I have been getting into a lot of discussions lately with atheists and about atheism in general. Between the recent surge in book sales of the “new atheists” like Dawkins and the recent iMonk uptick in atheist commenters after the ARIS study articles and the Drudge exposure and even my own post here which drew an atheist commenter who didn’t return for any follow-up discussion, I feel like I have been spending a lot of time dealing with atheist viewpoints.
The Internet Monk had an interesting post about atheism on his blog that contains some questions/suggestions about how evangelicals can possibly coexist with atheists and work together to see a better world and more understanding between the two.
I don’t wish to thoroughly beat a dead horse by rehashing the data, but I disagree with a couple of the premises. The huge increase in those claiming “no religion” is the last twenty years is not necessarily a triumph of atheism or even a surge in atheism. I have found an increasing number of “born-again” Christians who would rather be called almost anything else than a Christian. Call them followers of the Way or some other self-made or ancient moniker and they are fine, but they would not self identify as a Christian, even though their theology would say they are.
Are there more atheists today than 20 years ago? I would say that it quite likely, even though I doubt the numbers are as high as the study leads one to believe. Atheism is not new. It has been around longer than Christianity in fact. There are several references in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. the Old Testament) that refer to those who say there is no God. Despite its persistence, it has never gained a majority of adherents at any time recorded in human history. Could that change? It would take a miracle, and that group isn’t likely to ask for one. One of the bloggers that I enjoy reading, who also took the time to dissect the “new atheist” books on their bad logic and info, recently pointed out that these latest examples of atheism don’t look good these days. He linked to an article written by a atheist who isn’t happy with these very public faces of modern atheism:
With its talk of “spells” and “delusions”, it gives the impression that only through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist. “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence,” says Dawkins, once again implying that reason and evidence are strangers to religion. This is arrogant, and attributes to reason a power it does not have.
This is most evident when you consider the poverty of the new atheism’s “error theory”, which is needed to explain why, if atheism is indeed the view evidence and reason demands, so many very bright people are still religious. The usual answers given to this are not good enough. They tend to stress psychological blind-spots and wishful thinking. For instance, Dawkins says “the meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.”
But if very intelligent people are so easily led astray by such things, then shouldn’t the new atheists themselves be more sceptical about the role reason plays in their own belief formation? You cannot, on the one hand, put forward a view that says great intelligence is easily over-ridden by psychological delusions and, on the other, claim that one unique group of people can see clearly what reason demands and free themselves from such grips. Either many religious people are not as irrational as they seem, or atheists are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves.
In the debates between atheists and believers, I have found that it is generally the atheist who assumes their counterpart to be an ignorant rube. This is an atheist paradigm that is fostered in the media as well. It doesn’t take into account the centuries of brilliant thinkers who have populated the ranks of the Christian Church to this very day. The vogue thing to do these days is to call onself enlightened by discarding “primitive religion.” What is often ignored is the fact that Christianity isn’t some religion started by a bunch of people looking for something good to do or teach. Christianity was started by a group of men who were confronted by the fact of the resurrection, despite their doubts, who were then unshakable in their belief that God had done this amazing thing right in front of them. Christianity isn’t intended to be the best argument or the smartest or most popular choice. It is simply what is. It is the truth. No argument can change it. No amount of disbelief can make it go away. But as long as God allows people to inhabit His creation, the rebels will pretend to be the smartest people in the room. Frankly, I am not worried and God is not surprised. What do you think?