The New Atheism: The Folly of Faith

Welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we are diving into the ocean of truth! Right now, we’re dealing with the work of Victor Stenger. At the moment, it’s his book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” Tonight should be an entertaining look at the chapter on the folly of faith.

In the very first paragraph, Stenger asks why people of faith should be deemed worthy of esteem. After all, he says “Faith is belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in light of contrary evidence.”

Which makes me think the chapter could more refer to Stenger’s definition of faith. If there is a folly here, it’s on Stenger’s part. Well, let’s play Stenger’s little song and dance. Let us condemn any belief that is wished to be held in the absence of supportive evidence or in light of contrary evidence.

First, do we have any supportive evidence given for this claim?

Well, Stenger says that’s what it means, but he gives no source. I suppose he wouldn’t object on those grounds to my saying “Jesus was a historical person” and give no source.

Consider the following here

What do we see listed?

conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it
relating to God
the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ
relating to Christ
a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God
the religious beliefs of Christians
belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same
fidelity, faithfulness
the character of one who can be relied on.

I also recommend the excellent work of James Patrick Holding on “What is faith?” available here

Based on this, I consider Stenger a man of faith. He has no supportive evidence and there is contrary evidence to his viewpoint.

By his standard, he is not a person to be held in high esteem then.

A few pages later, Stenger goes on an economic rant on how neocons dismantling the New Deal policies of FDR leading to the economic fall in 2008. Also, the neocons had a movement of anti-intellectualism that only benefited the rich.

It’s nice, but as one who does read on economic theory, I still have one question.


Stenger gives no footnotes. No sources that state what economists agree with his position. He is not an economist. He is a physicist. Since he is speaking on economics, he should cite some authorities in economics. He merely wants to make an assertion and hope the assertion counts as evidence.

Sounds like a man of faith.

He goes on to write later about philosopher Michael Novak’s opinion of the new atheists where Novak says that the new atheists are “difficult to engage” on religion since “all of them think that religion is so great a menace that they do not show much disposition of dialogue.” Stenger replies “This enables him to make sure the dialogue is on his terms.”

Kind of like giving a definition of faith that can’t be found in any authoritative source on the topic.

If anything makes the new atheists difficult to engage, it is not their understanding of theological matters. It is their lack of understanding. They are blinded by their own ignorance so much so that they refuse to look up that which is contrary to their view, all the while condemning their opponents of doing the same. They think they know all about the other side simply by reading their own partners.

Stenger goes on to complain of faith-based organizations who are allowed to break the law and the constitution by hiring only those of their faith.

This is a violation how?

Again, Stenger doesn’t say.

That’s a pattern showing up consistently. It’s because the new atheists are men of faith.

Stenger goes on to talk about the Seventh-Day Adventist church founded by William Miller.

Um. Not exactly.

The SDA church is an off-shoot of the Millerite movement. It would trace its origins to Miller in a sense, but its foundation really lies more with its alleged prophetess Ellen G. White.

On page 58, Stenger starts talking about evidence and the laughs really take off. In talking about Jesus he says “There is not a single piece of independent historical evidence for the existence of Jesus or the veracity of the events described in the New Testament.”

While Stenger relies on Ehrman, even Ehrman would tell Stenger at this point he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. No one takes the Christ-myth seriously in scholarship. Stenger talks about the reference in Josephus and how almost all scholars accept it as a forgery.

Evidence given? Not a one.

I refer the reader to the work by the Venerable Bede found here

Completely absent is any mention of the second passage in Josephus that is not considered questionable. There is no mention of Tacitus, or Pliny the Younger, or Seutonius, or Mara Bar-Serapion, or anyone else.

There is no reason given that the gospels or the testimony of Paul cannot be seen as eyewitnesses.

But as we’ve said, Stenger is a man of faith.

He later refers to Remsberg’s book asking why Philo doesn’t mention Jesus.

Yes. Remsberg. This is the guy who has a list of all these people who lived at the time of Jesus that don’t mention him and internet skeptics love to throw this around as if it was a trump card. Instead, most of these had good reasons for not mentioning Jesus, especially since some were not even historians! Philo’s case is likely because he wasn’t in Judea at the time but was rather living in Alexandria and would have remained as skeptical of the claims of Jesus if he heard of them as Stenger is.

For more on Remsberg’s list, I recommend the following .

Stenger goes on to say that science flies us to the moon. Religion flies us into buildings.

Science also enables us to fly over cities and drop bombs on them. It enables us to release biological warfare. It enables any one with evil intent to pick up a gun and rob a store. It enables someone to use the internet to commit crimes. It makes it possible for someone to do identity theft.

Religion meanwhile has also promoted the spread of morality. It has helped with the teaching of literacy and its spread. It has made people want to study the world and learn all about it that they can. It has taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves and seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

The new atheists never give both sides of the picture. Yes. Science gives us good things. It also gives bad. Yes. Religion has brought about some bad things. It’s also brought about good.

Maybe it’s a strange leap, but could it be that good people use good science and good religion for good means and evil for evil means?

Could it be the problem is not religion or science but people?

And if it comes to people, personally, religion has a better method for transforming evil people into good.

Stenger replies also to the claim that Christianity says that God has revealed Himself in creation, our hearts, and history. He seems to think it a defeater to ask “Then why are there any non-Christians?”

The biblical claim is not that it’s a lack of evidence. It’s a repression of evidence. It is not as if you present the evidence and people automatically act accordingly. We have much evidence today that smoking is harmful to your health, but how many people do you know who know that and still smoke?

The Bible tells us that the real problem is in the heart of man. He is a sinner. Man doesn’t want to bow a knee to God but would prefer to be his own God.

Stenger replies to an argument later that comes more from Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Stenger seems unfamiliar with Plantinga however. The argument is that evolution could give us beliefs that help us survive, but there’s no reason to think those beliefs are true. You cannot use reason to prove reason. (This argument is also found in C.S. Lewis’s “Miracles.”) What says Stenger to this?

“On the contrary, every successful scientific experiment that results in a practical application demonstrates the utility of basing our theories on empirical evidence. As explained above, whether or not it is “true” in some metaphysical sense is irrelevant, as long as it works.”

There are some things these guys say that I wonder I even have to respond to them.

So basically, Stenger has told us that with science, it doesn’t matter if the results are true, so long as they work.

Which is the very problem Plantinga is saying. Based on the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, one cannot know that one’s beliefs are true. They can only know that they work.

And yes, the quotation marks in the quote around the word true are found in Stenger’s own words.

Finally, Stenger complains that one apologist has belittled the scientific method by saying it has nothing to say about God, meaning, and purpose.

Well, yeah.

For the new atheists, it’s just unthinkable to say that there’s an area that science is not an authority on.

Science is great for studying matters that are scientific, such as beings that are material. Beyond that, it’s not so great. It can provide data that helps in other areas, but it’s no longer the final arbiter in those areas.

I conclude this chapter the way I began. If there is any folly here, it is on the part of Stenger, who is, by his definition, a man of faith, someone not to be held in esteem.

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