Thinking About The “New Atheists”

Engaging The Belief Police

[This is a re-post from several years ago that I think is still completely relevant today]

Two books on the NY Times Best Seller list share a common thesis — that religion in general, and Christianity specifically, is not just wrong, or off-base, or a subject worth debating — but that it is evil, deluded, dangerous, and the righteous target of the thinking man’s scorn. Sam Harris’, “Letter To A Christian Nation,” (# 31 on the list) and Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion,” (# 14 and on the list for 24 weeks) don’t just want to appeal to their atheistic brethren, but want to question the sanity of religious belief itself and suggest that we would all be more safe if religion were forcibly banished from the public square.

This view of religion is nothing new to Dawkins who, blasting the intolerance of Creationists in his 1986 book, “The Blind Watchmaker,” claimed that …

It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

With an incredibly ironic inability to see the intolerance of those two ideas existing in parallel, Dawkins denies any respect to those who happen to disagree with him — and instead offers them nothing but contempt. Disgusted by the proselytizing of religious folk, he engages in a little proselytizing of his own when, on the fifth page of his most recent book he claims that, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

For all the bluster these two claim about their own “healthy” and “vigorous” minds as compared to the mental midgets who oppose them, it is a little too convenient that they fail to even mention the significant input to science and philosophy that has been contributed by theists throughout history. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that most of the greatest scientific minds — Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler — were all devout men who studied the physical universe because they believed it was ordered and a reflection of the mind of God. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the great philosophers throughout history — Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, C.S. Lewis — who were not only Christian theists, but that began as atheists and reasoned their way to faith. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that the Bible itself challenges us to “test everything” and that the scientific revolution began with Christian scientists who did just that.

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Ham Fisted Sophistry

Ken Ham BlockThe other day I saw a Facebook post which had been “liked” by a friend of mine about how Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis fame) was lamenting the fact that Bill Nye, the fraudulent “science guy,” has been smack talking him in the media since their infamous recent debate. At first I thought, “Well, there’s a shocker,” and moved on. But then, in a moment of admitted weakness, I returned to leave a comment (which has since been deleted … explanation to follow).

My comment, as best as I can recall, was: “The problem here is that people are left with the impression that the only options they have on this issue are to choose Bill Nye’s vacuous scientism or a Young Earth creationism devoid of supporting evidence. Since both are false, the debate has become polarizing.”

By the way, my claim that “Young Earth creationism is devoid of supporting evidence,” is not just my opinion. It is the admitted position of many of the leading Young Earth scientists themselves, but I digress.

Within a few minutes, Ken Ham himself responded to my comment as follows: “just like choosing to believe in a bodily resurrection [of Jesus] … polarizing.”

Do you see what he did there?

In one snide, snarky line, Ken Ham managed to: 1) illegitimately equate a young universe (for which there is no evidence) with the resurrection of Christ (for which there is plenty of good evidence), 2) construct a false non-sequitur that belief in an old universe is equivalent to denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus, 3) attach that belief to me unjustly, and 4) thereby create a straw man argument against a view that neither I, nor any other believer in an old universe that I know of, holds.

That’s how Ken Ham rolls.

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Is The Creation Model Viable? — A Debate Between Ken Ham and Bill Nye

Tonight the Creation Museum and debatelive.org hosted a debate between Ken Ham, founder of Answers In Genesis, and  Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Those who know me also know that I don’t have much patience with either one of these men for reasons I have detailed in the past here (on Ken Ham) and here (on Bill Nye).

The topic of the debate was, “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins in Today’s Modern Scientific Era?”

Because of my experience in observing both of them, I honestly had no interest in watching what I considered to be a waste of time. But, since many people I know and respect were interested in the event, I decided to force myself to sit through it. There was nothing surprising in the case either of them made but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised at the tone of their interaction. Good for them.

For what it’s worth, here is my take on a summary of the debate:

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Don’t Impose Your Views … Only We Can Do That!

Following the last post, I want to finish with the most important issue that I believe was exposed with Bill Nye’s ridiculous video by devoting a separate post to my interlocutor’s (tildeb) final comment, the gist of which is as follows:

I suspect we would agree on almost everything – like family and friends and jobs and the cost of living and health concerns and so on… right up until you tried to have your religious beliefs privileged or their intentions imposed on others or if I argued to keep true to the secular ideals of personal autonomy! … All religious claims for historical creationism are equivalently based solely on belief. At best – like abiogenesis – we should agree that neither of us knows and hold that opinion until such a time that reality offers us compelling evidence to adduce a change. Belief of the religious kind does not produce knowledge and certainly doesn’t fill in gaps where we currently have none. Yet far too often, this is exactly where religious belief stakes out its ground. As if this weren’t bad enough, too often the conclusions deduced from these beliefs are then imposed on the rest of us by influencing public institutions, public practices, public policies, public law, public education, and so on. Nowhere is this more problematic than over issues claimed by the religious to be about morality… but that’s for another day.

I don’t want to cut and paste the whole thing but I believe this gives proper context to tildeb‘s point. What I want to concentrate on is the idea that he brings in the emphasized phrases of his quote — because this is where the real crux of the issue resides. Like Bill Nye (on the video in the original post), tildeb does not want to allow people who think like me to “have their beliefs privileged or their intentions imposed on others … by influencing public institutions, public practices, public policies, public law, [or] public education.”

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None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See

Recently, I posted a rebuttal to a recent video by Bill Nye, “The Science Guy” that generated more hits on my blog than any other single post I’ve ever put up. What followed (at least with one respectful commenter, tildeb) was an ongoing conversation about the differing views that Christian and secular folks have with regard to the role and implications of science and what we can infer from it about the real world. I have to say that though “tildeb” (I don’t know his name but this is a link to his blog) and I see the world through completely different lenses, the conversation that was generated was pretty informative. I don’t want to rehash it here (you can go to the comments section of the Bill Nye post if you’re interested), but I did think the following exchange (which occurred near the end of the conversation) is telling about how two people can look at the exact same data and draw completely different conclusions. I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions. Here’s the beginning of tildeb’s argument …

There really are compelling reasons why nearly 97% of university tenured biologists reject all forms of creationism; the assumption of supernatural causation is not borne out by information we adduce from this natural universe. In fact, the overwhelming mutually supporting evidence from independent lines of research all point in one direction: common ancestry by natural selection. 

The important aspect here is often ignored by those who cling to creationist beliefs: the evidence did not have to be this way, yet it is! Genetics could have pointed to a single founding couple. Yet it does not. Geology could have pointed to a single creation event. Yet it does not. Topography could have pointed to a global flood. Yet it does not. Radioactive dating could have shown a uniform age of sedimentation. Yet it does not. Physiology could have shown distinct and separate ancestry. Yet it does not. Astronomy could have shown our solar uniqueness. Yet it does not. Physics could have shown exemptions were possible from natural laws. Yet it does not. Chemistry could have shown us cellular rejuvenation through intercessory prayer. Yet it does not. Biodiversity could have shown us stable population dispersal. Yet it does not. Over and over again, opportunities to adduce creation events are plentiful. What’s strikingly absent from all this evidence is any indication for a creationist event.

There really are compelling reasons why nearly 97% of university tenured biologists reject all forms of creationism…

Correct. It’s called groupthink.

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How NOT To Have A Disagreement

This past March, I was involved in a debate with Tim Chaffey of Answers In Genesis about the age of the Earth. At one point in a discussion with my wife and I after the debate, Mr. Chaffey was making a point about the evidence for Christianity and ended a sentence with the phrase, “we have a lot of reasons to be -” At this point he stopped himself and re-phrased his statement to something like, “we have plenty of evidence for our faith.”

Who cares?

Well, if you know the history of Mr. Chaffey’s organization and its leader, Ken Ham, you would understand that Mr. Chaffey has probably been instructed not to use the phrase, “Reasons to Believe” for one reason and one reason only — because it is the name of a “rival” (their characterization) ministry named Reasons To Believe that is headed by Dr. Hugh Ross … Ken Ham cannot allow his counterparts to even utter the name of Mr. Ross’s organization and thereby unwittingly lend that organization credibility. That is the attitude Mr. Ham presents and I think it is sad — for Mr. Ham, for his followers, and for those who are watching all of us and evaluating the Christian faith by our actions.

I am an Old Earth (OE) Creationist. Mr. Chaffey is a Young Earth (YE) Creationist. What is notable is that we are both creationists. I think that means something. For one thing, it means that we share common ground — and I have written publicly about that (in The Lookout) here: “Creation’s Common Ground.” Secondly, it means that we are on the same team. I made that point in my closing statement on the night of our debate. Here is a transcript of exactly what I said:

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bang?!

It is interesting to me how negatively many folks view the Big Bang theory for the origin of the universe. There are two groups of people in particular who fiercely resist accepting it – but for completely different reasons. Today I will address the first group – Young Earth Creationists.

Many Christians are violently opposed to the idea of the Big Bang for one or both of the following reasons:

First, they believe that the Big Bang is a ploy, perpetuated by those who worship at the altar of scientific divinity, to promote the idea that the universe is old enough to allow time for Darwinian evolution to explain life on Earth. While many naturalistic scientists do promote this notion, the fact is that time is not what the evolutionists need. What they need is vastly more unattainable than a whole lot of time. They can have all the time they want. What they need is the ability to account for multiple reversals of, or the ability to completely dispense with, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Darwinian evolution simply cannot account for the self-organization that would have to occur to allow life to “emerge” from non-life.

Complex biological life demands explicit instructions and information content that cannot be brought about by random, chance events. As Dean Overman points out in his excellent Case Against Accident and Self-Organization:

“Because there are thousands of different enzymes with different functions, to produce the simplest living cell [requires] that about 2000 enzymes were needed with each one performing a specific task to form a single bacterium like E. coli. Computing the probability of all these different enzymes forming in one place at one time to produce a single bacterium [it has been calculated] that the odds are 1 in 10 to 40,000th power … The total number of atoms in the observable universe are estimated to be only approximately 10 to the 80th power.”

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