Not quite so bright

Some of the vocal “new atheists, ” such as Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) like to refer to themselves as “Brights.” Not everyone thinks these guys are all that bright, at least when it comes to their arguments against Christianity and theism. Dawkin’s arguments against theism have been criticized as being amateurish and sophomoric, not only by Christians, but even by other atheists. Here are some excerpts from a review of atheist Terry Eagleton’s new book Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. The review was written by Andrew O’Hehir and appears at

Yet their [Dawkins and Hitchens] arguments are fatally undermined by their own unacknowledged dogmas and doctrines, he goes on to say, and they completely fail to understand Christian faith (or any other kind) except in its stupidest and most literal-minded form.

A few years ago, I read an article by a Roman Catholic theologian who wryly observed that the quality of Western atheism had gone steadily downhill since Nietzsche. Eagleton heartily concurs. He freely admits that what Christian doctrine teaches about the universe and the fate of man may not be true, or even plausible. But as he then puts it, “Critics of the most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook.”

Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens, Eagleton insists, are playing to the high-minded liberal-humanist prejudices of their elite audience and, in the process, are displaying a shocking ignorance of their supposed subject, one that would be deemed unacceptable in almost any other intellectual forum. Would anyone be permitted to write a book about courtly love in the Middle Ages based on several visits to a Renaissance Faire, or a book about Nazism based on episodes of “Hogan’s Heroes”?


Still, he is incontestably correct about two things: There is a long Judeo-Christian theological tradition that bears no resemblance to the caricature of religious faith found in Ditchkins [Ditchkins = Dawkins + Hitchens], and atheists tend to take the most degraded and superstitious forms of religion as representative.

There is a richness and depth to Christian theology and philosophy that Dawkins et al. haven’t even touched.

HT: Cruchy Con

Grace and Peace

18 thoughts on “Not quite so bright

  1. “and atheists tend to take the most degraded and superstitious forms of religion as representative.”

    Actually, I believe the issue is that we view the most degraded (whatever that means) and superstitious forms of religion as the problem.


  2. geochristian


    Thanks for your comment.

    Hitchens and Dawkins don’t want to get rid of just the most degraded and superstitious forms of religion as you suggest; they want to get rid of it all. The track record of societies that have attempted that so far is rather dismal. The point of the review is that Hitchens and Dawkins either don’t understand the good side of religion, or they purposely ignore or distort it. So, either they are ignorant or they are deceptive. You pick.


  3. “The point of the review is that Hitchens and Dawkins either don’t understand the good side of religion”

    I think they understand it. But they also understand that anything that comes from the good side of religion can be achieved without religion.

    And I, too, would love to get rid of religion. But I would love people to give it up by choice. I would never want to force anyone on an issue like that, nor would I support someone who wanted to.


  4. geochristian

    According to Terry Eagleton—and other atheist philosophers such as Michael Ruse—Dawkins really doesn’t get it. He has only a superficial understanding of the classic arguments for God’s existence, and he distorts history.

    So which is it with Dawkins? Is he ignorant, or deceptive?


  5. geochristian


    So, there is no evidence for the existence of a God?

    Do you believe that the universe created itself, or do you believe it has existed forever? Neither is in accord with current scientific thought, and the only other alternative is that it was created by something outside of itself. There is no evidence that the universe has existed forever (and plenty of evidence that it hasn’t), and there is no evidence that universes create themselves out of nothing (and positing a multiverse behind the universe just puts the problem back one step). So you have to pick: has the universe existed forever, or did it create itself?

    I’ll go with the reasonable alternative: that there is a God who created the universe. That is the best of the three possibilities.


  6. I’d like to point that nowhere in your response do you give any evidence, good or bad, for the existence of a god.

    “There is no evidence that the universe has existed forever (and plenty of evidence that it hasn’t)”

    Actually, the fact that matter/energy can neither be created nor destroyed points to the fact that the Big Bang is an event, not a beginning.


  7. WebMonk

    Just dealing with the factual statement itself –

    On the astrophysics side of things, physicists tend to disagree with your statement moresec0de – the Big Bang was a beginning.

    Time and space themselves were created in, and did not exist prior* to, the Big Bang. The Big Bang wasn’t an explosion at some time in the middle of a vast empty region of space, it was the very creation of the space and time.

    Even the theories about multi-verse existences all begin at the Big Bang before which nothing exists – truly nothing, not an expanse of space and not the passage of time.

    I am the first to say that scientific facts are newly discovered all the time, and that maybe some new breakthrough might turn all of current science on its head in regards to the Big Bang, but we are pretty solidly set in the science on this issue – the Big Bang was a true beginning, not an oscillating, infinitely existing universe. It would have to be something much bigger than Einstein’s discovery of the laws of Relativity to flip the science here.

    *I know that talking about time-sensitive words like “prior” don’t exactly make sense when talking about “before” time, but language has its limitations.


  8. “Even the theories about multi-verse existences all begin at the Big Bang before which nothing exists ”


    Before which we don’t know what existed. Maybe nothing. Maybe something.


  9. geochristian

    In any case, the speculative inference of a multi-verse doesn’t solve any problems for the atheist. There is still something rather than nothing, and that something is a rather incredible universe, fine-tuned for advanced life.


  10. “fine-tuned for advanced life.”

    Really? You call a planet that has one marginally intelligent species on a planet that is about 75% water (which means we can’t live there), and the other 25% is mostly too hot or too cold for our comfortable existence, to be ‘finely tuned’?


  11. WebMonk

    morsec0de 11. – Ehhhhh, sorta, kinda. It gets complicated.

    You’re right in that there is not currently any sort of theory which sees beyond the beginning of our own universe. Multiverse theories are similarly limited, though the issue gets pushed back a level to the beginning of the multiverse instead of just our particular universe. The same fundamental limitation still applies.

    We can rule out some things though – an infinite age and size universe.

    Spacetime and energy – we can say with (extremely high) assurance that they had a definite beginning before which there was nothing related to them. There wasn’t some sort of space in which the Big Bang began, there wasn’t any ongoing time before the Big Bang, and there weren’t any energy fluctuations before the Big Bang from which the BB might have come. These things also apply to multiverse scenarios, at least to the extent that a multiverse could have a relationship to our own universe (such as space, time, or energy).

    If there was a “thing” before our universe, it was utterly foreign to, and distinct from, our (multi)universe – no spacetime or energy.

    At that point even theory break down completely – there can’t be theories about something which has absolutely no frame-of-reference connection to our own universe.

    Sure, there may or may not have been a “thing” before the universe existed, but you, me, and Hawking have to take that on complete faith. In that regard, a God is as likely as some sort of completely foreign, unknowable pre-existent “something”. Both of those are more likely than the true “nothingness” alternative, though technically even true nothingness could be likely since it’s impossible to have a theory on something about which we cannot have a reference Any one of these options is perfectly as valid as any of the others.

    I’ll shut up now. Astrophysics was my major for a while before I discovered I’m not cut out for the level of math I had to start doing. I tend to wax verbose on the topic.


  12. Richard

    I always find entropy to be a very interesting scientific theory. That nature tends from order to disorder is at once a verifiable theory in isolated systems, and at the same time observably false regarding all systems working together. Competing systems build up as well as destroy.

    Regarding your commentor’s statement that the “good” that religion brings can be achieved without the religion, I think there’s a considerable philosophical argument that, given people’s tendency toward selfishness, without a solid moral base (which a religion can cement) people as a mass will tend toward bad behavior.

    That we in this country, while on a course toward more secularization and atheism, have a pretty robust legacy of Christian thought, where the community and the poor/disadvantaged are elevated in our moral thinking as worthy of personal support.
    However, I feel like that moral foundation is slipping with the removal of religion from the common place.

    But the “good” that Christians, religious people in general, and atheists have the potential to generate is only the visible result of their worldviews. The real point of religion is your belief in the crux of your creation, who or what is the source, and your relationship to that source.

    GeoChristian is correct that at that point it is a matter of faith for the religious and the non-religious. At some level there may never be any proof for the atheist, in his mind, that God exists. It is equally true that up to this point there has been produced no evidence that God does not exist.


  13. lightsmith

    As an atheist myself, I echo morsecOde’s comment that I’m most likely to voice opposition to fundamentalists, rather than Christians like GeoChristian, because I regard them as a danger to the society in which I live. I grew up in the Bible Belt, and in late adolescence made a real effort to believe in some form of the prevailing theology, but couldn’t manage to do it. Still, I didn’t feel the need to convert anyone to my way of thinking. It’s the anti-science evangelizing which brought me out of the closet.

    I recognize that most Christians aren’t the anti-science caricatures which I consider a danger, and I’m glad that there are people like GeoChristian out there making the case that being a Christian doesn’t have to mean abandoning critical thinking altogether. I hope my endorsement doesn’t erode your ability to persuade.


  14. geochristian


    Thanks for your comment.

    In the eyes of some an endorsement from an atheist is a sure sign that I’m a hopeless compromiser. I’m not too worried about it, so thanks.

    Though I disagree with Christian “fundamentalists” (what a useless word anymore) regarding some issues such as the age of the Earth or evolution, I see atheist “fundamentalists” such as Dawkins as a much greater danger to society. Societies run by atheist fundamentalists — the USSR, PRC, Cambodia, the French Revolution — don’t have a very good track record. The “brights” conveniently ignore this cold, hard reality.

    I’m not saying that you are in that category, just that it is rather frightening when atheists are in charge.


  15. lightsmith

    GeoChristian, I agree with you that the USSR, PRC, Pol Pot regime, and the people who came to power with the French Revolution didn’t serve their societies well. When ideologues are so sure of the correctness of their ideologies that they are willing to use violence and force to “persuade” when argument and example don’t do the job, the result is predictably undesirable. I think that’s true whether the ideologues are Communist dictators orchestrating purges, Catholic inquisitors eliminating heretics, or Taliban mullahs deciding who should be killed and who only needs a beating.

    I’m perfectly happy to live side-by-side with theists. I’m married to one, and one or more of my children may grow up to be theists themselves. My main quarrel is with the biblical literalists who insist that their favorite book is without error, their interpretation of that book is the correct one, and so therefore those who believe the earth is billions of years old and humanity has non-human ancestors are necessarily incorrect. Some of them are Christian fundamentalists, and some of them are Islamic fundamentalists.

    When arguing the evidence, I’ve found that their fallback position is “I may not understand why, but my book (and therefore my position) is infallible.” Because of that, sometimes my arguments have gone beyond arguing science, and focused on demonstrating that the books are NOT infallible: they were written by men, edited by men, translated by men, and interpreted by men. While they do contain a certain amount of timeless wisdom, they are not a complete or sufficient guide to every aspect of modern living.

    My quarrel isn’t with you, it’s with those who want to treat their ancient spiritual guidance books as modern science textbooks.


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