"Did they see something I don’t?"

October 27, 2008 | Uncategorized | 17 comments

This post is part of the Flashback Series featuring posts from the site archives. It was originally published on February 16, 2007. Though it was not particularly well received at the time, as you can see from the comments to the original, I often catch myself thinking about this when I read stuff by the “new atheists.”


I just got back from a trip to Barnes and Noble which was, with two young children, an advanced exercise in the art of multitasking. On the way out I paused for a moment to check out the display table of featured books, and I came across Victor J. Stenger’s latest book where he denounces the concept of God, called God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. I believe it’s part of his series called I Don’t Believe in God. Seriously! I SO Don’t! I’m Going to Write Another Book About It.

Since I had my own personal circus in tow I wasn’t able to spend much time flipping through it, but I did read through the reviews on the back cover (spoiler alert: Richard Dawkins loved it), which were as follows:

Darwin chased God out of his old haunts in biology, and he scurried for safety down the rabbit hole of physics. The laws and constants of the universe, we were told, are too good to be true: a set-up, carefully tuned to allow the eventual evolution of life. It needed a good physicist to show us the fallacy, and Victor Stenger lucidly does so. The faithful won’t change their minds, of course (that is what faith means) but Victor Stenger drives a pack of energetic ferrets down the last major bolt hole and God is running out of refuges in which to hide. I learned an enormous amount from this splendid book.

~ Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion

Marshalling converging arguments from physics, astronomy, biology, and philosophy, Stenger has delivered a masterful blow in defense of reason. God: The Failed Hypothesis is a potent, readable, and well-timed assault upon religious delusion. It should be widely read.

~ Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation

Richard Dawkins is contractually obligated to make derisive jabs at “the faithful” in every statement he makes, so that one wasn’t too remarkable. But what did strike me is Sam Harris’ quote (which echoes many Dawkins quotes), and his reference to “religious delusion.”

Obviously, these guys don’t speak for everyone who does not believe in God. But they are representative of certain types of atheists who are making their voices heard more and more, the kind who heap scorn upon the mere concept of belief in a higher power, often referring to people of faith as delusional, irrational, ignorant, and even stupid.

I can’t call them out too much since I used to be one of these people. But what jumps out to me about these sorts of statements now is the lack of wonder and curiosity about what made such a large percentage of the great minds of history believe in God or some sort of other spiritual realm.

Socrates, Plato, Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Michelangelo, Einstein, and all the other brilliant minds who believed in the soul, in God or gods, in a designed universe: these people were not idiots. They also don’t strike me as delusional, irrational, or the type of people to unquestioningly swallow fairy tales just because it was their culture or the way they were raised. And though they didn’t have electron microscopes or the Hubble telescope, they had good heads on their shoulders when it came to understanding the world and weren’t timid wallflowers who feared questioning things. I really doubt that any of these men believed in a “God of the gaps, ” where they decided that God must exist simply because they didn’t know where the stars came from. Many of them are the founders of the modern sciences that we prize so highly today. I can’t picture any one of them reading The God Delusion or God: The Failed Hypothesis and renouncing their beliefs after being dizzied by the intellects of Dawkins and Stenger.

This, of course, does not mean that God does exist. It doesn’t prove anything either way. It just seems that this new crowd of book-writing atheists is glossing over a lot of human history and insulting the forefathers of their fields to denounce all believers as irrational or foolish. It seems like they’ve never taken the time to sit back on a dark, starry night and gaze at the heavens, thinking for a moment of the great minds of science who came before them and wondering, “Did they see something I don’t?”

17 Comments

  1. Keith

    Great post. I was raised a fundamentalist and then lost my faith in my twenties, recovered it a few years later (via Plato & Chesterton) and converted to the Catholic Church. So, I'm interested in matters of belief and unbelief. I read the God Delusion and really tried to suspend judgment and become a disinterested observer. (After all I do love the truth more than my beliefs; and the only reason I hold the beliefs I do is because I believe them to be true.) A couple things struck me reading Dawkin's book: If knowing the truth made me an @$$hole like Dawkins, I would surely be tempted to die in error. Also, I was very much impressed with the fact that this guy has no doubts…NONE! And that kind of temerity is inconsistent with the kind of honest search for truth that has marked my life. Gosh, matters surrounding belief are complex, but Dawkins swaggers through them with all the self-assurance of a school yard bully. He's so sure I don't think he can have an open mind. (He certainly doesn't have the humility which requires one.) So, I'm with you, I don't think these guys display the kind of humility, wonder, and doubt which marks an authentic quest for truth. After all, it was Sam Harris who wrote in his Letter to a Christian Nation: "Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious." Isn't that fideism?

  2. Erin

    It was out curiosity and wonder that I pursued studying physics as an undergrad, and I never once considered the possibility that there wasn’t more to this universe than meets the eye (in a spiritual sense). It’s interesting to me that so many of the new scientist-atheists today approach science and religion the way they do, since it was really the question “why did so many of science’s forefathers believe in God?” that propelled me through undergrad physics.

    Anyway… I thought it was a great post. 🙂

  3. Kylie w Warszawie

    Having been raised atheist, I wasn’t one of those “everyone who believes in God is stupid” kinds so it makes me angry now, as a Catholic, to see those who try so hard to convince others that they are wrong. Why? What is the point of that? How does that make an atheist different than a fundamentalist Christian who tries to convert others to their point of view?

    One of the greatest lines in the movies on this subject was in “Corrina, Corrina” where the dad tells the girl that people who believe in God are just deluding themselves to feel better when bad things happen and the little girl says “What’s wrong with that?”

  4. SuburbanCorrespondent

    The atheists doth protest too much, methinks.

  5. razzler

    Fascinating. Your blog is so interesting and you articulate things so much better than I do – see my latest blog post for an example of my ineptitude!

  6. Multiple Mom T

    When I come across that particular brand of arrogance, I remember the following:

    Phil 2:9-11 (NIV)
    9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    Either you bow now, or you bow later!

  7. Gillian

    “But what jumps out to me about these sorts of statements now is the lack of wonder and curiosity about what made such a large percentage of the great minds of history believe in God or some sort of other spiritual realm.” Exactly!!!!!

  8. Michelle

    Interesting post. It’s also a very hot topic in that it brings up a variety of feelings on both sides. I don’t personally like Dawkins. Not because he’s an atheist and I’m a catholic but because he’s rather full of himself and entirely disrespectful. Mind you I don’t agree with what he says or believes, but that’s actually not the basis for my feelings about him. A while back I saw Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled” which is about opening the dialogue between scientists about evolution and intelligent design. The movie does not support either one as correct, but really addresses the fact that the atheistic scientific community has gone out of their way to shut down intelligent design as a theory. It’s interesting in that it reflects that lack of wonder you talk about (and the lack of an open mind about it).

  9. Lucy

    Very thought provoking blog. I am Catholic and I have a friend who is an atheist and I have trouble putting my questions/thoughts into words. You have written out your thoughts beautifully.

  10. Pipsylou

    “About the weak points I agree. The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder.” Darwin to Asa Gray – Feb. ?, 1860

    He’d rather conquer the cold shudder instead of conquering the idea there might be something else out there…

    Great post once again, Jen.

  11. Pipsylou

    Kylie –
    If you can prove to others there is no God, you are not accountable to him or her yourself, right?

    Right.

  12. mom huebert

    Very well said.

  13. Kelley

    I bet Richard Dawkins would be really pissed to hear that “The God Delusion” was the reason I first started talking to a priest. Ha! It’s funny how things work out.

  14. Buddha

    There is no God. So what?

  15. The (Almost) Amazing Mammarino

    Keith: Great comments, specifically:

    “He’s so sure I don’t think he can have an open mind. (He certainly doesn’t have the humility which requires one.) So, I’m with you, I don’t think these guys display the kind of humility, wonder, and doubt which marks an authentic quest for truth.”

    Jennifer:

    I just read every single comment from the original post. God bless you for what you’re doing with this blog! It is so neat how God is using your atheist background for His glory. May God richly bless your ministry!

  16. Cassie

    Regarding your comment about yourself: “I can’t call them out too much since I used to be one of these people.” I just wanted to say that St. Paul “used to be one of those people” who persecuted Christians, but that didn’t stop him from “calling people out” after his conversion!! Don’t sell yourself short! 🙂

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