They're mad, and their not going to take it any more. There has been a spate of books, TV shows, NPR interviews, magazine stories and the like involving one or more of the angry atheists. Sam Schulman of the Wall Street Journal has had about his fill of them. On Friday January 5th of this year he wrote a column in the WSJ entitled "Without God, Gall is Permitted" The sub-caption reads "Modern atheists don't have any new arguments and they lack their forbear's charms." He does not cover angry agnostics (whom Stephen Colbert has famously called atheists without 'testicles', though he used a choicer epithet). Were we to add them to the mix we could brew up a Texas Pete sort of stew.
But why exactly do atheists have their knickers in a knot these days? I mean its not like they have ever been the majority in the landscape of humanity. Indeed, from what we can tell they have always been a tiny minority. Maybe that's why they are so angry. I mean we are supposed to be not only in the age of reason, we are supposed to be in the space age, 'boldly going where no one has gone before'. And maybe this is one reason for the proud man's contumely. They just can't understand why people are still bothering to believe all this 'religious' stuff. Their attitude is so very different from that chronicled in John Updike's 'In the Beauty of the Lilies' where someone gradually loses their faith, and ends up sad about it. Nope, the attitude of these folks is "Flame On!" to borrow a phrase from one of my childhood Marvel Comic heroes. And 'me thinks they protesteth too much.'
I mean when is the last time you found people ranting and raving for so long about something or someone who, according to them, doesn't even exist? I don't see people writing angry diatribes shouting "Unicorns Aren't Real-- Get Over it!". In fact I don't even see many Grinches writing best sellers entitled "Santa Claus is a myth". And actually there are a good number of people who believe in one or both of those creatures. Could it be that one has to really get angry and go into denial about God, precisely because even these atheists are created in God's image, and they are trying to exorcise that influence? Well, its worth pondering.
Yet we do have people like Richard Dawkins are writing best selling books like "The God Delusion". Now Dawkins is an Oxford don. He's erudite and clever. He is also arrogant and ignorant when it comes to the Bible and theology. For atheist's like him, belief in God is a form of stupidity, as if one was struck by massive dummo rays, and so he is quite unwilling to take theology even seriously. In fact, he has even suggested that religious education is a form of child abuse! That's a nice objective point of view to be sure. Listen to Schulman's lament about him:
"For the new atheists believing in God is a form of stupidity, which sets off their own intelligence. They write as if they were the first to discover that biblical miracles are improbable....that religion is full of superstition. They write as if great minds had never before wrestled with the big questions of creation, moral law and contending versions of revealed truth. They argue as if these questions are easily answered by blunt materialism. Most of all they assume that no intelligent, reflective person could ever defend religion rather than dismiss it....The faith that the new atheists describe is a simple-minded parody. It is impossible to see within it what might have preoccupied great artists and thinkers like Homer, Milton, Michelangelo, Newton, and Spinoza-- let alone Aquinas, Dr Johnson, Kierkegaard, Goya, Cardinal Newman, Reinhold Neibuhr or, for that matter, Albert Einstein. But to pass over this deeper faith-- the kind that engaged the great minds of Western history-- is to diminish the loss of faith too. The new atheists are separated from the old ones by their shallowness."
And Schulman is right to ask why it is that Dawkins and people like Sam Harris insist on railing against Christian fundamentalism, all the while being deathly silence about Islamic or Jewish fundamentalism. Perhaps they realize that Jesus wouldn't want Christians to blow them up, so we are fair game I suppose.
Sometimes what worries me the most about such atheists who think they stand on the intellectual high ground is the fact that they do not realize that their unquestioned faith in their own conclusions is just that--- 'unquestioned faith', in this case in some sort of rationalism, or materialism coupled with a certain view of science which sees it as the key which unlocks the doors to all that is 'really' real. But as A.J. Ayer said a long time ago, imperial empiricism starts from a faith postulate-- namely that the human senses are generally reliable conveyers of data to the human brain. This in itself is an unproved faith hypothesis, unproved because of course, as C.S. Lewis once said "we cannot crawl one inch outside our mortal skin". We cannot escape our own interiority and subjectivity in any complete sense. We can be reached from outside of ourselves, but we cannot step outside of ourselves and our reliance on our senses.
As it turns out a belief in 'radical materialism' is in fact a form of fundamentalism. The materialist thinks because he personally has found the positive evidence for God's existence wanting, that he has then proved the negative conclusion-- that God does not exist. Yet there is no scientist, of whatever faith position or whatever degree of intellectual rigor, who can actually claim that we have such an extensive (much less exhaustive) knowledge of the universe and material reality that we could rule OUT the existence of God on the basis of our current empirical evidence. Especially when God is spirit, and therefore a non-material being is this conclusion a non-sequitur. To the contrary, there is so much evidence in creation for the existence of an intelligent creator that the evidence goes quite in the opposite direction.
Such a conclusion as 'there is no god' so drastically outreach the actual hard scientific evidence we have that one would have to conclude that the person making such a claim, such as Richard Dawkins, so desperately wants to believe it is true that he is prepared to dramatically assert the truth of his position all the while fudging the evidence, or at least dramatically outrunning it. This friends is faith in spite of the absence of such compelling evidence, not faith because of it, and this frankly is a form of fundamentalism. One has raised a belief, any belief, to such a level of dogma, that one sees it as unquestionably unassailably true. And even worse, one thinks that one has proved a negative because one has shown some problems with some of the arguments for the positive case. This is not merely bad science, its bad logic as well.
Any scientist worth his salt must be prepared to be open-minded to new evidence which can disprove his pet hypothesis. Indeed, that is how science works-- one suggests an hypothesis, and then attempts empirical verification. When scientists forget they are working with hypotheses,and think that their presuppositions are facts, they have ceased to work as scientists, and now are promulgating some sort of new faith. Such is the case with Dawkins, and he preaches his new faith with the fervor and rancor of an old time fundamentalist revival preacher. The difference is not in the degree of dogmatism or fundamentalism. The difference is the faith postulate from which they begin.
Yes, friends you see, fundamentalism is not in the end a position on the arc of the religious or theological spectrum. It is a mindset that can be embraced by conservatives or liberals, true believers or atheists. It is what Bloom complained about when he bemoaned 'the closing of the American mind'. It has to do not merely with the lust for certainty, though that is a crucial component, but also the actual belief that you have found that absolute certainty such that faith is no longer required, it has become unassailable knowledge.
But at the end of the day, it does seem probable to me that atheists like Dawkins are in denial about God, because they are in fact in denial about their own nature and condition-- created in God's image. It is of course galling to human pride to discover that one is not a self-made person. It is galling to learn that one owe's one's very existence to another outside of the oneself. And it is most galling of all to learn that that Person is not merely one of one's parents, but in fact one's heavenly parent, the Creator. It has been said that one cannot know who one is, unless one knows whose one is-- 'little lamb who made thee' asked William Blake. And here in lies the rub for atheists. They cannot truly learn who they are, and the very nature of human existence without knowing their Maker. When one learns whose one is, one learns who one is.
Long ago the Psalmist had a word for Professor Dawkins-- it goes like this "The fool says in his heart, there is no God" (Ps. 14). How foolish indeed to confidently deny the existence of a Being simply because one has not yet personally found Him or been found by Him. This is the very definition of a lost, and in the end, unintelligent and unwise creature, standing as he does against the backdraft of the posture and position of most of the most brilliant minds in all ages of history, and spitting into the prevailing wind.