In Defense of the New Atheists: An Excerpt From My Book "Unapologetic"

    It's time for atheist philosophers of religion to end their own sub-discipline under Philosophy proper. I explain in detail what I mean in my book Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End (2016). Below is an excerpt from it where I defend the new atheists Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Stenger from the philosophical elites. A few months ago I defended Hitchens' Razor. You can see the same dismissive attitude in both of these essays. I have no personal axe to grind. It's a principled disagreement. You can comment but before I'll respond you should first read my book.

From Chapter 4: “Case Studies in Atheistic Philosophy of Religion” in Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End, by John W. Loftus.

 Give Me That Old Time Atheism

 Evangelicals seem to love Keith Parsons. And he likes it. When it comes to writing something in Christian anthologies he’s the go-to guy. That slap on the back must feel good. Now he’s a good guy I’ll admit. But even the obnoxious Catholic apologist Edward Feser likes him. Something’s gotta be wrong! ;-) They agree in that they both want to return to that old time religion, er, atheism. I understand why Feser wants to live in the past, but Parsons?[1] That makes no sense.

For my part I am not interested in merely having a discussion. I’m interested in changing minds. Karl Marx spoke for me when he quipped, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” At issue are the differences between old atheism and so-called new atheism. Parsons prefers the old atheism as does Feser. My view is they want to live in the past. One must accept the changes and move on into the future. There is no going back. Christianity is dying. Why in the world would Parsons want to return to the good old days when Christianity had a huge monopoly in American academia, and where it was considered a respectable faith? There is at the present time a massive exodus from Christianity by young people. In April of 2016 it was reported that over half the people in Scotland are non-religious.[2] Not long afterward another study was released showing England and Wales were predominantly nonreligious.[3]

As this continues to happen in westernized countries we no longer need to respect faith-based reasoning, but rather tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about it. Since Parsons stands against the new atheism I have suggested it might be because he has not moved on with the times, the newest poll data, the failed theistic arguments and especially the accumulating assured results of science. I’ve suggested in a tongue-in-cheek way it was because he was old, old thinking that is.

What are the unique differences between old and new atheism? The old existed before September 11, 2001. Afterward the new arose, where intellectuals got serious about the irrationality of faith. The old took the arguments of believers seriously in order to convince them they are wrong. In doing so they stayed strictly within their own disciplines. The new represents intellectuals who are so convinced religious faith is wrong from within their own disciplines that they will venture outside their disciplines, disregarding the fact that people like Feser and Parsons will call them ignorant for doing so. They are reaching out to others. They are not attempting to persuade people like Feser, since delusional intellectuals like him cannot be reached. No wonder he doesn’t like it. What gives with Parsons? The old was respectful toward belief. The new can and will ridicule religious faith. Faith deserves little or no respect because of the woeful lack of evidence and the harms of faith.

We have passed the point of no return. Now is the time to ridicule Christian faith and other faiths in our world, just as we ridicule the dead religions and gods of the past. That doesn’t preclude reasonably dissecting the beliefs of Christians, which I do daily, but it is now acceptable. Science has progressed past the tepid passions of the old atheism. Science is now destroying faith which provides new atheism with new found passion and bite to it

Once again, for whatever reason except that these thoughts are just too foreign for Parsons to consider, he misunderstood my suggestions. So his response is one I merely wish to note:

I do think that ridicule is sometimes justified when directed at the truly ridiculous–e.g. the Ken Hams of the world…But how do you treat people who offer you rational arguments and demonstrate that they are willing to listen to your arguments? Do you shove a pie in their faces? I guess Loftus thinks that my supposition is absurd since no theist is capable of rational argument. In his book, they are all foaming fanatics, defending a fantasy so pernicious and absurd as to preclude patience or even politeness. People like me, Graham Oppy, the late, great Michael Martin, Herman Philipse, J.L. Schellenberg, Eric Wielenberg, Adolf Grunbaum, Robin Le Poidevin, Colin Howson, and others are just wasting our time trying to engage in rational critique of theism. You might as well try citing The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals to a misbehaving two-year-old.

My worry is that Loftus and the “new atheists” may get their way. There will be no rational discourse, and only a shouting match. The trouble is that my bet is that the religious people will be able to shout a lot louder.[4]

 In a subsequent post titled, “Doing it Right the Old Way”[5] Keith Parsons clarified his views:

Do you need a Ph.D. in philosophy to be a legitimate and respectable participant in the theism/atheism debate or the science/religion debate? Of course not. But you do need to know what you are talking about. Those, however accomplished in other fields, who leap into the debate philosophically uninformed inevitably commit freshman mistakes that expose them to the scorn of sophisticated opponents…. So, who has done it right? Have I set up too high a standard by requiring those who debate philosophical or religious issues to inform themselves? Can any one person be a scientist and also have the expertise and skill needed to debate religious or philosophical issues? Sure. T.H. Huxley did. Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) was one of the leading scientists and educators of his day. Known as “Darwin’s bulldog” for his aggressive defense of Darwinism, he was also a public intellectual who carried on disputes on topics in philosophy and religion with learned opponents—and beat them at their own game. In all of his controversies, whether with theologians or prime ministers, he displayed an exemplary depth of knowledge and sophistication of argument.

Despite what Parsons is attempting to do, what’s really on display is his philosophical elitism. Parsons is claiming elitist privilege and uses Huxley to defend it. Huxley knew the philosophy of his day as well as the science of his day. No one denies both disciplines have become more complex than in Huxley’s day, and consequently much harder to gain a good grasp of them both. Those kinds of intellectuals are so rare Parsons had to stretch back into the 19th century to find one. [Actually Massimo Pigliucci earned PhD’s in both philosophy and in Botany.] This means only a rare person or two has the qualifications to do both philosophy and science. Any scientist who criticizes theistic pseudo-philosophy must still know enough to do so, according to Parsons. Non-philosophers need not apply. This is the domain of Parsons and other highly trained philosophers of religion. Non-experts need to wait on the philosophical experts to criticize another expert in philosophy. There is a downside to his position. It also means Parsons cannot criticize Mormonism or Islam or Hinduism or Orthodox Judaism or Scientology or polytheism since he’s not an expert in any of them. He cannot utter any criticism of their faith-based claims either.

However, in the same post Parsons said of Huxley that:

Because of his success as a controversialist, Huxley was, of course, furiously abused by those whom he had bested, and was accused of being a hater of Christianity who went out of his way to attack the Bible. Huxley strenuously denied both charges, accusations which, I imagine, today’s “new” atheists would enthusiastically embrace.

 Wait just a minute! Is Parsons suggesting believers accused Huxley of hating Christianity because he properly understood it enough to criticize it? I assure readers of this book I understand many of the different Christianities very well. Yet I am met with that same exact response. I have been accused of being ignorant so many times that if each time I received a dollar I might be a well-off man. So I’m as sure as sure can be it doesn’t matter if one earns the right to criticize religion. It will always be met by believers in the same fashion as Huxley received, which is the same fashion they treat Dawkins, or other scientist critics of faith today. It makes no difference and says nothing specifically about whether the criticisms are well-founded.

The difference between Huxley and new atheists like Dawkins is that Dawkins doesn’t have to care what theists are saying. He can “embrace” their responses as delusional and laugh them off. Huxley not so much. After all, Huxley needed to be respected by faith-heads in those early days when doubt had it a lot tougher. By contrast, books written against Dawkins he calls fleas.

The Arrogance and Ignorance of Old Time Atheists

 Although I have respected Keith Parsons as good philosopher of religion, it is with great displeasure to say I no longer do so. He’s both arrogant and ignorant, or his views are anyway. First, Parsons is arrogant to think only sophisticated atheist philosophers can adequately respond to sophisticated Christian philosophers, such that any non-philosopher who tries is ignorant and shouldn’t respond at all.

What does Parsons say to philosophically unsophisticated atheists who cannot adequately respond to sophisticated Christian philosophers? Should they wait until a sophisticated atheist philosopher like Parsons himself finally gets around to writing a response to the latest philosophically sophisticated Christian paper? Why is it that Parsons places himself and his discipline at the top of the heap, such that no one else but atheist philosophers can respond to Christian philosophers? I think I know. It’s arrogance on the part of Parsons. Maybe he thinks as a philosopher he should rule as a king too? There are reasons people don’t believe that don’t require sophisticated philosophical argumentation. And scientists like Richard Dawkins know more than enough to argue sophisticated Christian philosophers are wrong, even though they don’t usually know as much to respond on their own turf.

Second, I consider Parsons to be ignorant not to realize that the real ignorance is the ignorance of faith. Even an educated child of ten years old has a better grasp of biology, botany, chemistry, cosmology, geography, geology, math, paleontology, physics, and morality than the omniscient God of the Bible whom Christians say inspired the Bible. The whole reason sophisticated Christian argumentation exists in the first place is because it takes sophistication to make the Christian faith palatable. The more the sophistication then the more the obfuscation, since their faith can only be defended by confusing people who don’t share that sophistication. Defenses of Christianity are nothing but special pleading hiding underneath several layers of obfuscation with a sophistication to make it appear otherwise. It’s nothing less than special pleading all the way down, and it doesn’t take sophistication to see this or to call it out. Even a child can recognize what it is. Why can’t Parsons?

Former Anglican priest Eric MacDonald turned atheist is another case.[6] He defended the views of Parsons, saying:

The problem is precisely that the New Atheists think it appropriate to dismiss theology and philosophy of religion without understanding the first thing about it. Some New Atheists say, “I know enough about it. I was brought up as a Catholic or an Anglican or ....” But that’s not qualification enough. Arguing from this point of view, where you really do not know what your opponent is arguing, because you have made no attempt to find out, is a simple informal fallacy known as special pleading. And the New Atheism is full of it. That’s where Keith Parsons is way ahead of the New Atheists. Be an unbeliever by all means. But don’t say that you know that there is no God or that theology is all make believe until you have really tried to understand what theologians are saying. And when you have done so, you will, I think, qualify your dismissal.[7]

I think MacDonald’s criticism of the new atheism fails to understand the very phenomena being criticized. Let’s just re-purpose MacDonald’s quote: “The problem is precisely that the New Atheists think it appropriate to dismiss Scientology, or Mormonism, or militant Islam, or Hindu theology, or Haitian Catholic voodoo without understanding the first thing about it...” Need I go on? If anyone is special pleading it is MacDonald, for it didn’t enter his mind to consider the many other religious faiths out there he easily dismisses without knowing that much about them.

Reasonable people don’t have to know a lot about religious faiths to reject them. We can dismiss these and other faiths precisely because they are faiths. The evidence is not there and even runs contrary to them. The moralities of these faiths also count against them. Do we need to know something about them to dismiss them? Sure, we should know something about them. In fact, to reject one of them we should at least hear about it. But even a rudimentary level of knowledge is enough for that, since faith is the problem. As outsiders we don’t need to look into the many varieties of faith to know that the results of faith are not likely to be true. We can do this simply by generalizing from the many mutually inconsistent false faiths to the probability that any given particular faith is false, even before getting an in-depth knowledge about it.

 In Defense of the New Atheists

 My specialties are theology, philosophical theology and especially apologetics. I am an expert on these subjects even though it’s very hard to have a good grasp of them all. Now it’s one thing for theologically unsophisticated intellectuals like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Stenger to argue against religion. It’s quite another thing for a theologically sophisticated intellectual like myself to defend them by saying they are within their epistemic rights to denounce religion from their perspectives. And I do. I can admit they lack the sophistication to understand and respond point for point to sophisticated theology. But it doesn’t matter. The reason is because all sophisticated theology is based in faith: faith in the Bible--or Koran or Bhagavad Gita--as the word of God, and/or faith in the Nicene creed (or other creeds), and/or faith in a church, synagogue or temple. No amount of sophistication changes this.

The reason there is sophisticated theology in the first place is because Christians are responding to their critics by reinventing their faith every decade. Atheists are trying to hit a moving target and when we hit it then it morphs into something different as I previously argued.[8]

I’ve read some unsophisticated responses to sophisticated theology. These responses lacked a particular distinction, or a precise definition of a term, or they failed to take into consideration a recent study that says X,Y,Z. But I have found that by using the principle of charity their arguments are still good ones despite this lack.

Take for example the main argument Richard Dawkins used in his bestselling book, The God Delusion, called the Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit. If “properly deployed” he claims, it “comes close to proving that God does not exist.” He argues, “However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747.”[9] Alvin Plantinga explained what Dawkins means in these words: “Dawkins says a designer must contain at least as much information as what it creates or designs, and information is inversely related to probability. Therefore, he thinks, God would have to be monumentally complex, hence astronomically improbable; thus it is almost certain that God does not exist.”[10] Atheist philosopher of religion Dr. Erik Wielenberg, writing in an Evangelical Philosophical Society creationist journal called Philosophia Christi, produced a fuller account of this argument:

 (1) If God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He provides an intelligent-design explanation for all natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself.

(2) Anything that provides an intelligent-design explanation for the natural, complex phenomena in the universe is at least as complex as such phenomena.

(3) So, if God exists, then God has these two properties: (i) He is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) He has no explanation external to Himself. (from 1 and 2)

(4) It is very improbable that there exists something that (i) is at least as complex as the natural, complex phenomena in the universe and (ii) has no explanation external to itself.

(5) Therefore, it is very improbable that God exists. (from 3 and 4)[11]

 Richard Dawkins has been widely criticized for this Gambit since he was supposedly ignorant of the fact that God is believed to be a metaphysically simple being, not a complex one.[12] Erik Wielenberg makes that point and says:

A central element of my critique is that Dawkins’s Gambit provides no reason at all to doubt some of the most widely-held versions of the target of his attack, the God Hypothesis. I do not know exactly how much theology one needs to know to disprove the existence of God, but one needs to know at least enough theology to understand the various widely-held conceptions of God. In general, in order to argue effectively against a given hypothesis, one needs to know enough to characterize that hypothesis accurately. Furthermore, if one intends to disprove God’s existence, it is hardly reasonable to dismiss criticisms of one’s putative disproof on the grounds that God doesn’t exist anyway. Thus, the central atheistic argument of The God Delusion is unconvincing…[13]

 Dawkins did not respond to these types of criticisms for a decade until Reason Rally was held in Washington, DC, in 2016, a gathering of atheists. In a video-taped message he said this: 

Some of our best theologians, if indeed theology is a subject that can be good at all, if theology is a subject at all, some of our best theologians prophetically tried to argue that “far from being complex, god is simple.”  There is no limit to the explanatory purposes to which the simple god’s infinite power is put.  “Is science having a little difficulty explaining X, no problem. Don’t give X another glance.” God’s infinite power is effortlessly wheeled in to explain X along with everything else. And it’s always a simple explanation, because after all, there is only one god. What could be simpler than that?

The effrontery of it is beyond astounding. This supposedly simple god had to know how to set the nuclear force 1039 times stronger than gravity. He had to calculate with similar exactitude the requisite values of half-a-dozen critical numbers – the fundamental constants of physics. Do you, with your prodigiously complex brain, understand quantum mechanics? I don’t! Yet god, that paragon of ultimate pure simplicity, not only understands it, but invented it. Plus special and general relativity, plus the Higg’s boson, and dark matter. Finally, the icing on the cake, on top of being the ultimate mathematics and physics genius; this “simple” god has enough bandwidth to listen to the prayers of billions of people simultaneously in all the world’s languages. He hears their confessed sins and decides which should be forgiven. He weighs out which cancer patients shall recover, which earthquake victims shall be spared; even who shall win a tennis match or a parking space. God may be almighty, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving. But the one thing he cannot be, if he is even to minimally meet his job description, is all-simple. The statistical argument against the divine designer remains intact, and inescapably devastating.[14]

 What Dawkins meant was not some statement about God’s metaphysical being. He was asking about the mind of God, that is, how and where did God get all of his knowledge? It’s utterly incomprehensible to the point of refutation to believe God has always held true and utterly comprehensive propositional knowledge about everything, even of himself. I still cannot understand how this God chose his nature, or how the trinity came to be joined at the hip. Imagining just one eternal being who knows everything that can be known is incomprehensible on its own, but now there are three such divine persons who have this knowledge and never disagreed within the Godhead. It’s clear that obfuscationist philosophers are making shit up as they go to save their Christian faith from refutation, since the only basis for believing this crap are some ancient pre-scientific writings.

It’s also clear there are some atheist philosophers of religion who refuse to extend the principle of charity to “unsophisticated” atheist critics like Dawkins. All Weilenberg would have had to do is criticize the notion of God’s simplicity, and/or ask and drive home the sorts of questions Dawkins did. Atheist philosopher of religion Graham Oppy, for instance, argued he cannot make any sense of a God who doesn’t have any properties, which is what divine simplicity entails.[15] Why didn’t Weilenberg do that? Dawkins surely was on to something even if it wasn’t sophisticated enough for Weilenberg writing in a creationist journal. One might even ask why he was writing for that journal in the first place? I suspect atheists who do that are jockeying for position. They want to get noticed by the opposition as honest philosophers and worthy of being listened to. Loyal opposition has its benefits. Atheists offer the fundamentalist opposition credibility. Fundamentalists provide these atheists a pat on the back, so both sides win. What is lost is truth, in my opinion.

When picking the opposition to be loyal to, atheists must choose wisely, for it means picking the most credible opposition. But how does one do that when dealing with faith-based reasoning? Keith Parsons kindly wrote a chapter for my anthology The End of Christianity. In that chapter Parsons chose to write against an easy target, the traditional view of eternal suffering in an eternal fire. He did so with an understanding of the sophistication of its defenders, I gladly admit. But more sophisticated theologians could say Parsons doesn’t understand the nuances of the Bible, or the creeds or their sophisticated theology. In fact, more sophisticated theologians would scoff at his chapter in the same way as he does to Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Stenger. They could say he makes glaring mistakes if he thought he was actually dealing with the Bible, the creeds and theology. That’s the point. They do. That’s what I’ve heard anyway. I knew they would say this too. But Parsons wasn’t willing to listen to me on this, since he had already formulated a draft of the chapter before I saw it for comment--which is okay as far as that goes. Other sophisticated theologians would deny his chapter has anything to do with their sophisticated views of hell. The scorn of sophisticated opponents about his chapter on hell is real, something about which Parsons has warned the rest of us against. Their more sophisticated views deny the requirement for belief unto salvation, or hell as eternal, or hell as a punishment or even hell having any occupants. The point is that even though Parsons writes as if he’s dealing with sophisticated theology he is not doing so. He’s not taking on the so-called “heavyweights” like Edward Fudge, Clark Pinnock, Thomas Talbott, Karen Armstrong, John F. Haught, and others.

There is no end to sophisticated theology, none. That’s why I call it obfuscationist theology, almost all of it. No matter what theology we criticize there are always others claiming to be more sophisticated who reject that view, who will heap scorn on any of us who dares to criticize it. There are even defenders of other theologies who don’t claim to be sophisticated, who claim God’s word is easy to understand and that sophistication is a vice to be shunned at all costs. In their view they have the higher ground since the simpler the theology is the more likely that theology is true, even invoking Ockham’s razor if they know of it. In essence, they claim the higher ground and take umbrage against the sophisticates.

So when it comes to sophisticated theology what exactly is Parsons talking about? One’s theological heavyweights are another’s theological lightweights, and vice versa. So why should we really care if we bring scorn down upon ourselves as atheist critics? Just think of restaurant or movie critics. Do we care if the critics upset the businesses they write about? Why should we care as patrons? We want to know the truth about that which they write about. Only the critic would care, if s/he stands to gain something by skewing the results unfairly in favor of that which s/he’s supposed to honestly criticize.

What we have left is philosophical elitism. Parsons is telling us which theologies to respond to if we don’t want the scorn of other theologians heaped upon us. He’s chosen them for the rest of us. He’s their sophisticated counter-part and he’s telling everyone which theologies we should respect more. Apparently in his chapter on hell he thinks we should respect the traditional view of hell over others, you see. Seriously? And if we follow his advice by keeping silent when he says we should, then he gains respect from the theologians who will continue asking him to write chapters for their books, since he’s their good old boy, propping up their theology over others because, well, their theology has more going for it than others, right? Right?! Furthermore, by keeping silent in deference to Parsons and MacDonald, many of us would subsequently fail to tell others what we think, which in itself is important. Just consider for a moment if there were never any new atheists, or atheist movement? Then where would atheism in America be right now? The good old days were not so good except perhaps for people like Parsons.

 Describing Gods

  Atheist professor Graham Oppy’s book, Describing Gods: An Investigation of Divine Attributes, is the most erudite, important and poignant example of what I’m talking about. By all standards of measurement Oppy is an atheist heavyweight. The growing number of scholarly works he’s put out and the meticulous way he tackles theistic religion is very impressive, and helpful. In Describing Gods Oppy treats the divine attributes in the same thorough way we have come to expect of him of other issues. It’s a feast for the appetites of intellectuals, theologians and philosophers interested in divine characteristics, and sure to be the standard textbook for decades and more. If you want to read a detailed discussion on what it means to say god is infinite, or perfect, or necessary, or free, or incorporeal, and more, then this is your book.     

But this particular book of Oppy’s helps to clarify much of what I’m arguing about here, more so than others. There are definitely some lessons to learn from reading it, no doubt. It will be nice to quote what he says on occasion, whenever needed. One can also learn how to reason better by reading what Oppy writes, so it’s a good book for someone who wishes to become a better critical thinker. In these ways Oppy’s book is helpful, especially for those of us who are arguing believers out of their faith. So I’m not saying works like this should not be produced. That would be anti-intellectual. An artist needs no justification for doing art but the art itself. Neither does an author. Even if no one ever reads a book writing one can be worth the effort.

How should we judge the worth or value of this work by Oppy? James Lindsay judged it as follows:

This book, scholarly as it is, is very difficult to see as anything but a perfect example of how seriously human beings can entertain ideas that we shouldn’t. Given the existence of such explorations, we are left wondering why philosophers don’t also produce painstakingly detailed academic tomes upon the unique and special qualities of dragonfire, be damned if there exist dragons to produce it. Put another way, we need exactly zero books written on any level of academic expertise to tell us that Superman’s superpowers aren’t real.

Divine attributes are properties applied to a mythological fiction called “God” so that “God” can be believed to satisfy psychosocial needs, largely including needs for attribution and control. Exploring the attributes to a deity completely misses the point—people need their needs met and will pretend if doing so seems to get the job done. “What are divine attributes?” and “Are they coherent philosophical objects?” are the wrong kinds of questions to be asking. The right questions are “What needs cause people to give the myth they call ‘God’ these attributes?” and “How can we help them meet those needs without relying upon the mythology of theism to do it?”[16]

Is Lindsay being too harsh? Not if we think in terms of what is more helpful as opposed to less helpful. In chapter 6 I’ll share what is more helpful, and by those standards Oppy’s work is not helpful much at all. The most helpful thing in Oppy’s book is that he shows certain kinds of gods with certain kinds of attributes don’t exist because those gods with those attributes don’t make any sense. Does this advance the discussion? Yes, definitely. That being said, Oppy is retrogressing. The proper order to discuss the existence of Gods, or superhuman beings, is to discuss the evidence first, as Jerry Coyne correctly noted:

Before you can discuss the nature of God, however deep and nuanced your discussion, you have to provide rational arguments for the existence of a God. No theologian, however sophisticated, has done that to my satisfaction, and I’ve read a lot of them. Absent such convincing evidence, theology simply becomes academic speculation about the nature of an unevidenced being.[17]

 For the sake of discussion, Oppy is granting the existence of a divine being after arguing against the existence of gods in his previous book Arguing About Gods.[18] If his previous book is correct there is no need to write this sequel. It’s also not that helpful, since he either thinks his first book did the job or he doesn’t. If he does, there is no need to write the sequel. Once it’s shown there isn’t sufficient evidence to believe then what more is left to be said? When we compare the mammoth amount of time and effort Oppy put into Describing Gods, and compare that to other projects he could have been doing with his time and talent, my judgment is the same as Lindsay’s.

Why take for granted anything such as the existence of a divine being? I’ll come back to this question in chapter 6. Taking things for granted for the purpose of discussion is an exercise in persuasion, yes. It helps have a discussion with people who fail to see the fundament point, such that one’s faith lacks sufficient objective evidence for it. But if believers fail to see the fundamental point, why would anyone think they can be persuaded by other considerations? I don’t think they can, or at least, this is not the best way to approach believers if the goal is to help them reason to reality.

Lindsay brings up a great analogy, Superman. What if there are millions upon millions of people who believe Superman exists, just as there are believers who believe some sort of god exists? Shouldn’t we pull out every tool in our toolbox, including the sledgehammer of Oppy’s book, written by a sharply focused mind that dissects the attributes Superman is believed to have? Well, here again, I would say this is not the most helpful way to approach believers if the goal is to help them reason to reality. The main reason is that Oppy is doing theology. This is what theologians do. But just as any characteristic attributed to Superman must pass the evidence test before it needs to pass the conceptual test, so also must any deity. I doubt anything but scientific evidence can show Superman can hover in the air, or propel himself faster than a speeding bullet, or burn things up with his vision, or see through walls, or pull the planet earth away from danger, or that a bullet or bomb cannot hurt him. Those are the attributes of myths, fairy tales, fables and of course cartoons, where anything can happen. If the objective scientific evidence doesn’t help change the beliefs of Superman’s followers I don’t know of anything else that will do it. Doing anything but asking for the evidence and showing any purported evidence is faked, or not evidence at all, is what needs to be done. Anything else, any gamesmanship, or puzzle-solving for the sake of puzzle-solving, is helping to give Superman’s followers the credibility they so desperately seek.      

 If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Badly

 My view is that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. If we should wait to do things right, then a lot less will get done. I think it’s good to do important things even if we can only do them imperfectly. I first read this view expressed by Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton. Doing something badly is at least doing something productive, if what you’re doing is the right thing to do. It’s better than not attempting anything. All of the most important things we learned to do we started out doing them badly, like walking, talking, singing, dancing and riding a bicycle. You improve as you go. You cannot improve until you start. You begin by starting out badly. When it comes to our common goal of ridding ourselves of the influence of the religion take Chesterton’s advice: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” We need all of our voices. Don’t be afraid of being wrong. And I invite all secular people to do the same thing, both the scholar and the non-scholar. Share what you know. Together we are making a difference. Join those of us who are already doing it.

Look at just a very brief listing of historic famous America atheist authors who may not qualify under Parsons’ strictures to speak or write anything in criticism of religious faith. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Ayn Rand. Men like Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll and Mark Twain. Scientists like the prolific Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. If these authors were not philosophically qualified may there be many more of them! If they are qualified what makes it so? Surely believers at that time and now would say they didn’t correctly understand theology enough to do so.

People like Parsons, MacDonald, Oppy and Weilenberg need to tell us what there is about sophisticated arguments that make something truer than beliefs lacking such sophistication. Let’s say someone claims she was abducted by aliens. That’s a simple claim isn’t it? Why would its truth be contingent upon making all kinds of complex definitions complete with Bayesian math to support it? I don’t get it. Faith-based reasoning without sufficient evidence is the only indicator we need for rejecting a claim. Without sufficient evidence a high level of sophistication doesn’t change a thing. What it becomes is obfuscationist. Faith is faith is faith is faith. It has no method, solves nothing, and even gets in the way of knowledge. It should be rejected by all intellectuals. Not to reject it is to be an anti-intellectual in my opinion, for only by rejecting faith-based answers in favor of evidence-based answers are we on the road to knowledge in every discipline in the university. Let’s be consistent across the board by rejecting the philosophy of religion discipline too. 

[1] “Parsons and Feser on Coyne” at

[2] “Church of Scotland numbers suffer as over half of Scots are now non-religious, at

[3] “England and Wales Are Now Predominantly Nonreligious” with commentary by Jerry Coyne at

[4] “In Defense of Old Atheism” at


[6] Eric MacDonald left “new atheism” publicly, as discussed by Jerry Coyne,


[8] “The New Evangelical Orthodoxy, Relativism, and the Amnesia of It All” at

[9] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), pp. 113–14, 147. 

[10] Alvin Plantinga, “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad Absurdum,” Books and Culture (March/April 2007),

[11] Erik Weilenberg, “Dawkins’s Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicity,” Philosophia Christi, Vol. 11, No. 11, 200, p. 115.

[12] What it means for god to be simple is that God is not divisible into separate parts. The attributes of God are not parts that together make up who God is, for God has no parts. God does not have properties like goodness or truth. Rather, God is goodness and truth. In essence, God has no properties. He’s pure being. For my discussion of divine simplicity see Why I became an Atheist, pp. 97-100.

[13] Erik Weilenberg, “Dawkins’s Gambit, Hume’s Aroma, and God’s Simplicity,” p. 127.

[14] Dawkins was not able to attend Reason Rally but he did send a video where he answers his critics (from 3:45 to 5:10): “Richard Dawkins 2016 Reason Rally Speech” at YouTube,

[15] Graham Oppy, Describing Gods (Cambridge University Press, 2104), chapter 4 “Simplicity,” pp. 87-104.

[16] James A. Lindsay, Everybody is Wrong About God (Pitchstone Publishing, 2015), p. 54.

[17] “Eric MacDonald leaves New Atheism”,

[18] Graham Oppy, Arguing About Gods (Cambridge University Press, 2006).