Ten More Observations from Atheists (Part Two)

Ten More Observations from Atheists (Part Two)

A few weeks ago, I posted Just Believe (Part Four) on my facebook page.  During the course of the lengthy (and very interesting) discussion that followed, my brother posted a video in the comment section called “The Four Horsemen” here in two parts: Hour One and Hour Two, where four atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris) discuss religion in a relaxed and unmoderated setting.  They bring up some very valid points, as well as a few absurdities.  Overall, I agreed with much of what they said.  I will name and comment on their points, one by one in this part two of a three part blog.

11.  Is there the slightest shred of evidence that this (sacred texts, for example, Torah or Qur’an) is the product of omniscience? Is there a single sentence…? You have to say no. If the Bible had an account of DNA and electricity and other things that would astonish us then, ok, out jaws drop… we have to have a sensible conversation about the source of this knowledge.

First, I have to say that this is a great question. Second, I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer (at least concerning Bible), because there are obvious errors, inconsistencies, and mistranslation throughout the scriptures. However, there are also certain unexplainable elements, such as accurately fulfilled prophecy, which demonstrate, if nothing else, a characteristic of scripture which cannot be explained away by science. I believe this is why the apostle Paul stated, “…the natural man doth not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for to him they are foolishness, and he is not able to know them, because spiritually they are discerned…” But before the believer gets all smug about being able to discern that which the atheist cannot, he or she should know that atheists, unlike those who belong to world religions, don’t have a track record of killing all those who disagree with them. Surely, if believers possess the ability to discern spiritual things, they have done a dismal job of exercising that ability. During my years in the religion machine, I was told to believe every word in scripture and warned not to question the validity of either it or the standard interpretation of it. Contradictions, if discussed at all, were always accompanied by the word “apparent”, along with a shrink wrapped explanation. I know better now. I’m still sorting through all this mess.

12.  The atheists marvel and scoff at the conversion experience of Francis Collins, a Christian and geneticist, described as “one of the most accomplished scientists of our time”, saying, “On Sunday you can kneel down in the dewy grass and give yourself to Jesus because you are in the presence of a frozen waterfall and on Monday you can be a physical geneticist.”

Why is it that someone can’t be a geneticist and have faith?  Do these four horsemen believe that Collins leaves part of his brain on the shelf at work to go spend the weekend with God or that he leaves part of his brain at church to go do research in the lab?  Seriously?  I just don’t see how the two ideas are incompatible.  Sorry, atheists, but I’ve got to disagree with you on this one.

13.  We all know people who seem to manage this split brain feat, of believing one thing on a Sunday and believing something totally incompatible the rest of the week – Live with contradiction by forgetting you are doing this and not tending to it.

This point (13) is very similar to the one before it.  Here’s the difference.  Number 12 proposes that a person cannot be a person of faith while simultaneously doing scientific research, but number 13 proposes that there are people who live in contradiction to their own beliefs.  In other words, these atheists despise the idea of someone being a spiritual person in everything they say and do, and these atheists despise the idea of someone compartmentalizing their lives so that they are only “spiritual” in certain settings.  I’ve already given my opinion regarding the first idea; so now I’ll cover the second one.  Bravo to the atheists for seeing through the worship charades!  I’ve seen this myself, and loathe the idea that people have the ability to do what Gary Amirault calls “mental back-filing.”  For more on this, please read my blog entitled Spiritual Bottleneck.

14.  Some people contribute their presence to laws of biology and others to divine plan that has a scheme for them.  Only one view makes sense.

This is a classic example of science versus spirituality.  Why is it that Dawkins feels compelled to limit the explanation for human existence to science alone?  Why can’t it be both?  Why must only one view make sense?  Just because Dawkins does not have the ability to reconcile science with spirituality, this doesn’t mean that anyone who can reconcile science with spirituality is nonsensical.  What if biology is able to explain existence from a physical point of view only?  I believe human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures.  Science can’t explain spirituality (not yet anyway), so it dismisses it.  Is that really the way to go about knowing more – to dismiss what you can’t explain?  Come on, Dawkins, you are smarter than that.

15.  Painting and sculpture reflects spiritual climate.  [If Michelangelo were] commissioned to paint ceiling of a science museum, would he have come up with something just as wonderful?   We would never know if he wasn’t an atheist, because to say so would mean death.

This is a very unique observation.  Most people assume that Michelangelo’s art is so spiritually inspiring because it is spiritually inspired, that is, Michelangelo’s relationship with God enabled him to create his masterpieces.  To this idea, I resoundingly disagree.  All one has to do in order to see that atheists are capable of creating spiritually inspiring works is turn on the radio, visit a local art gallery, watch a movie, etc.  It has been my personal experience that God shows me deep truths and speaks to me about the human experience through the creative work of atheists.  Even though atheists will likely hate my saying so, I think that God uses the experiences, abilities, passions, and gifts of every person He creates, including atheists; only atheists have no idea that they are that important to God.

16.  Death Be Not Proud is the most extraordinary gibberish.

I’ve linked the poem to the title above if you would like to read it.  But I highly recommend you view it instead, as it is spoken by Emma Thompson in the very heavy movie Wit.  I’ll leave it to readers to decide, without my commentary, whether they are agree with this atheist’s assessment of the poem.

17.  There’s a place for the sacred in our lives… usefulness to seeking profundity as a matter of our attention, our neglect of this area as atheists at times makes our opponents seem wiser than we are.  There is something trivial and horrible about the day to day fascinations, traditionally only religion has tried to clarify that difference.

It’s true that atheists seem to ignore the sacred, but I think I understand why.  It is both a useful endeavor and a slippery slope for the atheist, the former, because to recognize that the human experience transcends “trivial day to day fascinations” is to begin exploring ideas that science cannot explain, and the latter, because the further one travels down that road, the less likely they are to avoid meeting their Maker.  I hope that Dawkins and friends explore this idea further.

18.  You can’t understand literature, art, music, without understanding the Bible – retrospective historical appreciation.

This is a good point.  I’d like to add that in order to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible, one must also study history, especially church history.

19.  Intelligable, the nonsense (Latin) becomes transparent, but when it is translated into modern English, you can see it for what it is.

What the four horsemen are talking about here is that the church masses continued to use Latin long after Latin had become obsolete as a common language.  People had no idea what scriptures actually said and had to just believe whatever the clergy explained to them.  On this point, I agree.  However, the second part of the comment, that people can see the content of scripture for what it is when it is translated into modern English, I disagree.  Granted, an English speaking person using an English translation is a step in the right direction, but the scriptures were originally written in Hebrew and Greek.  We must allow the Hebrew or Greek etymology to trump Latin or English or any other language.  Most theologians, pastors, and scholars still give the erroneous Latin translation too much authority.

20.  We leave it to the pious to destroy each other’s synagogues/churches.

Isn’t it telling that you don’t see atheists blowing up synagogues, mosques, churches, or abortion clinics.  You don’t hear about atheists declaring jihads against theists.  This observation, in itself should be enough to raise serious questions about whether organized religion is genuinely a God-ordained establishment.  You know a tree by its fruit.



  • Lanny A. Eichert August 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    only atheists have no idea that they are that important to God. (at end of #15)

    Terrific statement, Alice, and classic, I’d say.

    I liked this article, except what you’d expect me not to like.

  • Mary Vanderplas August 17, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I like what you say about the Bible, though I would argue that there is no evidence sufficient to prove its truth. Only the Holy Spirit can confirm that the words of scripture are God’s word. There may be things that believers can look to as evidence confirming the truth of the Bible, but these things are not sufficient to convince unbelievers that the Bible is “the product of omniscience.” I agree that how we use the ability to discern spiritual truth is important. I would add here that it’s one thing to know the Bible and another to allow the Bible to know us – i.e., to show us the ways we fall short of God’s purposes for our lives, so that, by the power of the Spirit, we can be made new. I agree, too, with what you imply about the importance of careful study and interpretation that takes into account the human element of the biblical text.

    I agree that there is no reason why someone can’t be both a professional scientist and a person of faith in God. To suggest that this is impossible is to misunderstand the nature of and relationship between science and religion. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive, but rather different and complementary kinds of knowing. I’m not sure I understand the distinction you see between numbers 12 and 13. My reaction to 13 is that I simply don’t see any contradiction between thinking scientifically and using the methods of science to study the natural world on the one hand and thinking about spiritual reality and meaning, including the meaning of the facts of science, on the other. The two ways of thinking and knowing are not incompatible, in my view.

    I agree that there is no reason why an explanation of how we came to be cannot include both evolutionary biology and a divine dimension, especially, as you suggest, since our cosmic consciousness and our ability to respond to God transcend the evolutionary model.

    I like what you say about spiritual persons (persons of faith) not being the sole creators of spiritually inspiring works of art – and the fact that this speaks of God’s valuing and using of all persons, whether they recognize and are happy about it or not.

    It isn’t surprising that atheists would respond the way these do to the poem. What I have a hard time understanding is how life can be anything other than absurd if one does not believe that there is something or someone beyond oneself which gives meaning and a future beyond the grave. These atheists, unlike those of another generation, seem to believe that meaning and hope are possible, but I can’t fathom how, given their starkly materialist worldview.

    Your thoughts about why atheists typically don’t attend to the sacred are intriguing. I agree that they would stand to gain from exploring ideas that science can’t explain – ideas such as what caused the universe, how life arose, where consciousness came from…yes, definitely at the risk of running into God!

    I agree with your point about the usefulness of going back to the original languages in the study of the biblical text, though I don’t agree with what you imply about translations being filled with errors. The reason Luther translated the Bible into German was because he wanted the power of God’s word to be available to ordinary folk and not just to the priests and scholars of his day. I believe that the English translations available today are by and large reliable,; and while going back to the original languages is beneficial, I don’t think it is necessary for the ordinary person’s understanding of the message of scripture.

    There is no question that much violence has been done in the name of religion, but it isn’t only the institutionalized forms that are the perpetrators. Wherever doctrinal certitude prevails, intolerance is likely to result and to be manifested in destructive behaviors.

    Thanks for an interesting blog.

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