New Atheism

What is New Atheism's Doctrine of Sin?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The chilling moral of New Atheism's doctrine of sin is this: The smartest and strongest will always win.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part six of a series. Read part five.

Misappropriating Biblical terminology, New Atheists speak of "evil" - "truth" - and "justice". But in the New Atheist view, religion is the root of all evil, the ultimate "truth" is that there is no God, and the ultimate "justice" is the eradication of faith. The monstrosity and death we see in the world are simply part of the Darwinian package. The chilling moral of New Atheism's doctrine of sin is this: The smartest and strongest will always win.

Religion is the Root of All Evil

New Atheists openly ridicule the Biblical doctrine of sin. Yet, they misappropriate the Biblical terms of good and evil. Religion, they say, is the root of all evil. Richard Dawkins, maintaining his reputation as "the New Atheists' Rottweiler," writes this: "As the Nobel prizing-winning physicist Steven Weinberg said, 'Religion is an insult to human dignity. With it or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.' "1

The title of Christopher Hitchens' contribution to the "four gospels of the New Atheism" echoes this: god is Not Great: How Religion Ruins Everything. Hitchens wrote in ridiculing tones of the "nonsense story of Adam's 'Fall' (the original instance of someone being created free and then loaded with impossible-to-obey prohibitions)."2

Sam Harris joins the chorus in his "gospel," The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by quoting Will Durant: "Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous."3

Who Defines Evil?

The New Atheists have essentially defined "evil" as anything that stems from violation of two "transcendent values" of "truth" and "justice" which they claim all cultures share. But as Daniel Dennett puts it in his "gospel", Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, "The idea of a transcendent value is rather like the idea of a perfectly straight line - not achievable in practice, but readily accepted as an ideal that can be approximated even if it can't be fully articulated."4

Dennett then goes on to try to explain away the obvious objection ("At first this may look like a dubious dodge - an ideal that we all accept even if nobody can say what it is!") but without success. In trying to do so, he gives an example that he says solves the problem, but in fact simply shows the irrationality of the New Atheist position. Citing a passage in Yale professor J. M. Balkin's book, Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology (Yale University Press, 2003), Dennett puts forward this case:

A marauding army massacres people and we call them war criminals. They object, saying that their culture permits what they have done, but we can turn their point back on them:

[And now he quotes Balkin, page 148]...we can say to them: "If standards of justice and truth are internal to each culture, you can have no objection to our characterization of you as war criminals. For just as our standards can have no application to you, your standards can have no application to us. We are as correct in proclaiming your evil in our culture as you are in proclaiming your uprightness in yours. But your very assertion that we have misunderstood you undermines this claim. It presupposes common values of truth and justice that we are somehow obligated to recognize. And on that ground, we are prepared to argue for your wickedness."5

The problem is that the New Atheist has no genuine transcendent values, and cannot even properly define the term. Lost, sinful man is his own authority, because in the New Atheist mindset there is no one higher. "Truth" and "justice" are whatever man defines them to be. And in the New Atheist view, the ultimate "truth" is that there is no God, and the ultimate "justice" is the eradication of faith.

Why Then Is There Evil?

In the New Atheist view, "evil" (which Sam Harris defines as "monstrosity and death"6) is simply part and parcel of evolution. It just comes with the package. What we see in the world merely reflects the age-old Darwinian struggle for survival. Man became man through billions of years of death and struggle, and the chilling moral of the evolutionary story is this: The smartest and strongest will always win.

Authentic Christianity in Contrast

The Scripture-driven Christian understands the one true definition of sin that is found in God's Word. Sin is any lack of conformity to, or violation of, the law of God (1 John 3:4, Romans 4:15). As such, sin isn't merely an offense against God's law, which emanates from the holiness of God. It is an offense against God the Lawgiver Himself (Exodus 32:33, Deuteronomy 32:51, Psalm 51:4), and it is an offense by creature against Creator (Ezekiel 18:4). There are transcendent values, and they are defined based on the holiness of the creator God, not the whims of fallen man.

We find that the Bible teaches four things about sin:

  1. It is original - It has its roots in the first sin of the first parents of mankind.
  2. Sin produces sins - Our nature governs our habitual practice.
  3. It is universal - All human beings are affected by it.
  4. It is systemic - It pervades our human natures; no part of us is unaffected.

Original Sin is "Original"

Sin has its roots in the sin of our first parents. Genesis chapter 3 tells us that God created Adam and Eve in perfection and gave them a commandment to obey, but of their own free will they chose to disobey Him. Because all mankind are Adams descendants, when Adam fell into sin all mankind fell with him, and bears Adam's guilt (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:22-45).

Sin is Both Nature and Habit

Human beings are therefore in a state of depravity. This involves both the loss of Adam's original righteousness and a continual personal propensity toward evil (Romans 3:10-23, 6:6, 6:12-17, 7:5-17, 8:7; Galatians 5:17, 24; Ephesians 4:18-19; James 1:14-15). The result of original sin is that all men commit acts of sin (1 Kings 8:46; Isaiah 53:6; Psalm 130:3; Romans 3:19-23; Galatians 3:22). In other words, as Adam's descendants we commit sin in word and deed, and neglect the good that we ought to do, because we are sinners by nature. We are not sinners because we sin - we sin because we are sinners.

Original Sin is Universal

Since all mankind are Adam's descendants, sin is universal. Scripture tells us that Adam's sin and its effects have passed on to all men, and that in the eyes of God we have all sinned in Adam (Romans 5:12). No one is righteous (Romans 3:10-19), and all have sinned (Romans 3:23, Galatians 3:22).

Original Sin is Systemic

Every part of man is affected by original sin. His intellect is blinded (1 Corinthians 2:14, 2 Corinthians 4:4). Men have become "futile in their thoughts, foolish hearts were darkened" (Romans 1:22). Because of this blindness, mankind is "past feeling" concerning the things of God (Ephesians 4:19) and his conscience is "seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:2). "The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). Romans 1:18-3:20 shows us that man bears the effects of sin in every part of his being.??????????¯??????????»??????????¿

An Accurate Picture of Man and the Universe

The record of the fall of man in Genesis 3 is God's own eyewitness account of what actually took place. And, we know from the Biblical record, the history of mankind outside Scripture, and from personal experience (if we are honest about it) that the Bible's teaching on original sin is an accurate picture of the state of mankind both collectively and individually. The world is in the condition it is in - hatred, bloodshed, disease, death, and chaos - because of original sin. Because the Bible presents an accurate picture, God's holy law (and our inability to keep it) shows us our desperate condition. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:24, the perfect law of God "was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" in Him.




1. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), page 249.

2. Christopher Hitchens, god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA, 2007), page 156.

3. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), page 86.

4. Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2006), pages 376-377.

5. Dennett, 377.

6. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004) page 172.


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