By James Bishop| What follows is a compilation of honest atheist quotes I’ve collected over the years from reading books, watching debates etc. I hope they, as well as the links provided, prove informative for all readers.
1. Not all atheists are bigots like Dawkins and Harris.
Atheist humanist philosopher Richard Norman believes that we need to work together as religious and non-religious people if progress is to ever take place in dialogue. In this case simple, inaccurate generalizations will not help:
“Humanism is more than atheism, it is about putting humanist beliefs and values into practice and trying to make the world a better place. And that is impossible unless we’re prepared to cooperate with others who share those values, including those for whom the values are inseparable from a religious commitment . . .
We have problems enough in the world. The threats of climate change, global poverty, war and repression and intolerance can never be countered unless we are prepared to work together on the basis of a shared humanity. Simplistic generalizations about religion don’t help” (1).
2. The question of God’s existence is no trivial matter.
Whether one believes in God or not, God’s existence is a crucial matter for it has huge ramifications to many, if not all, aspects of human life ranging from questions of value, morality, to purpose & meaning.
Richard Dawkins captures this:
“The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important that we have to answer” (2).
Widely read atheist existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre explains what he believes the consequences are if one rejects belief in a creator God; he claimed that “If God does not exist… man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon, either within or outside himself” (44).
3. Many atheists are critical of fundamentalist New Atheism.
Not much is new about the New Atheists other than their increased intensity of vitriol and anti-religious polemic. But such tactics don’t hold water with everyone, many atheists included. According to atheist Gary Wolf:
“The New Atheists have castigated fundamentalism and branded even the mildest religious liberals as enablers of a vengeful mob. Everybody who does not join them is an ally of the Taliban. But so far, their provocation has failed to take hold… I take this as good news. Even those of us who sympathize intellectually have good reasons to wish that the New Atheists continue to seem absurd.
If we reject their polemics, if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous, this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve lost our convictions or our sanity. It simply reflects our deepest, democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there’s always a chance we could turn out to be wrong” (3).
According to the “father of secular humanism” Paul Kurtz: “I think they are atheist fundamentalists. They’re anti-religious and they’re mean spirited, unfortunately. Now, they are very good atheists and very dedicated people who do not believe in God. But you have this aggressive and militant phase of atheism, and that does more damage than good” (4).
Likewise philosopher Michael Ruse has been one of the most skeptical voices on New Atheists such as Dawkins. Ruse would say that:
“The God Delusion makes me embarrassed to be an atheist and the McGraths show why” (5).
Michael Shermer notes the existence of atheistic fundamentalism within science; he complains that “Since the turn of the millennium, a new militancy has arisen among religious sceptics… Whenever religious beliefs conflict with scientific facts or violate principles of political liberty, we must respond with appropriate aplomb. Nevertheless, we should be cautious about irrational exuberance” (19).
4. Atheism is a hopeless worldview without purpose.
This was made quite clear in a debate the atheist activist Dan Barker had with a Christian apologist by the name of James White; Barker remarked: “There is no purpose to life, and we should not want there to be a purpose to life because if there was that would cheapen life” (6).
It is also evident that many atheists also feel the nihilistic force behind their philosophy, as in the words of the late William Provine:
“Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me.
There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either” (7).
Provine would also say that “No inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there any absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life” (34).
Further, after Richard Dawkins had penned his best seller The God Delusion he recounts some concerns forwarded to him by his readers; Dawkins recounts:
“A foreign publisher of my first book confessed the he could not sleep for three nights after reading it, so troubled was he by what he saw as its cold, bleak message. Others have asked me how I can bear to get up in the mornings.
A teacher from a distant country wrote to me reproachfully that a pupil had come to him in tears after reading the same book, because it had persuaded her that life was empty and purposeless. He advised her not to show the book to any of her friends, for fear of contaminating them with the same nihilistic pessimism” (31).
Yet despite such existential nihilism Dawkins tries to lessen its effects: “Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway?” (32)
If that’s not enough, the atheist chemist Peter Atkins goes as far as to call us “children of chaos,” and that “the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.” (33)
Jon Casimir, as cited by Marsden, is forthright: “Here’s what I think. There is no meaning of life. The whole thing is a gyp, a never-ending corridor to nowhere. What is passed off as an all-important search is basically just a bunch of philosophers scrabbling about on their knees, trying to find a lost sock in the cosmic laundromat” (35).
Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre goes on to articulate his nihilistic epiphany:
“I existed like a stone, a plant, a microbe… I was just thinking… that here we are, all of us, eating and drinking, to preserve our precious existence and there’s nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing” (48).
Similarly depressing is philosopher Thomas Nagel’s words; he explains that “It is often remarked that nothing we do now will matter in a million years. But if that is true, then by the same token, nothing that will be the case in a million years matters now. In particular, it does not matter now that in million years nothing we do now will matter” (75).
In another of his works Nagel believes that “Even if life as a whole is meaningless, perhaps that’s nothing to worry about. Perhaps we can recognise it and just go on as before” (76).
5. Objective moral values do not exist on atheism.
This is quite significant as if this logic follows then it would not be possible to make objective moral claims; morality becomes relative. In other words, that one atheist thinks beating elderly people is a good thing because it provides him with entertainment such an act cannot be deemed to be objectively wrong by another atheist.
Why? Simply because it’s one’s opinion against another. However, not all atheists view moral values as relative, but many do. The atheist activist and president of American Atheists David Silverman says:
“There is no objective moral standard. We are responsible for our own actions….” “The hard answer is it [moral decisions] is a matter of opinion” (8).
Atheist nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would also claim that “When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality. For the latter is not self-evident… Christianity is a system” (9).
Nietzsche would go on to see that if God does not exist then “everything is permitted” (11).
Arguably, philosopher Julian Baggini captures this best: “If there is no single moral authority [i.e. if there is no God, then] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… that means that moral claims are not true or false in the same way as factual claims are…
moral claims are judgments [that] it is always possible for someone to disagree with… without saying something that is factually false…you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error” (12).
Secular writer for American Thinker John Steinrucken believes that atheists should do some self-reflection:
“Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist!” (29).
Philosopher Michael Ruse concludes by claiming that our “sense” of morality is a byproduct of socio-biological evolution:
“In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to co-operate… Ethical codes work because they drive us to go against our selfish day to day impulses in favour of long-term group survival and harmony…
Furthermore, the way our biology forces our ends is by making us think that there is an objective, higher code to which we are all subject…
ethics is a shared illusion of the human race” (74).
6. Moral values and duties can only be grounded in God.
According to philosopher Richard Taylor: “to say that something is wrong because… it is forbidden by God, is…. perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong… even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable… The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone” (10).
7. Atheism remains a minority worldview.
It would seem that claims of God’s death have been proven to be somewhat premature, as Wilson diagnoses: “Naturalistic atheism remains the orthodox worldview of Western intellectual culture, despite the fact that its advocates constitute ‘a tiny minority of the world’s population” (13).
8. Evil’s existence is not incompatible with the existence of an all-powerful God.
Philosopher William Rowe is responsible for the concept of the “friendly atheist” which is an atheist who accepts that some theists are justified in believing in God even if it is the case that God doesn’t exist. Rowe argues:
“Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God [who is all-powerful and all-good]. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed… there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God” (14).
9. Belief in God is still very much alive.
Michel Onfray in his book In Defense of Atheism writes that: “Never more than today has there been such evidence of vitality in… the return to religious thinking, proof that God is not dead but that he was merely and briefly dozing… The trend has escalated to such an extent that we are now obliged to take up old defensive positions” (15).
Likewise founder of founder of The Skeptics Society Michael Shermer explains that:
“At the beginning of the twentieth century social scientists predicted that belief in God would decrease by the end of the century because of the secularization of society. In fact… the opposite has occurred… Not only is God not dead, as Nietzsche proclaimed, but he has never been more alive” (16).
Gavin Hyman, in Atheism in Modern History, similarly believes that “although modernity has undoubtedly witnessed a turn from tradition-based religious commitment, this has not resulted in the widespread atheism that many had previously predicted.” Hyman also notes dissatisfaction many people have with atheism’s prospects:
“In fact, outright atheism remains a minority confession, and the modern Western world has witnessed the proliferation of alternative ‘spiritualities’ of various kinds,” and a major reason for this is that
“Many, it seems, are dissatisfied with atheism as the ‘final truth’ of the human condition” (17).
10. Christianity is not a force for evil.
It’s quite common to hear online, especially on atheist pages/sites/forums, just how much of a cancer Christianity has been for mankind. At least the New Atheist Sam Harris is honest enough:
“Our Christian neighbours… are right to be outraged by this pretence of even-handedness, because the truth is that Islam is quite a bit scarier and more culpable for needless human misery than Christianity has been for a very, very long time” (18).
Similarly, philosopher Michael Ruse believes that
“it is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil, as Richard claims… ” (28)
11. The New Atheists are terrible at arguments.
This is not a critique that is only to be heard from the opponents of the New Atheists but also from atheists themselves. First off, French atheist anthropologist Scott Atran explains that:
“The arguments being put forward here are extraordinarily blind and simplistic… I just don’t think scientists, when they step out of science, have any better insight than the ordinary schmuck on the street. It makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.” (20)
Philosopher Richard Norman finds the anti-religion generalizations questionable: “By far the commonest criticism directed against the New Atheists is that they do over-generalize, and I think that the criticism is justified” (21).
Norman is furthermore critical of the late New Atheist Christopher Hitchens:
“The circularity of Hitchens’ argument [is that] Religion poisons everything. What about the good things done in the name of religion? If they’re really good, that just shows that they’re not really religious. The same circular argument appears in Hitchens’ discussion of the atrocities generated by secular creeds. He says of totalitarian societies that because their leaders are regarded as infallible, such states are theocracies and therefore essentially religious” (22).
Philosopher Thomas Nagel is heavily critical of Richard Dawkins’ “weak” work:
“Dawkins dismisses, with contemptuous flippancy the traditional… arguments for the existence of God offered by Aquinas and Anselm. I found these attempts at philosophy, along with those in a later chapter on religion and ethics, particularly weak” (23).
Philosopher Michael Ruse, well known for his critiques of Dawkins, says scathingly:
“I think Dawkins is ignorant of just about every aspect of philosophy and theology and it shows” (24).
Even more fiercely he says that Dawkins and co. are “absolute disasters”:
“I think that you and Richard [Dawkins] are absolute disasters in the fight against intelligent design – we are losing this battle… what we need is not knee-jerk atheism but serious grappling with the issues – neither of you are willing to study Christianity seriously and to engage with the ideas – it is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil, as Richard claims – more than this, we are in a fight, and we need to make allies in the fight, not simply alienate everyone of good will” (25).
Michael Shermer has claimed to have winced at the embarrassing arguments & statements (such as religious people being “faith-heads”) made by Dawkins on religious people:
“I found myself wincing at Dawkins’ references to religious people as ‘faith-heads,’ as being less intelligent, poor at reasoning, or even deluded, and to religious moderates as enablers of terrorism. I shudder because I have religious friends and colleagues who do not fit these descriptors, and I empathize at the pain such pejorative appellations cause them… I am not convinced by Dawkins’s argument that without religion there would be ‘no suicide bombers, no 9/11 [etc.]’… many of these events were less religiously motivated than politically driven, or at the very least involved religion in the service of political hegemony” (26).
Richard Norman notes the false generalizations perpetuated against religious people by the New Atheists: “In the “religion” that Dawkins and Hitchens relentlessly attack I simply do not recognize the many good, sensitive, intelligent and sometimes wonderful religious people I know” (56).
Lewis Wolpert, a South African-born British biologist, makes an argument that in my mind it not a very convincing one. According to Wolpert, “[I] stopped believing in God when I was 15 or 16 because he didn’t give me what I asked for” (54).
12. Some atheists will never believe in God regardless of evidence.
Perhaps this was most succinctly put by atheist comic artists Martin Rowson who writes that even
“If God proved he existed, I still wouldn’t believe in him… I don’t believe in God, not because I can’t but because I don’t want to” (40).
Philosopher Thomas Nagel is also revealingly honest:
“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time” (41).
Evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin explains his commitment to materialism, no matter what he has
“a prior commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods… of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the… world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our… adherence to material causes to create… a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying” (42).
Lewontin goes on to say that his “materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door.”
The late Australian philosopher John Smart reveals the lengths that he would go to in order to explain away a miracle if he witnessed one: “someone who has naturalistic preconceptions will always in fact find some naturalistic explanation more plausible than a supernatural one… Suppose that I woke up in the night and saw the stars arranged in shapes that spelt out the Apostle’s Creed. I would know that astronomically it is impossible that stars should have changed their positions.
I don’t know what I would think. Perhaps I would think that I was dreaming or that I had gone mad. What if everyone else seemed to me to be telling me that the same thing had happened? Then I might not only think that I had gone mad – I would probably go mad” (43).
Richard Dawkins also possesses great faith in his dogmatic belief that every cause in the universe must be natural in origin & explanation: “The kind of explanation we come up with must… make use of the laws of physics, and nothing more than the laws of physics” (47).
13. Science does not make it impossible to believe in God.
Atheist cosmologist Lawrence Krauss explains that “Science’s success does not mean it encompasses the entirety of human intellectual experience… Science does not make it impossible to believe in God. We should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it” (45).
In a similar manner Ruse claims that he does “not see that committing oneself to science necessarily implies that one thinks that all of religion is false…” (46).
Elsewhere Ruse goes on to dispel the myth that science and religion have always been in conflict:
“Most people think that science and religion are, and necessarily must be, in conflict. In fact, this ‘warfare’ metaphor, so beloved of nineteenth-century rationalists, has only a tenuous application to reality. For most of the history of Christianity, it was the Church that was the home of science . . . the arrival of evolution, particularly in the form of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, put this tolerance to severe test.
But without denying that there were strong opinions on both sides, the truth seems to be that much of the supposed controversy was a function of the imagination of non-believers (especially Thomas Henry Huxley and his friends), who were determined to slay theological dragons whether they existed or not” (68).
14. Atheists can be cult-like.
I wouldn’t agree with some religious people that I’ve seen call atheism a religion, but I have noted that many atheists are quite religiously orientated themselves. Sam Harris notes a sort of “piety” in the atheist camp after some criticism was made of his work:
“…there is something cult-like about the culture of atheism. In fact, much of the criticism I have received of my speech is so utterly lacking in content that I can only interpret it as a product of offended atheist piety” (55).
15. Religion, specifically Christianity, has provided many benefits to humanity.
Richard Norman explains that “religion has inspired not only some of the worst but also some for the best human achievements…. To present religion and its works in a wholly negative light would in my view be hopelessly unbalanced” (27)
John Steinrucken, a secular writer, claims that Christianity
“has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition” (30).
Journalist and professed atheist Matthew Paris, upon reflecting of his journey to Africa in his piece As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God, noted the positive impacts Christianity has had. Essentially, Parris believes, that to remove Christian evangelism from Africa will “leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete” (36).
Paris believes that “Africa needs God…Missionaries, not aid money,” as they “are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem—the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset” (64).
Parris also saw how those professing belief in Jesus’ name has made life more bearable for many people in Africa. He explains:
“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good” (50).
He has also seen how Christians, irrespective of race, have worked wonders across Africa: “Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.” (51)
However, Parris explains that this doesn’t seem to fit his atheism: “It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God” (52).
Similarly, another atheist, Hattersley, criticizes his fellow atheists for their lack of effort in relief effort: “You don’t hear of “Atheist Aid” rather like Christian aid, and, I think, despite my inability to believe myself, I’m deeply impressed by what belief does for people like the Salvation Army…
I often say I never hear of atheist organizations taking food to the poor” (53).
16. New Atheism and its arrogance.
The late Christopher Hitchens, a New Atheist himself, finds Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett’s belief that atheists are “brights” cringeworthy. He notes that his own
“annoyance at Professor Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, for their cringe-making proposal that atheists should conceitedly nominate themselves to be called “brights,” is part of a contentious argument” (37).
17. Atheists have faith.
Philosopher Michael Ruse makes an honest concession,
“… if you want a concession, I’ve always said that naturalism is an act of faith…” (38)
George Klein, in his book The Atheist in the Holy City, self-describes:
“I am an atheist. My attitude is not based on science, but rather on faith… The absence of a Creator, the non-existence of God is my childhood faith, my adult belief, unshakable and holy” (39).
Professor of biochemistry Isaac Asimov puts his faith in his emotions by claiming that his atheism is not entirely based upon reason:
“I am an atheist, out and out. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I’m an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time” (49).
18. Just some religion-hating atheists.
Some atheists have a serious axe to grind with religion. For example, atheist philosopher Paul Edwards parallels religious belief to “sick dreams” when he said that “The sooner these sick dreams are eliminated from the human scene the better.” (57)
Jon O’Hair of American Atheists claims that “This world would be the best of all possible worlds if “faith” was eradicated from the face of the earth” (58).
However, some atheists, like Daniel Dennett, tend to be quite practical in relieving the world of religious belief by talking their students out of their religious convictions:
“They will see me as just another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that – that’s what I am, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do” (59).
Prior to his recent death Christopher Hitchens, in one of his many speeches, said:
“I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right” (60).
Dawkins is similar in tactics when, at a Reason Rally, he urged attending atheists to
“Mock them, ridicule them… in public” (61).
Theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg gives a mandate to scientists out there in the world:
“The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion … anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization” (62).
And perhaps many would think Sam Harris had crossed the boundary when he revealed the sort of wish that he would desire to come true:
“If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion” (63).
The 19th century French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon would imply that intelligent men cannot be religious when he said that:
“The first duty of free and intelligent man is to chase the idea of God out of his conscience incessantly” (73).
19. Several ways God cannot be explained away.
Mel Thompson, who identifies himself as “a frustrated religious atheist” asserts that guilt cannot explain away religious belief:
“If a sociologist argues that religion exists in order to hold society together, or a psychologist holds that religious belief is connected with guilt, that does not mean that what is believed is necessarily false” (65).
Burns and Law point out that:
“if God is omnipresent and the sustainer of all causal processes, whatever brings about an experience of God will, ultimately, be caused by God. It could only be shown that these alleged experiences were not caused by God if it could be shown that God does not exist” (66).
Secular socialist Phil Zuckerman explains how belief in God cannot be neurologically based:
“In recent years, a new attempt at explaining religious belief has emerged. Its central tenet is that belief in God is biologically determined, neurologically based, or genetically inborn… [However] Between 500 million and 750 million humans currently do not believe in God. Such figures render any suggestion that theism is innate or neurologically based manifestly untenable” (67).
According to biologist Provine, “even if every case of theistic belief could plausibly be explained in terms of some naturalistic theory or other, that still wouldn’t exclude positive answers to the questions ‘Does God exist?’ and ‘Is belief in God warranted?’” (70).
20. No evidence for God is not the same as no God.
As Kai Nielsen captures, God still may exist even if there is no, or weak, evidence:
“All the proofs of God’s existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists. In short, to show that the proofs do not work is not enough by itself. It may still be the case that God exists” (90).
Scot Shalkowski implies that to be an atheist one must have good reasons:
“if there were no evidence at all for belief in God, this would [at best] legitimize merely agnosticism unless there is evidence against the existence of God” (69).
21. Problems for atheism.
Lewis Wolpert admits that the beginning of the universe via the Big Bang is a “problem”:
“And then, of course, there’s the whole problem of where the universe itself came from. And that is a great mystery. Big bang, big schmang! How did that all happen? I haven’t got a clue” (71).
However, even though strong scientific evidence points to a finite beginning of the universe “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created” (88). I suspect Stephen Hawking captures the reason behind this when he wrote that
“Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention” (89).
Then there’s the problem of true belief, namely whether or not one has good reason to trust that their beliefs are true on their worldview. Haldane explains that
“If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true… and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms” (72).
Although, as an atheist, Thomas Nagel rejects Darwinian explanations he believes that naturalistic evolution is problematic for naturalism:
“Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends” (77).
Nagel goes on to explain how consciousness is an obstacle to a naturalistic worldview: “Consciousness is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only on the resources of physical science. The existence of consciousness seems to imply that the physical description of the universe, in spite of its richness and explanatory power, is only part of the truth, and that the natural order is far less austere than it would be if physics and chemistry accounted for everything. If we take this problem seriously, and follow out its implications, it threatens to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture” (78).
This would likewise suggest that “Materialism is incomplete even as a theory of the physical world, since the physical world includes conscious organisms among its most striking occupants” (79).
And on moral realism he says: “Since moral realism is true, a Darwinian account of the motives underlying moral judgment must be false, in spite of the scientific consensus in its favor” (80).
22. The historical illiteracy of many atheists.
Atheist historian Michael Grant is quite adamant that atheists who claim that Jesus never existed as a historical figure are the pinnacle of ignorant thinking:
“This sceptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth… But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.
Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms. To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ myth theory. It has ‘again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars” (81).
Neil Carter in his work An Atheist’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus also doesn’t mince his words:
“It doesn’t seem to bother the deniers that they themselves have no specialization in the academic field they disparage because in any field of study there will always be at least some small contingent who go against the consensus.
The existence of those outliers is justification enough for the deniers to say, “This business is far from certain, you know. Just look at these four people who disagree!” That’s how I feel when people in the skeptic community argue that Jesus never existed” (82).
Carter concludes his piece saying that:
“I don’t think it makes us look very objective when we too eagerly embrace a position which contradicts an almost universal consensus among those who have devoted their lives to the academic discipline which concerns itself with these matters. We of all people should know better” (83).
Finally Tim O’Neill is highly critical of many atheists who hang around online “discussion boards”:
“One of the occupational hazards of being an atheist and secular humanist who hangs around on discussion boards is to encounter a staggering level of historical illiteracy. I like to console myself that many of the people on such boards have come to their atheism via the study of science and so, even if they are quite learned in things like geology and biology, usually have a grasp of history stunted at about high school level.
I generally do this because the alternative is to admit that the average person’s grasp of history and how history is studied is so utterly feeble as to be totally depressing” (84).
23. Atheists on the Jesus of history.
No atheist, as far as I know, really believes that Jesus rose from the dead as an act of God. If they did, they wouldn’t be atheists. But many atheist historians have noted the good evidence we have for Jesus for certain aspects of his life. Most surprisingly the atheist historian Gerd Ludemann would write:
“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ” (84).
Jeffery Lowder, a writer at Secular Web, believes that we have sufficient reason to believe that “…the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea has a high final probability” (86). This is important for the case for the resurrection as it affirms that Jesus’ body was really in the tomb in the first place. This would then require the historian to have a sufficient historical explanation for how the tomb became empty apart from the unanimous testimony of a resurrection.
Generally speaking of Jesus’ ministry Neil Carter writes that
“While highly colored by religious bias, the amount of information we have about Jesus is still impressive in comparison to any other non-official person of his time, even when pared down the most essential details” (87).