Thursday, May 7, is the National Day of Prayer in the United States. Atheists have an answer: the National Day of Reason.
I’m reminded of the morning about three-and-a-half years ago when I was laying awake in bed, mulling over the coming “Reason Rally” scheduled for March 24, 2012 on the Mall in Washington D.C. Atheists were proclaiming themselves the party of reason then, too. What was bothering me then, and still does now, is that on the Internet and in printed works published by prominent “New Atheists”—where the claim to Reason is trumpeted the loudest—actual excellence in reasoning is hard to find.
That morning’s thoughts led to a project in which several friends of mine and I collaborated to produce a book, True Reason contrasting atheist and Christian claims to reasonability.
Other friends—this time from Ratio Christi, with which I was not yet directly associated—and I went to the Reason Rally. Far from being a day of reason, it was a day of reviling religion and dehumanizing believers. A few examples will tell the story:
- My friend Blake Anderson and I ran into P.Z. Myers, biologist and famed atheistic blogger, who asked us, then added, “Are they ridiculing you here? They should be.”
- Pianist/comedian Tim Minchin sang a song mocking the Pope, with 72 instances of the F-word in it. (I didn’t count them, someone else did.) *
Richard Dawkins openly urged the attendees to mock Catholic beliefs.
I’m not Catholic myself, but I can see the difference between that and an actual reasoned approach to persuasion.
Some of the same was in evidence even before the Reason Rally. David Silverman, head of the chief organizing group, American Atheists, tried to intimidate us away. He sent me a fiery email with little desire for reasoning in evidence. It included,
Make no mistake – you are not welcomed guests at the rally. We are not going to DC for ‘dialogue’ with people who believe ridiculous things – we are going to have fun with other like-minded people. Those who proselytize or interfere with our legal and well-deserved enjoyment will be escorted to the 1st Amendment pen by security, which will be plentiful, where you can stand with the Westborough [sic] Baptists and shout yourselves hoarse.
Spreading out among the crowd is not a substitute for a permit. Indeed, I will be meeting with the Parks Commission on Thursday to discuss how to handle your infiltrative permitless counter-protest.
We checked, and he was wrong about our needing a permit. It hardly required any checking, though. Someone else emailed me, demanding me to know how we felt so “entitled” that we could come to their event. I wrote back reminding her that when groups rally for cultural- or policy-related matters on public land in Washington, it’s actually quite normal for others to come disagreeing. It is Washington, after all! If there’s any inappropriate sense of entitlement, might it not be on the part of people who expect to hold the space at the base of the Washington Monument so completely that no one but their own group could even show up?
Anyway, our group came to the rally, we handed out free bottles of water and copies of the first chapter of True Reason. The signage we were met with there expressed a self-satisfied sense of superiority, which isn’t necessarily a great moral crime at an event like that, if only it had expressed, well, Reason.
In True Reason I wrote,
These two themes—first, confining belief to what can be supported empirically, and second, reasonability—are prominent among the New Atheists, in my observation at least. There is another aspect of reason that I do not hear them promoting. It is the skill and practice of what we might call *reason proper*: the appropriate use of reason and logic (along with evidences) in the forming of one’s conclusions. It is the ability to draw proper deductive inferences from premises, or proper inductive inferences from evidences, or properly credible explanations of observations and phenomena. It is the ability to proceed from evidences and/or premises to an appropriate conclusion. The lack of this ability (or the failure in its practice) is shown when one commits formal or informal logical fallacies, makes appeals to emotion rather than sound reasoning, or uses evidence selectively.
This *reason proper* is, as I said, prior to the other forms of reason; for unless one knows how to draw a valid conclusion from evidences or premises, one cannot know what beliefs to hold to in light of evidences—even scientific evidences. No one who is deficient in this level of reasoning can credibly claim to represent reason.
In my reading of New Atheist literature, there is very little said about reason proper. I will admit that though I have read widely, I have not read exhaustively, and it could well be that I have missed it. It could even be that I have missed a lot of it. Even if it were widely discussed among the New Atheists, though, there would remain a valid test of their reasoning on this level: *how well do they practice it?* The first few chapters of this book will offer evidence that some of their most highly respected leaders do it very poorly: poorly enough to cast serious doubt on their claim to reason as their brand and their watchword.
My question is still the same: for all the claims contemporary atheism makes to be the party of Reason, how well do they practice it?
The second half of True Reason gives evidence for the reasonability of Christianity. The Bible’s account of Jesus Christ is trustworthy. It’s supported by evidence, and Christians down through the centuries have been quick to point to reasons for belief.
May 7 is the National Day of Prayer. We don’t need atheists telling us it’s the National Day of Reason. To trust God in prayer is the reasonable thing to do.