Several blogs have recently featured reviews or interviews with me about my book, The Making of an Atheist, including the blog of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Cloud of Witnesses and Exo Tays Parembolays.
So far, most responses to the book have been enthusiastically positive, though there have been some negative comments (from folks who have yet to read the book!), suggesting that I commit an ad hominem fallacy in claiming that atheism results from self-deception and immorality. This would be true if the point of my book was to argue that atheism is false. That’s not the book’s aim at all. Rather, my purpose is to give an explanatory accountof the origins of atheistic belief. That’s quite a different matter, and my account actually parallels the attempts of such atheists as Feuerbach and Freud to explain theistic belief. Atheists typically applaud their accounts and aren’t inclined to accuse them of ad hominem reasoning. Perhaps its too much to expect that they would show me the same courtesy.
“Perhaps its too much to expect that they would show me the same courtesy.”
Indeed. But that sorta confirms what you said last week: they’re not interested in intellectual assessment of the evidence, but rather in willful suppression of the truth.
If atheists, including the “new” ones are so incorrigibly bad or evil then how do you explain all of the slaughters that were a feature of Christian Europe prior to the twentieth century.
And even World Wars I & II which were brought to the entire world by Christian Europe. Yes all of Europe, including Germany, was still very much Christian.
EVERY single war and slaughter was committed by people who were essentially Christians living within an essentially Christian culture. Every warring group, principality and state justified their actions by appeals to “God”.
Indeed every warring group would have had the support and “blessing” of their own ecclesiastical establishment at all levels.
What about Papal armies?
Or “Gods” battalions—the title of a recent book.
What about the endless Catholic versus Protestant slaughters that occurred during and after the Reformation/Counter-Reformation period.
In which millions were slaughtered and much of Europe was essentially ruined.
All those righteous Christians slaughtering each other because of what?
A different interpretation of the Scriptures and the source of Divine authority. Or because they crossed their chests with the left instead of the right hand.
Both Protestants and Christian hunted down and killed the “heretical” Anabaptists as if they were vermin. With the full backing and EXHORTATION of the various ecclesiastical authorities.
How do you explain the fact that Christian America, the supposedly most “religious” of nations, accounts for 48% of the worlds armaments trade, or the fact the the Pentagon military-industrial-complex is the single most strongest formative influence in USA culture–its “values” pervade and influence EVERY aspect of USA culture, including much of its religion (indeed many right-wing religionists are ardent supporters of this “culture” of death)
Plus remember too that Christian America was founded on grand theft of the land and resources of the then inhabitants, genocide of the then inhabitants, and massive slavery, which is essentially both systematic murder on an industrial scale and grand theft too.
All of that was justified (and still is) as part of the working out of “God’s plan” for the humankind altogether.
Plus this very stark image summarized the unvarnished terrible truth about applied Christian history.
The conquest continues. The same “God” told George to invade Iraq.
Jim, I’m very pleased to have come across your blog, and I think I may consider ordering your book, as it seems to argue for exactly the point I have been making for several years now. As I’ve become steadier in my faith over the past few years, I’ve observed that people who call themselves “ex-Christians” will invariably portray their loss of faith as something like this: “Well, I used to believe in all that God stuff, but then I learned it was all bunk, so now of course I’m engaging in unbiblical behavior X. It feels good and I’ve realized there’s no reason not to!”
That’s how they’ll portray it, when in fact the opposite has occurred: the desire to engage in the activity comes first, then the actual behaviour begins, and then the person says, “Gee, you know, I don’t think I ever believed in all that God stuff anyway.” This has been exactly the case with, e.g., John Loftus and his adultery, if you know of him.
On websites I’ve debated on in the past, I’ve seen people say that as Christians, we should drop the accusations of “argument by emotion”, and just stick to the facts. I can see the appeal of this approach, but the problem with it is that very often, atheists genuinely do commit themselves to atheism because of their emotional desires. Therefore, it’s relevant to talk about this.
Count me in as a new blog reader, Jim.
The central claim of Jim’s book is not that Christians are morally superior. The claim is that immorality leads to unbelief, not that believers are thereby moral. Clearly much atrocity has been done in the name of religion, including the Christian religion.
This is actually explained by some of what is in this book, as people, including Christian people (actual and merely professing Christians), come to value wealth, power, or expanding the empire, they begin to experience the noetic effects of sin such that they act immorally, which can reinforce their false moral beliefs and immoral desires, which leads to more unjust actions, and the cycle repeats itself.
The argument was underwhelming. Obviously if the bible is telling you one thing and you feel the opposite way, you have a dilemma. It doesn’t take a psychology degree to see that the dispute has to be resolved one way or another. But that doesn’t mean that there are not reasons involved or that the reasons are wholly secondary to the desire. Not to mention the resurrection of freudian psychology. I didn’t realize that people still bought into those ideas ever since psychoanalysis has been experimentally shown to be ineffectual.
Furthermore, you never show how there is any sort of “noetic effect” between something like committing adultery and intellectually compromising yourself; for example, willful falsification of evidence, deceptive behavior in philosophical disputes, or really anything beyond that one area of morality in which the individual disagrees with you. Of course, that is assuming that you don’t take a different moral view as being an intellectually compromised psychological state. That view is ignorant of the many difficult questions that arise in meta-ethics. What you must show is not that a few atheists have done some intellectually irresponsible thing, but demonstrate a positive correlation. Then you have to reconcile that with the proportionally fewer atheists in prison than Christians. Seriously, those numbers seem to show that not having an innate sensus divinatus makes a person more law abiding.
Finally, the father thing? Way to cherry pick. If you were going to be experimental about this you might actually do some research and find a positive or negative correlation between atheism and weak father figures. But it cannot stop there. Did the weaker father figure force a stronger analytical mind or did it shut down their analytical mindset and force them into complete rebellion, or did it do both? And if both, then how do you deal with the reality that some 85% of the members of the national academy of sciences are atheists? It would appear that at the very least, atheists, regardless of their motivations, are on to something when it comes to figuring out mathematics and quantum mechanics. Shouldn’t we be expecting them to be at the dregs of experimental biology since they are so willing to prove there is no god? But in reality, they aren’t committing serious fraud. Their worst crime is having a different belief structure than you which you implicitly assume to be despicable or evil. And that’s why you’ll be dismissed by serious academics. How atheists got there, be it a near death experience or a bad father, is not as important as how they are now, which is honestly quite rational.
I am an Atheist.
I was raised Roman Catholic but left that church when I witnessed first hand the terrible collusion regarding the child-abuse dilemma involving a friend of mine.
I became “spiritual” investigating the works of Eastern writers or Christian writers influenced by Eastern thought (e.g. Merton, deMello).
This led me to Evangelical Christianity probably best described as Open Theism which then led me to a Calvinist world-view when systematic theology and doctrine became the natural next step.
Ultimately I suffered a nervous break-down that was enabled by pursuit of god. I had been living with an untreated anxiety disorder and depression which I attributed to my sinful state and was allowed mild relief from both due to the placebo effects found in worship and fellowship but, when I suffered a job-loss four months into my marriage, my GAD was enflamed leading to uni-polar MDD and a nervous break-down accompanied by suicidal ideation. My Calvinism and circumstances asserted that I was not one of the elect and to spare my wife the torment of having to live with an “un-saved” person I thought it best if I kill myself. I was hospitalized and prescribed medication. I also worked on the cognitive disorders I accumulated having lived in a highly religious and alcoholic home where god was one of wrath and justification for child abuse. I continued in church but as I listened to the doctrine presented I came to see christianity predicated on the same kind of “self-hatred” that kept me sick. I did some seeking into church history and the historicity of the gospels and concluded that my observations of the christian faith being one of self-hatred, true. I think one must consider themselves depraved if they are to find any efficacious truth in christian doctrine. For me to do that means I invite my mental illness to grow and that seems illogical and immoral.
I am not an atheist because I want to drink, or cheat on my wife, surf the net for porn or do anything I would have considered immoral while identifying as a christian. I am an atheist because it is the best path for me to recover from an anxiety disorder and depression without inviting the possibility of suicidal ideation. The history of christianity is a violent one where hating yourself and humanity is considered the highest moral good in obedience to a wrathful god.
I choose to seek a morality rooted in reason and the wonder that we are all seeking the best we know how to live.
My wife and I are expecting our first child in 3 months. I want to spare him the self-hatred forced on me by christianity.
I see in your presupposed hypothesis additional cruelty and unwillingness to invite the consideration that christian theology may be psychologically harmful and inconsistent with the love it proclaims.
Just wanted you to hear from a proud atheist who also considers himself your moral equal (if not your moral superior).
Hello there. First timer. Caught the link from Luke’s blog, Common Sense Atheism.
You said, “That’s quite a different matter, and my account actually parallels the attempts of such atheists as Feuerbach and Freud to explain theistic belief.”
I like the sound of it already.
Actually, most if not all of the instances you mention seem easily explained by Jim’s thesis: religiosity is not synonymous with belief, or more specifically, what the Bible would call metanoia. If immorality leads to unbelief – or, to state it a bit more conservatively – if there is some other correlation between the two – I would not expect that correlation to stop at the pew doors. Rather, I would expect a large subset of immoral unbelievers draped in religiosity, and you’ve done a fine job with your overview.
I’m sorry to hear of your terrible experiences in the church. While all of those abuses are indeed, as you say, inconsistent with Christian moral standards, they don’t show that the Christian worldview is essentially false. What they show is that disturbed and/or malicious people can do evil things in the name of Jesus. Frankly, I can’t blame you for reacting strongly to such a toxic religious background. Still, the truth of the teachings of Jesus is the real issue.
Also, all of your objections are directed at Christianity, but this is just one brand of theism. Even if you could demonstrate that the Christian worldview is false, this is a far cry from disproving the existence of God. (Note that my book concerns atheism not just those who reject Christianity.) I find it interesting that in abandoning Christianity you also made the much bigger leap to abandon belief in God as well.