Leave the New Atheists alone on their Holy days

Yesterday, Christians around the world celebrated Easter Sunday. Two days before that, they celebrated Good Friday. Both momentous events in history and the foundation upon which the Christian religion rests.

Professor Alice Roberts – President of Humanists UK and Professor of Public Engagement in Science at Uni of Birmingham – decided Good Friday was the best time to post the following to twitter:

Shrieks and howls from some inevitably followed. Others decided to engage and offer an answer. Both really missed the point.

What many fail to realise is that New Atheists also have their special holy days too. Most interestingly of all, they coincide with the Christian ones. Just as the Christian religion is built upon the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus so the New Atheist religion is built upon those events too. Just as many Christians will spend Christmas and Easter celebrating the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, so New Atheists look forward to their yearly celebration of their self-satisfied rightness and relish the opportunity to engage with the key outworking of their own faith: smug superiority promoted through attempts to make Christians feel small.

I think Giles Fraser was right when he recently wrote about those in roles dedicated to the public understanding of science. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in helping the public to engage with science at all. Instead, there is a lot of sneering at those they deem their intellectual inferiors. That is largely based on their own smug sense of satisfaction in scientific naturalism; a position that is deeply philosophically flawed but those who advocate for it most fervently (namely, those involved in natural sciences) are usually least qualified to recognise the problems. But we live in an age where natural sciences are deemed omniscient despite, as William Lane Craig and JP Moreland point out here, that natural science can’t even justify its own existence scientifically:

Of course, Alice Roberts is free to make whatever claims she likes. I don’t think the offence of Christians is any ground for her not to make them. Especially if she believes her claims are true. There is an argument to politeness that makes the timing pretty lame on Good Friday. I have all sorts of views on Islam or Hinduism but I don’t tend to take those up, in public, at Eid or Diwali. We can have those conversations another time. It doesn’t mean anybody should be barred from doing so, but I think we can all agree, if your real aim is to engage, aid understanding and seek to persuade, throwing out sneery broadsides at those specific times suggest that isn’t really what you are trying to do.

So, no, I’m not going to try and answer Prof Alice Roberts here. Mainly because she knows well enough that the answers and responses to her comment have been around for centuries. Either, despite her superior tone, she is actually ignorant and unaware, which should undercut her smugness. Otherwise, her goal isn’t really to engage or promote public understanding, but to provoke and irritate. No prizes for guessing which one of those seems more likely.

But I expect nothing else from a fundamentalist Atheist. There are really only two pillars to the faith:

  1. There is no God
  2. And I hate him

As such, evangelism consists of sneering at those who do believe in God. It is their equivalent of the Great Commission. Go, therefore, into all the world and – particularly at times of year that will provoke most irritation – smugly insinuate all believers are idiots, teaching them that science is the only means of knowing anything and if they weren’t so stupid they would know that. And lo, The God Delusion will be with you, even until the end of its print run.

Just as I don’t think it is very helpful to take side swipes at Orthodox Jews during Yom Kippur nor Sikhs during Baisakhi, so too it is unkind to have a go at fundamentalist Atheists during their high holidays. Which is why I think it best to leave them alone at Christmas and Easter – their most sacred time of year for trolling Christians on twitter – and save whatever questions we may have about their religion for another time, when they’re not focusing on the core tenets of their faith.

After all, Jesus said something about inspecting fruit. Good trees produce good fruit while bad trees produce bad fruit (Matthew 7:17-18). A simple enough biological reality that I am sure our scientific naturalist friends can get behind and one, I am sure, most others watching on recognise too. If the fruit of New Atheism is such, when compared to the fruit of the Spirit, which – in the end – is likely to have the greatest evangelistic power? As I have said before, almost nobody is sneered into the kingdom, regardless of what kingdom you are seeking to build.