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6 responses to 1 very angry atheist

British scientist Richard Dawkins may be the world’s most famous atheist. And he has garnered his fame from, and used his fame for attacks on God and his people. To that end he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in 2006 and, five years later, hired Sean Faircloth to be the Foundation’s Director of Strategy and Policy.

Like his mentor, Faircloth is aggressively anti-Christian in his perspective. In 2012 he authored a book (with a foreword by Dawkins) called Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All—and What We Can Do About It. The anti-Christian agenda Faircloth proposes is both monstrous and unsurprising. There is nothing original in the book, and that is why it is worth a closer examination – the vision Faircloth shares is one we have heard in bits and pieces for some time now. There are lessons to be learned from responding to his points.

1. Don’t assume the attack has any basis

To lay some groundwork for his agenda, Faircloth tries to discredit the Bible by claiming it was written during a time in history “when guys could simply hit or rape any women who dared to talk back.” He then continues: “Don’t believe that was the case? The Bible tells us such acts are A-OK.”

Of course, the Bible nowhere says it’s “A-OK” for men to rape and hit women. Faircloth just made that up.

He then proceeds to attack Christians themselves, insisting that the Christian mindset leads its adherents to steal things, and to hurt other people. According to Faircloth, Christians are prone to anti-social behavior because their religion causes them to reason in the following manner:

You can hurt others – and terribly so – and be forgiven for that sin simply by asking a supernatural being for forgiveness. With the “forgiven” card, it’s so much easier to say to oneself, “I will grab this food now. I will grab this money now. I will grab and grab and grab.” Concern yourself with long-term consequences later. You can always be forgiven—and then you live forever! A convenient belief system indeed.

If you missed hearing that preached off the pulpit you aren’t alone. Notably, Faircloth does not cite any sources to support his claim that Christians think that way. It’s very important to remember that when a critic attacks the Bible we shouldn’t simply assume their attack has credibility. As Faircloth’s attack illustrates, sometimes the critic is so desperate to slam Christianity that he’s willing to make things up.

2. Turn the tables

Faircloth claims that in recent years religion has acquired special legal privileges that are harmful to American society. Allowing churches and other religious organizations to hire people who share their beliefs and lifestyles is one of these special privileges that he wants to eliminate. When he argues this point he does so in a particularly twisted way. In his view,

…religions enjoy legal privileges that corrode our most basic American values. In most states, religious groups can say in one of their child-care centers: “You’re a Jew? You’re fired.” Similarly, in one of their charitable organizations, they can say to the administrative assistant or janitor: “You’re gay? You’re fired”

True, religious groups that run child-care centers or charitable organizations often only hire people from within their own group. It is a basic principle of freedom of association and freedom of religion that religious organizations select employees based on their own principles. Christian schools want to hire Christian teachers, for example. They don’t say, “You’re a Jew? You’re fired,” as Faircloth puts it. There are Jewish organizations that hire exclusively Jewish employees. Why would a Jewish school hire a Christian teacher? Should it be forced by the government to hire non-Jewish teachers?

In Faircloth’s world there may be situations where it would. His solution is for the government to prohibit such “discrimination.” As a result, the employee qualifications for Christian organizations would be determined by the government. Allowing religious organizations to hire only people who share their beliefs is, in Faircloth’s words, a legal privilege that corrodes “our most basic American values.”

But turnabout is fair play. If Faircloth thinks it discrimination to have a religious test for Christian schools, then what about his own employer, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science? Surely, in the name of tolerance, they should then be required to hire their share of Christians and maybe a creationist or two?

We don’t need to be mind readers to know how Faircloth would respond to our suggestion. He would find a reason of some sort, very quickly, to explain that discrimination isn’t wrong in every circumstance, and, in fact, is sometimes the only reasonable course.

3. Highlight the conflict

Faircloth is also very upset that Christian pharmacists are not compelled by the government to provide abortifacient drugs for women who want them. As he puts it, in the US:

…fundamentalist pharmacists in several states get special permission from state legislatures to ignore their professional duties and to even deny rape victims emergency contraception.

In his view, Christian pharmacists should be compelled, against their conscience, by the state to provide such “emergency contraception.” This is justified because “Pharmacists work in the health-care profession, not in a church.”

While little could be said to change Faircloth’s mind, we can, with a few pointed questions, highlight the severity of what he proposes.

  • Will he let Christians who won’t violate their conscience have jobs? He wants us out of pharmacology, but what of the many other businesses where Christians’ conscience claims run up against other’s wishes? Would he want us out of the bakery business, wedding catering and photography, and bed and breakfast inns? What of Christian doctors and nurses who don’t want to be involved in euthanasia? And printers and T-shirt makers who want to refuse some jobs? Should they all be shown the door?
  • Would the country be better or worse off if Christians were run out of these positions?

We may not be able to change someone like Faircloth’s mind, but we can at least highlight his hatred, making it plain for even the most clueless to see.

4. Use the science

Faircloth is further outraged by the fact that US foreign aid given to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) cannot be used to provide abortions or to advocate for or counsel abortion. Faircloth calls this prohibition on counseling abortion a “gag rule” and says it prevents women from receiving needed medical advice. In his view:

Neither Congress nor the president should deny women accurate medical information. To impose a gag rule is to mandate a particular religious bias and to promote religious propaganda based on the views of specially privileged religious groups – and to use tax dollars to do so.

Faircloth says the US government’s position is being based on “religious propaganda” and in one sense it is. The only reason the US has this overseas pro-life position is because of Christian voter’s influence.

But God’s truth isn’t limited to the Bible. When we examine life’s beginning then we find the science backing up the biblical position: we find that the only real beginning we can talk about is conception. That’s when a new human life – genetically distinct from both parents – is started. It is smaller life, and with fewer abilities than adults, yes, but no less valuable because, as even an angry atheist knows, we don’t measure people’s worth by their size or ability.

5. Turn the tables again

Christian schools constitute another problem for Faircloth. He objects to the Biblical Christian view that males and females have somewhat different roles. He claims such a perspective makes women subservient, and then asks,

Why should even one child be taught that women should be subservient? Children make no adult choice to attend a sexist school. It violates their human rights to impose such views on them.

Here we can, once again, turn the tables on this attack.

God does call on a woman to submit to her husband (though not men in general) but is that the same thing as being subservient? Faircloth has to submit to the decisions of his employer, Richard Dawkins – would he equate submission with subservience in his case too? Does his submission to his boss mean he is less than his boss? I think Faircloth would agree, submission is very different from subservience.

But let’s take this further. Christians know that whether male and female, we are all made in God’s Image. We know why women are equal. But on what basis would an atheist make that case? In a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest understanding, why would he view the generally weaker and smaller gender as being of equal worth?

6. Whence comes morality?

Among other things, Faircloth is also against the corporal punishment of children in Christian schools. Interestingly, Faircloth acknowledges that all law is based on morality. As he puts it,

You’ve heard the phrase “you can’t legislate morality.” In fact, the only thing you can legislate is morality. Legislative decisions embody the moral choices of a society.

At last Faircloth gets something right. He understands that the policies he supports amount to an imposition of his morality on society through law. Yet he objects to Christian schools imposing their morality on students.

But on what basis does an atheist speak of morality? Christians know that the moral code has its origins in the very character of God. Atheists dispute this but disputing is easy; coming up with a godless basis for an objective, applies-to-everyone moral code is difficult. Sometimes an appeal is made to consensus, as if morals are simply what we as a society agree is moral. But by that reasoning racism is only recently wrong, and a convincing PR campaign could make any evil good. When an atheist makes use of words such as “morality” and “right” and “wrong” we should demand from them the basis of their own supposedly superior moral code.


Sean Faircloth’s attacks on God’s people are unfair and unremarkable and far from unusual. We should expect to seem more like this in the years ahead. That’s why, for the glory of God and for the encouragement of his people, we should equip ourselves to offer a ready response.

Up Next

Apologetics 101

Two atheists walk into a bar...

If there is no God, can there be morality? I’m not asking whether atheists are moral people and do moral things. They do, but by what unimpeachable and ultimate standard? An atheist might say that certain laws are good for the advancement of the species. But let’s not forget that as an evolved species (according to atheism), we got here “red in tooth and claw.” We evolved upward through violent means. We ascended the evolutionary ladder on the weaker evolutionary elements going back to the first signs of organic life that struggled to survive. Why has that process suddenly become immoral? Famed atheist Richard Dawkins wrote in his book The Selfish Gene, “We — and that means all living things — are survival machines programmed to propagate the digital database that did the programming.” According to Dawkins, the goal of genes is to survive so they can be passed on to the next generation. The Selfish Gene has been described as “a disturbingly persuasive essay arguing that living things are little more than corporal vessels impelled to heed the primal dictates of selfish genes hellbent on their own replication and propagation.” These “selfish genes” don’t have a moral compass. They are like the Terminator. Their only goal is to survive and replicate and pity the poor organism that stands in their way. Michael Ruse and Edward O. Wilson contend that: “We need something to spur us against our usual selfish dispositions. Nature, therefore, has made us (via the rules) believe in a disinterested moral code, according to which we ought to help our fellow….  thics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.” Notice the equivocation: “as we understand it.” They don’t know this. Furthermore, even if our genes evolved to do this (and there is no empirical evidence that they have), it does not mean that we are obligated to do what they have “fobbed off on us.” Evolution is not about cooperation. It’s about the survival of the fittest. A few years ago, a group of atheists ran an ad campaign with this banner: “Relax: hell does not exist, or heaven either, enjoy your life.” Who defines what gives someone joy and on what basis? The Declaration of Independence mentions “the pursuit of happiness.” One person’s happiness could be another person’s dread. How do we know? The Declaration of Independence gives us a hint by stating that we are endowed by a “Creator with certain inalienable rights.” There are moral boundaries to life, liberty, and happiness. We are not at liberty to do what we want to do because it makes us happy. Two atheists walk into a bar. . . . First Atheist: I noticed your banner that I should enjoy life because there’s no hell. Do you mean that after death there won’t be a God to judge me for what I do or don’t do while I am alive? Second Atheist: Yes. In fact, there won’t be anyone or anything to judge you and me. There’s no karma or transmigration of the soul. As the song says, “All we are is dust in the wind.” Furthermore, God is a fictional character that humans created a long time ago to give meaning to life before there was science. When something in the world could not be explained, humans attributed the unknown to supernatural entities like gods and devils, spirits and sprites. Since the advent of science, we know that only matter matters. If it can’t be seen under a microscope or its properties can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist. Invisible beings like gods, ghosts, and goblins can’t exist in a world that is now defined by the physical sciences. First Atheist: So, if I can’t see it or examine it, it does not exist. If a claimed entity does not have any physical properties, it does not exist. Second Atheist: Yes. Science has come a long way to remove all religious superstitions of the past. They’re still with us, but our organization is working overtime to eliminate every vestige of religion and the supernatural from our world. First Atheist: I’m so relieved. All my life I was taught that there was a divine being who brought the world into existence, expressed His character in a specific moral code, and one day would judge me based on how I measured up to that moral code. So, you’re saying that no such entity exists and I’m free to enjoy life on my terms. I want to be sure about this. There’s a lot riding on your belief system. Second Atheist: Yes. As our banners say, “Relax: hell does not exist, or heaven either, enjoy your life.” First Atheist: I’m so glad you said that. Your banner caught my attention and makes my life worth living. I have a purpose for living in the now. Any guilt I had is gone. Now give me all your money and the keys to your car. I also want the PIN numbers to all your accounts. If you don’t do what I say, I’m going to blow your brains out. Second Atheist: We are free to enjoy life as long as our enjoyment does not infringe upon the rights of others. First Atheist: Who says? On what basis is this true and obligatory? Second Atheist: It’s common decency. First Atheist: Who gets to determine what’s decent? Second Atheist: It’s wrong to steal and murder. First Atheist: No. At this moment in time, it’s unlawful to steal and murder. Laws are social conventions that are a holdover from our superstitious religious past. Survival of the fittest is the true basis of non-religious evolutionary origins. Laws are constantly changing. That shows that there are no eternal moral absolutes. As atheists, we can’t prove that moral absolutes exist since no one has ever seen a moral absolute or has been able to study one. They’re like the phantasms we dismiss as being unreal. Second Atheist: But there all kinds of moral absolutes that can be studied. First Atheist: Show me one. You said that only the physical is real. God is not a material entity that can be studied by the standards of science, so He cannot exist. That’s what we atheists claim. Show me the physical laws against murder and stealing. Of course, you can’t because they don’t exist given our materialist assumptions. Second atheist: Reason tells us that murder and stealing are wrong. First Atheist: That’s the best you can come up with? Reason? I think it’s very reasonable to take your stuff because I’ll enjoy all of its benefits. Your sign tells everyone to enjoy themselves. This is how I want to enjoy myself. Anyway, whose version of reason should I follow? Yours? It seems reasonable to me to take your stuff since you aren’t really being consistent with your belief system. You’re holding on to the remnants of religion and the fictional worldview that it spawned. Every so-called tyrant (atheism can’t say if anything is tyrannical) believed he was being ultimately reasonable. Adolf Hitler didn’t believe he was being irrational. Neither did Lenin or Stalin, and they killed (not murdered) millions for what they claimed were very rational reasons. The French fought a revolution for the absoluteness of reason. Guess what? They took people’s stuff and killed people in the name of reason and called it “virtue.” Second Atheist: But civilization depends on laws and morality. First Atheist: A consistent atheist cannot account for meaning, morality, or rationality. If there is no judgment after death, then there is no difference between Adolf Hitler who killed 6 million Jews or Sir Nicholas Winton who organized the rescue of more than 600 Jewish children from the Nazi death camps. At death, given atheist assumptions, they are equal, nothing more than dust in the wind. Mao Zeong and Josef Stalin would argue that they were working for a world that they believed would bring the most joy for themselves and those like them. . . . Now that I think about it, I don’t like this atheism thing. If I can rob and kill you with no eternal consequences, then other people can do the same to me. Your banner is stupid. You need to think through your belief system before you end up like atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. “In 1995 she was kidnapped, murdered, and her body mutilated, along with her son Jon Murray and granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair, by former American Atheist office manager David Roland Waters.” Waters must have said to himself, “Relax: Hell does not exist, or heaven either, enjoy your life.” This article first appeared on the website of American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry and is reprinted here with permission. Endnotes “Revolutionary Evolutionist,” Wired Magazine (July 1, 1995). Michael Ruse and Edward O. Wilson, “Evolution and Ethics,” New Scientist, 208 (October 17, 1985), 51. ...

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