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While checking out the Borders bookstore at a new shopping center in our neighborhood, I came across 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt in the religious section. Without even needing to look to see who published it, I knew Prometheus Books was behind it. If you want to know what the humanists are up to, scan the pages of a Prometheus Books catalog. The humanists keep trying to beat religion down by an appeal to reason, but the specter of religion keeps raising its head in defiance every time some tragedy strikes. Soon after the school shootings in Colorado and Georgia, Congress passed a bill that would allow schools to post the Ten Commandments. We have seen more religious programming with evangelical content on prime-time television because of these tragedies than you can find on TBN in a year. And where were the humanists? Nowhere to be found. Their man-centered and naturalistic religion can offer nothing in the way of meaning. Their simple motto is, “Bad things happen.” In fact, they can’t legitimately even say bad things happen since within the worldview of Promethean humanism, there can be no category for bad. Good and bad are moral categories borrowed from Christianity. And while humanists claim a moral code, they can not justify it in terms of their man-centered, this-worldly presuppositions.
Even so, I bought the book as a bad lesson in logic and historiography. The title alone is telling: 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt. That’s a lot of doubt! The uninformed and gullible might be impressed with the overwhelming historical evidence of doubt, but several volumes could be written with an antithetical title: James A. Haught, writing in 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt, states the following:
For anyone scanning the past and surveying the current world scene, it is nearly impossible to find any outstanding person—except for popes, archbishops, kings, and other rulers—who says the purpose of life is to be saved by an invisible Jesus and to enter an invisible heaven. But it is easy to find many among the great who doubt this basic dogma.
When I first read this I thought it was a joke. Is this man ignorant, deceptive, or just plain stupid? Then my presuppositional thinking kicked in. The author is guided by humanistic presuppositions that he uses to interpret the facts. According to the author, an “outstanding person” is someone who does not believe in Jesus. He writes off anyone who professes to be a Christian. But the logic cuts both ways. From the Christian perspective, the majority of doubters he extols were skunks, scoundrels, and scum, not because they didn’t believe in Jesus but because of their works and the implications of their philosophies. Karl Marx, an outstanding person? And when he comes across one of the worst bottom dwellers of history, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), he goes out of his way to make Promethean excuses for him.
Apparently, during a rare visit to a brothel, Nietzsche contracted syphilis, which caused him to go insane at the end of his life. After his death, his genius finally was recognized. However, the Nazi claim that his Übermensch [Superman] meant the “master race” of Aryans was another societal fraud which Nietzsche would have renounced. He despised anti-Semitism, militarism, and nationalism, the pillars upon which Nazism stood.
Hitler understood Nietzsche even if our author doesn’t. Nietzsche “believed that truth is merely a cultural necessity,” that “there is no moral truth.” And since there is no moral truth “there can be no absolute notions of good and evil.” Like the author, Nietzsche believed that “greatness and excellence—rather than good and evil—should be used to measure value.” Can anyone say Adolf Hitler?
In addition to the title, the first paragraph of the introduction caught my attention:
Intelligent, educated people tend to doubt the supernatural. So it is hardly surprising to find a high ratio of religious skeptics among major thinkers, scientists, writers, reformers, scholars, champions of democracy, and other world changers—people usually called great.
Like the title, the author’s presuppositional starting point is equally valid by asserting its opposite: “Intelligent, educated people tend to believe the supernatural.” Of course, much depends on what one means by “supernatural.” I’m a doubter because I dismiss most of what is touted as “supernatural” today. This does not make me either an atheist or an agnostic. Not all supernatural claims are valid. This is one of the major flaws in this book. The author quotes numerous theists—those who believe in the supernatural—who object to the way the church and its leaders have conducted themselves. If this is the definition of a doubter, then Jesus Himself fits the category. He saved His greatest verbal assaults for the religious leaders of His day (e.g., Matt. 23; Mark 7:1–7).
The author dismisses the greatest of the great as if they never existed. There is no reference to Bible-believing scientists like Isaac Newton, Lord Kelvin, and Louis Pasteur, to name a few; artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse whose first words over the telegraph were “What hast God wrought?”; inventors Wilbur and Orville Wright; Supreme Court Justice David Brewer who declared America, based on the historical record, to be a “Christian nation”; scholar, Christian apologist, social commentator, and fiction writer C. S. Lewis; social reformer William Wilberforce. The list could go on.
What would happen if we followed the author’s presuppositional starting point? Let’s suppose that everyone believed the following:
The universe is a vast, amazing, seething dynamo which has no discernible purpose except to keep on churning. . . . But it seems utterly indifferent to any moral laws. It destroys as blindly as it nurtures.
If there are no moral laws, then whatever is is right. Might and anything else can be “right,” if even such a category exists. In fact, since there are no moral laws, right and wrong are simply categories to distinguish the varied responses of pain receptors in the body. A short bout of pain might be a good thing if long-term issues are at stake. Who really knows? Beating your two children with a hammer, as one man did not too long ago, so they won’t experience a life of disappointment might be a noble thing to do. Who’s to say?