Reasons to Believe

The "New Atheism" Phenomenon, Part 3 (of 3)

The first two installments of this series addressed three reasons for the phenomenon known as the “new atheism.” This fresh breed of atheism distinguishes itself from its predecessors by the more militant (though nonviolent) and zealous behavior of its advocates, such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great), and Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell).

Part one of my series suggests that while traditional atheists have always viewed religion as being illusory, the new atheists now view religion as dangerous, due to the rise of radical Islam and the perceived mixing of religion and politics. Part two discusses how the growth of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement also contributed to this more strident type of atheism.

In this final article, I offer two more factors that I believe also impact the new atheism phenomenon.

4. Humankind’s Ultimate Concern
Philosophical theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965)

      argued that regardless of whether a person believes in the existence of God, everyone gravitates toward what amounts to an “ultimate concern.” In other words, every person, including atheists, identifies and seeks out an essential issue or source of value in life. For those who reject belief in a transcendent, personal God, this ultimate concern may be attached to an immanent, impersonal matter, such as hedonism, ethnicity, politics, and science.



      Other philosophers and theologians have agreed with Tillich’s perspective, thus referring to humans as

homo religiosus

      (“religious man”). Even if traditional religious expression is rejected, human beings have an inherently spiritual instinct and it inevitably takes on other forms. If Tillich’s assessment of mankind is correct, then human beings by their very nature need a “reason for being.”



      The Bible seems to concur with this appraisal. It conveys that those who reject the true and living God engage in some form of idolatry. The apostle Paul states concerning the heathen nations that rejected God:

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

      From a biblical perspective, human beings can reject belief in God but they can’t shed inbuilt religiosity due to their being created in God’s image (

Genesis 1:26-27

      ).



    As a Christian philosopher, I think this explains certain things about unbelievers in general and atheists in particular. Sinful human beings find themselves torn between needing God on one hand and desiring their own autonomy from him on the other. Part of the ferocity of the new atheism phenomenon arises from the atheist’s frustrating inability to truly separate himself from his spiritual need for the Creator.

5. The Biggest of the Big Questions of Life

      Philosophers are fond of talking about the so-called “big questions” of life. These interrogatives involve human origin and destiny, values, and meaning and purpose to life. However, the biggest of the big questions concerns the existence of God. Does God exist? How can God be known? What is God’s relationship to the cosmos and to humankind?



      As a philosopher, I don’t think any worldview is truly neutral with regard to the God question. Inevitably, all worldviews either affirm God (theology) or deny him (atheology). Even agnostics (who claim to not know if God exists) either live their lives as if there is a God or they live as if God doesn’t exist (most choosing the latter, otherwise they would attend religious services every other week).



    The new atheists seem consumed with the God question for the various reasons I have identified in this series. However, I think the ultimate reason for the new atheism is number 5: man cannot live without coming to grips with the God question. Belief in God is either the greatest of man’s illusions or it is man’s greatest truth and reality. As for me, God’s existence makes sense of the most meaningful realities of life, like science, mathematics, logic, and values, but especially human beings.

For more on the Christian worldview and how it relates to the atheistic worldview of naturalism, see my new book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test. For an essay on why I think the God of the Bible exists, see chapter one of my book Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.


Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Subjects: Atheism, General Apologetics

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.