Thursday, December 9, 2010

The New Atheists: What Are They Good For?

The New Atheists

“We are settlers in a cosmic wilderness. The world was not put here for us, and not all of it will ever prove amenable to us or to our scales of meaning. But we must carve out a moral space where our culture and civilization can live. We are part of Chaos, and we begin, little by little, to impose our own order and meaning upon it. There is no already-determined meaning somewhere else, in the mind of some God viewed as a kind of heavenly Bureau of Weights and Standards. Where else could meaning be but in the eye of the beholder? And that is in you. That is in me.”
–Robert M. Price

Many religious thinkers perceive disagreement as a denunciation of their beliefs. A brief survey of the backlash of Christians, and religious folk in general, to the New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Dennett, and Victor Stenger reveals an overreaction disproportionate to the alleged offense of religious intolerance. What appears to be happening here is that the religious are conflating irreligion and religious intolerance for one and the same thing. But they’re not.
So the question becomes this, is the acerbic criticism of the new atheist movement compeletely unwarranted or do the new atheists offer something new in their polemic? Are they worth taking seriously or are they just menacing rabble-rousers hostile to good old fashioned religious values? I must agree with Dan Dennett when he informs:

So what we may say to those who insist that only those who believe, only those with a deep appreciation of the sacred are to be entrusted with the investigation of religious phenomena, is that they are simply wrong, about both facts and principles. They are mistaken about the imaginative and investigative powers of those they would exclude, and they are wrong to suppose that it might be justifiable on any grounds to limit the investigation to those who are religious.[1]

Believers may feel their position is accosted by those intellectual heavy weights such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and company holding glaringly contrasting beliefs, but believers needn’t feel like they’re being talked down to. In fact, if you follow the new atheist train of thought you will realize that they are extending the olive branch of friendship by wanting to engage in discussion and debate about religion with believers. Without a doubt, the new atheists adamantly believe that truth springs from argument amongst friends.
Even as the new atheists mean well, they can occasionally come off as callous. Perhaps it is because they are strict rationalists and tend to be idealistic, or maybe it is because many of them are college professors and their jobs are to keep us questioning. Either way, I too understand the frustration of having someone contend my beliefs and values (let alone criticize them). When I first read Dawkin’s the God Delusion I was still a passionate Christian and there were more than a few times I got so irate reading the darn thing that I threw it up against the wall! But after huffing and puffing and counting to ten, I stopped to ask myself what had made me so angry? Why did I overreact in such a violent and destructive way? I think part of my frustration was that I couldn’t for the life of me even begin to answer all Dawkin’s criticisms. They were too many, razor sharp, and rationally sound. What’s more, the more I grappled with them in my mind the more they began to make sense! Not being able to defend my beliefs made me even angrier than the fact that someone challenged me to do so! Needless to say my copy of the God Delusion is well abused.
What I find, however, is that the new atheists simply take religion seriously—if not as seriously as genuine believers, then perhaps more so. Sam Harris confirms this supposition when he says, “There is now a large and growing literature—spanning dozens of books and hundreds of articles—attacking Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and me (the so-called New Atheists) for our alleged incivility, bias, and ignorance of how “sophisticated” believers practice their faith. It is often said that we caricature religion, taking its most extreme forms to represent the whole. We do no such thing. We simply… take the specific claims of religion seriously.”[2]

Are Atheists Rebels Without a Cause?
Renowned theologian William Lane Craig has stated irreligious attitudes such as atheism arise from the rejection of Christ’s love and the denial of the Holy Spirit (even as such shamelessly unsupported metaphysical claims don’t impress the New Atheists any). In his book Reasonable Faith, Craig states that, “The Bible says all men are without excuse. Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit.” Yet Craig’s assessment is horribly illogical. First of all, the assumption that other people believe in a god, or a spirit, let alone your concept of god is egregious. Craig overlooks the facility of the genetic fallacy by assuming everyone in the world thinks “Christian.” That’s a colossal mistake. Second of all, I could very well counter by asserting about the lack of belief that “Reason says all men are without excuse. Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, indeed the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have no good reason to.” It seems my argument is equally valid when talking about what is reasonable to believe, finding that contrary to what Craig may espouse, the lack of belief is more reasonable than faith.
Next, Craig’s hypothesis lies not on any empirically tested theory supported by evidence, but on his religious conviction that the Holy Spirit is real, and that those without it are biased against those with it. Beggers can’t be choosers (pardon the pun). On both accounts Craig’s claims are unsupported and wholly incorrect. How can I be sure? Because I know many kind hearted atheists and nonbelievers who would never stoop so low as to decry someone simply for holding a difference of opinion or having unlike beliefs. They are perfectly content to let Craig believe in stupid things as long as he doesn’t needlessly inflict such stupidity on anyone else. It’s only when those with an imaginary friend decide to call us nonbelievers without an excuse for not believing, as if we’ve failed to get it, and label us as woefully wrong. On top of this they like to add that we’re immoral, and then feigning to care for us even as they condescendingly make our nonbelief into an unforgivable crime whilst promising we’ll suffer (literally) for not agreeing to believe in their imaginary friend with them. More absurd still, they actually feel they have a right to come knocking on our door to remind us of it. Such self-righteous impolite intrusions into our privacy and personal lives, I hope you’ll agree, is a little worthy of scorn.
Furthermore if the Holy Spirit, or God for that matter, was at all tangibly real then theologians like Craig would not have to write so many tomes of apologetics explaining why it’s “reasonable” to believe. Craig’s philosophy of “I know, because I know, because I have the ‘Holy Spirit’ so I know” is a circular, fallacy driven, piece of drivel which if presented as a paper at a institution of higher learning would be the surest way to get a failing grade.
Other theologians simply offer new atheism is simply a regurgitation of the classic arguments of atheism, which they find unsatisfactory, and dismiss it without ever considering what it has to say. One such offender is Oxford’s Alister McGrath, author of The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World, who seems to think that atheism is on the way out[3] (even though polls show the statistical trend to be the opposite—atheism and nonbelief are rapidly growing—disproving McGrath’s claim).[4] He also thinks atheism is the ‘active rejection of the belief in God’ (i.e., disbelief; I’ve already addressed this misconception in chapter two). McGrath also finds atheism is a complete moral failure (although atheism isn’t a moral philosophy, is neutral with regards to ethics, so how could it possibly be a moral failure?).
Predictably, McGrath doesn’t forget to mention the Soviet Gulags, Stalin, and the evil atheists who all killed, maimed, and tortured in the name of their atheism[5] (never mind that they didn’t actually enact any of these atrocities in the name of atheism). Yet this is blatant propaganda. Such propaganda has squarely been leveled, and carries no weight, thus to offer Stalinist violence as a consequence of atheism is simply to offer a bald faced fallacy. The Biblical historian Hector Avalos reminds us of the fallacy of viewing Stalinist violence just in terms of atheism, relaying, “Most of Stalinist violence resulted from forced collectivization, and recently published documents show the complicity of church authorities in the Stalinist agenda,” and goes on to add, “…Maoist and Stalinist deaths cannot simply be attributed to atheism, as enforcing collectivization can be deadly in both atheist or Christian forms.”[6]
If a believer brings up Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao or any other quasi-atheist extremist-lunatics as having committed the worst “atheist” atrocities the world has ever seen, how are atheists to respond?[7] If we cited the numerous religious atrocities the religious adherents might point out that the numbers, after having been tallied, are not even close to being equal.  True enough, so called “atheist” regimes have killed far more than religious regimes, albeit for different reasons—none of them pertaining to a lack of belief in supernatural beings, and only in isolated incidents where economic hardship and political corruption was rampant. But religion as a whole has killed far more over the course of history, and the differentiating aspect is that it continues to do so. 
In his book What’s So Great About Christianity, the Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza fallaciously writes that atheism is the crux of the mass murders of history, stating:
While they regularly fault religion for its role in promoting conflict and violence, secular writers rarely examine the role of atheism in producing wars and killing. It’s interesting that we routinely hear about how much historical suffering religion has caused, but we seldom hear about how much suffering atheism has caused. Five hundred years after the Inquisition, we are still talking about it, but less than two decades after the collapse of “godless Communism” there is an eerie silence about the mass graves of the Soviet Gulag. Why the absence of accountability? Does atheism mean never having to say you are sorry?[8]

How does not believing in Zeus, Thor, or Athena (or any other god: forgotten or currently worshipped) lead to the Soviet Gulag is what I’d like to know? How does a cognitive position based on reason and a rational deduction, which honestly admits that we cannot prove the existence of God, let alone those lofty claims which are so regularly made on his behalf, lead to the consequence of mass murder? While I think it’s true that atheism did not provide an obstruction to wars and killing, neither was it used to justify or legitimize them. Religion, on the other hand, is routinely invoked to validate violence against others, particularly outsiders and those not in the in-group.
D’Souza obviously has some explaining to do if he wants us to seriously entertain the idea that lacking the belief in something causes a onslaught of murders. How, I’d like to know, would a naturalistic atheist who is well informed about the world and relies on science, and who understands our basic evolutionary history, our shared genetic heritage, and has no qualms with different races since she knows we are all (ultimately) one and the same at the genetic level end up enacting the horrible genocide as Hitler did witht the Jews? D’Souza intentionally gets it wrong in order to deliberately assault atheists in a petty move to reiterate the religious propaganda which so adamantly wants us to believe that atheism is void of morality. Yet this patent subterfuge to spread untruths while making erroneous claims only seems to work on the stupid. Something which D’Souza knows, which begs the question, does he genuinely take his audience for illiterate dupes? 
D’Souza’s claim that God is a source of morality (so everyone has an innately built in morality) and that atheism is devoid of morality because it isolates itself from the source by rejecting that morality (e.g., rejecting God),[9] but this is a metaphysical assumption to begin with, not an observation. Regardless of whether an objective moral sources exists apart from us or not, the question we need to ask is: when we look at the great religious excuses which have allotted for such heinous crimes on the behest of religion over the course of the centuries, are we supposed to derive God’s great morality from the atrocious examples that have scarred the annals of time? Let’s be clear, to hold religion accountable for crimes enacted out of faith, such as honor killings, hate speech against gays and ethnic minorities, or murdering abortion doctors in the name of God is not only pertinent, but it’s our necessary moral obligation.
Christopher Hitchens pungently points out in his book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, that the case against secularism is a last ditch attempt by the religious defenders to avoid having to take any culpability in the religiously backed, shamefully ignored, myriad of political pogroms done explicitly in the name of faith.  After a long chapter of jogging our memory of religions involvement in such unethical regimes as Nazism and Stalinism, Hitchens reminds us, “Those who invoke ‘secular’ tyranny in contrast to religion are hoping that we will forget two things: the connection between the Christian churches and fascism, and the capitulation of the churches to National Socialism.”[10] Dinesh D’Souza may be willing to overlook the broader facts of history, but anyone who is generally concerned with the bigger picture and seeks to find out the unadulterated truth cannot brush aside religion’s well-known role in the matter so easily. 
Assuming, against all odds, that atheism did somehow corrupt people morally (which there is absolutely no proof of) shouldn’t these examples of all the “immoral” atheists who don’t follow or believe in God far surpass the dissolute religious ones?  Should we not find in the “morally wrong” freethinkers of the world shocking proof of their own inherent corruptness? Should we not be privy to the startling figures of ten horrible atheists for every horrible religious clown? How is it then that we find the opposite to be true? Thomas Jefferson realized this quandary over two hundred years ago, inquiring, “If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist?... Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”[11]
Contrary to what those like McGrath and D’Souza might state in their apologetic works—atheism does not kill in the name of a non-existent God which we don’t believe in. Such an accusation is just a brainless attempt to devalue the atheist—and it fails miserably. This tiresome brand of Christian self-importance and constant mislabeling and bothersome misconstruing of atheists and atheism may be the continued reason atheists react with mockery and ridicule in response to such flabbergasting religious twaddle and claptrap. However, this still wouldn’t explain where the real scorn and resentment of religion comes from or the urge to oppose it. And this is where religious apologists have failed in understanding the substance and purpose of New Atheism.
The way I see it, the purpose of the New Atheist movement is to mount a challenge to believers who take their faith for granted. But despite having genuine answers or explanations available to them which may address many of their real world concerns (without having to invoke the supernatural), they continue to ignore what science says and instead choose to rationalize away their cognitive dissonance in order to continue to believe in unbelievable things. Oddly enough many choose to keep believing in impossible things even as these things are cast into doubt if not thoroughly debunked—such as the power of prayer (and by extension all healing miracles).[12]
New Atheists are going beyond merely their absence of faith to the harder hitting position of anti-theism, the opposition to theism, making the case that the religious aren’t being realistic enough when they invoke the supernatural or appeal to their faith. Fruthermore, the New Atheists are alleging that the religious aren’t evaluating their faith dispassionately and in many cases that they aren’t even examining or holding their beliefs up to scrutiny to begin with. Thus whenever religious believers demand special privilages such as not being criticized we take special umbrage at the mere suggestion. Respect isn’t something that is freely given, it’s something which must be earned, and if the religious want respect for their position then they’d maybe like to hold back on the special pleading and hypocritical double standards and might like to start treating religious faith half as seriously as the New Atheists do.
Even as it is the person of faith’s prerogative to believe in the metaphysical, the supernatural, and the superstitious we might remind them, it is our prerogative to call them on it. This is the New Atheist movement in a nutshell.

Sacred-Cow Tipping
The common opinion among the faithful is that we hardened atheists only want to live according to our own rules and moral standards, and (for reasons beyond me) are embittered, have rejected the “truth” and turned away from the saving grace of God, and all this just to live out our hedonistic lives in peace. Atheists get labeled as intellectual snobs who are overly critical of everything. But these illustrations are not even poor stereotypes—they’re strawmen. Atheism is much more nuanced and atheists are much more complicated than religious apologists would let on. Whereas the religious often quip that atheists have misunderstood religion it appears the opposite is true—most atheists understand religion just fine, it is the religious who haven’t fully understood atheism.  
The recent backlash of Christian apologists reeling from the flurry of new atheist literature proves as much.[13] How often are Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitch up on the podium defending the secular, humanist, and atheistic worldviews against those who deem it somehow lacking, deficient, or void of any moral value? Even though they have no foundation to stand on, apologists will respond to nearly every new atheist argument which they disagree with in yet another series of apologetical counterstrikes, e.g. Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’ Case Against God, The Dawkins Delusion, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, and The Deluded Atheist and so forth, just to defend their narrow perspectives against an avalanche of new scientific challenges, provocative insights, or radical ideas which don’t include the idea of god as the end all.
Apologetical materials can be frustrating to read as most Christian apologetics is uneven and frequently the messages are too tightly packed to make sense of (with equivocation fallacies galore). Some of it is written by scholarly theologians, ala J.P. Moreland, meanwhile some is written by laymen writing far outside of their respective field, ala J.P. Holding. This lends an uneven, even confused aspect, to Christian apologetics. Much of the popular works are aimed at mainstream Christians, regurgitates doctrine and twice-baked devotional convictions, and makes reading for the nonbeliever both boring and unengaging. Additionally, I find most Christian apologetics are poorly written, frequently distort scientific facts and get basic history wrong, and on top of these deficiencies the philosophy is confined to a diminutive theological box, and so nothing novel is ever gained by reading apologetics.
Making matters worse many apologetical works are seemingly filled with an endless string of poor grammar, incorrect citation, useless anecdotes, fallacies, and clarification issues, and flat out distortions of the truth—and I’m not the only one who thinks Christian apologists frequently lack academic rigor either. In his book The New Atheism, Victor Stenger discusses the scholarly laziness of Christian apologists in biting detail.[14] Does this mean you must be a professional historian or theologian to comment on religion? Of course not! But it helps to know what you’re talking about—just a little bit—and more importantly, it helps to know how to write. Even so, at the end of the day it’s not about being a great rhetorician, but it’s about being able to back up your claims—and this is why I find apologetical works inevitably fail—because by the time you come to the end all you have is a collection of unsupported, unfounded, or completely incredible claims minus any evidence whatsoever. In other words Christian apologetical material is little more than white noise, background interference, and does little more then put your brain to sleep like a bad infomercial.
Personally, I feel the apologists’ time would be better spent investigating the new scientific challenges, insights, and ideas raised by the New Atheists instead of just trying to contend with them. Debate is good but being argumentative just because you are being forced into having to defend your faith is never a convincing sign that your faith has any staying power. To date I haven’t read an apologist I’ve found even remotely convincing. Be that as it may, anyone who treads into the dangerous territory of religious criticism must realize, to ask about the nature of [G]od and religion is to directly challenge faith, and as we all know this is a sacred cow on the path to understanding which many people vehemently steer away from. “Do not disturb the sacred slumbering cows,” they surreptitiously chant, “for they are holy and we must not go there.” But when nobody is looking in come those pesky cow tipping atheists who ruin everything by revealing that cows—sacred or not—are just as susceptible as everything else to natural laws (such as gravity). Holy cows turn out to be plain old beasts of burden—and we like the sound of the thud (THUD!) they make when toppled.

New Atheist Criticism
Believers aren’t the only ones who don’t exactly understand what atheism is or what it necessarily means conceptually. Even nonbelievers, agnostics, and atheists themselves have been known to get it wrong sometimes. The atheist philosopher Julian Baggini has stated about new atheism, “In short, the new atheism gets atheism wrong, gets religion wrong, and is counterproductive.” However, I feel Baggini’s comments are not entirely accurate. Although he is entitled to criticize the technique and methods of new atheists in how they go about debunking religion and supernatural superstition, I strongly disagree with his comment that new atheists have missed the point about atheism or religion. Many of us atheists, after all, used to be passionately religious.
Baggini, on the other hand, makes the common mistake of attempting to define atheism as a single philosophical system, and attempts to holistically group all atheists into the same mind-set, rather than what it is, a cogent position derived from a diverse assortment of philosophies, or as I identify them, influential appreciations. Baggini’s atheism does not depict atheism as it is, but rather refers to the religious stereotype of atheists as holding an incorrect philosophy (otherwise how else could atheists get it wrong?), and thinks atheism is a dogma of sorts (otherwise how could it be counterproductive?).
Baggini extends his criticism of new atheism too, stating that he believes reason is a tool which all rational minds are capable, and asks if all believers are under a “spell” or “delusion” how can intelligent and rational people still believe in God? Baggini cites this as a flaw of new atheism, which hasn’t explained to satisfaction how it holds that religious believers are irrational and so cannot reason on the intellectual level as supposedly the new atheists do. Although our discussion in part two about the recent findings of cognitive research should have cleared such concerns up. Indeed, as we saw, not only are atheists are on average more scientific savvy than religious believers, but it would seem certain atheists are better informed than other fellow atheists as well. Baggini feels this position that reason is only on the side of atheist intellectuals is damaging to the atheist movement by being divisive and amounts to little more than thinly veiled snobbery.
Baggini is mistaken for two reasons. First he seems to not grasp an inbuilt part of religious faith, namely dogma. It’s the engine keeping the faith-machine alive, all working in tandem in order to maintain the faith based institution so that religion can continue to compete for the market share. The reason, religion is strongest in numbers, and the more believers there are the more people will believe unquestioningly. As Jason Long explains, “The reasons given for belief are driven not by rational thought and reasoned argumentation, but by psychological factors that maintain what society has given the religious believer through indoctrination.”
Secondly, religious beliefs may have at one time been based off of reason, i.e. for a religious person in the past a reasonable explanations for why there is thunder and lightning would be that Hephaestus was pounding away on his anvil forging lightning bolts for Zeus, or early Jewish fishermen on the Mediterranean getting caught in a turbulent squall may have thought that God’s wrath was upon them. But now with the advent of modern scientific understanding, such as meteorology, the cognitive sciences, biology, cosmology, and every field in between, we know with some assuredness that such superstitious supernatural explanations are entirely bull, bunk, and bogus. Therefore to believe it in spite of the evidence makes the belief in the superstition all the more unreasonable.
Contrary to what Baginni believes, this doesn’t make the religious believer less rational in their facility of thought, but it does make their conclusions irrational for the fact that their faith based beliefs cater to the credulous rather than the credible. As Michael Shermer has so eloquently stated, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” People who were never raised with or indoctrinated with religious beliefs, and who never were never devotedly religious, often fail to appreciate the consequences of this dilemma.
Slate magazine’s Ron Rosenbaum, a self identified agnostic, has also confused atheism. In his case he’s made the common theist mistake of confusing the spirited voice of New Atheism with religious belief (and interestingly enough has misunderstood agnosticism as well).[15] In an article cheekily entitled “An Agnostic Manifesto” he goes on to rile against the New Atheists, equates atheism to a “faith-based creed” (something which I already thoroughly refuted in part one), but goes on ranting:
Faith-based atheism? Yes, alas. Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.) …. Atheists have no evidence—and certainly no proof!—that science will ever solve the question of why there is something rather than nothing.[16]

Rosenbaum has it all wrong.[17] Atheism simply refers to the lack of belief in the supernatural and personal God(s), but as for the atheist herself and whatever else she may believe, there is an unlimited variety of peoples and differing trains of thought. If an atheist believes in rationale arguments, evidence, and the merits of the scientific method, this doesn’t make them quasi-religious. Also, Rosenbaum doesn’t seem to grasp that a scientific theory, supported by evidence, is more believable than a religious claim which is without. How he manages to miss this is beyond me, but later in the article he goes on to critique all the wild cosmological models atheists like to cite as support for why the belief in God is untenable. Rosenbaum goes on to add, “Just because other difficult-seeming problems have been solved does not mean all difficult problems will always be solved. And so atheists really exist on the same superstitious plane as Thomas Aquinas…” By the sound of his rant, however, Rosenbaum sounds like an angry theist out to “right” those damned new atheists no matter what it takes. What conviction!
 Just because not all difficult problems will always be solved doesn’t mean that some difficult problems sometimes won’t be solved. Here Rosenbaum makes the same mistake he is accusing the new atheists of—of being dogmatically certain.
Atheists aren’t saying they “believe” with “certainty” that science will answer everything. Rosenbaum’s complaint about atheists utilizing theories such as multiverses and vacuums (I think he means the weak anthropic principle and fecund universes),[18] something he finds utterly unconvincing, is misconstrued as atheistic faith that the theories are undoubtedly true. Nobody has claimed that these theories are proved, let alone represent the final truth. What they do represent however, is trust in the scientific method over trust in supernatural explanations.
Atheists offer natural scientific models to explain how a universe like ours came into existence without the divine will or creative powers of a God. By putting forth a scientific model which is based off observation and supported by the cooperative evidence is an empirical attempt to explain something without having to resort to the supernatural. It’s not that any one of us is one hundred percent positive that any one theory is the right model, I don’t think any of the new atheists have boasted such certainty. But what we are saying is that you don’t need God to explain it all—and we have real empirical models which explain things better and more accurately than a supernatural supposition. What need is there then to appeal to the supernatural to explain it?
Yes, in all truth we could very well end up being wrong. Science may not currently explain the origins of the universe and why we’re here—even though it might someday—but that’s not the point now is it? The point is that science explains enough for us to know that the personal God of the Bible could not possibly be behind the creation of the universe, and so there must be another explanation, and since the supernatural has been largely rule out we must look toward natural explanations. This simple point has completely gone over Rosenbaum’s head and those like him who mistake confidence in the prowess of science for faith-based certainty.
So the self identifying agnostic Rosenbaum is so wrong about atheism, and his assumptions are so utterly ignorant, that he’s not even wrong.[19] And Baggini, an outspoken atheist himself, is mistaken about both new atheists misconstruing religion and misunderstanding atheistic principles. In fact, if you pick up the literature and give it a chance I think you’ll find that the New Atheism is better equipped than any secular ideology before it to adequately address these issues. It is atheism enhanced and revised for today’s modern audience.


[1] Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. 261
               [2] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape, p.174
               [3] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, p.257
               [4] See “Atheist Demographics” on Wikipedia at:
Note: Usually Wikipedia provides a useful overview, albeit unofficial, but in this case they provide an even more useful list of reference materials. Here I am citing Wikipedia specifically for the convenient collection of resources and all the direct links to polls and data it provides. Please consult the References section at the bottom for a long list official data and polls which show the steady growth of atheism worldwide and the rapid growth within the U.S.
               [5] McGrath, Twiligght of Atheism, pp. 166-67, p. 232, p. 262
               [6] Hector Avalos, “Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust” in The Christian Delusion, p. 369
[7] We should all be grateful for Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, in which he directs our attention to the significant detail that Hitler's atheism was (and still is) seriously exaggerated.  In a speech given on April 12, 1922, Adolf Hitler had this to say:
My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.
We might note how by Hitler’s own words we find the inglorious truth of the matter.  Rather than atheism, we find the religious influence of age old Anti-Semitism (as practiced by the Christian Church) behind his ideological make-up and pogrom of ethnic cleansing.   
Speech cited in Letter to a Christian Nation, p.14, originally from Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939. Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20. Oxford University Press, 1942.
[8] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, p.83
               [9] Ibid.,  p.226, p. 237
[10] Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great, p. 290
               [11] Thomas Jefferson letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814.
               [12] Benson, et al., “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer,” American Heart Journal, Volume 151, Number 4, April 2006.
[13] See: Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig, Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright, Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics by R.C. Sproul, The Apologetics of Jesus: A Caring Approach to Dealing with Doubters by Patrick Zukeran and Norman L. Geisler, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism by J.P. Moreland. Regardles of whether or not you find their arguments compelling, let alone defensible, reading these works will give you the general idea of the climate of contemporary Christian apologetics.
               [14] Victor Stenger, The New Atheism, p.33
[15] Read philosopher Graham Oppy’s book Arguing about Gods in where he shows how strong agnosticism is self contradictory and indefensible, whereas weak agnosticism, albeit defensible, is not satisfying since it basically equates to indecisiveness.
Either we are capable of knowing something, at least capable of testing something thereby figuring it out, or not knowing anything because it is untestable or lies outside of the limits of epistemic knowledge. Agnosticism, the claim of not having enough information to decide either way is unsatisfactory because, at any given moment, we do have enough information to cause us to lean toward a probable truth claim. Since ultimate knowledge (on every subject) is impossible, however, we could never make a definitive truth claim, therefore agnosticism is indecisive on any given choice. Yet daily we are called upon to make affirmative choices without having all the evidence, so genuine agnosticism is philosophically invalid.
However, I accept the term of agnostic as a substitute for atheist by those who want to distance themselves from the negative impression “atheism” leaves. A nonbeliever who does not necessarily oppose theism may, in fact, choose to call herself an agnostic. I find such a strategy not only useful but sometimes necessary. Yet the key difference between agnosticism and atheism should not be overlooked: atheism concerns itself with the rejection of a faith claim, whereas agnosticism concerns itself with what is ultimately knowable. The prior being concerned with affirmations of faith while the latter being concerned with affirmations of knowing.
This is where Rosenbaum misconstrues agnosticism, by claiming atheists are concerned with knowing—if so then what use is calling oneself agnostic? Atheists are concerned with being honest with what we can or cannot possibly know, but the rejection of theism need not be predicated on having an ultimate knowledge on the subject, it may be rejected on the basis of its own inherent weaknesses, such as loaded fallacies, philosophical contradictions, and general incomprehension (such as the invisible pinkness of unicorns or IPUs for short). Rosenbaum might wish to study Steve Eley’s IPUs in more detail, since this next comment clears up the misconception, “We have faith that the unicorns are pink, but we logically know they are invisible, because we cannot see them.” Thus atheism can be sustained even when a position of ultimate knowing is not attainable, since we reject the pinkness of unicorns which do not exist simply on the basis of its own unintelligible nature—the same goes for faith claims in God.
[16] Ron Rosenbaum, Slate, 2010, available online: (Retrieved July 6, 2010)
[17] See: Endnote 156 above.
[18] The weak anthropic principle may be logically unsound, but the strong anthropic principle is at least, in principle, feasible. See: Lenord Susskind’s The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. Also see Lee Smolin’s The Life of the Cosmos for more on fecund universes (also called cosmological natural selection theory).
               [19] An argument that appears to be scientific is said to be not even wrong if it cannot be falsified (i.e., tested) by experiment or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world. The phrase was coined by theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist