You can say this for religious apologists: they’re creative. Just when you get tired of the same, endlessly recycled arguments against New Atheists, they come up with some new ones. From Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham, comes a piece by Jim Spiegel, “Unreasonable doubt.” (Spiegel is a professor of philosophy at Taylor University, an evangelical Christian college in Indiana.)
Taylor has a beef about atheists: he thinks we’re largely an immoral bunch. But, reversing the usual accusation that atheism causes immorality, he claims that immorality causes atheism. (He has a new book called The Making of An Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief.)
How does this chain of causation work? Spiegel cites the case of scholar Mortimer Adler, who, after a life of atheism, finally got baptized at 81. According to Spiegel, Adler was an atheist simply because it was easier, quoting him as saying that being religious “would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for …. The simple truth of the matter is that I did not wish to live up to being a genuinely religious person.”
Spiegel also cites the gospel of Paul:
Paul provides at least part of the answer in the same Romans passage, noting that some people “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18). We all suffer from intellectual blind spots created by personal vices and immoral desires. To the extent that we succumb to these, we may be tempted to adopt perspectives that enable us to rationalize perverse behavior.
Those perspectives, of course, include atheism. Spiegel also cites Alvin Plantinga’s ideas:
But some things can impede cognitive function, and sin is one of these. The more we disobey and give ourselves over to vice, the less reliable our belief formation will be, particularly regarding moral and spiritual matters.
He also claims that many historic intellectuals who rejected God had lives that were a moral shambles:
Historian Paul Johnson’s fascinating if disturbing book Intellectuals exposed this pattern in the lives of some of the most celebrated thinkers in the modern period, including Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Hemingway, Russell, and Sartre. In their private (and often public) lives, these Western intellectual stars were moral wrecks. Could their rejection of God—and, in particular, Christianity, with its exacting moral standards—have been entirely intellectual and dispassionate? Or might the same desires confessed by Nagel and Adler have played a role in their atheism?
I sense here some cherry-picking of data. One could easily make a list of famous Christians whose moral lives were equally bankrupt. But never mind. For Spiegel, with his armchair psychologizing, has another theory. It’s based on father rejection!
External factors may also hamper the natural awareness of God and contribute to a descent into atheism. In his book Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, New York University psychologist Paul Vitz, a onetime atheist, examines the lives of the major atheists of the modern period, including Hobbes, Hume, Voltaire, Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Russell, and Freud. He found they had something in common: a broken relationship with their father. Whether by death, departure, abuse, or some other factor, the father relationships of all these well-known atheists were defective. Vitz also examined the lives of prominent theists during the same period (Pascal, Reid, Burke, Berkeley, Paley, Wilberforce, Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Newman, Chesterton, and Bonhoeffer, among others). In every case, he found a good relationship with the father or at least a strong father figure. . .
Life is too complex to make a hard and fast rule about such things. But at the least, it shows that there are moral and psychological dimensions to atheism, ones we cannot ignore. At most, it strongly suggests that atheists can be self-deceived, driven by a motivated bias to disbelieve in God.
I wonder if this applies to the New Atheists. Well, I always got along okay with Dad, but of course Hitchens had a difficult relationship with his father “The Commander.” Dawkins seems to have had a good relationship with his father, but what about Dennett and Harris? The problem, of course, is that all of this is anecdotal. What data there are don’t show any positive relationship between atheism and immorality. Atheists are grossly underrepresented among America’s prison population, and there’s no evidence that atheist Scandinavia has become a moral cesspool. What Spiegel really means by “immorality” seems to be “not accepting Jesus,” and of course that’s correlated with atheism!
But even if accepting Jesus as Your Personal Lord and Savior did keep you on the moral path, one can still ask, “Well, are Christian beliefs true?” Most of us wouldn’t want to live a life based on lies, even if it they did make us more upright. That’s just hypocrisy. Spiegel is aware of this, and so he needs to provide evidence for God. And here is how he does it:
As important as it is to remind atheists of the rational evidence for God, the real problem in many cases is moral and psychological in nature. Such a suggestion is potentially offensive to unbelievers. But we still need to ask if it is nonetheless true. According to Scripture, the evidence for God is overwhelming. The apostle Paul says that “God has made it plain” that he exists; his “invisible qualities … have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20). And the psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (19:1). This naturally prompts the question: If the evidence for God is so abundant, then why are there atheists?
Yep, that’s the evidence. It’s all in the Holy Book: “according to Scripture, the evidence for God is overwhelming”! How can anyone write that with a straight face? But if what religious books said counted as independent evidence for the existence of divine beings, then we also must consider the Qur’an, the Eddas, the Bhagavad Gita, and all those other books that give “overwhelming” evidence for different gods!
This dude doesn’t seem to have a lot of respect for data. It’s not the atheists whose thinking is warped—it’s people like Spiegel.