In an online exchange, I was surprised that Dave shamelessly accepted features of naturalism that lacked validation, or even a means of validation, while rejecting theism for those very reasons. When this inconsistency was pointed out, Dave responded, quite unapologetically, that at least his belief system didn’t require him to go to church, worship, pay tithes or obey a rigid set of rules. When push came to shove, it was personal sentiments, not rational merit, that decided the question of God for Dave.

The Naturalist's Fallacy

Dave criticized the morality of the bible for promoting things like slavery, racism, the subjugation of women, and condemning children to hell who have never heard of Jesus (never mind some seriously flawed hermeneutics here). He went on to contrast biblical morality—as has Richard Dawkins and other noted skeptics—against the golden rule.

Without realizing it, Dave fell headlong into the naturalistic fallacy: In a world created by colliding particles and shaped by natural selection, there is no right or wrong, only existence. If everything is a product of matter in motion, the “Will to Power,” not the golden rule, is the only life principle. It’s the natural conclusion of Darwinism that the totalitarian leaders of the last century pursued with a vengeance.

That’s not to deny that religion has been a source of violence. But the casualties caused by Christians over 20 centuries dissolve in the shadow of those caused, in just one century, by atheistic regimes. So despite what the new firebrands of atheism suggest, the real danger of religion is not that it promotes violence, but that it takes away hope. Let me explain.

Pop Psychology Meets Madison Avenue

In 1945, Abraham Maslow published his famed hierarchy of human needs. According to Maslow’s ranking, physiological, safety and social needs were on the bottom rung, with self-actualization or, as it was more commonly referred to, “finding oneself,” at the top.

Despite the lack of evidence for Maslow’s theory, self-actualization became the Holy Grail, and “free expression” and “choice” the seductive marketing hooks, for a navel-gazing public. It didn’t take long for Madison Avenue to pick up pop psychology and promise self-discovery to all who affirmed self, followed their instincts and carried American Express.

But Jesus said that our deepest need is not in finding self, but in knowing God—by denying self, following Christ, and carrying one’s cross. He went on to insist that salvation—whether from existential ennui or righteous judgment—is not attainable by human effort, but only by a divine gift. What a blow to our personal autonomy! What an affront to our self esteem!

For those convinced that happiness is found in the sacred quest of self-discovery, nothing could be more threatening. To those trusting in the perfectibility of man and his environment, Jesus is the supreme bogeyman.

Salvation through Science

We inhabit a planet scarred by poverty, disease, crime, pollution, and violence. If there is no God, these problems are left to man and his ingenuity to solve.

Over the last 200 years, man has been phenomenally successful in harnessing nature through the application of materialistic science. This has led to unbridled confidence that man, through science, will one day overcome the health, social, and environmental obstacles to a utopian existence.

But as Sam Harris warns in his Huffington Post article, “Science Must Destroy Religion,” “the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.” Harris’s warning is clear. If science is our savior, then anything that impedes it is a threat to our future hope.