Christian Philosopher Fails at Exploring Causes of Atheism

I came across this article, which purports to be an exploration by a Christian philosopher into the root causes of atheism, but in the end is just a laundry list of ignorant statements about how the philosopher, James S. Spiegel, sees atheists.

I think it’s a great idea for Christians, and people of all religions, to look at the reasons behind why others reject their beliefs. If Christians listened to why atheists are atheists, it could help them to see the problems with their faith that need to be fixed, but it could also force them to challenge their own beliefs and see how strong their faith really is.

Spiegel has written a book called The Making of an Atheist, but based on the sampling that this article takes of his ideas, it amounts to a waste of time, as he hasn’t made any attempt to honestly represent atheists’ rejection of religious beliefs. This becomes obvious in the second paragraph:

“While atheists insist that their foundational reason for rejecting God is the problem of evil or the scientific irrelevance of the supernatural, the Christian philosopher says the argument is “only a ruse” or “a conceptual smoke screen to mask the real issue – personal rebellion.”

So rather than thinking about the problems with belief in God that atheists bring up, Spiegel conveniently dismisses these as a cover for what is really just rebellion. It’s an easy way for him to go on and make unfounded assertions about what atheists think, but it’s also insulting. My atheism has not arisen out of some desire to rebel against the beliefs I was brought up in, it’s simply a result of questioning whether my beliefs had any basis in reality.

God has made His existence plain from creation – from the unimaginable vastness of the universe to the complex micro-universe of individual cells, Spiegel notes. Human consciousness, moral truths, miraculous occurrences and fulfilled biblical prophecies are also evidence of the reality of God.

But atheists reject that, or as Spiegel put it, “miss the divine import of any one of these aspects of God’s creation” and to do so is “to flout reason itself.”

If “look around you, there are lots of complex things! Therefore, God” is reason enough to state that God’s existence is obvious, then fine. But that’s not good enough for an atheist. His evidence for “the reality of God” is pitiful.

Human consciousness? Doesn’t outlive the brain. Moral truths? They’re subjective, they change over time, and we certainly don’t gain any insight into moral truth from reading holy books. Miraculous occurences? Either explained by natural phenomena, or unexplained – which is not a synonym for “god did it”. Biblical Prophesies? If Spiegel spent a couple of hours reading criticisms of the prophesies made in the Bible, he would see how unconvincing they are.

This suggests that other factors give rise to the denial of God, he notes. In other words, something other than the quest for truth drives the atheist.

No, the quest for truth is good enough for me.

The explanation behind Spiegel’s ignorance of why atheists are actually atheists is that he is taking his reasoning from the Bible, rather than asking atheists. Seriously! Yeah that’s a good start, just ignore what atheists have to say and use a bronze-age book to support your pre-formed conclusion.

Here’s a face-palmer:

“There is a phenomenon that I call ‘paradigm-induced blindness,’ where a person’s false worldview prevents them from seeing truths which would otherwise be obvious.

Fixed:

“There is a phenomenon that I call ‘paradigm-induced blindness,’ where a person’s faith or religion prevents them from seeing truths which would otherwise be obvious.

That’s better.

What really bothers me about Spiegel’s characterization of atheists, and it’s a view held by a lot of religious people, is that he repeatedly insists that people become atheists when they want to sin:

Religious skepticism is, at bottom, a moral problem…”Atheism is the suppression of truth by wickedness, the cognitive consequence of immorality. In short, it is sin that is the mother or unbelief.”…Spiegel, who converted to Christianity in 1980, has witnessed the pattern among several of his friends. Their path from Christianity to atheism involved: moral slippage (such as infidelity, resentment or unforgiveness); followed by withdrawal from contact with fellow believers; followed by growing doubts about their faith, accompanied by continued indulgence in the respective sin; and culminating in a conscious rejection of God.

It’s really upsetting to me that people like Spiegel see atheists as just the dregs of society. He thinks that we’re all addicted to sinning and that our brains are so corrupted by it that we can’t believe in God. This prejudice against atheists is completely unfounded, and it’s a pathetic argument to make. I’m curious to see if he included any studies or statistics to back up his claims that atheists are immoral, but somehow I doubt that he has any.

This article also talks about how Spiegel thinks that having a defective father leads to atheism. To support this idea, he cites a paper called the Psychology of Atheism by Paul C. Vitz. The article says that Vitz has “revealed a link between atheism and fatherlessness.” What? I read the paper (here), and he hasn’t revealed anything! To briefly summarize, Vitz sees atheists as people who hate their fathers, and therefore want to rebel against their heavenly father.

There is no research, just examples of some atheists with daddy issues. It’s a straightforward question: “do atheists have worse relationships with their fathers than believers?” Why hasn’t Vitz done this study to back up his paper?

This is getting long so I’m going to wrap this up. Spiegel (and Vitz) have failed to demonstrate that atheism is a result of rebellion or immorality. They have made many claims but don’t support these claims with evidence. Evidence is what atheists require, and the lack of evidence for the Christian God or any other God is the real reason why the majority of atheists are atheists.

Spiegel’s claims about atheists are shallow, patronizing, insulting, and just plain wrong.

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6 Responses to “Christian Philosopher Fails at Exploring Causes of Atheism”


  1. 1 Shamelessly Atheist March 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Good points. I am also currently reviewing Spiegel’s book. It’s much better than Ravi Zacharias’s The End of Reason, for which it is aptly named since it contains none. I couldn’t finish that one (I felt my IQ slipping with every page), even though it’s about the same length as Spiegel’s. But better written as it is, Spiegel presents the same arguments as Zacharias does. And no matter how well vacuous arguments are written, they are still vacuous.

    For instance, Spiegel claims that because there is no explanation for the origin of the universe (he’s wrong- he needs to read up on Smolin Selection Theory), then magic-man-done-it is true by fiat. But this is nonsense. Any explanation must stand on its own merits and I put it to Spiegel that his explanation is no different from “I don’t know” in explanatory value. Indeed, of the two “I don’t know” is far more honest.

    And where do they get this nonsense that naturalists have no basis for “good” and “evil”? All that is necessary is that one understands that evil refers to actions which are harmful and good refers to actions that benefit others. What kind of philosopher is he? A Cracker Jack philosopher?

    It’s a good thing the book was only $10…

  2. 2 kevinbbg March 19, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I think the Catholic church has answered the question of religion and morality with their molesting priests and a church structure that moved these priests somewhere else and put them in charge of children again! And it appears that even the Pope has been involved in this.

    I’ve always been an atheist simple because I’ve never seen a god. I’m 56 now and still haven’t seen one. I’ll be a believer when one shows up.

    As far as the universe, it functions EXACTLY the way a universe with no creator or guidance would. The example I like to use is that of a Zen garden. Go into one and you know immediately that someone tends and shapes this garden. But walk into a wild forest and you know immediately that everything grows wild without someone in charge. And any human being from any place or society in the world would get that right – immediately.

  3. 3 Brad March 19, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    With all due respect…

    “Evidence is what atheists require…”

    Except when it comes to cosmic origins…then apparently anything goes.

    I didn’t find your “contra-evidences” anymore compelling than “Spiegel’s mischaracterizations” – assuming, that is, that you represented his views fairly here.

    Cheers.

  4. 4 EnlightningLinZ March 19, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Shamelessly Atheist – You’ve got a lot of patience reading the whole book! I got all riled up just reading the article about it.

    kevin – well, you know, Catholics aren’t “true Christians”, so we can just ignore them when talking about morality 😉

    Brad – With regards to cosmic origins if you’re talking about the big bang theory there’s plenty of evidence. Before the big bang I’m satisfied with saying “I don’t know”, I don’t need to assert an explanation without evidence.

    If you want to check if I represented his views fairly I linked to the article at the beginning of the post.

  5. 5 Global Villager March 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Take comfort in knowing that books like this are indications that we are entering the death throes of organized religion in the developed world. It will be a long and emotionally violent journey but we are on our way none the less.

    Increasing education, science, and human rights have put religion on defence like never before. They are losing and the result is they are becoming radicalized. Look at the lunatics we see on TV (Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc) resulting to insane fear mongering to try to maintain the backward Christian fundamentalist society they envision as the true USA. Religious apologists have no real ammunition and neither does Spiegel. I can’t blame him for the methods he used – his position is indefensible. The radicals are left to use these strategies in their crusade to deny science, history, and common sense. I recently saw a Facebook group devoted to finding one million people that do not believe in evolution (as if that would proove anything).

    The bottom line is that the youth are abandoning religion and the church en masse. In Canada 1 in 4 people aged 15-30 have no religious affiliation, a number that has almost doubled in the last twenty years. I am a high school teacher and overheard students discussing theology. When faced with several atheists one young girl remarked “there are hardly any Christians anymore.” In Europe the change is even greater, specifically in Northern Europe. Only 23% of Swedes believe in God according to the 2005 Eurobarometer poll.

    Religion has outlived its usefulness as an explanation for the unknown. It is beginning to peter away and die – and radicalism is a sign.

  6. 6 Arizona Atheist April 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Very good post! I couldn’t agree more. I tried to debate the author at his blog (http://wisdomandfollyblog.com/2010/04/11/to-the-god-who-might-be-there/) but he has yet to reply. I also wrote a chapter by chapter rebuttal to this book on my blog if anyone would like to take a look: http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2010/04/making-of-atheist-how-immorality-leads_09.html

    It’s just as bad as you say…and you hit the nail on the head in your critique when you say the author likely didn’t cite any studies proving his point. He doesn’t. Just a handful of atheists as examples and that’s it!


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