Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let there be Brights: A Tribute to the New Atheists

The “new atheists” don’t have much good to say about religion. In fact, they’d love to see it all disappear! Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Evolution at the University of Chicago, is no exception:

• “Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with one only, science, equipped to find real truth. And while they may have a dialogue, it’s not a constructive one. Science helps religion only by disproving its claims…”
(All quotes taken from USA Today, Oct. 11, 2010, 11A).

According to Coyne, there is nothing to prove in favor of religion. Therefore, the one contribution of science is its disproof! Why does Coyne take such a one-sided stance? While he is correct that “irrationality and rationality are incompatible,” he associates religion entirely with irrationality and blind faith:

• “Note that almost all religions make specific claims about the world involving matters such as the existence of miracles, answered prayers, wonder-working saints and divine cures, virgin births, annunciations and resurrections. These factual claims, whose truth is the bedrock of belief, bring religion within the realm of scientific study. But rather than relying on reason and evidence to support them, faith relies on revelation, dogma and authority.”

How can Coyne make such a demeaning claim? He calls Hebrews 11:1 to his defense: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

While it is true that the Christian ultimately walks by faith – sometimes the darkness of our trials is not penetrable by the light of reason and facts – this doesn’t mean that our faith isn’t undergirded by solid evidential reasons for this faith! Elsewhere, the Book of Hebrews insists that we do have an evidential foundation for our faith:

• “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will”
(Hebrews 2:3-4).

Our Lord never expected us to believe without reasons-to-believe! In so many ways, Jesus taught us to not believe without evidences: “Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does” (John 10:37; also John 5:31-38). He also provided the evidences of fulfilled prophecy as a basis for faith:

• "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe”
(John 14:28-29).

God has always been in the business of providing a basis for faith. This was true also for the Israelites among whom He performed unassailable miracles so that they believe:

• “You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire”
(Deut. 4:35-37).

In light of this, Coyne is resorting to a straw-man argument – misrepresenting and disparaging Christianity in such a way that he can easily dispose of it. He also misrepresents his own position as scientific and concerned only with the facts. However, it is clear that he too is driven by his own set of values and commitments. While science can establish what is, it can’t establish what should be. It might be able to say that genocide occurred, but it can’t say that it shouldn’t happen. Nor can science direct Coyne diatribe against religion. Instead, it’s his own tastes and values, which activate him. However, Coyne wants to present himself as the quintessence of objectivity:

• “No finding is deemed ‘true’ – a notion that’s always provisional — unless it’s repeated and verified by others.”

This notion is absurd. For one thing, this statement can’t be “repeated and verified by others.” Therefore, it shouldn’t be regarded as “true.” More importantly, if we limit truth to Coyne’s criterion, then we can’t know that genocide is wrong or that sugar is sweet. Nor is there any reason for Coyne not to lie, since he disparages all forms of faith. (Generally, the atheist will swear off immoral behavior because of pragmatic reasons – it pays dividends to act morally! However, it also pays dividends to act immorally!)

While Coyne indicts Christianity for its supernatural and miraculous claims, he has his own unprovable naturalistic claims. As an atheist, he has adopted a God-substitute – the belief that naturalism can account for everything – the universe, the laws of physics, life, DNA, logic, the fine-tuning of the universe, and even consciousness. However, the atheist inevitably resorts to faith: “Naturalism might not be able to explain these things now, but in the future, it will!” as God laughs. If he can embrace a naturalistic faith, how can he deride a supernatural one? Coyne concludes:

• “And any progress – not just scientific progress – is easier when we’re not yoked to religious dogma. Of course, using reason and evidence won’t magically make us all agree, but how much clearer our spectacles would be without the fog of superstition!”

Coyne is unwilling to acknowledge his own religious presuppositions and until he does, he will remain stumbling in his own “fog of superstition!” However, he is correct about one thing. We all have “our spectacles” – our beliefs and presuppositions. If this is the case, then the question becomes, “Which spectacles bring things into focus?” Archeologist John McRay states,

• “Archeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible. On the contrary, as we’ve seen, there have been many opinions of skeptical scholars that have become codified into ‘fact’ over the years, but that archeology has shown to be wrong.”
(The Case for Christ)

In fact, the Bible has proved so useful in archeology, that one archeologist testified that he digs in the Holy Land with Bible in one hand and spade in the other. He is convinced that the Bible provides the right lens to direct his investigations.

The Bible is also the right lens to enable us to navigate life successfully. For instance, the Bible’s teachings about fallen humankind help us to understand what we see and to make the appropriate decisions. It instructed me that I’m not unusual, although sometimes it might feel that way. It informed me that there wasn’t a Mrs. Right out there for me. It enlightened our Founding Fathers that, given human fallenness, a good government required a system of checks and balances and not one “enlightened” guru. Meanwhile, so many educated Westerners are in search of the ultimate Teacher to guide them into the path of enlightenment, blissfully ignorant of the darkness that lurks within each heart.

Why are Coyne and the “New Atheists” so vitriolic and arrogant in their denunciations of Christianity? I generally try to stay clear of analyzing the hearts and motivations of others. It often gets me in trouble. However, this vitriol is so pervasive, palpable and dangerous that I’m emboldened to take a stab at it.

Understandably, atheists wanted to find a new designation. “Atheist” represented no more than a denial of God, a negation that failed to affirm anything positive. They therefore came up with the term “Brights” to describe themselves. By their own admission, they saw themselves as the bright ones, the rational intelligentsia, which could save society. This was something that they could affirm with gusto. Meanwhile, the Christians are the idiots, those who endanger society. Coyne therefore insists that faith:

• “…produces things such as the oppression of women and gays…attacks on science, denial of contraception for birth control and AIDs prevention, sexual repression, and of course those wars, suicide bombings and religious persecutions.”

Indeed, Christianity has been misused to justify many atrocities, but how about the religion of atheism? Fortunately, history has kept a scorecard in regards to atheism and its utopian Communist experiments, all of which were hideous abominations. In all cases, these atheistic nations had to erect barriers to prevent escape from their “workers’ paradise,” while exterminating many of their own in order to enforce their “utopia.”

In contrast, Western civilization had been built upon the foundations stones of Christianity. Hospitals, schools – Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge – social justice, the Bill of Rights and the protection of the weak and marginalized were nourished by its roots. How then can Coyne make his outrageous claims, when history’s evidence impatiently gestures to an entirely different conclusion? If his claims aren’t based upon the facts, then they must be based upon personal preference.

We are all too familiar with arrogance and its incessant attempts at self-glorification. If we can’t exalt ourselves, we can achieve the same result by degrading others – people of faith in this case. Either way, it puts us at the top. After all, it’s not enough to consider ourselves “Brights” if everyone else is brighter! Instead, we must be among the champions! And the champion needs a vanquished enemy – people of faith – upon which to place his triumphant foot.

However, enduring triumph can only be found in our self-abasement before the truth. We humble ourselves that we might be exalted by the real Champion. Everything else is rubbish, self-deception, and the cause of the diminishing, degrading and silencing of others. Let us pray for the “Brights!”

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