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Why Talk So Much About Atheism?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you’ve probably noticed that there are quite a few blog posts dedicated to discussions of atheism (there is no god or gods) and the philosophy of naturalism (all that exists is found in the material universe).  Atheism and naturalism generally go together, although not always.

Some of you may wonder why I (Bill) should spend so much time talking about atheistic naturalism when less than 5% of the population explicitly subscribes to this worldview.  Most of us don’t personally know practicing, outspoken atheists, so why bother addressing this worldview so often?  That’s a good question and one that I’ve asked myself.

The answer is that although the general populations of Europe and North America (the areas of the world that impact American culture the most) are not explicitly atheist, the percentages go way up for those who inhabit the highest levels in academia.  The academic world’s embrace of atheistic naturalism is unique among all the challengers to Christianity.

This may just confirm for some of you that academics are “not right in the head” or “out in left field” and that we should just ignore them.  While some of them may be like that, we ignore them at our peril.  I firmly believe that the ideas that are imbibed in the universities among academics eventually make their way to the general population.  History has proven this out time and again.

The battle of worldviews is being fought at our western universities and the major contenders are Christian theism and atheistic naturalism.  As a Christian apologist, I feel drawn to this battle as I consider it to be the heavyweight bout.

Now, I am not saying that we should ignore other worldviews that attack Christianity.  On the contrary, on this blog we have addressed many other worldviews, especially Mormonism, as my co-blogger Darrell is a former Mormon and understands that worldview extremely well.  I am merely saying that atheistic naturalism deserves a lot of ink because of the devotion of many western intellectuals.

Even though our friends and neighbors are rarely hard core atheists, atheistic naturalism impacts our culture often in ways we don’t even realize.  There are more and more people who are practical atheists, even if they don’t call themselves atheists.  They live as if God does not exist, even though they would not say they don’t believe in God if they were asked.  Our friends and neighbors are taking in naturalistic ideas without even knowing it.

How are they taking in these ideas?  Through the pop culture.  How is pop culture picking up on these ideas?  From western intellectuals.  We cannot just ignore the academic world.  We owe it to our fellow man to counter atheistic naturalism.  C. S. Lewis, as always, is ready with a helpful bit of advice.  “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”


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  • Anonymous

    “… the percentages go way up for those who inhabit the highest levels in academia. The academic world’s embrace of atheistic naturalism is unique among all the challengers to Christianity.

    This may just confirm for some of you that academics are ‘not right in the head’ or ‘out in left field’ and that we should just ignore them.”

    I’m glad you don’t agree with this viewpoint, Bill. However, it seems like you do so for practical reasons (because the ideas held by academics trickle down to the layman eventually), which I think is still a bit misguided. It’s true that academic ideas need to be contended with for this reason. But don’t you think it’s funny that, among people who have studied science, history, logic, etc. to the degree that we would consider them experts, there tends to be much lower levels of religious belief? If we weren’t talking about religion, we would all generally defer to “the highest levels of academia” to tell us what was really going on in the world. I would rather ask a professor of economics about our national budget crisis than ask my next-door neighbor. I would rather ask an MD/PhD with serious medical training about whether vaccinations are safe than ask some random air-headed celebrity with an agenda to push.

    “Those who inhabit the highest levels in academia” are the most educated. That’s what that means. Don’t you think it’s at least a little problematic for your beliefs when the most educated scientists have come to the conclusion that the Bible is wrong in its scientific claims? When the most educated historians have come to the conclusion that the Bible is wrong in its historical claims? When the most educated philosophers and ethicists have found the Bible to be lacking a coherent philosophy and a reasonable and just system of morality?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    NFQ,
    First of all, academia is not monolithic. Even though the numbers are overall smaller, there are significant numbers of scholars who do find that Christian theism is the most viable worldview. So it’s wrong to give the impression that ALL of the most educated are atheistic naturalists. That is clearly not the case.

    Second, numbers do not determine truth. If we were having this conversation 300 years ago, the exact inverse would be true. I could be asking you how it is you could believe in atheism when the vast majority of scholars were Christian.

    You might say, “As science has progressed, the number of atheists has grown as a percentage.” According to one famous survey taken of scientists at the beginning of the 20th century and then taken at the end, the numbers of atheists vs. theists has remained roughly constant, so one cannot say that as we’ve gained more scientific knowledge the numbers have grown for atheists.

    Third, as I have studied worldviews over the past 8 years, I have noticed that a person’s will and emotions have as much to do with their worldview choice as their intellect. There are powerful psychological reasons for an academic to want to be an atheist. Peer pressure, reputation, tenure, ability to get published, and many other factors could drive someone to claim atheism as their choice. It’s very difficult to be an outspoken Christian in academia today, as many Christian scholars have attested.

    Fourth and finally, I have read the best atheist arguments for their worldview and I have read the best Christian arguments for their worldview, and I have found that the Christian arguments are more logical, coherent, and persuasive than the atheist arguments. I have found that time and again, the Christian scholars take the atheist arguments seriously, but the atheist scholars often do not take the Christian arguments seriously. This betrays an arrogance and intellectual laziness which only serves to hurt the atheist cause.

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  • h0tn3rdb0y

    “I have found that time and again, the Christian scholars take the atheist arguments seriously, but the atheist scholars often do not take the Christian arguments seriously. This betrays an arrogance and intellectual laziness which only serves to hurt the atheist cause. ”

    You’re off-base here, I’m afraid. Atheists don’t take Christian philosophical arguments for a god’s existence seriously because they don’t make sense. If you really want to convince an atheist that a god exists, you’ll need to produce evidence.

    Good luck with that.

  • The Chisel

    Hi Bill,

    Regarding your blog post, I’m not as certian as you are about your percentages given, nor your denial of a corrilation between literacy, education, and religion.

    Can I ask, *why* this topic is the heavy weight bout for you? and, what, exactly is a “Christian Apologist” ? I’m sure i’m missing something here.

    Moving forward, a recent study showedthat in Canada just over 60% of the population does not hold any religious affiliation. There were a number of articles on the internet call the turn of this century the “extinction of religion”. There were, i believe at least 4 other countries that had simmilar statistics, and many other’s that were close, but not quite as high.

    If you’ll allow me to go off topic for one moment. About a month back you had a post mentioning an Athiest friend, and you closed by saying you hoped one day he would change his views.

    If you truely value your friendship with this person I implore you – please – to change your perspective in this single matter.

    As a young man I became astranged from 2 of my very closest friends, when they felt suddenly a need to “save” me(not realizing, I am in deed a man of faith).

    Statements like, “I hope one day he’ll see the truth”, or “change his mind” will do nothing but make your friend feel like from your perspective he is inherently, and unchangably not good enough.

  • Wil McGilvery

    Why don’t they make sense? Convince me that an Atheist world view is better and bashing the Christian worldview doesn’t count. I want to know why you think Atheism makes more sense. I would also like to see some proof thank you.

  • The Chisel

    Sorry, I should say ” *reconsider* your stance in this single matter”

    Now is it naturalism that poses a threat to you, or only Athiestic Naturalism?

  • http://twitter.com/almamu18 Allie Murray

    To add on to your reply, Bill, a lot of the hatred of Christianity has to do with postmodernism, where truth really doesn’t matter and all opinions are equally valid, which is self-contradictory. What nfq needs to realize is that opinions are not facts and most of the (fringe)scholars who make extraordinary claims against Scripture are making those claims for media attention. You can notice that on many of the documentaries you see on Christianity, the people that are featured are liberal scholars (primarily from the Jesus Seminar) and that they don’t interview more conservative scholars(N.T. Wright, Craig Evans, Craig Blomberg; etc.). So, it is not fair to say that ‘most scholars’ have objections to the Bible because not all scholars are getting the same attention. The media tends to prefer controversial claims, which unfortunately misleads people to believe that fringe scholarship is actual scholarship.

  • Tpratt

    “Some of you may wonder why I (Bill) should spend so much time talking about atheistic naturalism when less than 5% of the population explicitly subscribes to this worldview. Most of us don’t personally know practicing, outspoken atheists, so why bother addressing this worldview so often? That’s a good question and one that I’ve asked myself.”

    – there are lies, damn lies, then statistics – Mark Twain (probably). But to play with some math; interestingly China was as between %51 to %79 irreligious based on the some google-fu. Lets go with the lowest number of %51. With a population of 1.331B, that would put the number of Chinese irreligious around ~678M people. More than the population of the entire US.

    I might also comment that atheists might be outspoken, but there is no real practicing to atheism. It’s simply a lack of belief, much like there is no activism to not believing in Zeus.

    —————————————

    “The answer is that although the general populations of Europe and North America (the areas of the world that impact American culture the most) are not explicitly atheist, the percentages go way up for those who inhabit the highest levels in academia. The academic world’s embrace of atheistic naturalism is unique among all the challengers to Christianity.

    – Indeed, %93 of the National Academy of Science do not believe in God. Why does Christianity see this as a challenge? Science would embrace Christianity the moment the evidence supports it. Science is quick to admit when they don’t know something about the universe. Science does not pretend to know something it does not. I think the reason belief in god drops as education rises has more to do with intellectual honesty.

    —————————————

    “How are they taking in these ideas? Through the pop culture. How is pop culture picking up on these ideas? From western intellectuals. We cannot just ignore the academic world. We owe it to our fellow man to counter atheistic naturalism.”

    – this underlines the arrogance and danger of Christianity. The self-righteous need to launch a crusade against an idea. I’m afraid you will find there is no atheistic naturalism ‘agenda’ to counter. But if history holds, Christians might find a few scientists to make an example of so as not to question religious authority if it does not agree with an idea, regardless of the ideas merit.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Chisel,
    With regard to any of my friends which are not Christian, I do not berate them or make them feel that they’re not good enough. I am their friend and I am treat them with respect and kindness. My friendships are not conditional on the fact that my friends must believe as I do.

    However, if I believe that they are misguided or wrong about who God is and who they are in relation to God, it would be the opposite of friendship to not pray for a change of mind. If you believed you had a cure for a life-threatening disease, would you not want your friend to accept this cure? I’m sure you would.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Generally they go together. I have yet to meet an atheist who is not a philosophical naturalist, although I am told that they do exist.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    “Irreligious” does not equate to “atheist.” An irreligious person is usually someone who just does not think about religion very much and has no real opinion, or a person who does not practice a formal religion. An atheist is someone who positively says that no god or gods exist. Atheists, as a percentage of the world population, have never numbered more than a few percent.

  • Todd

    I would not argue that the percentage of atheists are smaller than the percentage of irreligious people. Google-fu shows that the percentages that admit to atheism on a survey might even be lower than %5. It seems to me there are greater gains for Christianity if they try to convert a population with a higher percentage of irreligious people, China being the most populous.

    Aside from that, I think the greater point is that atheism is not a religion. It does not seek adherents nor does it adhere to dogma. It cannot get tax breaks from the gov’t (though I have a mind to try) nor does it have the authority to marry two people. Why do you see atheism as a threat to Christianity that must be actively ‘countered’? Is it simply because it does not agree with Christian tenets?

  • Andrew Ryan

    Atheism as a worldview is simply the lack of a theological worldview. You could argue that in itself it doesn’t constitute a ‘worldview’ of itself. But in as much as it does, to justify it is it not sufficient to ‘bash’ the theistic worldview?

    If a theistic worldview does not convince a person, then isn’t atheism the default they are left with?

    An atheist does not need to ‘prove’ his position. Atheism simply means you are not convinced by theistic claims.

  • Jason

    I wouldn’t say that atheists don’t have an agenda. The recent cases in the northeast where the New York Atheists group was trying to sue the city over renaming a street in front of one of the 9/11 fire stations something like “Seven in Heaven Street”, and the case of the ACLU trying to stop a high school graduation from taking place in a church building, even though it had been happening there for decades and it was one of the largest buildings in town both come to mind. There have been a number of other cases of atheists seeming to try to actively eradicate all public reference or display of anything Christian, even if nobody had complained about said activity. Seems like an agenda to me. Just sayin….

  • Andrew Ryan

    Jason, you’re confusing atheism with secularism. There are plenty of Christians who support the ACLU’s protection of the US constitution’s separation of church and state. There are plenty of non atheists at the ACLU, and there’s nothing ‘atheist” about their work.

    http://Www.aclufightsforchristians.com
    You’ll find them representing the rights of Christians in the same way they represent other groups.

    I just googles ‘ACLU protects Christians’ and found there’s a dedicated website listing cases where it does just that:

  • The Chisel

    Oh, well thank you for responding. glad to hear you’re on the level with your firends. I guess I was mearly sharing my past experience that others might learn from it.

    If I did infact have a pill to restore someones health, yes, I would hope they would take it. But athiesm is neither a disease, nor is it life threatening. so I cannot and will not accept such a poor hyperbole.

    It’s a rather insulting rhetoric that attempts to subvert a persons intellect, by trapping them into an emotional and moral dellema. Frankly, I won’t have any of it.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Tpratt,
    If you don’t think atheists are attacking Christianity, may I suggest you give “The God Delusion” a read, or might I even suggest that you read through some of the comments on this blog.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    “But athiesm is neither a disease, nor is it life threatening. so I cannot and will not accept such a poor hyperbole.”

    For a Christian, atheism is life threatening because the atheist’s current-life and after-life are in jeopardy. That’s what we believe and we need to act on our beliefs.

    If we believed the atheist’s life was in jeopardy and we did nothing about it, what would you think of us then?

    “It’s a rather insulting rhetoric that attempts to subvert a persons intellect, by trapping them into an emotional and moral dellema.”

    I have never tried to trap anyone emotionally. I don’t even know if I could do that (ask my wife – I’m not very emotional). This whole blog revolves around giving reasonable answers to people seeking them, not making threats.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    The other big option for people is pantheism, which would include Hinduism and many other eastern religions. Atheism is not, then, a default position for those who reject theism.

  • Boz

    “According to one famous survey taken of scientists at the beginning of the 20th century and then taken at the end, the numbers of atheists vs. theists has remained roughly constant, so one cannot say that as we’ve gained more scientific knowledge the numbers have grown for atheists.”

    This is interesting – do you have a link to the survey?

  • Andrew Ryan

    I generally stick to correcting people’s false ideas about atheism. I have one or two Christian friends and have a live and let live attitude to their faith, as do they to me. We have a common interest in making the world a better place.

    I don’t tend to make comments that a well informed Christian could not also make.

    I can only think of one comment I’ve made here than could be seen as bashing Christianity itself.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Bill I could easily have worded my post to say ‘if one rejects theism AND pantheism, then atheism’ etc, and my point have been exactly the same. Does that satisfy you?

  • Anonymous

    Bill,

    If you want to lump atheism into a group of people, as Dawkins said, you must include Christians as it pertains to Zeus, Buddha, Muhammad, Thor, etc. The point being that it is simply a lack of belief.

    However, I think you can easily characterize the God Delusion and the vast majority of posts on your blog to people defending reason against the attack of Christian ideology.

    It is the arrogance of Christianity and its followers that causes reasonable people to defend their right to be left alone. Specifically the arrogance you demonstrated above: ” For a Christian, atheism is life threatening because the atheist’s current-life and after-life are in jeopardy. That’s what we believe and we need to act on our beliefs.”

    I would politely ask you to respect our decision not to believe in god or an afterlife, and leave well enough alone. We gladly respect your rights to believe, but not your attempts to push that on the rest of the world. So long as Christians continue to ‘act’, there will be people who ‘re-act’.

  • Andrew Ryan

    My mother doesn’t see my atheism as life threatening. She knows I’m a good person. A God who would send me to hell is not one she would consider ‘good’, just or worthy of worship.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Reference is from God’s Undertaker by John Lennox, pp. 17-18

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Tpratt,
    You said, ‘It is the arrogance of Christianity and its followers that causes reasonable people to defend their right to be left alone. Specifically the arrogance you demonstrated above: ” For a Christian, atheism is life threatening because the atheist’s current-life and after-life are in jeopardy. That’s what we believe and we need to act on our beliefs.”’

    What exactly was arrogant about what I said?

  • Anonymous

    “For a Christian, atheism is life threatening because the atheist’s current-life and after-life are in jeopardy. That’s what we believe and we need to act on our beliefs.”’ – “What exactly was arrogant about what I said?”

    It is arrogant to suppose that my life is in danger. Even more arrogant to think that you need to act on that perceived threat. The truth is, my life is not in danger, I’m healthy as a horse. As for an afterlife, until you can prove there is an after-life, then prove that there is a god, and then prove that god cares about what I do to such a degree that he will torture me eternally for my worldly actions, what are you saving me from?

    Even if you believe all of these things to be true, you still don’t have a right to act upon my non-belief any more than I have the right to interrupt your church services because I believe Christianity is counteractive to the progress of humanity. To believe otherwise, is arrogance.

  • The Chisel

    Before I go any further let me first reiterate two things

    1. I do believe in god – so you’re not knocking heads with an athiest.

    2. I find your previous comment to be offensive – and am ONLY replying so that no one thinks I have conceeded in this issue.

    Christians that use this aregument DO trap the other person, wether they consciously realize it or not.

    If the atheist says, “no” to your question, for what ever reason they base their objection on, they can easily be stigmatised as uncaring, incompassionate, or even immoral by their peers. Even just that socialogical pressure on it’s own is enough to make most people change their answer, even though they don’t agree given the context it’s being delivered in.

    If the Athiest says, “yes” to your question – they forfiet what they know, believe and understand to be true – only because their own sense of morality would not let another person suffer. They essentially sacrifice thier own identity for that one brief second in the name of being humane and compasionate. An act, really that is quite Christlike. It’s in this unguarded second, this moment of what really is an honourable, and selfless act -if even by sentiment – that the agenda holding Christian will swoop in to plant even the tiniest suggestion and cause a person who otherwise has sound reason for their values to begin experiencing self-doubt.

    Your comparison of athiesm to a disease is passive-aggressive, and some might argue borders sociopathic (wich, by loose definition is the act of faking emotion, interest, or empathy, when unable to otherswise for the sake of advancing your own agenda, ).

    I contemplated placing you in the same scenario, but reversing the circumstances – but realized you would likely say “it’s an act of god” – rather than place yourselfe in the other persons shoes and asses what is really a very twisted and manipulative hyperbole.

  • Boz

    Thanks for the link. I found the article from the journal “Nature”.
    http://www.amazon.com/Gods-Undertaker-Has-Science-Buried/dp/0745953034
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v394/n6691/full/394313a0.html
    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html

    John Lennox is lying about this issue.

    The survey is conducted in two parts. in 1914, Leuba conducted a survey of 1,000 randomly selected US scientists. then a survey of 400 “greater” scientists. Leuba (imperfectly) repeated this method in 1933. Larson and Witham (imperfectly) repeated this method in 1998.

    John Lennox said: “A similar survey showed that the percentage of atheists is higher at the top levels of science. Larsen(Larson?) and Witham showed in 1998 that, among the top scientists in the National Academy of Sciences in the USA that responded, 72.2 per cent were atheists, 7 per cent believed in God and 20.8 per cent weer agnostics. Unfortunately we have no comparable statistics from 1916 to see if those proportions have changed since then or not, although we do know that over 90 per cent of the foudners of the Royal Socient in England were theists.”

    John Lennox states that there are no comparable statistics from 1916. Yet in the Nature article, which John Lennox can be expected to have read, the comparable statistics are included in a table for easy comparison!

    Bill Pratt, you should check your sources. This might be an example of confirmation bias.

    This book, and your uncritical repitition of this claim, is another example of one-sided apologetics. This is why I can never believe what an apologist says, without first checking it myself. There is no trust.

  • Greg G

    Using your argument, i cannot be an atheist unless you provide evidence that God does not exist. To do this is impossible so you shouldn’t expect any sane rational person to subscribe to atheism.

  • Greg G

    Andrew,

    what a cop out. Atheism clearly states that God does not exist. That is a position on theism. You cannot simply walk away from the question.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Not a cop-out Greg. There is a difference between saying “I don’t believe a God exists”, and “No Gods exist”. The former is a statement of belief, the second is a statement of knowledge. I don’t believe fairies exist, but I make no positive knowledge claims on the issue.

  • Andrew Ryan

    No, you are not using my argument there. All you need to be an atheist is to be unconvinced by theistic claims. It’s as simple as that.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    How is it arrogant to believe that someone’s life is in danger? I might be wrong or misinformed or confused to think your life is in danger, but I just don’t get calling me arrogant. That is a truly bizarre word to use.

  • Boz

    “Atheism clearly states that God does not exist.”

    That is only strong/positive/gnostic atheism.

    weak/negative/agnostic atheism states: “I lack belief in deities”. “I am not persuaded”.

  • Boz

    I can’t directly reply to this comment for some reason, so I will reply here:

    http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2011/08/05/why-talk-so-much-about-atheism/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ToughQuestionsAnswered+%28Tough+Questions+Answered%29&utm_content=Google+Reader#comment-280897438

    Bill Pratt, you are probably right, that Lennox cited the other Nature article, And we should give him the benefit of the doubt. And, as you noted, his statement is factually false. Unfortunately, I was only able to see the first ~20 pages of the book, I don’t have a physical copy.

    I retract my statement that he was deliberately lying.

    It sure pays to check your sources! :)

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Boz,
    You are so quick to judge. To call a person an outright liar is an extremely serious charge and I am incredibly disappointed that you would make such an accusation.

    The link to the Nature article you included is a link to THE WRONG ARTICLE! The endnote in Lennox’s book clearly says that the Nature article he is referring to is from 3 April 1997; volume 386: p. 435-6.

    The Nature article you have linked to is from 1998; volume 394: p. 313. Lennox never cited the article you accuse him of lying about; he read an article published a year earlier that probably did not contain the table you cited as evidence of his deceit.

    It is possible Lennox was just ignorant of the 1998 Nature article; we should give him the benefit of the doubt since he did not cite it. In any case, it is true that among surveys of “greater scientists” the percentages of disbelief have gone up. The Nature article of 1998 shows that. The Nature article from 1997 showed there was little change among the general population of scientists.

    I will grant your point that Lennox mistakenly left this information out (probably because he did not know about it), but I think you owe Lennox an apology for calling him a liar and slandering him in a public forum.

  • The Chisel

    I don’t know if you fully read the post Bill.

    What I think Todd feels is arrogant are those Christians that feel they are some how morally, or spiritually superior to non-Christians, and hold an agenda to either change a non-Christian’s beliefs or interfere with their lifestyle.

    Coming from a man who beleives in God I think Todd is absolutely correct in his usage of the term “arrogance” in this context, and he sums it up perfectly in the following sentance.

    “you still don’t have a right to act upon my non-belief any more than I have the right to interrupt your church services”

    and by defenition:

    arrogance – overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner toward inferiors.

    synomyms – haughtiness, insolence, disdain.

    I’ve noticed a tendancy wherein you use language and symantics to gain leverage in your argument where otherwise you don’t really have any, so I thought I would square that up for you.

    Following the moral teachings of Jesus, this is a behavior towards others a Christian should work to correct.

  • Bryan

    I feel very sad that you try so hard to hold on to an obviously false doctrine despite your intelligence.

  • Bryan

    So one must prove that your unprovable claim is false for you to stop believing it? You don’t see the problem with that logic?

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