Atheism: A Worldview in Resurgence?

Sep 8th, 2012 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Many scientists begin their thinking with the proposition that there is a God; others do not.  For example, physicists and others who practice science have been looking for a ?Theory of Everything,? a theory that explains everything in the universe.  That was the passion of Newton in the 17th century, Einstein in the 20th, and currently Brian Greene in the 21st century.  Greene?s contribution is the ?string theory,? postulated in his important book, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory.  He posits that the universe consists of a complicated combination of vibrating strands or strings.  He writes that his theory is ?a framework with the capacity to explain every fundamental feature upon which the world is constructed.?  The language of his book resonates with the language of awe, majesty and near worship.  But he leaves out God.  I actually do not know Greene?s personal faith and I do not know if he is a professing atheist but I do know that the Bible would want us to begin our thinking about the ?theory of everything? with God.  Colossians 1:15-20 depicts Jesus as the eternal God who created everything and who sustains His world.  To not include this truth as the foundation for your knowledge and understanding of the universe is to leave out the key element of truth.

Are there consequences to rejecting God, especially the God of the Bible?  Is it important to consider biblical revelation when studying science, or any other discipline of human knowledge?  In our scientific quest for the ?theory of everything,? should we also think about ethics, theology and practical living skills?  Do we have evidence of what occurs when a person rejects not only the personal belief in God, but also the Bible and the ethics contained therein?  This edition of Issues in Perspective examines these very questions.

  • First, consider the ?Clergy Project? of Richard Dawkins, the famous British atheist.  The purpose of the Clergy Project is to provide ?a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs.?  Further, it exists ?to provide a safe haven, a forum where clergy who have lost their faith can meet each other, exchange views, swap problems, counsel each other?for, whatever they may have lost, clergy know how to counsel and comfort.?  A recent New York Times Magazine article cited a pastor named Jerry DeWitt, who never attended Bible College or Seminary, but is somewhat self-taught through reading Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, but who also has renounced his Pentecostal beliefs and joined the Clergy Project.  He is Director of the Recovering from Religion group.  The article also cites a Methodist pastor, Teresa Mac Bain, who announced quite publically her atheistic convictions.  She is no longer a pastor and now serves as the Public Relations Director of the American Atheist Association.  Theologian Albert Mohler recently summarized a report done by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola of Tufts University.  Dennett sees religion as serving an important evolutionary purpose that modern humanity must now overcome.  What Mohler finds especially interesting is that Dennett and LaScola ?acknowledged that defining an unbelieving pastor is actually quite difficult.  Given the fact that so many liberal churches and denominations already believe so little, how is atheism really different?  In the name of tolerance, the liberal denominations have embraced so much unbelief that atheism is a practical challenge.?  In fact, so many liberal ministers hold to no supernatural beliefs, but they also tenaciously hold to their pulpits but do not admit their atheism.  The Clergy Project now identified with famous atheist Richard Dawkins, is a metaphor of our times, where churches that name the name of Christ have so dumbed-down doctrine that it is actually quite difficult to distinguish between atheism and mainline, liberal denominational belief.  However, you cannot have the name and the framework of Christianity if you eliminate the supernatural from your theology.  That is what mainline Protestantism has done.  Now it is difficult to distinguish between some of their pastors and practicing atheists.  That is rather amazing! 
  • Second, consider the recent decision from the trial of Norway?s mass-killer Anders Behring Breivik.  In July 2011, Breivik killed 77 people in Norway?8 in a car bomb in Oslo and 69 he shot on Utoya Island, a summer camp where teens were vacationing.  A fanatical killer, Breivik admitted to his actions ?but not to his guilt.?  Norwegian law permits Breivik to be imprisoned for only 21 years, despite the premeditative nature of his slaughter of 77 people.  Most sociologists consider the Scandinavian nations to be the most secular nations on earth.  In the words of theologian Albert Mohler, these nations are ?post-Christian.  The specific religious worldview they have lost or rejected is that of Christianity?the faith that shaped the culture of these nations for many centuries.?  Christianity affirms the infinite value of human life and the premise of personal moral responsibility.  As Mohler argues, ?The rejection of the Christian worldview and the loss of biblical moral instincts produce a very different system of justice.  Norway abolished the death penalty in 1902.  Later, the nation abolished the sentence of life in prison, claiming that it was too extreme.?  Does it matter then that Norway is post-Christian?  The case of Anders Breivik demonstrates powerfully that with the loss of a Christian worldview comes the diminishment of personal responsibility and the sense of punitive justice.  In addition, the value and worth of human life is diminished and the culture adopts the position that even virtually all forms of punishment are barbaric!!  Capital punishment is a practice rooted in the talionic system of justice in Scripture.  It is first articulated in Genesis 9, and is tied carefully to the image of God characteristic of each human being.  To ruthlessly kill in a premeditative manner is to sacrifice your right to life as well.  Arguably difficult to defend in the 21st century, capital punishment preserves the infinite value of human life and a reasonable system of justice.  But what we saw in that Norway courtroom was compelling evidence of a civilization that has lost both.  Mohler writes:  ?The post-Christian condition is fully on display in that courtroom.  The man who committed the worst single-handed mass murder in Europe since World War II is on trial?and the maximum term to which he can be sentenced amounts to less than 3.3 months for each of the 77 people he murdered.?

Does a secular, atheistic worldview have consequences?  The Secular Project and the trial of Anders Breivik provide practical evidence of what occurs when a civilization abandons its belief in a commitment to the supernatural?to a God who has revealed Himself to us in His Word.  When we choose to abandon both, what is left is an enormous vacuum with enormous and very sad consequences.

  • Third, what then should we do?  Below are three bridges we can build to someone who embraces atheism as a worldview.  This is a section from my book on comparative worldviews and gives us tools to deal with the logical consequences of atheism.

Bridge #1.  Atheism affirms the value of human life and sees human happiness as its core value.  This meshes with biblical Christianity, which also affirms the value of human life.  However, atheism has no basis for its claim for the value of human life, for helping people, or for showing comparison.  Why engage in such things if humans are simply the product of chance?  Christianity affirms the value of life because humans bear God?s image (Genesis 1:26ff).  It provides the reason for compassion, care and concern that is missing in atheism.  It is most vulnerable on this point and we must lovingly press it.

Bridge #2.  Atheism claims that in terms of religious beliefs and ethical standards it is impossible to have absolutes.  In other words, there are absolutely no absolutes.  In making such a claim, it affirms something absolute.  That is a glaring inconsistency and as Christians we can point this out.  Christians can press atheists to seriously reflect on the inadequacy of standards for truth and ethics.  Are they willing to bank everything on there not being a God?  What if there is?  What if there is accountability?  The Holy Spirit of God can use this inconsistency within the atheistic worldview to bring conviction.

Bridge #3.  Atheism teaches that at death there is extinction.  Therefore, there is no hope of ever seeing loved ones again.  Ultimately, there is no hope for the atheist, for it provides no real incentives for living or for dying.  This physical world is all there is, they argue, and we must live that way–for the moment.  If there is no death, then there is no accountability and no motivation for virtue or goodness.  Most people cannot live with this kind of teaching.  Here is where Christianity is so compelling.  It offers hope because there is life after death; there is hope of seeing loved ones and friends.  Christianity also offers the certainty of salvation, which guarantees heaven and eternal life with God.  Atheism offers no counsel to a family who has lost an infant in death, or to someone with a terminal illness, or to a wife who has lost her husband in an automobile accident.  The atheist can offer nothing; Christianity offers everything.  It is in the real world of life that atheism?s bankruptcy becomes evident.  Naturalism pervades western civilization and is currently institutionalized in the academic centers of the West.  It remains powerful, influential and informs so much of modern education.  It will retain its position of importance only as long as the West seeks its purpose and its meaning from technology, science and reason.  Its antisupernaturalism is difficult for most people, however, because the average person cannot live without some sense that there is a transcendent realm, that there is something beyond death, and that the physical is not all there is.  Only genuine, biblical Christianity answers that quest for meaning and purpose.

See David Enger in Our Daily Bread (22 August 2012); Albert Mohler in (19 April 2012 and 29 August 2012); Robert F. Worth in the New York Times Magazine (26 August 2012); and James P. Eckman, The Truth about Worldviews, pp. 24-25. PRINT PDF

Comments Closed

35 Comments to “Atheism: A Worldview in Resurgence?”

  1. Sally Davis says:

    You probably should do a bit more research before publishing articles like this.

    Jerry DeWitt did not attend seminary because the denomination he belonged to discouraged it. He read books by atheists only after he had wrestled with doubt for many years, decades. He did NOT found Recovering From Religion. He has an UNPAID position with them at present, and works at a secular job.

    Teresa McBain was a Methodist minister. Focus on the word “WAS.” Look it up if you don’t know what it means. She is not a minister anymore and hasn’t been since the day she announced that she had lost her belief in the supernatural and abandoned her religion. She is currently the public relations person for American Atheists.

    You quite obviously have no idea what is involved in terms of personal pain, anguish, fear, alienation, and horror in losing religious faith. It’s not easy or simple, and most of the time, it isn’t quick. Jerry DeWitt wrestled with doubt for 25 years. His story is inspiring and I would suggest you listen to it before shooting off your very ignorant mouth.

    Teresa, likewise, did not come to atheist quickly or gladly. She began researching her doubts in an effort to find answers, believing that if she was able to work through them, she would come out on the other side a better, more effective pastor. It, of course, didn’t work out quite like she planned. When she realized that she had lost her faith, she did the right thing, made a public announcement, and left the pulpit. What is wrong with what she did? She, unlike most ministers, was honest.

    This sort of article just makes me sick. You don’t research, get many of the facts wrong, don’t have clue what you’re talking about and pontificate as though you’d been elected spokesman for the truth.

  2. Deborah says:

    You have a very loose grasp of atheism. Most of us were brought up being indoctrinated with the religion of our parents. I, myself, was baptized on my second day of life, quite literally on the way home from the hospital. At that time, I was labeled a “Catholic child” even though I had no say in the matter. I had a lot of unanswered questions growing up, and the more I read of the Bible, the sillier it came to be. I have also read the Book of Mormon, and the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu Bible. My next read will be the Qu’ran. I went to Egypt in May 2010 because the religion of the ancient Egyptians allowed women equal rights, and had great queens like Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, Neferteri and Nefretiti. How could the same country have changed so horribly for the worse? Women become property in Muslim nations, and Christianity is moving in the same direction, here in the States. Our rights, as women, are being constantly threatened in the name of God.

    You are completely wrong in your statement, “Atheism offers no comfort ………lost in an automobile accident.” We are organizing and forming communities who support each other during tough times. I think that frightens Christians, but I can’t imagine why. As soon as I get off this computer, I am going to visit my best friend who is dying of breast cancer. Her sister put her in an assisted living center because she only has two months to live. She is a vehement atheist and is not afraid to die. She enjoys company, and I will be there until the very end. I am not the only one from our group who visits, but I love this lady, and THAT is her comfort.

    I belong to two clubs, the Atheist Community of Tulsa and the Tulsa Atheist Alliance. The first group does charitable works, such as feeding the homeless on Sundays when the Christians take off. We have Adopted a Highway, hold food drives for the poor, and do regular blood drives. The TAA is more science oriented, but we do gather nice shoes and clothes for the Dress for Success program. You don’t know these things because, obviously, you didn’t do your research. There are many atheist organizations across the US, and we do good works without an agenda. We don’t preach atheism. We are, quite simply, Good without God!

    I don’t fear death. I was dead before I was born, and I’m none the worse for it. I do fear pain on the way out, however. I hope, when my time comes, that I will be made comfortable by pain killing drugs that were discovered by human beings. Science adjusts its views according to what’s observed. Religion blinds itself to new knowledge so that faith can be preserved. My friend would’ve been dead a couple years ago if it hadn’t been for the Cyber Knife = New Technology.

    I don’t know what to expect when I see her today. Sometimes she’s herself and other times quite confused. But I will hug her or hold her hand, and scrape away any Christian clutter that may have made its way into her room. That will make her happy.

    • Kurt Kish says:

      And you forgot to mention that Islam is ab out growth of Christianity which is an outgrowth of Judaism.
      Of course there are differences between the behaviors of the adherents of the Abrahamic religions, but I still look at the three as one big horrific narrative that has caused (and will continue to cause) untold damage to ALL life on earth.

  3. Roxy says:

    Teresa Macbain is no longer active in her former church. She is working for American Atheists. Also, Jerry DeWitt is the Executive Director of Recovering from Religion. He’s taken a pay cut and endured harassment at the hands of christian former friends.

    On another note, I take issue with the conclusions you draw in the numbered paragraphs.

    Atheists value people because as humans we have evolved the capacity to empathize with fellow humans and other animals. I know what it is like to cry, so I don’t want to cause that in someone else. I don’t know about being in god’s image, but isn’t it better to value people because of who they are than who you see behind them?

    Regarding the absolutes, or lack thereof, I go back to my empathy for other people. Most humans don’t rape, plunder, or murder because we can see the effect of those actions on other people. Most people don’t want to cause others distress, especially those in their family (evolution protecting those genes.) Conversely, if god gives Abraham an order to murder his son, murder becomes good, Abraham is almost successful and it is counted righteousness to him. I would rather decline that type of offer, thank you.

    In your last paragraph, you say most people can’t live without the promise (threat?) of something after death. It saddens me that I will not see people again after I / they die, but that makes them more precious to me and I tell the important people in my life that I love them. I also take time in other parts of my life to express my appreciation to people for things they do.

    There are a lot of unpleasant things in this world. I can’t eat all the chocolate cake I want because it will make me sick. I have a long commute that makes me anxious. Sometimes people do commit crimes and hurt each other. Those things need to be addressed directly not avoided. Avoiding unpleasant situations perpetuates them. Dealing with them, accepting them, helps blunt their effect and allows a person to live their life.

  4. Brian says:

    Good grief. So many errors of fact. Teresa MacBain did NOT continue to preach, she left the pulpit immediately on announcing she had lost her faith. She was fired. Please do some research before writing an article like this.

    You just don’t get it. You try to layer the bible on anything and everything, as the door through which all perspectives must be viewed. You simply cannot grasp that unbelievers not only don’t do that, they never think of doing that, and won’t permit anyone else to tell them they have to do that. Unbelievers start with a clean slate, and use reason and evidence to determine the truth. As for meaning, you make another head-shaking claim that only believers can appreciate the value of life. Who told you that ? Where is your evidence ? Your holy book ? Suppose it said we must not eat shellfish. Do you ever think “Where did THAT come from ?” Some disgruntled Red Lobster employee ? And then eat it anyway ? Suppose MY holy book said eating peanut butter was against The Law, and that a meaningful life comes from helping to make the world a better place, because we only get one pass at it.. Does my book take precedence over yours ? Who are you going to believe, my book or yours ? Your interpretation seems to say it is ok to pollute the earth because you are going someplace else, someplace better, when you die.

    We are all atheists—including you. You don’t believe in Jupiter, Zeus, Zoroaster, Ra, The Great Pumpkin, etc. anymore than I do. There are an astonishing number of gods than men have created. We just go one god further.

  5. Simon Norwich says:

    This is one of the most ignorant and stupid articles I have ever read.

    Just to pick one example brought up in the article, that of Norway?s mass-killer Anders Behring Breivik; to try to use this single, exceptional case to show that secular nations are more dangerous or less moral is ludicrous.

    Here’s some facts showing the difference between Norway and the very religious country of the USA:

    ?- Norway Has Some Of The Lowest Murder Rates In The World: In 2009, Norway had .6 intentional homicides per 100,000 people. In the same year, the United States had 5 murders per 100,000 people, meaning that the U.S. proportionally has 8 times as many homicides.

    – Norway?s Incarceration Rate Is A Fraction Of That Of The United States: 71 out of every 100,000 Norwegian citizens is incarcerated. In the United States, 743 out of every 100,000 citizens was incarcerated in 2009. The U.S. has the world?s highest incarceration rate.

    – Norway?s Prisoner Recidivism Rate Is Much Lower Than The United States?:The recidivism rate for prisoners in Norway is around 20 percent. Meanwhile, it?s estimated that 67 percent of America?s prisoners are re-arrested and 52 percent are re-incarcerated.

  6. Roedy Green says:

    Norway is a much less violent country that the USA that has a mass shooting every week. The USA is the most Christian developed country. There are millions of other differences. It childish to seize on one and presume causality without evidence.

  7. matthew says:

    You state that there is inconsistency in within the atheistic world view, and yet you state;
    “To ruthlessly kill in a premeditative manner is to sacrifice your right to life as well”
    That is simply a sophistry to disguise the premeditated killing by the executioner. A glaring inconsistency I personally saw through pre-teenage.
    And to presume that capital punishment and personal responsibility did not exist pre-christian is simply ridiculous. Sorry.

  8. Ushox says:

    Yes! Let’s stone people to death if they commit adultery or if they are homosexual or if they disobey their parents or if they believe in other gods, etc. Long live biblical justice!

  9. The ignorance and arrogance of this is goo masquerading as an essay is astounding. Religious people are afraid of death because they have been BRAINWASHED into believing in fairies and fairyland! The “consequences” of religion have been war, tribal hatred, us against them and unceasing violence hoping for a better place after death. How absurd. Religion preserves the horrors of this life by promising a phony afterlife. Atheism eliminates this stupidity and endeavors to make THIS LIFE, the only one we get, as good as possible for ALL MEN (meaning HUMANS not men!). Reality vs. abject ignorance and superstition. Not a tough call for anyone who uses their brain.

  10. Alan Dente says:

    Hi there,

    The article serves well as a summary of the arguments often used by Christians to combat atheism. However, I do not find these arguments at all compelling, for several reasons:

    ‘The case of Anders Breivik demonstrates powerfully that with the loss of a Christian worldview comes the diminishment of personal responsibility and the sense of punitive justice’.

    Sorry, but this is just utter nonsense. The country in question has a carefully-constructed legal system, which has been created in a secular sphere, but was not born out of a rejection of Christianity. And actually, if you speak to people in this part of the world, there is much more of a focus on community healing and forgiveness for criminals (I seem to remember a carpenter from the Middle East being of similar mind).

    This point also ignores the incredibly obvious objection – specifically, that America (the most religious developed nation) is also the most violent. It should also be noted that a large majority of violent criminals in the USA claim to be Christians. Where is the sense of personal responsibility in the minds of these Christians, before they murder and maim? One could reasonably expect a system using deterrents such as the death penalty to have such an affect.

    Why does executing people equal better responsibility? How can someone dead in the gas chamber or the chair feel responsible or sorry for their actions anyway? They’re dead!

    ‘Atheism claims that in terms of religious beliefs and ethical standards it is impossible to have absolutes’

    No it doesn’t. Atheism rejects the notion of a personal God that interferes in the Universe. What you are describing is a philosophical standpoint that can exist in the mind of atheist and believer alike. Many Christians would introduce caveats into their belief, indicating an unwillingness to claim absolutes! It may be the case that some atheists think this- however, it is not a defining feature of atheism, which is what you appear to think. What you are describing is moral relativism. I, and many other atheists, totally reject moral relativism. Read Sam Harris for more on this.

    You should appreciate that by stating belief in YAHWEH you are putting yourself well out onto the fringe in terms of the scientific community. Belief in God is one thing. Belief he sent his son to be executed and all non-Christians will be tortured forever is quite another.

  11. Alan Canon says:

    “I do know that the Bible would want us to begin our thinking about the ?theory of everything? with God.”

    How nuts is it to think that a book, the Bible or otherwise, could possibly ever “want” anything? Books are dead collections of text, and a text has no intelligence, no intention, beyond the response it may provoke in a reader, and different readers draw different conclusions from the same texts. Gather Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian seminarians together, and get them all to agree on what the Bible means, and then come back to condemn atheists for apostasy. I won’t hold my breath in the meantime. Even Christians can’t get their basic act together when it comes to deciding what their Bible means. It’s not your fault, because your book is meaningless: there’s no “there” there.

    “Why engage in such things if humans are simply the product of chance?” That old canard again. No evolutionary biologist, no one who understands the first thing about evolution, EVER claims that we are the product of chance alone. Chance does provide the variation upon which natural selection operates, but natural selection itself is the very opposite of a random, or chance-driven process. Naturally, though, a Christian writer has no problem “lying for Jesus” and claiming that evolutionary scientists believe that the great variety of species we see today were cobbled together “higgledy-piggledy” (John Herschel’s phrase) by chance alone.

    As for that value of human life, it’s true that atheists don’t point to some supernatural account book wherein the worth of each human being is recorded like entries in a ledger, to be alternately valued or capriciously written off as worthless by some cosmic bookkeeper. That’s what Christians claim: that there is a creator of the Universe who, on a whim, set up a system that will subject the vast majority of people who ever lived to eternal condemnation and eternal torture. Some valuing of human life you’ve got going for yourselves there.

    As far as “absolute truths” in morality are concerned, it’s possible to compare two imperfect systems of morality and still conclude that one is better than the other. And what could be less absolute than the Christian claim that “To ruthlessly kill in a premeditative manner is to sacrifice your right to life as well.” and then to have the state kill those convicted of murder ruthlessly and premeditatively?

    It is the Christian who does not value human life. Every plank of your theology undermines the notion that human beings are worth anything at all. Christians are all sado-masochists, reveling in a mythos of an infinitely angry and vengeful God who stands ready to smite anyone and everyone you don’t agree with.

  12. Tom Dugmore says:

    Before I respond, as an atheist, to your 3 bridges can I just ask you whether or not you’re aware that Norweigian Law permits an INITIAL maximum sentence of 21 years which can be increased INDEFINITELY if they believe the person to still be a threat. Breivik will die behind bars. Can I also ask whether or not you’re aware, whilst supporting the death penalty for the murder, that also rooted in Scriptures ‘reasonable system of justice’ is the death penalty for: eating shellfish, wearing cotton/polyester shirts and shaving your beard?

    On to your Bridges:

    Bridge #1:
    I care for people because I would like them to care for me if I were in a similar situation. I do not want to be killed myself, therefore I cannot justify killing another person. I do good because it makes me feel good. These are all reasons to do good without invoking God’s name. Sort of linking into your 3rd one: As we believe there is no afterlife, the value of human life becomes so much more significant when it becomes finite.
    It also casts questions on your own moral framework if you do good things because of God. What exactly are you saying? That at heart you are a murderous, raping, theif and that the only thing stopping you from carrying out these deplorable acts is because God doesn’t want you to?

    Bridge #2:
    This is essentially just another reworking of Pascal’s Wager. I’ve heard it so many times and it’s been refuted in so many different ways I can’t be bothered to do it here, so I’ll just let rationalwiki do it for me

    Bridge #3:
    This is where Christianity is so brutal, nasty and repelling. I have lost 3 grandparents in my life. The first two I was too young to understand what was going on, but I witnessed my grandpa’s health slowly, but surely disintigrate. He was bedridden all day (for him, possibly the worst part since he was a very active man), could barely see to do anything, to say nothing of the pain he was in. Whilst very sad to see him finally pass away, I was able to take a lot of solace and comfort in the fact that his suffering was over. Unless of course Christianity is true, in which case (as he was also an atheist) his suffering had only just begun as he now faces eternal, torment, torture, pain and suffering far, far worse than any mind can inflict in Hell. And I will see him again you say? Well that just makes it even worse, doesn’t it! And preaching that faith in God will get you into heaven doesn’t make it any better. Upon arriving in Heaven, that would be instant confirmation that my Grandpa was indeed in Hell. Eternal reward in heaven is therefore a void, null and meaningless concept as I could never acheive such a thing no matter what I did.

    I would also like to point out finally that the mission at the heart of Lord of the Rings is striving together against evil for universal happiness. Not just for humans, but hobbits, elves and dwarves! Unless it’s actually true though, so what? This is the main reason for Atheism (or at least anti-Christianity) – we do not believe in it because there is no reason to suggest it’s true. You can talk about building bridges all you like, but ultimately it is evidence, logic and reason that will win us round and until you can provide these things as opposed to appeals, temptations or threats, you are wasting your time.

  13. Tobias says:

    Dr. Eckman,

    I wanted to address your article from the point of view of someone who has been an evangelical clergy for 20 years and now considering whether or not to join the clergy project. I do not believe the Christian message, its’ narrative (and it is a narrative), or its’ claims of absolute truth.

    I think you might benefit from a deeper analysis of the clergy project phenomenon, both because it may just be the tip of the iceberg, as well as because your article is light years away from any meaningful understanding of what a pastor goes through or considers when they undergo a de-conversion from Christianity as I have. Your article attempts to explain some aspects of a post Christian experience in terms of both an individual point of view and in terms of the impact on society. However, the feel I get when I read your article is the same as a stone skipping across the water and touching down perhaps only 3 or 4 times but missing the water experience all together.

    First, the difference between a scientific inquiry and a reason based search for the origins of life, the universe and the nature of reality, compared to your approach which you describe as “beginning our thinking with God” is a massive difference. Setting aside the obvious problem you will encounter when you have to first answer the question “which of the several thousand god’s are you referring to for your beginning point?” Yaweh, Thor, Zeus, Odin, Molech, Krishna? and the list goes on.

    But more crucially, a reason based and scientific approach begins without pre-conceived notions, wishes or fancies (be they the god of Abraham, or the flying spaghetti monster). This is crucial because then the process of an idea, leading to a hypothesis, leading to a theory is an honest process that goes where the evidence leads. To begin with one of the thousands of gods, means one has to bend reality in all kinds of ways and manners in order to hold to the belief in that particular god even when it is against all evidence.

    Regarding the clergy project, why do you find these stories and realities amazing? That there is a growing likeness between atheists and many mainline clergy should come as no surprise. Let your stone stop skipping and touch down and enter the depth of what is taking place and it will make sense. Suffice to say this is not a new phenomenon. Humanity has gone through the process of no longer believing in several thousand of the various gods that humans have projected into their narratives from Zeus to Thor; from gods of fire and earth, to gods of omniscient power. We no longer believe that we must placate Poseidon in order to avoid his wrath when we go sailing, so why is it a shock to find many people no longer believing in the god of Abraham when they both suffer from a lack of evidence as to their existence. Indeed, Dennett and LaScola could very well have been born in ancient times and just as easily studied the loss of belief in some ancient god who is no longer worshipped. Why is this so amazing that the same process is happening with the Hebrew god YHWH today?

    Secondly, regarding the mass murderer Breivik in Norway. Crime and punishment is my area of professional experience. The study of the issues of psycopathy today in psychological and psychiatry is yielding much better insight and understanding than ancient religious superstitious dogma. We consult Psychological scientific understandings of the human brain and in the context of the evolutionary process the reasons and causes of horrific anti social behavior make much more sense than a Bible based theory of sin against god and spiritual repentance as the cure for sin and crime. Anyone who has worked for 10 minutes with a true psycopath knows that repentance is not even a possibility and moral character reform is not possible either. The bible’s diagnosis and remedy is not based in reality and thanks to scientific psychological study we can accurately assess the problems as well as the risks. Secondly, the responses to serious crime as a society have themselves evolved over human history. The reason this is possible (and desirable) is because the understanding humans have of what is right and what is wrong evolves over time because morals (the golden rule) are innate within us and subject to cultural understanding, reform, and shaping. It has always been this way. The idea that some religious moral code that objectively got handed to us from some god is absurd. We are responsible to create our morals and we see human history as evidence that we do just that. We also reform and change our grasp of morality as we better understand our human condition in all its’ evolutionary beautiful as well as strange and sometimes terrible complexity. Norway has concluded that humanism and secularism is a better lens to understand the nature and value of human life rather than the god YHWH, or Norway’s previous gods Loki, Odin or Thor. And it is a better lens. As a result of this and the case of Breivik, Norway may evolve its legal system, for example, to incorporate a Dangerous Offender clause in order to respond to horrific cases as a means to hold a dangerous psycopath (for whom there is no cure) in custody and protect the public. This is how secular morality develops. It is a process over time that incorporates the will of the people based on an educated self understanding. This is far more desirable than some emotional religious need to carry out the supposed wrath of some ancient god. There is no need for that uneducated nonsense.

    The god’s change… some arise from human consciousness, reign for a while, then get fired and replaced. Norway just happens to be a little ahead of society’s like ours that still cling to ancient gods. It is possible Thor would have been upset if for example Norway began to treat Thor’s enemies with a little more compassion than how they did before. The point is, we outgrow the gods and their angry antiquated concepts of punishing their enemies and we are moving away from “punitive” responses to crime as well because crime is a psychological and scientific problem and not a religious theological one. We are becoming more humane than the ancient gods and their holy books. That is why atheists and humanists decry the Bible. Your ancient god commanded genocide and infanticide and culminates in the glorification of human sacrifice. How much more evidence do you need to see to prove that your theology and the god who birthed it are human creations of an ancient past?

    Yes, secular, humanistic, and atheistic worldviews have consequences. They are good ones. They are based on reason, logic, scientific inquiry, and verifiable evidence that becomes a body of understanding and knowledge that we develop, we grow, we shape, and we alter if needed based on our changing self understanding and the insights that experiences give us. We do not want to get hung up and stuck on some ancient, tribal, fear based holy theology or the god’s that are bent on punishment because as a species we have realized that we are above that. The morality of the gods (including yours) is beneath us.

    Lastly, to correct your misunderstanding, atheism does not regard life as mere chance. We regard it as a process of self determination and species solidarity. We are in this together for a better life as individuals and as a species. And yes, happiness is crucial. So forget the ridiculous Christian cliche that falls form pulpits everywhere that says “God is not interested in your happiness, he is interested in your holiness”. How absurd. Happiness does matter since this life matters enormously. In Christianity life is cheap, it can be sacrificed in a flood, a genocide, the earth splitting open, fire falling from an angry god, holy war, and ultimately final damnation. Sorry Dr. Eckman, I must inform you that atheists and Christians do not share the same value of life. Your ancient god and your holy book have no respect for human life.

    Atheism also does not adamantly claim there is only extinction after death. That is the caricature of atheism designed to be set up in Christian communities then knocked down for the benefit of the faithful like a straw man. Atheism proper means a lack of a belief in the god that you are putting forward with no evidence (YHWH, Thor, Krishna, or any other). It says we cannot prove there is no god, but the lack of evidence suggests we have no need of one. The evidence of the multiplicity and behavior of religions suggests also that belief in the gods is a dangerous pathway that undermines human species solidarity at its most fundamental and deepest levels. The burden is on you to prove how and why you posit a god without evidence. Even if a creator can be proven, you then have the task of proving why yours over and against the thousands of other should be obeyed.

    Sounds like a fools errand to me.

    • Roxy says:

      Tobias, I think you are too far gone for even the clergy project.

      Mike Aus, another pastor turned atheist, is starting a new group to attempt to keep the good stuff from church but leave out what he does not believe. I like the concept but can’t comment on the implementation – they have just started meeting and I have not been in attendance.

      This is the website for his organization:

  14. AndrewP says:

    Re: Bridge #1: Of course atheists have a basis for being compassionate. Evolution has equipped us with complicated brains that can empathise with other humans and reason about those thoughts. We come to the conclusion that overall more people will be better off both mentally and materially if people act in a compassionate manner towards their fellow humans. What more basis do you need than that?

    Bridge #2: To make moral decisions, what more do you need to consider than people’s wellbeing and suffering overall? Why do you need to invoke a supernatural being and why should I cling to “absolute” rules based on scripture? Especially when Christians (quite rightly) do not slavishly adhere to the Bible and choose to ignore the less moral passages. Presumably you are OK with, for instance, having personal possessions or letting women teach?

    Bridge #3: True, it seems like there isn’t much comfort in realising the finality of death. But that doesn’t make the warm fuzzy comforting idea of an afterlife any truer. Rather than re-type them now, here’s a piece on comforting thoughts that do not involve the supernatural: . And I’ll end with this: is it *really* comforting to imagine that god lets people suffer and die in great pain, or that if we become terminally ill it’s god’s plan?

  15. Michael Fothergill says:

    I could pick this apart sentence by sentence I will focus on three main points

    First, you will need to prove not only to atheists but to those followers of other faiths which they regard as suiting them quite well at the moment that your way leads to a better future. You must demonstrate the truth of your beliefs and not start with taking as read that the scriptures are true. If you just assume they are true, a lot of people will just assume you cannot accept any level of uncertainty.

    Second is then that of absolutes. From the outset, “The only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth” is problematic. It is a linguistic equation, which needs to be balanced, I would posit that a better way of phrasing this to avoid a superficially contrary nature is that atheists will agree that “There may be absolutes”. This leaves open the possibility that there may not. In any case, if it transpires that there are no absolutes, then the statement can be rephrased thus “there is only one absolute”

    As a former christian I can safely say that this particular belief never gave me the comfort that you describe in bridge 3. I am primarily interested in knowing my comfort is drawn from something that can be shown to be true. When I was a christian, I began to notice that in spite of many verses to the contrary, that the universe from a christian viewpoint would exist purely for god’s gratification. I never understood why god required a creation in order to worship him. I never understood why god was limited in who he was allowed to save and who he wasn’t because that would mean he wasn’t omnipotent and therefore not a god. I can think of a million others, I love my family but an eternity with them? The holiday season is long enough.

    I derive hope from all three of these points, that the truth can be discovered, that things that are thought of as absolutes may not be so and that anything is possible, and that my love and compassion for humanity will not earn me eternal waterboarding because I used the brain god apparently blessed me with.

  16. Ricardo says:

    Even with Breivik, Norway has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, one of the reasons why it was such a shocking and unusual event. Now consider a civilization that has not abandoned its belief in the supernatural, the USA. You are 7 times more likely to be murdered in America (where, incidentally, mass murders occur with a monotonous regularity) than Norway. And there’s more: life expectancy for women in Norway is higher (83 vs 81), education expenditure higher (6.8% of GDP vs 5.5%), obesity lower (10% vs 34%), per capita GDP higher ($53K vs $48K), and it has a lower HIV/AIDS rate (0.1% vs 0.6%). Norway was even declared the world’s happiest country by the United Nations Human Development Index in 2011.

    Does it matter then that Norway is post-Christian? Yes.

  17. Michael Fothergill says:

    I find a lot of religious website or posts do not post comments which disagree with their opinions. I would be happy to accept comments, even slightly abusive, which are contrary to my views on my own post, in particular when I was sure I was right and had confidence in my statements.

  18. Gareth says:

    This article appears to have been horrifically poorly researched.
    Breivik has been sentenced to 21 years but will not be released after this sentence unless he is not considered to be a threat to the public. The Norwegian courts can hold him for subsequent periods of 5 years. It is presumed that this process will be repeated for the rest of Breiviks life, resulting in an effective life sentence.
    Your suggestion that Norwegian society has lost its respect for human life due to the diminished role of religion is clearly discredited by the fact that the Norwegian homicide rate is 7 times lower than that of the (far more religious) United States. To extend this ridiculous notion to farcical proportion, you claim that the largest atrocity in modern Norwegian history (which was committed in the name of Christianity in order to slow the spread of Islam) was caused by a lack of God in society.
    Your assessment of atheism is impressively bad.
    You fail to provide any arguments for the value of human life which are not dependent on God(s).
    You fail to provide any representation of secular ethics, even as you discuss them.
    You claim all atheists and atheist moralities are relativist. This is blatantly false.
    You then claim that without after-life there is no incentive for life (in inanely absurd point).
    And, the claim that without an afterlife there is no motivation to be good or virtuous is offensively simplistic (and offensive).
    In summary, I found your article to be the most egregious abuse of words I’ve had the misfortune to stumble across in quite a while.

  19. Captain Sensible says:

    If it was true what you say about Norway and liberalism causing, or at least allowing, Mr. Brevik to go on a killing spree then what about the guy who killed rather a lot of people at the Batman Movie? That happened and keeps happening in one of the most religious countries in the world, how do you explain that? And if you need a big scary man in the sky telling you to be nice to other people rather than actually enjoy being friendly and nice then I dread to think what else bounces around your skull trying to pass for intelligent thought. Just because a story of the afterlife is very compelling and wouldn’t it be all fluffy and nice if it was true, the fact of the matter is with absolutely zero evidence to support such claims the only sensible recourse is to dismiss such claims as pure conjecture and flights of fancy.
    Au revoir o/

  20. Mark Evans says:

    The real world does not conform to literally read scripture. Science is the process of understanding the world to the best of our capabilities. This means being willing to question everything and being willing to change our minds when better information and theories are available. Another requirement to the advancement of science is the ability to say, “I don’t know.”

    In a nut shell, science is observing the world, making a hypothesis and then formulating experiments that test the hypothesis. For a hypothesis to be testable, it must be able to predict an outcome of a future experiment or future observations of the natural world. The issue with bringing religion into science is manifold.

    First, it stifles curiosity. After all, the answer to anything we don’t know suddenly becomes “God did It.” A great example of this is Isaac Newton. He was a genius, no doubt about that. He invented Calculus, discovered the “laws” of gravity, etc. His laws of gravity did a great job of predicting the elliptical orbits of the planets when just calculating the orbit based on the planet’s mass and that of the Sun. But the mathematics available at the time could not adequately explain why the orbits were stable. The planets “perturb” each other gravitationally and Newton could not figure out why the whole system did not degrade into chaos. Newton’s answer was “God did It.” God must regularly intervene to keep the planets in stable orbits. Since he was a religious man, this was a perfectly satisfactory answer to him and the world had to wait another century for Pierre Simon de Laplace to develop the mathematics capable of better approximating and predicting the orbits of the planets. Laplace’s “Exposition du système du monde and the Mécanique céleste” did not require that God intervene in with orbital mechanics. This stifling of curiosity continues today, there are people today that do not accept the mountains of evidence supporting evolution because they can not rectify the stories of Genesis with evolution. Their minds are closed because they’ve been told “God did it” and any answer that does not require God to do it, is rejected.

    Second, it explains nothing. There is nothing in the Bible or other ancient texts that provide clues to how the real world works. No germ theory, no genetics, no orbital mechanics, no advancements in mathematics. Exactly how would a cosmologist’s believing “Colossians 1:15-20” provide any usable clues? Is the universe finite, or infinite? Is the expansion of the universe accelerating? If so why? What was the state of the early universe? How old is the universe? The story of Genesis is not helpful in deciphering the universe we live in.

    I don’t have time to discuss the rest of your article, but I’ll register my disagreement. Atheists, agnostics, and believers in non-personal deistic Gods are quite capable of being ethical and living meaningful lives. Humans evolved the traits of compassion, empathy and altruism naturally because in the end that’s part of what lead to our species success. So these are a part of us just as much as the baser traits. We can use our minds and free will to choose to be “good.” We find our meaning in the universe we live in, the people we love, in the lives we live today, etc? For what it’s worth, there is plenty of science supporting that living in a compassionate giving manner leads to much greater satisfaction in life. Teaching that to our children is good parenting, once again religion is not needed to teach “morals.”

    Finally, I always find the argument that “most people need religion” to be a bit elitist. I think most people need religion because that’s what they’ve been taught.

  21. Deborah Cowell says:

    Sir, as an atheist British science teacher, I was interested, and saddened to read your article. I am also a student counsellor, specialising in grief and bereavement counselling for teenagers. We are rightly advised as counsellors to never mention any ideas of God or heaven in our work, since this is very counterproductive to the healing process. The idea that a loved one may have left you to ” go and live with Jesus” or some such phrase exacerbates the feeling of abandonment. Empathy and care of your fellow human is enhanced in secular and rational people, not reduced. I am also surprised by your lack of understanding of the Norweigan penal system, where Anders Breivig will never be released, but simply reconvicted after the statutory 21 years. As a humanist I am utterly opposed to murder, but this includes State sponsored murder ie the death penalty. I am always surprised that supporters of the death penalty seem to also have Christian beliefs. Perhaps ideas of forgiveness are more prevalent amongst atheists, as we believe that people can be redeemed within this life, not the next.

  22. Deborah Cowell says:

    I am surprised to see that no comments are published here yet, despite many being posted. Am I to assume that the moderation process is to select only favourable comments? If so, I can reasonably conclude that nobody has posted anything in support of this article yet. Maybe there is hope for the intellect of the American people after all, despite the impression that we Europeans are given to the contrary.

  23. Mike Sloane says:


    Your article is replete with factual errors. I’m sure your god would want you to at least verify the facts and present an honest article. A few pointers …
    1. The “Theory of Everything” is an attempt to find a unified explanation for the physical world, by physicists. Think of the “everything” as confined to the physical sciences. It has never claimed to include the supernatural, human emotions, ethics/morality, etc.
    2. Given that science is based on the natural world, there is no reason why a god should be included. By definition, he is supernatural – outside the realms of the natural measurable world. Given that, he can never be included in any hypothesis where evidence is required and testing must be undertaken. How might he be represented in a mathematical expression ?
    3. Science is the antithesis of revelation. It is evidence-based. If it included revelation it would cease being science and would become religion. What you are proposing is equivalent to including horse racing into olympic swimming events.
    4. Richard Dawkins doesn’t run the “Clergy Project”. From my understanding, he provided the expertise for developing the web site only.
    5. I don’t believe Theresa McBain remained “in the pulpit” after she expressed her atheism. You might want to verify this with her. I’m sure you’ll find her approachable.
    6. You equate secularism to atheism – wrong. A secular society is a tolerant society that recognises the vaste array of world views, takes no sides and represents everyone. It is inclusive, not exclusive. A secular society can accommodate all religions, or non. The alternative would be a society ruled by what ? Can you, as a christian, imagine living under an islamic government ? If you were to establish a christian theocratic government, what of the thousands of flavours would it be ? Even as christian government would be at odds with christians of other bents. The only sane alternative is to keep religion out of politics and remain impartial.
    7. “It will retain its position of importance only as long as the west seeks its purpose and its meaning from technology, science and reason”. Maybe you didn’t proof read this sentence ??

    fake rolex

    a) technology provides products based on our evolving scientific understanding. Just as motor oils teach us nothing of love, technology has little to do with purpose and meaning of life. Similarly for science per se. While scientists and technologists, like any other individuals, can make their own purpose and meaning
    b) Please explain how reason has no part of purpose and meaning ? This is the only means we have to make “reasonable” decisions. This statement is basically saying that the biblical christian answer to this question is based on unreasonable premises.

    I’d strongly suggest you read a great little book by Anthony Weston entitled “A Rulebook for Arguments”. It outlines how to put a cogent and persuasive argument together. Currently your conclusions are based on false premises.

    I hope your errors were a result of ignorance of these facts, and not an attempt to influence with falsehoods and twisted facts.

  24. Sally Davis says:

    So, your method of “moderating” comments is to simply not allow any at all.

    None of us in the freethinking community are surprised by this, sir. It’s typical Christian behavior.

    To be honest, you should post our comments and correct your article, along with an apology.

  25. Robert Siddall says:

    Bridge 1) The bible, and therefore Christianity, also affirms Slavery, Misogyny and Genocide as well as a raft of other heinous practices. You are just Cherry picking to align yourself with the morality that Atheists can work out for themselves without your Religion.

    Bridge 2) I see no evidence whatsoever that this supposed conviction improves behavior. The secular are notoriously under-represented in all prison systems. The central tenant of Christianity, vicarious redemption, is fundamentally immoral. I would suggest that you SERIOUSLY reflect on your own basis for morality.

    Bridge 3) One of the most liberating things about being and atheist ic the complete confidence that there is nothing to fear from death. It also encourages one to treasure the only life that we KNOW we have. The purpose of our lives is to give it meaning, and the realization that all we have is each other is the best motivation I can imagine to try to live together in harmony.

    I’m sorry, but your arguments are not compelling and your adherence to the myths of a Bronze culture is simply a measure of your indoctrination not your enlightenment.

  26. Michael Godfrey says:

    Well whats with you? You seem so self assured in your writing. Can you not handle a bit of criticism?
    Where are other comments?

  27. Kurt Kish says:

    Atheism is a worldview?
    If you want to connect word “worldview” when speaking about atheism, you could say that besides atheism meaning not theism, meaning having no belief in a deity(s), it is also the REJECTION of the worldview presented by theists.

    That’s the only way I see that you can use the word “worldview” in the context of your article.

  28. Rob Curry says:

    This was a disappointing read, full of logical fallacies and ridiculous conclusions.

    For example, consider this assertion: “The case of Anders Breivik demonstrates powerfully that with the loss of a Christian worldview comes the diminishment of personal responsibility and the sense of punitive justice.”

    Using an isolated example as support for a general conclusion that does not follow is truly horrible reasoning. One may just as poorly assert that because an individual Christian shoots someone in a country where the Christian religion is predominant, this indicates a sweeping generalization about the effects of Christianity on society. How unreasonable to claim that a single anecdote “demonstrates powerfully” anything whatsoever!

  29. Rob Curry says:

    As an atheist who is familiar with the views of many other atheists, I find it unhelpful for our views to be so incredibly misrepresented by these sweeping generalizations.

    In fact, an atheist is a person who does not happen to believe in the existence of any god(s). That’s it–a very simple description. It says nothing of a particular atheist’s worldview in whole or in part, other than the fact that the worldview is one with no gods in it (aside from the realms of myth, metaphor, and make believe). Those who allege that atheism indicates a particular political stance, a particular philosophical stance, a particular set of values, or a particular culture–not only are they fooling themselves, they are not even listening in the first place!

  30. Roedy Green says:

    >Why engage in such things if humans are simply the product of chance?

    This is a common straw man argument often used by dishonest creationists. Evolutionary theory says no such thing. This would be obvious to anyone who had read even a child’s introductory text on evolution. I must presume Dr. Eckman has never actually read any science about evolution, just dishonest mischaracterisations written by fellow creationists.

    You have no right to pontificate on evolution until you first understand the following sentence.

    Mutation is utterly random, but selection is extremely choosy!
    ~ Dr. Ursula Goodenough 1943-03-16

  31. Anvil Springstien says:

    I cannot add much to what has already been said above, but whilst I applaud your decision to post these comments (many ‘christian’ websites do not and therefore give their constituency a false view of the logical, rational, reasoning dissent that exists) I would hope that you take on board the many points so eloquently expressed and, perhaps, question you own ‘worldview’ before writing so inadequately on the views of others.

    Perhaps a visit to Norway. It really is very beautiful – and exceptionally civilised.

    Anvil Springstien.

    Newcastle upon Tyne.

  32. It is good to find such articles like this refuting atheism. Despite what others say here in the comments, you have accurately presented atheism and essentially let it stand in its self-contradiction and refute itself. Thank you. This was well worth the read. A secular society is a godless society. God help us if this evil spreads.