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Pastor Acknowledges Arguments of New Atheism

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Rev. Samuel Krouse, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Colusa, California, has written a revealing article on the "new atheism." In it, he acknowledges several pivotal points long denied by most religious leaders and apologists:

  1. Atheism is far more predominant among the intellectual elite than the general population.
  2. New atheism represents a serious and ongoing challenge to Christianity that cannot be ignored.
  3. Atheists can have hope. In his words, they are "ambitious in hope."
  4. Atheists are well aware of what they have rejected.
  5. There is no substantive philosophical position between biblical literalism and atheism.

Let’s discuss. These are simply stunning concessions from a Baptist pastor. Of course he sees the "new atheism" as a call-to-arms, but it’s not at all clear that he thinks it’s a battle that can be won. I can’t possibly read his mind. But reading between the lines of his editorial, it seems questionable to me that he intellectually believes in God. As Daniel Dennett has pointed out, professions of God-belief are not the same as belief itself. As a philosophy major (with a Ph.D.), Krouse knows he has a problem. As a pastor, he has to stick to his profession. I find his situation extremely intriguing, and I’d enjoy talking with him about it.

Point 1: Krouse reports atheists as a tiny minority of the population. While he correctly asserts that more intellectuals are atheists, he stops short of admitting the corollary that rational arguments lead to atheism. He also ignores the modern continuum of disbelief which includes the "spiritual but not religious" category. Roughly, it goes like this: Theism > Deism > Agnosticism > Atheism. Adding up all the deists, agnostics, ignostics (people who don’t think the question is relevant to their lives), and atheists, it’s likely that the group of questioners or non-believers approaches 30 to 40 percent. This is the target audience for the authors of the "new atheism," and this is why their books remain best-sellers. Books catering to the single-digit percentages (in America, at least) of hardcore atheists would not make such an impact.

Point 2: Many editorials written by pastors and religious philosophers are dismissive of atheism. They do not engage the arguments, and they fall back on typical tap-dancing apologetics. Krouse’ philosophy background makes him realize atheism is not so easily defeated. What’s interesting is that in spite of his larger philosophical concessions, he still tries to stick to the party line:

…the task is to articulate, communicate, and defend the Christian faith with intellectual integrity and evangelistic urgency. We should not assume that this task will be easy, and we must also refuse to withdraw from public debate and private conversation in light of this challenge.

It’s not really fair to fault the man for not laying out his strategy in a short editorial. But I’ve yet to hear any "defense" of the Christian faith which did not involve self-referential and circular scriptural citations, arguments from social consequence, or personal interior-subjective narrative. If he’s got a new angle, let’s hear it!

Point 3: Intellectually dishonest apologist writers (a few names come to mind, like Vox Day or Dinesh D’Souza) often try to maintain that atheists do not have hope. It’s a small scrap I know, but Krouse actually uses the words "hope" and "atheist" in the same sentence. The exact quote is "The New Atheists are, in their own way, evangelistic in intent and ambitious in hope." He’s talking about atheists "hope" for progress of their non-theistic world view of course. But that’s still something to be hopeful about, and I thank the good reverend for mentioning it.

Point 4: The flimsiest of all the rhetorical devices used by religious writers is the accusation that atheists lack scholarship on religion. That they supposedly "don’t even understand what they have rejected." This dismissive attitude is repeated ad nauseam in the popular media. While it’s true that few atheists have doctor-of-divinity degrees, it’s completely false that they therefore can’t understand theology. Two facts come to mind: 1) Rank-and-file atheists are far more facile with scripture than rank-and-file Christians, many of whom don’t even read their bibles. 2) Atheist scientists study religion from the perspective of social or brain-based phenomena. Dawkins, Pinker, Dennett and Harris fall into this category, and there are countless others. To understand them well enough to study them, such scientists must get deeply into the belief systems they are investigating. Still, the religious pull out their faithful old saw. They are used to religion being immune to outside criticism or evaluation. You can’t comment on the activities of their club unless you’re in it, and you can’t get in unless you have a favorable opinion.

In the final analysis, the New Atheism presents the Christian church with a great moment of clarification. The New Atheists do, in the end, understand what they are rejecting. When Sam Harris defines true religion as that “where participants’ avowed belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought,” he understands what many mired in confusion do not. In the end, the existence of the supernatural, self-existent, and self-revealing God is the only starting point for Christian theology. God possesses all of the perfections revealed in Scripture, or there is no coherent theology presented in the Bible. The New Atheists are certainly right about one very important thing—it’s atheism or biblical theism. There is nothing in between.

Point 5: It’s really rich to see a Baptist pastor admitting what Sam Harris said in The End of Faith. There is no tenable philosophical position between literalism and atheism. Of course from a social standpoint, we can all hope that religions will moderate their literalism and extremism. Certainly the world would be a better place. But Harris’ point, which hasn’t been successfully challenged, is that moderates of all stripes make the world safe for extremists. They lend an air of legitimacy to belief as a state of mind. As Bill Maher is so fond of repeating on his show, "Once you believe in the talking snake, all bets are off," or words to that effect. What Krouse is acknowledging is similar: that once you subject the premises of scripture (which are all based on presuppositions of divine inspiration) to scrutiny, you will eventually wind up being forced to make a leap of blind faith. Failing to make that leap leaves a religious person unable to prove or support their belief system. If all scriptures of all religions are equally unprovable (which they are), the unavoidable implication is that it’s a simple choice: either scripture or atheism. I think Krouse is perfectly accurate on this point. All the waffling ends up being simply an exercise in hedging and cognitive dissonance.


Comments (56 comments)

Amen A. Sigala / August 22nd, 2008, 5:28 pm / #1

R.K. u also forgot the xtra l in actually!
This forum is not about our grammer but the seriousness of the damages that the belief in God & religion has had on the Human Race & will continue to have as long as those of us who have the power to speak up w/ our veiws against it & negative experiences from it
keep silent !!!
Religion is Swiss Cheese!
Artistic expression is my medium of thought, not boring so called intellectualism!!!!!!!!
Gag me w/ a spoon! Babble babble babble!
Sorry u couldn’t keep up w/ my line of thought!!!
Not everybody understands Piccaso, doesn’t mean his art was meaningless, so nor is my writting!!!
Ur Loving God, Angels & Holy spirit is nowhere to be found in ur responses to me!! I’ve met Atheist’s w/ more kindness & respect for my hard ship w/ spelling, punctuation & illiteracy!!
I was hit by a car & my head doesn’t wk like everyone else’s! But I shouldn’t have to go around explaining that to people, their intelligence should be able to figure out there’s something’s up w/ my difficulties!!!! That’s when manners come in, something u clearly don’t have to those u feel superior to!
Love & Humility is suppose to be a Christian’s attainment & mastery! U sure don’t have it !
It’s Dinner time! Got to go!

Amen A. Sigala / August 22nd, 2008, 6:23 pm / #2

To me Christianity has been the Mental & Verbal Abuser to long
And my verbal discriptions & choice of adjectives were in no way intended to be abusive but again my expressivness to his absense of any strong feelings toward the racial references I pointed out in the Bk of Mormon
Civil I can be,
tolerant to hearlessness & insensitivity to a reference to someone’s skin color being part of sin or a disobedience is intolerable for me
There is something seriously wrong w/ a significantly lrg amount of people who follow in an organisation w/ such racial teachings & ideas, testifying it’s the word of a loving God
Mormons r a people to be concerned about,
they r a sly bunch, they camoflage themselves well & move quiet as a venomous snake
My Bad, thought I had the liberty to express my self as I artisticly felt
Crying Babies still get attention no matter how old they

I will be sure to remember to Conform to these Standards

Louis / August 22nd, 2008, 10:34 pm / #3

R.K.

The Book of Mormon never claimed that Reformed Egyptian was some language of the Egyptians that we should now understand and be able to translate. In fact it explicitly states that it is an amalgam or made up language that they had adapted.

Yes an adaptive language written by alleged ancient prophets (notice the plural there) living on the North American Continent (actually says western hemisphere… so that may have included South America?) on plates of ore.

Scholars can find no other examples of this language anywhere in the Western hemisphere, or anywhere for that matter.

Also as Athon states, “the paper contained any thing else but ‘Egyptian Hieroglyphics’.”

Why would an amalgamated language not contain any semblance of its named origins? Why dub it ‘Reformed Eygyptian’?

I am curious, and frankly a tad concerned that this doesn’t give you pause.

This is the most troubling thing for me. All these spiritualistic claims of ‘Angelic Tongues’ and communications that aren’t meant to be understood or translated; so as to fool the devils and arrogant, etc. This ‘caveat’ has left a door miles wide open for every huckster and fraud to stroll right through.

If this was the wisdom of the ‘Divine’ to convolute the message so it can never be verified… well that is just seamless. Seamless in stupidity that is!

Why deliver a message at all?

gasiwrfhiohbrit8gcbilsfydifyIF79DSFIDSOIJVIS83jsdofuettfiwsd32-84jsdklisdv90a

The above means I am all love… trust me it does… don’t question it, just believe that it means I am all love. It’s a tongue of the holy spirit, meant to confuse devils and the arrogant.

So it comes down to, “I am speaking to your heart with the above gibberish.” And that is what will cut, or not cut the mustard.

Well it isn’t mustard at all, is it? It’s a heap of rubbish.

Cons and Frauds are given full license with this exact same nonsense. Circus side shows, or the equivalent is center stage, and pure unmitigated nonsense is what is lapped up by a sad portion of the populace.

It is ridiculous and it needs to be said again and again.

In J.S.’s time the Rosetta Stone had not been figured out so no body new how to read Egyptian.

Gave J.S a bit of leeway to say whatever he wanted at that time. Thankfully today we can look at this with a great degree of scrutiny and see, he was flying by the seat of his pants.

The Kinderhook Plate Story is a good example of that.

It sounds like the entire Charles Anton story is simply two different persons account of the same happening. J.S. tried to get some validation on the characters they had copied and failed.

Yes failed, and not just with Charles Anton. Every scholar that was shown the ‘Caractors document’ scoffed at the scribblings.

Again, you do not pause? No suspicions raised, not even one eyebrow?

The only odd thing is that the copied letters seem to be all over the map linguisticly and my be a fairly inaccurate copy.

Or, the characters were in fact all over the map because that is what the document looked like. Something copied out of a book containing various alphabet characters from different languages in an attempt to make it appear like something antiquated.

He never claimed to have done some scholarly translation,

Yet he still sought out and attempted to get scholarly verification of the ‘Reformed Egyptian…’

Why?

it was by the gift and power of God, which is the whole point. If the Book of Mormon is what is says it is, then God exists.

Great Googly Moogly! Shazam! MARY FREAKIN’ POPPINS RIDIN’ HER UNICYCLE IN CIRCLES ON SUNDAY!

And if it is a fakery bamboozled upon some unsuspecting poor farm folk? Guess the big guy is screwed then, huh?

;)

Your hanging the big guy on one book? Unfathomable!

Sorry but that last bit kicked on my sarcasm super burners and I went into schtick overdrive… anyway.

As far as books available to J.S. there have been may searches to find such source books that probably would have been available. There was one specific book, and also a general idea floating around at the time about Christ having visited the Americas, and also one world map that showed the town in Africa called Moroni.

That still would not explain the depth and breadth of the Book of Mormon

Even the Fair Mormon apologetics site lists 9 books…

It is a sufficient enough explanation to bring the whole thing into question for me. Couple these books with values of the day and the imagination of the author(‘s) and you could very well have something exactly like the book of Mormon.

The very base claim that it originated from an amalgamated language doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

We are definitely looking at this through different glasses, because I just don’t see the depth and breadth you are talking about… It just isn’t there.

and lastly…

P.S. Professor Griggs is no slouch. He has umpteen degrees in biblical scholarship, reads Greek and other languages fluently, and is well respected in the New Testament area of archeology. His central area of study is Christians near Alexandria in the first and second century after Christ. that all doesn’t make him correct, but it does mean his opinion should be taken seriously. He does not make frivolous statements.

He also doesn’t cite the scientist that make these alleged claims about the book of Mormon. Guess it was a lazy day.

He teaches at a Mormon backed and built University and has an opinion that is pro Mormon. He may have umpteen degrees, but that doesn’t mean I have no cause to question his motive. His opinion will have to stand up to scrutiny, just like every other Joe Schmo with a claim out there.

James Smith / February 19th, 2010, 5:40 pm / #4

The "Book of Morman" is a "miracle"? It is as blatantly false and contrived as scientology. Anyone that believes
either is so hopelessly deluded that no amount of facts or logic can save them.

All religions are fake, but these two are especially odious. All religions should be treated for what they are, a business
designed to make money by deluding the gullible. They should pay taxes, conform to the law, and be as liable as
say, the pharmaceutical industry. Let's see how they do in a court of law where questions are the order of the day
and truth is required.

Nick222 / October 24th, 2010, 5:12 pm / #5

R.K., I have carefully read the Book of Mormon (BoM) and comment on it in four chapters starting at http://zenofzero.net/docs/Qx21_LDS_Ludicrousness_… . Should you be interested in determining the author of the BoM, I suggest that you read the old book by W.H. Whitsitt entitled "Sidney Rigdon, The Real Founder of Mormonism" (available at http://sidneyrigdon.com/wht/1891WhtB.htm ) and the new book by Craig Criddle entitled "Sidney Rigdon: Creating the Book of Mormon" (available at http://www.i4m.com/think/history/Book-of-Mormon.p… ). To learn about the quackery promoted by Joseph Smith pretending to be able to translate anything, you really should look into his claims about the Book of Abraham, which I summarize at http://zenofzero.blogspot.com/2009/07/clerical-qu… and which is described more completely in the book by Charles Larson entitled"By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look At The Joseph Smith Papyri" (available at http://www.irr.org/mit/bhoh-pt1.html ). In short: if you'd spend more time investigating and less time defending Mormonism, then you'll rather quickly find that you've been duped.

KEYPORODODY / March 1st, 2011, 7:15 am / #6

Hello. And Bye.

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