This article first appeared in the News Watch column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 5 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
A few published and prolific atheists apparently have commandeered the soapbox at the proverbial free speech alley, vowing not to surrender it until the extraordinary and popular delusion of God is completely dispelled. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, in less than twelve months atheism’s newest champions have sold close to a million books. Some 500,000 hardcover copies of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006); and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007) are in print.
“The character of the ‘village atheist’ reappears from time to time in history, usually after the latest scientific announcement or the latest natural disaster. His title is akin to that of ‘village idiot’ which was popularized by George Bernard Shaw in 1907,” says Christian apologist Joel McDurmon, author of The Return of the Village Atheist.1 “The idea is that every village had its ‘idiot’ who was full of opinions and advice on every topic, would never shut up, and made little sense. No one took the guy seriously” (p.xiii).
When the title “village idiot” becomes that of “village atheist,” it speaks of the person who thinks that science has all the answers and that the idea of God is an illusion. “Like the village idiot, he knows everything, argues till he is blue in the face, never shuts up, and yet never learns,” says McDurmon, “and like the village idiot, no one really takes him seriously, either” (xii).
Despite what McDurmon notes is a tendency of atheists to wax dogmatic, however—consider Dawkins’s claim that “if [his] book works as [intended], religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down”—some argue that there are reasons enough to take them seriously. One of the main reasons is that much passionate debate raises questions for many people, such as, Is faith intellectual nonsense? Are science and religion locked in a battle to the death? and, Is Christianity simply a force for evil?
Then there is the matter of the cult of personality. Stephen Ross, research assistant to the President of Christian Research Institute, believes Christians should take the likes of Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris seriously because “these guys are so confident and their rhetorical force so convincing, there are people who may believe the message even if they don’t understand the arguments. These [Christians] should not be reading these books without qualification,” he told the Journal, “On the other hand, the critical thinker, able to see through the smokescreen of rhetoric and to endure their caustic delivery, would be led to ask the question, ‘Is this is the best you’ve got? Maybe my worldview has a lot going for it after all.’”
Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, realizes that the rise of the “new” atheism confirms the ancient biblical wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He is quick to note several stunning new developments, however.
“Promulgating atheism has become a lucrative business [and] profitability is not the only feature distinguishing today’s fashionable disbelief from the varieties of atheism that have arisen over the millennia,” he says.2
The most obvious characteristics, Berkowitz states, are best realized by a historical comparison of the new atheism to the classical atheism of Epicurus and Lucretius, the Enlightenment atheism of the eighteenth century, and the anti-modern atheism of Nietzsche and Heidegger. “Whereas classical atheism rejected belief in the gods in the name of pleasure and tranquility, the new atheism rejects God in the name of natural science,” he says. “Unlike Enlightenment atheism, which arose in a still predominantly religious society and which went to some effort to disguise or mute its disbelief, the new atheism proclaims its seemingly never-ending hatred of God and organized religion loudly and proudly from the rooftops.” And, according to Berkowitz, whereas antimodern atheists considered the death of God movement a blow to the human spirit, the new atheism views the abandonment of religious faith in the modern world as a good thing, “lamenting only the perverse and widespread resistance to shedding once and for all the hopelessly backward belief in a divine presence in history.”3
Christian and secular responses to the flood of new atheist material appearing on bestseller lists, television, radio, and Internet blogs and sites are gradually building, too.
Founded in 1978, American Vision is a nonprofit Christian think tank, national training center, book publisher, and speaker’s bureau whose mission, according to its Web site (www.americanvision.org) is “Equipping and Empowering Christians to Restore America’s Biblical Foundation.” The strategy of American Vision is to do so using the Internet, radio, television, audio/video resources, publications, and training seminars.
The latest such resource is a two-minute commercial that has been broadcast globally via the Internet and television. “Atheists present themselves as enlightened and civil. But this new commercial will reveal the shocking truth to viewers,” reads the Web site promo. “The French Revolution, Communism, Nazism, etc. have taught us that the atheistic worldview will inevitably lead to the persecution of Christians and the killing of anyone who gets in the way. What’s worse is that atheism is paving a wide road for Islam to advance in our nation and around the world.”
The commercial script reads:
This is Sam [Harris]. He writes books. Sam likes to think. He uses words like reason, rational, and real. Sam thinks that God is not real and that evolution is a fact. Sam is a nice guy and cares about you. He thinks you should stop living your life based on the morals of a 2,000 year old fairytale book like the bible and just be reasonable.
This is Richard [Dawkins]. He writes books, too. He’s one of Sam’s friends and doesn’t believe in God either. In fact, he thinks that parents who teach their children about God should be arrested….
This is Robespierre [Maximilien Robespierre, a leader of the French Revolution]. He lived 200 years ago in France. He liked to think and use words like reason and rational just like Sam and Richard. But he also liked to kill people who disagreed with him. [This was]… known as the reign of terror.…Maybe if more people decide to listen to Sam and Richard we could all be more reasonable and rational like Robespierre. Maybe we could even have our own reign of terror for people who continue to be irrational and believe silly storybooks like the bible.
Tongue-in-cheek aside, even avowed atheist, philosopher of science, and author Michael Ruse believes that the militancy of the new atheism is uncalled for and counterproductive and that progress toward answering the ultimate questions occurs only by engaging in dialogue and not just shutting people down with sheer force of rhetoric. On the cover of The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, by Oxford theologian Alister McGrath and his wife, Joanna Collicutt McGrath, in response to Dawkins, Ruse is quoted as saying, “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist, and the McGraths show why.”
In case you’ve been too busy to attend the pronouncements at the village free speech alley or could not find a friend and were afraid to go alone, an update on the various books, Web sites, blogs, articles, and videos are noted in Table 1 (See page 8), “New Atheist Attacks and Christian/ Secular Responses,” with the disclaimer that neither the Christian Research Institute nor the Christian Research Journal necessarily support the particulars of doctrine or the perspectives of any sources contained therein.
— C. Wayne Mayhall
1. Joel McDurmon, The Return of the Village Atheist (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2007).
2. “The New New Atheism,” WSJ Opinion Journal, Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, July 16, 2007, WSJ.com, www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010341.
|Table 1: New Atheist Attacks and Christian Responses|
|Atheist Attack on Christianity||Christian Response|
|Book: Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (W. W. Norton, 2004).
Video: Sam Harris on The End of Faith, at Idea City ’05, You Tube, http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=J3YOIImOoYM.
|Article: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The End of Faith—Secularism with the Gloves Off,” Christian Post, August 19, 2004, www.christianpost.com/article/20040819/6130.htm.
Article: Matthew Simpson, “Religion Is Really, Really Bad for You,” Books & Culture, available at www.christianitytoday.com/books/features/bookwk/05404.
Article: Gregory Koukl, “The Real Murderers: Atheism or Christianity?” Stand to Reason, http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5527.
|Book: David Mills, Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism (Ulysses Press, 2006).||Book: David Marshall, The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity (Harvest House Publishers, 2007).|
|Book: Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
Web site: RichardDawkins.net, www.richarddawkins.net.
|Book: Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (InterVarsity Press, 2007).
Blog entry: Douglas Groothuis, “Some Thoughts on the New Atheism,” December 9, 2006, The Constructive Curmudgeon, http://theconstructivecurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2006/12/some-thoughts-on-new-atheism.html.
Article: William Lane Craig, “What Do You Think of Richard Dawkins’ Argument for Atheism in The God Delusion?” Q and A, Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5493.
Audio: William Lane Craig, “Thoughts on Sam Harris’s Claims,” Radio Interview, Audiovisuals, Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig, http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/Other_clips/Thoughts-on-Sam-Harris-claims.mp.
|Book: Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006).||Book: R. C. Metcalf, Letter to a Christian Nation: Counter Point (iUniverse, 2007).
Book: Douglas Wilson, Letter from a Christian Citizen: A Response to Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris (American Vision, 2007).
Book: Joel McDurmon, The Return of the Village Atheist (American Vision, 2007).
Article: Douglas Groothuis, “A Summary Critique: Sam Harris’s Armory for Secularists against a Christian Nation,” Christian Research Journal, 30, 2 (2007): 46.
|Article: Gary Wolf, “The Church of the Non-Believers,” Wired, 14.11, November 2006.
Web site: The Rational Response Squad, http://www.rationalresponders.com/.
|Article: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “The New Atheism?” Commentary, November 21, 2006, www.AlbertMohler.com.
Book: William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, God? A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist, Point/Counterpoint Series, ed. James P. Sterba (Oxford University Press, 2004).
|Book: Victor J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (Prometheus Books, 2007).||Book: Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (The Free Press, 2006).
Article: Paul Nelson, “No God-of-the-Gaps Allowed: Francis Collins and Theistic Evolution,” Christian Research Journal, 30, 2 (2007):50.
|Book: Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Penguin, 2007).||Book: Alister McGrath, Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (Blackwell Publishing, 2005).
Book: Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature (InterVarsity Press, 2006).
Book: Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery (Regnery Publishing, 2004).
Video: Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery, dir. Lad Allen and John Rhys-Davies (Illustra Media, 2006).
|Book: Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Hachette Book Group, 2007).
Video: Christopher Hitchens, “The Hour: Interview with Christopher Hitchens,” You Tube, http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=fHmQZwP-cBQ.
|Article: Mark D. Roberts, “God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens: A Response,” available at http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/godisnotgreat.htm.
Audio: Christopher Hitchens and Mark D. Roberts, with Hugh Hewitt, “The Great God Debate,” The Hugh Hewitt Show, June 5, 2007, http://www.townhall.com/talkradio/show.aspx?radioshowid=5.
Blog entry: Douglas Wilson, “Lo, the Bombasticator Cometh,” Topic: “God Is Not Great,” April 27, 2007, Blog and Mablog, http://dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID= 1&BlogID=3845.