Six Characteristics of Adolescent Atheism

by Melissa Cain Travis

A while back, I posted an article entitled, “What an Apologist’s Job is Not,” in which I advised fellow apologists on how to recognize (and stop wasting time in) futile interactions. This post is sort of a follow-up, in response to the ongoing positive feedback I’ve received on the piece. My objective this time is to outline six common characteristics of “Adolescent Atheism”–a brand of poorly-informed, logic-disregarding, verbally hostile atheism that doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

NOTE: I do not use the term “adolescent” in the pejorative sense here; rather, I mean it in the technical sense–the condition of not being fully matured. Adolescent Atheism is a state of arrested intellectual development with marked characteristics that I will discuss below. Please also note that I am not stereotyping all non-believers; I fully recognize that some are careful to avoid the following errors.

1. The tendency to accuse Christian scholars of pushing their religious agenda for emotional (as opposed to rational) reasons. The main problem with this tactic is that it doesn’t address any argument whatsoever. For example, the statement: “Francis Collins is a brilliant scientist who is emotionally motivated to believe and promote Christianity” says absolutely nothing about whether or not Collins’ views about Christianity are actually correct; his reasons for holding his views are entirely irrelevant to the discussion. It has been argued (and I agree) that anyone who promotes a particular metaphysical view (theistic or atheistic) is emotionally motivated. That doesn’t mean that the person is exclusively motivated by emotion and hasn’t also examined their belief system for rationality and coherence, and it says nothing about truth or falsehood.

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2. A refusal (often a poorly-disguised inability) to interact with key scholarship in philosophy and theology, often dismissing it as a “word salad” or “verbal diarrhea.” This attitude is rather amusing, because it is so self-incriminating; it comes across as nothing more than an arrogant cover for the inability to comprehend the complexities of philosophy and theology. Recently, I came across an article in which Dr. Sam Harris (neuroscientist) referred to the works of Dr. John Polkinghorne (theoretical physicist and theologian) and Dr. N.T. Wright (theologian), by saying: “…when you consult their work, you get just pure madness. It is just a word salad, which is foisted on scientifically illiterate people by scientifically literate people for reasons that are patently emotional.” (Notice that this statement also displays characteristic #1.) I’ve heard very similar remarks from individuals who failed to grasp arguments made by esteemed atheist philosophers regarding the intellectual respectability of theism. If there’s no direct interaction with the philosophical and theological assertions themselves, the credibility of the detractor instantly dissolves. Side note: It’s interesting that some atheist scientists find it entirely acceptable to be outspoken about disciplines they are not trained in themselves, but woe to those in other fields who dare to talk about science without “proper” credentials.

3. A penchant for attacking the character of the Christian theist with high-voltage language in an attempt to cast doubt upon their viewpoint. This is the classic fallacy known as ad hominem. It often involves expletive-laced name-calling, but I just as frequently see it manifested (and experience it) as accusations of purposeful dishonesty. I sometimes receive emails–dripping with angry arrogance–that accuse me of lying about the historical evidence for Christianity. When I provide scholarly references for my claims…


Six Characteristics of Adolescent Atheism | Hard-Core Christianity