Can the growth of Atheism be due to the ineffectiveness or lack of intelligence in today’s Christian apologetics? Or are we dealing with the mere illusion of Atheism’s intellectual superiority?
I think atheism is just premature pomposity created by intellectual blind spot. As comparison, agnostic is understandably so because of the acknowledgement of a known unknown but hesitate to adopt religion as the way to explore this unknown, often, for very good reasons.
So you think that there reasons for rejecting arguments for the existence of God are largely empty criticisms, based on a preconceived sense of intellectual superiority, which to some degree disables their ability to comprehend the legitimacy of some arguments?
The former, certainly. In its attempt to form a more united, Christian Church, the standards of what it means to be considered “Christian” have steadily eroded. The lowest common denominator is getting so low, that there’s less and less practical difference between someone who doesn’t believe in God, and someone who lives like they don’t, while telling you that they do.
That, and I think the war against gay rights, along with the child abuse scandals, are doing monumental damage to Christianity’s public image.
You have some good points here. I think one of the worst things the church has ever done is its involvement in secular politics. They don’t seem to understand that it is not the job of a true democracy to enforce Christian morality on its populace. We live in a pluralistic society full of different cultures and understandings of what it means to be human and sexual; and I don’t think its positive for anyone to try and enforce against that on a political scale.
It’s not about intelligence…it’s about wisdom.
This is a very astute comment, and in the spirit of this comment, I’d like to say that the supposed failure of Christianity to capture the minds, hearts, imaginations (whatever you’d like to call it) of modern people is probably less a matter of apologetics (as it is not possible to really be argued into faith; or rather, it is, but those who enter a religion this way rarely develop a deep commitment to it or understanding of it, and subsequently usually de-convert in short order), and more the result of a lack of visible Christian witness. We may wear crosses, but unless we first and foremost carry them, we’re only playing dress up.
That said, there are various things that are problematic to me in the way that this topic is approached. For one thing, we have to recognize that the challenges faced by Christianity take very different forms in the post-Enlightenment, postmodern world than they did in previous centuries. If you read the great historical apologetic works of the past (e.g., St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, etc.), you notice that they are written in the context of addressing believers – whether Manichean, Arian, Nestorian, etc., the faith was defended against people who believed in some kind of faith. I’m not going as far as to say that Atheism is a modern idea (it isn’t), but it has always been a minority idea, and particularly in the heavily religious East, where Christianity was born. So we are behind the curve, in certain ways, when it comes to addressing it.
More deeply, however, I have to say that the apologetics I have read and listened to, at least from Western Christians and converts, leave a lot to be desired. In some ways, it seems that we have ceded the right to define our faith by answering the atheist according to their presuppositions and framing our arguments essentially within their (atheist/naturalistic/impericist/humanist) framework. This leads to inevitable failure, because of course the faith is not possible to express in such a context. The Christian faith is necessarily incarnational, which is to say that it is not so much concerned with arguing for “God” as a concept or a thing, but affirming the experience that has formed our Christian history – the incarnation, and all that flows from it. “God” in the abstract is less than helpful to argue over, as men make anything and everything (and nothing) “God” in accordance with their philosophical, or scientific, or whatever system. There are, of course, very old and famous belief systems that are essentially atheistic (Buddhism, certain strains of Hinduism). What separates Christianity from them, and indeed from all other faiths, is that we believe not just in “God”, but in Emmanuel – literally, God among us. The One God of Israel was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, and of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
So we are faced with a particular problem: Being incarnational, Christianity is also likewise essentially experiential. It was placing his fingers into Jesus’ side that convinced St. Thomas of the truth of the resurrected Christ; it was the vision on road to Damascus that changed St. Paul from the persecutor of Christians to the Christian apostle to the gentiles; it was at the event of Pentecost, experienced by the multitudes of many nations, that the Church came into its fullness. All of these things were experiences in the life of the nascent Christian community, as recorded in the Holy Bible (and there are, of course, many more not recorded there). This means that for empirically-minded humanists, there should be some observable and re-creatable/testable condition to authenticate the reality of the faith, and there just isn’t. You can’t recreate Pentecost in a lab. More worryingly, for a great many of the world’s Christians (particularly Western), there is a similar but opposite reaction: Rather than asking for everything to match up with naturally observable phenomena, their impulse is to reject the physical side of the faith, and to set up a dualistic version of Christianity, whereby the “spiritual” is good or real, and the “physical” bad or at least in opposition to the spiritual. So Christianity is squeezed on all sides – it’s not ‘real’ (worldly) enough for atheist, and not “spiritual” enough for the certain type of Western seeker who might not feel satisfied with atheism, but feels that they already know Christianity from whatever their previous (usually Protestant, but sometimes Catholic) exposure to it was. This is why you see a rise in Buddhism, Hinduism, islam, and seemingly everything else that isn’t “Christianity”.
Honestly, this is probably not likely to win me any friends here, but I think that more can and should be done to redefine Christianity in the minds of average people than to simply assert over and over how atheism or other belief systems are deficient. Can anyone blame the world for turning away from Christianity given its tepid, establishment-esque nature in Western societies? We hear a lot about the “Judaeo-Christian heritage” of countries that are now largely atheistic or at least not full of practicing Christians, but as we are reminded in the Holy Bible, God can raise up children to Abraham from stones (Matt. 3:9), so we are not to rely on our heritage. We have become largely complacent and modeled by the world and the culture, and this happened a long time before the gay rights era, the child sex abuse scandals, etc.
I believe that it is due to the ineffectual teaching of parents to their kids, due to the parents not being taught effectively by their parents.
Can the growth of Atheism be due to the ineffectiveness or lack of intelligence in today’s Christian apologetics?
Yes, I’d say that’s a contributing factor. If you haven’t heard of it, look up Poe’s Law. In my experience, while there are intelligent and educated Christians on the topic of natural theology and apologetics, they form a minority. Even then, I don’t think they have anything reminiscent of a case for their world-view.
It doesn’t help. Most atheists’ exposure to Christendom comes from (a) Protestants who have unsound theology and (b) Catholics who were awfully catechized. Oftentimes those atheists were one or the other themselves at some point.
I don’t think this excuses them. The Catholic Church, at least, is the largest and oldest continuous human organization in the history of the world to my knowledge. It is midwife and mother to the greatest civilization ever seen. If one’s reaction on hearing certain of its claims is a prideful smirk followed by no serious efforts to seek out its best arguments for oneself (and why anyone thinks the average modern Christian would possess such arguments is beyond me), well, one’s ignorance is culpable, and thus damnable.
Where is the proof that atheism is intellectually superior? True, there’s been a lot more noise about it with books and on TV. There’s a lot of good Christian apologetics out there but, to give a few examples. I was listening to Catholic Radio and a woman described a pro-life rally she attended where there were thousands of pro-life people and a comparative handful of pro-abortion people. When the local news truck arrived, the camera only focused on the pro-abortion people and not on the pro-life. There was also mention that the New York Times did not even mention a similar rally - at all.
So the media is skewing our perception of what is actually happening.
Personally I feel that atheism is intellectually bankrupt, much less possesses superiority.
If someone does not have faith, then really the only credible position is to be agnostic.
Atheism by nature is asserting the same faith that theist have, except in the opposite fashion… But then, I tend to find that many atheists cannot even agree on what “atheist” means among themselves.
I sometimes browse atheist forums, etc - generally what is on display is utter ignorance of that which they claim to reject, and a whole lot of baseless aggression, defamation and sarcasm. I am quite astounded that they can have such firm convictions based on such drivel and am genuinely surprised by the low level of intellectual discourse I find there. Not once have I ever even remotely been challenged in my faith by anything I have read there.
I don’t know if atheism has grown, but it is perhaps more visible and vocal. This is silly, in a way, kind of akin to people who don’t scuba-dive being all righteous and in-your-face about their lack of scuba-diving.
Popular atheist or anti-clerical figures come and go, every few centuries, throughout history. They tend to spring up not long after a society has forgotten what a complete waste of time it all is.
I think extremists, like Dawkins, tend to attract people for a few reasons:
People like to have a target for scorn or ridicule. We see it in every human environment, from the school playground to the workplace. Having a target for ridicule tends to make a person feel as though they are part of the “in crowd”, as it were. Additionally, the self esteem of some people is unfortunately based on a need to have feelings of superiority towards others. This draws them to groups who are defined by their assertion of having some type of superiority over others, including militant atheist and racist organisations etc. Many such organisations are now illegal, (eg racists), so perhaps overt atheism has benefited from that? (in that it permits a legal means to express contempt).
Many people are ignorant of God and, indeed, what it means to be human. These people long for a personal identity or a group to be a part of. Ok, the “group” aspect of religion is obvious too, of course, but this is very much as side effect, because people of faith are entirely self sufficient in their identity and their esteem (as shown by the early Christians, who were persecuted and had to live their faith in secret, or ‘underground’ with others). People who experience such longing, I think, are really longing for God, but their personal biases / blinkers prevent them from accepting this.
Many people in our society, notably extreme feminists and angry homosexuals, tend to gravitate towards anything or anyone which is anti-religion. This is because they falsely see religion (or, to be fairer, see all religion) as the source of all their ills.
Some people, especially the young, like to feel as though they are revolutionary and that they are going to change the world. This means they tend to latch onto any movement which presents itself as being revolutionary and out to overthrow something. Probably every generation of young people sees itself, for a time, as THE generation which is going to change everything with their cool, new ideas. This is part of the natural exuberance of youth, and certainly owes more to this exuberance, than it does firm convictions over change. For the young, aspects of asserting independence, or rebelling against parents, are tied up in this too.
Many people grossly misunderstand religion generally, and can think, or be convinced, that it is somehow inherently “wrong” or dangerous.
Probably more reasons too. These are just some musings.- note that most of them provide some kind of ‘benefit’ (if you will) to the atheist. For example: it can provide a place in society, self worth or feelings of superiority or righteousness. Attention, even.
But these “benefits” come not from the atheism itself - which is ultimately, empty, worthless, nihilistic and nothing - but rather from how defining themselves as atheist makes them feel personally and in relation to others.
I feel this is quite interesting and revealing.
I think many people in affluent places, like the US and UK, are not religious and do not think about God. But not because they are atheists, but because modern society and technology take care of what they see as being their every need.
Our current high standard of cushy living, (in the west), in a way insulates us from the realities of life. Very rarely, if at all, do we feel threatened, hungry, scared, vulnerable, needy. If we get hungry, we simply open the freezer or phone a home delivery. If we are needy we naturally expect financial help from friends or family. We have laws and police forces to prevent us from feel threatened or scared. Very rarely are we forced to genuinely confront problems, or hard choices, or circumstances outwith our control.
But our ancestors, who had tough lives, and people in the 3rd world, who do not get their fair share of human wealth, both felt and feel this way at times. They experience(d) problems and difficult times. They often find themselves among circumstances beyond their control.
I think this cushy western living has a kind of stupefying or sedentary effect on many people. We are not reminded of our insignificance, or our fragility, as human beings. If we don’t think about what it means to be a human, then naturally we do not think much about the human condition, or at all. Many people are happy to bumble along through life, sating themselves fully on video games, movies, pornography, sport, fast food, reality shows, drinking and dancing etc, without ever really thinking “Who am I? Why do I exist?”.
Many people today are simply thoughtless consumers of products and services in a capitalist machine. The gratification of these products and services has in many ways replaced God in their lives.
So I think God, or even the possibility of God, is simply a non-feature in many modern western lives. I mean, why grapple with thoughts of your origins and purpose, when you could sit down to watch X-Factor with a beer instead? However, I would not call these people “atheists”. Drones, perhaps, but not “atheists”.
As for apologetics, hmmm, good question. Certainly the UK these days does not boast anyone of the calibre of Chesterton or Belloc. But then, the UK is a “protestant country”, and protestantism is dead. (both those guys were Catholics anyway, Chesterton a convert).
There are many good apologetic books about, but they are largely ignored by non-religious media and society.
However, it would be unfair not to mention a great many bloggers, who do a good job. And personalities like the bold Michael Voris (an American), who greatly impresses me. We could do with a few more of him.
I tend to think your man Pope Benedict XVI does a not-too-bad a job either, lol. But only if you go to the horses mouth and dont listen to him as filtered / distorted by the mainstream media, like most do.
I should say that I have no problem generally with people who do not believe in God. Many of my friends are non-believers, or fall into the “happy with the TV and a beer” category. That is their own business and I respect that. It doesn’t create any issue in friendships, nor is even something we discuss.
It’s just the kind of aggressive/sarcastic atheist who obsesses over religion, who gets my goat - the kind of person who lives out their entire life as a mere reflection of someone else while spitting at the mirror.
Good topic btw!
There’s different categories. Also different communities also tend to use the word differently (ex: in the Southern Baptist community in which I grew up the word was synonymous with misotheist). The first person I met that was an atheist had gotten there from being a polytheist - a pathway that didn’t fit into the use of the word within that local community.
For the most part if the word isn’t constrained by some other adjective then it’s difficult to know what some one means by it without knowing their background. Such as “Strong atheist”, “agnostic atheist”, and so on. This adjective or one of the related words will let one know if the person of discussion asserts with absolute confidence that there are no gods, that the person simply doesn’t hot the a belief of any gods, that the person just doesn’t really care, and so on.
In the early years of the Church, there were actually strong public disputes over what today seem like philosophical subtleties (monophysitism, etc.). Today, you could hardly find a single person who understands or cares about such things. Definitely, apologetics is very important in showing the Christianity is, in fact, a reasonable belief.
In my opinion, the post-modern age (with its deconstruction of philosophical assumption like ‘reality’, ‘objectivity’, ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’) is a wonderful opportunity for Christianity to re-enter the intellectual dialgogue- at the cutting edge of new thought.
I’ve attached a link which claims that
A survey of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in May and June 2009, . . . [found that] just over half of scientists (51%) believe in some form of deity or higher power; specifically, 33% of scientists say they believe in God, while 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power [21% Protestant, including 4% evangelical, 10% Catholic]. . . . Edward Larson, a historian of science then teaching at the University of Georgia, . . . [in a] 1996 poll came up with similar results, finding that 40% of scientists believed in a personal God, while 45% said they did not. Other surveys of scientists have yielded roughly similar results. 17% said they were atheists; 11% agnostics, and 20%, of no particular affiliation. The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society. The survey was conducted among a sample of 2,533 members. [source: The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life]
So there’s a lot of scientists who believe in some form of spiritual reality.
It’s not easy to find statistics on journalists and enterntainment figures who have a Christian faith, but there seems to be some evidence that generally they have a considerably lower rate of Christian or religious faith than the general public, and are skewed towards the political left.
I think the media and entertainment industries have a lot to do with modern attitudes to religion. Hence books like those of hardline atheists like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens (who recently found out just how wrong he was) receive a lot of publicity. Even Dan Brown’s fictional work the “Da Vinci Code” was marketed in such a way as to make it look like factual truth. And you’ll find every time some new anti-Christian work makes it’s appearance it receives a lot of publicity, as much for marketing reasons as anything else.
Barbara Thiering’s “Jesus of the Apocalypse” comes to mind for example. It was all the rage when it first came out, but now that’s its lost its revenue raising appeal for the publishers, who these days gives a stuff what she wrote?
And we’re a generation addicted to the media in one form or another. So the entertainment industry has tremendous influence.
I suppose what we need is another CS Lewis. Even his Narnia books are covertly spreading the Christian message via the film industry.
I think many are chosen and many are not. I further think that God has everything to do with that. We are all given Sufficient Grace, at our conceptions. This grace will get us through until God knows what we will do with any other gifts of grace we are to be given, or not…
We do not make the decision to be pro or anti God. All we can do is sin. Sin can dispose us to being removed further and further from Him. Though it seems complicated, it is not. Lucifer lost God in the only way a perfect creation of God’s could. That’s essentially the only we can. We can’t know, for example, whether or not Hitler is in Hell. We don’t know what his last interior moments were.
Love God with all your heart, mind and soul. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Observe the 10 commandments. Participate of the Sacraments. Pray for and be open to Grace. It’s not hard work, but it is, in a way, continuous. Know that our physical beings can be destroyed in thousands of ways. Know that our souls can’t.
Anyway, that’s my opinion - and it didn’t anyone a thing.
Very well iterated. While I agree with most of what you’ve said, I believe that Atheism is not growing except by attrition, i.e, by nothing other than its normal growth within the general population. Christianity is a history of difficulties. Satan wouldn’t have it any other way. By the subterfuges of child-molestation and abuse, a few weak-minded faithfuls might loosen their grips on their Faith, but, most know what is taking place and that the Truth is not crystal clear to the world. (Interesting that Satan thinks we’re that stupid. But, it’s not just the few disparagements, it’s through a myriad of them that Satan thinks he will win.)
Secondly, from what I have learned from researchers like Adherents.com, etc., the tallies of the different groups has been improving along the way, by asking better questions on census forms, by creating a few new groupings, rather than lumping numbers into old groups for convenience, etc.
Personally, I don’t think that atheist’s arguments have improved, nor that their insights have grown any keener. We know that while every new human being receives sufficient grace at conception, God will not waste additional graces on those He knows will not benefit from them. It’s interesting: I can almost understand why a non-theist would ask, Why an omni-benevolent God would require the reciprocation of love? But, for my life, that has never been a problem to me - even when I was dabbling in atheism.
Anyway, you might find that your post didn’t make any enemies for you.
And right back at ya!
None of the above.
You neglected the most likely possibility, that religious ideas, Christianity included, are simply incorrect.
More people are becoming educated, and while most educations are not worth much and teach their own style of errors (e.g. Darwinism, Big Bang theory, etc.) regarding the beginnings of things, those alternatives make a lot more sense to most people than any current theology.
This is not surprising. The history of science is replete with errors. Physicists once believed in phlogiston to explain fire. But while those who believed that silly theory at the time taught it as absolute truth, as more data came in and more thought was applied, it was finally recognized as foolishness.
Science is willing, however grudgingly, to discard bad theories and replace them with something that works better. Phlogiston theory is not the only example. But religions do not change. The current core beliefs of the Catholic Church were invented about 1700 years ago, by men who believed that the solar system and the universe revolved around a flat earth. They did their best given the knowledge they had— but they had little knowledge, and most of what they thought they knew was entirely wrong.
The beliefs they adopted were as illogical then as they are today. The worst of them, omnipotence and omniscience, are often questioned right here on CAF, but to no avail.
Fifty years from now science will hold different theories than it does today. When physicists see contradictions in their theories they do not ask their followers to accept the discordant ideas on faith— they set to work finding better theories.
Because of that, your grandchildren will not be taught Big Bang theory, and in time, even Darwinism will go the way of the Dodo bird. (Darwinism will take longer because it is now a religious belief system which incoming acolytes are not allowed to question.) But the religions your children will try to teach your grandchildren, or those further along, will be the same old beliefs that are turning off people today, and their rejection rate of those religions will be even higher.
So do not blame apologists. Do you blame J. Carney, a mere spokesman, for Obame’s policies? If an idea does not make sense, wrapping it in words will not create sense out of it. That will only befuddle, and only for a while.
Perhaps it is time for religions to rethink the very definition of God in light of what science has learned? What better way to serve the Creator than by seeking an understanding of him which is agreeable to the principles of logic, and perfectly consistent with the universe he took the trouble to create?
What a shocking argument from someone who lists their religion as ‘physics’…