Atheist blogger Kevin Davis attended a Lifetree Café gathering at a Lutheran church where the topic of discussion was atheism. Davis was annoyed by something:
The next discussion question: What is the attraction to atheism? This one bothered me. I took the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions. Atheism isn’t something people get recruited into or attracted to from an ideological perspective. It has no dogma or doctrine. Atheism is a conclusion based on a lack of evidence. No one decides to become an atheist because it’s glamorous. Why would you willingly join a minority position that is attached to an unshakable stigma and is legally discriminated against? We’re not “giving up on God” or “angry at God” or any of those other assertions. We simply used critical thinking to come to the conclusion that the supernatural folklore of millennia ago is unfounded and archaic.
This is a very common self-serving talking point among the atheist activists and I find it to be highly inaccurate.
First, when Davis insists it is the mere use of critical thinking that leads to atheism, he paints a picture where it is atheists alone who have a special talent for such thinking. For it is clearly implied that those of us who are Christians lack this skill, otherwise, why are we still Christians? The problem for Davis is that there are many Christians who use critical thinking to reach the conclusion that Christianity is likely to be true. This means that since critical thinking can lead to two opposite conclusions, the mere use of critical thinking is insufficient at explaining why people become atheists.
Of course, at this point, the atheist is likely to double down on that self-serving self image, arguing that critical thinking skills are not involved in anyone becoming a Christian because if critical thinking skills were involved, the person would reach the conclusion of atheism. And round and round it would go. So let’s use some critical thinking skills to analyze Davis’s talking point.
I took the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions. Atheism isn’t something people get recruited into or attracted to from an ideological perspective.
This is simply false. There is clearly a distinct evangelistic dimension to the New Atheism movement. Consider just some of the evidence (off the top of my head):
- Atheist activist Richard Carrier has said , “My objective is to make more atheists. I am an evangelist for atheism.”
- Atheist activist Peter Boghossian wrote a book, popular among the atheists, entitled, “A Manual for Creating Atheists” and Carrier taught on online course around it: “Boghossian proposes a particular approach to one-on-one atheist evangelism that is science-and-experience based, and valuable to learn. If you have friends, family members, colleagues, whom you want to escape religion, and improve their standards of belief-formation, this course is for you. If you want to make more atheists through one-on-one interaction with anyone (people you meet on the street, at events, while manning an “Ask an Atheist” booth, anywhere), his book is a must-read, and definitely worth taking a course on, even if you don’t agree with everything it says.”
- American Atheists are putting up billboards around the country trying to attract people to atheism:
The billboard features a mother looking over her daughter’s shoulder as she reads a text from a friend who asks her if she’s going to church this Christmas. Her response? “Lol. No way. I don’t believe that stuff anymore.” This isn’t the only design American Atheists is using this year.
Other cities across the nation are getting another billboard that puts a political spin on the holiday by modifying President-Elect Donald Trump’s famous campaign slogan: “MAKE CHRISTMAS GREAT AGAIN,” followed by “Skip Church!”
- Here’s an atheist activist whose video (promoted by Dawkins’ webpage) is entitled, How to Convert a Christian to Atheism
- New Atheist authors often brag about the email they get telling them how their atheist book converted people to atheism.
Suffice it to say that there is a distinct evangelistic dimension to the atheist movement that seeks to convert people into atheism.
Next claim from Davis:
It has no dogma or doctrine. Atheism is a conclusion based on a lack of evidence.
Davis insists there is no dogma or doctrine to atheism and immediately proceeds to list it. The whole notion that atheism is simply a conclusion based on a lack of evidence is the dogma/doctrine of modern day atheism. Let’s consider the evidence to support my claim.
First, the dogmatic nature of this position is evident to anyone who has actually argued with an atheist. After arguing with hundreds of atheists, I have yet to encounter one who will not back off the extreme nature of this dogmatic posture. That is, I cannot find an atheist who argues as follows:
I agree there is some evidence for theism, enough such that theism can be considered a reasonable position. However, I find this evidence to be unconvincing and weak, thus I remain an atheist.
Instead, I have reliably discovered, time after time after time, that atheists cling to the “there is no, NO, NO(!) evidence for the existence of God” dogma.
The extreme, dogmatic nature of this doctrine shows itself in how the atheist movement portrays religious people as delusional, mentally ill, stupid, and/or dishonest. You can only view theists in such a way if a) you perceive yourself as having superior thinking skills that b) discover there is NO evidence for the existence of God. It’s so obvious that only the delusional and mentally ill would dare disagree with you.
Second, Davis wrote something else that undercuts his position:
On to the next topic. We’re starting to get into the nitty gritty now. We were provided the definition of atheism — a lack of belief in a deity and lack of belief in anything supernatural. I’d go with the former and drop the latter. Atheism doesn’t reject supernatural concepts by definition; it just refers to the lack of belief in gods. While it’s true most atheists reject all supernatural ideas, some do believe in ghosts or spirits or other supernatural concepts not related to gods.
He is correct in noting there are many atheists who believe in ghosts, spirits, and other supernatural concepts. In addition, some believe in UFOs and various conspiracy theories. Thus, while we are told that atheists, as a group, reject belief in God because of critical thinking and a lack of evidence, there are many who believe in ghosts, spirits, along with other supernatural and paranormal phenomenon, ……because of the same critical thinking and consideration of evidence? Look, if the atheist is going to posture as a member of a group devoted to critical thinking and evidence, that message is contradicted when you also admit the existence of ghost-believing fellow atheists.
Third, and perhaps most damaging, is that while atheists believe their atheism stems from a consideration which finds no evidence for God, it turns out the “no evidence” position is not rooted in critical thinking. How can we tell? Simply ask the atheist to explain what type of data they would count as evidence for God. What type of data would cause them to merely suspect God might exist? If you do that, you will find that the vast majority of atheists struggle mightily with this simple question (that stems from a position of critical thinking). After all, how can anyone claim there is no evidence of X is they don’t have the foggiest idea of what would even count for X? Such a person is admitting they are intellectually blind when it comes to the consideration of X. If you are sure there is no evidence for X when you have no idea what evidence for X would look like, you are being classicly dogmatic.
If the atheist does answer the question, you will find that the vast majority of them will demand some type of demonstration/event for which no natural explanation is possible. Put simply, they need some type of miracle. Yet if one were to argue that God exists because there is something that cannot be explained by natural causes, this would be shot down as the illegitimate appeal to the “God of the Gaps.” So it’s “Heads I win, Tails you lose.” Only miracles can count as evidence for God, but holding up miracles as evidence of God is the “God of the Gaps” fallacy. What guides this heads I win, tail you lose approach is a strict adherence to dogma: there is no evidence, and can be no evidence, for God.
The “no evidence” position of modern day atheism is not rooted in careful analysis guided by critical thinking. It is more of a slogan and rallying cry that is rooted in shallow thinking.
Finally, Davis claims:
No one decides to become an atheist because it’s glamorous. Why would you willingly join a minority position that is attached to an unshakable stigma and is legally discriminated against?
I’m not buying this one, as Davis seems to think we still live in the 1950s. In 2016, it’s considered cool, edgy, and hip to be an atheist. It’s supposed to mean you are smart, you stand out, you are different, you think for yourself, you love science. In fact, it’s so cool and edgy that you can hang out with others online and mock the religious kooks.
There are plenty of reasons to become an atheist that have nothing to do with some well-developed critical thinking skill set. After all, how else do you explain the fact that so many atheists have so much trouble with critical thinking?