I’ve realized that what religious people and faitheists have been doing to atheists lately is putting us on the defensive: insisting that we read this or that book; we answer this or that argument—and if we don’t, well, then they won’t pay us any attention. (As if they would anyway!) And I also realized that we can turn the tables on these people. After all, they’re the ones making unevidenced truth claims, not us. So I propose two strategies for nonbelievers:
1. Make believers read about unbelief before you listen to them. This one I’ve suggested before. 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). I’m sure readers can think of others.
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.
2. 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?
(I’m sure that readers can add other gaps, including the dozens of inconsistencies in Scripture.)
Now it’s no use for believers to respond “God is mysterious. Perhaps some day we’ll know the answers.” For that is precisely the answer they won’t accept about scientific puzzles—like the oft-touted mystery of consciousness—that they adduce as evidence for God. If we were to respond, “The brain works in mysterious ways,” or “Evolution works in mysterious ways,” theists like David Bentley Hart would just sneer and say that materialism could never provide answers.
Well, theism 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.