Thursday, October 11, 2007

Christians Tired of Turning the Other Cheek to the New Atheists

In a recent article on the Christian Post website, Christians are being urged to "not turn the other cheek" with regard to atheists who are entering the public square with books like The God Delusion.

The author reviews What's So Great About Christianity by author Dinesh D'Souza, in which he calls for Christian apologists to "come to center stage" in defense of Christianity against the "new atheists."

D'Souza's book and the article reviewing it are indicative of the effect that atheism is beginning to have on Christians. Authors like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are starting to make them sweat, apparently:

The atheistic arguments – that Christianity goes against reason and science and is based on blind faith – are resonating with people, D'Souza noticed, and hitting bestseller lists.

"I do think that we are seeing a more self-confident and perhaps even militant atheism," he noted. "Atheists are kind of on the war path, out to attack religion, demean it, drive it out of the public square, and remove all religious symbolism from American society. So something odd is going on here."
What's odd is that it's amazing that wide-spread delusion and superstition has to date received a free pass from criticism. And now that critics are emerging, the deluded and the superstitious don't like having their beliefs questioned or criticized.

But D'Souza's call to arms will backfire if Christians take him up on it. The reason is that religion doesn't stand a chance against logic and reason. When faced with sound and cogent arguments, religious believers can only respond with fallacy. As I wrote earlier, circular reasoning, false cause, straw man arguments, arguments from ignorance, and weak analogies (among others) are the best most who argue for religious belief can muster.

If Christians start firing back at skeptics and critics, no reasoned mind will accept their arguments as valid. Unless, of course, they've already been affected by the spell of belief to the point that they're able to hold contradictory beliefs in their heads at the same time. Take Zion Oil & Gas for instance. The entire board is made up of educated and smart people -engineers, mathematicians. The companies stock is up. They're drilling for petroleum and employee geologists and geophysicists using the latest geoprospecting tools like seismics, gravimetrics, and magnetics to locate petroleum reserves that were originally deposited millions of years ago. But they're also deluded by Judeo-Christian dogma and claim to use the Bible to locate oil. Ask anyone of these people, and I'm sure they'll concede that oil is made of deposits million of years old. Ask anyone of these people, particularly CEO John Brown, and I'm sure they'll agree that the Bible is inerrant and the world was created less than 10,000 years ago.

Further evidence that Christians will be shooting themselves in the foot by taking critics and skeptics on in the "public square" is the fallacious bit of D'Souza's book that the articles author revealed in the form of so-called "myths" about the atheist position:
Myth #1: Atheism is growing and more people are choosing it over church

Pews might be empty in some urban parts of America, but the world is witnessing a huge explosion of Christianity, says D'Souza who notes Christianity as the fastest-growing religion in the world and that the number of unbelievers is actually shrinking.
I'd almost be willing to bet that if one were to look in the endnotes of the chapter that includes this "myth," the source of info is a religious one and subject to confirmation bias. The Barna Group has found that adult evangelicals in 1994 was 7%. In 2004, that number was still 7%. The US population grew but the number of evangelicals did not. They also found that the Protestant population with drop below 50% of the national population if the trend toward a decline in Christianity continues.

An ARIS (2001) study determined that the number of Christians in the US declined from 85% 1990 to 77% in 2001.

Of course, if we look at data from church sources, the numbers are higher. Such data is skewed because of a host of factors -poor controls for cross-memberships, people who attend church for social reasons rather than religious, etc.

Also, according to ARIS, the greatest increase in absolute as well as in percentage terms has been among those adults who do not subscribe to any religious identification; their number has more than doubled from 14.3 million in 1990 to 29.4 million in 2001; their proportion has grown from just eight percent of the total in 1990 to over fourteen percent in 2001.
Myth #2: Religion has caused history's wars, murders, and violence

The number of people killed in religious wars such as the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition is infinitesimal compared to those killed during modern atheist regimes, the author notes. "We have to keep a sense of proportion," he says.
This is a fallacy of False Cause. D'Souza is implying the same tired argument used by those deluded with religious dogma that Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler et al committed their atrocities because they were atheists. The truth is that these people were dogmatic and it was dogma that informed their decisions to kill, go to war, commit genocide, etc. There's also an ad hominem tucked away in D'Souza's argument here, implying that atheism equates to immorality, when this simply isn't true. Indeed, there is absolutely no reason to believe that morality is informed by religion and not the other way around. Religious believers have the distinct ability to exclude morals that conflict with their dogma, humanists who live secular lives do not. If they choose to be immoral, they do so because they're greedy, inconsiderate, lack compassion, ignorant, lazy, etc. In other words, because they're human.
Myth #3: There is no such thing as a human soul

Atheists use science to argue that there is no soul, as there is no physical evidence of one. "If the atheist universe were true, there would be no free will in it," says D'Souza.
This is a straw man fallacy since it miss-characterizes the general opinion of most atheists. At least those who rely on science to inform their position on the alleged human soul. The more appropriate argument that scientific naturalists who, perhaps, are atheists use with regard to a soul is that there is no reason to believe souls exist -particularly those of the Judeo-Christian description. Moreover, I find the "free-will" argument ironic since there is less chance of "free-will" existing in a universe created and maintained by an all-powerful, all-knowing god who "has a plan" than in a universe where "souls" do not exist. Indeed, one might say that there is second fallacy here, which is the slippery slope since D'Souza's conclusion that "free-will" can't exist if atheism is correct is quite the leap.

The final "myth" revealed from D'Souza's book by the article's author is also a gem:
Myth #4: Where is God when bad things happen?

D'Souza turns this question around and asks where is atheism when bad things happen? At the tragic event of the Virginia Tech shooting in April, there were nonstop memorial services and everyone began to speak a very religious language of healing and spirituality, he noted. "Atheism has absolutely nothing to offer us at moments of life that matter the most – birth, marriage, death, suffering."
Not only is this argument fallacious, but it is patently false. D'Souza is implying that only the religiously deluded offered assistance at Virginia Tech and other human tragedies. While its easy to concede that religious groups did offer help and comfort to their fellow persons and to each other, it is a false cause to assume that they did so because they were religious. We know this because of public displays of piety -the religious are very quick to speak of their delusions at times of crisis -indeed, some like to blame crises on the victims based on religious delusion (i.e. Pat Robertson). But there is no reason that we should know that the people caught on camera handing out water bottles, food, blankets, hugging victims, etc are atheists or non-religious. Whatever they are, whether they are secular or religious, at that moment they're humanists.

In the last part of that quote, D'Souza said, "[a]theism has absolutely nothing to offer us at moments of life that matter the most – birth, marriage, death, suffering." I agree with that statement, but not for the same reason as D'Souza. Atheism doesn't inform morality. Atheism isn't a dogma. Atheism isn't an institution that is organized to provide humanitarian aid, deliver babies, marry couples, or bury the dead. Atheism is a lack of delusion in the gods of humanity.

Being atheist doesn't automatically imply rationalism, humanism, morality, common sense, good judgment, intelligence, or an ability to accomplish world peace. It simply means that you don't subscribe to religious superstition.

However, there are plenty of atheists that have given birth and have been fantastic parents. There are plenty of atheists that have successfully delivered babies. There are plenty of atheists who have joined couples in marriage and atheists who have long and healthy marriages to each other. There are atheists who have died well and without fear; helped their loved ones through the grieving process; and participated in very touching and moving but secular memorial services. And there are a multitude of atheists that are doing their very best to ease the suffering of their fellow humans as policemen, firemen, EMTs, doctors, soldiers, Peace Corps volunteers, etc.

If these "myths" are an example of what we can expect when Christians begin to meet atheists in the "public square," I say, bring it on! They'll be their own worst enemies.


Related Links and Sources

  • Christians Urged to Meet Atheists in the Public Square [Christian Post]

  • American Religious Identification Survey [.pdf] (ARIS 2001)

  • See also: Barna Group (2005) Annual Barna Group Survey Describes Changes in America’s Religious Beliefs and Practices. Found online at: http://www.barna.org


  • 2 comments:

    toomanytribbles said...

    i'm very surprised that anyone is giving this little man the time of day. his arguments are old and have been crushed long ago.

    the reason i'm commenting is that i remembered a very specific (and amazing) response to his silly little myth#4... when he first came out with this argument, the daily kos published an essay by an atheist professor at virginia tech.

    if you haven't read it, check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/yno6j3

    his continued use of virginia tech after this answer shows that his motivations are other than any rational discourse -- and i've spent way more keyboard strokes than he deserves.

    CFeagans said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.