chicken s*** for the soul

I’ve been reading Victor Stenger’s new book, The New Atheism, and found his eschatology to be interesting if not exactly inspiring.  He writes:

“Atheism offers no promise of salvation or eternal life.  This life is all we have.  Most people consider that depressing and unappealing…If you accept atheist materialism, then you have to learn to live with the conclusion that human consciousness and self-awareness reside in a purely material brain and nervous system.  They may even be a trick the brain plays on us anyway, without having much to do with reality at all…In any case, all thoughts will cease when the brain and nervous system stop operating and begin the process of rejoining the dust of Earth from which they arose.  This is a terrifying prospect for many and I am not offering it as an attractive substitute to eternal life.  I don’t expect to convert a single believer to atheism by this argument.  Here I am talking to those who have already recognized the undoubted fact that there is no eternal life and I am suggesting a possible way to cope with it” (p. 221-22).

Stenger then advocates Buddhism, an atheistic religion which teaches its followers to stop caring about their personal selves and lose their individuality in the oneness of the impersonal universe.  Stenger concedes that this is difficult for him to accept, because he is happily married, in good health, with a fulfilling career, and has two children and four grand children who “are beautiful and intelligent…What else can a man want?  I wouldn’t mind continuing it forever.  But I can’t.”

Stenger concludes his chapter with the most unsatisfying advice you’re ever going to read.  “So, it is going to be very difficult for me to practice what I preach, which is directed to other atheists as they approach the end of their lives:  take up the Way of Nature and achieve a state of mind where the self does not matter and nothingness is approached with peace of mind.  But don’t do it too soon!  Live life first” (p. 222).

Theological observation:  the new atheists, including Stenger and Sam Harris, note the similarity between their position and Buddhism.  Even Richard Dawkins calls pantheism nothing more than “sexed-up atheism.”  This is a point we must not forget, especially considering that certain forms of pantheism may becoming increasingly popular in some evangelical circles.

Pastoral observation:  doesn’t your heart break for Stenger?  Romans 1 teaches that Stenger has suppressed his knowledge of God, and he’s been doing it for so long that now he truly believes it.  How sad to be this lost!  His example reminds us that regeneration requires an act of God—for all of us.





4 responses to “chicken s*** for the soul”

  1. That is heart-breaking. It’s also stupid. I find it ironic and funny (but not “ha-ha funny;” maybe “ha-ha sad”) that the New Atheists continually shoot charges of self-delusion and suppressed intellectual aptitude at theists who “shackle their minds” with theological texts, while they are the ones whose minds are shackled and who have willfully set the most important knowledge outside of themselves by distorting, perverting, and suppressing it.

    And your last point is taken very well. Imagine a “clever Arminian” trying to talk someone like Harris or Stenger into abandoning their atheism. Without God first moving to remove the scales from their eyes, they will never let go of the death-grip on this bleak system.

  2. Adam F.

    Dr. Wittmer, nice post. Based on the table of contents in The New Atheism, it looks like Stenger argues against religion, then builds a case for atheistic materialism. If this is accurate, how would you assess Stenger’s logic in his case for a.m.?

  3. mikewittmer


    His logic would depend on one’s definition of religion. He defines religion as belief in God, and by that definition atheism would not be a religion. But like Dawkins’ “God Delusion,” his book has much more huff and puff than demonstration. I love Alvin Plantinga’s comment about Dawkins’ use of philosophy: “to call it sophomoric would be an insult to sophomores.”

  4. Or Chicken Skubalon for the soul. 😉


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