Modern atheism is suffering a great deal. This is due to the growth of a new, evangelistic type of atheism. Many have labeled its adherents the “New Atheists”. They’re new only in the sense of mission, drive, purpose, and appeal. There’s nothing new in their arguments. Nothing has been discovered that should increase their enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, here they are. And despite my claim that they’re suffering, their impact is far-reaching. Their appearance on the cultural center stage is truly affecting people’s beliefs: confirming some in their atheism and causing many theists to tremble.
[Tweet “There’s nothing “new” about the new atheism.”]
In spite of this, I believe that this movement is in desperate need of help. While they’re having an effect, its intellectual weaknesses will cut it short.
The New Atheists – A Movement In Need of Help
The New Atheists are filled with emotional rage, relying on their personalities for inspiration. I have some advice to help shape them during this volatile time in their history. Ironically, I truly want them to listen and improve. Why? Because I want every worldview to have good representation. It does me no good in my pursuit of truth to have my worldview challenged by an impotent and weakly opponent. Modern atheism can improve in five key areas which I’ll lay out in detail below.
1. Make More Concessions.
After listening to and reading many of the most popular atheists today, I’ve found that (generally speaking) there’s an incredible lack of intellectual honesty. These volumes are filled with claims that smack of propaganda:
- Christianity has no evidence.
- Theism is completely irrational.
- People believe in God because they are uneducated.
- To be a Christian is to commit intellectual suicide.
- I wish this was the exception and that most public atheists didn’t speak in such a way, but it’s not, and, they do.
Don’t get me wrong… I understand the atheist who says that the case for theism is not compelling enough or, for them, does not make a sufficient case. But to say that there is no evidence for God or that Christianity requires a lack of education is not only an incredible overstatement it’s intellectually uninformed at best and dishonest at worst.
[Tweet “There’s an incredible lack of intellectual honesty among popular atheists.”]
Every atheist knows that there is evidence for God. There are reasons to believe in the resurrection of Christ. There’s much strength in the traditional arguments for theism. The atheist needs to make such concessions. This does not mean that they believe that this evidence warrants belief, it simply recognizes that a case can be made for God that doesn’t require a frontal lobotomy.
Concessions do nothing but help you in the marketplace of ideas. Dismissive overstatements are for manipulation of the populace and as “red meat” for the already initiated. If you truly don’t believe their is any evidence for theism or Christianity and that both are completely irrational, I’d be forced to suppose that you’ve been blinded by your emotions and your prejudices have disqualified you from real intellectual engagement.
Bart Erhman (who is not technically an atheist) is the only one that I have seen on center stage who is wise enough to make such concessions.
2. Kill the “Flying Spaghetti Monster”
The “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” as I am sure you are well aware, is an illustrative tool that has become rather popular in your circles. The basic idea is that there is as much warrant for my belief in God as is your belief (were it present) in a “flying spaghetti monster”. The moment you use this, I think one of two things:
- You know better, yet you use this hoping the emotional propaganda will be enough to do the job.
- You really think it’s a good illustration.
In the latter case, I’d say you have not studied this issue properly and you need to research that hiatus. The “Flying spaghetti Monster” routine doesn’t even engage the theism issue. Let me explain.
[Tweet “Atheists have got to kill the flying spaghetti monster.”]
There are two steps to the process of entering the “existence of God” debate. First, one must establish the existence of a “necessary being.” At this point, the “necessary being” remains nameless. During this stage, one does not identify this being as Jesus, Allah, Thor, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This stage is very philosophical and has nothing to do with how this being looks, acts, or directs his will. The question here is, is there an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, a necessary being, or a sufficient and personal explanation for all existence. Once, this is established (and only if it’s established) do we move to the second step and begin to name this being by identifying its particular characteristics.
With the spaghetti monster illustration, the atheist makes the mistake of starting with the second step and uses emotionally charged assertions, which have no relevance to the issue of God’s existence until it has been established. Describing God as a “moral monster” or a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” does nothing but reject characteristics that God may or may not have and use these characteristics to ridicule the idea of His existence. But, again, what God is like does not have any bearing on whether a Necessary Being (God) exists. It would be like saying the institution of marriage cannot exist because husband Joe is a ridiculous slob and could never get a wife. While it may be true that husband Joe could not be expected to get a wife, this has nothing to do with whether marriage exists.
3. Admit the Weaknesses of their Position
Of course, if emotional propaganda is your primary way to gain votes, this will never work. For those who are only interested in manipulating the masses, you must have your clothes ironed, your tie straight, deodorant on, and gait stable. Showing insecurity in any area will quiet the crowds and make them begin to think, if not make them shuffle out the door. Frankly, this seems to be the last thing you want them to do these days. It’s politics on the stage of religion. That’s not what we are after, right?
However, if you want people like me (who are really interested in the issue) to listen to you, admit your weaknesses. It gives a barometer to your honesty, both to yourself and to me. I already know your weaknesses, but wonder if you’re secure enough to admit them. If you aren’t, it’s really easy for me to write you off and quit listening. More importantly, admitting your weaknesses gives a platform for your strengths that will last beyond the emotional high that false confidence fuels.
[Tweet “Admitting your weaknesses gives a platform that will last beyond the emotional high that false confidence fuels.”]
Concede a weak point of your worldview. Concede that atheism does not have a strong explanation for the existence of morals. If you’re honest and say morals don’t exist (which I respect a lot more), again, recognize how difficult this is.
Concede that atheism’s greatest weakness is its inability to explain where existence came from. Always appeal to the pursuit of the truth, even if it’s at the expense of making people feel good. Once you do this, you’ll disarm me, and I’ll be more apt (even though I might be uncomfortable) to listen to you. If you don’t do this, it’s easy for me to write you off as naive (which would make me comfortable).
4. Be More Open Minded
This whole idea of “free thinking” and “open mindedness” is being claimed by you atheists. You must understand, this doesn’t make sense at all. You’re asking people to abandon one worldview with its beliefs and propositions for another worldview with a different set of beliefs and propositions. How is one open-minded and the other is not? In what way are atheists more “free” than theists?
[Tweet “The only freedom gained in atheism is moral freedom.”]
The only freedom gained in atheism is moral freedom (for those who choose to go in that direction). Intellectual freedom (free thinking) is not attained at all (at least from what I can see). The atheist is not free to believe in God and remain an atheist, is he? Nor is the atheist free to believe in prayer?
The atheist has just as many obligations that bind the intellect as any other worldview. In fact, I would think atheism has less intellectual freedom than theism. After all, atheism exists in a naturalistic box. It literally cannot think outside the box! In the real world, when something happens that cannot be explained, the atheist, unlike the theist, is not able to claim a miracle. You have to be closed-minded. You cannot truly examine all the evidence and follow it where it leads. If it leads to the miraculous (as the resurrection of Christ may), you’re out of luck. That road is closed. Atheism closes your mind to some options.
5. Stop Trying to Position Atheism as Merely a Lack of Belief
Atheists generally don’t like being called “atheists”. Most will tentatively accept the designation while claiming there’s nothing better and making sure the proper qualifications are in order.
They’ll say, “We don’t believe or claim to know that there are no gods, we simply lack belief in any gods.” They think this keeps the burden of proof off their shoulders. “After all,” they say, “we don’t have to provide evidence for our lack of belief in leprechauns. We are not a-leprechaunist, just as those who don’t believe in Thor are a-thorists.”
[Tweet “Both Christians and non-christians must defend their worldview.”]
Again, this is an attempt to shift (dare we say avoid) the burden of proof. The atheist positions himself as judge declairing arguments to be “convincing” or “not convincing” But this attempt fails in at least two ways:
First, people are not called aleprechaunists or athorists because there is no significant movement in either area which promotes and argues for a belief in such things. Therefore, it is only natural that there be no such formal designations. And until such circumstances warrant investigation in these areas, it will remain this way. If circumstances change, we will take sides that will have formal names.
Second (and most importantly), your belief system is not neutral. Lack a belief in God is only part of a worldview. One’s worldview is produced by asking many questions that include and often depend on belief in God:
- Is there such a thing as morality?
- Does man have free will?
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
- What is the basis for rationality?
By answering these questions, you are creating a worldview (your system of presuppositions and beliefs). All of these are issues of transcendence. The atheist has to answer the question, ”Why is there something” according to the atheistic worldview. The atheist has to justify their belief in rationality. The atheist must give reason for the existence of free will. While the word “atheist” may give the impression that it only has to do with a lack of belief in God, the reality is that they are “naturalists” (often materialists) and, as such, must give a positive explanation for the claims of their worldview.
I had a few more, but I’m already past my word count.
Both Christians and non-christians must defend their worldview. While this is certainly not always the case, I see an increasing number of Christians doing this well, honestly engaging the issues.
This is just the opposite with atheism. I rarely (if ever) see atheists who are seeking truth more than they are seeking emotional confirmation. Most atheists are fundamentalists with lots of claims to intellectual engagement, but little evidence of it.
I pray these points of encouragement will help you out. If this fails to circulate among the crowd it was intended for, my hope is that Christians can see it as applicable for us as well. These are axioms (basic foundational truths) for all areas of knowledge and effective communication. Unfortunately, the more passionately a belief held, the less likely these will come naturally. We have to work at this.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]