Where Atheists Often Go Against The Grain of Modern Scholarship

Scholarly consensus forms our view of the world more than we think. Most of us do not have the resources to traverse the atmosphere and view the earth from an observer’s point of view (or analyze other evidence), so we have to rely on scholars to inform us that it is a sphere. Robust models become prominent in scholarly circles and then become public knowledge within a few decades. Many of us look with a critical eye on those who flout scholarly consensus. Atheists scoff at neo-ussherian Christians who believe that the earth is young, but out of the other side of their mouths will clash with robust scholarly models. There are plenty of places where atheists often go against the grain of modern scholarship.

Metaphysical positions often come with a bit of epistemic baggage that will impact how one interprets data. We attempt to strip ourselves of this baggage as much as we can, but it is always there, lingering in the back of our minds. Some may think that atheism is exempt from this, but I am not inclined to agree. Atheism comes with baggage, evidenced when they go against the grain of modern scholarship.

That Incessant Banging

A surface glance at the Big Bang model and the Theory of Evolution might lead one to think that they are alternatives to religious thinking. Religious people think that God created everything, but these explanations are how atheists explain the world. That is a bit of a naive assumption and I think conflates levels of causality. It could be that God just used the Big Bang. While some may think that this would make God redundant, some atheists do not agree. In fact, many atheists have denied Big Bang cosmology to avoid the theological implications.

Of the Big Bang, the eminent cosmologist, P.C.W. Davies said in this interview, “The coming into being of the universe, as discussed in modern science is not a matter of imposing organization upon a previous incoherent state, but literally the coming into being of all physical things from nothing.” Similarly, the philosopher Anthony Kenny wrote on page 66 of The Five Ways, “A proponent of the Big Bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing.” In his co-authored book, From The Big Bang Theory To The Theory of A Stationary Universe, Dr. Dmitri Linde wrote that he agrees with Dr. Alexander Vilenkin, who thinks that science has established that there is an absolute beginning of the universe. Finally, on page 20 of The Nature of Space And Time, Stephen Hawking wrote, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.”

With the Big Bang being defined by the scientific community as the beginning of all things from absolutely nothing, it might seem bizarre and perplexing that so many atheists are standing against it. Bloggers across the internet are lining up to join hands with young earth creationists telling their readers that the standard Big Bang model that has prevailed for decades is wrong.

I think the reason for that is as Dr. Robert Jastrow said in a 1982 interview, “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner.” Stephen Hawking’s insight is revealing. He writes on page 46 of A Brief History of Time that Big Bang cosmology “smacks of divine intervention.” On page 178 of Dr. Arthur Eddington’s The Expanding Universe, he writes, “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.” This is because the universe appeared out of absolutely nothing, and unless one succumbs to the supernatural, she would have to violate the principle that underlies the entire scientific enterprise, out of nothing, nothing comes. Yet the desire to cling to atheism has led some even there.

Pro-Choice Ethics

Typically, when somebody wants to defend pro-choice ethics, he will appeal to relativistic philosophy, memes, and personal feelings. If that same person is an atheist, it will be a major shift from the sort of discussion he has when he is defending evolution or something like that, because the scientific element is almost entirely indefensible from a pro-choice perspective. The scientific debate is not only settled – it has been settled for a long time. In 1933, the President of Planned Parenthood, Dr. Alan Guttmacher spoke of the fact that a zygote is the beginning of a human life in his book A Life In The Making. He writes, “This all seems so simple and obvious that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.” Guttmacher is not alone. There are a host of medical journals and textbooks that regard the unborn as a biological human being.

Yet despite this consensus, the debate has not yet morphed into an ethical question about whether it is appropriate to take the life of a human being. Instead, pro-choicers will appeal to relativistic ethics, using the language of “imposing your will” onto somebody else. We will see arguments related to whether men can talk about this and whether an individual has bodily autonomy, but the life of the unborn is diminished or even ignored, hence going against the grain of the modern science. This post even went so far as to compare the life of the fetus to the life of leaves hanging on a tree. This mentality shuts the door on scientific inquiry to fuel a political agenda.

However, I should note that there is nothing inherently atheistic about pro-choice ethics. It may be said that many atheists are pro-choice, but that is not a universal rule. Christopher Hitchens was pro-life, citing the discoveries from embryology.

“Jesus, if he existed…”

When atheists on the internet talk about Jesus of Nazareth, it will come with a bizarre qualification. They might say, “Jesus, if he existed…” seeming the call into question the historicity of the historical Jesus. Dr. Bart Ehrman thinks that many mythicists are motivated by a desire to blow up the core of the Christian faith.

Many of us have heard of the alleged parallels between the gospel narratives and old Pagan tales. They are regurgitated on the blogosphere despite that they have minimal scholarly presence. In fact, if you look at the original sources for these parallels, you often find that they are spurious, bearing only a passing resemblance to the gospels. Most historians do not take them seriously.

In fact, historians think that there is a lot that we can know about the historical Jesus. Even secular, atheist historians will affirm that Jesus died by crucifixion. On page 145 of Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography by John Dominic Crossan, he affirmed that the crucifixion was one historical fact about which we can be certain. Crossan is not writing as a believer. An alarming majority of scholars share similar sentiments, with names including Bart Ehrman, Gerd Ludemann, and pretty much every secular historical scholar writing in this field.

Typically, historians will cite what is known as the criterion of embarrassment. In that era, there were a plethora of false messiahs, and crucifixion exposed them for what they were: under the curse of God. If the disciples were manufacturing a story, they would not have their leader crucified. It was something that had to be explained away. That is just one of several reasons that the crucifixion is firmly planted in history. Yet if the death of Jesus is a historical fact, that entails that his life was too. But if we were to listen to blogging atheists, we would have a very different impression. That is why Jesus mythicism is to history as young earth creationism is to science. Yet even within young earth creationism, there are large and well-funded ministries with a host of credentialed scientists. Jesus mythicism may have a scholar here or there, but it is lower on the totem poll than young earth creationism.

Who Created This Argument?

Children sometimes have insightful points stemming from basic human intuition that adults may overlook. But more often, they just say silly things in their forgivable naivety. We sometimes hear of children who ask questions like, “If God created everything, who created God?” In fact, I remember asking that question when I was a child. This boyhood inquiry has gained popularity, featured in Richard Dawkins New York Times Best Seller, The God Delusion. Now we hear it in the mouth of atheists all of the time despite that it is a thoughtless question.

I am not alone in thinking so. The atheist philosopher, Dr. Michael Ruse, wrote that The God Delusion made him ashamed to be an atheist. Perhaps the best living atheist philosopher, Dr. Graham Oppy, wrote on page 25 of his book The Best Argument Against God that the question “who created God?” does not cause any problems for theism. In a debate, Sir Anthony Kenny explained the difference between types of simplicity (responding to Dawkins claim that God is more complex than that which he is being invoked to explain – a part of the “who created God?” argument).

The most sophisticated atheist thinkers seems united on the front that “who created God?” is a silly question. Even the blog Common Sense Atheism joins the fun as they eat the sacred cow. There are a few simple reasons that these sophisticates are just not interested in Dawkins argument. You cannot ask “who created God?” of somebody who does not believe in created gods. Since the atheist does not actually believe in God, the only way to interpret the question is, “Who created the God that you believe in?” If you do not let the theist define her own terms, you will essentially be talking past each other. There are a few other reasons that it is a silly question. But I think this consensus and the reason I provided should be sufficient.

Everybody, Even Atheists, Has Epistemic Baggage

We all know that there have been times when the scholarly community at large was wrong and shifted their view. Scientists shifted away from Newtonian physics when Einstein came along. My point is not at all that we have to believe the prevailing paradigm. My point is that might be a level of hypocrisy for the atheist who will scoff at the young earth creationist and then regurgitate mythicist material out of the other side of his mouth.

Further, this should also disconfirm the idea that atheists are just rationalists who wants to follow the evidence where it leads. I think the belief that you have no epistemic baggage will make you more vulnerable to misinterpreting data to conform with your preconceived beliefs. If you are willing to go against the grain of scholarly consensus in Big Bang cosmology to preserve your atheism, then what right do you have to mock anybody for going against the grain of scholarly consensus to preserve neo-ussherianism?

I am not trying to justify the practice of interpreting science in light of your worldview. That is a terrible practice that compromises the entire enterprise. I am pointing out that everybody has that baggage, even atheists. Our goal should be to step outside of our worldview when examining the evidence. The evidence should define our worldview, not vice versa. But if you think that you do not have any epistemic baggage, then you are probably somebody who lets your worldview define the data.

Where Atheists Often Go Against The Grain of Modern Scholarship

We have access to truth through rational argumentation and reasons, not consensus. But scholarly consensus should be a factor in our thinking, because most of us do not have access to the resources to examine the evidence. That is why most of us believe that the earth is a sphere without ever having examined the data. While it may not be definitive proof in and of itself, the fact that many atheists go against the grain of modern scholarship in these four areas – Big Bang cosmology, embryology, Jesus mythicism and the ‘who created God?’ argument – should give us pause.

Recommended Reading:
Why Does Anything At All Exist?
Why ‘Who Created God?’ Is My Example of A Thoughtless Question