Militant Atheist Lacks an Argument

By Steve Lee

Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State University,  penned an article with The New YorkerScreen Shot 2015-09-28 at 2.02.04 PM It is provocatively titled “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists.”  Not just an atheist, but a militant atheist.  Krauss, has risen in fame in the past few years, penning such books at The Physics of Star Trek and The Universe From Nothing. In an interview with Sam Harris, he describes himself as “as an anti-theist rather than an atheist.”  Krauss has had multiple debates with William Lane Craig here in the United States as well as in Australia (here and here and here).  He even did a movie with Richard Dawkins titled The Unbelievers. Dr. Craig did a series of podcasts commenting on the film.

In his September 8 article in The New Yorker, Krauss claims that “it’s inevitable that [science] draws people away from religion.”  Oddly enough he just merely asserts this claim without any evidence or argument.  Are we to just believe him on blind faith.  If science inevitably draws people away from religion how does he explain Francis Collins, Sarah Salviander, John Lennox, Neil Shenvi, Ray Bohlin, Michael Strauss, John Polkinghorne, or Alister McGrath.  Or how the book True Scientists, True Faith explores how twenty of the world’s leading scientists explain how their science enhances their faith and their faith undergirds their science.

Even more oddly is his focus in the article on issues that have nothing to do with science at all.  In eleven full paragraphs a total of seven were on social issues like Kim Davis, Hobby Lobby, the shame people feel for questioning their parents faith, and Planned Parenthood.  As Edward Feser says in his article Krauss discusses “matters of public controversy entirely irrelevant to either science or the question of God’s existence.”

He surely has a right to express his opinion on issues entirely outside his domain of expertise, but they carry no more weight as a business student has in expressing his views on the background radiation in the cosmos.  When he does he reveals aptly how sophomoric his reasoning is on the issue of God and science.  As Plantinga said about Dawkins and his book The God Delusion I believe the comments apply to Krauss as well:

Dawkins [and Krauss] is not a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune [i.e., naive, simplistic, and superficial]. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class.

Below are some articles that react to Krauss:

“Scientists Should Tell Lawrence Krauss to Shut Up Already” by Edward Feser in Public Discourse The Witherspoon Institute, Sept. 28, 2015.

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Feser is as entertaining as he is educational.  A partial excerpt:

The closest Krauss comes to justifying his thesis is in the following passage:

science is an atheistic enterprise. “My practice as a scientist is atheistic,” the biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote, in 1934. “That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.” . . . In my more than thirty years as a practicing physicist, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature . . .

Is this a good argument? Only if this parallel piece of “reasoning” is also a good argument:

Checkers is an atheistic enterprise. My practice as a checkers player is atheistic. That is to say, when I move a game piece across the board, I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my career as a checkers champ. In my more than thirty years as a checkers player, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned at a checkers tournament. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of the game.

So, it isn’t just science—even checkers proves atheism! Who knew?

 

“Why Can’t These Guys Stay on Topic? Or Read?” by Edward Feser at Edward Feser Oct 4, 2015 – Here Feser responds to some criticisms of his critique of Krauss.

“Should Scientists Be Atheists? More Nonsense From Lawrence Krauss,” by Kelly James Clark in The Huffington Post, Sept. 14, 2015.

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Philosopher Kelly Jame Clark in The Huffington Post lambastes Krauss for his lack of elementary logic and non-scientific ranting:

While Lawrence Krauss has publicly denounced philosophy, he can’t seem to stop himself from doing it and doing it badly (and publicly, to boot). His lack of intellectual self-control is remarkable given that he is an accomplished physicist. He might have profited in his latest rant, “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists,” by a course in elementary logic.

This diatribe was prompted by the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage license to gay couples. He writes of militant atheism and science, “I found myself thinking about those questions this week as I followed the story of Kim Davis….” How this totally non-scientific event is relevant to his scientific thesis is mind-boggling.

Portrait of a Fanatic” by Kevin D. Williamson The National Review Sept. 11, 2015

At the National Review Kevin D. Williamson reacts as well:

As we have seen with the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Politics Guy, when scientists and the scient-ish (Mr. Nye is a mechanical engineer by training) step out of the confines of their actual expertise, what they step into is more closely associated with the field of animal husbandry. But step in it they do, Professor Krauss with more enthusiasm than most. Professor Krauss’s argument is shockingly sophomoric, the sort of thing that all of us heard, and most of us tired of, during late-night dorm-room debates when we were teenagers. His intellectual sloppiness is both embarrassing and worrisome; one must wonder what sort of intellectual standards Arizona State expects of its faculty engaged in public matters.
This video is related to Eric Metaxas Wall Street Journal article which quickly become the most viewed online article in the journal’s history:

For more articles like: Militant Atheist Lacks an Argument visit Steve’s site at IsChristianityTrue.wordpress.com

Steve Lee is a graduate from the CrossExamined Instructor Academy.

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10 replies
  1. Andy Ryan says:

    “As Edward Feser says in his article Krauss discusses “matters of public controversy entirely irrelevant to either science or the question of God’s existence.””

    I just read the article. In bringing up Kim Davis he’s not trying to argue that God doesn’t exist. Krauss’s point is pretty clear. He makes it explicit here:

    “The Kim Davis controversy exists because, as a culture, we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free, not more. Religious liberty should mean that no set of religious ideals are treated differently from other ideals. Laws should not be enacted whose sole purpose is to denigrate them, but, by the same token, the law shouldn’t elevate them, either.”

    “So, it isn’t just science—even checkers proves atheism!”

    Krauss didn’t say science proves atheism, so this a strawman response. Krauss said that science relies on assuming that God didn’t interfere in the evidence. Isn’t this correct?

    “He surely has a right to express his opinion on issues entirely outside his domain of expertise, but they carry no more weight as a business student has in expressing his views on the background radiation in the cosmos.”

    Or perhaps a large group of non-biologists such as mathematicians, philosophers and apologists weighing in on evolution? Or cold-case detectives speaking out on history?

    Reply
    • toby says:

      “Or perhaps a large group of non-biologists such as mathematicians, philosophers and apologists weighing in on evolution? Or cold-case detectives speaking out on history?”
      Oh snap!

      Reply
        • Kevin Haug says:

          Brian, I would like to ask about the peppered moth. John Lennox, in his book “God’s Undertaker” said there were actually several problems with the study. However, the only one he goes into any detail on is the photographs which show peppered moths on tree trunks–when there is no evidence peppered moths rest on tree trunks in the wild. Do you have any details on the criticisms?

          Reply
      • mike says:

        But they do argue form their knowledge of the facts. The point was if Dr Krauss is going to wonder into fields that are not his expertise, then he should do his homework.

        Reply
    • mike says:

      He ASSUMES in advance that God wont exist so he wont interfere…same philosophy can be applied to checkers or anything else for that matter. When you start with a assumption based on a preconceived unsupported belief, then any outcome will be biased to that proceeding assumption disregarding other plausible possibilities

      I think that was the point being made

      Reply
    • RSL says:

      Andy Ryan: “Krauss didn’t say science proves atheism”

      Actually, the title of the article is “All Scientist Should be Militant Atheists” — and then, as evidence for this claim, he gives us an absurd argument that appeals to the way in which science is conducted. So, this clearly IS the argument — and it is a genuinely terrible argument (which also implies the equally absurd result that playing checkers proves that atheism is true). This argument is so embarrassingly bad that one can understand why other atheists and skeptics would want to deny that this Kruass’ argument — but if that isn’t the argument being made, then the title of the article makes no sense at all. Of course, Krauss’ inability to argue for militant atheism doesn’t mean that no arguments can be made in favor of atheism — only that Krauss has failed to give us a good argument for atheism.

      Reply
  2. Barry Jones says:

    I’m an atheist and I disagree with other atheists who think they need to be ‘militant’. Human beings are very complex, and most prioritize feeling good about life more than they care about collecting evidence and screening out implausible theories.

    I really have to wonder what benefit there could possibly be to forcing Christians to “see the light”. Ok, you won the debate, the Christian has given up believing in God, and now they no longer go to church, there is chaos among their family and friends, and they have a long road ahead of them in establishing long-term friendships not conditional on continued faith.

    Is that a good thing? In this world so lacking in absolute morality, shouldn’t we let this Christian decide for themselves whether the chaos ensuing by his deconversion is a good thing?

    If atheism be true, the rational reaction would be to maximize one’s personal happiness as much as possible in this rare life we have on earth, and to therefore find unity among family and friends, given we are social animals anyway.

    I have no problems giving both barrels to the yapping fundamentalist screaming in my face and thus begging to have his metaphorical teeth kicked out the back of his metaphorical skull, but the falsity of Christianity no more counsels its destruction, then the falsity of one’s dreams during sleep counsels that we research ways to sleep that prevent dreaming. Humanity is very complex, and happiness and good are not always achieved by being “correct”, but also by “fitting in”.

    The smart militant atheist will first figure out how to make people care about being correct more than they care about fitting in and feeling good, before she tells them about the flaws in theism. Good luck. The militant atheist should realize that it is the desire to feel good and fit in that is most natural to humanity under any theory of evolution, and therefore, getting such a social animal to prioritize being “correct” over feeling good is more than likely an exercise in futility.

    Reply

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