New Atheism

What is New Atheism's Doctrine of Man?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
New Atheists' doctrine of man faces serious problems when they are confronted with the marvel of the human mind.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part five of a series. Read part four.

New Atheism's doctrine of man - that he is the product of random processes of time and chance - runs into serious problems when the New Atheist is confronted with the marvel of the human mind.

The Product of Time and Chance

In the New Atheist worldview, man is the product of evolution. Mankind came about not as the result of any creative intelligence but merely through random processes of time and chance. But this assertion presents some problems for the New Atheist. It is interesting to see how much of the New Atheist literature focuses on trying to explain the marvel of the human brain, and the nature of human thought and reason.

Human reasoning, they assert, is merely the product of electro-chemical processes taking place in the brain. As Richard Dawkins puts it, human life is "just bytes and bits of digital information."1 "We are jumped-up apes and our brains were only designed to understand the mundane details of how to survive in the Stone Age African savannah."2

Christopher Hitchens writes: "If our presence here, in our present form, is indeed random and contingent [as Hitchens and his New Atheist colleagues assert], then at least we can consciously look forward to the further evolution of our poor brains, and to stupendous advances in medicine and life extension, derived from work on our elementary stem cells and umbilical-cord blood cells. . . . And all this will be further clarified if we are modest and patient enough to understand the building blocks of nature and the lowly stamp our of origins. No divine plan, let alone angelic intervention, is required. Everything works without that assumption."3

Unlike some of his New Atheist colleagues, Sam Harris is at least puzzled by the amazing abilities of our "poor brains." He notes that the "human brain is a prolific generator of beliefs about the world. In fact, the very humanness of any brain consists largely in its capacity to evaluate new statements of propositional truth in light of innumerable others that it already accepts. By recourse to intuitions of truth and falsity, logical necessity and contradiction, human beings are able to knit together private visions of the world that largely cohere. What neural events underlie this process? What must a brain do in order to believe that a given statement is true or false? We currently have no idea. Language processing may play a large role, of course, but the challenge will be to discover how the brain brings the products of perception, memory, and reasoning to bear on individual propositions and magically transforms them into the very substance of our living."4

In a previous article we quoted British former atheist Robert Frost, who pinpoints this critical issue in the New Atheists' doctrine of man. If the human mind is merely the product of time and chance, then

The atheist must, of necessity, believe that matter without mind created reason and logic. Matter without intelligence created understanding and comprehension. Matter without morals created complex ethical codes and legal systems. Matter without conscience created a sense of right and wrong. Matter without emotion created skills and art, music, drama, architecture, comedy, literature and dance. Matter without design created in humankind an insatiable hunger for meaning and purpose.5

Authentic Christianity in Contrast

Authentic Biblical Christianity has no such logical problem. The Scripture-driven Christian understands that he is God's special creation. Man is not, as the New Atheists assert, a creature of "lowly" origins - a "jumped-up ape" with a tenth-rate brain. His thoughts and beliefs are not the mere products of random electro-chemically induced "neural events."

Scripture tells us that God created man in His own image and likeness. Genesis 1:26-31 tells us that the first man was an adult, rational, sensate, linguistic creature with whom God immediately began communicating in complex language, indicating that God's new creature already possessed multifaceted knowledge. God immediately gave the first man dominion over the earth.

How did newly-created man possess such knowledge and understanding? We read in Genesis 2:7 that "the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." In the book of Job we read of the significance of God's breathing life into man: "There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding" (32:3). It is God our Maker "who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of heaven" (35:10-11).

God Himself asked Job the rhetorical questions, "Who has put wisdom in the mind? Or who has given understanding to the heart?" (Job 38:36).

The Christian also understands from Scripture that because of man's sin, the human mind became thoroughly corrupt. By the time of Noah, "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). The main thing that has been corrupted by sin in the mind of man is his understanding of God:

The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one. (Psalm 14:1-3)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man-and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans 1:18-32)

The saving work of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners involves the salvation of the mind, in order that man may once again bear the unmarred image of God:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

God's work of the sanctification of the believer involves the mind:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing (literally, the renovation) of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

The New Atheist - indeed every sinner - needs to experience the salvation of mind and soul that is only possible through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).




1. Richard Dawkins, as quoted in John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? ((Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000) page 356.

2. Richard Dawkins, as quoted in the London Sunday Telegraph, October 18, 1998.

3. Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great: How Religion Ruins Everything (New York: Hachette Book Group USA, 2007) pages 94-95. Italics in the original.

4. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004) page 51. Italics in the original.

5. David Wilkinson and Robert Frost, Thinking Clearly About God and Science (London: Monarch Books, 2000) page 41.


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