Book Review: The Scientific Pretensions of the New Atheism and Absolutist Propaganda

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I haven’t read every single one of the various atheist books by Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, et al. But I’ve read most of them.

I’ve also read the historic atheists such as Russell, et al.

What amazes me is that anyone takes them seriously. Even when I was deep in my anti-God period, I could see that Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian (which says everything worth saying that is found in any of the other books, by the way) used self-refuting arguments. If you followed his line of reasoning to its end, you would have eliminated the existence of 2 billion Christians who are on the globe today.

The illogic of his logic actually led me to believe that if atheism had good arguments, they weren’t being advanced. This is telling because I was at a point in my life where I wanted to be convinced by atheism.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the crude and nasty atheists of today’s public forums are the way they are for two simple reasons. First, their philosophy, such as it is, is so hopeless and nihilistic that it is crazy-making. Second, anyone who reads one of these “four horsemen” and is convinced by them (much less goes around quoting them and pretending their ideas are your own) is either an adolescent, or they are an adult who is stuck is permanent adolescence.

The Four Horsemen and their progenitors are not thinkers for grown-ups.

I’ve just finished reading a book that addresses this adolescent thinking from the viewpoint of a fellow scientist. David Berlinski is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He has written such books as A Tour of the Calculus and The Advent of the Algorithm. What that means, aside from the fact that he’s got the chops to address the scientific hubris of the new atheism from the inside, is that, unlike most of the professional new atheist apologists, he doesn’t just go around writing hate screeds for a living. He actually writes and thinks about something else.

I wish his book on the scientific pretensions of the new atheism had a less lurid title. The book is of a higher quality than its title. However, I know that titles sell, and publishers make these decisions.

The book is called The Devil’s Delusion, Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions.

If you haven’t read it, you should. Berlinski writes with dry wit and clarity of the scientific gibberish that makes up the framework of new atheist arguments. The book is not, as the atheist books are, a vicious screed against those who disagree with him. It is rather, a gentle poke in the ribs.

Berlinski (who is not a believer) disassembles the house of cards of atheist scientific arguments against God, based entirely on the sheer outrageousness of their claims. There are no calls to insult people or attack them in the book. It doesn’t make totalitarian arguments that scientists should have their children taken away from them for the “child abuse” of teaching their kids what they themselves believe. There’s no trippy conflab about flying spaghetti monsters, and not one word of building a Christian revenge movement to drive atheists from the public square.

The Devil’s Delusion simply points out a few of the many over-the-top claims that atheists make in the name of science and calls them what they are: The attack polemics of a blind and absolutist faith. All of which is to say that the scientific claims by atheists are propaganda. They are not science at all.

I recommend The Devil’s Delusion. I hope that you will read it. If you’re been reading the adolescent rants of the new atheists, I especially hope you read it. It’s a great palate cleanser.

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  • Thomas L. McDonald

    You thought the same thing I did, Rebecca. I was out of the Church for 15 years, and I was resisting this pull back. Before I began reading any Christian texts, I started with Russell and made my way through a vast amount of internet writing on atheism.

    I assumed they’d have well-honed arguments that would convince someone with a grounding in anthropology and philosophy such as myself. They had nothing. The intellectual emptiness of it all was downright shocking, and remains so. I thought, “THESE are their best arguments?”

    A decade later, none of them have offered anything fresh to convince me otherwise, just the constant downward spiral into childish sneering, intellectual onanism, and contempt.

    • hamiltonr

      I had the same thought Thomas.

    • Aoc Crow

      “I assumed they’d have well-honed arguments that would convince someone…” You can’t prove there is no God. Well maybe a few gods, such as, Apollo, since we can show the Sun is not a flaming chariot. But universe creating, omni-everything, undetectable God? Nope. I’ll just wait for evidence such a thing exists or wants specific behavior from me.

    • Joe Cogan

      The best argument for atheism is that there’s no good reason to think that any sort of deity actually exists.

      • Dave

        “There’s no good reason to think that any sort of deity actually exists” is not an argument. It is an assertion. Since you can’t even distinguish between an argument and an assertion, forgive me for not being very impressed with you, or the 10 people who thought your comment was worth liking.

        • Joe Cogan

          I notice that you somehow squandered the opportunity to mention a good reason or two to believe that any sort of deity actually exists. Pity.

    • Bill S

      “A decade later, none of them have offered anything fresh to convince me otherwise”

      There is nothing “fresh” to be said about the farce that is religion. I’m sure that people of every age could see through it but dare not go against it for their own benefit. In praising a deity, people feel good and get a lot of positive strokes from fellow believers which gets them through any opposition they might face.

      • Theodore Seeber

        There isn’t even anything reasonable to be said by those who believe religion to be a farce merely because the religion is against their favorite sins.

        • Bill S

          So. When someone like myself says that religion is a farce, I am not being reasonable and instead am saying it so I can do something that the Church considers to be a “sin”? So. I have no interest in the real truth?

          • Theodore Seeber

            You’ve made that abundantly clear, Bill, that you have NO interest in the Truth of Christ at all, primarily because you wish to believe that abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage aren’t sins.

            • Bill S

              I have no interest in what the Catholic Church puts forward as objective truth or the “Truth of Christ” that you preach. To me it is intolerance, plain and simple. You believe in a religion of intolerance. You don’t fit into society and you think there is something wrong with getting along with people different than you. It is really kind of sad.

              • hamiltonr

                This is getting too personal. Both of you, calm down.

              • Theodore Seeber

                Thanks, that’s just the admission I was going for.

    • TerranRich

      The default position, for any claim, is to withhold belief until there is sufficient evidence to show it’s true. The sufficiency of said evidence depends on how ordinary or extraordinary the claim is. If I said I had a black cat, that’s a very ordinary claim and would require little to no evidence. If I said I had a black cat the granted wishes and did magical tricks, that would defy all that we know about physics and science in general, and would require quite a bit of evidence, withstanding scientific rigor and testing, in order to show that the claim is true.

      With the notion of a god or gods, evidence is required for this claim. The atheist is not the one who said “There are no gods”; that is but a subset of atheists. Most of us say “I do not believe in any gods, but I hold an open mind for evidence.”

      However, some of us feel comfortable in claiming that there are no gods, in much the same that we can claim there is no Santa Claus, there are no vampires, unicorns, faeries, leprechauns, or werewolves: we have not seen them, we have no reason to believe they exist, so we withhold belief. If it turns out that, hey, unicorns are real, and there is evidence to support this claim, then (and only then) is it logical to accept the claim that unicorns exist.

      This is where the atheist stands: there is no evidence to support the claim that a god or gods exist; therefore we will withhold our belief until such a being is shown to exist.

      • hamiltonr

        The only way your ideas have any weight at all is if, among other things (and there are a lot of other things, btw) you entirely negate the experiences of billions of people all over the globe throughout the millennia by labeling them, as some of your mentors have, “delusions.” This is patent nonsense, btw.

        Even if you climb that cliff — and I see no evidence of it — then, you have to deal with the fact that you negating a hypothesis you don’t like by (1) discounting evidence, and (2) saying that any hypothesis which doesn’t have absolute proof, is ipso facto, wrong.

        That takes care of most science, you know. Just tosses it out with yesterday’s trash.

        If you want to say that, for you, there has to be absolute, concrete proof of the Almighty for you to believe He exists, then no one can fault you. But for you to attempt to use this stuff as a “proof” for others, is, well, self-refuting.

      • Ray Glennon

        I am a cradle Catholic who has been active in the Church my entire life. I was a chemistry major at the Naval Academy and I am confident that the “truths” that are discovered by science are entirely consistent with the truth revealed by faith.

        You appear to be making a statement of faith – “I believe there is no God and until I am shown absolute scientific evidence or proof that a god exists, I will not believe.” You are asking for absolute proof of the Creator’s existence to be found within his creation. Such absolute proof will never be found, not because God doesn’t exist, but rather because God is the creator, not a creature or part of creation. God is the source of all being, but God himself is not a “being.”

        For my part, I believe that God exists and until I am shown absolute scientific evidence that God does not exist, I will continue to believe in God. Of course, such evidence does not exist. Quite the contrary, as Fr. Robert Barron notes in his book Catholicism quoting Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) in 1968 that …finite being, as we experience it, is marked, through and through, by intelligibility, that is to say, by a formal structure that makes it understandable to an inquiring mind. In point of fact, all of the sciences–physics, chemistry, psychology, astronomy, biology, and so fort–rest on the assumption that at all levels, microscopic and macroscopic, being can be known… Ratzinger argues that the only finally satisfying explanation for this universal objective intelligibility is a great Intelligence who has thought the universe in to being.

        As it says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#159) — Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith an reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequenty, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with faith, because the things of the world (i.e., creation) and the things of faith derive from the same God (i.e. Creator).

    • Spartacus Maximus

      you’re nuts if you think religiius texts are the answer to anything. they deserve nothing but derision because they are patently nonsense.

      • FW Ken

        “you’re nuts” … now there’s an argument worth deep thought…

        Personally, I always thought atheism was patently nonsense, but I guess that’s just me.

  • DKeane123

    The discovery institute was initially founded with the idea that they could advance the design argument by completing original peer-reviewed research, that would give the hypothesis actual credibility from a scientific standpoint. So far, they have spent most of their time trying to poke holes in evolutionary theory (again, not in peer reviewed journals), without much success. If they actually had original research to support their claims, the Dover Decision would have gone in a different direction. At this point, I can’t honestly believe a single thing they say.

    Is Berlinski a believer? He won’t really say.

    Regardless, I’ll have to see if I can find it at the library to see if it stands up. A lot of the time these books tend to be filled with nothing but strawmen.

    • hamiltonr

      I think he said in the book that he wasn’t a believer. But I couldn’t find it for you without re-reading the whole book, and I’m not up for that. Hopefully, I remembered correctly. If not, I’ll change it.

    • Theodore Seeber

      He specifically calls himself a secular Jew in the book, and there are no arguments from scripture in the book.
      Edit, I’ve finished the book, and take it back. The last three chapters are almost entirely argument from, if not scripture, the lived tradition of the Church, odd for a “secular Jew”. And there is some ID stuff in there, as in denial of macroevolution.

  • Theodore Seeber

    “Second, anyone who reads one of these “four horsemen” and is convinced by them (much less goes around quoting them and pretending their ideas are your own) is either an adolescent, or they are an adult who is stuck is permanent adolescence.”

    Yep. I’ve noticed that too. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say the twin Mortal Sins of American Politics, Lust and Greed, stem from the fact that many Americans never do actually grow up and take responsibility for their actions. It goes well beyond atheism, but it is that strain of adolescent “My parents are wrong and I am right”, whether expressed through Lust or Greed, that these atheist authors have tapped into.

    —-Edit in case I don’t have time to come back to this, answering an objection that may disappear:

    Actually, for myself I worry about Pride and Gluttony- my favorite deadly sins. But I think it is quite obvious that when it comes to American Politics, it is Lust and Greed that rule the Empire (Lust on the left, Greed on the right) and thus it is Lust and Greed that the New Atheists attempt to appeal to. From a marketing standpoint, Pride and Gluttony sell to a different audience- much smaller.

  • Ken Scaletta

    It;s always fun to be lectured by a prattling, vacuous teenager who admits she hasn’t read anything.

    Bottom line: there isn’t a shred of evidence for any gods. All the burden rests on the believer to prove otherwise.

    Forget reading anything by atheists. Read the Bible. Actually read it all the way through. There is no more effective book for debunking the Bible than the Bible itself.

    • hamiltonr

      I was going to delete this, but it’s been sooooo loonnggg since anyone called me a teenager, I just couldn’t resist letting it through. :-)

    • Theodore Seeber

      I have read the Bible, all the way through. I have no issues with it. The problem is adolescent minds that can’t understand a paradox.

    • Jim

      “18 year member of the Oklahoma House of Representative”, not “18 year old member”. Face palm.

      • Eric Rice

        At least if she were 18-years-old I could excuse this pathetic article for being written by a child.

  • BeaverTales

    Dear Ms. Hamilton,

    I’m willing to stop being an atheist if you can show me how the Bible has all the answers about the Universe that I somehow missed?? I’ve been searching Genesis especially for those answers…I’m willing to concede that talking snakes, virgin births, faith healing, resurrection from the dead and witchcraft are all probably true because they haven’t yet been disproven….but why weren’t we humans alerted to more mundane phenomena like refrigeration, electricity and antibiotics? Why did God want us to discover those things ourselves so that we could “be fruitful and prosper”?

    Since performing miracles gives one sainthood and moral authority within the Church, does that mean that prophets like Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein should decide Church policy: i.e. who we can smite, stone, enslave or marry? I already tithe to Bill Gates…is he the patron saint I should be praying to for the blessings of the magic box that I am typing to you on right now?

    Since the “scientific claims by atheists are propaganda.”, please help me find true salvation through faith and belief, and not the twin sins of logic and reason.


    A Future Convert

    • Dave

      How old are you? Like 15? Just guessing by the strength and tone of your arguments.

      So, one of your arguments is basically that God should have alerted us to all scientific knowledge so that life would be easy? First of all, maybe He would have, if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned. Second of all, maybe He did, but the knowledge was lost once the connection with God was severed? Third of all, like any good parent, maybe He allowed us to learn and do things for ourselves instead of feeding everything to us on a silver platter.

      So, as you see, there are three possible answers that I came up with in mere seconds. I’m sure there are many more.

  • BeaverTales

    Surely you wouldn’t need to filter the questions of an atheist seeking scientific answers in Genesis?

    • Dave

      If the atheist had any sense, he wouldn’t be seeking scientific answers in Genesis. Genesis is not a science text.

      • Christopher R Weiss

        Unfortunately, young earth creationists treat it like a science book. Google Ken Ham, Kent Hovind or Ray Comfort as examples. You can see this on the Answers in Genesis web site as well.

        • hamiltonr

          I guess that’s only fair play, since the atheist rocket scientists who keep trying to post obscenities on this blog appear to take dawkins-hitchens-harris as holy scripture.

  • FW Ken

    I swore I wasn’t going to crawl into this swamp, but the ignorance about the bible by atheists is stunning, so here’s Bible 101.

    1.) I doubt there are any Young Earth Creationists among regular posters here, so appealing to the opinions of that sect is hardly relevant.

    2.) The Catholic understanding of scripture is complicated, mainly by the face that we don’t read the bible apart from the life we’ve lived for 2000 years. But in general, the bible can be understood in 4 ways: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical.

    I didn’t read that link thoroughly, but what I saw appears to be sound.

    3.) The bible, particularly the Old Testament, is composed of different sorts of literature.

    a.) The creation accounts are clearly myth, which doesn’t mean they are made-up folk tales, but rather, they are told to make a point. They purport to answer deep questions serious people have about the world: What is the origen of life and humanity? What is the place of the moon and stars? And the big one: how can such a beautiful place contain such evil? It’s wrong to look at Genesis in terms of science and history.

    b.) The Mosaic Law is in three parts: moral, ceremonial, and civil. Only the moral binds people today. It’s interesting that the actual prohibitions against same-sex activity are not with dietary laws, but law against incest, child sacrifice, and the like.
    c.) Some of the bible are quite clearly meant to understood literally: when Paul states that more than 500 people saw the Risen Lord Jesus, then adds that some of those people are still alive (and hence, can be checked against his claim).

    This is longer than Rebecca likes for a comment, so I’ll end with this. Catholics quite cheerfully acknowledge the difficulties in the bible. Yes, the conquest of Canaan was accomplished by genocide, apparently ordered by God. Yes, there are things that offend our sensibilities (begging the question of why our sensitivities are so special). Yes, there are some things there that are just plain weird. However, I read a fair amount of rhetoric aimed at us based on Protestant (and fundamentalist) biblical theology. That is a waste of everyone’s time.

    • Christopher R Weiss

      Hmmm… the Catholic church has also come out in support of science and considers evolution to be scientific. This flies in the face of what Berlinski is claiming.

      • FW Ken

        Berlinski is not Catholic, I believe.

        In any case, it’s a little more complicated than evolution or creationism. I’m perfectly content with the notion of theistic evolution: God created the heavens and the earth and evolution is the tool he used to do so. The problem with that is that we actually have relatively little data from 4.5 billion and should stay open too new developments. That statement alone will get me accused of being a fundamentalist and anti-scientific. Actually it has. :-)

        I also think we haven’t worked through the moral implications of evolution, but that’s another topic.

  • Alan Nixon

    “First, their philosophy, such as it is, is so hopeless and nihilistic that it is crazy-making.”

    Quite the opposite from an insider perspective. Most atheists I interviewed felt like the new atheist philosophy was life affirming and positive. It gave them support for their worldview without breaking logical rules like the impossibility of proving or disproving god(s). See the term ‘Agnostic Atheism’ (derived from Russell) in atheist circles or Dawkins’ ‘seven point scale’. These are formulations that allow atheists to feel confident in their worldview while staying within philosophically tenable evidenced based positions.

  • Ray Glennon


    I just finished reading Berlinski’s book this evening. Thanks for recommending it.

    I was particularly struck when Berlinski quoted the remarks of Richard Feynman on the complexity of the world in which we live, “Today we cannot see whether Schrodinger’s equation contains frogs, musical compositions, or morality. We cannot see whether something beyond it like God is needed, or not. And so we can all hold strong opinions either way.” And then Berlinski takes the obvious next step and points out that if we don’t know if science will accommodate and explain our entire “experience” (my note: our life – including love, gratitude, joy) we certainly don’t know whether our experiences reflect anything less than a miracle. So true.

    Or, as my wife Dawn and I say to our Confirmation small group, “Our life and our talents are our gifts from God. What we make of our life and how we use our talents are our gifts to God.”

    You might also be interested in the book Creation and Evolution, A Conference With Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo. This book reports the results of the 2006 Schulerkreis with Pope Benedict XVI. It includes a number of scholarly papers (in honesty, I have not read the entire book) and the transcript of the discussions that took place following the papers. The Forward to the book is written by Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna.

    • hamiltonr

      I’m glad you read it, and that you enjoyed it Ray. Thanks for the idea. I’ll see if I can find the book by Pope Benedict.