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Atheism, evolutionism and families

Analysis of a recent popular psychology article

by and Stuart Burgess

Published: 17 January 2013 (GMT+10)

A recent article by Bruce Grierson in Psychology Today, “The Atheist at the Breakfast Table”, shows dolls of Mom, Dad, Darwin and monkeys, and suggests that “nonbelievers [in God] are growing in number, but you might not know it because they may be in the next pew with their kids1 (italics added). In other words, the article restates what believers, especially creationists, have been suggesting for some time: that the evolutionary worldview is coming into popular culture so much that it is having an effect on the belief of many churches, parents, and children. From a Christian perspective, such an unbelieving and one-sided evolution-supporting trend is negative, especially for young people, and it can lead to unspiritual thinking and consequences in other areas of society, too.

For example, Grierson’s article exemplifies some common misconceptions by atheists:

(1) Atheists typically assume that they are open-minded, but they usually exclude even the possibility of a Creator, i.e. they are not. E.g., Julian Huxley famously said that “Modern science must rule out special creation or divine guidance”.2 Todd more recently admitted that he also believed that science excludes a Creator: “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic”.3

(2) They assume that they are ‘quiet’ and ‘non-fundamentalist’ people, when in fact their position is just as ‘loud’ and ‘fundamentalist’ (in the modern derogatory sense of intolerant and exclusionary4) as that of anyone! To essentially worship pleasure rather than God (2 Timothy 3) might seem to be a non-religious, non-fundamentalist position but it is actually an (atheistic) fundamentalist/dogmatic position. Furthermore, to ignore God (if He exists, which is the question at issue) is actually a very bold and provocative thing to do—not a quiet, reasonable thing.

(3) They assume that the majority of academics do not believe in God. However modern science encourages people to keep silent about God; scientists are not allowed to mention God or give Him glory in their research papers. And if a scientist does mention God, his career can be negatively affected. However, our personal experiences as academics are that there is very significant (but not articulated) sympathy for, e.g., intelligent design among academics in secular universities.

In general, Grierson seems to be trying to promote the misconception that creationists are unreasonable and in a minority. However the greatest scientists like Newton, Maxwell and Faraday were creationists and were not unreasonable. (Furthermore, creationists have not always been in a minority.)

Atheism not mainstream

THE STAKES FOR BELIEVERS AND THEIR CHILDREN: the authors’ children: such children are typically and unavoidably bombarded by evolutionist perspectives. THE STAKES FOR BELIEVERS AND THEIR CHILDREN: the authors’ children: such children are typically and unavoidably bombarded by evolutionist perspectives.
THE STAKES FOR BELIEVERS AND THEIR CHILDREN: the authors’ children: such children are typically and unavoidably bombarded by evolutionist perspectives.

This ‘Atheist at the Breakfast Table’ article (the title apparently referring to an atheistically and evolutionarily influenced child) points out that children are being subtly moved into more evolutionary and liberal beliefs through their public schools and the popular culture. Nevertheless, the article goes on to admit that in spite of promotion of atheism by people like the late Christopher Hitchens and his book, God is Not Great,5 such open activity has not endeared atheists to most Americans, at least: In fact, polls in that country apparently show that “dislike and distrust of atheists is more widespread than for any other identifiable group” [pg. 72 of the Grierson article]. Now, while believers need not dislike, and in fact desire to love non-believers through the power of Christ, there is some unintentionally implied positive news for them within the above quote: In spite of evolution’s almost unilateral domination of the educational system and its implication of no need for God, most people tend to distrust the non-believers who most forcefully promote atheism.

Strategy of many evolutionists who are atheists

Nevertheless, the article and its overall pro-evolution and non-believing perspectives also promote a strategy for nontheistic evolutionists, to help them convince people that currently believe in a Creator that He doesn’t exist: In essence, it suggests evolutionists should downplay any threatening aspects of atheism. Atheism is (at least according to the article) “not an adversarial position, just a position. There, in the vast middle of the religious spectrum, a space not occupied by fundamentalists of any sort, live tens of millions of atheists and agnostics, more or less quietly, mostly with their families. And their numbers are growing”.

But has there ever been anything threatening about atheism? E.g., are atheists really in the “vast middle of the religious spectrum”? Aren’t they really on one extreme end of the believing/non-believing spectrum? And wasn’t it atheistic and anti-creation thinking that undergirded the beliefs and actions of a number of the most dangerous extremists and mass murderers of recent times, such as Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and other fanatically materialist communists? (Also, Hitler and his Nazis believed that their deliberately evolution-based policies would promote society in a positive way, as Mein Kampf clearly indicates.) On the other hand, didn’t it require the world’s most believing Christian country, the United States (along with other Christian-background allies such as Britain) many tough years to defeat such ‘people-are-just-animals’ viewpoints, actions, and government regimes? Could there be historical reasons why many people distrust atheism and its desire for increasing numbers of supporters, influence and power?

Nevertheless, the article goes on to claim that “what nonbelievers most believe in is a gentle spirit of inquiry and open-minded investigation of options—which, as with [self-described atheist] Ross Harvey, may involve engagement with religious traditions” [such as Mr. Harvey’s apparent liking of religious ceremonies without himself believing in God; which may perhaps more accurately place him in another potential non-theistic category, that of a ‘neo-modern’6]. In any case, if such people want such open-minded investigation and discussion, why do they typically end up trying to force out all discussion of the possibility of creation as an option, even if it is based on an even-handed pro and con discussion of scientific evidences only (e.g. in public schools)? Is this open-minded?

The article also claims that “the place where atheists are found in the greatest concentration [is] the scientific community … especially tenure-track social scientists and natural scientists at America’s top research universities … [where] around 60 percent of these identified [themselves] as either atheist or agnostic … .That’s more than 10 times the proportion you’d find in a random slice of Americans but lower than you might expect, given that highly publicized surveys had previously pegged the percentage of atheists among top scientists at over 90 percent.” However, if the previous (and apparently now known to be mistaken) survey showed that “over 90 percent” at top research universities were atheists; but the new survey now supposedly shows that atheists plus agnostics are together only “around 60 percent” of such scientists; then perhaps the percent of top scientists who are atheists has dropped significantly in recent years; and/or one or more of such surveys have been mistaken (as somewhat admitted here in the article).

Mr. Grierson’s article goes on to say that within a group of self-identified atheists and agnostics in the sciences, almost one in five were part of a religious community or attending a church, temple or mosque “with some regularity”. Apparently, these unbelievers’ reasons for adopting some religious traditions were “highly rational”, such as some trying to reconcile their identities as scientists, non-believers, and spouses or parents; or trying to have a moral structure for their children, etc. This is commendable and all people, regardless of their current beliefs and rationales, should be (and generally are) made welcome in Christian churches, public dinners, guest speaker forums, etc. In fact at one time, many of us creation supporters were of one particular mindset (e.g. evolution and/or no God), but were at least somewhat open and willing to discuss reasons for what we believed with others. That in fact may represent a truly open and evenhanded, science-friendly meeting of minds.

Personal experiences

As an example of bias in “scientists are atheistic” suppositions, one of us (DO) recalls when I did my Ph.D. in the natural sciences at a major US research university in Georgia. In spite of my vulnerable situation, I trusted Jesus by daring to speak to and educate interested people on a scientific case against broad-scale evolutionary origins in my university classes (as well as in my own free time). What happened? I was given a very hard time by a number of professors, some of whom actively worked at getting me forced out of my Ph.D. program (in zoology). They eventually succeeded, but it appears that the Creator answered prayers anyway, because in the nick of time I was able to lateral into another similar program and got my degree (a Ph.D. in ecology). It was also clear from this that there was, and still is, significant anti-religious discrimination, even at major taxpayer-funded universities; but also that with the Creator’s assistance, outspoken Christians can be bold and prevail.

I got through my doctorate (by the Creator’s grace!) and now teach in the natural sciences at another major accredited university that grants numerous graduate degrees [Liberty, a Christian university]. Incidentally, when I was still in my secular doctoral program, I knew a number of other graduate students in the sciences who were also creationists at the same university as me, but they did not step out to say so publically, and they quietly received their Ph.D.’s and Master’s. Then a number moved on to teach and research in various accredited colleges, universities and scientific fields. Therefore it seems inaccurate as well as possibly anti-theistically biased for the article to subtly imply that creation supporters are not good and successful scientists (and frequently within secular academia).

Possible significance for current non-believers and ‘free thinkers’

Another key part of Grierson’s article is where the atheist/neo-modern mentioned above, Ross Harvey, explained why he became an unbeliever as a teenager: “One of [Harvey’s] Brethren [church denomination] leaders, backed into a corner by Harvey’s queries, admitted that, yes, by definition of church doctrine, Gandhi would be going to hell. That was enough for Harvey. He was out [of his former Christian belief] and became an atheist”.7

However, we would suggest that such questioning individuals need to reconsider such an issue in terms of scripturally consistent, traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs: Namely, that we are all considered sinners because we were conceived with the sin nature that passed down to us from Adam, the first man (and first wrongdoer). For Christians, the one exception was and is considered to be Jesus, the Son of God, who was the “seed of the woman” and conceived via a miraculous conception by God, instead of via a sin-bearing man. According to this view, we are all born into and live as wrongdoers and mortal beings because of our ancestry that traces back to the first fallen man, and because of our deliberately wrong choices afterward in our own lives. Therefore except for the perfect Saviour, we all (even Gandhi) deserve eternity in the place reserved for sinners who in their lifetimes do not agree to be spiritually cleansed by the sacrificial blood that was sacrificed on Christ’s cross.

Otherwise, we all go to the place in which we deserve to (and at least during life, desire to) continue to be separated from the perfect God (i.e., Hell). This may appear to be tragic, but it gives individual humans immense freedom to choose (at least from their perspective—see Ephesians 2:8 and 2 Timothy 1:9), and provides another perspective for us past or present ‘Atheists at the Breakfast Table’. This perspective provides a powerful answer regarding our broken universe and broken humans; yet one which seems historically to have provided the best environment not only for freedom and productivity, but also for the advancement of science itself.

Acknowledgments

We thank Dr. David A. DeWitt, Chairman of the Department of Biology and Chemistry and Director of the Center for Creation Studies; and Liberty University as a whole, for providing academic support for the authors to work on the above concepts, and in turn to hopefully help provide an alternative view for seekers.

References

  1. Grierson, B., The atheist at the breakfast table, Psychology Today, pp. 70–78, May 2012. Return to text.
  2. Huxley, J., Evolution, the Modern Synthesis, p. 457, Harper Bros. Publ., New York, 1942. Return to text.
  3. Todd, S.C., A view from Kansas on that evolution debate, Nature 401(6752):423, 30 September 1999. Return to text.
  4. See Grigg, R., Anyone for fundamentalism? Creation 30(4):15–17, 2008; creation.com/a/6124 and Darwinian fundamentalists … believe it, or else! Creation 15(3):4, 1993; creation.com/a/829. Return to text.
  5. Hitchens, C., God is Not Great: The case against religion, Atlantic Books, London, UK, 2007. Return to text.
  6. Fabich, A.J., Time to abandon postmodernism: Living a new way, Answers Research Journal 4(1):178–183, 2011; answersingenesis.org/articles/arj/v4/n1/abandon-postmodernism. Return to text.
  7. Ref. 1, p. 74. Return to text.

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