Pop Culture
Sep 11, 2009, 10:16AM

How the 20th Century Exploded Atheist Ideas

Or, how to completely misunderstand the discoveries of the last century.

For those who haven't seen it yet, there's a four-part YouTube series that was posted late last year called "The Collapse of Atheism." The series repeatedly claims that the scientific discoveries of the 20th century have made atheism and "Darwinism" completely untenable. "By the end of the 19th century," the narrator tells us early in part 1, "atheists had established a world view that they believed accounted for everything... yet every one of these views collapsed with scientific, political, and sociological advances in the 20th century." It takes a solid 6 or 7 minutes before any "evidence" is actually gone through but there's a good deal of ominous music and scary old photos of Nietzsche, Darwin, Freud and the general God-hating 19th century. The four parts break down roughly as follows:

Pt. 1 - Findings from the Hubble telescope, The Big Bang theory, and how an expanding universe shows that "Matter and time were brought into being by an infinitely powerful creator bound by neither of them.”

Pt. 2 - The fine-tuned universe and the anthropic principle: "It was in the 1970s that scientists first realized that all the physical balances in the universe had been set up in a most sensitive matter so as to permit human life."

Pt. 3 - The Cambrian explosion ("This fact that emerges from the fossil record demolishes the theory of evolution and is proof of creation instead.") and the evil theories of Freud -- "This teaching, which describes man as a species of animal that lives only to satisfy its selfish desires, actually increased loneliness, fear, and depression in people by debasing spiritual values.”

Pt. 4 - Atheists like Stalin and Hitler killed millions after reading Nietzsche and Heidegger. And the hippies of the 1960s, inspired by John Lennon's "Imagine," "believed that they could find happiness by means of unlimited drugs and sex." 

I'll leave the whole Stalin and Hitler thing alone -- especially since Christopher Hitchens has brilliantly dealt with it in more online debates than I can even count. (Not to mention Hitler was most likely a Christian throughout his life.) I'm not even sure what to say about the radical atheistic hippie agenda that nearly destroyed the world back in '69. We should probably play it safe though and burn all the Janis Joplin CDs out there.

So, thoughts on the rest of all this: 

*Atheist J. Maddox, former editor of Nature, was not dismissing the Big Bang theory in his 1989 paper "Down with the Big Bang" because he thought it proved the existence of God. Rather, he had issues with the philosophical implications: "For one thing, the implication is that there was an instant at which time literally began and, so, by extension, an instant before which there was no time. That in turn implies that even if the origin of the Universe may be successfully supposed to lie in the Big Bang, the origin of the Big Bang itself is not susceptible to discussion." 

*The Big Bang theory doesn't necessitate the existence of a God -- the fact that 14 billion years ago a bunch of hotly condensed matter exploded and galaxies and stars and planets came pouring out isn't a theological matter. And the fact that the theory's original proponent, George Lemaitre, was a Roman Catholic isn't exactly relevant, is it?

*The anthropic principle has never been a compelling argument for me. Basically the anthropic principle says, we're here, there's life on earth, and one form of this life has attained a level of rationality that allows it to do things like build the Hubble telescope and put a man on the moon and write the script for Leprechaun 6: Back 2 Tha Hood. This of course is tied in with the idea of the fine-tuned universe, that if any of the physical constants of the universe were even slightly different life as we know it could never have developed. Many have said that the anthropic principle itself is nothing more than a tautology, equivalent to saying "If things were different, they would be different." Steven Jay Gould, in his 2002 book Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, said the anthropic principle was just a case of backward reasoning, like looking at a sausage and saying that its size and shape make it perfect for fitting into a hot dog bun.

*I thought there were plenty of "Darwinian" explanations out there for the Cambrian explosion but I must be mistaken. What was that whole punctuated equilibrium thing Gould always went on about? Ah, I don't remember. Screw it.

*Quoting Patrick Glynn, author of God: The Evidence, the Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular World, "Study after study has shown a powerful relationship between religious belief and practice, on the one hand, and healthy behaviors with regard to such problems as suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, divorce, [and] depression... on the other." Funny how pederasty isn't on that list...


  • Funny how the hippies who supposedly wrecked popular and moral culture in the late 60s, were the first on, as the Byrds sang, "Jesus is Just All Right With Me" bandwagon.

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  • It's always fun to watch the logical contortions of this particular argument. In what other terrain than religious arguments against scientific theory do people with zero expertise feel totally comfortable dismissing the work of highly credentialed researchers who have spent their entire careers in the exacting study of the subject at hand?

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