Dr. Aikman Debunks ‘New Atheism’
Patrick Henry College
Confronting a series of “New Atheists” books that have topped bestseller lists in the last two years, Dr. David Aikman, Associate Professor of History at Patrick Henry College, presented the College’s sixth Faith and Reason lecture Tuesday, February 19. As with the previous, twice-yearly lectures, covering themes from philosophy to classical education, the campus community gathered together for a day-long schedule of discussion groups, Q&A, and panel discussions.
“We need to know what the New Atheists are saying and why, in many instances, they simply don’t make sense,” summarized Aikman.
The four books under discussion were Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens. Each author posits, from different angles, tenets common to atheistic philosophers: namely, that science proves that God doesn’t exist, that religion makes people do bad things, and that, by contrast, atheism is at worst a benign influence on history and events.
Throughout his lecture, Dr. Aikman contrasted Christian and atheistic worldviews as two opposing faiths, and then frequently used the authors’ own words to dismantle their merging themes.
Collectively, these men, whom Aikman calls the “Four Horsemen,” regularly distort reality and ignore historical fact by not merely dismissing the countless good deeds done by people of faith, but in some instances flippantly insulting such respected figures as Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Because King failed to preach hell and damnation,” Aikman noted, “he is relegated by Hitchens to the ranks of the infidels. This would certainly be news to every single African-American who knew King or worked with him, or for that matter to the Nobel Committee that awarded him the Nobel Peace Price in 1964 and made the observation, ‘Martin Luther King’s belief is rooted first and foremost in the teachings of Christ.’”
Another fatal weakness of the New Atheism, he noted, can be summed up in the term “scientism,” or “the assertion that science, as we know it, contains the answer to virtually everything. The Four Horsemen seem to have constructed an arid universe wherein dwells no God, no transcendence, no mystery other than what can be conjured from contemplating physical nature itself.”
With a deep sense of irony, Aikman also cited the unlikely elevation of Albert Einsten as a hero to the New Atheists. That group, he says, perhaps intentionally overlooked the theoretical physicist’s overt, some would say Judeo-Christian spirituality, as illustrated in quotes like: “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.”
Finally, Aikman validated complaints about “the wickedness of atheistic leaders or regimes” by citing the 100 million people “murdered” by the atheistic regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot in the twentieth century alone. It is a record of atrocity, he says, that dwarfs all those killed in all the religious wars of history.
In one of his more amusing anecdotes, Aikman dryly debunked the so-called “Monkey Theorem” offered up by scientists attempting to explain the unaccountably intricate order and harmony seen in the universe. The theorem posits that an infinite number of monkeys, given an infinite number of keyboards and infinite time, could eventually produce a great work of literature like Shakespeare’s Sonnet Eighteen.
Aikman countered: “In the 1990’s, the British National Council of the Arts… placed six monkeys in a cage with a computer. After banging away at the keyboard for a whole month— the monkeys had typed 50 pages but failed to produce a single word in the English language, not even the letter ‘a’ by itself.”
Reciting the elegant sonnet in his mellifluous English accent, Dr. Aikman quoted statistics that show chances of replicating Sonnet Eighteen, word for word, were roughly ten to the 690th power. “There are only ten to the 80th particles in the entire universe,” he said, observing that “even if every particle in the universe were a computer chip that had been spinning out random letters a million times a second since the beginning of time, there would still be no Shakespeare’s Sonnet Eighteen by chance.”
Quoting one-time atheist Antony Flew, since converted to theism, he concluded: “If the [Monkey Theorem] won’t work for a single sonnet, then of course it’s simply absurd to suggest that the more elaborate feat of the origin of life could have been achieved by chance.”
He ended his lecture by making a direct connection between the Judeo-Christian worldview and freedom: “The only systems of government that have spontaneously created, then preserved, conditions both for religious freedom and then political freedom are those that have emerged from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The only true democracy in the Middle East is Israel, also a Jewish state.”
Students found the experience intellectually stimulating, as always.
“I was really struck by [Dr. Aikman’s] conclusion, that Christians are the ones out there making a difference in the world,” shares Aubrey Waters, a junior. “The Bible says, ‘you will be known by your fruits.’ Christians and atheists live their lives in very different ways.”
Dr. Aikman's new book, Delusion of Disbelief, is due for release in April.