New Atheism

What is New Atheism's Doctrine of Scripture?

By Paul M. Elliott
While New Atheists outspokenly reject the Bible, they are blindly loyal to a "holy book" of their own.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part three of a series. Read part two.

It may surprise you to find out that those who deny God have a doctrine of Scripture, and it is another key component of New Atheism's belief system. But while New Atheists outspokenly reject the Bible and speak disparagingly about "holy books", they are blindly loyal to a "holy book" of their own.

"Encyclopedic Ignorance"

In the "four gospels of the New Atheism" the authors make many false assertions about the Bible establishing no foundation for them. Some of them even try to exegete passages of Scripture, and the results often mirror the unbelief of 21st-century liberal preachers!

New Atheists deny the concept of the existence of an inspired Word of God in general terms. In The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris declares, "The idea that any one of our religions represents the infallible word of the One True God requires an encyclopedic ignorance of history, mythology, and art..."1

At War With God's Law and the Lawgiver

The heart of New Atheism's rejection of the Bible is much more specific. They reject the Law of God as the eternal-life-and-death standard of righteousness, and they reject Biblical morality as a beneficial influence on society. At its core, New Atheism is at war with the Lawgiver Himself.

Richard Dawkins says that people should reject Deuteronomy and Leviticus because all "enlightened moderns" do so.2 He further rejects the idea that the Bible gives us God's standard of perfect holiness, and that God's Law should form the basis of morality in society:

There are two ways in which scripture might be a source of morals or rules for living. One is by direct instruction, for example through the Ten Commandments, which are the subject of such bitter contention in the culture wars of America's boondocks. The other is by example: God, or some other biblical character, might serve as - to use the contemporary jargon - a role model. Both scriptural routes, if followed through religiously (the adverb is used in its metaphoric sense but with an eye to its origin), encourage a system of morals which any civilized modern person, whether religious or not, would find - I can put it no more gently - obnoxious.

To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries. This may explain some of the sheer strangeness of the Bible. But unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living. Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or nor understood it, as Bishop John Shelby Spong,3 in The Sins of Scripture, rightly observed. Bishop Spong, by the way, is a nice example of a liberal bishop whose beliefs are so advanced as to be almost unrecognizable to the majority of those who call themselves Christians. A British counterpart is Richard Holloway, recently retired as Bishop of Edinburgh.4 Bishop Holloway even describes himself as a 'recovering Christian'. I had a public discussion with him in Edinburgh, which was one of the most stimulating and interesting encounters I have had.5

Christopher Hitchens said of the Ten Commandments:

It would be harder to find an easier proof that religion is man-made...But however little one thinks of the Jewish tradition, it is surely insulting to the people of Moses to imagine they had come this far under the impression that murder, adultery, theft, and perjury were permissible. (The same unanswerable point can be made in a different way about the alleged later preachings of Jesus...)...No society ever discovered has failed to protect itself from self-evident crimes like those supposedly stipulated at Mount Sinai. Finally, instead of the condemnation of evil actions, there is an oddly phrased condemnation of impure thoughts...More important, it demands the impossible...One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions, or barred from committing them, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much. In particular, it is absurd to hope to banish envy of other people's possessions or fortunes, if only because the spirit of envy can lead to emulation and ambition and have positive consequences...If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts, he should have taken more care to invent a different species. . . It goes without saying that none of the gruesome, disordered events described in Exodus ever took place. . . Long before modern inquiry and painstaking translation and excavation had helped enlighten us, it was well within the compass of a thinking person to see that the "revelation" at Sinai and the rest of the Pentateuch was an ill-carpentered fiction...6

At least Hitchens seemed to comprehend that God's holy standard demands the impossible - as the Westminster Confession of Faith so accurately summarizes it, "personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience." Yet Hitchens illogically rejected such a standard as man-made, for the very reason that man cannot keep it! And, he rejected the salvation made possible by the Lord Jesus Christ's perfect law-keeping on behalf of law-breaking man (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Daniel Dennett says, "Anybody can quote the Bible to prove anything, which is why you ought to worry about being overconfident."7 The New Atheists certainly demonstrate the truth of both parts of that statement. You can "prove" anything from the Bible if you are not born of God and you blatantly ignore context, and the road to Hell is paved with such "proofs."

Who Is the "Fundamentalist"?

In a previous article in this series, we quoted Richard Dawkins' statement in a television interview: "A fundamentalist is a person who believes in some holy book, and therefore will not change his mind." He said that an atheist, on the other hand, is "interested in the truth," open to new ideas, and willing to change his mind.8

But are the New Atheists really so open-minded? In an interview for the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Dawkins says this about theism of any kind, and especially the authentic Christian faith: "I am pretty hostile toward a rival doctrine."9

Darwin: New Atheism's "Holy Book"

Statements by Dawkins and other New Atheists that they are "hostile toward a rival doctrine" are highly revealing. Such hostility stems ultimately from their efforts to hide from the God of the Bible because they love darkness, and their deeds are evil (John 3:18-21). And in their headlong retreat from the light, New Atheists have embraced a "holy book" of their own: Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

In fact, New Atheists fit their own description of a "fundamentalist." They defend Darwin's writings with incredible ferocity, marshalling every weapon at their disposal, and they are absolutely unwilling to change their minds. This is demonstrated in chilling detail in the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (available from our Online Resource Store, see link below).

Dawkins and the others speak of Darwin and his writings with great reverence. Dawkins in particular practically deifies Darwin, quoting his Origin of Species with unquestioning devotion. Dawkins claims that Darwin, with god-like prescience, has answered all objections to the theory of evolution right up to the present day.10 Dawkins was the host of a series on British television (also available on DVD) called The Genius of Charles Darwin, which is practically an apotheosis of Darwin and his writings.

Daniel Dennett says that Biblical creationists should be "thrilled" by reading Darwin.11 In his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Dennett argues that "Darwinian processes" are the basis of everything, including "Mind, Meaning, Mathematics and Morality" as he titled one section of the book, which includes a chapter ironically (but quite appropriately) titled "Losing Our Minds to Darwin." In the last chapter of the book, Dennett praises "cultural diversity" as a product of Darwinism, but he makes it clear that "religious fundamentalism" has no place in that "diversity." He calls Darwin's theory "the best idea anyone has ever had."

As we also discussed in a previous article, New Atheists' doctrine of God is this: Belief in God is false because Darwinian evolution - molecules becoming man through billions of years of natural selection and mutation - is true. New Atheists have embraced Darwin as their "savior" from God. As Christopher Hitchens put it, "Charles Darwin was born in 1809, on the very same day as Abraham Lincoln, and there is no doubt as to which of them has proved to be the greater 'emancipator.' "12

Darwin's Birthday: New Atheism's "Christmas"

February 12, 2009 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the author of New Atheism's "holy book," and New Atheists celebrated the birth of their "savior" in a big way. Since then, Darwin Day has become New Atheism's equivalent of Christmas. A major worldwide campaign to celebrate Darwin involving atheist and humanist organizations, colleges and universities, the media, government - and even churches - promotes it each year. At right is a picture of Darwin-as-deity from a humanist website.13

Whose "Encyclopedic Ignorance"?

In all of this, the New Atheists demonstrate their own "encyclopedic ignorance" - of history, of true science, and of the Bible itself. They exhibit what Bible declares to be willful ignorance -

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:5-7)
 

References:

1. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), page 16

2. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), page 57.

3. John Shelby Spong is a bishop of the ultra-liberal United Methodist Church, and his own writings and behavior show him to be one of the most thorough reprobates alive.

4. The apostate Scottish Episcopal Bishop Richard Holloway is the author of How to Read the Bible (London: Ganata Books, 2006). In it he echoes the New Atheist position by writing: "The traditional view is that [God] is the supreme reality who existed before the universe, which he created, and which he sustains in being by his will. The other attractively simple approach is to see God not as the one who created us, but as the one created by us to explain our own existence...if you believe God is a human invention, then so are the ten commandments..." (page 16, italics added). He says that Romans 5:18-19 (one of the Bible's statements that Adam's first violation of God's law passed sin and death on to all mankind) is fallacious: "Paul's reading of the myth of the Fall introduced a number of potent ideas into history that continue to reverberate. The most momentous was that Adam's disobedience passed guilt, like an indelible and incurable virus, onto the human race. This is a dramatic example not of exegesis, reading from the text, but of eisegesis, reading into the text..." (page 20).

5. Dawkins, pages 237.

6. Christopher Hitchens, god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve/Hachette Book Group USA, 2007), pages 99-100, 102, 104.

7. Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2006), page 51.

8. Richard Dawkins, interviewed by Mariella Frostrup on Sky TV's The Book Show, episode 14, 2007.

9. Richard Dawkins, interviewed by Ben Stein on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (Premise Media Corporation, 2008).

10. Dawkins, The God Delusion, pages 122-123.

11. Dennett, page 169.

12. Hitchens, page 66.

13. As viewed 11/3/2008 at http://humaniststudies.org/darwin/Understanding_Darwinian_Evolution.rtf

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