The New Atheism’s Leap of Faith

The new atheism has been in the picture for about 15 years now. It came on the scene thanks to books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, among others. There truly is nothing new in the atheistic belief system itself or the arguments they are presenting, since most of them are naturalists, what seems to be new, is that these preachers of atheism have become much more dogmatic in their stance. Many of them are even preaching doom and gloom if we do not eradicate religion and belief in God. Many of them claim that they only want to know the truth instead of buying into myths and fairy tales, and that this is what everyone ought to be doing.

The idea that everyone “ought” to be doing this raises a problem. Putting aside the question for a moment of whether or not there is a God; let us look at this claim of “oughtness” from within their naturalistic worldview. As others have said, “wherever one finds “oughtness,” it is always linked together with a believed purpose in life. Purpose and oughtness are inextricably bound.”

What he is getting at is that the only way we can ever say that something is not as it ought to be is if we know its purpose and proper function. For example, the only way anyone can say that a watch is not working correctly is if they know how it is supposed to work in the first place, or in other words, what it was designed to do. If the watch has no purpose or proper function assigned to it, then there is no way to say that it is functioning incorrectly.

This logical conundrum, however, is precisely the naturalist’s problem. Since naturalism cannot account for mankind’s purpose or proper function, it has no way of saying how it ought to act. Within the naturalistic worldview, mankind was not designed for any specific purpose; we are the product of a “blind watchmaker” which has no purpose in what it is doing. This lack of purpose makes any real statement of what ought to be absolutely groundless.

The new atheist, with their strong focus on reason and being logical, seem to be making a blind leap of faith from a purposeless creation to what they think ought to be. Without design, you can never get from what is, to what ought to be.

-D. Eaton

6 thoughts on “The New Atheism’s Leap of Faith

  1. I’ll agree that “oughtness” is tied to purpose or function or direction, but I fail to see how this is a problem. Even if one asserts that there is no objective purpose for something, there remains plenty of subjective purpose from which “oughtness” can be derived.

    Let’s take Chess as an example. I think we’ll both agree that there is no universal, objective purpose to Chess. It’s a human invention with rules that have been varied throughout time and geography. However, even operating solely within the rules of Chess there is nothing which objectively prevents us from moving our King unprotected into the middle of the board. However, if one’s goal is to win– or even just not to lose– then one ought not do this. There is no objective purpose or function driving this “ought.” There is only a subjective one.

    So even a worldview which asserts that there is no such thing as “objective purpose” can still meaningfully derive an “ought” from subjective purpose.


  2. Boxing Pythagoras,

    Thank you for your comment. Your comment is thoughtful and helps us think through an issue like this, so it is appreciated.

    The chess example is perfect for exposing the problem because it exposes statements of “oughtness” in the naturalistic worldview as made up games; a human invention with rules that have been varied throughout time and geography. Therein lies the leap of faith spoken about in the article.

    Some people find pleasure in playing chess (in other words, they find it meaningful), and some people find it a miserable experience, but there is nothing in the naturalistic worldview that says all people should play chess. Some people would rather play Monopoly, and some people think all games are silly and don’t want to play any of them.

    Naturalism can indeed create formulas that say, “If you value x, you ought to do y.” but there is nothing in naturalism that can tell someone what they ought to value. One person might devote their life to playing one of the made-up games of atheistic morality. Another person, like the man who puts his king in the middle of an unprotected board, might decide they do not want to play any more silly games so they are going to end their lives and hurt as many people as possible in the process. Both are equally consistent in the naturalistic worldview.


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