ARTICLES

Volume 45 - Issue 3

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Did the New Atheists Rationally Lack Belief?

By Michael Berhow

Abstract

For those who enjoy debates, there has never been a debate more routinely rehashed than the debate over God’s existence. If you have followed the various iterations of this debate over the past two decades, you might have come across a somewhat influential argument that is definitional in nature—what I call the Definitional Argument For Atheism (DAFA). In short, this argument claims that atheism is not a positive belief system, and therefore requires no justification to be considered rational. Such a claim implies that theists bear the full burden of proof when arguing about God’s existence. In this article, I provide an epistemological and a metaphysical critique of DAFA, and then attempt to show why theism is more reasonable than atheism.

For those who enjoy debates, there has never been a debate more routinely rehashed than the debate over God’s existence. If you have followed the various iterations of this debate over the past two decades, you might have come across a somewhat influential argument that is definitional in nature. No, I am not talking about the ontological argument for God’s existence. I am talking about what I call the Definitional Argument For Atheism (DAFA)—which can be formulated as follows:

  1. Atheism is not a positive belief, but a lack of belief in theism (premise).
  2. Theism is a positive belief in the existence of God (premise).
  3. Positive beliefs, and only positive beliefs, require evidence if they are to be considered rational, reasonable, justified, or warranted (premise).
  4. Theism requires evidence if it is to be considered rational, reasonable, justified, or warranted [2&3].
  5. Atheism does not require evidence to be considered rational, reasonable, justified, or warranted [1&3].
  6. Therefore, given the lack of evidence for theism; atheism is more rational, reasonable, justified, or warranted.

Though never stated this explicitly, the formulation above seems to capture the central argument of the ever-declining movement known as the New Atheists.1

While many have rightly noticed the waning influence of the New Atheism,2 Christians would still be wise to remember the various critiques leveled against belief in God throughout the 2000s. We never know, after all, when such critiques might resurface.

Richard Dawkins, just to provide one example, is still promoting his version of DAFA that he introduced in The God Delusion—only now he is targeting younger readers in his new book Outgrowing God. In an attempt to show the arbitrariness of picking one particular religion, Dawkins writes,

Do you believe in God? Which god? Thousands of gods have been worshipped throughout the world, throughout history. Polytheists believe in lots of gods all at the same time (theos Greek for “god” and poly is Greek for “many”). Wontan (or Odin) was the chief god of the Vikings. Other Viking gods were Baldr (god of beauty), Thor (the thunder god with his mighty hammer) and his daughter Throd.… Countless Greeks and Romans thought their gods were real—prayed to them, sacrificed animals to them, thanked them for good fortune and blamed them when things went wrong. How do we know those ancient people weren’t right? Why does nobody believe in Zeus any more? We can’t know for sure, but most of us are confident enough to say we are “atheists” with respect to those old gods (a “theist” is somebody who believes in god(s) and an “atheist”—a-theist, the ‘a’ meaning ‘non’—is someone who doesn’t).3

Throughout his atheistic ministry, Dawkins’s oft repeated sales pitch has been to highlight how everyone is an atheist when it comes to gods like Zeus, Apollo, Amon, Ra, Mithras, Baal, Thor, Wotan, the Golden Calf, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. To close the sale, he would then conclude by explaining that he just goes one god further.4

Dawkins’s version of DAFA was (and likely still is) persuasive for his many hearers. What makes it persuasive, moreover, is the simplicity of the argument. Put simply, Dawkins attempts to show why atheists do not need sophisticated arguments to demonstrate the reasonableness of a lack of belief. A lack of belief, for Dawkins, is just the default position for any proposition. Thus, if atheism is a lack of belief in any version of theism, then by implication one does not need an argument to justify the position of atheism—since atheism is not really a position.5

When atheism is defined this way—as a lack of belief—then atheism is the rational position to hold until someone provides evidence for theism. This is because theism is a positive claim, and positive claims require evidence. As an analogy, most people intuitively recognize that it would take substantial evidence to verify one’s belief in, say, Santa Claus, witches with supernatural powers, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or celestial teapots orbiting around the moon. The New Atheists claimed that they were simply applying this common-sense intuition to one’s belief in God. Harris explains,

We can believe a proposition to be true only because something in our experience, or in our reasoning about the world, actually speaks to the truth of the proposition in question.… We can see that religious beliefs, to be beliefs about the way the world is, must be as evidentiary in spirit as any other.… The concessions we have made to religious faith—to the idea that belief can be sanctified by something other than evidence—have rendered us unable to name, much less address, one of the most pervasive causes of conflict in our world.6

Any proposition about the existence of God, according to Harris, is equivalent to all other propositions that are debated in philosophy. To rationally affirm any proposition about God, therefore, one must offer compelling evidence. This is why Bertrand Russell, when asked what he would say to God if he encountered him after death, famously replied, “Sir, why did you take such pains to hide yourself?” In other words, Russell contended—like Dawkins and Harris—that atheism is the most rational position until one provides evidence to the contrary.

1. The Epistemological Problem with DAFA

Due to the simplicity of the argument, different versions of DAFA grew in popularity. At the same time, however, the underlying presuppositions of the argument faced significant criticism among religious epistemologists and Christian philosophers. Alvin Plantinga, for example, critiqued DAFA by contending that it relies upon a narrow form of evidentialism—as articulated by philosopher W. K. Clifford. In a frequently cited article on the ethics of belief, Clifford contended that “it is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”7 Plantinga’s various responses to Clifford have been persuasive to both religious and non-religious epistemologists.8

To understand why, Plantinga convincingly demonstrated that Clifford’s notion of evidence represents a version of evidentialism that is akin to classical foundationalism. Classical foundationalism is the position that self-evident propositions, sense perception, and incorrigible beliefs are the only foundational axioms needed to ground non-foundational beliefs—where non-foundational beliefs are defined as any beliefs that require justification to make them rational beliefs. In other words, according to Clifford, non-foundational beliefs are justified only when one can demonstrate that such beliefs are either self-evident, traced back to sense perception, or incorrigible.9

While such high standards might initially seem reasonable, Plantinga showed that classical foundationalism actually excludes many common-sense beliefs, such as the belief that I had breakfast this morning, the belief that murder is morally reprehensible, the belief in other minds, etc. Even more problematic, however, classical foundationalism seems unable to live up to its own standard, since the standard itself is not self-evident, incorrigible, nor is it evident to the senses.10 This means that, given classical foundationalism, we should reject classical foundationalism—and thus we should reject Clifford’s evidentialism by implication. In doing so, we have undermined the epistemic basis for DAFA.

2. The Metaphysical Problem with DAFA

The problems with DAFA are even deeper, however, because it unfairly and inappropriately stacks the deck against theism. That is, DAFA maintains that the burden of proof rests solely on the theist, given that atheism is allegedly not a belief. Again, Plantinga provides useful insights. He responds that two can play the “lack-of-belief” game, but it does not add to the discussion, since the theist could simply claim he is an aatheist—meaning that he just lacks belief in atheism.11 Using this debate tactic, the theist would then shift the burden of proof back onto the atheist—claiming that theism is the real default position. If the atheist fails to provide evidence for atheism, then theism (or aatheism) is more reasonable by definition.

To understand the force of Plantinga’s simple response here, one must reflect deeply on the definition of theism. For Dawkins and company to claim that atheism is merely a lack of belief in theism, they must first provide a definition of theism. Unfortunately, when one reads the literature authored by proponents of the New Atheism, it becomes clear that these writers offer unsophisticated caricatures of God. Pertaining to Dawkins’s error on this point, J. Angelo Corlett quips, “If it is true that in order to refute a view one needs to properly understand it, … then Dawkins fails in his assessment of theism.”12 He continues,

How can Dawkins embrace with logical credulity a position of denying with high probability the existence of God when he has considered and refuted only the most obviously non-existent but alleged divinity having hyperbolic attributes? What Dawkins’ arguments support is the idea that a certain rather popular notion of God is implausible.13

Though not a traditional theist, Corlett provides insight into recognizing the central problem with DAFA. The New Atheists, he explains, define God as a spatial-temporal object whose existence could in principle be confirmed through scientific experimentation. In fact, Dawkins explicitly calls the God question a scientific hypothesis, which can be evaluated using the standard tools of science. He admits, of course, that science cannot disprove the existence of God, but he also explains that science is not in the business of providing proofs. Science provides guidance into what is plausible, and thus he concludes that the existence of God is scientifically implausible.

Harris agrees with Dawkins on this assessment, presumably because he also assumes that God must be defined as an object that could be observed by empirical investigation (if God were to exist). At one point in The End of Faith, Harris compares believing in God with believing that there is a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in one’s backyard.14 And how might one determine whether there is a refrigerator-sized diamond in his backyard? He must go outside and start digging. That is, he must provide empirical evidence. In an analogous way, one must provide empirical evidence for God in the cosmos to be considered intellectually credible.

On the classical definition of theism, however, DAFA is not convincing. This is because classical theism defines God as a necessary being who transcends all contingent beings. God is infinite, personal, non-material, non-temporal, and non-spatial. The question of God’s existence, then, is a metaphysical question concerning the nature of ultimate reality.15 Viewed from this perspective, theism is a full-fledged worldview, and therefore it makes no sense to call atheism a lack of belief—since the negation of theism is an alternative worldview that is antithetical to theism. In most cases, this alternative worldview is something like a metaphysical commitment to naturalism or materialism.16

Thus, we have moved beyond mere object atheism, and are instead given the task of defining atheism as a worldview. A theistic worldview is committed to the idea that ultimate reality is personal, and by implication the observable universe derives from ultimate personality. We might call this a mind-first worldview.17 An atheistic worldview, on the other hand, must contend for an opposing perspective on ultimate reality. That is, if ultimate reality is not personal, then it must be impersonal or non-personal—implying that the observable universe derives from ultimate impersonality. We might call this a matter-first worldview, which is significantly more than a mere lack-of-belief. As such, the New Atheists were wrong to define atheism as a simple lack of belief.

3. Is Atheism Reasonable?

Once the terms of the debate are properly defined, one can better understand what has become a central objection to atheism—namely, that it is a self-defeating worldview. To understand this objection, one should note that if theism claims that the order, complexity, and motions of the cosmos originated from a personal creator, then atheism must contend for the antithesis of that claim. That is, atheism must maintain that the order, complexity, and motions of the cosmos originated from an impersonal source. Nancey Murphy—borrowing from the opening lines of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos—describes the atheist story as follows: “the Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”18 The important thing to recognize about this description is that cosmos is impersonal—meaning that it does not function according to a good design plan.

Many philosophers and apologists have convincingly demonstrated that such a worldview is unable to provide the necessary preconditions for scientific investigation. C. S. Lewis, for example, offered this compelling argument against naturalism:

All possible knowledge … depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and therefore and since is a real perception of how things outside our own minds really “must” be, well and good. But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them—if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work—then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.19

Lewis continues,

It follows that no account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be real insight. A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was—a proof that there are no such things as proofs—which is nonsense.20

The insights offered in these paragraphs are devastating for atheism. Given the impersonal nature of the cosmos, atheism provides a theory that makes it impossible to believe that our thinking is valid.

Why is this so? Consider Dawkins again, who asserts that the apparent design in the universe was produced by a bottom-up blind watchmaker, rather than by a top-down intelligent watchmaker.21 According to Dawkins, the biological mechanisms of natural selection and random mutations are sufficient to explain the origin of our sensory and cognitive faculties necessary for scientific investigation. Harris agrees, and explains this process as follows:

It was probably the capacity for movement, enjoyed by certain primitive organisms, that drove the evolution of our sensory and cognitive faculties. This follows from the fact that if no creature could do anything with the information it acquired from the world, nature could not have selected for improvements in the physical structures that gather, store, and process such information.22

Likewise, Daniel Dennett adds that the evolutionary processes involved in the origin of our cognitive faculties have “no goals, no predefined problems, and no comprehension to bring to the task; [these processes] myopically and undirectedly muddle along with what [they have] already created, mindlessly trying out tweaks and variations, and keeping those that prove useful, or at least not significantly harmful.”23 Thus Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett all seem to reduce human thoughts and emotions to complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain that originated through blind and unguided evolutionary processes. Such reduction highlights why Lewis argued that atheism makes it impossible to believe that our thinking is valid.

To make this argument explicit, Plantinga developed a version of the argument called the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN).24 This argument states, in short, that a naturalistic (or atheistic) account of scientific knowledge—including one’s knowledge of biological evolution—leads to self-referentially incoherent ideas. Specifically, there are epistemic challenges that arise when one embraces both atheism and evolution. As mentioned above, atheism implies that our cognitive faculties developed through an unguided process, which should suggest that we have no reason to think our cognitive faculties produce reliable information. Charles Darwin acknowledged this problem in a letter he wrote to William Graham:

The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?25

Plantinga formulates Darwin’s horrid doubt using conditional probability, where he attempts to determine the probability (P) that our cognitive faculties are reliable (R), given the truth of metaphysical naturalism (N), plus evolution (E), and plus the fact that our cognitive faculties include things like memory, sense perception, reason, etc. (C). As an equation, this can be stated as follows: P(R/(N&E&C)), where:

N = Metaphysical naturalism (the view that there is no such person as the God of traditional theism).

E = The proposition that human cognitive faculties arose by way of the mechanisms to which contemporary evolutionary thought directs our attention.

C = A complex proposition whose precise formulation is both difficult and unnecessary, but which states what cognitive faculties we have—memory, perception, reason, Reid’s sympathy—and what sorts of beliefs they produce.

R = The claim that our cognitive faculties are reliable (on the whole), in the sense that they produce mostly true beliefs in the sorts of environments that are normal for them.26

Using this equation, Plantinga contends that there is an extremely low probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable (R) if naturalism (N) and evolution (E) are both true, and especially if the various states of our cognitive faculties (C) originated through a naturalistic evolutionary process. In other words, if naturalism (N) and evolution (E) are both true, then our cognitive faculties are the product of unguided evolutionary happenstances. This further means that the various parts of our cognitive faculties—such as reason and sense perception—are likewise the product of unguided evolutionary happenstances.

If someone argues, therefore, that reason and sense perception lead to the conclusions that naturalism (N) and evolution (E) are both true, then Plantinga argues that there is a devastating defeater for this position. That is, there is no reason to think our cognitive faculties—including reason and sense perception—have been constructed in such a way as to deliver true conclusions. This is because unguided evolutionary happenstances are simply not interested in producing true beliefs.27 As such, there is no reason to think that naturalism and evolution are both true, since it is extremely improbable that our cognitive faculties would be reliable (R) given naturalism (N) and evolution (E). Thus, it is also unreasonable to believe in both atheism (naturalism) and evolution at the same time.

Some have complained that this type of argument represents a version of the “God-of-the-Gaps” fallacy.28 In other words, if scientists cannot yet explain how our cognitive faculties originated, then theologians will be quick to proclaim that God is the only explanation. Such a response is only persuasive if we forget that theism and atheism are competing metaphysical worldviews. From a worldview perspective, theism views the entire cosmos (not just the supposed gaps) in terms of personal design, purpose, and intentionality. Atheism, on the other hand, suggests that the cosmos operates according to impersonal, unguided, and blind physical forces. This leads to the conclusion that our cognitive faculties are subject to the same impersonal happenstances as everything else in the universe. Given this worldview, our reasoning capabilities are the result of chance forces in nature, which undercuts any reason to embrace atheism. That is, if atheism is true in the objective sense, then we could never know that it is true. Atheism provides no basis for reasoning, and thus no basis for scientific investigation.

This problem can be further illustrated using a thought-experiment. Suppose a certain person named Dan was walking on a beach and encountered the following message written in the sand: Hi Dan, you should build a sandcastle. As Dan stares at this particular configuration of sand, he considers whether it contains a message. He recognizes that such configurations do not normally originate through chance movements—as would be the case with wind and water erosion—but wants to open himself up to the possibility nevertheless. Dan reasons that two basic types of causes might explain the configuration—a personal cause or an impersonal cause.

Starting with the assumption of impersonal causation, Dan attempts to demonstrate that the configuration of sand does contain a message. In the end, he determines that this cannot be done, since messages are forms of communication that originate through the acts of personal agents. Put simply, a message requires an act of communication, and an act of communication requires a person to communicate. Impersonal causes, however, are (by definition) not personal. In principle, therefore, impersonal causes cannot perform acts of communication, which further implies that they cannot produce meaningful sentences.

Dan then considers whether a personal cause is able to make the configuration meaningful. He concludes that it is, since personal agents can produce meaningful sentences. Though the configuration of sand never changes in this thought experiment, notice how it illustrates a principled precondition for meaning. When Dan assumed a personal cause, the notion of a meaningful sentence was logically coherent. When he assumed an impersonal cause, however, the notion of a meaningful sentence became logically incoherent.

This thought experiment illustrates the key distinction between atheism and theism. While atheists and theists live in the same cosmos, their opposing perspectives on the cosmos are vastly different. When observing the same exact configuration of the cosmos, atheists assume an impersonal cause, whereas theists assume a personal cause. Given theism, the movements of the universe are meaningful, rational, and intelligible. Given atheism, it seems that we must conclude that the same universe has no meaning, rationality, nor intelligibility.29

Of course, many atheists will want to reject such a conclusion, since the appearance of meaning, rationality, and intelligibility seem too obvious to discard. Such an intuition is certainly true, just like our intuition regarding the meaningful message in the sand. The problem, however, is that meaning, rationality, and intelligibility does not logically follow from impersonal causation. If one wants to assume impersonal causation, therefore, one is seemingly stuck with this absurd and self-defeating outlook on life. Thus, atheism is not only a worldview; it is apparently a worldview that makes life—including all scientific investigation—meaningless. To assume that unguided processes are responsible for the universe and our cognitive faculties, is to assume that everything produced by the universe and our cognitive faculties is also meaningless—including the assumption that unguided processes are responsible for the universe and our cognitive faculties. One might be free to assume such things, but such assumptions are irrational in principle. This is perhaps why the psalmist wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps 14:1).


[1] The origin of this movement is typically traced back to a 2004 publication by Sam Harris, entitled, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: Norton, 2004). Harris’s book was quickly followed by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006); Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Penguin, 2006); and the late Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007). Frequently referred to as the “Four Horsemen of Atheism,” these public intellectuals initiated a public discussion over the reasonableness and potential dangers of religions, which resulted in well over twenty published responses. For just a few examples of these works, see Alister McGrath, Why God Won’t Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010); Amarnath Amarasingam, ed., Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal (Boston: Brill, 2010); Victor J. Stenger, The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (New York: Prometheus, 2009); Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great about Christianity? (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2007); Becky Garrison, The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail: The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007); and John C. Lennox, Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists Are Missing the Target (Chicago: Lion Hudson, 2011).

[2] See Michael Egnor, “New Atheism: A Shipwreck of Fools,” Evolution News & Science Today, 12 December 2019, https://evolutionnews.org/2019/12/new-atheism-a-shipwreck-of-fools/; Tom Gilson, “The Death of New Atheism,” The Stream, 27 October 2017, https://stream.org/the-death-of-new-atheism/; Elliot Kaufman, “What Ever Happened to the New Atheists?” National Review, 28 July 2017, https://tinyurl.com/voplysc; Steven Poole, “The Four Horsemen Review—Whatever Happened to New Atheism?,” The Guardian, 31 January 2019, https://tinyurl.com/y9b3egok; and Jacob Hamburger, “What Was New Atheism? On Liberalism’s Fading Faith,” The Point, 14 January 2019, https://thepointmag.com/politics/what-was-new-atheism/.

[3] Richard Dawkins, Outgrowing God: A Beginners Guide (New York: Random House, 2019), 4–5.

[4] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 53.

[5] Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris both share this sentiment with Dawkins. See Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 210–11; and Harris, End of Faith, 16, 46–47.

[6] Harris, End of Faith, 29, 62–63. Italics in original.

[7] W. K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief,” in The Ethics of Belief: And Other Essays, ed. Timothy Madigan (New York: Prometheus, 1999), 77.

[8] Before Plantinga, moreover, several philosophers developed critiques of other forms of evidentialism—most notable is W. V. O. Quine’s groundbreaking article, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” The Philosophical Review 60 (1951): 20–43. In it, Quine argued against a version of evidentialism known as logical positivism—which states that only statements verified by their analyticity or by empirical observation are meaningful. Quine’s influential article revealed that this perspective should be rejected based upon its own standard, given that logical positivism is not verified by its analyticity, nor is it demonstrated by empirical observation.

[9] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford, 2000), 84–85.

[10] Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 93.

[11] Alvin Plantinga, “Religious Belief as ‘Properly Basic,’” in Philosophy of Religion: A Guide and Anthology, ed. Brian Davies (New York: Oxford, 2000), 51.

[12] J. Angelo Corlett, “Dawkins’ Godless Delusion,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 65.3 (2009): 126.

[13] Corlett, “Dawkins’ Godless Delusion,” 129.

[14] Harris writes, “Let’s say that I want to believe that there is a diamond buried somewhere in my yard that is the size of a refrigerator. It is true that it would feel uncommonly good to believe this. But do I have any reason to believe that there is actually a diamond in my yard that is thousands of times larger than any yet discovered? No.” Harris, The End of Faith, 62. Italics in original. Ryan Falcioni also highlights this problematic comparison in, “Is God a Hypothesis? The New Atheism, Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, and Philosophical Confusion,” in Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal, ed. Amarnath Amarasingam (Boston: Brill, 2010), 212.

[15] For an extended explanation of God as a metaphysical thesis, see the chapter on God in Richard Taylor, Metaphysics, 4th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1992), 99–116. See also Michael Peterson, “The Encounter Between Naturalistic Atheism and Christian Theism, in Philosophy of Religion, ed. Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford, 2014), 438–50; Ronald Nash, The Concept of God: An Exploration of Contemporary Difficulties with the Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 107–12.

[16] Dawkins seems to recognize this when he describes an atheist as a “philosophical naturalist,” meaning he is “somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world.” Dawkins, The God Delusion, 14. Victor Stenger likewise argues that an atheist “believes that we need not include anything beyond matter to describe the universe and its contents.” Stenger, The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (New York: Prometheus, 2009) 21–22.

[17] William Dembski describes theism as a mind-first worldview in, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Religion (Downers Groves, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 214.

[18] Nancey Murphy, “Robert John Russell Versus the New Atheists,” Zygon 45.1 (2010): 194; the original quote is from Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 4.

[19] C. S. Lewis, Miracles, reprint ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 21. Italics in original.

[20] Lewis, Miracles, 21–22.

[21] See Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (New York: Norton, 1996).

[22] Harris, The End of Faith, 52

[23] Daniel Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (New York: Norton, 2018), 77.

[24] For the original formulation of his argument, see Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford, 1993), 194–237. Plantinga develops this argument in several other places as well—most recently in Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (New York: Oxford, 2011).

[25] Charles Darwin, “Letters to William Graham, Down, July 3, 1881,” in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin 1: Including an Autobiographical Chapter, ed. Francis Darwin (New York: Elibron, 2005), 285.

[26] Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 220.

[27] Plantinga refers to a famous passage by Patricia Churchland to support this contention: “Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive…. Improvements in the sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.” Patricia Churchland, “Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience,” Journal of Philosophy 84 (1987): 548, italics in original. See also, Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, 315.

[28] See Harris, The End of Faith, 58.

[29] For a similar critique of the atheist worldview, see Ronald Nash’s chapter on naturalism in, World-Views in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 116–29.

Michael Berhow

Mike Berhow is lecturer of philosophy at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota.

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