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?”
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