The Rise of Confrontational Atheism

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The Rise of Confrontational Atheism

In his book Cosmos,1 Carl Sagan famously asserted, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” In this statement, he essentially summed up the credo of atheism.

Ever since the era of the French Revolution, humanists have assumed that such a worldview would inevitably triumph. Yet, after 250 years, belief in religion is stronger than at any time since the Middle Ages. The Eastern bloc countries that adopted atheism as their de facto state religion are now in “the dustbin of history.” Christianity, Buddhism, and even Islam are making major inroads in Communist China.

What do the atheists have to say about this? They’re mad as hell, if hell existed, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. A growing number of them are abandoning the passive doctrine of “non-overlapping magisteria,” which worked so well for them in Europe over the past half-century. Led by popularizers like Richard Dawkins and celebrities like Elton John, they are adopting a policy of in-your-face confrontation.

The strategy or doctrine of “non-overlapping magisteria” is the basic argument that science can’t prove or disprove the existence of God, so we need to treat all religions as if they are true. The bottom line is that religion has nothing to say about science, and science has nothing to say about religion. Both Dawkins and Billy Graham know that this is “hogwash.”

Clearly, science can’t prove anything with 100 percent certainty. But an analysis of the body of available data can give a strong indication that one position is valid and another is not. Similarly, the values and presuppositions held by researchers inevitably influence their investigative priorities and their interpretation of the objective data.

Nevertheless, lots of people, including the famous paleontologist Stephen J. Gould and most liberal Christian celebrities, are willing to pay lip-service to this position.

It appeals to many atheists because they don’t have to come face-to-face with the fact that their belief system offers little or nothing to the average man on the street: no hope, no purpose, and no guidelines. Even atheist celebrities candidly admit that the great majority of people get reassurance and comfort from religion that they could never get from naturalism.

It’s appealing to liberal theologians who subscribe to the postmodern idea that “all paths lead to salvation,” even when they contradict one another; it lets them avoid analyzing their beliefs in terms of hard empirical data.

It’s also appealing to almost anyone who doesn’t like confrontation; it lets them avoid the inevitable conflict that comes from taking a firm position on such an emotional topic...

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