Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Atheism: Much Ado About Nothing

Apr 10, 2012

The excitable atheists are in town again. A big revival meeting of zealous atheists is just about to happen again in Melbourne. In this hyper religious service, the tambourines will be banging and the ‘praise the self’ crowd will be all over the place. It is a gathering of all the high priests of misotheism and their dedicated groupies.

The atheist convention is quite odd in many respects. They will insist that atheism is not a belief to be proved, but a non-belief. They will argue that they simply do not believe in God – so there is nothing to prove, nothing to argue for. Yet they will have a full three days celebrating this. They will be carrying on about nothing.

All this raises the obvious question: why bother? Why spend so much time, money and effort on, well, nothing? We recall that the hit TV show Seinfeld was “a show about nothing”. But these international atheist shindigs seem to be simply much bigger versions of shows about nothing.

So why go to all the effort to endorse, celebrate, and affirm nothing? Why get so worked up about nothing? I can see getting excited about something – but nothing? But I am not alone in my concerns and questions. Even non-believers are asking these sorts of questions. Consider a recent article by British journalist and atheist Brendan O’Neill. He is worth quoting at length:

“The central problem with the New Atheist movement is that it is based entirely on a lack of belief rather than on a belief. It is built on an absence, on a negative, on the fact that these people share a non-belief in God, rather than on any shared vision of the future. Some atheists now even wear t-shirts branded with what they call, in another nod to history, the ‘scarlet letter’ – that is, a big red ‘A’ for Atheist.

“This is a very new development. Of course, there have been non-believers for centuries, particularly following the Enlightenment. But they did not club together on the basis of their non-belief; they clubbed together on the basis of what they did believe in, whether it was liberalism, communism, fascism or whatever.

“Today’s cultivation of a movement that is merely atheistic, whose members are tied together only by what they lack, is pretty unprecedented. And it speaks profoundly to the emptying out of the big ideas and shared ideologies that once galvanised the intellectual classes – particularly liberalism and socialism – so that now all that these people can rally around is what they don’t have (faith in God) rather than what they do have (faith in man or the future).

“It is their creation of a movement based on negatives rather than positives which explains why the New Atheists are so screechy. Because bereft of anything substantial or ideological to cohere themselves around, they instead spend the whole time attacking their opposite number – those who do believe in what New Atheists do not: religious people, the thick, the unenlightened. Like electrons in an atom, the ‘negatives’ of the New Atheist clique are forever whizzing around the ‘positives’ of the God lobby.

“The hole at the heart of modern atheism was best summed up in what Time magazine last month described as ‘The Rise of the Nones’ – that is, the speedily growing group of Americans who now list their religious affiliation as ‘none’. That is fine, of course, but then to cultivate an entire identity, a whole life’s outlook, on the basis of that ‘none’? That is sad. Who wants to be a ‘none’? I’d rather be a nun. At least they still believe in something.”

Quite right Brendan. It is because Christians actually believe in something, rather than nothing, that they are worth listening to. They not only have positive beliefs, but these beliefs are translated into positive actions. That is why we have seen throughout the past 2000 years schools, hospitals, charitable works and other helpful social services established by Christians, but not by atheists.

It is hard for someone who believes in nothing to come up with anything which is socially redeeming or useful. A full-fledged commitment to nothing, or non-belief, will usually result in a whole lot of nothing. But those with positive beliefs in something positive will show all kinds of positive results.

And even some of the believers in nothing can see this. Consider this recent news item. An atheist in America is no longer an atheist, thanks to the positive beliefs and positive actions of a Christian. Here is how the story goes:

“Two months after he threatened to sue a Texas county for allowing a Nativity scene on public property, longtime atheist Patrick Greene has announced that he is not only converting to Christianity, but also plans to become a pastor, the Christian Post reports.

“Greene, an Air Force veteran from San Antonio who has a history of activism related to atheist causes, threatened in February to file a lawsuit against Henderson County, Texas, if they did not remove a Nativity scene in front of the courthouse, Malakoff News reported.

“But he was forced to drop the lawsuit after doctors told him that he had developed eye cataracts and was in danger of losing his vision, according to the Houston Chronicle. Shortly thereafter, Greene’s failing vision forced him to quit his job as a taxi driver and he was left with the challenge of supporting himself and his wife of 33 years.

“That’s when Jessica Crye, a Christian woman who read about Greene’s troubles in the paper, went to members of her church and asked if they would be willing to donate money to help Greene. They ended up raising $400 in donations for Greene, which left him ‘flabbergasted that Christians would help atheists’ the Athens Review reported at the time.”

There you have it folks. A belief in nothing is just not going to cut it in the long run. It takes a positive belief in a positive good, like a positive God, to produce positive goods in a needy world. A whole lot of nothing will do nothing for the poor, the needy, the hurting, the searching. Only a positive affirmation about a loving personal God that exists and cares greatly about us is going to make a difference in this world. Non-belief is just, well, non-belief. We need far more than that to make it through life.

Indeed, atheism is ultimately just a parasite belief system. It can’t even exist on its own. As G.K. Chesterton once rightly noted, “If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” Or as C.S Lewis had to remind us, “To argue with God is to argue with the very power that makes it possible to argue at all.”

Quite so. Even nothing, it seems, needs something else to depend upon for its very existence – or is that non-existence?,b=facebook

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22 Responses to Atheism: Much Ado About Nothing

  • Jessica Crye is a gracious and Christlike woman. An inspiration to me.
    Doug Holland

  • But Bill, you must never ask ‘why’?

    What, when, where, and how… fine. But ‘why?’, Bill, is according to Richard Dawkins, ‘a silly question’!

    Trevor Faggotter

  • What’s conspicuous about atheism is their lack of an explanatory model for the universe. They have to either propose something like fundamental physics, atoms, space-time etc. But many times they don’t even bring a candidate forth. They survive by bashing positive models such as the theistic one. It’s intellectual cowardice.
    Damien Spillane

  • Quite so Trevor. Asking why is what separates us from the animals. But the atheists do not want us to be seen as different than animals. We all ask why, and we all thirst for something more than this world has to offer. So we need to ask why we ask why!

    As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • What I found most interesting about yesterday’s Q&A was the fact that Dr Dawkins consistently failed to try to understand—let alone understand—the Christian worldview.

    Also his “well that depends on how you define nothing” comment. It’s simple: nothing means not anything. He complained that Cardinal Pell was playing fast and loose with the English talking about the general resurrection and his understanding of the Eucharist, but he did the very same thing himself!—and got off the hook by The Age‘s standards.

    Modern atheist want to deny the scientific evidence by playing semantic games, and then turn around and complain when you talk about the resurrection!

    Anyway, Bill, that last story you recounted was hilarious! Truly the Lord is full of surprises.

    Felix Alexander, Melbourne.

  • Dawkins and his New Atheist colleagues have a curious ambivalence to both the Bible and the ethical implications of Darwinian evolution. On the one hand, they attack the biblical God as a Bronze Age “monster”; and on the other they reject the implied ethical nihilism of natural selection in favour of a social ethic which speaks highly of the Sermon on the Mount, but rejects the deity, atonement and resurrection of Christ. It is less than consistent to claim that at the bottom of life in the universe, there is nothing but “a blind, pitiless indifference” – a “blind watchmaker”; and then to say that to live a life of pitiless indifference towards others is a bad – a very bad – way for humans to live!

    It was fascinating to hear Richard Dawkins refuse to define the word “success” in a TV interview when Andrew Denton asked him to do so… an amoral, materialist philosophy can provide no meaningful account of good and evil, and therefore will inevitably, in denying moral absolutes, introduce us to a mad world where nothing is absolutely true or absolutely false – where men are doomed to manufacture their own “meanings” for existence in an allegedly meaningless universe.

    At least Darwin and Nietzsche were consistent in their negative attitudes towards those they deemed to be “less-favoured races” and “less viable progeny of the human species”. The sinister underbelly of atheism is every bit as real as history’s other atrocities that were allegedly perpetrated in the name of that God Gore Vidal contemptuously called “the sky-god” in his 1992 Lowell Lecture at Harvard University:

    John Wigg

  • Dawkins is a halfwit – pure and simple! I saw one of his so called balanced discussions the other day with someone and I am convinced beyond belief now that the guy just does not want to believe in the inevitable – that we were created – it would seem now that he is just looking for ways to avoid it let alone present a convincing or balanced argument against creation.
    Steve Davis

  • The Q & A episode was rather a debacle.
    I found a couple of statements by Richard Dawkins to be very revealing.
    Firstly, he rejected the idea of evolution being ‘random’ – instead, he claimed that evolution had ‘order’, and the universe and our world had order; but he refused to even consider where that order and design might come from.
    Secondly, he rejected the idea of ‘social Darwinism’ – of living our lives according to the ‘survival of the fittest’. He said that we actually do live in a ‘moral’ world.
    Unfortunately, the biggest problem in the Q and A program was that the classic Christian worldview was not well-presented by George Pell.
    When one is arguing for the Christian viewpoint but accepts the notion of evolution – including the idea that God did not specifically create Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis – then you easily lose the debate; especially with an atheist. The discussion about heaven and hell wasn’t any better.
    Even Tony Jones as the host was asking questions about Adam and Eve and original sin which George Pell couldn’t answer adequately.
    It was a good illustration of why Christians can’t afford to compromise on the basic doctrines of Christianity and the truth of the Bible.
    Jenny Stokes

  • Thanks Jenny. Yes as I have been telling people, the only thing that redeemed Monday was the earlier victory of Geelong over Hawthorn! The debate itself at best could be called a draw (although interestingly agnostic Andrew Bolt gave Pell high marks!).

    Pell started off well but really seemed to lose the plot by the second half. So it was a bit of a let down. But having been in so many of these debates over the years, I know how difficult they can be, especially when everyone – from the moderator to most of the audience – is also pitted against you.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • What strikes me is that that Brendan seems to miss the fact that he is also describing exactly the victim mindset of the gay devotees. He also mindlessly identifies homosexuals, or as I prefer to call them Stonewellians, with black people. Stonewellianism and atheism are from the same stable: making the self the centre of the universe.

    David Skinner, UK

  • The atheist cannot ignore the fact that something exists at all. For them there has to be nothing nothing. As soon as they admit that something exists at all, they are, as are all of us, compelled to give a reason for this existence.

    Dawkins has already not only admitted that existence needs a prime cause but that life could have come from outer space!

    Melanie Phillips quotes him as saying:

    “rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?”

    David Skinner, UK

  • Sounds like a definite call to witness. I haven’t done extensive research in answer to the following question but maybe someone can give me some pointers. If Dawkins is a positivist, that is, he believes that all truth claims must be verifiable by scientific testing on what leg does he stand when he constantly makes negative moral judgement regarding Jehovah of the Scriptures? He’s constantly decrying the ‘bad morality’ of the Scriptures but where does he get his ‘absolute’ moral grounding to make such judgements? Am I missing something?
    Jared Bruning

  • Yes quite right Jared

    How can you get any sense of objective morality our of a purely materialistic worldview? And since Dawkins denies the possibility of a transcendent objective morality, how can he even begin to make ethical judgments about OT morality? But I speak to this more fully elsewhere, eg.:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill.
    Jared Bruning

  • It’s time too sit back and enjoy once more that classic presentation of Dawkins:

    David Skinner, UK

  • apropos of nothing:

    “..too much of nothing
    can make a man abuse a king
    he can walk the streets
    and boast like most
    but he don’t know a thing..”

    -Bob Dylan, late 1960’s

    Terry Darmody

  • Yes good one Terry.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • To Cardinal Pell’s credit: at the least he held his ground with commonsense and gracious poise. Because he’d prepared well he demonstrated that he knew the writings of Charles Darwin & Professor Dawkins’ friend Laurence (Trout?) better than Dawkins did.
    It seems to me that Q & A has become mostly ‘crowd-pleasing’ in its style. In that context I think Pell did a pretty good job of presenting trust in God as a sensible and healthy lifestyle choice for the broad community.
    Terry Darmody

  • Non-belief is a parasite on belief and it regards its destructiveness as creative.
    Rachel Smith

  • Yes quite right Rachel.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Those atheists who still insist on morals, truth, beauty, order, those kind of things have, I think made a simple transfer of allegiance, loyalty from a personal God to whom they have to give account in an afterlife to a random process or remote personal creator, ignoring the inconsistencies of logical thought they need to adopt in order to come to such conclusions, but I think the goal is to be able to enjoy all good things that God has made – even to the blessings of worship itself – in this world without having to be accountable to their personal creator, redeemer and sustainer. This is not only a denial of true reason, but utter foolishness, because by refusing God His rightful place, they are denying themselves the greatest blessing.
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

  • Hello Bill,
    You seem to be getting a number of new atheist trolls and here is the solution to their nonsensical arguments:

    It is written by an atheist who is also historically literate.

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