Nurturing Virtue

Earlier this year, I wrote a post series titled "The Virtues", which proposed a secular reinvention of the seven cardinal virtues of theology. But I now realize that with this series, I was making an additional, implicit point: that it is possible for human beings to be consistently virtuous.This was made clear to me in a recent e-mail correspondence with a Christian visitor:One of the things that convinces me of my need for a savior is a long hard look at myself. In particular my absolute … [Read more...]

Nothing Behind the Altar

Last month, the Los Angeles Times published a story titled "Religion beat became a test of faith". The author, William Lobdell, described himself as a "serious Christian" - raised Episcopal, later a born-again evangelical, still later a convert to Roman Catholicism at his wife's urging - who believed it was God's plan to use him to write stories that would portray faith as respectable and serious.Lobdell's unquestioning faith in the Church first began to waver in 2001, when he covered the … [Read more...]

A Crack in the Wall

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that promotes intelligent design creationism, is infamous for its authorship of a secret document called the "Wedge Strategy", which lays out their plan to overthrow the theory of evolution and "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God". The leak of this document proved to be a considerable embarrassment for the Discovery Institute, especially when Judge John E. Jones … [Read more...]

Not Being an Angry Atheist

In the marketplace of ideas, atheists and atheism are still fighting to carve out a place. We have made some dramatic gains, but our long-term success is not yet assured. The sheer novelty of our message has, no doubt, attracted much interest and attention, but we must still work to win an established place in society's halls of power. When media organizations routinely invite atheists along with religious leaders to give the secular humanist perspective on issues, or when politicians seeking … [Read more...]

The Basis for an Atheist's Morality

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an editorial titled What Atheists Can't Answer. The author, Michael Gerson, is an influential evangelical Christian and was formerly George W. Bush's chief speechwriter.Compared to most attacks on atheism, including a few I've rebutted recently, Gerson's essay is fair and honest. He rightfully steers clear of the slanderous and unfounded insults so common in apologetic literature, conceding that human beings can be good without God. However, while he … [Read more...]

Breaking Down Barriers

Have you ever spent a long time debating someone and trying to persuade them, before ultimately realizing that it was all wasted breath and that they weren't really listening to you at all?This has happened to me more than once. I've had e-mail conversations with theists, some of which went on for weeks and involved numerous rounds of replies, before the realization dawned on me: they weren't actually talking to me at all. They were talking to The Atheist, a rather vague and shadowy figure … [Read more...]


In the World in Shadow series, I have written about some of the terrible natural evils that afflict humans. My primary purpose in writing this series is to illustrate the strength of the atheist's argument from evil, that the existence of vast amounts of undeserved and random suffering disproves the existence of a powerful, benevolent deity.However, there is another reason I write this series, and that is so I am not accused of excessive optimism. I am, as I will readily admit, an optimist, … [Read more...]

Aspiring to Slavery

Last month, I wrote about slavery and the Bible's embarrassing (though historically understandable, if we assume there was no divine revelation behind it) endorsement of that vile practice. Today, slavery is widely recognized as the evil it is, and though it still exists in some forms, it lingers only in the shadows, not in the light of mainstream acceptance. Today religious people of all stripes reject slavery, and do their best to gloss over or explain away the unchanged scripture that still … [Read more...]

On Being Uncontroversial

As the so-called "New Atheists" like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens attract increasing media attention, they've come under fire for supposedly being too sweeping in their denunciations of religion, too "extreme" in their criticism. Defenders of the established order, many of whom are religious liberals, pour scorn on these outspoken nonbelievers for daring to express their opinions with passion and confidence. Consider the following entirely typical example, whose title … [Read more...]

Atheist Charity

"Let's see, we have scores of Baptist Hospitals, Method[ist] Hospitals, Jewish Hospitals, Catholic Hospitals, etc., etc.. Each of these have 'outreach' programs both here and in the most dismal places on earth, staffed with dedicated medical doctors and nurses. Where oh where are the Atheist's hospitals, or soup kitchens?"—quoted by Jonah Goldberg for National Review Online"One hundred years after Christ had died, suppose someone had asked a Christian, What hospitals have you built? … [Read more...]