Proselytizers of atheism seem to have concluded that if they’re big enough jerks, they will seduce the faithful into abandoning God. It’s sort of like asking Don Rickles to run your customer-service desk. Christopher Hitchens was a friend, but when he talked about religion, he could be — to use a technical term — a Grade-A Schmuck. Likewise, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the other champions of a soulless, antiseptic world have all the charm of a toothache when they lecture people to kick the habit of the opiate of the masses. And then there are their shock troops. When pastor Rick Warren’s depressed son committed suicide recently, an army of the unfaithful took to Twitter to assure the grief-stricken father that there was no heaven, God was a myth, and his son was gone forever. When USA Today wrote about the mind-bogglingly hateful attacks, one commenter on that article counseled that Warren should “abandon primitive superstitions and accept the universe for what it is — a place that is utterly indifferent to us.”
One reason the atheistic horde has grown so aggressive and nasty is that they feel the wind at their backs. The pews are emptying and science is declaring, more and more loudly, that it has Figured Everything Out. Another reason is that conservatives, mostly conservative Christians, have been pretty much the only ones fighting back.
Perhaps just in time, some allies seem to be walking onto the field. Thomas Nagel — no Christian conservative — recently published Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. It generated an enormous controversy because the (once) respected philosopher has come to the conclusion that boiling all life, all existence, down to a bunch of atoms and molecules bumping around doesn’t make much sense. He doesn’t come right out and embrace God or anything wacky like that. But he says there’s just got to be something more to things than what the materialists can measure and quantify. Predictably, the discrediting has begun. Expect Nagel to be paraded around in a dunce cap any day now.
Another quasi ally is Jonathan Haidt, the psychologist who studies, among other things, how political attitudes are formed and who has come to the apparently controversial conclusion that conservatives are not crazy. Indeed, Haidt argues that conservatives tend to be more morally sophisticated than liberals, in part because we are better at understanding the liberals’ position than liberals are at understanding ours.
The latest entrant to the fray, and probably an unwitting one, is Frans de Waal, the world’s foremost primatologist and a heavyweight in the neo-Darwinist camp. A big chunk of his new book, The Bonobo and the Atheist: The Search for Humanism Among the Primates, is aimed at telling the atheists to chill out.
“What good,” de Waal asks, “could possibly come from insulting the many people who find value in religion?” While a nonbeliever himself, he respects people of faith and is quite simply bored by efforts to disprove the existence of God. (Imagine how bored God is.) He rejects the importance of the question posed by Nietzsche, “Is man only a blunder of God? Or is God only a blunder of man?” If forced to choose, de Waal would answer yes to the latter. But he thinks little will be gained by forcing everyone to accept that God is dead.