Confronting Atheism on the Advance

foxholememorial_clr

Monument to Atheists in Foxholes

Is it really true that there are no atheists in foxholes? The saying entered American parlance during World War II when war correspondents saw soldiers turn to God after facing enemy fire. On a hot July 4th about sixty years later, a few dozen veterans gathered in rural Alabama to dedicate a monument declaring it wrong. The Monument to Atheists in Foxholes, a stately six-foot granite obelisk overlooking scenic Lake Hypatia near Talladega, was erected in 1999 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to honor those soldiers they believe were unrecognized atheists in foxholes.

Lake Hypatia has become a sort of southern outpost for atheism in America. Here the Alabama Freethought Association, which director Pat Cleveland calls “a kind of big old family,” meets the third Sunday of each month for an 11 a.m. social hour, covered dish lunch at noon, and speaker at 1 p.m. The association also hosts an annual Independence Weekend celebration called the Lake Hypatia Advance (not retreat, Advance) filled with camping and camaraderie with fellow freethinkers. Meet the down-home contingent of nonbelief in America.

Nonbelievers go by a variety of names, such as humanists, skeptics, rationalists, freethinkers, or naturalists. Though distinctions are fuzzy and definitions overlap, their common thread is rejection of faith in God and religion, as if the two were synonymous, in favor of faith in science and reason, as if science and reason preclude belief in God. Regarding personal belief in the existence of God, individuals will fall into one of two categories: agnosticism or atheism. An agnostic says, I don’t know or, it cannot be known if there is a God, the word ‘agnostic’ meaning ‘without knowledge,’ while the atheist’s nonbelief is more resolute. ‘Atheist’ means, ‘without God,’ and the atheist boldly asserts just that: There is no God.

Gaining Ground
It is noteworthy that the Lake Hypatia freethinkers call their retreat an Advance. While many atheists consider themselves non-missiological, in reality many of them are on a calculated mission to gain converts. On September 9th, 2008, as Americans prepared to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Freedom From Religion Foundation took out a full-page ad in the New York Times. The headline, printed in large letters above a pre-9/11 New York City skyline, asks us to “Imagine a World Free From Religion,” while the text says the greatest threat to American liberty today is domestic religious fanaticism, warning, “Beware the faith-based initiative.” Alarmed readers are encouraged to join the foundation, subscribe to its newsletter, and make a tax-deductible donation.

Reasoning About Atheism
According to its website, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics and has been working since 1978 to promote freethought and keep state and church separate. Statistics indicate they are gaining ground. They still represent a minority, but the growing popularity of this worldview, especially among the younger generation, makes it a formidable social trend.

Advancing atheists present their worldview as more enlightened, open-minded, and progressive. The Alabama Freethought Association, a local chapter of the FFRF and home to the Monument to Atheists in Foxholes, defines a freethinker as “one who forms opinions about religion, independently of tradition, authority or established belief, in favor of rational inquiry.”

But are they as open-minded as they think they are? Can a Christian also be a free thinker? If rational inquiry is defined as ‘a reasoned exploration of ideas,’ then, yes, this is a means of uncovering truth we can wholeheartedly embrace. A dialogue with Ivan demonstrates this.

Like most atheists, Ivan believes science has disproved the existence of God. “I’m definitely an atheist,” he affirmed when I asked him about it. “I am an atheist because I cannot believe in fantasy. There is no God. There is no heaven. There is no hell. That stuff was created by man to help man feel better about himself. When I look at the scientific facts, I cannot believe in that. So yes, I am an atheist. Absolutely.”

“Which scientific facts?” I asked, picking up on his lead.

I expected him to go into evolution, but instead he read me some data on the size of the universe, emphasizing its vastness. “To think that there’s some type of supreme being, call it God or Jesus, that is bigger than that? That is concerned about us on earth? About our welfare? About our future? It’s absolutely preposterous,” he said.

Ivan likened belief in God to belief in Santa Clause, and he strongly resents Christians’ attempts to convert him. Like many atheists, he demands, Who made God? as if the question is a dialectical trump card. “When I say, ‘Who created God?’ they can’t answer,” he said. “They get all flustered, and then try to change the subject.” Ivan also charged Christians with closed-mindedness: “When is the last time any Christian ever read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, for example?”

Deconstructing “Science-Based” Pretensions Through Rational Inquiry
Knowing that real inquiry always illumines truth, I read The God Delusion at Ivan’s prompting. What I found was a lengthy rant that, despite Dr. Dawkins’s respectable credentials as a zoologist, said more about his contempt for God than it did about science. The crux of its thesis, from Chapter 4, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God,” is the PhD’s argument for the non-existence of God, which distills to something like this:

  1. The universe we observe is highly complex.
  2. Any creator of this highly complex universe would have to be even more complex than it.
  3. It is too improbable that such a God exists.

The first two statements qualify as acceptable premises, but the conclusion he reaches simply does not follow from them. Though Dr. Dawkins’s reasoning is more structured, it’s essentially the same as Ivan’s: “There is no God because … that’s preposterous!” Neither Ivan nor Richard Dawkins is engaging in legitimate reasoning. They’re indulging in rationalization – finding some plausible-sounding explanation for arriving at the conclusion they’ve already chosen. Dr. Dawkins and Ivan are certainly free to choose unbelief, but their conclusion was not derived through scientific or rational processes.

ChurchofAtheismI pointed this out to Ivan, whereupon he politely requested that I respect his beliefs and not attempt to convert him. “I believe that at some point, people end up with firm convictions,” he wrote to me in an email. “Once they say they are, their viewpoints should be respected and further attempts to convert them should be avoided because not everybody wants to be converted.” There’s the heart of the matter: “Not everybody wants to be converted.”

The prevailing posture among Atheism on the Advance says the atheistic worldview is more intellectually sound and evolutionarily advanced. That atheism is the belief anyone would come to if he examined the scientific facts, all other belief systems being execrable vestiges of Stone Age superstition, on a par with moon worship and child sacrifice. But Richard Dawkins’s book and Ivan’s words indicate otherwise. It’s a personal, philosophical faith choice to disbelieve.

Engaging for Life
Like Ivan, many nonbelievers resist reconsidering their choice, so why bother engaging them in dialogue? I suggest three reasons. First, when we engage in genuine inquiry, we can dismantle the pretense of science-based atheism. Second, some do reconsider. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project was a contented atheist until a seriously ill patient asked him what he believed. The question moved him to examine the issue with an open mind and ultimately to convert to Christianity.

And third, when God’s Holy Spirit lives within us, He may plead His case even without our words. Dr. Mike Adams, a college professor in North Carolina, was a radical atheist until he encountered a Catholic inmate in an vile Ecuadorian prison, whose name he never thought to ask, but whose spirit of peace and thankfulness prompted a turning point for his errant soul. Four years later, he returned to the church, a committed Christian.

SavedManWe must engage atheists, Dr. Adams writes. “If a Christian really believes the things he professes to believe, he will go to great lengths to share it with others. He would even crawl on his belly across a desert of broken glass if he thought he could reach an atheist.” Yes we must. We must dismantle the barrier of atheism’s scientific pretensions and offer a chance for God to plead His case through us. When we engage as agents of Jesus Christ, we meet atheism’s bad philosophy with good philosophy, and we confront its unbelief with the certain reality of God’s good existence.

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DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
About Terrell Clemmons

Terrell Clemmons earned her B.S. in Computer Science at Clemson University. A former software engineer with IBM, she is now a full-time wife, mom and overall, hold-down-the-busy-fort house manager, and a part-time freelance writer on apologetics and matters of faith. She is a contributing editor for Salvo magazine and blogs at Right Angles.

  • tildeb

    Regarding personal belief in the existence of God, individuals will fall into one of two categories: agnosticism or atheism. An agnostic says, I don’t know or, it cannot be known
    if there is a God, the word ‘agnostic’ meaning ‘without knowledge,’
    while the atheist’s nonbelief is more resolute. ‘Atheist’ means,
    ‘without God,’ and the atheist boldly asserts just that: There is no God.

    Another discredited but recycled trope. Agnosticism and atheism are not mutually separate. Agnosticism refers to knowledge, atheism to non belief in gods or a god. So it is quite usual for all of us – including you – to be agnostic atheists regarding almost every single claim about some god or gods. After all, none of us has any good reason to believe in any of them… save for those of us who allow for a few special exemptions. That’s why christians for the first 200 years were called atheists by Romans who worshiped many gods. What you are trying to do here is describe atheism as it applies to non believers to be what it is not: intolerant and unreasonable. Here is your moral relativity at work.

  • tildeb

    The crux of its thesis, from Chapter 4, “Why There Almost Certainly
    Is No God,” is the PhD’s argument for the non-existence of God, which
    distills to something like this:

    The universe we observe is highly complex.
    Any creator of this highly complex universe would have to be even more complex than it.
    It is too improbable that such a God exists.

    No, Terrell, this not Dawkins’ argument. Go back, reread, and try to comprehend it this time.

    Now do you see where you went wrong? What he’s actually saying is: IF you are convinced that complexity is too improbable to have evolved, THEN you must be convinced that god is even MORE improbable.

    Dawkins then spends a great deal of time explaining how evolution is a process of scaffolding, of creating complexity from local rules behaving locally. That you feel qualified to reduce his argument to your shadow distortion indicates your motive, and it’s not to find out what’s true; it’s to support your beliefs that you wish to impose on the reality we share. That’s not honest inquiry; that’s delusional thinking in a nutshell.

  • tildeb

    You have to distort what’s true to arrive at the conclusion that atheism is a faith position. Look to yourself for evidence if this is the case: do have ‘faith’ that Muk Muk of the Volcano is not real? Of course not. You do not believe in Muk Muk because you hold a philosophical faith-choice to deny Him; you do not believe in Muk Muk because you have no compelling reason to do so, no compelling evidence that Muk Muk is a causal agent in this world that produces real effect. You do not believe in untold millions of gods for exactly the same reason. Atheists are no different than you in this regard; it is you who make a single exception without any compelling reasons. To cover up this lack of compelling reasons from reality, you – not atheists – insert a special pleading clause for the role of faith to play a part. I should respect your – not my – faith-choice as much as I respect any other equivalent faith-choice… not any more and not any less. But I will not stand idly by and read your convoluted thinking that leads you to equate the method of science that relies on reality to adjudicate its claims to be the same as your faith-choice to allow your faith – exempt from reality’s arbitration of it – to be the same thing! It’s not. They are two antithetical methods of inquiry into the reality we share – in perpetual conflict and forever incompatible. And, surprising only to theists, this is why they produce conflicting results. The scientific method works to produce knowledge that is the same for everyone everywhere all the time. Unless and until faith-choices produce equivalent practical knowledge about the reality it purports to describe, then your claims about reality based on your faith-choice are empty of any knowledge value and should be treated as such.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=544737362 Terrell Smith Clemmons

    Hi tildeb. Thanks for reading what I wrote and taking the time to express your contending views. There are a lot of good topics for discussion in your three comments. I’d like to hear a little more about where you’re coming from if you’re willing to elaborate.

    Would I be right to conclude you identify yourself as an atheist?

    And that you’re upset with me because you interpreted what I wrote to be portraying atheism as intolerant and unreasonable?

    • tildeb

      I apologize for not seeing this response sooner or I would have gladly engaged months ago!

      Yes, I’m a New Atheist but, no, I’m not ‘upset’ with you. I am frustrated that so many people like you who are capable of a much higher level of critical thinking and accuracy of comprehension continue to empower very poor arguments that you yourself would not tolerate. Trying to discredit my atheism towards your faith-based belief seems reasonable… until you turn it on yourself to explain your atheism towards all the faith-based beliefs you do not share. This the litmus test you should undertake before such a posting… to see for yourself why the arguments (unencumbered by the exceptionalism you are willing to grant to your preferred faith) are so poor. In addition, this technique would reveal how so much of faith-based argumentation requires distortion and misrepresentation of what’s known, of what’s knowable, of what true in the world in order to make reality inert, to make it irrelevant to the faith-based claim, to render the claim immune to reality’s arbitration of it.

      When you can see this, experience it, yourself, you will better understand why the privileging of religious faith-based claims in our civilization is not just without merit but actively impedes respect for knowledge and tolerance of differences. You will see, for example, why New Atheists are the ones most active in promoting your freedom of religion by supporting a purely secular public domain where you can exercise your beliefs to your heart’s content in your private domain without a peep from anyone. But I almost never come across a blogger who criticizes atheism but who supports the secular basis of religious freedom. When the vast majority of all religious folk do so, I think you’ll find New Atheists simply go away and get on with their lives… their job done.

      • http://terrellclemmons.wordpress.com/ Terrell

        No apology necessary, tildeb. Thanks for being respectful in your
        answer. I think you and I actually are in more agreement about an open marketplace of ideas than you might think. I would tend to call it pluralistic, rather than secular, but I think it’s in general agreement
        with the idea you express here.

        I think the root point of disagreement between you and me is straightforward: I believe there is a God. You don’t.

        Both positions require an element of faith to adopt because we don’t have complete evidence for either. Unless, that is, you have a case for the non-existence of God that I haven’t heard. If you do, please make it. I’m willing to hear and consider it.

  • Justin

    “When we engage as agents of Jesus Christ, we meet atheism’s bad
    philosophy with good philosophy, and we confront its unbelief with the
    certain reality of God’s good existence.”

    I was annoyed with most
    of the false reasoning in this article until I read this… at which
    point I laughed out loud. The atheist position that you distorted is
    simply that there is not enough evidence to support the idea of an all
    encompassing, contradictory, moralising, supreme being. Are they
    absolutely certain of this? No, but you do not need “faith” to realise
    that this is most likely not the case. Disbelief based on lack of
    evidence by its definition requires no faith, regardless of your claim.
    Christianity certainly tries to justify itself on factual grounds,
    seeing as how faith alone can lead you to any number of possible
    religions. You are essentially attempting to derail any discussion about
    the merits of your god claims and are drawing attention to the atheist
    making the claim and not the claim itself. Extraordinary claims require
    extraordinary evidence. It is not an extraordinary claim to acknowledge
    there is much left to be discovered. However any supernatural claim by
    definition requires evidence to bring it to the realm of natural. If God
    created nature then this should be observable but there is no evidence
    of this, which is essentially to admit that God has no observable influence on the
    natural world – rendering him powerless.

    And you claim to possess good philosophy? Is it good philosophy to stone your children to death for disobeying you? Is it good philosophy to persecute homosexuals? Is it good philosophy that a person can be saved, not via their good works or morals, but purely because of their faith? Is it good philosophy that you should neglect life and look forward to your death? Is it good philosophy to do as Jesus says and hate your family to be his disciple? Please understand why I find your claim amusing.

    • MGaerlan

      Justin, please read our Comment Policy, which can be found under the “About” tab. While we encourage genuine intellectual rebuttals, statements such as “I laughed out loud” and “I find your claim amusing” do not foster the type of mature, civil discussion we encourage here.

      • Justin

        “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used
        against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before
        reason can act upon them” – Thomas Jefferson

    • http://terrellclemmons.wordpress.com/ Terrell

      Justin, if you would like to make your case for the non-existence of God, please do. All the rest of your comment is irrelevant to the root point of disagreement between atheism, which says there is no God, and theism, which says there is a God.

      As a matter of rational inquiry, it’s not complicated. Either there is a God or there isn’t. If you hold that there isn’t make your case.