Robert C. Bishop and Joshua Carr describe and critique a number of assumptions found in recent books by atheist authors arguing against God’s existence. Several of these assump- tions are shared widely by Christians and may be adversely influencing our own work. Mr. Bishop is Associate Professor of Physics and Philosophy and the John and Madeline McIntyre Professor of Philosophy and History of Science at Wheaton College. Mr. Carr is a graduate student in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Eminent scientists notwithstanding, science is not a body of demonstrated truths. Virtually 2all of science is an exercise in believing where we cannot prove. Yet, scientific conclusions
are not embraced by faith alone.—Philip Kitcher

The ethics of science are inseparable from science’s forms of knowledge.—Alfred Tauber

Introduction

In recent years, self-identified atheist authors, sometimes called the “new atheists” (such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger), have gained influence in popular discourse.1 While recognizing that God’s existence cannot be rigorously disproved, these authors argue that we ought not to believe in God, or at least that no good reason for believing in God seems discernible.2 Despite the “new atheist” moniker, however, such conclusions appear to be the results of a well-worn evidentialist epistemology common in academic and popular writing on the sciences since the nineteenth century.

This epistemology’s key claim is that all our beliefs must be backed up by evidence from reason and experience – science being the archetypical model. The fuller our scientific understanding of the universe, these authors claim, the more adequate seems a fully naturalistic explanation of its origins and workings. Correspondingly, the empirical claims of various religions seem increasingly untenable, since (it is claimed) they are not sufficiently supported by reason and experience.3

There are three main Christian responses to such a position. First, perhaps these thinkers have gotten the science wrong – that is, naturalistic explanations alone do not suffice to describe the empirical goings-on of the universe – hence, reference to divine agency is scientifically necessary. This is the approach of special creationism4 (SC) and some advocates of intelligent design (ID). Alternatively, Christians could take issue with the pride of place given to science by these thinkers’ epistemology, arguing that science is merely one human activity among many, having little to commend it above other (for example, religious) approaches. This would be a postmodernist tack. Finally, Christians could argue that although science is an important source of some sort of objective knowledge, scientific standards suffice neither to address the status of religious claims, nor to establish science as an exhaustive source of objective truth. Hence, although science does not demonstrate its own inadequacy by offering up some phenomenon which it cannot explain, the inclusion of theistic lines of reasoning provides a more complete picture of reality than science alone can offer. Many who think in this way adopt a “concurrence” view and argue that although God is at work in and through all empirical phenomena, his mode of action is, at least typically, via “natural law.”5 Hence, scientific methods would be expected to be blind to his presence.

We take up this last line of response. Against the SC/ID position – often characterized as a god-of-the-gaps view – these atheist writers employ various tentative explanations that, though certainly inconclusive, seem to offer reasonable grounds for speculating that gaps in our scientific knowledge may one day be filled with a more rigorous scientific story. For reasons beyond the scope of this paper, we also reject the postmodernist response; suffice it to say that the astounding practical success of the natural sciences seems to place the burden on the postmodernist to demonstrate that findings of science are not “objective” in any important sense.

Many atheist writers, however, will deny the plausibility of concurrence explanations by arguing that the attempt to find nonscientific evidence for God betrays fundamentalism at work: if the existence of God is compatible with scientific evidence that prima facie renders his existence unnecessary, then what evidence could possibly get the theist to change her mind? Dawkins writes, “Fundamentalists know what they believe and they know that nothing will change their minds,”6 and stresses that he would, in fact, believe in God if confronted with incontrovertible evidence. Despite the claims of, for example, SC and some ID proponents, however, such evidence is not available. Thus, he does not believe in God. In this, Dawkins argues, he is very unlike fundamentalist theists, who can consistently cling to belief in God’s existence whatever the evidence.

However, the basic concurrence claim is that the ultimate reasons for one’s belief or disbelief in God must be nonscientific; rather, belief must result from the work of the Spirit in the hearts and minds of people. Although Dawkins and his fellow “evidentialist atheists” are not fundamentalists vis-à-vis the simple question “Does God exist?,” they are fundamentalists vis-à-vis their commitment to an evidentialist epistemology and their standards for good inquiry. The natural consequence of this epistemology, moreover, is that there turns out to be no compelling reason to believe in God. If, however, this epistemology is ultimately too limited, and a superior epistemology is available, we may discover various nonscientific lines of support for God’s existence, lines of support which may even shed new light on our scientific knowledge.

In what follows, we identify several assumptions lying behind the various claims and arguments put forward by the evidentialist atheists.7 The ones we find most important are discussed within three categories: epistemological, theological, and moral/value-based.

Epistemological Assumptions

Univocality of Data and Methods

A central assumption of the evidentialist atheists’ epistemology is the univocality of data and methods. The data scientists ascertain are treated as “brute” in that they ultimately have only one proper, unequivocal meaning. Moreover, the operations and procedures used to obtain and process the data permit only one interpretation. Hence, the goal of science – and of intellectual inquiry more generally – is to discover or disclose that one meaning of the evidence. Conceiving of evidence univocally animates the notion of objectivity frequently found in discussions of science.

The univocality assumption shows up, for instance, in Stenger’s explanation of how scientific arguments break out of endless circles: “In science we are able to break out … by calling upon empirical observations as the final judge.”8 Empirical observations could serve as a truly “final judge” only under the ideal of univocal meaning of data and methods. Many evangelical Christians have adopted this assumption of evidentialist epistemology.9 This has led to highly oversimplified (“literal”) interpretations of biblical texts (see below) and underlies the strict inductivist and positivistic approach that so many SC and ID advocates take toward harmonizing nature with the Scriptures.

The idea that data and methods in science have univocal meanings has come under penetrating criticism in post-positivist philosophy of science.10 For instance, Thomas Kuhn argued cogently that any supposed univocal meanings for either data or methods in science are tied to the ways scientists conceive things at the time and to the shared presuppositions forming the context or paradigm for their research.11 Among these atheist authors, only Stenger mentions Kuhn’s discussion of how data we collect are always colored by a significant amount of theory and other background knowledge (though nowhere does Stenger genuinely engage this important insight).12 Scientific data and methods are always subject to multiple viable interpretations even if only one is observed in scientific literature. Consider conservation of energy, for example. Emmy Noether reinterpreted the conservation law as being a consequence of time-reversal symmetry. Albert Einstein, around the same time, famously reinterpreted energy itself as being not merely a property of matter, but as being interconvertible with it and thus “of the same sort of stuff” as matter so that we now have to speak of conservation of mass-energy. The presence of multiple viable interpretations means simply that such fundamental reinterpretations are always possible.

Moreover, the same event can have different but consistent meanings when viewed from different perspectives. Consider an electron colliding with its anti-particle, a positron (resulting in the annihilation of both particles in a burst of energy). Quantum electrodynamics allows us to assign one sort of meaning to this event, but this meaning is far from exhaustive. The context in which the event takes place is at least as important in determining its significance (for example, occurring in a particle accelerator as part of an experiment or in intergalactic space as part of the early universe). Moreover, under the doctrine of creation, this event also finds meaning and intelligibility through its place in God’s cosmic order. As well, under a concurrence view, the event fulfills a particular purpose as God works through it. None of these meanings is subjective in any sense that automatically renders scientific meanings “more real” than any others.

Belief Reduced to Positivistic Knowledge

Related to the univocality assumption is the assumption that all forms of belief reduce to positivistic knowledge. That is, beliefs can only count as knowledge if they have the form of concrete, demonstrable propositions that are logically or empirical verified. This view is at work when Harris writes:

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Read in the right way, this passage seems to render faith entirely self-justifying: perhaps the very fact that one believes in something which has not yet come to pass (“things hoped for”) or for which one has no evidence (“things not seen”) constitutes evidence for its actuality (“assurance”).13

In this interpretation, however, Harris leaves out the very possibility of non- empirical, multivocal sources of justification for faith commitments, as though “not seen” was equivalent to “necessarily unsupported.” Similarly, Dennett writes,

The proposition that God exists is not even a theory … That assertion is so prodigiously ambiguous that it expresses, at best, an unorganized set of dozens or hundreds—or billions—of quite different possible theories, most of them disqualified as theories in any case, because they are systematically immune to confirmation or disconfirmation.14

For Dennett, it seems, propositions are only meaningful if they can be univocally interpreted and tested. Because religious convictions cannot be definitively tested empirically, they are practically meaningless.15

This way of thinking about beliefs arose in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a number of influences such as mercantilism, capitalism, and bureaucratization pushed the idea of belief in the direction of the empirical, precise, predictive, and as historically evolving.16 Such influences, along with the development of science and technology, led eventually to the positivist view that: (1) beliefs are only reliable if they can be verified by experience; (2) empirical beliefs are more trustworthy than those about nonphysical reality; and (3) beliefs should be precise, logically formulated propositions.

As argued above, the evidentialist atheists insist that meaningful hypotheses take the form of concrete, empirically demonstrable propositions. This positivist ideal also shows up in many ID advocates’ arguments that discovering particular “facts” would serve as evidence for the work of a designer in nature, where these “facts” do not require any background assumptions, values, or faith-based interpretation, at least in principle (for example, whether sin has clouded one’s judgment or not). For instance, Michael Behe maintains that “the conclusion of intelligent design flows naturally from the data itself … design is evident when a number of separate, interacting components are ordered in such a way as to accomplish a function beyond the individual components.”17 The view that rational analysis and empirical investigation alone can detect design in nature or that such a conclusion “flows naturally” from the data presupposes both the univocality of data and methods and the positivist ideal of knowledge. Simply considering what is packed into such notions as “separate,” “interacting,” “component,” “order,” “accomplish,” “function,” and “beyond” individual components, however, reveals that a great deal of background knowledge and values are involved in these supposed “natural inferences.”

In contrast to this tendency to deal with data and procedures positivistically, many scientists and philosophers hold that the sciences involve processes where experimental and observational procedures and data are always rooted in interpretations based on presuppositions. Thus, “every conclusion of science requires presuppositions, just as necessarily as every conclusion of science requires evidence. Indeed, without appropriate presuppositions, evidence loses its evidential role, and that undoes science.”18 Moreover, “facts” receive their meaning from within a moral framework.19 That is, facts take on whatever status they have due in part to the values attached to them, and they find their interpretation within an ethical as well as an epistemological framework (see below).

If conclusions concerning religious propositions do not “flow” from stable, fixed data, many oft-disparaged natural theological arguments may be seen in a more positive light. To take just one example, some theists argue that beauty in the universe (such as natural grandeur or artistic masterpieces) displays the existence of a God who values beauty and who created a universe pregnant with it. Taken as a theological proof, Dawkins handles this quite simply: “Obviously Beethoven’s late quartets are sublime. So are Shakespeare’s sonnets. They are sublime if God is there and they are sublime if he isn’t. They do not prove the existence of God; they prove the existence of Beethoven and of Shakespeare.”20 Nevertheless, the theist is likely to have a lingering intuition: if God does not exist, is it not awfully surprising that a universe so pregnant with beauty should develop? Taking this approach, the theist argues, essentially, that the universe has the nature of a well-written story, a story in which we are characters.

Imagine what things would look like from the perspective of a character in a great work of fiction, say Frodo in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. From Frodo’s perspective, the existence of beauty in music and poetry, of good and evil, and of purposes and aims he must accomplish, are clear. What is not clear is the existence of Tolkien. As readers, we realize that all these things exist in the story because of Tolkien, but that does not change the fact that Frodo could interpret their existence in two ways: as the product of a fruitful author or as a mere invention of his mind, superadded over the truly real material phenomena of his existence.

Evidentialist atheists follow the latter intuition, reducing the class of “real phenomena” to those which alone we seem completely incapable of denying such status (material phenomena and efficient causal connections). Not surprisingly, they find God not to be among those things resisting denial. Since science is well adapted to treat material phenomena, it is also no surprise that such thinkers tend to ascribe to science a privileged place. In contrast, the Christian, who trusts the intuition that such things as beauty, morality, and purpose are real (perhaps even more fundamental than the material phenomena that bear them), quite naturally finds their existence to hinge on God’s, so that modes of inquiry besides the natural sciences are needed to generate fuller accounts of reality. Accordingly, the arguments of natural theology are important, not because they confute atheism, but because they clarify theistic motivations.

Naïve falsification

Often, evidentialist atheists deploy a rather naïve view of falsification: if a hypothesis has some observational consequences and experimental tests produce contrary evidence, the hypothesis is falsified. Naïve falsification ignores Pierre Duhem’s crucial point that no hypothesis is ever tested independently of bundles of other hypotheses.21 If, for example, we observe a falling rock’s speed under the force of gravity, we are not only testing the theory of gravity, but also tacitly invoking theories of mechanics, optics, electricity, and magnetism as well as specific hypotheses about the apparatus used to make the necessary measurements (most fundamentally, our senses). Because the formulation and testing of hypotheses always involves human interpretations, putative falsifying observations may not necessarily indict the hypothesis in question. This is particularly true when it comes to testing anything in the religious or social realms.22

Prayer studies offer many examples of naïve falsification. Researchers have been unable to detect intercessory prayer’s efficacy in health outcomes despite several studies, some extensive. Atheist authors often trot these out as falsifying evidence against God’s existence – or, at least, against that of a God who answers prayer.23 Indeed, Stenger seems at points to do exactly this, stating, “if prayer worked, the effects would be objectively observed. They are not.”24 When summing up the results of several prayer studies, Stenger’s writing is more nuanced: “It does not appear—based on the scientific evidence—that a God exists who answers prayer in any significant, observable way.”25 While Stenger seems to recognize that such studies do not simply disprove God’s existence, the phrase “in any significant, observable way” is misleading. If God typically answers prayer working in and through natural processes, one should not expect a marked, reproducible posi-tive result in prayer studies. Theists have long maintained that God’s “answering prayer” does not mean that we can manipulate God; rather, being sovereign over all affairs, God may have legitimate purposes in “saying no” in response to prayer. Moreover, if, as some have maintained, the primary purpose of prayer is to aid believers in bringing their wills into line with God’s, then any positive effects in a prayer study would be expected to be so small as to be unobservable. Perhaps Dawkins realizes the fallacy of making too much of these prayer studies when he writes: “Praying for somebody rather than somebody else, simply because of the fall of the dice in the design of a double-blind experiment, does not constitute a good reason [to heal someone]. God would see through it.26

Naïve falsificationism also arises in the evidentialist atheists’ treatment of prophecy, and of the Bible generally speaking. Although some of their critiques do merit closer examination – the historicity of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, for instance, is a matter of intense scholarly debate – they sometimes exhibit a willingness to deploy tremendous interpretive insensitivity. Dawkins, for instance, points out the lack of overlap between Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke, without ever providing cultural background on the role of the genealogies in these books.27

Generally speaking, the problem with atheist arguments relying on naïve falsification is that they overestimate the reach of empirical methods given a theistic view. In his section entitled “Falsification,” Stenger writes: “[G]od is supposed to be everywhere … So when we look for God [anywhere], we should either find him, thus confirming his existence, or not find him, thus refuting his existence.”28 However, if God indeed acts everywhere and in all events – as concurrence maintains – then our scientific understanding simply reflects the way God acts. We would have no contrasting example of a phenomenon in which God was not at work by which to verify empirically whether God was at work. Thus, science is ultimately incapable of demonstrating God’s existence or non-existence.

In this way, evidentialist atheism’s treatment of religion reflects exactly the same kind of naïve falsification often adopted by its Christian targets. As Philip Kitcher points out, almost all SC examples of “falsifications” of evolution turn on the idea that a particular observational consequence of evolution can be tested in isolation from any other hypotheses.29 Perhaps what is more ironic about the evidentialist atheists’ deploying naïve falsification in their assessment of the God hypothesis is that scientists like Dawkins and Stenger would never adopt such coarse understandings of hypothesis testing within their scientific fields. Yet, when examining the “God hypothesis,” naïve falsification is acceptable to them even though it does not represent the best expression of their own intellectual values.

Science’s results are always provisional, having beyond-reasonable-doubt status until such time as reasonable doubts are raised, as Stenger admits when he is talking about science rather than religion.30 Even when scientists do talk in terms of “proof,” however, they generally mean something more like overwhelming evidence that is currently beyond reasonable doubt.31 Scientists often believe things on the basis of apparently good, but inconclusive evidence, and rarely dismiss a theory in the face of a few bits of apparently contradictory evidence. Accordingly, the evidentialist atheists’ disjunction of faith and evidence offers too simple a framework even for science, let alone broader areas of life like religious commitment.

Mischaracterization of Faith

A final epistemological assumption of evidentialist atheists is that faith should be construed as a species of propositional belief. This contrasts with viewing faith as a species of attraction, commitment, orientation, or basic way of conceiving the world. Hence, atheists routinely deride religious faith as belief that lacks evidence, or belief in the face of contrary evidence. Of course, many fundamentalist and other forms of American Christianity at least implicitly adopt this same understanding of faith. Given that the claims of many Christians are either underdetermined by the empirical evidence (such as the historicity of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt) or go against available empirical evidence to varying degrees (such as spontane-ous creation of fixed species or occurrence of a global flood), construing religious faith as a kind of belief that overruns evidence is rather easy.

Neither evidentialist atheists nor their targets seem to be aware of historically how the notion of belief became ramified into a propositional framework. From the sixteenth century forward, the idea of faith – particularly religious faith – as being a form of allegiance or way of being in the world was slowly transformed into a commitment to a set of clearly defined propositions (for example, that God exists or that God created the world) that could be demonstrated largely through reason alone.32 Much of this transition was driven by the Reformation/Counter-Reformation disputes as well as the rise of mercantilism, capitalism, bureaucratization, and other cultural changes.33 By the nineteenth century, faith was viewed as a species of propositional belief where evidence either was running short or missing altogether. Faith became aligned with emotional commitment and belief with rational commitment based on evidence or logical demonstration, the latter being much more intellectually respectable than the former.34

In contrast to this “belief-y” perspective, many religious adherents have the notion of affective trust in mind when they speak of and live out their faith. This can be easily mistaken by evidentialist atheists as “bad fundamentalism” from the perspective of viewing all knowledge and belief as being constituted by concrete, demonstrable propositions for which there is adequate evidence. However, there are at least two reasons for rejecting the evidentialist atheist perspective. First, it ignores both Judaism and Christianity’s enduring traditions of dealing with doubts in the midst of religious faith (for example, Christianity’s long-standing practice of critically engaging its own metaphysical and historical claims). These doubts, however, find their place within a framework of reliance or trust – faith – in God’s covenantal love. In fact, although the evidentialist atheists may claim to base their position on reason alone, every form of reasoning presupposes and is fueled by background concerns, desires, intuitions, and orientations – that is, a-rational commitments – constituting a notion of “the good life.” In the Western classical tradition – picked up and expanded by Christianity – reason was viewed as a way of life that was part and parcel of a lifeworld deeply colored by virtue, prudence, humility, and imagination. From a Christian perspective, reason was meant to serve purposes in a larger cosmic drama by animating and directing a life of charity. By contrast, the modern view of reason is an instrumental one, fo-cusing on a technical grasp of techniques of material and social manipulation for individual, autonomous ends. From this modern perspective, reason is animated by the moral vision of the good as technological mastery.

Second, as a long line of thinkers have emphasized (such as Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, and Kierkegaard), desire and affective commitment are prerequisites for any knowledge, including the propositional knowledge prized by evidentialist atheists.35 Ultimately, what we love defines us more than what we know or believe.36 Instead of being a static structure of propositions presented for belief, Judaism and Christianity are much more like an ongoing conversation (between reason and revelation, prophet and priest, the right now and the yet-to-be) about what people ultimately desire, all fundamentally driven by love for both God and truth. The “belief-y” view tends to create a straw religion as the target of analysis rather than dealing with the rigors and tensions of the real thing.

There is an irony here. Evidentialist atheists claim they avoid bad fundamentalism by basing all their judgments on reason and evidence, principally as exemplified by natural science inquiry. Yet, science itself is underdetermined by available evidence and requires fundamental assumptions that cannot be proven using science, such as the order and intelligibility of the world, the basic reliability of reason and our senses, and so forth.37 Science’s presuppositions must be “taken on faith,” meaning that a comprehensive worldview (for example, metaphysical naturalism or Christian theism) is required to provide appropriate motivations or justifications for accepting these presuppositions. So the evidentialist atheists’ faith in science and its presuppositions – alternatively, in reason and experience – is not different in kind from that of Christians in God.38 Hence, this quasi-fundamentalist character alone cannot be enough to disqualify religious claims from even possibly being true without also disqualifying science or virtually any field of human knowledge.39

Theological Assumptions

The epistemological assumptions are related to significant theological as-sumptions at work in evidentialist atheism.

Either/Or Dilemma

Perhaps the most fundamental theological assumption evidentialist atheists make is in the form of a false dilemma that has been widely (if implicitly) adopted since at least the early nineteenth century: either God intervenes in unmediated fashion in some events, or else everything happens through natural processes without any divine influence whatsoever. This dilemma is also widely shared among Christians. For example, many ID supporters presuppose this dilemma through insisting that so-called irreducible complexity is evidence of intelligent intervention in nature where natural laws and processes are inadequate.40 Both SC and ID advocates assume an engineering model of God as designer, and such a conception of God expresses one horn of the false dilemma.

That this either/or dilemma represents a false choice is clear from noticing that it leaves out several alternative possibilities such as God’s acting concurrently along with and through natural processes so that everything that happens is both fully natural and fully divine. In this latter case, there would be no interventions showing up as violations of any laws of nature, so there is no expectation that God’s activity would be scientifically detectable. For example, B. B. Warfield, an experienced cattle breeder, pointed out:

Man may breed many varieties of pigeons, fowls, sheep; and the varieties he breeds may often come [by leaps]. But they all find their account in the forces operating in the materials dealt with; man’s directing hand cannot be traced in the chain of efficient causes, all of which are discoverable in the evolving stuff.41

Were scientists to trace the mechanistic links in the causal chains leading to new breeds, they would not find definitive evidence of the activity of breeders in those causal chains. The definitive evidence for breeders’ involvement comes from seeing human breeders working with cattle. Similarly, Warfield argued, God’s activity in guiding and working through natural processes would not show up as evidence in the scientific investigation of those processes.

In short, if atheist arguments are successful against the engineering picture of God, no one is forced to leave religious conviction behind. There are theologically serious alternatives which eschew an either/or dilemma.

Biblical Atomism

Not only is the evidentialist atheist’s picture of God simplistic, so is the treatment of Scripture. They practice biblical atomism, treating individual sentences or verses in the Bible as having some plain meaning on their own, independent of the surrounding passages, or the Bible as a whole or the cultural-historical context of the passages. For instance, Dawkins interprets Luke 14:26 to mean straightforwardly that Jesus calls Christians to scorn and abandon their families.42 A more charitable, culturally sensitive, and contextually-informed reading would interpret Jesus as calling for first place in the priorities of his disciples, a call which may but need not necessarily override commitment to family.43

Similarly, Harris cites John 15:6 and Matthew 10:34 as evidence that Jesus condones or fosters violence.44 The context of these passages, along with the life and ministry of Jesus, clearly confutes this interpretation, but atomizing verses allows one to supply almost any interpretation, no matter how facile. Perhaps realizing the weakness of his interpretation, Harris quickly adds: “Whether we want to interpret Jesus metaphorically is, of course, our business. The problem with Scripture, however, is that many of its possible interpretations (including most of the literal ones) can be used to justify atrocities in defense of faith.”45One might note here that a “literal,” atomized reading of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” would justify the English adopting the eating of Irish babies as national policy. Although reading Swift in this simplistic manner is more straightforwardly incorrect than so reading the Bible, the larger point stands that it is the responsibility of the reader, in dialogue with a text, to search for an author’s meaning, particularly when a cultural gap exists between writer and reader, and especially when the results of this search are used to inform present practice.

Mark Noll identified this tendency among fundamentalist Christians as “versification.”46 For instance, an SC advocate might collect all the verses in the Bible discussing Noah’s flood and then try to infer inductively the “biblical teaching on the flood.” Yet, pulling all of these verses out of their historical-cultural contexts distorts whatever meaning one might hope to infer from the entire collection of verses.

Ironically, evidentialist atheists practice a nuanced “reading” of nature while insisting on naïve biblical atomism. Atomistic reading of texts – widely recognized as poor intellectual practice – seems inconsistent with these writers’ pursuit of well-respected intellectual values as practiced in their academic research. They, like their intended targets, seem oblivious to the fact that this approach to reading texts presupposes a simplistic view of induction as somehow free of any background or theoretical commitments, a view that fell into disrepute toward the latter half of the nineteenth century.47 Scientists like Dawkins and Stenger would never practice such raw induction in their investigations of nature.

To a large degree, biblical atomism follows from treating Scripture as a set of propositions having determinate truth values. Although many modern texts may have been written in this way, the Bible, like much ancient literature, was not. Hence, approaching biblical texts from this propositional perspective distorts their meanings. For instance, evidentialist atheists (like many fundamentalist Christians) routinely treat biblical prophecies as sets of discrete propositions aimed at giving a detailed preview of the future rather than as revealing the moral and cosmological implications of God’s wisdom applied to the current context, and its role in the plan of salvation. Witness Stenger’s analysis of Zechariah 10:11 as a simple, unfulfilled prophecy that the Nile River will cease flowing. In context, however, the statement that the Nile will dry seems meant to indicate simply that God will restore his people to prosperity and that their captors will not prosper.48

Biblical atomism’s relatively recent development – dating back to the nineteenth century49 – contrasts sharply with older traditions of hermeneutics, such as found in the Patristic Fathers and early Reformers, which view Scripture as a whole rather than as a collection of atomistic propositions. On a holistic view, the interpretation of any particular verse or passage is colored by the whole of the Bible, and vice-versa.50 Under such a hermeneutic, concepts like biblical inspiration – where the Bible is viewed as a fully divine and fully human book – are not as problematic as evidentialist atheists might think; most of the troublesome propositions simply evaporate when Scripture is read more sensitively. Even staunch advocates of inspiration and inerrancy like Warfield argued for consistency (though not proposition-by-proposition concordance) between the interpretation of Scripture and scientific theories like evolution.51

Humanitarian Picture of God

A further theological assumption of evidentialist atheists – widely shared among religious believers – is a humanized or humanitarian picture of God. With the rise of humanitarianism and moralism in Western society in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people came to conceive of God as having essentially the same standards for justice and fairness as human beings.52 Stenger exemplifies this stance when he writes: “If God has a different conception of evil from ours, then so much the worse for God.”53 Essentially, God is pictured as having the same ethical sensibilities as human beings but as being superhuman in the sense of being immensely more powerful than us. Moreover, nineteenth-century humanitarianism came to equate all suffering with evil, including suffering due to natural events like earthquakes and floods, compounding the demands on God’s benevolence. Under the spell of this humanitarian picture, it became almost incomprehensible how a good God would allow any suffering – in particular, why a good God would create a world where suffering seemed pervasive (not only the cruelty of human behavior, but the presence of disease, natural disasters, animal suffering, and so on). After all, if God has the same moral sensibilities as us, God would not allow any suffering or pain if God could prevent it.

By de-emphasizing revelation about God in Scripture and focusing mostly on reason and experience, Western culture – including many Christians – lost sight of the redemptive role of suffering and narrowed their affective concep-tion of God down to a “God of perfect love” – the ultimate humanitarian whose very existence appears inconsistent with the presence of suffering. If suffering is equated with evil, then there could be no redemptive role for suffering to play. Clearly, this undercuts much of the meaning of the crucifixion as well as the key biblical theme of good emerging out of suffering. Although passages like I John 4:8 state that God is love, such verses do not exhaust the biblical revelation of God’s attributes (such as justice, righteousness, holiness, mercy, anger), nor do these attributes necessarily have the same meaning as the human emotions and ethical stances for which we use the same terms. The humanitarian picture accentuates one anthropomorphized “attribute of God” over the rest.

A core set of intellectual and moral values motivates the evidentialist atheists’ epistemology and theology. Although intellectual values are often made explicit, the moral values animating their project usually are not. Yet, it is at the level of these largely unexamined values that the deepest motivations for their approach to religion lie.

Ethical Ideals and Objectification

Central to evidentialist atheist approaches to religion is the capacity for objec-tification: a stance toward things that abstracts away from so-called subject-related qualities. These qualities include most of the meanings of and relationships among things that show up within our ordinary experience, values, aims, and concerns. To take an objectifying stance means to “regard the world as it is independently of the meanings it might have for human subjects, or of how it figures in their experience,” and reduce the world to a network of material objects and efficient causes.54 Construing religious convictions and attitudes as univocal, propositional statements confirmable by public testing and observation, and thus as subject-independent, is an example of objectification in action.

Several important points should be noted about objectification as an exclusive approach to inquiry. First, this stance was only made possible by a number of cultural affordances that have everything to do with shifts in human ways of conceptualizing the world.55 This background betrays what we have argued pre-viously, namely that no inquiry is strictly objective, for all inquiry requires some background assumptions. Second, objectification involves excising the values and meanings making up the everyday lifeworld of our experience. We only engage in this kind of abstraction against substantial background commitments and values, and for particular purposes. Third, although objectification certainly has proved its worth in natural science inquiry, religious phenomena touch a domain having much more in common with inquiry in the human realm, where objectification has proven problematic to say the least.56 A key reason for objectification’s failure when applied to the human domain is that it represents as much a moral as an epistemological ideal. This moral ideal can be seen, for instance, in evidentialist atheists’ insistence that moral good comes from objectifying “the God hypothesis” and religions phenomena in general (for example, liberating people from antiquated superstition and false authorities, making the world a safer, less violent place to live, and so forth). Such moral implications derive from a viewpoint already animated by a moral vision of the good life for human beings.

Objectification separates the subject and object of inquiry, leaving a gulf between knowing subject and thing-to-be-known. This may be a thoroughly appropriate stance to take toward understanding the properties of electrons, molecules, and volcanoes. But when applied to human activities and our ways of understanding humanity, objectification distorts the human phenomena we are trying to understand by treating self-interpreting beings as if we are no different in kind from electrons, molecules, and volcanoes (a value judgment if ever there was one!). One may be able to investigate and describe the physical and chemical properties of volcanoes without implicitly or explicitly judging whether it would be better if the volcano formed in a different way or place. But when investigat-ing and describing human activity and beliefs, such judgments about what is good are essentially unavoidable; indeed, such judgments show up explicitly in the writings of the “new atheists.” For example, Stenger insists that demonstrat-ing the falsity of particular conceptions of God is a good thing because these conceptions are morally reprehensible; hence, believing in such conceptions of God is morally deficient.57 Harris and Dawkins applaud what they take to be the demonstrated nonexistence of God because (they say) religious beliefs foster irrationality and violence.58 Even Dennett, who recognizes some positive effects of religion, complains that it would be demeaning to human nature if we required religion for such goodness.59

The ideal of objectification toward the human realm – or the divine, conceived of by Christians as personal – is deeply connected with ethical ideals. For instance, Richard Bernstein shows how adherence to natural science ideals of objectification in human inquiry, though purportedly fostering “value-neutral, objective claims subject only to the criteria of public testing,” turn out to harbor “disguised ideology.” These “proposed theories secrete values and reflect controversial ideological claims about what is right, good, and just,” reflecting a “total intellectual orientation” anchored in a complete package of tendentious high Enlightenment ideals such as individualism, skepticism, instrumentalism, and emancipation.60

As an example, several thinkers have analyzed different versions of liberal individualism, a disguised ideology that pervasively shapes much social science inquiry.61 This is a particular ethical vision or understanding of the nature of human action and the good life that stresses “negative liberty” – what we are free from rather than what we are free for – and defends individual autonomy. This one-sided emphasis obscures our cultural embeddedness and downplays the value of lasting social ties. It advocates thoroughgoing neutrality toward and distancing from all values as a way of promoting particular basic and laudable ends such as liberty, tolerance, individuality, and human rights (which, ironically, are themselves values). Simultaneously, liberal individualism’s insistent characterization of human action and motivation as exclusively self-interested undermines our capacity to respect and cherish others. Thus, liberal individualism tends to erode our devotion to the admirable modern ideals of freedom and justice – the very ideals that it seeks to promote. 

Remarkably, such disguised ideology is part and parcel of the seemingly innocent commitment to studying human actions and involvements through exclusive use of natural science methods.62 Dennett expresses such disguised ideology when he demands that religious belief – a human practice – be formulated in clear, objective, publicly (that is, scientifically) testable propositions. He cannot defend this adherence to natural science methods based on science or on his model of rationality because both of these already presuppose objectification. His reasons for demanding his line of inquiry are rooted in his desire to free people from illegitimate authorities, superstitions, and false beliefs. Likewise, Dawkins, Harris, and Stenger insist on a normative model of rationality where individuals should decide between religious commitments strictly as propositions subject to objective, public evidence and argument. This model, however, presupposes a tidy distinction between facts and values when it is values that animate the very conception of facts and reason at play.

Many SC and ID advocates likewise imbibe these same individualist and objectivist ideals. For example, many of them insist that design is detectable in nature through “objective” natural science methods or modifications thereof.63 Thus, science can objectively expose belief in a designer-less universe as deluded, in the same fashion that it can reveal the properties of electrons. This assumes both that data and methods have value-free, univocal meanings, and that design can be inferred from natural science methods and data independent of one’s metaphysical and theological assumptions. Contrast this objectifying stance with that of Ps. 19:1 and Rom. 1:18-19, where the psalmist and Paul speak of a different kind of apprehension of divine transcendence, purpose, and power, one tied to worship rather than evidence. The apprehension of God and design in nature, though mediated by evidence, comes to us primarily at the level of meanings, the very things that objectification strips away.

These ethical ideals may help explain various tendencies of evidentialist atheists (such as presupposing univocal rather than multiple meanings of data and methods, pursuing naïve views of falsification and overly simplistic readings of the Bible in contrast to nuanced readings of nature, adopting unsophisticated forms of induction in their inquiry into religion that would not otherwise be tolerated). Perhaps covertly, the ends of freeing people from false beliefs and oppression mask the adoption of lower intellectual standards as effective means toward achieving those ends. Although rhetorically effective, the cost in intellectual integrity is high and quite damaging to the reputation of science (and, for that matter, atheism).

The Liberal Myth of Progress

These Enlightenment ethical ideals show up explicitly in the evidentialist atheists’ allegiance to the liberal myth of progress.64 Since approximately the seventeenth century, the myth goes, Western society has been on a steady, though painful, march toward triumph over “irrational faith,” with an accompanying moral and social progress toward freedom, justice, tolerance, and democratic principles. All of these gains supposedly have come in direct proportion to the loss of religion’s hold on societies. Thus, Christianity is viewed as holding the West back from these precious gains. For instance, Harris either ascribes or implies that almost every war, witch-hunt, act of mob violence, outbreak of oppression, and so forth in the West flows from Christian faith itself.65

A compelling ethical vision animates the liberal myth of progress. The Enlightenment purported to offer a rational ethic that was universal (independent of any particular creed or culture) and immediately compelling to any rational agent. Under such a universal ethic, neither rational individuals nor states would engage in unjustified acts of violence or oppression. Indeed, there would never be a cause to resort to force once everyone was free to operate in the clear light of reason. Dennett and Harris explicitly offer an ethical vision where institutions and states following the dictates of reason rather than religion or cultural conventions would promote the welfare and harmony of humanity in exclusively nonviolent ways.

History since the seventeenth century suggests that this story of progress is a fiction (whether focused solely on Western democracies or more broadly on secular dictatorships and communist governments). Minimally, the myth of progress maintains that humanity is improving morally, politically, socially, and so forth, at least in “enlightened” Western societies. However, even Western democracies over the past two centuries have tolerated racism and corruption, lied to their citizens, abridged civil liberties, aided despotic regimes, waged unjust wars, and incinerated cities full of noncombatants. Most often these actions have been justified in the name of promoting democracy and freedom. Moreover, we are surrounded by pending ecological disaster and potential nuclear and biological catastrophe. Thus, although evidentialist atheists seem to urge that a purely secular society would be less violent, more tolerant, and kinder than any society shaped by reli-gious faith, it is difficult to find historical evidence that unambiguously supports their utopian vision. Basically, the evidentialist atheists’ unexamined assumption is that societies shorn of religious faith would choose to follow moral ideals to which these atheists are themselves beholden.66

Ultimate Meaning

A popular, though not argumentatively devastating, complaint against atheism is its failure to provide a source of ultimate meaning or purpose for humans (or anything else, for that matter). Atheists seemingly are forced to admit that the “heat death” predicted by the Second Law of Thermodynamics will eventually occur, erasing any potential for meaningful activity by human or other agents. Accordingly, these authors assume or argue that ultimate meaning is unnecessary, and its absence not to be feared. A similar situation arises for the issue of life after death, with atheists arguing that we need not fear our own annihilation.

Dawkins’ discussion is particularly full and fairly representative. In response to the absence of life after death, Dawkins provides (among other statements) a quote from Mark Twain: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”67 Concerning ultimate meaning, Dawkins writes, echoing existentialist authors save for his upbeat tone: “The truly adult view … is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choIbid., 404.ose to make it. And we can make it very wonderful indeed.”68 And lest one imagines that on the whole religious people might yet feel more comforted than atheists, Dawkins writes: “I know of no evidence that atheists have any general tendency toward unhappy, angst-ridden despond …. [I]t is an understatement to say that one can lead a happy and fulfilled life without supernatural religion.”69

Although the thought of annihilation and meaninglessness troubles many of us, it seems irresponsible to argue that atheists do not mean it when they make such statements. Apparently, there is a simple parting of intuitions here. If all these writers did was to claim that they, in particular, did not feel the need for life to possess ultimate meaning or permanence, then perhaps the discussion could end there. However, Dawkins goes further:

When a devout woman is told by the doctor that she has only months to live, why doesn’t she beam with excited anticipation, as if she has just won a holiday in the Seychelles? … Why don’t faithful visitors at her bedside shower her with messages for those that have gone before? … Could it be that they don’t really believe all that stuff they pretend to believe?70

Such speculation seems deeply off-base, however. Accept for the moment that Christians do, in fact, fear death more than atheists. This might be diagnosed in the following way. Both Christians and atheists have some reason to dread death: there are people we care about, goals we want to accomplish, experiences we want to have, and so forth. All this comes to an end when we die, so to that extent all people will fear death. Unlike the atheist, the Christian attributes eternal significance to these people, plans, and experiences. Therefore, the consistent Christian will experience additional sorts of anxiety when nearing death. For example, a Christian might fear standing before God, having lived less than optimally well and having not accomplished the work God gave him or her to do. Or the Christian might dread having failed to help bring loved ones into relationship with God. Now, it seems that the best sort of Christian would not fear these things, but instead would accept that the circumstances surrounding her life were now beyond her control, and anticipate being accepted by God. However, the larger point stands that adopting religious belief could conceivably provide an added source of anxiety to those experienced by the consistent atheist; that religion may provide added sources of consolation might only level the playing field.

Besides, the Christian’s desire for ultimate meaning need not derive from a fear of annihilation. Viewed through the eyes of a Christian, the universe has the character of a well-written novel or play. The Christian’s intuition is that it would be an awful shame if all the grandeur of life, from the breathtaking natural phenomena described by Dawkins to the richness of interpersonal relationships, existed for no reason whatsoever.

Differing visions of the good life are at work here. The Christian’s vision involves a sense of grand, cosmic meaning to all of life, even at its most ordinary. The atheist’s vision – as expressed by these authors – involves a localized, particu-larized meaning created by us in our actions and attitudes. Theirs is a particular subspecies of liberal individualism known as existentialist individualism71 which describes the good life as an act of self-creation; any notion of pre-given inner directives or of grand, overarching, objective meanings and values are repudiated as inauthentic “bad faith.” Accordingly, we should take responsibility for the basic choices that define the fundamental project of our lives, and create our own values and meaning (Dawkins’ “truly adult view”). Clearly, cultural and ethical ideas are crucial to evidentialist atheism’s project of undercutting the role of ultimate meaning as an important value offered by the life of faith.

Observations

Having examined evidentialist atheism’s underlying assumptions, several important observations emerge. Perhaps most striking is the high degree to which many Christians share these assumptions with their atheist counterparts. For example, these atheists along with many Christians uncritically adopt a rather naïve evidentialist epistemology which resembles bad fundamentalism. If Christians are going to deploy some form of evidentialism as part of our epistemological repertoire, we should pursue much more nuanced versions, making sure we are aware of the assumptions we are bringing to our arguments. Although most SC, ID, and (evidentialist) atheist arguments would no longer function well under a more sophisticated, enriched epistemology, there would be significant gains in terms of intellectual standards and integrity (that is, it would be much harder for atheists, as well as many advocates of SC and ID, to level cheap shots at each other, or to engage in the straw characterizations that appear so often in this body of literature).

A related observation is that blind, non-inquisitive, and brash (that is, analytically overconfident) faith is dangerous, whether it be in epistemological or religious matters. The above assumptions reveal that evidentialist atheists are just as guilty of this kind of shallow faith in their own way. But for the Christian community, these assumptions suggest a number of questions deserving deep reflection. For instance, does faith mean a form of analytic certainty in the face of less-than-overwhelming evidence, as so many in our community take it to mean? Moreover, while the Bible may be “inspired,” “authoritative,” or “inerrant,” our understandings or interpretations of Scripture are not. Indeed, our understanding of science, morality (via conscience), and so on may sometimes be better than our understanding of the Bible. As such, those former understandings may merit our allegiance even when it seems like our interpretation of the Bible says something different. Our interpretations are always fallible and need continual sifting.

Moreover, Christians need to be honest about how well we really understand the Bible, science, history, and so forth. While it is acceptable and necessary to rely on a trusted authority in situations where one is not an expert, it is not acceptable to act as if listening to an authority is the same thing as thoroughly understanding the arguments, assumptions, and interpretations for oneself. Nor is it acceptable to substitute listening to any authority for the process of thoroughly researching available authorities and choosing the one who seems truly to understand the situation.72

Another observation that arises from reflecting on the above assumptions is the danger of making God in our own image. For example, the humanitarian and engineering pictures of God may be comfortable for Western believers, but that does not mean these are the best conceptions of God on offer. We constantly need to examine the pictures we have in light of God’s revelation, chiefly in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is far too easy simply to fall into the comfortable, easily grasped pictures of God offered up by our surrounding culture and end up unwittingly giving our allegiance to such pictures.73

Similarly, contemporary Christianity often imitates or goes along with cultural changes in epistemological and theological assumptions rather than challenging and shaping those changes, unintentionally repeating the exact mistakes made by Christians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who witnessed the rise of rationalism, evidentialism, and atheism.74
Examining the problematic assumptions of evidentialist atheism offers us an opportunity to re-examine our assumptions and understandings on these matters.

Finally, one reason evidentialist atheists do not see the inadequacy of their epistemological and theological assumptions surely is the fact that their Christian tropes make those very same assumptions. However, there is a deeper reason why these assumptions appear so plausible to the evidentialist atheists: such assumptions and the conclusions they yield support as well as mutually reinforce evidentialist atheism’s ethical values and cultural ideals. In other words, their assumptions and conclusions are shaped at least as much by their ethical values and cultural ideals as by their announced intellectual values. Examining the ethical underpinnings of evidentialist atheists serves as an opportunity for Christians to become more aware of the ethical and cultural positions that shape our assumptions and arguments. The extent to which we are more aware of such assumptions and ideals is the extent to which we can engage in more robust biblical and theological thinking about God, the sciences, and our world.

Cite this article
Robert C. Bishop and Joshua Carr, “In Bondage to Reason: Evidentialist Atheism and Its Assumptions”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 43:3 , 221-243

Footnotes

  1. Note that the viewpoints embodied by these authors are hardly synonymous with atheism simpliciter.
  2. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004); Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Penguin 2007); Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Wilmington, MA: Mariner Books, 2008); Victor J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008).
  3. It is important to note that these authors’ endorsement of naturalism depends at least as much on their standards for judging religious claims, and their construal of these claims, as it does on how they interpret the achievements of science. Although we elect to forgo a full treatment of this issue, for such reasons we believe that a proper scientific commitment to methodological naturalism does not require the additional presupposition of metaphysical naturalism, so there is no front-loading of an atheist worldview into modern scientific methods.
  4. Whether of young or old Earth variety, special creationists believe all or most species of organisms were created by God de novo or fully formed over the span of six calendar days. To the extent that progressive creationists invoke de novo creations of organisms, they would also be appealing to divine agency as scientifically necessary.
  5. For example, Benjamin B. Warfield, Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings, eds. M. Noll and D. Livingstone (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000).
  6. Dawkins, 19.
  7. Our discussion of atheist authors’ assumptions clearly has implications for apologetics approaches dealing with scientific evidence. Space limitations prevent us from addressing these explicitly.
  8. Stenger, 34.
  9. Mark Noll, The Scandal of the American Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), ch. 5.
  10. For example, Russell N. Hanson, Patterns of Discovery: An Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundation of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958); Charles Taylor, Philosophical Papers Vol. 1: Human Agency and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), and Philosophical Papers Vol. 2: Philosophy and the Human Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Frank C. Richardson, Blain Fowers, and Charles Guignon, Re-envisioning Psychology: Moral Dimensions of Theory and Practice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999).
  11. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), and The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, with an Autobiographical Interview (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).
  12. Stenger, 35.
  13. Harris, 64.
  14. Dennett, 311; italics in the original.
  15. In the most extreme-sounding (and perhaps most consistent) passages, these arguments hearken back to positivism’s now-defunct verifiability criterion of meaning. Consider Dennett’s statement that the proposition that God exists is “not even a theory.” This seems rather like claiming that it carries no real propositional content. Judged by the verifiability criterion, such an utterance would be meaningless by virtue of not being testable. The most direct problem with this criterion is self-referential: how is one to verify whether statements must be verifiable in order to be meaningful?
  16. James Turner, Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 132-140.
  17. Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: Free Press, 1996), 193-194.
  18. Hugh Gauch, Scientific Method in Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 112.
  19. See, for example, Alfred I. Tauber, Science and the Quest for Meaning (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009).
  20. Dawkins, 110.
  21. Pierre Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).
  22. Robert C. Bishop, The Philosophy of the Social Sciences (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007).
  23. 3Evidentialist atheists often treat prayer studies in peculiar ways. For instance, the typical analysis of these studies presupposes a vending-machine view of God: if we pray for God to heal someone then we should expect God to do what we ask, as if we had simply pushed a vending-machine button. (The studies certainly do falsify that conception of God.) Moreover, Stenger in particular treats these studies inconsistently. In examining Leibovici’s surprising results [L. Leibovici, “Effects of Remote, Retroactive Intercessory Prayer on Outcomes in Patients with Bloodstream Infection: Randomised Controlled Trial,” British Medical Journal323 (2001): 22-29.] – where patients prayed for after the fact (without the knowledge of the person praying) were found to have recovered more frequently – Stenger ignores his evidentialist framework (God: The Failed Hypothesis, 24-25) and dismisses the studies rather than investigating and attempting to interpret or debunk the results. Indeed, Stenger’s only direct critique of Leibovici’s study is that it is inconsistent with known physics, when it is the applicability of known physics that such results call into question (99).
  24. Stenger, 229.
  25. Ibid., 102.
  26. Dawkins, 88.
  27. In ancient Near Eastern cultures, genealogies were intended to indicate lineages, not chronology. So they traditionally had gaps and would make attributions of fatherhood even when there might have been several intervening generations between “parent” and “descendant.” (In ancient Near Eastern genealogies, words rendered as “fathered” in English may also mean “fathered an ancestor of.”) This flexibility allows different genealogies to serve different purposes.
  28. Op. cit., 27.
  29. Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982), ch. 2.
  30. Stenger, 35-39.
  31. Op. cit., 32-35.
  32. The ancient creeds, such as the Nicene, were taken by the Patristic Fathers to be summaries of Scripture. These creeds functioned both to define orthodoxy as well as facilitate worship. Although containing propositions, ancient Christians did not treat the creeds as propositions demonstrable from reason alone; rather, the creeds were viewed as reasonable because they were demonstrable from Scripture and Scripture was given by the DivineLogos. As such, creedal statements functioned as mediators of revelation in the life of the Christian community.

  33. Turner, Without God; Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).
  34. See, for example, Turner, 43-63.
  35. See, for example, Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revelation: Reflections on the God Debate(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 117-127.
  36. James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009).
  37. Gauch, Scientific Method in Practice. These presuppositions represent substantial knowledge commitments about the world, so faith and knowledge are interrelated rather than separate epistemic categories.
  38. In fact, the evidentialist atheists are in the same boat with belief in an external world, belief in the reality of the past, or belief in other minds as their fundamentalist targets are supposed to be with belief in God. Yet we do not see titles like The External World Delusionor Other Minds: The Failed Hypothesis. Beliefs in an external world, the reality of the past, and other minds are necessary for the practice of science, but are not demonstrable under strict evidentialist epistemological standards.
  39. A particularly egregious example of this attempted disqualification of religious claims is found in Harris, The End of Faith. On some occasions, Harris describes unreason as a category of belief or action based on either a lack of evidence or contrary to evidence, with religious belief being a subspecies of unreason (The End of Faith, 223). On other occasions, he simply equates unreason with religion. For instance, that Soviet communism endorsed monstrous actions that were “inspired by unjustified belief” and “dogmatic” seems, on Harris’s view, sufficient to label Soviet communism “little more than a political religion” (79). Harris does not produce any reasons for labeling Soviet communism in this way. In the absence of an equivocation between “religion” and “unreason,” however, his deprecation of religion succeeds only against religious irrationality, not against all religion.
  40. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box.
  41. Noll and Livingstone, Evolution, 233.
  42. Dawkins, 284.
  43. In ancient Hebrew society, “to hate” (as in KJV, NIV, ESV, and so on) often implied simply “to love less”; see Genesis 29:30-31.
  44. Harris, 82-83, 254.
  45. Ibid., 83.
  46. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 133-135.
  47. Ibid., ch. 4 and pp. 126-137.
  48. The Nile was often taken as a metaphor for Egypt’s strength and prosperity.
  49. Ibid., ch. 5.
  50. Of course, writers, including for instance the Reformers, will often cite very short sections of Scripture as support for propositions. Such practice does not conflict with holistic interpretation, so long as the sections cited are viewed as “highlights” whose proper interpretation derives from a larger context.
  51. Noll and Livingstone, Evolution.
  52. Turner, Without God, Part II, especially 203-47.
  53. Stenger, 221.
  54. Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 31.
  55. Turner; Taylor, A Secular Age.
  56. Richard Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), and Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983); Taylor, Philosophical Papers 1 & 2; Brent Slife and Richard Williams, What’s Behind the Research? Discovering Hidden Assumptions in the Behavioral Sciences (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1995); Richardson, Fowers, and Guignon, Re-Envisioning; Bishop, Philosophy of the Social Sciences.
  57. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypotheis, 239-241.
  58. Harris, The End of Faith, chs. 1-3; Dawkins, The God Delusion, chs. 8-9.
  59. Dennett, Breaking the Spell, ch. 10.
  60. Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory, 31 and 51.
  61. See, for example, Taylor, Philosophical Papers 1 & 2; Richardson, Fowers, and Guignon, Re-Envisioning; Bishop, The Philosophy of the Social Sciences.
  62. Taylor, Philosophical Papers 1 & 2; Bishop, The Philosophy of the Social Sciences
  63. Such as Behe, Darwin’s Black Box.
  64. See Turner, Without God, for an insightful description of the rise of this myth.
  65. Harris, The End of Faith, chs. 2-3. History does not support Harris’s assertions. See, for example, Richard S. Dunn, The Age of Religious Wars: 1559-1689, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979); Stephen E. Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Moder-nity, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
  66. The argument here is not that religiously shaped governments in the past have always been nonviolent, kind, and tolerant – they have not. Rather, the argument is that secular governments have not exhibited unambiguous improvement over religiously motivated governments of the past, nor are there firm grounds for believing they would.
  67. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 396.
  68. Ibid., 404.
  69. Ibid., 395.
  70. Ibid., 399.
  71. Richardson, Fowers, and Guignon, Re-Envisioning, ch. 5.
  72. See, for example, Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
  73. In Without God Turner insightfully describes how both the humanitarian and engineering pictures of God fit exactly this pattern.
  74. See Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Robert C. Bishop

Wheaton College
Robert Bishop is Associate Professor of Physics and Philosophy at  Wheaton College.

Joshua Carr

University of Wisconsin Madison
Joshua Carr received his Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin Madison.