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Dr. David Wilbur: Power and Illusion: Religion and Human Need. Summary for Chapter 13: Atheism and Religion
By Ervin Taylor

This is Part 14 of the summary of Dr. Wilbur’s book. It should be emphasized that all of the text in this series of blogs in bold font in the body of the text of the chapter summary has been kindly provided by Dr. Wilbur. If there are any of my own comments, they will follow in regular type.

Summary for Chapter 13: Atheism and Religion

Atheism, Acculturation, and Individualism

Most humans are acculturated into a religion when they are young. This acculturation of the child seems to create an enduring comfort with a set of beliefs that are then hard to abandon or alter later in life. Alternatively most atheists seem to be so as the result of an individual evaluation of evidence. They don’t usually reach this belief because of a warm feeling inside that gives them confidence. There is a tendency for many such people to go on their way as private non-believers in a believing society, not seeking public notice and not founding religion like associations.

Other important currents include the officially atheistic Marxist world now largely gone and an efflorescence of anti-religion or anti-God books in response to Muslim religious terrorism.

Short Review of Some Arguments Supporting Atheism

The rational Greeks may be the first to leave us a record of rejecting the reality of the gods. Some of the concerns that fuel atheistic thinking are as follows.

  1. Theodicy or the justice of God. In a world with much evil, how can you believe in some powerful, knowledgeable and kind supervisor?

  2. The question of the supernatural. The central myth of every great religious tradition contains some supernatural claims. These are not based on publically evaluable evidence.

  3. Exclusivity in Ethics. A good ethics is usually offered but then exceptions are demanded as prescribed by the leaders—speaking for God.

  4. Use as a tool for domination. Among others, Karl Marx, Upton Sinclair and Jared Diamond have found frustrating this use/abuse of religion.

  5. Direct disagreement with scientific studies. Immortal immaterial souls and a recent creation of the world and life are just two places where some religions make implausible claims.

  6. The multiplicity of competing claims. The large number of competing religions, all based on similar claims suggests to some of us a human origin for these traditions.

Atheism and the Marxist World

For about 70 years the Communist Party had control of Russia and tried to create a Godless society. With almost three generations of control they were unable to form a compelling substitute for belief in religion and when their empire collapsed there was a rapid emergence of various religious alternatives: especially the Russian Orthodox faith. There may be many reasons for this failure but Paul Gabel suggested that the Marxist interpretation of religion as primarily a tool for domination by the ruling class made the party unable to appreciate religions adaptive power.

Philosophy, Religion, and Atheism

Philosophy addresses many of the same concerns as religion but tries to do it rationally without recourse to the supernatural. Religions often engage philosophers to relate their beliefs to the rest of human knowledge. In contrast some famous philosophers of the last few hundred years have eloquently defended skepticism or atheism: men such as David Hume, Bertrand Russell and Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus philosophy may defend skepticism and offer alternate interpretations of the universe but it seldom fills human needs as well as a caring religious community.

Is Atheism an Alternative to Religion?

Atheism offers a substitute world view compared to supernaturalism but it doesn’t easily fill the many functions of religion described in Chapter Two. Some secular humanist organizations have tried to develop social programs that fill this role but so far their success has been limited.

Is Atheism Dying?

Alister McGrath has written a book, The Twilight of Atheism, proposing that it is a dying belief system. His main support seems to be the failure of international communism. Other evidence suggests that secularism and atheism are thriving in many places.

Atheism and Atrocity

The government managed atrocities of the 20th century were driven by dreams of some future utopia that justified the violence. The Marxists had a “faith-based ideology” with prophet, scripture and eschatology. Their confident belief drove their actions but their atheism was only an incidental feature not responsible for the actions. The Nazis and the Fascists committed their atrocities, also justified by utopian visions but did it while maintaining good relations with the established churches.


Atheism has never been a replacement for religion in any society. Religion fills many roles in civilization and is usually chosen by the believer on an emotional, not rational basis. Atheism will always be an intellectually viable position that attracts adherents in most educated populations and sometimes a large minority. Humanism may have a role similar to religion for some of these people.

Serge Agafonoff
2013-08-02 8:06 AM

To say that 'atheism will always be intellectually viable ... in most educated populations' may be a bridge too far.  My friend Dr Phil (no, not that one) sent me a copy of this aticle from the current New Scientist.

Quantum weirdness: The battle for the basis of reality. 
New Scientist 5 August 2013 by Michael Brooks, subtitled:
Reality, relativity, causality or free will? Take quantum theory at face value and at least one of them is an illusion – but which?

Phil had this to say, by way of introduction:
"An article from the lastest New Scientist re quantum weirdness. Now, I must admit, I didn't expect an article in a mainline science mag to come this close to a metaphysical explanation of what seems to be 'weird' in the quantum world - at least weird to those stuck in a causal deterministic paradigm. Perhaps they are getting desperate! Difficult for those who hold that 'many' scientists are freely performing experiments of their own choice rather than one supra-personal connected mind in the process of 'waking up' from a dream of 'many'!!" 

And that reminded me of a small book I recently read which was partly devoted to explaining the philosophy of Georg Hegel.  Hegel said of his work, 'I have written God's autobiography.'  He clearly is making no attempt to defend skepticism.  Quite the opposite. But he was also no fan of the 'established' religions of his day.

Hegel was one of hte first to raise the question as to whether Mind (Consciousnes) is a product (emergent property) of matter, or whether matter is in fact a property of Mind.  Hegel chose the latter and his work on the 'dialectic,' (later misused and misappropriated by Marx et al) is a powerful attempt to show how Absolute Mind (God/Geist/Spirit) comes to know Him/Itself.  Matter, he seems to suggest, is an interim step in this process.
Reminds me of Paul's statement:  Eph 4:6  'One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.'

2013-08-03 6:26 PM


For those who like to check out the basis for comments like above, here's a link to the article on Quatnum Weirdness. I don't find much at all to reflect "Dr Phil's" angle. It raises more questions than answers.



earl calahan
2013-08-02 3:51 PM

Where would the world be w/o love? What would be the restraints, w/o love.Train up a child in the way of....love, and he will not depart from it!!!! The child of love is most priviledged. i am speaking here not of cold hard facts presented on paper, but of gentle, total warmth, in a protective cocoon, free of stress and danger, or of questionable uncertaintees, teaching values of responsibility and commitment as the child grows to adulthood. How many children on Earth have had that type of upbringing. Unless the child has inborn mental hinderances, it will respond to this nurturing in a positive delightful personality. Did you have this type of love in your childhood? In the 21st century, children are thrust out into a violent life scene of survival of the fittest, the strongest and meanest survivors and gutter talking, and "beautifully clad people" walking the red carpet, eating & drinking & dosing, are the popular role models. Close to 50% uncertain of who "daddy" is. The love that Christianity is all about is to make sure the children are not educated to that type of existence. i believe that selftaught atheists did not receive a love nurturing childhood that also permitted self expression as they aged. To me, love is warm, non-belief is cold-d-d. Christianity is togetherness, atheism is solitary confinement.

1.Earthly justice is blind, and becoming non-existent.Vengence is mine/the LORD.

2.The supernatural myths are kool, and give assurance of God's love.Very valuable

3. Love God and your neighbor, the very best ethics.

4.Domination, whether religious or uncivilized is annihilation. We are eternal in the Lord.

5. Disagreement of evolution claims. So be it. Sorry for you.

6. Of course the traditions and myths are human, we are the ones with the brains,
right? i notice great differences in the many religions and isms, but the origins are supernaturally communicated to us by the Creator's Spirit. Sorry this causes you trauma, we will pray for you. What else can we do?

Stephen Ferguson
2013-08-03 5:32 AM

Atheism is a waste of time, and impossible to achieve.  That's what I get out of Dr Wilbur's chapter.  God might be something hardwired into our heads but that is the point - it is hardwired into it.  Saying one is going to create a human society without God (whatever you want to call It/He/She) is about as likely to happen as creating a society without air - it's not going to happen - period.  

Even in 'atheistic' Western societies, organised religion is dead.  And yet in those same soceities there has been a massive rise in alternative forms of spirituality, from Jedi knights, to Vampires, to Hogwart Wizards.

Richard Dawkins talks about God Delusions.  But the biggest God delusion of them all is the idea that one can have a society without God.  So who is deluding who?

Darrel Lindensmith
2013-08-03 9:50 PM

Aldous Huxley  seems to contradict the view that atheism does not give warm fuzzies and ego strokes to her converts:
I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves...For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.     Ends and Means  p.270

2013-08-03 11:49 PM


What is it about you and I? Every second time I read what you write, I find it intensely frustrating. You err endlessly.

Aldous Huxleys "quote".

The quote you have given is an absolutelly butchered version of what he actually wrote. I strongly suspect you lifted it from a conservative or fundamentalist writer, who was bent on their own biased apologetic.

It is as if you just troll through the net and other resources looking for data, material or quotes to shore up you already stubbornly held opinions. Have you ever considered actually laying aside conclusions in order to examine the evidence and letting it lead where it wishes?

Your beliefs are like a quantum particle! Their position is already decided by pre existing bias before their position is measured. You will only ever get the outcome you anticipate because your bias has already determined it!

Please have a read of this link where this very quote is discussed and shown to be blantantly deceptive.


Darrel Lindensmith
2013-08-04 12:03 AM

Actually, I have Huxley's book at home.  I am on the road now.  But I will look up the quote which is underlined in my book.  So, Chris, why don't you tell me what it is you don't like about Huxley's statement??

2013-08-04 12:42 AM

The quote as you have put it gives a different impression than appears to be the intent of the original author.

 I did not say I did or did not like Huxley's statement!

Am I correct you got the quote from some other source?

Darrel Lindensmith
2013-08-04 12:50 AM

As I stated, I am on the road and do not have my books with me, so yes I got the quote off the web because I could not remember correctly.  However I have read his book.  And I will look up the larger context in a few days Chris.   What is the "correct" impression or correct meaning that you feel Huxley is attempting?

2013-08-04 1:08 AM

Read the context of his quote, read the link I gave you, and then tell me:

Is the meaning implied/suggested in your quote above the same as that given by a contextual read in the original book?

I would suggest his original intent had little to nothing to do with "warm fuzzies and ego strokes" as far as either justification, motivation, or reward, for rejecting God per se.

2013-08-16 9:10 PM

Dude, try reading the Bible sometime instead....

2013-08-16 9:30 PM

I did:)


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