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Huh? New atheist theology?

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Closing our religion coverage for the week, as so often, with the new atheists, we note an op-ed in the New York Times asking for a theology of atheism. (It must be new atheism because the old-fashioned atheism didn’t ask for a theology, by definition.)


I’d come for Sunday Assembly, a godless alternative to church founded in London in 2013. A cheerful woman with a name tag stood and promised a crowd of about 40 people “all the fun parts of church but without any religion, and with fun pop songs.” The band led us in secular “hymns” like “Walking on Sunshine” and “Lean on Me.” The day’s guest preacher, a Ph.D. candidate from Duke, described his research on bonobos and the biological roots of our species’ instinct to help one another — the “seeds of a nature that is good,” he told us.

Aw, go preach it to the bonobos.

Is this what secular humanism — the naturalist worldview that many nonbelievers embrace and religious conservatives fear — looks like in practice? In one sense, secular humanism is a style of fellowship intended to fill the church-shaped void, but it is also a strand of the liberal intellectual tradition that attempts to answer the canard that godlessness means immorality. More.

This is so ridiculous, I didn’t have time to write it up till now. The main reason people don’t like new atheists is the new atheists.

The only fear many of us “religious conservatives” experience is—don’t bust a gut laughing too hard. How will we explain it to the surgical resident at the local hospital? 😉

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5 Replies to “Huh? New atheist theology?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Robin Collins (Messiah College) – The Multiverse, Theism, and the Christian Faith – video

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Debate: Michael Behe and Ken Kemp – Should Catholics be “Intelligent Design” Theorists? – video

    On Tuesday, April 14th, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in South St. Paul (Minnesota), Michael J. Behe and Ken Kemp debate on the question: Should Catholics support Intelligent Design?

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    The day’s guest preacher, a Ph.D. candidate from Duke, described his research on bonobos and the biological roots of our species’ instinct to help one another — the “seeds of a nature that is good,” he told us.

    They should grant him the Ph.D. for that alone – Doctorate in Dramatic Arts, Stand-up comedy.

    it is also a strand of the liberal intellectual tradition that attempts to answer the canard that godlessness means immorality.

    The intellectual tradition of nihilism attempts to answer questions the way normal people would do.

    If theft is immoral, then their godlessness is just that – stealing morality from religion.

  4. 4
    tarmaras says:

    @Silver Asiatic

    If theft is immoral, then their godlessness is just that – stealing morality from religion.

    Excellently formulated. I think you’ve here captured the essence to what’s fishy about New Atheism’s position. So, to get in on the pile on, I’d like to add (you guessed it) some text from the preface of Dalela’s Uncommon Wisdom — about this very topic, also introducing an old New Atheist in the picture — who lived cca. 600 BC — a certain Mr. Charvaka. Here it is (it’s freely accesible in the Amazon Look Inside):

    “Materialism is not a new idea. It can be traced to at least 600 B.C. in the writings of a philosopher named Charvaka in India. In fact, theism and atheism have been studied side-by-side in Indian philosophy for a long time. Anyone who doubts this has only to pick up an introductory book on Indian philosophy. So the way the contradiction between theism and atheism is treated as something novel in the Western world often surprises me. One of Charvaka’s verses aptly summarizes all the main conclusions of New Atheism.

    There is no other world other than this;
    There is no heaven and no hell;
    The realm of Shiva and like regions
    Are invented by stupid imposters.

    Charvaka, in fact, was so committed to materialism that he carried forward this idea into a clearer articulation of how one must lead their personal life. The following verse illustrates this well.

    So long as you shall live, you shall live happily
    You shall take out loans and drink clarified butter
    After all, once the body has been burnt,
    Where is the question of coming back?

    Charvaka epitomizes the person without an existential crisis. He acknowledges the existence of matter as the only reality. As a consequence, he rejected even the use of reason (or inference) because there is no material evidence for logic or for concepts. There are only particulars in this world, and we cannot generalize them into universals. There is no need for a moral or truthful life, or for being good to others, because at the point of death, it would just not matter. Charvaka did not make any serious attempts to convince others of his materialist position because trying to convince them would mean that he had a way of knowing what they believed in—which would imply that he and the others had a mind different from the body—which according to him is impossible. The world, according to him, exists only piece meal. There is no way to connect these things using concepts, logic, inference, or induction, since there is no reason to suppose any of these are true, given that only matter is real. There is hence no point in trying to formulate theories of nature, to understand the origin of the universe by generalizing particular experiences, or to form any moral theory of good and bad. Charvaka exemplifies a complete and consistent materialism. If the New Atheism movement wanted to learn how atheism could be logically consistent and coherent, it would do well to study Charvaka.

    The problem, however, is that New Atheism is living in its own existential crisis. It could assert what Charvaka earlier asserted, but that would be so out of place. Taking that position would not only deny the possibility of science, but also annul any legal or administrative system. It would convert an organized society into an anarchist dog-eat-dog world. Therefore, New Atheism advocates a new hodge-podge theory where we accept the reality of reason, logic, concepts, induction, and a host of other ideas such as space, time, continuity, causality, numbers, algebraic formulae, etc., which are all not material—at least not in the sense of tables and chairs—but denies other kinds of non-material things such as minds, souls, or God. I therefore call this view Selective Non-Materialism (SNM). No religious theory that I know of denies the existence of matter. The conflict between religion and science is only in the extent to which they accept the existence of certain types of non-material entities. Science too employs a wide array of non-material entities, which are used to formulate scientific theories. But New Atheism and most modern materialists deny the reality of anything beyond matter.

    How convenient! Let’s first decide if we are going to accept only material entities (in the sense of physical objects) or non-material entities as well. If we accept only matter, then science cannot exist, because numbers are needed to formulate science and numbers are not material things. If, however, we are going to accept some non-material things, but not others, then let’s define the criteria for permitting some non-material versus other non-material. For instance, many areas of modern science depend on the notion of probabilities. Atomic objects are, for example, described as probabilities. But what is probability? Is probability an object? Then why can’t we see these objects? If not, then in what form does it exist? If we formulate a scientific theory based on probabilities, then we must accept the existence of probability in some sense, even though we cannot call this existence a material object. What is that particular sense?

    The problems of materialism are quite profound as they begin in the existence of concepts, numbers, logic, induction, and probability. Materialists are either ignorant of these problems or they deliberately mislead their audience into believing there is no problem. I have discussed these problems in my previous writing and will survey them in this book again for the sake of continuity. The central conclusion of that discussion is that we cannot define material objects without prior defining concepts, logic, numbers, induction, and probability. Therefore, if matter exists, and we are trying to describe these material objects by taking a conceptual world for granted, then we are victims of a serious oversight. We have committed to the pragmatic use of a non-material world to even understand the material world, but we deny all forms of non-matter. This clearly cannot be deemed logically consistent or scientifically coherent.

    New Atheism wants to answer the questions arising from an existential crisis in a new way, but if the answers that New Atheism provides were indeed truly accepted by its vocal proponents, they should indicate the pointlessness of the existential crisis itself and hence of all the questions arising from that crisis. For instance, if you are truly a materialist, then why accept science, or even the goodness of organized society for material enjoyment under moral commitments? If you are truly a materialist then what is so sacrosanct about life? Why would killing, suffering, and pain be problematic? Isn’t death another configuration of atoms, just like life? How can one atomic configuration be any better than another when both of these configurations are equally permitted by natural laws? What additional ideas are you trying to add or impute upon matter?

    New Atheism adds a new idea to science, which is that order and structure automatically emerge in nature. This idea is drawn from Darwin’s evolution, which is a theory that has never been analyzed from a physical, computational, and mathematical stand-point . Its popularity, in fact, can be attributed to the fact that while other scientific theories need a lot of scientific training before their ideas are properly understood, this particular idea seems not to require any such expertise. So much has been written and presumed on the basis of this single idea that if it turned out to be false, I don’t believe New Atheism would have any essential foundation. I have described the problems with Darwinism in my book Signs of Life—not by analyzing particular fossils, molecular mechanisms, or type of speciation—but simply by casting these ideas in a logical form similar to the problems of incompleteness in computing, physics, and mathematics. I will survey these issues again in this book, showing how the emergence theory rings completely hollow. If such an idea were true, mathematics would be consistent and complete, computing theory would be able to tell the difference between useful and malicious programs, and physics would have solved the problems of probability and indeterminism in atomic theory. What evolutionary theory supposes is thus an unattainable dream.”

  5. 5
    AveryM says:

    tarmaras, you have an eagle eye. Charvaka is well known among those few in India with a traditional education, along with the crazy consequences of his thought.

    The reason atheism is on the rise in India is because this sort of discussion is banned from schools — they took after America in separating “church from state” in a ridiculously broad sense that removed most intellectual education from public schools.

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