The New Atheism Review: Atheism On The Offensive

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we dive into the ocean of truth! We’re right now going through one of the books of Victor Stenger. Right now it’s “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” We’re going to review the first chapter tonight on atheism on the offensive.

In this chapter, Stenger makes it clear that he wishes to go after the God most often seen is some variation of the God of the three great monotheistic faiths. Interestingly, he traces their origin to Abraham who he describes as a mythological figure who probably lived 4,000 years ago.

He follows this by saying that if Abraham lived at all, he would have been polytheistic, as were all the people in Canaan at the time. He also states that Judaism did not become monotheistic until after the return of the Jews from exile in 530 BCE. (Of course, he says BCE. I have no problem saying B.C.)

There is no source given for this. Whose scholarship should I go to to see about Abraham? Where is the evidence that Judaism was polytheistic until the return from the exile. (You know, for guys that are supposedly so big on evidence, you think they’d actually learn to use some.)

Instead, Stenger is relying on JEPD theories that were popular at the time of Welhausen in the 19th century with the idea that writing didn’t show up until the time of Amos which was when the Pentateuch was written. I am once again reminded that atheists sadly usually only study biblical ideas only to find something to disagree with and then go from there. The difficulty is that I have no idea which sources Stenger is using for this claim that is certainly not a scientific claim. Maybe he just wants me to take it on faith.

Stenger says that atheists view science as the best means humanity has yet come up with for understanding the world. To an extent, this is correct. If you want to study geology or astronomy or botany or biology, science is great. That’s what it’s designed for. If you want to study history or philosophy or theology however, science is only a secondary source.

Stenger routinely denies that the new atheists are believers in scientism. However, while this claim is made repeatedly, the opposite is shown the most. There is a constant reminder of how scientific evidence is needed and that a claim is not scientific. The problem is some claims are not scientific in fact and so no scientific evidence is there. My wife loves me. That is not a scientific claim. You could not find scientific evidence for it. Jesus rose from the dead is not a scientific claim. The date of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon is not a scientific claim. Now that one definitely used a lot of science, but the date itself is not scientific.

Stenger claims that his fellow scientists who are believers compartmentalize their thinking into scientific and religious. When they go to church, they enter a compartment that shuns critical thinking and devil’s advocacy that came with their scientific training. Once again, it’s simply an either/or fallacy. The new atheists just can’t imagine anyone with any critical thinking would be religious.

Which rules out several of the great philosophers in history and many great thinkers today. If Stenger actually interacted more with the great thinkers of the day, he might realize this. It is assertions like these that get me to the point where I can’t really take the new atheists seriously.

Stenger says that science just makes models anyway and does not require nor does it use any metaphysics. As far as science can tell, the universe is matter and nothing more.

Science however is used to study matter and cannot tell about anything beyond matter. To make such a statement is to overstep the bounds of science. Also, science does require metaphysics. The very statement that the universe is matter and nothing more is in fact a metaphysical statement. It is saying that the nature of all being is material in some way.

Metaphysics is properly understood as the study of being as being. The sciences study one type of being. Biology studies matter that is living for instance. Physics studies matter in motion. Astronomy studies matter that is heavenly in nature. Botany studies plant matter. All of these contribute to our study of types of being, but metaphysics studies what it means to be, which encompasses all of them.

Stenger states that atheists appreciate the beauty of art, music, and poetry as much as believers. They also appreciate the joys of love, friendship, parenthood, and other human relationships. I have no doubt that atheists do enjoy these. My question to Stenger is first off, what are the bases for these realities? What is the standard of beauty, for instance? Second, why should these be appreciated.

It is ironic that Stenger ends the paragraph stating that a claim about the world should be tested by science and reason. Reason can study these things, but science cannot study anything just mentioned. It can study some qualities of the things, but it cannot study the things in themselves.

It is my contention that atheists are too often falling back onto theistic standards when their worldview has no basis for such standards. Now you can value those things, yes, but what is the basis for valuing them? I have no problem with saying they can be enjoyed, but can their existence be explained?

Stenger also argues that religion is given an exemption from the requirement of rationality applied in other areas of discourse.

I’m not sure where he’s getting his information from. Especially since I as a theist often do get chided for being irrational. Now I don’t mind this at all. If someone thinks I’m irrational, better for them to go ahead and say it. I happen to think atheism is irrational and I make no bones about it.

Stenger says that atheists are pilloried for hurting people’s feelings when deepest doubts are cast that somebody born of a virgin rose from the dead 2,000 years ago or question that a book contains all the truths that anyone will ever need to know.

First off, people like Stenger do not hurt my feelings. Instead, they tickle my gag reflex. If someone is having their feelings hurt, then they need to get tougher. I do think Christians should be able to answer Stenger and frankly, they should be able to answer him easily.

Second, the use of the virgin birth and resurrection as automatic nonsense only work if all miracles are prima facie nonsense. That is the atheist worldview however and it does no good for Stenger to go to the theist and say “Your worldview does not match with the atheist worldview and is therefore false.” Now if the atheist worldview is true and mine does not match, then yes, my worldview is false. That must be demonstrated. It is this kind of technique that shows the bankruptcy of the arguments of the new atheists. They do not see the presuppositions which they approach theistic arguments with and thus do not take them seriously.

Now do I believe in every miracle claim that has happened? No. Not at all. It is not because they are miracle claims however, but it is because they have insufficient evidence. This includes claims that could back my own Christian beliefs. I have often been accused also of only allowing miracles in my own religion. That is also false. I am open to miracles taking place in other religions. It’s just that just like my own religion, I like to see the evidence.

Finally, it is a straw man to say the Bible contains all the truths that anyone ever needs to know. If you want to study science, I do not believe in picking up the Bible first. Now I do not think the Bible will contradict with truth claims found outside of it, but it is not the source. If I was teaching someone math for instance, I would not go to the Bible to begin. I would get a math textbook. Christians do not deny there is great truth to be found outside the Bible. I do not want my doctor to prescribe a psalm if I am sick. I want him to prescribe medicine.

Much of what comes after this is simply a look at points and counterpoints in the literature of the new atheists. However, I again pick up my interest when he talks about a review in the Times of the work of Dennett. Stenger says of the choice of reviewer “The Times should not be asking a literary editor to review a book on science any more than they should ask a scientist like myself to review a book on Shakespeare.

I have no problem with that.

I just have a problem with Stenger thinking however that he’s still qualified to speak on theology and philosophy. The new atheists make a big deal out of someone without the proper training commenting in the area of science and I agree, but they don’t seem to give the same respect to theology or philosophy. A classic example is a work Stenger defends in this book, The God Delusion.

As one trained in theology and philosophy, I find it amazing that anyone takes that book seriously. Dawkins wrote on an area he is not skilled in. It shows through and through.

However, Stenger wishes to allow himself to comment saying that religion is a social phenomenon that is observable and thereby amenable to study by scientific means just as tribal customs in the Amazon or the culture of the Internet.

The scientific aspects? Perhaps. You can study the physical interaction that takes place between a husband and wife and study their brains to see what happens in their love for one another, but you cannot use science to determine their love for one another or what that love is.

I could just as well also say that I can observe seeing an apple somewhere and then another one and realizing that there are two apples. I am observing that, but the counting of the apples is mathematical. It is not something that is testable by science. Science cannot tell me about the nature of numbers. It uses numbers, but it is not about numbers.

Statements that Stenger makes like that however are the reasons why I do believe he really does hold to scientism. Everything can be broken down to science, which would make sense if matter was all there was. However, that is what he is presupposing and it has yet to be shown.

Interestingly, Stenger partially realizes this as he says “Certainly science is not in a position to answer metaphysical questions about the nature of God, such as whether he exists outside of time.”

I agree, but somehow, Stenger has no problem with Dawkins’s aforementioned book where he made a metaphysical claim about the nature of God being complex. We will look more at the idea of the testing that can be done when we study another of Stenger’s works, but Stenger should realize he is commenting outside of his area.

Such does not stop the new atheists however. It is because of the belief that science is the ultimate authority and all knowledge must bow to the scientific method. The scientific method I affirm is an excellent method….when you’re studying science! To say it applies to every area is the problem.

Tomorrow, we shall get into more content of actual claims, but for now, Stenger might have given a nice history lesson, replete with errors on other topics along the way, but so far, there has yet to be anything demonstrating that theism is opposed to science and reason. Don’t be surprised when we uncover nothing that indicates that and find out that really, it is the new atheists who are people of “faith.”

We shall continue tomorrow.

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