Atheism and Intellectual Bullying: What Gives?

images-1It has been said that there is nothing new about new atheism except for the rhetoric. In this post 9/11 world, we are told that belief in God is dangerousdestructive, and delusional. It is dangerous because people do evil things in the name of God; it is destructive because it forces itself on unsuspecting children under the influence of simple-minded parents; and it is delusional because it bids us to believe contrary to the evidence.

Those, like myself, who are stubborn enough to continue to believe in God in the face of such rhetoric may rightly wonder what is going on here. It is as if the volume in the God debate as been turned up in the last decade—in no small part because of the few (and vocal) new atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett.

We (us recalcitrant theists) are told (by Dawkins and other “new” atheists) that belief in God is akin to belief in fairies, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. (for Dawkins’ latest claims see here)

We (recalcitrant theists) are told that Darwinian (unguided) evolution is a fact and those who hesitate are inexcusably ignorant. Says Dennett:

To put it bluntly but fairly, anyone who doubts that the variety of life on this planet was produced by a process of evolution is simply ignorant—inexcusably ignorant.[1]

Notice, it is not that you disagree with Darwinian evolution, but that you merely doubt Darwinian evolution—as if the epistemic certainty of Darwinian evolution has been established to the level of a mathematical proof! Surely, this claim is too strong. But, I’m not concerned in this post with the issue of evolution. Alvin Plantinga’s recent book Where the Conflict Really Lies has done a nice job in showing that if evolution is the sober truth, there is no necessary incompatibility between belief in God and belief in evolution (shorn of its naturalistic baggage of course).

What I want to consider is the heightened rhetoric of claims like this—the utter arrogance, to be blunt, of atheists who make such claims. What gives? Why the intellectual bullying?

Interestingly, C.S. Lewis’s reflections on “The Cursings” found in the Psalms sheds light on our contemporary situation. Lewis observes the following:

It seems there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated ‘The higher, the more in danger” . . . . The higher the stakes, the greater the temptation to lose your temper over the game.[2]


This makes sense. If there is no God, then physics has to explain the origin of the universe (or multiverse). If there is no God, then evolution has to explain the origin of life, species, and humans. If there is no God, then there has to be a naturalistic explanation for the origin of everything—the stakes are high indeed! No wonder the new atheists seem so angry (to me at least). If inexplicabilism isn’t the best explanation for the universe; if Darwinism isn’t the best explanation for the origin of life, species, and humans, then the game is up! But not so for the theist, if evolution is true, well… that is compatible with belief in God, and so too with inexplicabilism. (Granted, if inexplicabilism is true, then we do have an at least one incompatibility here—for inexplicabilism is incompatible with the theistic claim that God is the creator of the universe. Still inexplicabilism isn’t incompatible with belief in deity.)

So, how should us recalcitrant theists respond to intellectual bullying? Well, with charity and humility. The Golden Rule applies here, as it does elsewhere. We are called by God to patiently love our neighbor. This doesn’t mean, of course, that our neighbor get’s a free pass—we are to call out their arrogance, their narrow-mindedness, their error—but with gentleness and respect; with a posture of intellectual modesty. One thing we cannot do however, is uncritically be moved by their rhetoric; or cower into thinking we need to give up the game and surrender to whatever naturalistic science or scientists “says is the case.”








[1] Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1995), 46.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Orlando, FL: Harcourt Books, 1986), 29.

4 Responses to Atheism and Intellectual Bullying: What Gives?

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