The Right Opinion

The Atheist Response to Sandy Hook

By Dennis Prager · Jan. 15, 2013

Last week the New York Times published an opinion piece that offered atheism's response to the evil/tragedy in which 20 children and six adults were murdered at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.

What prompted Susan Jacoby to write her piece was a colleague telling her that atheism “has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”

She wrote the piece, “The Blessings of Atheism” (“It is Here and It is Now!” screams the subhead) to prove her colleague wrong by offering a consoling atheist alternative to religion's consoling belief in an afterlife. Atheists cannot believe that there is any existence other than this life. But, Jacoby insists, atheists can still offer consolation to people who lose loved ones, such as the parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook.

It is meant as no disrespect to this well regarded writer that her piece provides one of the finest illustrations of the intellectual and emotional emptiness at the heart of atheism. Jacoby's piece actually confirms her colleague's assessment.

Jacoby offers a quote from Robert Green Ingersoll, who died in 1899. He “was one of the most famous orators of his generation, [and] personified this combination of passion and rationality. Called 'The Great Agnostic '… he also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend's child, he declared: "They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer”(ellipsis in original).

I read this quote at least a half dozen times, convinced that I had somehow missed its consoling message. But, alas, there was no consoling message.

“The dead do not suffer” is atheism's consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation – though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife – to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on? Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn't suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared to the religious message that we humans are not just matter but possess eternal souls.

Though I am intellectually convinced that only an Intelligence (i.e., God) could have created intelligence, I understand atheism. Anyone observing the terrible amount of unjust human suffering understands the atheist. But even atheists – indeed, especially atheists, since they claim that, unlike believers, they are guided solely by reason and intellect – have to be intellectually honest. They would have to acknowledge that, in terms of consolation, there is no comparison between “The dead do not suffer” and “Your child lives on, and you will be reunited with her.”

What we have here is an intellectual unwillingness or a psychological inability on the part of Susan Jacoby and just about all atheist activists (including the New York Times, which featured, not just published, her column) to confront the consequences of their atheism.

If they did, they would have to say something like this to the parents of the murdered children of Sandy Hook:

“As atheists, we truly feel awful for you. And we promise to work for more gun control. But the truth is we don't have a single consoling thing to say to you because we atheists recognize that the human being is nothing more than matter, no different from all other matter in the universe except for having self-consciousness. Therefore, when we die, that's it. Moreover, within a tiny speck of time in terms of the universe's history, nearly every one of us, including your child, will be completely forgotten, as if we never even existed. Life is a random crapshoot. Our birth and existence are flukes. And you will never see your child again.”

An atheist with the courage of her convictions would have written that. But the New York Times would not have published it.

All this column did for me was reconfirm this insight of the Bible: “Wisdom begins with reverence for God.”

No God, no wisdom (witness your local university). And certainly no consolation.

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52 Comments

Nick Freitas in Culpeper, VA said:

I don’t understand how an Atheist can even claim that they are guided solely by reason and intellect, when they cannot account for induction. The foundation of their world view not only lacks an intellectually consistent foundation for sympathy...it lacks it for reason as well. This is not to say that Atheists are mean spirited or cold people...just that their worldview lacks anything resembling logical consistency and in times like these, is often found wanting on experiential relevance.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 8:19 AM

Brandine X in Vancouver said:

Excellent post. It is good to think of things in terms of the atheist point of view. It is easy to find the holes in the model. These violent children are following a precedent of school-related-voilence, that is a symptom of a much bigger problem in society. I think the education systems could teach a little more about non-religious faith.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 8:24 AM

PH in DE said:

If atheists are guided solely by reason and intellect, they would be forced to admit the existence of God. Take the beginning of the universe. Science has proposed the Big Bang theory, which cannot be proved, but have found some indications that it could have happened. The major problem with that is the Big Bang theory says something along the line of "all the matter and gases compressed and then went bang and keep expanding." But that theory, scientists and atheists have no answer, no clue and no idea of where that gas and matter that banged came from. An atheist once told me that scientists simply haven't found the answer yet, but they will eventually. But they ignore reason and intellect to deny that the matter had to come from somewhere and that source is God.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 9:53 AM

Atheist in New York replied:

I think I need to clarify some things.

The big bang was theorized because we can see that galaxies are moving away from us (and are moving faster and faster away from us). We know this because things moving towards us shift the light frequencies that we perceive them with to the blue side of the spectrum while things moving away from use move the light to the red side of the spectrum. This leads to the hypothesis that the universe was very small at one point.

As for why it started expanding, we don't know why. We have a number of theories, but still, we don't know. Some theories as to why it started are P-Branes in M-Theory, the Special Black Hole Hypothesis, or the Penrose Cyclic Universe hypothesis. All of these are plausible, but we can't say because there isn't enough evidence to support our claim.

This leads me to your last claim that since we don't know the source of where all of the matter and energy in the universe came from, well, I don't accept that. And deep down, neither should you. This claim basically boils down to, "I don't know how it works or got there, so the only logical solution is that God did it." You cannot claim something without proof. Atheists have the red shift and Cosmic Background Radiation as evidence for the big bang (I can explain the second thing if you need me to). There is no convincing evidence to say that a god was the cause of anything.

This is not to say that what you are claiming is completely insane. Some of the greatest scientists in history were religious. However, they never mentioned religion until they got to places they did not understand. For example, Isaac Newton never mentioned God until he got to science that was beyond his time. Only in the places that were outside of his knowledge did he ever mention God. We now know the things he claimed were God's doing are actually scientifically explainable, but when he was doing his research, he only saw God in things he didn't understand.

What I'm getting at is that most of the time, things that have been attributed to god are actually explainable scientific phenomena. So the atheist you talked to that said "science just doesn't have the answer yet" was trying to learn from past mistakes from scientists and not jump the gun to immediately say "God did it" and walk away.

If you were confused or feel I was incorrect with anything I typed here, please tell me. Otherwise, I hope this helps out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

I am still waiting for some evidence of where the matter came from and even more some evidence that God doesn't exist.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Matt in Des moines replied:

Where did all the matter come from?? - ask a cosmologist or physicist...and even if they don't know...the answer isn't god is it...it could be the magical pink unicorn....the answer is simply "we don't know"....your using a fallacy called "god of the gaps" - eg. I don't know...so god did it.

Prove god doesn't existence?? Did you even think before you wrote that?? Why don't you prove unicorns don't exist?....you can't!! That is because you can't disprove a negative...the person making the claim is the one who bears the burden of proof...I'm sure you won't believe me if I had a pink dragon in my closet...you would require me to provide evidence for you to believe me....so you fail on a second point.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:09 AM

Larry Linn in Los Angeles replied:

Who created G*d?

Monday, January 21, 2013 at 8:48 PM

Mindblown in Flyover USA replied:

"most of the time, things that have been attributed to god are actually explainable scientific phenomena."

So explain how a seed when fertilized grows into a flower, tree, vegetable, animal, fish, fowl or human. And where did that seed come from? Don't tell me "from an adult of that species." Where did the adult come from? It is the "which came first, the chicken or the egg" question. I choose to believe that "God created he them." Unless you have some enlightening scientific explanation for that miracle of life.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Jared in Winston Salem replied:

BNgranny, I'm not a biologist, but I'm sure you could find a biologist who would be more than happy to answer you question about how seeds grow. If you'd like to know more about how plants and animals came to being in their present form, an evolutionary biologist could give you some good ideas.

I'm sorry that I can't give you the scientific explanation, but I'm glad you're interested in hearing scientific explanations about the origins of life. Unfortunately, you're not going to find them in the comments section here. It will take a little effort on your part, but looking into what biologists actually say about the origin of life may be a useful exercise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 11:58 AM

matthew in nashville replied:

all down to a single cell, which we can trace our lineage, and all of life, back to. we have fossils documenting it, DNA, the area of rock those fossils were found in, all the way back and back and back... look up abiogenesis.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:06 PM

Craig in Omaha replied:

Atheist,
Unless you have taken on God-like attributes and are Omniscient and Omnipresent, you can only say that you are agnostic (unable to know if there is a God) since you cannot be everywhere at all times to know for sure there is no God.
Also, science is the observation of natural processes and is repeatable. The study of origins involves faith and can only deal in theory since the process is not repeatable.
That being said, let's look at the science of the Big Bang. The universe is one of order and as the second law of thermodynamics states, all things are moving toward greater and greater disorder. The question for the Big Bang is by Astronomer Paul Davies is "The greatest puzzle is where all the order in the universe came from originally. How did the cosmos get wound up, if the second law of thermodynamics predicts asymmetric unwinding toward disorder?"
Jayant Narlikar and others have shown that the radiation you speak of as the basis for your convictions can be explained by other means.
Here are some of the major scientific problems with your theory;
1. The explosion should have propelled everything out from its center and remained on that projection but we can observe in the universe all sorts of moving and orbiting motions of stars and galaxies.
2. Recent measurements of the radiation shows it to not be same in all directions.
3. The universe is not uniform in “large-scale structure” but has large concentrations of matter in some areas and vast empty space in others.
4. If the big bang drove everything apart, why did some particles come together at all?
5. “Explosions produce disorder”. How than can we have an ordered universe today which defies the most foundational laws of thermodynamics?
You have great faith my friend in what is shown to be in possible. I have faith in what is shown to be the only possible answer.
Content from the book “The Biblical Basis for Modern Sciences” by Henry Morris

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 2:23 PM

matthew in nashville replied:

no, i can claim i am an agnostic atheist. go google it. a gnostic atheist is the one your referring to, and i doubt anyone is a gnostic atheist. second, the second law of thermodynamics is irrelevant when applied to the universe.
1. gravity should explain this. it wasn't an explosion, but a rapid expansion. think of a compressed gas tank suddenly not there, but with all the compressed gas still there. it will expand. 2. again, gravity. it applies to everything, including radiation. black holes should prove this. 3. your point? why must it be uniform? 4. gravity.... your author seems to not understand that simple concept of it. 5. it wasn't an explosion. it was a rapid expansion of space time. refer to the "compressed air tank" analogy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:13 PM

ArmyofOne in MN replied:

All scientist can do is discover what GOD has DONE! GOD KNOWS EVERYTHING...man just thinks he does. Who is the reasonable one? The one who believes in an all knowing GOD...or the one who believes in fallible man? Seeing what a pitiful example of what man has done with a world that was made perfect! ..My eternal soul, I will place in God's hands, not moronic man's imaginations!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 3:42 PM

ArmyofOne in MN replied:

All scientists...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 3:43 PM

matthew in nashville replied:

which god is the first question? i'm assuming you mean the christian god, but why not allah? why not one of the many others? theres as much evidence of them as your god.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:14 PM

Sammy in Kansas said:

I would hate to live a life devoid of hope, that this, what you can see is all there is. That once you are dead that's all there is. To me it takes more faith to believe that there is no God than to believe there is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Old Desert Rat in Las Vegas, NV said:

If you can stand in the desert at night, look at the stars and say there is no God, if you can stand on the north rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset, and say there is no God, you have no brain, no soul, no hope. Atheists can never explain The First Cause. They have my sympathy. I will cling to God.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:51 AM

Stuart Flood in London, England replied:

"Cling" is the right word. In the way a small frightened child clings to it's mothers leg for comfort and security.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 6:35 AM

Jared in Winston Salem replied:

Is "god" really an explanation of "The First Cause?" Saying "god did it" isn't so much of an explanation as it is a confirmation that we don't know.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Tom,the Marine in rural iowa said:

To an atheist, there is no God. If he truly believes this, then he will not have salvation. God has shown himself to me in several near death experiences and I who once was an agnostic became a true believer. Only God can judge each of us, because only God knows the true us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 12:09 PM

matthew in nashville replied:

which god? allah, yahweh, or one of the other many ones? how do you know which god? why do you believe it to be that one singular god?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:15 PM

Cowboy in San Antonio said:

Problems with all theory of how the universe was created start with that so troublesome question of where did the stuff that blew up come from? You might progress to the physical Law of the Conservation of Angular Momentum, which means that when spinning stuff disintegrates, the chunks keep spinning in the same direction as the original mass. But we have planets than spin backward. God did that to make atheists and big bangers look silly. Also, atheists and big bangers say that energy is required to make life. We added a lot of energy to Germany in WWII, and no life was formed, Ditto Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Two cars running together at high speed produces energy, but no new life. Consider now the complexity of the pituitary gland, the size of a pea, that if its functions were done by a computer, the computer would have to be room sized or bigger. Consider the human eye, which cannot be duplicated by man, but is infinitely suitable to give us sight under many circumstances. Did all this just happen? There is about as much chance of these things "Just happening", as there is of an explosion in a paper factory producing a book as the by-product. The Bible states that there will appear scoffers, willingly ignorant. That means stupid-on-purpose. Consider finally if you, as an atheist, are wrong. I get to spend eternity with my parents, my siblings, my children and with God. You get to spend eternity with your body on fire. If you have ever been burned, it is not a pleasant lookout to imagine the pain never going away. God's gift is totally free. All you have to do is accept it. Would you turn down the winnings on your lottery ticket? This is better-- you do not have to do anything except say, "I accept the gift of life."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 12:29 PM

midfielder in St. Charles, MO said:

This is for the Atheist in New York. Did you ever notice that all miracles that you say were natural occurances happened just at the time that they were needed? The plagues in Egypt were explained as natural, but isn't it strange that they occurred just when Moses needed them?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 12:30 PM

matthew in nashville replied:

isn't it strange....
1. that god placed a cross in the wreckage of 9/11. but he could not stop it from falling to the ground. not even stop the planes, just stop the structures from falling. simple as that, but he didn't. every single starving kid in africa is still doing that, no matter how much you, or them pray to god. i love this quote tbh
"2 hands working, will do more than 1000 clasped in prayer" - unknown.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:17 PM

rab in jo,mo said:

"Some theories as to why it started are P-Branes in M-Theory..."

LOL, that's rich, I couldn't have made that up! The only P-Branes (pea-brains) that I see are the over-educated intellectual pinheads that deny the existence of God. The greatest reasoning of man is but the ramblings of a madman to the Supreme Creator of the Universe. The fact that He knows us even before we're born and knows the number of hairs on our heads is both humbling and amazing evidence of His love for us.

It is truly tragic that there are those among us that reject Him. How sad.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 12:43 PM

Jared in Winston Salem replied:

"The fact that He knows us even before we're born and knows the number of hairs on our heads is both humbling and amazing evidence of His love for us."

I'm not sure you know what a fact is. Facts are proven by observation. Has god ever told you how many hairs are on your head? If so, did you count them to confirm?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:10 PM

matthew in nashville replied:

i'll tell you what. pray to your god and ask him "how many hairs does matthew have on his head?". if you get it right, i'll start believing. until then..... or even better, simply ask him my middle and last name.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:19 PM

Craig in Omaha said:

As far as Evolution goes, you are postulating that there were many millions of miracles that defied the second law of thermodynamics and created something new every time something evolved.
Marcel Golay, an information scientist calculated the odds of the simplest protein being able to replicate itself. Golay calculated it would take 1,500 successful chance events in the correct order. Assuming each of the events had a 50/50 chance of being correct Golay said the probability of success would be:
(1/2)1500 = 1 chance out of (10)450.
So assuming the universe is 3 trillion years old (1020) seconds and is 5 billion light-years in radius so that there is the possibility of 10130 electron-sized particles. If each particle can act in 1020 events per second, the most events that could have happened in the history of the universe is (10)170 . The maximum 1,500 event sequences is therefore:
(10)170 /(10)3 = (10)167
The chance of getting the correct 1,500 sequence is the division of these two outcomes:
(10)167 /(10)450 = 1 chance out of (10)283 which is less than the total possibilities that have existed in a 3 trillion year old universe (10)170 so the probability is zero.
You have great faith my friend in what is shown to be in possible. I have faith in what is shown to be the only possible answer.
Content from the book “The Biblical Basis for Modern Sciences” by Henry Morris

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 2:26 PM

Vicki G in California said:

I was raised by secular progressives, and my faith is in its unfortunate infancy. So please bear with me...

One thing that occurred to me in the quote "the dead do not suffer" is how atheists place such importance on such things as NOT SUFFERING. If there is one thing I have noted since I became a conservative, it is that NOT SUFFERING and NOT DYING are no longer the most important considerations. I have come to realize that there are some things worth suffering, even dying, for. Even though this introspection is irrelevant to what happened at Sandy Hook, I believe it is relevant to atheism.

In other words, conservative values have given me the capacity to see the value of faith, even from my still faith-challenged and secularly influenced point of view. Suddenly there are things worth fighting and dying for.

It almost makes me feel sorry for atheists. Almost.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 2:54 PM

ArmyofOne in MN replied:

The only way to increase your faith is to read the Bible..the King James Version and the Amplified Version are the two I would recommend.
It really is hard to feel sorry for someone who "chooses" to remain ignorant of The Way, The Truth, and The Life!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 3:56 PM

Craig in Omaha replied:

Vicki,

The bible says that "the fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God'. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that does good." Psalm 14:1.

Also in Romans 1:20-22 "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,...

Those that call themselves Atheist are denying what they know in their heart to be true.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 4:43 PM

Stuart Flood in London, England replied:

In the bible god does and sanctions many many abominable things. Including drowning all but everyone and every animal on the planet, because he is was happy with the way we turned out (in his image). Why haven't we all been drowned again ? Every faith has in its past and may in the present committed abominable acts. There are tens of dozens, if not hundreds of "corrupt" acts perpetrated by people of faith everyday, how many priests are convicted for pedophile ? how often does the church cover it up dismiss it false ?

All an atheist has ever done is say "show me real, physical, tangible, believable, actual evidence. Then I will believe"

Craig, don't you dare to presume what anyone has in there heart.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Rodney in Athens replied:

I would certainly fight and die for my family and my freedom. I would not fight and die for a belief in a being that is man made but I would fight for your FREEDOM to believe in that if you like. No pity required.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:41 PM

Jared in Winston Salem replied:

"Suddenly there are things worth fighting and dying for."

Vicki G, this is a very scary statement indeed. I don't presume you or anyone else here to be violent, but the text I just quoted is exactly the kind of idea that religious people have been using for centuries to justify countless violent acts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Rodney in Athens said:

The Patriot Post has great posts on the state of the economy and politics but I vastly disagree with the stance on religions necessary prominence. This essay misses the point that we all seek consolation in times of tragedy and atheists can also find peace during times like this. They just do not require fancy tales of magical worlds beyond to do so. Consolation has and always will be different for people of different world views. Christians find peace in the idea of heaven, while jihadists find peace in the idea of a 72 virgins, and buddhists find it in the idea of reincarnation. All these ideas have about the same amount of evidence to support them, none. They are solely based on the believers faith in the holy text that they prefer and to deny this is intellectually dishonest. So each citizen in this great nation of freedom can seek consolation in the way that best fits their world view and do so free of others personal views. The patriot post should stick to what it does so well, which is to offer an alternative view to democratic policies. FYI. I am an atheist and a Libertarian who wants nothing more than our government to conform to the ways laid out by our founders, and no that does not mean a theocracy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:35 PM

L.L. Smith in Savannah, Tn. said:

There has been a war against public prayer for some years. I noticed that most people who were on television after the school shooting, including government officials, politicians and T.V. announcers said they would be praying for the families It seems reasonable to me to assume they believed some power some where would comfort them in answer to their prayers. If this power is there to comfort those who suffered such a great loss just maybe if we had all prayed BEFORE the shooting the power that can comfort AFTER the shooting just might have the power to PREVENT a shooting.Oh I forgot, It's not constitutional to pray in our schools. (Before a tragedy)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:52 PM

matthew in nashville replied:

tell me, how is prayer going to stop an angry guy from killing little kids? how on bloody earth is it going to stop him? god hasn't done anything in a long time. i will strongly appose public school prayer if you try to institute it. unless of course, you wish for us atheists to go on the offensive much more aggressively for the removal of "in god we trust" on paper money, and "under god" in the pledge to allegiance.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:25 PM

Jared in Marysville said:

Some of you really, really need to get a life. If you actually went to a university. You would understand the majority of scientists actually believe that the realm of God is far beyond their thinking. They will tell you to go to Philosphy and talk to those professors. Even my logic teacher believes in God and while he leaves his religion and school and teaches what the State tells him. He knows many, many professors that believe in God. Atheists, your all backwards and fucking retarded for thinking science is on your side when its not. Its on sciences side and science only knows what science can prove. Not even theories.

Religious persons need to know that not every professor is against everybody and everything. I've had many discussions with my teachers about God. None of them were "He doesn't exist."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 2:08 AM

Jared in Winston Salem replied:

"If you actually went to a university. You would understand the majority of scientists actually believe that the realm of God is far beyond their thinking."

I've studied a field of science at 2 universities and I now work in that field in a third. I don't know of many scientists who would agree that science cannot inform our views about the possibility that there is a god. Philosophy professors on the other hand, I haven't known many, but at least one did believe in god. I guess that's something.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:25 PM

B Thompson in Fort Lauderdale, FL said:

Prager was doing reasonably well - actually, he wasn't. I just made that up - until he got to the part where, in his breathtaking arrogance, he could not resist telling Prager and her fellow atheists what they *should* have said to the parents of Sandy Hook. Someone should tell Mr Prager that he does not win an argument by putting words into the mouths of those whom he is rebutting - especially when using such a terrible event to illustrate his case.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 2:27 AM

B Thompson in Fort Lauderdale, FL replied:

Memo to self: Proof read before posting. That sentence should have read "he could not resist telling Jacoby and her fellow atheists"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 2:29 AM