It wasn’t meant as a trick question. It just came up in conversation. I was talking with a lifelong friend who has started attending an Alpha Course. Like many in our modern, secular world he is open to the possibility that there might be a God but doesn’t see that there is enough evidence. Having faith in a God seems a step beyond reason, a leap in the dark. He is an atheist because he doesn’t think he can have the kind of faith that he sees in believing Christians …
So … you don’t have enough faith to believe in God — but you do have enough faith to be an atheist?
… I asked him. Meaning what?
Atheism is a faith with a set of beliefs
Is atheism really some kind of faith? Yes. Like any other faith it’s possible to identify atheism’s central beliefs. Granted there is some variance across atheist believers – like any other religion. And depending on who you talk to, some atheist believers are even “fundamentalists”, intolerant to any other worldview, and evangelistic in spreading their own beliefs — again like other religions. Here is what we could say is their basic creed:*
- The universe exists by chance
- Everything can be discovered by science
- Humans are the ultimate judge of all things – there is no final moral reckoning
- Any value or purpose of life can be worked out from the wisdom of mankind
- Nothing exists beyond this life – there is no ultimate source of trust in the universe
- There is no purpose or meaning to the universe (And it’s a silly question to ask anyway — see below)
- Human ideals are progress, tolerance, and individualism
….. that looks like a belief system to me. But not only that, secular atheism is pretty exclusive in its beliefs:
Atheism is a faith that claims there is only one kind of truth
If it’s not scientific it doesn’t count
The idea that we must answer all questions about our universe and our being by science alone is widespread. There’s even a name for it “Scientism” – which roughly means that all questions must be answered by scientific method, all truth must be amenable to science. Now science certainly is an excellent tool for understanding our world but it cannot answer a lot of questions we as humans have, like say … Why is there a universe at all? … What is the value of a human being? Richard Dawkins says these are “silly questions”, which is a cheap shot at saying there’s something wrong with you if you ask them.
Let’s look at another faith – the one that believes in God.
This faith takes on board not just science that emerges empirically from a lab, but ALL the evidence. As well as science, this faith takes on board historical evidence for the life of Jesus Christ and the reliability of the Bible (evidence which is a mile high compared with many historical events). This faith considers the facts of an empty tomb and the witness of early disciples who were transformed into starting a worldwide movement called the church. This faith takes seriously the notion that our universe is incredibly “fine-tuned” for life to an almost incomprehensible extent. And this faith takes into account peoples’ experiences over 2,000 years — people who convincingly claim their lives have been changed. This faith understands that there are other kinds of evidence and other kinds of truth besides scientific … there is spiritual, ethical and moral truth, there is experiential truth, truth as allegory and metaphor. There is literature, history, philosophy…. There is not just science.
Scientism in any case is self-defeating. Saying “it’s not scientific so ignore it” … is itself not scientific. There is no scientific theory that says “all answers must come from science”, no experiment that can prove “science must be your only worldview”. Surely the way to approach all questions is to say, I want to find out the truth – even if that that truth lies outside my narrow comfort-zone.
Atheism is a faith that doesn’t add up
John Lenox, Professor and Christian at Oxford points out something else: if your brain is the result of mindless, unguided processes – why would you even trust it?
To be sure, atheism is a belief system in many ways like any other. Yet when you say that to atheists it touches a raw nerve as I have found – but great discussions can result!**
Prof John Lenox again:
Atheists like to say that Christianity is a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the dark; I suggest that atheism is a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the light
I don’t have enough faith to believe that the universe is some kind of gigantic car-crash, a colossal accident that just happened to come about. I don’t have enough faith to believe that there was a big bang followed by an ordered world. It’s a step beyond reason, a leap in the dark. I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.
Next in our series The Atheism Thread: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist
*List mainly derived from Mission Under Scrutiny, Andrew Kirk
** See for example extended comment threads on a previous blog and also here.