The New Atheism: The Way Of Nature

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, where we dive into the ocean of truth! Right now, we’re going through Victor Stenger’s book “The New Atheism: Taking A Stand For Science And Reason.” So far, not much of a stand has been made yet. Tonight, we’re looking at the chapter called “The Way of Nature” which is simply a look at the way we should live.

A bulk of this is spent looking at the way other worldviews have treated the way of life. How have great thinkers suggested we should live. Stenger will then contrast that with the atheistic worldview and tell us how it is that an atheist should live. Of course, he’s not too far in the chapter before another statement of faith shows up. Stenger says the following about the time of the Jews in and around the exile:

Having lost everything that was external, the people of Israel began to turn inward. The exiles in Babylon also reoriented their view. The book of Job may have been written there. Since YHWH behaved so badly in that story, this may indicate that the exiles were losing faith in him. Other parts of the Old Testament may also have been written then–almost certainly Genesis, which is at least partially based on the Babylonian creation myth.

Sources cited? Not a one. Again, Stenger would not put up with deep scientific claims being made without some backing behind them. He’s quite fine however with making claims about history, and particularly religious history, without bothering to tell a source for the information.

To begin with, if the exiles were losing faith in YHWH, it’s a wonder that when they returned, the first thing they did was begin to build a temple starting with the altar so that they could offer sacrifices. Does he have any indication that the Jews decided to abandon their heritage in this time?

Also, what evidence is there that Genesis was written at this time? Absent is any look at biblical archaeology with data on dating the Old Testament books. No mention of the work of evangelical scholars like Walter Kaiser or Meredith Kline. There isn’t even a mention of the JEPD theory which Stenger seems to be alluding to, nor is there any response from those who contend against it.

Furthermore, if Genesis was written then, why would the book include commands about what Abraham’s children were to do which Israel failed to do? Why would it focus on YHWH entirely when the people were supposedly losing faith in YHWH? This doesn’t mention the other books ascribed to Moses that repeatedly chronicled the failures of Israel and how they were to be holy.

Why say God performed badly in Job? Does Stenger know that Job is commonly said to be the oldest book there in the Bible? Does he refer to any scholarship in the book of Job so that he can understand what is going on? No. It is enough for Stenger to just assert.

But he is a man of faith after all.

Finally, what evidence is there that the Genesis account of creation was a copy of the Babylonian account? Stenger does not give any sources. Not only does he not give any sources, he acts as if there were no rebuttals. It’s hard to take Stenger’s side seriously when he seems ignorant of what his opponents are saying.

Stenger also says science would have continued on the rise had it not been for the dark ages. First off, what historians today refer to the period as the dark ages? Second, the reason many sciences were not on the rise was that they were not seen as practical. Medicine continued well because medicine had an impact on day to day life for people. Knowing how the planets moved, on the other hand, did not. Now I’m not saying that’s unimportant. There is much we can learn. However, most of us would prefer that if any money be invested, it would be invested in the medical field more than other fields since we rely on medicine so much more.

The church was not hostile to science and many great scientists rose up in the church, but that was after the church made it possible to have more leisure time. Prior to that, most families spent the majority of their time just trying to survive. Progress was made in agriculture that enabled people to get a good supply of food with less time and effort on crops. The printing press came which allowed for the distribution of ideas faster and more efficiently. Thus, more people were educated and able to study.

For further research, I recommend Rodney Stark’s “The Victory of Reason.” I also recommend the material that can be found at the site of the Bede here .

Stenger goes on to write about other worldviews but of course, his worst criticisms are saved for the monotheistic faiths of the West. He says:

In the West, this emphasis on the ego is even more pronounced. Jews continue to regard themselves as the chosen people of God. And who could be more self-centered than Muslims and Christians, who believe that for a few simple duties for a short period on Earth they will live forever in perfect bliss!

Do Jews regard themselves as the chosen people of God? Sure they do. That proves they’re not how. Now if there is no God, of course they’re not. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean they believe that for self-centered reasons. They could believe the Old Testament texts are reliable for various reasons and if that’s what they say, then they are to believe them.

However, where does he get his view of Christian faith? Stenger is making the mistake of thinking what the believers believe is supposed to be all about them. Now in a sense, the modern church can grant that impression and I will give Stenger that. That is the fault of the modern church however.

The offer of God is not meant to show how incredible His followers are. It is meant to show how awesome and wonderful His love and grace are. When the Christian speaks of the way God loves him, it is not meant to emphasize the Christian, but God. God loves someone so much who does not deserve that love. The proper response to the love and grace of God is not pride. It is humility.

In going on to talk about spirituality, Stenger brings up psychic phenomena briefly, which he doesn’t believe in. He brings up the question of how a mind is possible in a material world. Stenger replies “As we saw in chapter 8, while we do not know the answer yet, there does not seem to be any obstacle to a purely material mind.”

Now it could be that there is a purely material mind, but Stenger has evoked a naturalism of the gaps in contrast to a God of the gaps. What evidence has Stenger presented for his naturalism? I could grant all he says about physics and still not have a problem (I do not grant his inferences of course). We’ve seen repeatedly that Stenger is also lacking in his criticisms of theism, and particularly Christian theism. Stenger does have faith indeed, and it is a faith that is built on sand.

Stenger continues to say that being an atheist, it means that one is free to live their life as they wish without anyone telling them what to do or think. Since there is one life, they live it to the fullest.

Meaning what?

There is a best way to live life? How can that be unless there are ways that are better than others? Who is to say Stalin did not live his life to the fullest? Stenger will require an objective moral standard in order to make this claim and thus far, he has yet to give one or seriously interact with theistic arguments for one.

He also says the observable facts are that atheists are at least as moral as theists. Maybe so. But on what grounds? I contend that a lot of atheists still live this way because we live in a world that has been Christianized with morals that our ancestors in pagan times did not observe.

Furthermore, the claim theists make is not an argument about “Who lives better?” although I think we as Christians are put to shame when those without the Holy Spirit live better than we do as a whole, but who has the basis for morality. This is the same mistake often made by both sides when they ask “Who’s the most educated?” or “Who’s the happiest?” Those are interesting areas to study, but they do not change the truth content of the beliefs.

Stenger can enjoy his life, but even to enjoy means that there is something good to enjoy, and he has yet to establish that.

Tomorrow, we shall finish the book with his final chapter.

Support Deeper Waters on Patreon!