The current virulent strain of evangelical atheism does a disservice to many of the arguments of traditional atheism. I am thinking here of the latest efforts by the new Apostles of Atheism, Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation), and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything). It certainly does not advance the atheist position to have a proponent like Dawkins rambling around the world arguing that if one raises a child to be “religious,” then one is basically raising them to be an axe murderer and/or a terrorist. Dawkins’ extremism alone has led renowned atheist Michael Ruse to confess that “The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.” (1)
This article summarizes the arguments of traditional or “classical” atheism-i.e., atheism as it has been presented since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The articulation of these arguments also serves to cover the essential arguments of the new Apostles of Atheism, without the need for dealing with their hysteria from which even other atheists such as Ruse are beginning to distance themselves. Next, each argument is separately analyzed and found to be wanting in evidence and in logic. Finally, since one has hardly proved enough by ending at the existence of God if God has chosen to be silent, the importance of the case for God’s specific entrance into the human situation is put forth.
My vocation is one of a trial lawyer. The assertions of atheism-as well as the assertions that God is there and has not been silent-will, therefore, be implicitly tested by legal canons of evidence employed in law courts for almost a millennia as a means for arbitrating competing factual claims.
We only note in passing that God does not believe in atheists because, as pointed out by trial lawyer John Warwick Montgomery, in the end there really are no atheists and never have been in the history of the world. In fact, everybody has what Paul Tillich called an “ultimate concern,” something that gets first place in one’s life when the chips are down. That “ultimate concern” is that person’s religion, regardless of whether they formally consider themselves to be an atheist. More importantly, that ultimate concern is their god-whether it be their intellect and ability to reason logically, a girlfriend, a Ph.D., buffed abs, an Academy Award, a toy poodle, or season tickets to Green Bay Packers games.
The Traditional Arguments of Classical Atheism
The main objections of classical atheism are as follows:
Belief in God is psychologically explainable as part of a regressive and infantile cultural stage.
Belief in God has disastrous social implications.
Belief in God has harmed the advancement of science and the findings of modern science contradict any such belief.
Belief in God is illogical.
These four categories of argument have been carefully analyzed, and repeatedly and thoroughly refuted by serious Christian apologists for the past two millennia. One would think (as far as one can surmise from the cloistered world of contemporary evangelical atheism of the Dawkins-Adams-Hitchens variety), however, that new evidence has been discovered that refutes theism and, more specifically, that refutes the central claims of historical Christianity. This is simply not so.
Let me also preface my comments to each of these four arguments by confessing that I would rather deal any day of the week with a serious atheist than with a religious liberal of the Christian species-type. Those who technically and officially stand within the House of Salvation, and yet then gladly (and utterly irrationally) stand in judgment and criticism of the Word inscripturated and the Word Incarnate, are infinitely more dangerous to the future of the Christian faith than all the Dawkins-Adams-Hitchens the outside world will ever produce.
Also note that none of the traditional arguments of atheism deal head on with the actual primary source evidence for the central claims of Christianity-namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. Why is this? The answer is simple: The sheer factual strength of the historical case for the trustworthiness of the biblical authors and the claims of its central figure Jesus Christ (both of which are subjects that have been analyzed by trial lawyers for over 400 years) are so impressive and deep that an informed atheist is wise not to trod there.
The four arguments and refutations that follow are only introductory in nature. The endnotes will lead one to greater depth and further study.
ARGUMENTS AND REFUTATIONSBelief in God is psychologically explainable
While Dawkins argues this point loud and clear in The God Delusion, this contention has been presented repeatedly since the psychoanalytic revolution began in the nineteenth century and was also echoed in the reigning philosophical circles of that time. Freud and Nietzsche certainly articulated the position that belief in God the Father is nothing more, and nothing less, than wish projection. It is the infantile groping of a repressed psyche to turn into reality that which it desperately wants to be true-namely, that one has an all-loving, all-wise, all-benevolent Father way up there. It is akin to belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and it is a belief that only intellectual and cultural maturity can show to be mere fiction.
This psychological pull toward the need for a father figure and for some type of order that is imposed on a random universe is-per classical atheism-eminently understandable, but also eminently explainable. In short, the argument says that the “God Wish” goes back to the domain of primitive man. As man progresses psychologically and socially, belief in God has been shown to be largely irrelevant and only of persuasive interest to the uneducated classes who then indoctrinate their children in order to prevent intellectual and social progress from occurring.
This argument is invalid on several grounds.
First, belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy is a natural condition in the early years where the lines between fantasy and reality are necessarily blurred. Many people, in fact, mature to a belief in God (witness the recent controversial conversion to theism of renowned British atheist Anthony Flew). This argument simply fails to explain why so many come to a belief in God, and specifically a belief in the God of Christianity, late in life and after obtaining a robust university education. Clearly not all these people have simply retreated to infantile regressive behavior by becoming theists or Christians. Many, for example, would see the conversion of an adult C. S. Lewis-as he himself did-as a progression into maturity rather than a regression into an infantile world of denial. (2)
This argument also ignores some basic facts derived from the biblical data in support of Christian theism. The Bible is hardly a book full of teachings that are equivalent to the vocational teachings of a wet nurse. From “turn the other cheek” to “give your enemy your coat,” from “feed the poor” to the doctrine of hell as a place for those not perfectly holy and for those failing to perfectly follow the Law, this is decidedly not the religious pablum that naïve primitive man would conjure up over a hot fire, a juicy femur head, and a pot of gruel. An infantile position would be one that, for example, failed to deal with the reality of evil and instead focused only on man’s glory and greatness, or one that ignored man’s essential inability to follow even his own moral standards. In Christian intellectual history, one finds serious reflection on issues of man’s nature and the nature of God, the reality of sin and the possibility of salvation, the nature of history, and the existence of real ethics. Profound insights on these topics have hardly come from what might be called the “infantile or regressive” impulses of such men as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, and Alvin Plantinga, to name but a few. Finally, R. C. Sproul is perfectly correct when he contends that this argument by atheists might just as easily be turned on its head. (3)
In short, perhaps atheists wish so badly for an all-knowing Last Judge not to exist that they have projected their highly regressive and infantile fantasies onto the issue of the existence of God. The argument, therefore, ends up being utterly self-defeating on logical grounds alone.
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