The Consistent God: Refutations Against New Atheism

THE CONSISTENT GOD: REFUTATIONS AGAINST NEW ATHEISM

“In the beginning, God…”[1] Such words conjure up the absolute antithesis of New Atheism. Belief in the existence of God is something Timothy Keller calls “unavoidable.”[2] However, doubters and critics are nonetheless present and active in attempting to free the world from a nonsensical and irrational understanding of the world known as religion. According to well-known New Atheist, Richard Dawkins, “Historically, religion aspired to explain our own existence and the nature of the universe in which we find ourselves. In this role it is now completely superseded by science.”[3] Consequently, the general proposition made by New Atheists is that religion has been proven obsolete as a result of the findings in the field of science. Such an understanding also correlates with the Darwinian ideal of human progress.[4] Thus, believing in God is simply a matter of falling behind the intellectual abilities now attainable in the present century. Additionally, it is fairly clear that the anticipated goal for the New Atheism movement is to raise the support for secularism, particularly in America, and to usurp the present authority of Theism.[5] Before providing evidence for the existence of God, namely Christian Theism, it will be necessary to observe the claims of New Atheism. The stakes are high for adopting such a belief system; however, the refutations that are to be presented will attempt to prove that despite the rise of a contemporary philosophy, the eternal God of Christianity has sufficiently revealed Himself and is indeed trustworthy.

Historical Analysis

A.    Old Atheism

While there has been a recent philosophical movement titled “New Atheism,” the actual belief system of “atheism” is not very new. Although atheism has been more formally developed in the last few hundred years, Psalm 14:1 comments on atheism’s main understanding, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” While in Greek culture prior to Christ’s incarnation there was the term “atheistos,” meaning “one who denies the traditional religion of the Athenian establishment,”[6] the word atheist did not appear in the English language until 1568.[7] However, atheism did not really gain much prominence until the Enlightenment.[8] In that particular century came intellectuals such as Immanuel Kant,[9] David Hume,[10] and others. Nonetheless, the Enlightenment seemed to play more of a foundational role to open the door for greater skepticism and eventually an influx of what is known as atheism. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. identifies that it was not until the nineteenth century that the world was influenced by whom he calls the “four horsemen of the modern apocalypse-Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Sigmund Freud.”[11] It was Nietzsche who strongly proposed “God is dead,” Marx who insisted God was a human invention arising from “social conditions,”[12] Darwin who contributed to atheism’s area of scientific naturalism and the theory of evolution, and Freud who believed religion to be an “illusion.”[13] In summary, older atheists possessed a strong desire for human progress and replaced a belief in God with a belief in science and nature for ultimate authority.

B.    New Atheism

Between the time of the older atheists of the nineteenth century and New Atheism of the late twentieth century there was much that occurred, including two World Wars, different philosophical worldviews, and theological resurgences. Alister McGrath notes that during the twentieth century, there was actually a re-awakening of Christian teaching, or as he puts it, a “baptized imagination” with authors such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, and Flannery O’Connor.[14] Nonetheless, what permitted the “cultural opening” for New Atheism was the “secularization of Europe and of America’s elites.”[15] The major proponents of New Atheism are called by Mohler, “The Four Horsemen of the New Atheist Apocalypse,” namely Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.[16] While being referred to as “New” Atheists, these men, and others like them, are not entirely different from previous atheists. However, Mohler writes, “The New Atheists are, in their own way, evangelistic in intent and ambitious in hope.” Also, they view religion as something “we can no longer afford to tolerate, much less encourage.”[17] Thus, for New Atheists, belief in God is not just an incorrect belief system, but is a target to be destroyed. Likewise, it does not seem to be just an opposition to Theism, but particularly Christianity. Sam Harris informs in his book Letters to a Christian Nation, “The primary purpose of the book is to arm secularists in our society, who believe that religion should be kept out of public policy, against their opponents on the Christian Right.”[18] Notice that he first uses the word “religion,” but he then identifies his purposes against Christianity more precisely. Therefore, with a brief understanding concerning some of the history of Old and New Atheism, it is necessary to further evaluate the claims.

Claims of New Atheism

A.    Religion is Irrational

The first claim made by New Atheists is that religion is not based upon a rational foundation. Sam Harris states his firm belief, “The fundamental problem with religion is that it is built, to a remarkable degree, upon lies.”[19] No doubt, Theism has been popular for centuries, but according to New Atheists, religion had its “evolutionary advantages” for the advancement of humanity at a point in history.[20] Nevertheless, religion is now at an “evolutionary disadvantage” with the new discoveries of science.[21] Harris believes religion is “the greatest impediment to our building a global civilization.”[22] In response to the knowledge now available in human history, it would be important to dispose the world of such lies and inadequate philosophies, at least in the eyes of New Atheists. What exactly are these irrational presuppositions? First of all, there is definitely a criticism of religious authority. For Christians, the Bible is believed to be inspired by God, infallible, and inerrant. However, Sam Harris says these assertions are “false” because of the supposed contradictions and evils displayed in the Bible.[23] Likewise, not a single religion has the right or evidence to provide an ultimate source of authority. Instead, New Atheists insist that people look to science for a unified theory of knowledge. Even Daniel Dennett strives to “come up with a purely materialist interpretation of absolutely everything-from a mother’s love for her child to voting patterns in a national election to, of course, belief in God.”[24]

Secondly, New Atheists consider the teachings of religious authority to be simply unreliable. Richard Dawkins claims, “Although Jesus probably existed, reputable biblical scholars do not generally regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history, and I shall not consider the Bible further as evidence for any kind of deity.”[25] For example, “the Jesus Seminar” movement has declared that no more than 20 percent of what the Bible teaches about Jesus can be historically authenticated.[26] Essentially, if indeed the Bible can be legitimately proven to be fraudulent, then Christians have very little to base their beliefs. New Atheism would propose such a theory, and in their most critical defense, proponents would enforce their beliefs that science allegedly disproves God’s existence.

B.    Science Disproves God

New Atheism does not just incorporate science for understanding nature, but also for the basic questions philosophers have been asking for centuries. Questions that need answering relate to these three areas: (1) The origins of the universe. (2) The present purpose for mankind. (3) The future of the universe. The starting point for New Atheists in understanding the origins of the universe begins with Darwinian evolution, though more precisely, “philosophical naturalism.” That is, New Atheists believe “everything has a natural cause and that organic life is solely the product of random forces guided by no one.”[27] Richard Dawkins writes:

After Darwin, we all should feel, deep in our bones, suspicious of the very idea of design. The illusion of design is a trap that has caught us before, and Darwin should have immunized us by raising our consciousness. Would that he had succeeded with all of us.[28]

To clarify the position taken by Dawkins, he doesn’t believe in a world brought about by chance, but says, “Design is not the only alternative to chance. Natural selection is a better alternative. Indeed, design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?”[29] Natural selection can be defined as “a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment.”[30] Thus New Atheism looks to Darwinian evolution for understanding the origin of the universe. Secondly, the actual purpose for existence is a question somewhat subjective for all atheists to answer, but it will be helpful to look into a couple of possibilities. Like the answer to the first question, the second can also be answered by natural selection, according to Dawkins. In his book, The Selfish Gene,he states, “[Genes] are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.”[31] Although this statement reflects part of the first answer in addition to the second, it is nonetheless a philosophical attempt to formulate an entire theory of knowledge by science alone. Subsequently, it is very difficult for atheists to propose an answer to the question, “What is the purpose of human existence without a transcendent/supernatural being?” Christopher Hitchens was asked this very question during a debate with William Lane Craig at Biola University. His answer was to “be free,” and “try to help others to be free too.”[32] Finally, it is crucial to understand how New Atheists foresee the universe’s future. In the same debate just mentioned, Hitchens professes that the “heat death of the universe” is the bleak, but in his opinion, truthful future of the eventual extinction of humanity.[33] New Atheists collectively see that “science is the way of liberation, the way of freedom, and the way of enlightenment.”[34] Indeed, further evidence will either prove atheism to be freedom or bondage.

C.    Concluding Statements for New Atheism

While New Atheists continue to write books and speak at events, the general principles of New Atheism are fairly simple. The first is obvious; they believe there is no God. Secondly, New Atheists attempt to view all areas of life with foundational belief of evolutionary naturalism, that man is simply a product of natural selection. While the arguments are allegedly against Theism, it is overwhelmingly obvious that Christianity is the primary target. As mentioned before, the stakes are very high for adopting atheism, but from the evidence provided by a Christian worldview, it will be abundantly clear that there is a God and He has revealed Himself in a gracious, loving, powerful, and sufficient way.

Refutations of New Atheism

A.    The Bible Provides Stronger Evidence Than the Rationality of New Atheism

Although the claims for New Atheism might be convincing for some individuals, there is much to be explored in refuting the previously presented claims. In order to firmly establish a belief in God, the authority of the Bible must first be examined. Al Mohler affirms, “Evangelical Christians simply cannot surrender biblical authority, propositional revelation and biblical theism in order to meet the various challenges to us in the twenty-first century.”[35] There are three arguments that must be considered for defending biblical authority. (1) The Bible self-testifies of its authority. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The Apostle Peter also declares, “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[36] Quite simply, Christians believe the entire Bible to be the very words from God because of the claims from Scripture itself. (2) The Bible is historically reliable. While criticisms of the Bible’s reliability are made from men such as Bart Ehrman, there are multiple reasons as to why the Bible is trustworthy. First of all, the world possesses almost 5,700 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.[37] That number compared to other Greek manuscripts is well above and beyond other historical writings: Homer [643], Demosthenes [200], Herodotus [8], Plato [7], Tacitus [20], Caesar [10], and Pliny [7].[38] Secondly, the period of time between the author’s original estimated writing and existing New Testament manuscripts is exceedingly short, as little as 25 years.[39] Thirdly, the Bible is without errors. Liberal scholars will scoff at such a claim, but this foundational truth must be known: “Every word of God proves true.”[40] No doubt, there are some texts in the Bible that are hard to interpret or uncomfortable to accept,[41] but overall, as Wayne Grudem states, “Belief in inerrancy is entirely consistent with a lifetime of detailed attention to the text of Scripture.”[42] Fourthly, liberal scholars’ claims are often a misrepresentation of legitimate evidence. Anne Rice, a woman who was looking for answers from such scholars writes, “Conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all…I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.”[43] Needless to say, Anne Rice is no longer an atheist.[44] (3) The Bible provides a unified theory of knowledge. Timothy Keller writes, “When evolution is turned into an All-encompassing Theory explaining absolutely everything we believe, feel, and do as the product of natural selection, then we are not in the arena of science, but of philosophy.”[45] On the contrary, the Bible answers the basic philosophic questions of life with precision. “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” All of these questions and more are answered in the Bible, as the next section details that even science works in harmony with God’s existence.

B.    Science Affirms God

“Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs-and equally compatible with atheism,” states Stephen Jay Gould, “America’s leading evolutionary biologist,” according to Alister and Joanna McGrath.[46] While this statement argues for the plausibility of both evolution and God, the purposes for this refutation is for understanding how science affirms God and how the Bible answers three questions: (1) What are the origins of the universe? (2) What is the present purpose for mankind? (3) What is the future of the universe?[47] First of all, the Bible clearly communicates that God created the universe; the existence of mankind is contingent on an uncaused cause.[48] That is, the universe is not eternal. The Bible confirms, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”[49] Therefore, the question on how human life came into existence is answered by Scripture in Genesis 2:7, “The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Atheists, on the other hand, are faced with the incredible difficulty at explaining how man has become a living creature. Their answer is “spontaneous generation.”[50] Kofahl and Segraves estimate the probability of spontaneous generation producing life to be one chance in 10340,000,000.[51] Overall, the Bible’s explanation on how man came into being is much more probable and is provided with greater evidence.[52] Secondly, the Christian worldview provides a solid foundation for man’s present purpose of existence. The well-known quotation from the Westminster Shorter Catechism proclaims, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[53] Contrast that with the previously referenced quotation from Richard Dawkins, “[Genes] are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.”[54] However, Denis Noble, an Oxford physiologist and systems biologist, interprets genes in a different manner, “[Genes] are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy that we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.”[55] The consequence of interpreting all of life with a philosophical naturalism leads to a life that truly disregards man’s purpose of existence. Thirdly, Christianity provides a reasonable answer for the future of the universe. Revelation 21:1-4 tells of this future hope, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God.’” What a glorious hope, indeed.

C.    Concluding Statements for Christian Theism

Upon observing the arguments for Christian Theism, it is abundantly clear that the strongest arguments rest in what has been specially revealed by God. Examining science and the cultural impact that the Church has imprinted on this world are two valid pieces of evidence. Yet, even if the evidence is difficult to deny, each man and woman faces the predicament of having to yield before a Being much greater than any other. Likewise, the temptation of Satan, “You will be like God” is a temptation sweet to the taste buds of all who have eaten of the forbidden fruit.[56] The only place of hope is found in the Gospel, for in it can mankind truly “taste and see that the Lord is good.”[57]

Conclusion

Contrary to the claims of New Atheism, Christianity is based on solid reasoning, it is in complete agreement with science, and overall, it is irrefutable. Quite simply, New Atheists are trying to force science into all areas of life in order to answer questions that science cannot answer. Alister and Joanna McGrath explain why this is so, “Scientific theories cannot be said to ‘explain the world’-they only explain the phenomena that are observed within the world.”[58] By God’s grace, humanity has received a revelation that explains the foundational questions to the world’s existence. Not just that, however, but also the solution to how humanity can be reconciled to its Creator. New Atheism is a recent trend that has captivated audiences by its passion for attacking religion. Nonetheless, the consistent God of the universe has sufficiently revealed Himself and has time and time again proven Himself trustworthy. In the words of the very God of the universe, “I the LORD do not change.”[59]

 


[1] Genesis 1:1

[2] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Hudson Street, NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 142.

[3] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 389.

[4] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 46-47.

[5] Ibid., 50-51. In using the term “secularism,” Mohler is essentially referring to those who advocate the position of wanting to discard religion from the world.

[6] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York, NY: Doubleday Publishing, 2006), 8.

[7] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 17.

[8] Ibid., 18.

[9] Ibid., 19.

[10] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York, NY: Doubleday Publishing, 2006), 15.

[11] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 19.

[12] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York, NY: Doubleday Publishing, 2006), 223.

[13] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 19-23

[14] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York, NY: Doubleday Publishing, 2006), 186.

[15] For a good overview of the secularization that has taken place, see R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 28-35.

[16] Ibid., 39.

[17] Ibid., 12.

[18] Sam Harris, Letters to a Christian Nation (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2008), vii.

[19] Ibid., 111.

[20] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 46.

[21] Sam Harris, Letters to a Christian Nation (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2008), 90-91.

[22] Ibid., 91.

[23] Ibid., 8.

[24] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 59.

[25] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 122-123

[26] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Hudson Street, NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 100.

[27] Ibid., 87.

[28] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008), 139.

[29] Ibid., 146-147.

[30] Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[31] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 21.

[32] “Debate – William Lane Craig Vs Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?” http://www.youtube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KBx4vvlbZ8 (accessed September 24, 2012).

[33] Ibid.

[34] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 59.

[35] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008), 102.

[36] Second Peter 1:20-21

[37] Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2004), 226.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Proverbs 30:5

[41] Things “uncomfortable to accept” would include issues such as miracles or doctrines that might be seen as offensive or impossible. Atheists dismiss miracles because of their presupposition that God does not exist, and therefore, miracles are impossible. Even though, historical and biblical evidence insists otherwise. One’s faith will either rest in the miracle of philosophical naturalism or in the miracles of Jesus.

[42] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 98.

[43] Quoted in Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Hudson Street, NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 99.

[44] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Hudson Street, NY: Penguin Group, 2008), 99.

[45] Ibid., 87.

[46] Quoted in Alister and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion? (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 34.

[47] In Christianity, there are different views on creation. These are: Theistic Evolution, The Gap Theory, Day Age Creationism, Progressive Creationism, Literal 6-Day Creationism, and perhaps variations of others. While there are different nuances particular to each view, the main issue for this discussion is not about which of these views is preferable, but to how science is not in opposition to the Bible. Nor is there reason to believe that adhering to the theory of evolution disqualifies a person from believing in God.

[48] Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2004), 74-75.

[49] John 1:3

[50] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 284.

[51] Quoted in Ibid., 285.

[52] Wayne Grudem proclaims, “It seems ironic that brilliant scientists could advocate so fantastic a theory without one shred of evidence in its favor, all the while rejecting the straightforward explanations given by the one book in the history of the world that has never been proven wrong, that has changed the lives of millions of people, that has been believed completely by many of the most intelligent scholars of every generation, and that has been a greater force for good than any other book in the history of the world.” Ibid., 286.

[53] F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. rev. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1745.

[54] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 21.

[55] Denis Noble, The Music of Life: Biology Beyond the Genome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 11-15.

[56] See Genesis 3:5

[57] Psalm 34:8

[58] Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion? (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 38.

[59] Malachi 3:6

7 thoughts on “The Consistent God: Refutations Against New Atheism

    • Well, your comment seems to self-contradict itself. If it’s an essay that is “unlettered,” then surely you must have read some of it. Therefore, you do care about the topic of which I’ve written, you just don’t agree with my conclusions. If it’s “unlettered,” then that’s fine for your opinion, but it is a noteworthy topic. If you haven’t read it, and you simply wanted to criticize a Theist’s essay, I would encourage you to read the entire work. If you still disagree, then that is your decision. Thank you.

      • Haha, well… my intentions aren’t to cause a heated debate (there are plenty of Theists and Atheists that are good at that). I love the honesty, though! My goal is to simply put forth information and evidence for what I believe is true. I’ve known so many people who have been hurt by the words and actions of professing Christians, which is a shame because I want people to hear the good news of what Jesus Christ has done in his death, burial, and resurrection, freeing believers from the bondage of sin to living a new life as a follower of Jesus. If you’ve been around other Christians who’ve treated you or other people with hatred, then I’d like to apologize on their behalf. Based on your blog, I can tell you’re not too fond of what people have done in the name of religion. Anyways, I do appreciate that you checked out my essay, hope it was at least something to think about 🙂

      • To be honest, I don’t know why I lashed out at you with my first comment. It’s really not like me. You can check out all my blogs and replies 🙂 I’ll have to go over your blog again and see what set me off. I wasn’t even in a bad mood that day…. strange. Anyway, I am looking over your blog now, and to be honest, I think the reason I just wrote that is because you seemed to put so much work into your blog post (with all your references and divisions of topics into sections); maybe I felt jealous because my blogs are just me writing extemporaneously and I wish I had the patience I had in university to write something with as much effort as you did 🙂 So, in that way, my insult was actually a compliment (your post isn’t “unlettered” by the way, I regret saying that).
        So, in short, although I disagree with your post, it is well written and well sourced, and your politeness crushed my initial insult 🙂

      • Haha, well the reason for all of the citations and divisions is because this was actually a paper I wrote for Graduate School. It’s definitely not a typical blog post for sure (some other posts of mine are definitely more lethargic). I certainly don’t have the patience for blog posts like this one either, just a copy and paste of my school assignment. But anyways, I appreciate your interests in my research and your comments! Have a great day!

  1. Pingback: The Goodness of Christianity | Refreshed by Mercy

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