Here’s the issue:
A lot of atheists repeat the same exact arguments over and over, again and again acting like they need to be refuted. However, when you give an atheist a quality researched book to look at refuting these claims they make, they’re general response is “You need to learn and educate yourself!”
What to make out from this? Maybe atheists aren’t as open-minded as they appear? It’s ironic, most atheists usually just throw out a representative of religion like Ken Ham, Kent Hovind, or attack a sola scriptura position completely disregarding that the vast majority of religious people don’t even hold to these things. They kick around Al Qaeda, they kick around Westboro Baptist Church. Yet you never see an atheist actively engaging someone on the lines of Fyodr Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Avicenna, Ibn Rushd, al-Ghazali, Maimonides. Nor do you ever see atheists actively engaging with the Patristic writings of the Church. You’d think that if they were so based on this idea of being accurately represented by the religious side that they’d actually try and devote themselves a little bit more to accurately presenting it, but, no dice.
Then there is the historical angle of their approach to attacking religion that one looks at. You see atheists throwing out Inquisitions, Crusades, and Witch-Trials like there is no tomorrow. Ironically, a lot of their arguments seem like they’re borrowed directly from an anti-Catholic rant written by a Protestant fundamentalist. Which, it probably is, but don’t tell the atheist they’re drinking the same Kool-Aid although I haven’t seen anything more ridiculous than this. Even their rejection of quality historians in the field of study on this topic is flat-out embarrassing. They’re content to just simply assert that their one-sided version of history is the only true correct one. Yet at the same time, they deliberately ignore quite quality historians such as Eamon Duffy, Alister McGrath, and Henry Kamen. You’ll never hear them engaging with Edward Peters, Rodney Stark, Christopher Tyerman, or Thomas Madden either.
They follow up this historical argument concluding that religion has killed far more people than atheism combined. This, they would have to deliberately reject quite a bit of Alister McGrath’s notes on. It is rare, if at all, to see an atheist engaging with Pol Pot, Mao, and Stalin. When they do, it’s generally to assert that these guys weren’t really atheists. (Unfortunate that none of them have been able to change their wikipedia articles yet.) They generally reject quite a bit of credible historical research in order to do so. Calculated together in comparison with religion, atheism has actually killed much more in one century than any religion could ever dream of. (Note that these guys were in fact motivated by secular humanism so maybe secular humanism is the crack-pot thing here but since these guys were atheists, they do constitute as atheism.)
Then it comes to the issue of science. What you see here is atheists also throwing out this tired-old argument like there is no tomorrow. “If you believe in science, you must trash your beliefs about the Bible!” Which, for Catholics generally tells us “If you believe in science, you must trash the patristic interpretations of Genesis that varied over and over and adopt a quite fundamentalist view of the Bible!” Thank you atheists for being our “Bozo the Clown(s)”. I’ve never seen quite a more awkward swipe at religion than this.
When it comes to the historical Jesus, it’s even worse. What you see with atheists is that they’re quick to throw out their three names – Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and David Fitzgerald. Then they argue that the people who do believe in an historical Jesus can’t be trusted since they’re all allegedly Christians – Bart Ehrman (agnostic), Paula Fredriksen (Jew), Gerd Ludemann (agnostic), and Pinchas Lapide (Jew). But I should note that Richard Carrier is an atheist, Robert Price is an atheist, and David Fitzgerald is also an atheist. Which means that not only is their argument invalid but it means that an atheist mythicist can be dismissed by their own standards since the only people who hold to mythicism are atheists! Let’s note that dismissing someone by their own religious views isn’t at all honest scholarship and it was something I used to do in my brief tenure (very brief perhaps about three to six months) as an atheist. Just leave out Cambridge and Oxford scholars as well like N.T. Wright, James Dunn, and Robert E. Van Voorst.
Just to conclude my general observation of the atheist camp, although Charles Freeman and Richard Carrier may be the atheists’ best hope when it comes to history, their lack of engagement with patristics scholars, quality historians on the other side of the fence, and their outright confusion over what it is the majority of Christians believe doesn’t really encourage us to take their claims and definitions of what atheism is seriously either.
I’m not saying all atheists are like this. In fact, I do know there are some good atheists. Dave, over at ThoughtsAloud.com is actually quite a decent atheist and he’ll throw daggers at fundamentalists on both sides of the fence. But the general vibe is that atheists seem to attack immaturity with more immaturity. I’m afraid discussion between atheists and theists is going to have to take a little bit more time. I’m not saying that theists themselves shouldn’t mature a bit more, I think they need to mature as well. I think that both sides need to start focusing on attacking maturity with maturity.
It is though rather close-minded of them to simply just reject quite a bit of research that disagrees with their ideas of what history is especially when it comes from a quality, Cambridge historian or theologian or both. I would fantasize that most atheist critics of religion have about 50 books in their home library maximum but that’s just being merciful.