Atheism of the gaps
|April 22, 2014||Posted by vjtorley under Intelligent Design|
Professor Jerry Coyne has recently written a post titled, Atheism of the gaps, in which he urges skeptics to “make believers read about unbelief” before listening to their arguments, and “make atheism-of-the-gaps arguments.”
In the first section of his post, Professor Coyne throws down the gauntlet:
If people can fault us for not reading Aquinas, Augustine, Origen, Tertullian and (ugh) Alvin Plantinga and David Bentley Hart, well, then, we can do the same to them. If they haven’t read extensively in the honorable intellectual tradition of nonbelief, then they have no credibility as believers. Frankly, Salon should publish a piece that says this.
And what does he suggest that believers read?
Tell believers that we won’t pay any attention to their superstitions, or their criticisms of atheists, until they’ve read The Very Best of Atheist Thought. These works must include the books of the Four Horsemen (one would think the faithful would already have read these, but their misunderstandings about The God Delusion lead me to believe otherwise), the complete works of Robert G. Ingersoll, selected readings from Mencken and Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens’s The Portable Atheist, selected writings of Hume, Walter Kaufmann’s The Faith of a Heretic and Critique of Religion and Philosophy, and Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science: A Critique of Religious Reason (I highly recommend the last book, which is fairly new).
What Coyne fails to mention is that there are many believers who have already read and critiqued the authors he cites. Here are some good links:
David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Hume, cosmological arguments, and the fallacy of composition by Dr. Edward Feser, Assistant Professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College (and a former atheist).
Hume, science, and religion by Dr. Edward Feser.
A World of Pure Imagination by Dr. Edward Feser.
Critique of the Cosmological Argument: Hume by Professor Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy University of Texas at Austin.
David Hume and the Argument from Design by Professor Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin.
Robert Ingersoll, Some Mistakes of Moses
The Bible Defended: A Review of Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” and R.G. Ingersoll’s “Mistakes of Moses,” “Lecture on skulls,” etc.: with ample quotations from both infidel and Christian writers: Being an answer and rebuke to infidel questions and atheistic assertions by Reuel S. Webber. Boston: H.L. Hastings, 1888.
Inger’s Whinge. A collection of two dozen replies to Robert Ingersoll, dating from the nineteenth century.
Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian
Why I am not an Atheist by David Robertson, minister of St Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, Scotland.
Why I am not an atheist (Ravi Zacharias at Princeton) (45-minute video).
Why I’m not Bertrand Russell by Steve Hays at Real Clear theology.
A Critical Response to Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian by Warren Rachele.
Analysis: Why I Am NOT A Christian, by Bertrand Russell by ex-atheist “Stan” at Atheism Analyzed.
H. L. Mencken
H. L. Mencken: Is this your hero, New Atheists? by Vincent Torley.
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
Review Article: The God Delusion or the Dawkins Delusion? by Rev. Stephen Clark (an Anglican priest who lives in Adelaide, South Australia). In Foundations, Spring 2007.
Review: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins by Dr. James Hannam, author of God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.
Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching by Terry Eagleton. In London Review of Books, Vol. 28 No. 20, 19 October 2006, pages 32-34.
Dawkins et al bring us into disrepute by Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy and zoology at Florida State University. In The Guardian, 2 November 2009.
Professor Antony Flew reviews The God Delusion at bethinking.org.
Sam Harris, The End of Faith
A Long Response to Sam Harris’ The End of Faith by Dr. Neil Shenvi.
A Response to The End of Faith – Frequently Asked Questions by Dr. Neil Shenvi.
Trading Faith for Spirituality: The Mystifications of Sam Harris by Meera Nanda, a biologist and philosopher of science and author of Prophets Facing Backwards, who has written many articles for Butterflies and Wheels.
Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great
Christopher Hitchens: My Response to god is not Great by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts.
A Brief Response to Christopher Hitchens’ God is not great by Dr. Neil Shenvi.
Hitchens vs. Hitchens by Peter Hitchens.
Walter Kauffman, The Faith of a Heretic
The Faith of a Heretic. Interview with Harper’s Magazine, February 1959.
Excerpt from The Faith of a Heretic. From Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), pp. 149-52, 168-69, 170-72, 177-78, 180-81. (I couldn’t find any online responses to Kauffman’s book. If anyone knows of one, please feel free to contact me. Actually, Kauffman’s writings constitute a valuable counterfoil to Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ vitriolic criticisms of Judaism and the God of the Old Testament.)
Herman Philipse, God in the Age of Science: A Critique of Religious Reason
On Philipse’s Attempt to Write Off All Deductive Cosmological Arguments by Dr. Emmanuel Rutten, Philosophy Department, University of Amsterdam. In Philo Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring-Summer 2013.
God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason. Review by Andrew Pinsent, University of Oxford.
Atheism of the gaps arguments
Next, Professor Coyne urges skeptics to make “atheism of the gaps” arguments:
Religionists often float God-of-the-gaps arguments, saying that God must lie in the interstices of our scientific understanding. Well, we can play that game, too. There are huge gaps in believers’ understanding of God, and in those lacunae, I claim, lies strong evidence for No God. Here are some of those religious gaps:
- Why would the Abrahamic God, all-loving and all-powerful, allow natural evils to torment and kill people? Why can’t he keep kids from getting cancer? How did the Holocaust fit into God’s scheme?
- Why, if God wants us to know and accept him so much, does he hide himself from humanity?
- Why would an omnibenevolent God consign sinners to an eternity of horrible torment for crimes that don’t warrant that? (In fact, no crimes do!). The official Catholic doctrine, for instance, is that unconfessed homosexual acts doom you to an eternity of immolation in molten sulfur. And would the Christian God really let someone burn forever because they were Jews, or didn’t get baptized?
- Why is God in the Old Testament such a jerk, toying with people for his amusement, ordering genocides in which women and children are killed en masse, and allowing she-bears to kill a pack of kids just for making fun of a prophet’s baldness? How does that comport with the God worshipped today?
- Why didn’t Jesus return during his followers’ lifetime, as he promised?
…[T]heism doesn’t even begin to provide credible answers to the goddy puzzles above, and, unlike science, has never made a bit of progress in attacking them. So, I claim, we can find good evidence for atheism in the gaps of religious understanding. And that tactic trumps religious God-of-the-gaps arguments, because the gaps in science grow smaller as we learn more (neuroscience is one example), while the gaps in theism are always the same size.
Professor Coyne displays his historical ignorance in the last paragraph: the ancient Greeks knew nothing of fine-tuning, or of evidence for the universe having had a beginning, and they also believed in spontaneous generation.
For those who are interested, the following links should help answer most of Professor Coyne’s questions.
Why des God allow natural evils to keep killing people?
Does a Good God Exist? – A Debate with Christopher Hitchens by Professor William Dembski. Professor Dembski’s remarks on the problem of evil hit the nail on the head.
Tsunami and Theodicy by David Bentley Hart.
Is the Existence of God Compatible with Gratuitous Evil? by Daniel and Frances Howard-Snyder.
On Rowe’s Argument from Particular Horrors by Daniel Howard-Snyder.
Must Good Come From Every Evil? by Bruce Little.
Why doesn’t God reveal Himself more clearly?
Why doesn’t God just make Himself obvious to us?
Why doesn’t God just show Himself? by Scott Youngren.
Why isn’t the God of the Bible showing Himself to me? by Glenn Miller.
The alleged cruelty of God in the Old Testament
Why morality cannot be 100% natural: A Response to Professor Coyne by Vincent Torley. (Discusses Old Testament morality and addresses charges that the Old Testament sanctions genocide and injustice.)
S. Michael Houdmann also makes some pertinent observations in What does the Bible say about child sacrifice?:
Molech worship was practiced by the Ammonites and Canaanites, who revered Molech as a protecting father figure. Images of Molech were made of bronze, and their outstretched arms were heated red-hot. Living children were then placed into the idol’s hands and died there or were rolled into a fire pit below…
God prohibited Israel from child sacrifice in general and Molech worship in particular. Leviticus 20:2-5 states, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.’” Many other Old Testament passages affirm God’s zero-tolerance for child sacrifice.
Question…wasn’t Elisha very cruel when he sent those bears against those little kids who were teasing him about being bald? by Glenn Miller. It turns out that they weren’t little kids, but a gang of young men who were threatening worshipers of God.
Hell by Professor Peter Kreeft.
Pope John Paul II on Hell. Sermon from a General Audience (Wednesday, 28 July, 1999).
The Biblical View of Hell by Glenn Miller. (Scroll down to the section on “the traditional view”. This article is well worth reading, as it will change the way you think about hell.)
Hell: a difficult doctrine we dare not ignore by Dr. Christopher Townsend.
Did Jesus wrongly predict His return?
Did Jesus Wrongly Predict a First Century Return in Matthew 24:34? by Marshall “Rusty” Entrekin. An unusually thorough discussion which proposes no less than four solutions compatible with orthodox faith.
If readers would like to suggest other helpful articles, then I would be glad to add them to the list.