I’ve met one honest atheist in my life.
As I recall, we sat at his dining room table when we got into a conversation about beliefs. He said to me, “Honestly, the theory of evolution as an origin of life explanation really doesn’t make a lot of sense.” In his view, there were too many variables, too many things to account for, and too many things that depended upon exactly the right set of circumstances to occur. In the end, it really came down to what you choose to put your faith in. He shrugged and said, “I choose to put my faith in science.”
When I have honest, non-charged conversations with atheists (and some agnostics), I find that it really boils down to two issues: the problem of evil and the answers of science. The answers they find in science trump the questions provoked by suffering in their mind. To be fair, I do not intend in this blog post to answer either of those questions. William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, to name two, do a fairly good job of articulating the concept of middle knowledge to such a degree that many professional philosophers and theologians have ceded that portion of the argument to them. At the popular level, the battle continues to wage; at the scholarly level, the generals have left the battlefield and fight to take a different hill.
My atheist friend recognized something that most atheists I encounter refuse to admit: that it will always come down to faith. I’ve never met anyone who has actually seen an atom. I believe atomic theory because one of my teachers, whom I trust, taught it to me. They told me to read a book that provided eyewitness testimony, narrative exposition, and speculative analogies. Between my reading and their explanation, I choose to believe in a world that runs on the interactions between tiny objects. Why? I trust my teachers, I’ve had experiences that validated their teachings, and those teachings fit my understanding of the universe and its inner workings. I have faith that these things I believe but cannot see correspond to the reality I experience and perceive.
I would say the same thing about my belief in God.
One can respond in many ways to the problem of evil and the answers of science. The essential answer comes down to this: you will never fully understand, now what will you trust? Let’s not kid ourselves here. If God appeared to us and gave a full, detailed explanation and answer to the problem of evil that answered all of our questions, one of several things would happen. (1) Some would assert that God was not worthy of worship since the explanation was too simple. (2) Others would explain the explanation away and reject it. (3) The true believers would still believe. The problem is not one of questions, it’s a problem of trust. The problem is not one of choice, it’s a problem of trust.
Will you trust what you do not understand?