In response to my post about the nebulous theodicy of Jeffrey Small, I have an email from a reader who is allowing me to post this without revealing his/her name.
In a recent post on your website (“Moar Theodicy”), you closed by writing:
“The only good thing about this palaver concerning the impotent “power of being” is that, for many, it’s the first step to abandoning God completely.”
I’d just like to say that I am living proof of this statement.
I was raised by very devout Christian parents (of the non-fundamentalist United Methodist persuasion), and proudly(!) considered myself a Christian without ever pausing to ask, “Why?”. My path to atheism began when more liberal-minded, but still religious, friends in college asserted that Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection were not true. My parents and preachers had certainly never said anything about that possibility! I soon discovered books by John Shelby Spong, who espoused the “God as ground of all being” theology. This was a view of “faith” that my increasingly scientific mind could still cling to without imploding … as long as I didn’t think about it too deeply. Truth be told, it was a short hop from there to Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”, though it took me several years to get there (during which time I really wasn’t thinking about religion much at all; I was simply tired of the subject). Now, in my mid 40s, I consider myself an atheist; it just makes the most sense.
So yes, “this palaver concerning the impotent “power of being”” can, indeed, be a stepping-stone to “abandoning God completely.” For this sample of one, at least.
There’s just one thing to add to this: it testifies to the power of Gnu Atheism, instantiated by The God Delusion, to, by striking the coup de grace, convert the faithful to nonbelief. Many other such emails show that with the rejection of superstition came an increased acceptance of evolution.
What we have here, along with the hundreds of emails that Richard Dawkins has received (some of which appear in his “Converts’ Corner“) and the dozens I have gotten along the same lines, is evidence. In cases like this, the plural of anecdotes is data.
Now if accommodation is so effective at turning the faithful to evolution, as Chris Mooney and others maintain, where are the hundreds of emails and letters from the faithful thanking Mooney, Josh Rosenau, the people of BioLogos, and their accommodationist confrères for—by showing that science and faith are compatible—helping them accept evolution at last? I’m not aware of a single such piece of testimony. All we have is the discredited fictions of Walter Smith, aka “Tom Johnson.”
And even if there are one or two such letters, they stand in opposition to the massive amount of personal testimony of the effectiveness of New Atheists in turning the faithful away from superstition and towards rationalism and science.
As far as I can see, we’ve already won.
Update: I’m not claiming that New Atheism is essential for converting the faithful, which of course is a ludicrous idea. Nor am I claiming that it’s even decisive: that without Gnu “stridency,” all the other factors wouldn’t work. My claim is more modest: that without N.A., there would be substantially fewer people abandoning religion and embracing rationality and evolution. All those emails are testimony to that. And I’m aware of virtually no testimony supporting the effectiveness of accommodationism in bringing people to evolution.
As several readers pointed out, correctly, I’ve conflated some claims here. One claim, which was the topic of the email, is the ability of in-your-face atheism to make converts. That is indubitably true. The other claim, made by accommodationists, is that atheist scientists are ineffective at “converting” people to evolution because their atheism turns people off. I would contend that there’s plenty of evidence against this claim, in the form of personal testimony, and none in favor of it. The third claim (the one I make here), is that I’ve seen no evidence that accommodationism—in the form of arguing that science and faith are compatible—has turned large numbers of evolution-denying religious people into evolution accepters. I’m sure there must be some evidence on this point, but it hasn’t been publicized.
The final claim, for which there’s no telling evidence one way or the other, is that accommodationism has a better effect in bringing people to rationality and science than does the promotion of science by atheists. But if you look at the strong negative correlation between the religiosity of countries and their acceptance of Darwinism, it seems clear that the real block to acceptance of evolution in America is our country’s pervasive religiosity. (The US is highly religious and low on evolution, and this correlation holds across 34 countries.)
In the long run, I think, the way to get rid of creationism is not to show the faithful that religion and evolution are compatible—for that tactic doesn’t seem to have budged creationism in America over the past three decades—but to loosen the grip of religion on America: the goal of the Gnus. Creationism is but a symptom of a pervasive disease that has many other, and worse, symptoms: religion.
Finally, when I say “we’ve won,” I mean that I believe an irreversible trend toward secularization has been set in motion, and it’s a trend toward less religion. This, of course, will take considerable time. But when America becomes more secular, acceptance of evolution will follow, as the night the day.