Tony Snow on the New Atheists

Ex-White House Press Secretary Tony Snow finds time in his busy schedule to explain to Christianity Today why he thinks the New Atheists Are Not Great.

While the chief atheists write beautifully, their works share a telling defect. They seethe with disapproval of God. Dawkins captures this trend in describing the YHWH of the Old Testament as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Such invective clings like chewing gum to atheist polemics and raises the question of why these people are so worked up about a creator they don’t believe exists. [Links added.]

Ironically, he does not try and claim that such accusations are wrong, exactly. He just thinks its somehow wrong of the New Atheists to mention it.

Obviously, of course, atheists don’t object to fictional characters per se, they object to the idea that sane people in the world should be required to obey the “divine will” and “moral” teachings of an alleged god who reflects such low standards. In God’s defense, however, Snow cites Dinesh D’Souza’s attempts to give Christianity credit for everything Western civilization has accomplished in the past 2,000 years.

He describes how Christian principles of free choice and human dignity laid the groundwork for democratic political systems built on inalienable human rights. They inspired free markets in economics and intellectual pursuit. Christian theologians fathered modern science. The world even now takes for granted America’s uncommon generosity, especially in times of disaster and crisis. These traits spring directly from our faith.

Oddly, though Christianity has been around for a couple millennia, it never quite realized it was promoting inalienable human rights, free choice, human dignity (serfs anyone?), and so on, until after the rise of humanism and the Enlightenment. Likewise with science. And though Snow (and D’Souza) want to give the Church credit for “fathering” modern science, there’s little doubt that many Christians prefer religion’s firstborn son, Superstition. How else can we explain conservative Christianity’s suspicion and reluctance to embrace the conclusions that science leads to? If they really think “fathering” science is such a great accomplishment, shouldn’t they be doing more with it than just claiming credit for it?

D’Souza also refutes the common charge that Christianity has unleashed humankind’s most murderous impulses. The most-cited atrocities are either overblown or misrepresented: the Inquisition claimed 2,000 lives over three and a half centuries. The Salem witch trials produced fewer than 25 executions.

He goes on to use the same tactic as Vox Day, in arguing that if any other factors are involved in religious conflicts, religion is thereby automatically off the hook, regardless of what role it might play in provoking and sustaining hostilities in (e.g.) Ireland, Palestine, the Holocaust, etc. The assumption is that a certain amount of religiously-inspired violence is quite ordinary and acceptable: sure, it did play a significant role in the Crusades, the Inquisition, and so on, but it didn’t produce an unreasonable amount of violence. Silly me, I thought that the Body of Christ (who is supposedly the Prince of Peace) ought to be more involved in preventing violence than in causing it. Snow’s standards are apparently a lot lower than mine.

D’Souza takes up a second major tenet of the New Atheism—that religion and science cannot coexist. He defangs Darwinists by demonstrating the compatibility of evolutionary theory and Christian doctrine, and reiterates Aquinas’s assertion that reason and faith complement each other.

I bet Dembski is saying, “With friends like Dinesh…”! Snow seems to have overlooked the fact that this argument only supports the claims of true science supporters like Ken Miller and shoots down the arguments of Ben Stein and the Discovery Institute folks. Thanks Dinesh! Snow dismisses the atheistic rebuttal with a very strange argument.

It also dodges the big question: If reason can explain everything, why can’t it explain where things come from?

That’s like saying “If Christianity can explain everything, why can’t it explain where sin comes from?” Science explains where things come from all the time, unlike ID arguments which simply attribute things to God without explaining how God actually got them there. And since we know that both time and the material universe began at the same Big Bang, it logically follows that there has never been a time when the material universe did not exist. Consequently, questions about how the universe got here are meaningless, since it has been here for all time. But if you think that Snow’s argument above was odd, check this one out:

Ethics produces an even greater quandary. Moral laws have changed less over the millennia than the recognized laws of physics and mathematics. The ethical principles that undergird the Ten Commandments’ prohibitions against stealing and murder are recognized by people in New York, New Guinea, Timbuktu, and even bin Laden’s cave, while scientific theory has undergone numerous revolutions—and will continue to do so.

I know I for one just wish that the Law of Gravity would settle down and pick some, oh I don’t know, “gravitational constant” so that we could know where planets and spacecraft and stuff were really going to go instead of just wandering randomly around like that. It ought to be more predictable, like the moral principles about slavery and genocide, which were ok in Biblical times, but are wrong today (unless God decides to allow it again).

To listen to Snow, Christianity deserves credit for creating a “science” that is always changes its mind and can’t be trusted to tell you anything. Or maybe he’s already forgotten that he tried to give Christianity credit for fathering science? At the very least, this should dispel any rumors implying that Snow thinks fathering science was a good thing.

Whopper follows whopper:

D’Souza states the obvious: “Religious faith is not in opposition to reason. The purpose of faith is to discover truths that are of the highest importance to us through purely natural means.”

You would think, if that were the case, that faith might have noticed by now that God does not show up in real life, and that everything people believe about God, they get from the purely human sources of fantasy, intuition, superstition and hearsay. If we could give D’Souza a good dose of truth serum, though, he might want to rephrase the above claim into something more along the lines of “The purpose of faith is to convince people that our dogmas are scientifically valid.”

Snow rambles on about how atheism fails as a creed (duh, not believing in god(s) fails as a creed for the same reason not eating broccoli fails as an eating plan), and blames atheism for everything from the Reign of Terror to Stalinist Russia (as though there weren’t other political, economic, and ethnic factors involved in these periods just as much as in the Crusades, Inquisitions, and other religious conflicts). His arguments in favor of Christianity are no less propagandistic.

Christianity, in contrast, offers the divine “I Am”—God, speaking through Scripture, saying what he means and meaning what he says. In the person of Jesus Christ, he taught. He ministered. He saved. He chased away the moneychangers and wept at the news of Lazarus’s death. He lived so boldly that he had to be killed—yet did not stay in the tomb.

Snow’s argument is that Christianity has what atheism lacks: an argument from experience. Yet the evidence he cites is not any experience of God that any of us can share in. Rather, he offers only words, the stories men tell about a God who, despite His allegedly great love for us, never shows up in real life to tell us He even cares enough to say hi—a point that even Snow cannot deny.

Every child has felt a shiver of God as night closes and the world grows quiet. Adults, amid the bustle and din, know he’s there. When trouble comes, we whisper his name. We cannot see, hear, or yet walk with him.

“But,” claims Snow. There’s always a but, and it’s a pretty feeble one: “But from time to time we experience a presence that defies description.” In other words, a vague, subjective feeling that is totally unlike what the Bible presents to us as being what an authentic experience of God ought to be like, with pillars of cloud by day and columns of fire by night and so on. Spooky, superstitious feelings are not “discover[ing] truths that are of the highest importance to us through purely natural means,” as D’Souza claimed about faith.

And that gives us a pretty good example of the fundamental problem with Christianity. Tony Snow, defender of Christianity, gives us what he considers to be “perhaps the strongest argument against atheism,” and it boils down to gullibility about the Gospel, and a superstitious experience so vague that even Snow has to agree that it “defies description.” Snow makes a good case for the subjective, irrational, and impervious nature of Christian faith, but given the distortions and double standards he has to invoke in order to defend the content of his faith, I can’t say he’s given us any reason to doubt the conclusions of Dawkins, Harris, and company.

 
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Posted in Current Events, Unapologetics. 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Tony Snow on the New Atheists”

  1. blacknad Says:

    “I can’t say he’s given us any reason to doubt the conclusions of Dawkins, Harris, and company.”

    Vox Days book, ‘The Irrational Atheist’ blows the unholy trinity’s significant arguments out of the water.

    Which demonstrates that their conclusions are likely to suspect if their foundations are demonstrably incorrect.

    I have no issue with atheists whatsoever – they have every right to believe or disbelieve anything they wish – I do have issue with them telling others that I (a moderate Christian) am a danger to the human race.

    I don’t need anyone else to believe in God. I just don’t want to persecuted because I do.

  2. blacknad Says:

    Did you get any further than chapter 5 in TIA.

  3. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I have no issue with atheists whatsoever – they have every right to believe or disbelieve anything they wish – I do have issue with them telling others that I (a moderate Christian) am a danger to the human race.

    Well, then, you’re well-positioned to understand how atheists feel when Christians accuse them of being responsible for 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc, etc.

  4. blacknad Says:

    What kind of fringe nut jobs are you talking about?

    Is this a mainstream Christian position?

  5. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Hmm, so then you’re saying that only “fringe nut jobs” claim that God would judge America (or withdraw His protection) on account of the activities of atheists, secularists, homosexuals, and so on?

  6. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I thought it might be fun to look up what the “fringe nut jobs” have to say about Hurricane Katrina.

    Mike Marcavage, of Repent America, as quoted by WorldNetDaily:

    Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city,” stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage in a statement. “From ‘Girls Gone Wild’ to ‘Southern Decadence,’ New Orleans was a city that opened its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same.

    State Senator Hank Erwin, quoted by WorldNetDaily:

    The remarks echo the sentiment of an Alabama state senator who attributed the hurricane’s devastation to the hand of God punishing the U.S. for its national breaking of biblical laws.

    “America has been moving away from God,” said Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, Ala. “The Lord is sending appeals to us. As harsh as it may sound, those hurricanes do say that God is real, and we have to realize sin has consequences.”

    And from a related article in WND:

    Fisher Humphreys, a professor of divinity at Samford University, didn’t respond directly to Erwin, but he did say Christians believe God cares about sin.

    “There is a standard about right and wrong conduct, and God is fully aware of whether our conduct measured up to the standard or not,” Humphreys said.

    As to God’s control of events, he told the News different believers answer the question differently.

    “A God that is irrational and vindictive, and filled with anger ? that understanding of God is not the understanding we find in Christ. We don’t believe in a God that is vindictive or cruel.”

    However, the Book of Revelation describes the return of Jesus Christ to Earth, using terms indicating God is filled with wrath, and will Himself slay many people:

    [I]n righteousness he doth judge and make war. … And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. … And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh. (Rev.19:11-21)

    As WorldNetDaily previously reported, some believe Katrina is divine judgment for U.S. support of the ouster of Jewish residents of Gaza.

    (Gotta love how the WND “corrects” the professor’s remarks about God’s lack of vindictiveness by quoting from Revelation 19!)

    Ok, fine, I’m convinced. Only nut jobs on the fringe of mainstream society actually believe that God would judge America, as a nation, just because of atheists.

  7. chigliakus Says:

    The funny thing is, I thought of Vox Day as a fringe nut job until a self-proclaimed moderate Christian showed up on this blog in support of his slanderous writings. Apparently the apologists reach a larger audience than I thought, even though none of the Christians I know read their literature.

  8. blacknad Says:

    Deacon,

    Evidence accepted – I don’t know what it is about American Christians that they can birth hate-filled morons like the disgusting Hank Erwin. UK Christian politicians seem to be much more reasonable and Christ-like.

    We are told to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, not to judge others.

    These are incredibly clear statements and Christians ignore them at their peril (and make life more difficult for those of us who do take such commands seriously).

    The fact that Jesus said his followers would be known by their fruits, makes me want to question whether anyone who produces such rotten fruit as the hatred that Hank produces is actually a real Christian – but I can’t know – it’s between him and God.

    So although I am not sure of how many US Christians would concur with hate mongers like Hank, I must agree that the evidence presented (and my own surfing since making the initial statement) seems to show that these thoughts are not just fringe ideas. I apologise.

    Also, don’t get me wrong DD, I wish you no ill will at all. I am only slightly harsh in some of my comments because I see so many people attacking Christianity on the net – never realizing that most Christians are more reasonable than the very vocal fundies. Of course, you never get to hear from the non-fundies much because they are generally not politically active (in fact most of the Christians I know are more involved in stuff like community work, charity and voluntary work. In the UK, abortion, sexuality, stem cell research etc. are just not significant issues, so I find it hard to understand some US Christians and what drives their hate filled invective).

    So if people are prepared to differentiate between Fundamentalist Christians and moderate Christians when they attack Christianity, then I have no issue with them and would rather join them in wanting Fundamentalist Christianity to be reformed (or somehow stamped out).

    So please accept my apologies for coming across in the way I do, I’m just a little tender at finding I am indiscriminately attacked so often. It’s not personal.

  9. blacknad Says:

    Chigliakus,

    I know what you’re saying about Vox.

    I find some of the comments on his blog to be very tiresome. There is so much racism, sexism & homophobia. I suppose it will attract like minded Christians, but it should be clear that most Christians on the planet do not hold these views.

    But…

    Vox Day has done the research and undermined many of the key arguments made by Dawkins et al.

    I appreciate this stuff and won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Just as the scientific community finds much to dislike about James D. Watson’s comments on race and so on, but still appreciate his work on DNA.

  10. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Part of the reason why there’s more anti-fundie sentiment in the US is that US fundies are very involved politically, and are using their influence to do things like pass constitutional amendments banning gay marriage (as though that were any of the government’s business) and trying to subvert the educational system. Plus it’s not at all uncommon to hear people casually using the term “godless” as a synonym for “corrupt,” “dishonest,” “criminal,” etc. There’s been a certain social debt building up for a couple thousand years, and it’s just starting to come due.

  11. gbgasser Says:

    blacknad,

    I gotta say that while I consider myself a Christian I completely agree with Dawkins and the others position ( I know it sounds contradictory) regarding religion. The reason is, while I find the “way” Jesus taught to be extremely compelling, I don’t find too many Christians who are willing to admit that they have NO idea what God is like. Too many act as if they know and have access to what God thinks about every issue. Their certainty leads them to incredible arrogance and judgement of others.

    My personal belief is that Jesus never wanted to start a religion but he was interested in creating a social movement rooted in exposing the injustices of the oppressive Roman government.

    What we have now is an oppressive religion with the governments support……………not good at all.

    More Christians need to get off the theology which “comforts them in dying” and onto one which “comforts others in living”.

    BTW, you referenced the “turn the other cheek” parable. Do you know the real context of that parable and what the “teachable moment” Jesus was accessing here?? Its quite interesting really.

    Peace

  12. ebonmuse Says:

    I’m a little late to the party, but regarding this earlier comment:

    “Evidence accepted – I don’t know what it is about American Christians that they can birth hate-filled morons like the disgusting Hank Erwin. UK Christian politicians seem to be much more reasonable and Christ-like.”

    Here’s an example of those reasonable, Christ-like UK Christians:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/07/01/nflood201.xml

    “The floods that have devastated swathes of the country are God’s judgment on the immorality and greed of modern society, according to senior Church of England bishops.

    One diocesan bishop has even claimed that laws that have undermined marriage, including the introduction of pro-gay legislation, have provoked God to act by sending the storms that have left thousands of people homeless.”