Nineteenth-century novelist Gustave Flaubert used to joke about archaeologists discovering a stone tablet signed "God" and reading, "I do not exist." His punch line had an atheist then exclaiming, "See! I told you so!"
These days, nothing stops atheistic caissons from rolling along the bookstore aisles. Maybe that's because atheists on average have small families and lots of discretionary doubloons jingling in their pockets. Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" and Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" were big best sellers during 2006. Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great" has ascended this year.
All three books are ferocious. Here, for example, is Dawkins' view of God: "arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
Concerning "The God Delusion," even Publishers Weekly noted, "For a scientist who criticizes religion for its intolerance, Dawkins has written a surprisingly intolerant book, full of scorn for religion and those who believe. Even confirmed atheists who agree with his advocacy of science and vigorous rationalism may have trouble stomaching some of the rhetoric: the biblical Yahweh is 'psychotic,' Aquinas's proofs of God's existence are 'fatuous' and religion generally is 'nonsense.'"
Harris also prefers exclamatory words such as "preposterous" to either reason or evidence. He asserts certainty about what he admits not knowing: "How the process of evolution got started is still a mystery, but that does not in the least suggest that a deity is likely to be lurking at the bottom of it all." He complains not only about ignorance but about moral failings: "An average Christian, in an average church, listening to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse."
Yet Harris, for all his attacks on Intelligent Design, does not even understand the distinction between macro-evolution -- one kind of creature changing into another -- and micro-evolution. One of his proofs of theistic obtuseness is that "viruses like HIV, as well as a wide range of harmful bacteria, can be seen evolving right under our noses, developing resistance to antiviral and antibiotic drugs." No one claims that viruses don't evolve; the debate is whether they turn into something else.