Why Atheism Fails: The Four Big Bangs

Townhall.com | Frank Pastore | May 6, 2007

Their titles sound so confident:

• The Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam by Michel Onfray.

• God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens.

• Letter to a Christian Nation: A Challenge to Faith by Sam Harris.

and of course, • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Yet, like all atheists before them, they still can’t answer the fundamental questions of origins.

1) What is the origin of the universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? How do you get matter and energy from nothingness? How do you get a rock out of nothing?

2) What is the origin of life? How do you get life from non-life? How do you go from a rock to a tree?

3) What is the origin of mind? How does a living thing become a self-conscious being? How do you go from a tree, to an animal, to a human?

4) What is the origin of good and evil? How does an amoral being become morally aware?

Atheists respond to all these types of questions with essentially the same style answer. “We know God doesn’t exist. Therefore, since we’re here, though, it had to have happened this way. Thus, like the universe itself, life, mind, and mo-rality all ‘just popped’ into existence out of nothingness.”

. . . more

Comments

  1. JamesK says:

    Although I have little patience for atheism arrived at through mere prejudice or for those like Dawkins who make crass (and often inaccurate) generalizations about such a large and diverse group of people, I do sympathize with some who painfully arrive at agnosticism or minimalist deism after realizing that one must eventually choose one set of unanswerable questions over another.

    The atheist cannot honestly provide coherent answers about human origins or how to derive meaning out of human existence, but neither can the religious apologist truly be able to reconcile various purported attributes of God such as His goodness and omnipotence in the face of human suffering and even natural evil. Explanations are provided, but they ultimately end in the “not knowing” that is faith. One also ends up in frustrating and non-productive arguments with believers over how God is the cause of everything yet somehow responsible for nothing in addition to all manner of incoherent, inconsistent and even repugnant doctrines.

    What I do find interesting is that people often do not live as if they believed what they claim to believe. Atheists may claim there are really no constructs such as morality or “goodness”, yet they would instinctively become (rightfully) outraged should violence be done to one of their children. At the same time, despite the claim that Christianity is at its core about “charity”, I have read discussions among Christians over theological issues that involve a degree of hostility, anger and callousness that I honestly don’t see in people I would consider “pagan”.

  2. Michael Bauman says:

    James K you state: “At the same time, despite the claim that Christianity is at its core about “charity”, I have read discussions among Christians over theological issues that involve a degree of hostility, anger and callousness that I honestly don’t see in people I would consider ‘pagan’.”

    It’s easy to be tolerant when one doesn’t really care. We Christians all too often go for the “kill the heretics” bomb in part because we actually care about matters of faith and we are not above feeling threatened and afraid.

    The difficulty you describe is, in part, because you still have a “natural world” point of view not only physically but emotionally and spiritually. You are looking at it solely from an understanding derived from our fallen existential reality. That is a closed system that was created by our willful estrangement from God. The Incarnation reversed that and made it possible for anyone to experience the life meant for us. However, it is not magic. We have to do the things necessary. Since disobediance is at the heart of the fall, obediance is at the heart of the recovery of communion with God.

    I don’t know about you, but real obediance goes against everything I have been taught about how to live in this world and be successful and against my own innate willfulness. The proof that what the Orthodox Church teaches is in the lives of her saints which are not in some far off century but here and now. If I choose not to follow the way of the Church, I can do that, but I cannot then expect to grow in sanctity.

    The people you describe seem to have the “Bill Cosby vision of God”,i.e, ” a little angel came down and said ‘poof, your well’. If that were the way it worked, I don’t think He would have gone to the Cross.

    For a good discussion on the matter see Nothing from Nothing leaves Nothing

  3. Atheists may claim there are really no constructs such as morality or “goodness”

    I must confess that I haven’t read all of the big bang books listed, but Christopher Hitchens and other notable atheists (Daniel Dennett comes to mind) write pretty explicitly about morality and goodness, and how it need not be tied to a creator-god concept. I’m not familiar with any of the well-known, published atheists who argue that, because there is no god, there is no such thing as human morality.

  4. Jim Holman says:

    Typically the “no God = no morality” position is advocated not by atheists, but by conservative Christians as a way to convince people of the necessity of theistic belief. In other words, the argument is that once belief in God goes, everything else falls apart.

    Fundamentalists make similar arguments in favor of biblical inerrancy. For example, a fundamentalist fellow once made this argument to me: “If there is one error in the Bible, that means that God is a liar, because He said His word is all true. And if God is a liar, then you might as well go out and rape and rob, because nothing matters.”

    Such arguments don’t have any philosophical validity, but rather reflect the importance that certain beliefs have to believers. It’s a way of saying “this belief is so important to me, that I can’t imagine a world without it; surely the world would perish without it.”

  5. Jacobse says:

    Note 4. Jim writes:

    Typically the “no God = no morality” position is advocated not by atheists, but by conservative Christians as a way to convince people of the necessity of theistic belief.

    Not only “conservative Christians” but also Dostoevsky who wrote: “When man stops believing in God, he believes everything.”

    As for the infallibility rationale of your fundamentalist friend, he’s just confused — but so what? Dostoevsky is still correct, and so is your friend about moral relativism.

    Atheists either don’t see or refuse to admit that radical atheism has a Judeo/Christian substructure. The Darwinian hyposthesis is the creation story, progress the putative guiding spirit, and the world ends in apocaplyse — in this day global warming. It even has preachers, Al Gore for example. This isn’t to criticize the structure, only to say that atheism (or a more benign secularism) is not as free of Christianity as its adherents believe.

  6. Michael Bauman says:

    Atheism is more than anything else a failure of imagination. More often than not, they claim to be atheistic because they are rejecting the atavistic sadist called God that is all too often presented within western culture. It is perfectly reasonable for caring, rational people to reject such a god. However, they assume that once that god is rejected all possible gods have to be rejected. They neither use their logic, their imagination or even their own hearts to try to find truth.

    My experience of God and why I can never doubt His existence came as the result of an experiment, many experiments actually throughout my life. The results have always satisfied me despite my many deficiences. I don’t have a blind, unreasoning faith and I still run experiments such as: The Church says if I do this and this in such and such a manner I can expect to achieve a specific result, grow in a certain way, discover certain things about myself.

    So far when I have set up my experiment carefully and followed proper procedure, the results have been replicated in my life just as predicted. The other experiments are even more revealing…the times when I choose to live against what the Church teaches. The results of those much easier to conduct experiments are also in accord with the predictions.

  7. Jacobse says:

    Note 6. Michael writes:

    I don’t have a blind, unreasoning faith…

    Have you noticed how this shibboleth ignores so much of the Christian contribution to Western culture: Bach, Shakespeare, Newton, Michaelangelo, Basil, etc.; and the secularists who think the phrase actually carries some meaning ignore the destruction of the great atheistic ideologies like Marxism? Marx seemed so reasonable, but it unleased a tsunami of unreasoned chaos. Who really has the blind faith here?

  8. Not only “conservative Christians” but also Dostoevsky who wrote: “When man stops believing in God, he believes everything.”

    I thought Dostoevsky was an Orthodox Christian when he wrote that? He was certainly conservative within his own culture.

    There were certainly many, many great Christian artists, intellectuals, writers and scientists throughout history.

  9. Jacobse says:

    Note 8. Not in the sense Jim meant it. Read his post again for context.

  10. Jacobse says:

    Note 1. James writes:

    At the same time, despite the claim that Christianity is at its core about “charity”, I have read discussions among Christians over theological issues that involve a degree of hostility, anger and callousness that I honestly don’t see in people I would consider “pagan”.

    I read somewhere that ours is an age where we are soft on the hard virtues and hard on the soft virtues. In ages past, it was the reverse.

    So, we are silent about say, the sexualization of youth, but move heaven and earth to keep them from lighting a cigarette.

    Or, we are more concerned about the tone of a disagreement, than its content.

  11. william drewery says:

    Thus, like the universe itself, life, mind, and mo-rality all ‘just popped’ into existence out of nothingness.”

    I don’t know of any serious atheist who claims that. This reminds me of one of those “scientific creationist” arguments against evolution.

    It’s easy to be tolerant when one doesn’t really care

    This is a strawman argument. Atheists care… that’s why thy speak out. Atheists and agnostics such as myself tend to care quite a bit about Truth. My wanting it to be true, finding comfort in, deriving meaning from, etc… do not make a proposition true. The closest thing we humans have to certainty is reason and evidence. Religion so frequently simply insists on a claim, without coherent argument or evidence, such as the idea that Jesus is the Messiah and that he fulfilled prophesy… “Racheal weeping for her children” is not a prophesy, no one would find it a prophesy if it weren’t claimed as one.
    Apostle Paul misquotes Psalms 68:18 in Eph. 4:8, changing “received gifts” to “gave gifts” to fit his theological purposes. Often, the idea of prophesy is merely claimed, such as “he shall be a Nazerene” when no such prophesy has ever been found in The Bible.

    I wrote the above to point up that simply arguing for the existence of God proves nothing in relation to religion, since “theism” is NOT a religion but an abstraction. Religions are particular, and as soon as one comes out of the lofty clouds of theology and deals with the particular claims of religion they fall apart. There are serious internal inconsistencies, such as nonsensical prophetic claims such as I’ve already cited, or the ideas of classical theism (impassibility, divine simplicity, absoluteness) which fly in the face with the supposed revelations… in the Bible, God is far from impassible, He even repents occasionally.

    The only reason Christian theology even exists is because the Bible is supposed true in some sence, and specifically Jesus is supposed to have fulfilled prophecies. But both claims require seriously convulated arguments not only to reconcile with what we know of the physical world, but also to reconcile them with the Biblical evidence (see above, and I trust the reader is aware of the other major inconsistencies) and even the extant theology of Christianity at any one given age. Christianity takes talking snakes literally, and then interperets King Solomon drinking from his wifes navel in Song of Songs to be a metaphore for the love between Christ and the Church.

    These are the reasons, among others, that people such as myself are not convinced by Christianity or any religion (and I trust that you as a Christian are aware of the problems of other religions). NOT because we woke up and decided one day that “hey, I don’t like being told what to do” or because we have a “fallen” understanding. It’s pretty far from a “fallen” understanding to refuse to believe in circular reasoning, or denying an actual infinity of moments when God is supposed to be an actual infinity, or the idea that an infant is accountable for its predestined actions, or any other such babble.

  12. Jacobse says:

    William, you reason within a Christian conceptual framework, and the (ostensible) logic you employ to prove the scriptures “false” betrays a fundamentalist understanding of scripture. Were you a fundamentalist before you became an atheist/agnostic?

  13. Jim Holman says:

    William Drewery writes: “Atheists and agnostics such as myself tend to care quite a bit about Truth.”

    I think we have to distinguish between different kinds of truth. In many cases religion is true at least in a poetic or literary sense. In other words, when humans want to say something really, really important about existence, they don’t write philosophical propositions; they tell stories. The power of the story, the beauty of the story, is what grips people.

    In that sense, what Michael said is true: “Atheism is more than anything else a failure of imagination.” I don’t know if this is what he meant by that, but many “hard core” atheists I know look at religion in terms of propositional truth — that something is true only if it is true in a logical, factual, rational, scientific, provable sense. They then weigh religion in that balance and find it wanting.

    But to me, that would be like someone asserting that a rainbows are not beautiful and compassion for others is not morally good, because there is no instrument that can measure beauty or moral goodness. But of course not, and most of the things that are important to humans — namely the whole universe of meaning and value — cannot be measured or demonstrated to rational satisfaction.

    That said, religious belief is also problematic. Because religions don’t just say that religion is true in a literary sense, but also in a real, historical sense. For example, Christians would say that the virgin birth is not just a beautiful, meaningful story, but also a story that is historically true — that it describes something that happened in the real, physical world.

    The problem I have with such stories is that the historical evidence isn’t sufficient to warrant belief in their historicity. In other words, the historical evidence of the virgin birth — what little there is of it — provides insufficient evidence for belief in its historicity. Christians may believe it for other reasons — that esteemed persons in antiquity believed in it, that personal experience confirms it, or whatever.

    In other words, it seems to me that religious belief is ultimately a matter of believing that certain things are historically true — but not on the basis of historical evidence. And I have a problem with that. Each field of study has its own evidentiary criteria. We believe mathematical conjectures on the basis of mathematical proof. We believe scientific conjectures on the basisi of scientific evidence. And we should only believe historical conjectures on the basis of historical evidence. Where there is sufficient evidence, we believe; where there is insufficient evidence, we suspend belief. Except, it seems, in the case of religion.

  14. Michael Bauman says:

    Jim, some good points, you just don’t go far enough. You persist in the notion that religious and spiritual claims have to be evaluated with evidence from a different order of knowledge. Properly speaking The Orthodox Church is not a “religion” She has always held that Truth is a person, Jesus Christ. Clearly, He existed. His claim to be the Incarnate Son of God can only be validated experientially and ontologically within a well developed understanding of what is not true and what is dangerous. The last time anyone seriously tried to deny the ontological experience of Orthodox Christians was Barlaam in the 14th century. St. Gregory of Palamas answered him from within the tradition of the Church and his own experential communion with God. The west went on to accept the Scholastic foundation of Barlaam’s arguments while the Orthodox did not. For any atheist to seriously attempt a critique of Orthodox Christianity would require a legitmate and profound refutation of not only St. Gregory but all of the saints and councils upon which he drew and not just on a rational level, but an ontological level as well.

    It can not only be a rational excursion because, for us, the very lives of the saints are the evidence of the Truth. You can look at one as recent as .St. John, Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Franciso who reposed in 1966. The lives of the saints is the the type of evidence that is native to a discourse on the existence of God.

    Unfortunately, it is precisely the evidence that is native to the spiritual life that atheists reject a priori because of their belief that it is false, a belief for which they have no evidence. They do not bother to spend the time and effort to put the claims to the test. Many, as Fr. Hans suggests are disagreeing primarily with the protestant, largely Calvinist god which is, IMO, a blasphemous creation and not God at all. They also tend to argue from within the western Christian dialectic which is not Orthodox either.

    The Orthodox Church despite many outward similarities and similar language is profoundly different from western Christianity, a difference which I have yet to see any unbeliever really attempt to address. The best I’ve seen you come up with is “its not modern” and that’s not necessarily a criticism much less a refutation.

  15. Quote corrections:

    “When a man stops believing in God he will believe in anything” G.K. Chesterton.

    “If there is no God, all is permitted” F. Dostoevsky.

  16. The Church transcends time.

  17. Jacobse says:

    Thanks Tom.

  18. Michael,
    I’m curious if you’re claiming that the mechanism that a nonbeliever uses to evaluate the Orthodox Church must be different from the mechanism we use to evaluate other “religions.” For example, when you say

    His claim to be the Incarnate Son of God can only be validated experientially and ontologically within a well developed understanding of what is not true and what is dangerous.

    …are you saying that that is true of anyone who claims to be the Incarnate Son of God? If not, what is the criteria for claims that can only be validated experientially and ontologically versus claims that can be evaluated evidentially?

  19. Jacobse says:

    Atheists, like Hitchens and others, live in two worlds. First they appropriate the logic and morality of Christian culture to attack Christianity, while ignoring the fact that atheism has no body of knowledge — no ideas or assertions that touch on ontology (being) to paraphrase Michael Bauman’s words — that is coherent, logical, meaningful, morally systematic, or anything that we can consider enduring or culturally vivifying.

    It reminds me of the old George Bernard Shaw quips. They were so clever that they devasted the Christian faith of some, but they worked because the surrounding culture was Christian. In other words, it is easy to shock people when they hold things sacred. Erode the sense of sacredness however, and what emerges alongside the cleverness is the knowledge that when sacredness is lost, barriers against brutality erode. Shaw, despite his prodigious intellect, was also a short-sighted fool in some ways.

    Hitchens can despise Christianity including how it shaped culture, but his Troskyite leanings are deluding him into thinking that if the Christian moral influence over culture diminishes, a socialist new man will emerge; something the last century teaches us will not happen. He still believes Christianity veils reality and by removing this veil, structure and order will emerge.

    Again, Michael Bauman makes the very good point (although not as clear as it could be): atheism has no body of thought touching on ontology (being); no anthropology, no philosophy of history, no hypothesis of origins apart from the Darwinian hypothesis, although it’s teliology is strictly non-transcendent, which is to say some variant or another of the new socialist man and society. Hitchens no doubt has a more sophisticated teliological view (socialist thinkers always see themselves as prophets) while a more mundane expession of this culturally Marxist dynamic would be something like, say, gay marriage.

    Watch out for thinkers who borrow Christian apocalypticism but place it within space and time. That’s what Marx did. That is also what Al Gore and crew does with global warming although they replace economics as a social mechanism witht the mechanics of nature. This pattern of thinking functions as a heresy (in the true meaning of the term), that is, Christianity without Christ (or Judaism without the promise of the coming Messiah).

    The answer to Phil’s question then can only be another question: how can atheism, because it denies transcendent reality, establish any narrative that is necessary to bring meaning and order to human existence? Hitchens is a Marxist so his answer would be that the transcendent is not necessary because the New Jerusalem will emerge from the chaos that results from the cultural collapse of Christianity (talk about blind faith!). He too is a fool in his own way because what Europe is showing us is that when Christian culture collapses, Islam will supplant it. Maybe that explains his (correct) warnings against the Muslim threat.

    But others won’t see this. They are not as bright as Hitchens. They’ve rewritten Descarte’s dictum to read: “I feel, therefore I am”, and thereby join the inexorable march towards nihilism of which atheism is the gateway. Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die.

  20. Michael Bauman says:

    Fr. Hans, thank you for expanding and clarifying what I was attempting to say. I would take it one step further, some atheists actively oppose the concepts of being and transcendence altogether. You will find among these those most evangelical in their opposition to Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.

    The nihilist dream is that by destroying the “artificial” order of society, man, or at least the really great men will emerge to rule. It really is a Chrisitian heresy and to a greater or lesser degree has come to dominate our culture. It has deep roots in the United States through the work and influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson whose ideas Nietzche like in many ways, pre-date Nietzche by about 60 years.

  21. Hitchens, like most ideologues, does overgeneralize.

    Yet, he is accurate in his idea that a Christian worldview does not necessarily express itself in a moral way (although it can and often does). In fact, embracing faith can merely reinforce one’s feeling that they are beyond reproach instead of generating any real humility. I’m not sure Hitchens is on target by blaming religion itself for this, though. Were Benny Hinn not selling “healings”, he’d probably be conning people in real estate or some other shady business dealings. This wouldn’t necessarily reflect the intrinsic goodness or badness of the real estate market, though.

    In any rate, his skepticism of the infallibility of faith in transforming society is warranted. I, for one, am not convinced that were everyone to embrace Christianity that society would be significantly different. However, I’m likewise skeptical of any assertion that its rejection would improve it either.

  22. Jacobse says:

    James, you miss the point completely. Hitchens in not overgeneralizing. He is very clear about what he believes. I’m not sure if you understand him, however.

    You have a very truncated understanding of the ideas that shape and directs culture, amost as if popular culture is the final expression of those ideas. Otherwise, why bring up Benny Hinn? Hinn as an exemplar of Christian thought is the equivalent of citing Woody Allen as the exemplar of Jewish thought. It says nothing.

    In any rate, his skepticism of the infallibility of faith in transforming society is warranted.

    What? Hitchens is not a sceptic. Hitchens is an atheist, a materialist, a Troskyite — they are all the same thing. And what does “infallibility of faith” mean?

    Read my post again. Note these words:

    Hitchens is a Marxist so his answer would be that the transcendent is not necessary because the New Jerusalem will emerge from the chaos the emerges from the cultural collapse of Christianity (talk about blind faith!). He too is a fool in his own way because what Europe is showing us is that when Christian culture collapses, Islam will supplant it. Maybe that explains his (correct) warnings against the Muslim threat.

    If you think that bringing in Benny Hinn justifies your conclusion that:

    …I, for one, am not convinced that were everyone to embrace Christianity that society would be significantly different.

    …you are not grasping the point at all.

  23. Jacobse says:

    Note 20. Michael writes:

    I would take it one step further, some atheists actively oppose the concepts of being and transcendence altogether. You will find among these those most evangelical in their opposition to Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.

    Yes. Some of these atheists are crusaders. The thing I notice though isw that for all their accomplishments in their respective fields, they don’t understand much beyond them. When I listened to …(forgot his name, the “god myth” guy) on CSPAN a few months ago I was struck by his relative ignorance on history, faith, and culture. It just wasn’t compelling, more a confirmation of shared superstitions than any real penetration into the nature of things.

    I don’t know enough about Emerson apart from reading a few books of his a long while back. JBL is a literature major. Maybe he can chime in.

  24. Conflating atheism with Marxism and Socialism seems to oversimplify. Certainly, Hitchens is bombastic. He’s an easy character to caricature and dismiss.

    But religious philosophies and political philosophies are in many ways different. A political philosophy is essentially a system of making decisions. A religious philosophy (or an anti- or non- religious philosophy) _can_ be a system for making decisions, but is also a set of factual beliefs about the world, the universe, etc.

    It seems, Jacobse, that there are two sets of critiques here: you’re clearly critiquing the effects of atheism. But that does nothing to critique the facts of atheism. One could easily argue that “Everything atheists believe about the Universe is true, but those beliefs lead to disorder in society.” Similarly, one could argue: “Christians believe a number of things that are essentially superstitious and factually incorrect, but these beliefs lead to an ordered society.” Arguing about whether the transcendant is necessary is a tacit admission that an argument about whether the transcendant is real is a separate issue.

    Hitchens is a poor “spokesperson” because he’s such a blowhard. If you get a chance to read Daniel Dennet’s book (I think he’s the man you’re referring to in post 23), he at least does a better job acknowledging the separate arguments: the effectiveness of a religion may have nothing to do with the factual truth of its mythology.

  25. Jacobse says:

    Note 24. Conflating Marxism with atheism oversimplifies? First of all, it’s not a conflation. Marxism is quite openly atheistic. It despises religious belief as an “ideal”, that is, of non-material origin. Religion is the opiate of the masses, remember?

    Further, who is caricaturizing Hitchens? I’m certainly not so what, then, is the purpose of your off-handed dismissal? Is his atheistic apologetic too eloquent? If so, you should refute either him or me rather than shrink from the challenge by locating it to a place where it does not belong.

    Arguing about whether the transcendant is necessary is a tacit admission that an argument about whether the transcendant is real is a separate issue.

    …the effectiveness of a religion may have nothing to do with the factual truth of its mythology.

    This is where the atheist trips up. Trancendence, by definition, incoporates the material and unseen worlds. If the atheist, like the Marxist, insists that the only reality is material reality, then there is no room for values and meaning and any transcendent statement is de-facto invalid — including those about the superiority of atheism.

    But man is not created to live in isolated darkness (there’s that troublesome ontological dimension again!). He cannot bear the contradiction between soul and mind that atheism creates. In due course, atheism will become ideology and generate a will to power, especially against those who speak the words that bring light and thus reveal the darkness for what it is. (Read my article: The Artist as Vandal: Culture and the desecration of religious symbols.)

    One final point: mythology, in the true sense of the term, functions in any system making transcendent claims — including Marxism. What is the promise of a socialist utopia after all, if not the secularization of Christianity’s New Jerusalem? Do you really believe this promise is not “mythology”? Moreover, are you sure you want to continue with the misconception that mythology is synonomous with fantasy?

    Atheists might despise mythology, but they will always be driven to it as long as they cower in the face of nihilism, which is atheism’s logical end. The problem, as the historical record makes clear, is that atheistic mythologies unleash a torrent of blood. Millions upon millions have died because of the Marxist myth.

  26. If the atheist, like the Marxist, insists that the only reality is material reality, then there is no room for values and meaning and any transcendent statement is de-facto invalid — including those about the superiority of atheism.

    That’s like a little semantic game: “Atheism means that nothing has meaning, so the words you say are meaningless. Ha!”

    But atheism is not exactly equal to materialism. An atheist need not hold the belief that there’s no such thing as love, or values, or meaning. In fact, he might think his love is more profound because it’s a choice he makes, and not a predestined “match made in heaven.”

    And, again you conflate atheism with Marxism. Conflation means to fuse into one entity. Sure, Marxism is atheistic. But not all atheists are Marxists, in the same way that not all Christians are Republicans. Atheism need not be a political belief system.

    What word would you use to describe someone who weighs all of the evidence available to them and concludes, “Gosh, it looks like there really isn’t a creator god who watches every action we make and rewards or punishes us after death?” I’d use the term “atheist,” but it seems like you have a special political definition for that word; what alternative do you use for that hypothetical person?

    Atheists might despise mythology.

    …and they might not. They might study it, or read it to their children at night. What’s to stop them? The only thing all atheists have in common is that they think there isn’t a God. They don’t even necessarily replace this “God notion” with the same understanding of the universe.

    Millions upon millions have died because of the Marxist myth.

    So Marxism is bad, bad stuff. This stereotyping is beneath you; it’s just as illogical, and just as much a straw man, as when Hitchens lists off all of the brutality that theists have caused throughout the ages.

  27. “In due course, atheism will become ideology and generate a will to power …”

    Despite Hitchens’ resentment, even hostility, towards religious and spiritual sentiment, his words seem to indicate that retains some moral compass. Are you suggesting that his worldview will necessarily lead towards an erosion of that moral compass, if not him personally, than those who share his views? Or is this a matter of degree in the sense that those who believe as he does end up violating moral norms on a far grander scale than those who profess a faith in Christ may sometimes do?

    I’m not defending Hitchens’ false conclusions, but I’m not certain I view him as a threat in the same way you do (although I’d be interested to hear more of his views on religious liberty, for example, and whether it ought to be protected).

  28. Jacobse says:

    Note 27. You need to think about these things more deeply James. When you speak of “violating moral norms”, you don’t seem to grasp that those norms are introduced into culture. You see a popular Christianity and a popular atheism, but don’t seem aware that serious atheists and serious Christians speak of that level at which the values are introduced, and not on the level of popular culture.

    Forget about Hitchens the person. This is not about celebrity. It is only about his ideas.

  29. Jacobse says:

    Note 26. Phil writes:

    That’s like a little semantic game: “Atheism means that nothing has meaning, so the words you say are meaningless. Ha!”

    Not quite. Atheism, because it denies the transcendent, cannot make any coherent universal claims without contradicting itself. Thus, your conclusion that because atheism is morally self-limiting, words about atheism are functionally meaningless is incorrect. The words about atheism have meaning — but only within a culturally theistic society.

    In a way atheism is parasitic in that it borrows the values that have their source in a theistic world view, that is, in a culture that recognizes and accepts the transcendent dimension of human existence. So again, your conclusion that because atheism is incapable of making any transcendent claims, the atheists’ words must be meaningless is simply incorrect. They aren’t meaningless. They are wrong.

    And, again you conflate atheism with Marxism. Conflation means to fuse into one entity. Sure, Marxism is atheistic. But not all atheists are Marxists, in the same way that not all Christians are Republicans. Atheism need not be a political belief system.

    I wish you understood the implications of your statements better than you do. Of course Marxism is a political system, but it also much more. Marxism is a materialist philosophy. So is atheism. Now it should be self-evident that not all atheists are Marxists. Challenging a point I never made is, well, another example of deflection (like the caricature comment in note 25) that occurs when you either don’t understand a point or find it too uncomfortable to address.

    Having said that, the great atheist experiment of the last century was Marxism, and it unleashed a torrent of blood on the world. Religious beliefs have great implications for a culture. They are, after all, the stuff of which culture is shaped and that which gives it direction. Morever, given that atheism operates within a Christian cultural framework, the shape it takes will inevitably be a secularized Christianity. It simply cannot be any other way. Of course, in real life, true atheism takes courage because its logical end is the madness of a Nietsche. Most likely atheists will capitulate to Islam instead.

    What word would you use to describe someone who weighs all of the evidence available to them and concludes, “Gosh, it looks like there really isn’t a creator god who watches every action we make and rewards or punishes us after death?” I’d use the term “atheist,” but it seems like you have a special political definition for that word; what alternative do you use for that hypothetical person?

    If you think that this is why Hitchens or other serious thinkers are atheists, then you don’t really understand them or atheism.

    Atheists might despise mythology.

    …and they might not. They might study it, or read it to their children at night. What’s to stop them? The only thing all atheists have in common is that they think there isn’t a God. They don’t even necessarily replace this “God notion” with the same understanding of the universe.

    Mythology (not fantasy) is a necessary element of human existence even for the atheist, expecially those who cower in face of the nihilism which is atheism’s inevitable and necessary end. That’s why Marxism is relevant to the discussion. It’s a case study of atheism applied, and even if an atheist is not a Marxist, all the Marxian inter-dynamics still apply.

    Thus your point…

    So Marxism is bad, bad stuff. This stereotyping is beneath you; it’s just as illogical, and just as much a straw man, as when Hitchens lists off all of the brutality that theists have caused throughout the ages.

    doesn’t add anything to the discussion. Nevertheless, your point about the “brutality that theists have caused throughout the ages” is a value statement, a moral judgment that has its grounding not in atheism (atheism cannot make transcendent value claims) but in the Christianity it ostensibly dismisses.

    The truth is you don’t really understand Hitchens, because you don’t really undertand the implications of your own argument.

    Further, your castigation of Christianity is an implicit affirmation that an atheist world view will be more benign. Lift that veil and what will I find? New Jerusalem secularized, that is, Marxian mythology wearing a different dress.

    You can’t escape it Phil. If you lived in a non-Western culture atheism would take on a different cultural form — if it were even possible, which I am not sure it is. Atheism, IOW, might be solely a phenomena of Christian culture. Like it or not, your thinking is thoroughly Christianized in a cultural sense and expecting that atheism will differ in any appreciable way from that which I have already described is like expecting a cat to give birth to a cow. It simply cannot happen.

  30. If you think that this is why Hitchens or other serious thinkers are atheists, then you don’t really understand them or atheism.

    Forget about Hitchens the person. You didn’t answer the question:

    What word would you use to describe someone who weighs all of the evidence available to them and concludes, “Gosh, it looks like there really isn’t a creator god who watches every action we make and rewards or punishes us after death?”

  31. Jacobse says:

    A lapsed Calvinist? A lapsed fundamentalist? Inexperienced? A cultural Christian? I could call them a lot of things. I would not, however, call them informed about either Christianity or atheism.

  32. Ah, then it’s clear that our problem is definitional. Atheism is simply disbelief in a supreme being. Someone who examines the available evidence and concludes that there isn’t a god is an atheist. They don’t need to know the terminology for it.

    The rest of the beliefs you’re ascribing to atheists are incidental; they may not directly contradict atheism, but there’s no reason to assume they go hand-in-hand. This stereotyping is beneath you, and I suspect it’s because you’re using some jargon-based Orthodox definition of atheism, as opposed to a standard, common-sense dictionary definition..(?) Marx was an atheist and bin Laden is a theist, and it’s no more fair for you to say that all atheism leads to Marxism than it would be for Hitchens to say that all theism leads to bin Ladenism.

    One does not need a culturally theistic society to be an atheist. It’s not a club you belong to, the way many Christian sects are structured. It’s like being a nonsmoker: there are regions of the world where you cannot be a smoker because the materials aren’t available, but you can “not smoke” anywhere, in any context, just by not smoking. One could be an atheist in isolation, if one wanted, just as easily as one could be an atheist in a city that is 99% Christian. It’s meaningless to assert that you’re not sure it’s possible to be an atheist in a non-Western culture.

    Further, your castigation of Christianity is an implicit affirmation that an atheist world view will be more benign.

    When did I castigate Christianity?

  33. Jacobse says:

    Note 32. To answer your last question first: in the phrase “the brutality that theists have caused throughout the ages”, although note my point was not the castigation as such, but your idea that atheism is free of mythology. Read my answer again.

    Ah, then it’s clear that our problem is definitional. Atheism is simply disbelief in a supreme being. Someone who examines the available evidence and concludes that there isn’t a god is an atheist. They don’t need to know the terminology for it.

    Our problem?

    Look, most people are probably not atheists at all but secularists. That means they think and operate like theists, within a Christian cultural framework.

    But secularism is not atheism. Don’t confuse the two. And certainly don’t assume that Hitchens and others make this mistake either.

    One does not need a culturally theistic society to be an atheist.

    I’m not so sure. A-theism, properly understood, requires theism, not poly-theism. Atheistic thought arose in Christian culture, and its philosophical structure is shaped in contradistinction to Christianity — a kind of mirror opposite.

    Can’t escape the influence of your parents Phil, no matter how much you might dislike them.

  34. Note 33:

    To answer your last question first: in the phrase “the brutality that theists have caused throughout the ages”

    I said it was a straw man when Hitchens lists off the brutality that theists have caused throughout the ages. That’s castigation?

    Our problem?

    I use the phrase our problem because it would be condescending and inappropriate to use the phrase “your problem.” It’s not really your problem, we have simply been operating with different sets of definitions, which seems to have led to some miscommunication.

    I’m not so sure. A-theism, properly understood, requires theism

    […]

    How is that statement any different than saying “Nonsmoking, properly understood, requires smoking.” It’s true that to be a nonsmoker in a political activist kind of way requires smoking. But to simply be a nonsmoker? All you have to do is not smoke, regardless of what your parents did. Nonsmokers who don’t impose their views on others are still nonsmokers. You need not be aware of the existence of smoking, and the types of tobacco that differ from culture to culture are also immaterial to whether it is possible to be a nonsmoker.

  35. However, how can you define “non-smoking” if “smoking” is not a part of your consciousness. It would never occur to you to make a distinction, as it doesn’t exist.

  36. Dean,
    That’s correct–but if a nonsmoker is a “person who does not smoke,” then your knowledge of your status is irrelevant to your actual status. flightless bird does not need to know whether flying birds exist; we can still discuss birds that possess the quality.

    Now, if the concept of “flight” were foreign to us, there would still be flightless birds, even if we didn’t discuss them.

  37. Jacobse says:

    Note 34. Phil writes:

    How is that statement any different than saying “Nonsmoking, properly understood, requires smoking.” It’s true that to be a nonsmoker in a political activist kind of way requires smoking. But to simply be a nonsmoker?

    Fine, but then you have to abandon the term “atheist” for something more descriptive. How about nihilist?

  38. Jim Holman says:

    Fr. Hans writes: “How about nihilist?”

    Pardon me while I slip in for a moment, since it looks like the Ayatollah Christopher is not on patrol here at the moment.

    I know a little something about atheists, since I’m married to one, and I personally know several others.

    In my observation, one of the most important self-appointed tasks of the religious right is to put labels on people with whom they disagree. It’s almost as if until the proper label is found, the person is some kind of threat. And once the appropriate negative label is found, there is great rejoicing, because then the person’s ideas, thus categorized, can be ignored.

    Unfortunately for that line of thinking, calling someone an atheist really doesn’t mean very much. Atheists are as varied and diverse as anyone else, as are theists. In my observation they are as moral or immoral as anyone else. As Phil noted, bin Laden is a theist, but so is Pope Benedict. So does categorizing both as theists somehow express the essence of who they are?

    To the extent that atheists have a common trait, it tends to be the idea that, as much as possible, beliefs should be based on evidence. So atheists don’t believe in Yahweh, but they also don’t believe in alchemy, the prophecies of Nostradamus, Zeus, psychic surgery, tarot cards, or astrology.

    As I mentioned, my wife is an atheist, which is to say that as much as possible she believes where there is evidence and does not believe where there is not evidence. She is a nurse who cares mostly for elderly people, and and it is a very difficult job since many of her patients suffer to some extent from dementia. So doesn’t care for the poor of India, but she does care for the senile of America. While most people enjoy holidays at home, she often has to work. Last weekend (yes, shes works weekends too) she went to work feeling nauseated, because there wasn’t anyone to replace her. When she got home, after she had to work three hours overtime, I asked her how her day went. She said “well, let’s see. I was hit, kicked, scratched, and called a *****.” All in a day’s work for an atheist.

    But when you label someone an atheist, secularist, or nihilist, you don’t mean any of that. When you think of atheist you don’t think of some nice woman changing the diaper on someone’s elderly mother. You don’t think of a nice woman having harsh words with a Christian coworker who didn’t give an elderly man his pain meds on time. For you, an atheist is a kind of cartoon-like figure who is destroying the moral fabric of America on his way to becoming a Marxist.

    Well, that’s all for now. I’d better sneak away before the Ayatollah finds out I was here.

  39. Jim

    In your effort to dismiss labels used by “religious right” you fall into the fallacious secularist argument that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and other religious conservatives have an agenda to create a theocracy by demonizing their opponents. It’s a false argument and requires somewhat of a conspiratorial belief system to uphold.

    Second terms used to define ideology are not “evil” they only help to clarify those ideologies for discussion. It’s in their application that abuse occurs with the term. Again in your posted statement you dismiss terms such as atheist, nihilist, etc. as pejorative by using the term “religious right” in a pejorative manner. The terms were around long before and in use before there was a “religious right” defined by the media. You argue against stereotypes by using stereotypes.

    Anecdotes are nice stories, but they are not proofs to an argument. My wife is also a nurse who works with dementia patients and has very similar stories and circumstances as your wife. But I would never use her anecdotal stories as examples to justify Christian beliefs. Nor is your use justifiable as an excuse for atheistic belief. Your anecdote neither supports or denies atheism as a whole. It only shows a narrow practice that cannot be translated to atheistic beliefs as a whole.

    Which brings me to my last point. When you claim the good Father believes atheists are a
    “cartoon-like figure who is destroying the moral fabric of America on his way to becoming a Marxist” you mischaracterize his statements. No where has Father Hans posted statements as you mischaracterize him as believing. Nor has he made personal statements about your wife’s beliefs and opinions. You though, are on the verge of an ad hominem argument.

  40. Michael Bauman says:

    Jim, thanks for sneaking in. The type of thinking you describe is a human problem. Those who disagree with Christianity behave in the same way. The way out of that is to separate the belief from the person, the general from the specific. I have profound and significant disagreements with western Christian theology but I try to honor the faith in Jesus Christ of both Roman Catholics and Protestants I meet.

    Not all atheists are nihilists; in fact, I suspect that many of them have become atheists to escape the nihilism inherent in the Calvinist approach to God. They recognize that man is far more valuable than what popular Calvinism teaches. Unfortunately, they assume that since the Calvinist description of God and man is wrong, there can be no correct description. They buy into the Scholastic fallacy that the only way we can know God is to think about Him. The Orthodox Church has always taught that real theology is a communication of a living experience with God, not just words. So while atheists reason from the same foundation that produced much of western Christian theology, they fail to understand the reality they are missing.

    While proudly declaiming that they want evidence, they refuse to even consider the evidence of their own experience with other people, the evidence of transformed, transfigured and sanctified lives that is the real proof of Christianity. Unfortunately, we Christians make it far too easy for others to ignore such proof, because we don’t demonstrate it. Rather we become the evidence for the unbelief as we continue to splash about in our own cesspools of sin. Hearers of the Word, not doers, our hearts remain hardened. Therefore, it takes a little more work to find the evidence that is there (it is far more abundant than you might believe). Your wife, despite her self-proclaimed atheism, has made a decision to serve other people that is illogical from her own philosophy and defies the empirical evidence with which she is presented on a daily basis. Despite the empirical reality that the people whom she serves have no worth and are in fact a burden on everyone, she finds worth in them and by so doing, she is serving Christ. She may well be in heaven before me.

    That being said, ideas, in and of themselves, have consequences. Modern atheism as I have seen it expressed, even the moralist kind, lies about the essential nature of man and our function in earth. It offers no transcendence except the horribly destructive will to power or the produce of the empirical mind

    As we have seen repeatedly in the 20th century and into the 21st, the will to power is not transcendence at all but descent into barbarism. The empirical mind that is lionized by both secularists and atheists is pinched, truncated and desiccated. It leads to a dehumanized culture that is without purpose or hope except to produce more “stuff” and consume it–a temptation into which much of Christianity has fallen as well.

  41. Jacobse says:

    Note 38. Your wife might be an atheist Jim, but given she has what you describe as Christian values, she’s really a functional secularist.

    Many self-professed atheists are not really atheists at all but secularists given that atheism can’t generate the moral universals that you ascribe to your wife for example. (I’m not really comfortable talking about your wife in such personal terms, but since you introduced her to us…)

    For you, an atheist is a kind of cartoon-like figure who is destroying the moral fabric of America on his way to becoming a Marxist.

    Not really. Like I told Phil, most atheists live as cultural theists even though they profess atheism. It works as long as the culture remains predominantly Christian.

    Where Phil gets confused is that he really believes atheism and the cultural values of the Christian moral tradition are mutually inclusive. They are not of course, but they manage to work together in cases such as your wife, where culture has been shaped by Christianity.

    True atheists, however, recognize this point. They must either face the nihilism which is atheism’s logical end, or drift towards some kind of will to power such as we see, say, in the Marxism of a Hitchens.

    The example of your wife, or Phil’s notion that atheism is something akin to a life-style choice, does not penetrate to the level that the apostles of atheism speak to. It’s atheism lite.

  42. Christopher says:

    Let’s look at this last series of 4 posts.

    Jim alleges the usual “your calling me/my wife names” even though he has allegedly been reading this site for years now and a self professed mature adult. You would have thought he would have picked up a few things about basic terms, there place in the world of ideas, etc. An honest pagan, or nihilist, or secularist would. I have known many and have myself been a professed atheist/secularist, and even with teenage hormones could manage something more than “your calling me names”.

    JBL goes more to the heart of the matter, Michael does the basic (if elegant) Christian apology (found in almost any Sunday school, in almost any denomination on any given Sunday – or any basic catechism, or all over the homepage of this website), and Fr. Jacobse uses this post as an opportunity to continue his earlier line (interesting in itself) on atheism vis a vis Christian culture, and no doubt helping maintain online and/or offline relationships.

    Jim, in a sense your sort of like a mascot :) If Dean is a Democratic talking point regurgitating machine, your function is to remind everyone of the more emotional affronts that Christianinty presents to the pagan mind…;)

    Maybe I am just now getting it. After 58 replies to the machine, and 4 or 5 “were so sorry” to the mascot, the actual subject of the article or essay in question can be discussed!! Someone wake me up when we get there…

  43. Jim Holman says:

    Fr. Hans writes; “The example of your wife, or Phil’s notion that atheism is something akin to a life-style choice, does not penetrate to the level that the apostles of atheism speak to. It’s atheism lite.”

    Yes, and that’s an important distinction. It’s kind of like the difference between someone who doesn’t drink and someone who is a prohibitionist. In other words, atheism can involve an active, conscious rejection of theism, or is can simply reflect the absence of theistic belief.

    Many of the atheists I know are not at all ideological. They just don’t believe. And it’s not even a matter of dis-belief, but that the belief is just not there. An “atheist” friend once told me that he grew up in a household in which no one went to church and religion was never mentioned. Thus as an adult, religion had no meaning for him. He wasn’t for it and he wasn’t against it. It meant nothing to him, and aroused no passions either way. [Probably something like the feeling I have about basketball.] Interestingly, he said that he wished that he had had some kind of religious exposure so that he could have formed some kind of feeling about it one way or the other.

    JBL writes: “Your anecdote neither supports or denies atheism as a whole.”

    You’re right, but my point was simply to point out that the label of “atheist” has no value in predicting what the actual person on the ground is really like.

    Michael writes: “I suspect that many of them have become atheists to escape the nihilism inherent in the Calvinist approach to God.”

    Yes, the fundamentalist approach is a huge turn-off for many people.

    Michael: “Your wife, despite her self-proclaimed atheism, has made a decision to serve other people that is illogical from her own philosophy and defies the empirical evidence with which she is presented on a daily basis.”

    What’s interesting to me is that she doesn’t have a philosophy per se, at least not one I can detect. Her atheism is more a matter of fact than of ideology. But perhaps as you suggest some people are religious in what they do and how they treat people, even if they don’t realize that.

  44. Jacobse says:

    Note 43. Jim writes:

    Yes, and that’s an important distinction. It’s kind of like the difference between someone who doesn’t drink and someone who is a prohibitionist. In other words, atheism can involve an active, conscious rejection of theism, or is can simply reflect the absence of theistic belief.

    Well sure, but this isn’t saying anything except that some people are indifferent to the ideas and beliefs that direct and guide them. But this is true of anyone, Christian, atheist, secularist, Democrat, Republican, dog owner, whatever.

    But this is different than saying that those ideas and beliefs ought to be matters of indifference. Clearly they are not, as the recent spate of books on atheism to name one example makes clear.

  45. Jim Holman says:

    Christopher writes: “An honest pagan, or nihilist, or secularist would. I have known many and have myself been a professed atheist/secularist, and even with teenage hormones could manage something more than “your calling me names”.”

    I saw it not as calling names, but of applying labels such that the actual person behind the label is concealed. As I think JBL said, labels can be useful in discussion. But at some point it is important to look at the actual people. Hitchens is an atheist, but most atheists I know are not at all like Hitchens.

    Christopher: “Jim, in a sense your sort of like a mascot :) . . . . After 58 replies to the machine, and 4 or 5 “were so sorry” to the mascot, the actual subject of the article or essay in question can be discussed!! Someone wake me up when we get there…”

    Dude, I’m trying not to cramp your style. When I said I was going to drop off the blog for a while, that’s your cue to jump in with substantive, topical posts. But I dropped off and you were silent.

    Tell you what. I’ll drop off again at least through the weekend. The mascot will be gone from the field, so you can put your cleats on and play with the rest of the adults. And as long as you’re movin’ and groovin’ I’ll stay off. But if you’re going to stay in the locker room, please don’t begrudge me a little game time. Deal? So wake up man, you’re there. Show us your moves.

  46. Christopher says:

    but of applying labels such that the actual person behind the label is concealed.

    If you really believe this, then you literally have some growing up to do. I mean that. This is what teenagers think, it’s immature. Adults, when they identify attributes (whether they are psychological, political, religious, whatever) understand that these technical identifications do not exhaust what a person is. When I identify my wife as an “licensed driver” or “voter” or “lover” or “Christian”; these terms are all accurate, but by no means exhaust what she is. One does not have to hold to Christianity to understand this. Most adults, by their late teens (usually long before) understand this.

    Now, more likely you already understand this but employ a common tactic of Trolls – deflect, complain about terms as being “mean”, “racists”, “your unfairly labeling me/others”, “you don’t understand me”, “you hurt my/others feelings” and all the other low ball tactics that pull us from what we are actually talking about.

    Come on Jim, you don’t want to be a mascot do you? The cute little pagan in the corner everyone smiles at, strokes, and says “it’s all right, don’t feel bad, we did not call you or so-and-so names”?!?! :) Be a man, and admit that your a Troll!! A Troll at least is a role which demands a certain amount of maturity…;)

  47. Christopher says:

    So wake up man, you’re there. Show us your moves.

    LOL! I save those for my wife ;)

    now now, I am talking about the dance floor, or at least the living room as it’s been quite a number of years since I have seen the inside of a “disco tech” :)