As a result of my post yesterday, I received a number of mostly friendly tweets from ‘new atheists’ questioning whether Christianity really was the force for good in African society that the atheist Matthew Parris argued it was. Part of our debate centred on a fact I took as a given that soon became apparent was not shared by those who opposed me. It was this: atheism, as a worldview, has stood behind the greatest atrocities and evil committed in the history of the world.
The new atheists I engaged with were quick to blame religion for all sorts of evil but could not see why I wanted to respond in kind when it came to atheism. The response I met with was ‘no-one kills in the name of atheism’.
How does the argument work for the new atheist? It seems to be something like this, only allow a cause to be responsible for an act of evil where the action can be directly and immediately attributed to the cause. Then and only then can the cause be blamed. So for example a terrorist who cries ‘God is great!’ as they detonate the explosive vest they are wearing clearly shows that religion is not great! But, so the argument goes, atheism does not stand behind acts of evil in that direct way so atheism is not a cause of evil in the world like religion.
But my new atheist friends have missed something in this attempt to exculpate atheism and it is this; ideologies may be rightly held to account where acts of evil are indirectly attributable to an ideology and especially where that belief has been consciously, consistently and even perhaps deliberately adopted by a regime or group or individual to justify acts of evil.
Now clearly it’s not enough to say because person A holds a belief B and that therefore their action C must have been caused by B. So it is conceivable that someone might claim to be a Christian and commit murder and for someone to thereby try and tie the two together. But of course it won’t work because Christianity calls murder a sin, Jesus called on his followers to be prepared to suffer injustice, to turn the other cheek, to NOT retaliate or seek revenge. Those who murder are no friends of God and certainly no followers of Jesus, they are guilty of identity theft! Rather they can expect nothing from him but condemnation for their sin. It has failed the consistency test.
But it is beyond dispute that atheism was a consciously adopted ideology that led to a number of governments to commit acts of evil that far outweigh any charge that can be leveled against religion (although please note I am not seeking to clear ALL religion of some sort of foundation for acts of evil merely demonstrate that atheism cannot be cleared of such a charge itself.)
Vickor Frankl was a survivor of Auschwitz. He wrote this:
If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drive and reactions, as a mere product of heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. I became acquainted with the last stage of corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment – or, as the Nazis liked to say, “of blood and soil.” I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.
So it seems to many that there exists an indirect but evident link between the nihilism that atheism tolerates (notice atheism does not in and of itself promote nihilism it merely tolerates it as entirely consistent with atheism) and the attrocities of totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. This statement in no-way suggests that all atheists are nihilists or that atheism must necessarily lead to evil merely that it allows it by creating an intellectual foundation through the sweeping away of categories of good and evil, right and wrong in exactly the way men such as Richard Dawkins and Kai Nielson as atheists recognise.
So Dawkins writes:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice. The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence. DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.
The philosopher Kai Nielson writes:
We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that really rational beings unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason does not decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. Pure practical reason even with a good knowledge of the facts will not take you to morality.
And such ideology was used by those tyrants of evil to justify their actions as Frankl witnessed. Hitler himself said:
I free Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality…We will train young people before whom the world will tremble. I want young people capable of violence – imperious, relentless and cruel.
So is atheism to blame?
In one sense the answer of course is ‘no’. Atheism does not tell you to murder your own people by the millions as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Kim Jong-Il have done but it’s tenets have been put to a perfectly consistent and logic use when used by regimes to justify mass-murder as Frankl not only observed but was forced to endure. A godless universe is one of ‘blind pitiless indifference’ one should not be surprised to find atheists using that reality to justify ‘blind pitiless indifference’ in their treatment of their fellow men.
Contrast that with Christianity. No one can with any consistency follow the teaching and example of Jesus and commit acts of evil.
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi….It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
Parris is a journalist known for his refreshing honesty and this piece is a fine example. What’s not clear to me is, as an atheist, what Parris attributes the profound change in people’s hearts that he observes to and what therefore he means when he says ‘the rebirth is real.’ My prayer is that he and many others will not only recognise the life-change that alone the gospel can bring but see it for what it really is – the work of a gracious God. My hope is that he will see and come to share the sure and certain knowledge that at the heart of this universe is a God of love who in his Son has loved us and through his son offers us life and peace, joy and hope and that this message is not just the need of Africa but the need of all nations. That the gospel is the power of God to not only forgive sins but to transform people, societies and the world.
The philosopher and atheist AC Grayling is writing a book entitled ‘The Good Book: A Secular History’. In it he joins Richard Dawkins and Christophet Hitchens, amongst a growing list, who insist that you don’t need to believe in God to be good. Every Christian would want to affirm that fact. Atheists can and often do choose to be ‘good’, whatever that may mean in an amoral universe of ‘blind pitiless indifference’ to quote Dawkins.
But, heres the rub, the thing they don’t want to tell you is that without a belief in God there is no reason to be bad either. In a quite brilliant article the intellectual dishonesty at work in those who will not admit that their creed allows men to be cruel is exposed by Peter Heck.
Here’s just one extract but it’s well worth reading the whole:
Two years ago, their motto was “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake!” Last year, they were more direct: “No god? No problem!” But this year, as they feebly attempt to detract from the celebration of Christ’s incarnation once again, perhaps it’s a fruitful exercise for our civilization to consider their overtures and weigh the merit of their message.
As far as I can tell, the mantra “No god? No problem!” has but one minor flaw: the entire record of human history. It is no coincidence that as German atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche boasted, “God is dead … we have killed him … must we not ourselves become gods[?]” (which, by the way, is the entire basis of humanism dating back to the Garden of Eden), he Continue reading »
A couple of days ago we considered the remarkable story of how atheist and arch-enemy of Christianity AN Wilson rediscovered his Christian faith.
In a follow up article in the Daily Mail Wilson set out some of the reasons he had become an atheist along with his route home to faith. I hope by looking at it together it will give us renewed confidence in our faith and a fresh desire to share it with others.
Like having spots
One of Wilson’s key insights looking back on his life is that his atheism rested not on the fact that Christianity is no longer believable but that it has become so deeply unfashionable. Our culture is much more than secular (in which it would simply ignore matters of faith). Our culture is in fact deeply anti-religious. It’s not satisfied to leave Christianity alone it seeks out opportunity to give it a good beating.
Wilson, in his article, examines how the media-pundits and intelligencia in British society systematically attack and ridicule Christianity.
‘Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.
To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.
This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.
It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.
The Guardian’s fanatical feminist-in-chief, Polly Toynbee, is one of the most dismissive of religion and Christianity in particular. She is president of the British Humanist Association, an associate of the National Secular Society and openly scornful of the millions of Britons who will quietly proclaim their faith in Church tomorrow.
‘Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?’ she asked in a puerile article decrying the wickedness of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, which have bewitched children for more than 50 years. Or, to take another of her utterances: ‘When absolute God-given righteousness beckons, blood flows and women are in chains.’
The sneering Ms Toynbee, like Richard Dawkins, believes in rational explanations for our existence and behaviour. She is deeply committed to the Rationalist Association, but her approach to religion is too fanatical to be described as rational.’ Continue reading »
As a young Christian the man we had to contend with was AN Wilson. He just seemed to have it in for us Christians. He wrote a biography of CS Lewis in which in page after page he worked hard to erode my confidence in the man, his faith and his reasoned defense of Christianity. But Wilson wasn’t satisfied to rob me of CS Lewis. He followed it up with a booklet entitled ‘Against Religion: Why we should live without it’ and then he wrote a book on Jesus himself denying his deity and reducing him to the place of a merely misguided end-time ‘prophet’ of liberal Christianity. Perhaps my biggest problem was not Wilson but the media’s delight in him and his books. Time and again his views were splashed across the papers and Christians were once again in retreat.
Here is how AN Wilson describes his own conversion to atheism:
I can remember almost yelling that reading C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity made me a non-believer – not just in Lewis’s version of Christianity, but in Christianity itself. On that occasion, I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me – the sense of God’s presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world. As for Jesus having been the founder of Christianity, this idea seemed perfectly preposterous. In so far as we can discern anything about Jesus from the existing documents, he believed that the world was about to end, as did all the first Christians. So, how could he possibly have intended to start a new religion for Gentiles, let alone established a Church or instituted the Sacraments? It was a nonsense, together with the idea of a personal God, or a loving God in a suffering universe. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.
As a hesitant, doubting, religious man I’d never known how they felt. But, as a born-again atheist, I now knew exactly what Continue reading »
People are embarrassed to believe in God so confesses Victoria Coren in an article in the Guardian over the weekend. And so as a believer in God herself she bemoans the lack of quick-witted, thinking, believers able to stand up to the growing assault of radical atheism.
She writes: ‘Lord Carey (previous Archbishop of Canterbury) complained last week that Britain is ashamed to celebrate Christmas as a religious festival. It’s bigger than that: people are embarrassed to believe in God at all. They feel silly.
There is a new, false distinction between “believers” and “rationalists”. The trickle-down Dawkins effect has got millions of people thinking that faith is ignorant and childish, with atheism the smart and logical position’
Coren wants Christians to pick up the gauntlet and respond! It’s time for Christians to expose the illogicality of atheism (after all you simply can’t prove a negative and Dawkins when pushed on the matter in debate with Professor John Lennox admits that he is an agnostic rather than an atheist). We need to reveal the intellectual poverty of atheism in its answers to questions of morality and to demonstrate the falsity of the claim that religion is to blame for everything by showing how the course of human history and the Continue reading »
Sawing off the branch you’re sitting on
Charles Darwin once wrote in a letter to a friend:
The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.
What Darwin is recognising here is that if our minds are nothing more than products of evolution from lesser animals there really has to be a doubt as to whether we should believe that they are an accurate guide to life the universe and everything.
A tangle of wires
Not every statement a scientist makes is a scientific one just as not every statement from a theologian is a theological one. The God Delusion works by mixing up scientific statements with mere assertion and then leaving it to the reader to separate the two.
We saw in the last post that Dawkins at times misrepresents, distorts or skews the facts when it suits which isn’t the best commendation for scientific inquiry.
Today we look at a different example of how some of Dawkins’ statements are anything but scientific. Rather than look at distortion this time we’ll look at omission. What happens when all of the evidence is not considered but instead significant evidence is disregarded, ignored or omitted. We’ll see that it inevitably leads to a bad argument and for bad science.
Remember what he is seeking to do which is to demonstrate the absurdity of religious belief and so in a section of The God Delusion entitled ‘The Argument From Admired Religious Scientists‘ he seeks to respond to the charge that there are many able scientests who believe.
Scientists who believe
Dawkins begins by conceding that there were great men of science who believed in God before Darwin (eg. Newton) but of course Continue reading »
Ideas have consequences. They refuse to stay on paper or merely live on in the minds of those who hear them in the lecture theatre, classroom or worship room. When it comes to matters of belief one of the tests for truth is livability; what sort of individuals and society does such a belief produce. Ravi Zacharias in his book The Real Face of Atheism has said ‘The realities of life, powerfully reinforce the viability of faith in God.’ Christopher Hitchens in his book God is not great: Religion poisons everything profoundly disagrees.
Recent evidence seems to suggest that Hitchens is on the losing side when it comes to the livability test. Toby Young in his blog in today’s Telegraph highlights the conclusion of a mammouth 5 year study into religion and it’s impact on society. The authors of the Continue reading »
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