernatural, only the natural. There is no metaphysical, only the physical. This of course is not scientifically provable. It is a faith-based commitment. Materialists cannot prove their case empirically. Instead, they have smuggled their naturalism in as an unproven presupposition.
Thus one must weed out the real scientific claims being put forward by the atheists from their philosophical naturalism, which is just part of their secular worldview. Much of what passes for hard science in the writings of these atheists turns out instead to be mere scientism.
Second, a deep-seated hatred of God is revealed in much of their writing. Why they seem to be such ardent misotheists is a good question, but it certainly shows in their books. Consider Dawkins for example. He says in The God Delusion that the Old Testament is “just plain weird” with parts of it “systematically evil”. God’s judgments are described as “God’s jealous sulk,” “God’s maniacal jealousy,” “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”. Yahweh is simply a “cruel ogre” and a “monster”.
Moreover, the atonement is just plain “vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent,” is “morally obnoxious,” and should be dismissed as “barking mad”. On and on this venomous tirade goes. This is not scientific or philosophical discussion. This is a kindergarten temper tantrum.
Third, when they do critique religion in general and Christianity in particular, they are usually way out of their depth. They really do not know what they are talking about here. Dawkins is so bad at this that fellow atheist Terry Eagleton had this to say:
“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.”
He continues, “The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.”
Atheism 0, Theism 1
Perhaps one major reason why the new atheists are so hot and bothered is because they have suffered a major setback. You see, there has been a defection in their ranks. And when someone defects from the atheist camp that is big doo doo indeed. The God-haters are not happy about this, and have turned on the renegade with all the bitterness and nastiness which they can muster.
For over a half century Antony Flew was perhaps the world’s most important and most vocal atheist. He had been a world-class philosopher and author of dozens of books. Yet he did the unthinkable a few years ago. He renounced his atheism and became a theist. He said he had to follow the evidence where it leads, and argues that the evidence for theism is quite profound. Things like the new Intelligent Design movement had helped him to change his mind. He wrote up his story in the 2007 volume, There is a God.
This was all too much for his atheist colleagues. They have declared a secular fatwa against him. He is now a traitor, a turncoat, a persona non-grata. And do they provide any rational arguments to counter his position? No. They simply throw mud at him. They make bizarre claims that he is old and senile and demented, and that he did not really write the book, and that Christians coerced him to do it, etc.
This is called the ad hominem fallacy. It means you simply attack the person instead of addressing the arguments. And that is all the atheists have done. If you don’t believe me, check out this blogsite. I have written extensively on the Flew defection, and the atheist responses have been appalling. They have simply attacked Flew instead of dealing with his arguments.
What you can do
If you have a sense of calling to engage in the battle with the new atheists, there are a few things you should do. First, this is a spiritual battle. The god of this world is out to deceive and mislead people, and turn them away from serving the true and living God. So this is idolatry and spiritual deception of the highest order, and we need to be spiritually protected via prayer and spiritual warfare as we enter into these debates.
Second, if you really want to take these people on at their own intellectual level, you really do need to be well read. You need to be up on a whole range of areas, from philosophy to science, theology and history. To do this, can I suggest that you start a reading program. To be an intelligent and articulate apologist, you really should read the works of some great 20th century giants, including Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis.
Other top notch scholars and thinkers who are fighting the good fight today include Ravi Zacharias, R.C. Sproul, J. P Moreland, Alister McGrath, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler and Paul Copan. Buy their works, read them and read them again, and you will be more than able to fulfil the calling of 1 Peter 3:15.
Third, you can get involved in online debates with atheists and others in various places. My website is one of many places where you can practice defending the faith with love, respect, firmness and knowledge.
This war of ideas is part of a bigger spiritual battle we are in. Not all are gifted to enter these intellectual arenas, but some can use their God-given talents to stand up for their faith, and withstand the onslaught of the new atheist warriors.