Tag Archives: atheism

Faith Matters

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?

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On Religion and Ignorance

I stumble across atheist rants every now and then, denouncing the evils of religion. Usually I smile in vague amusement and move on, but lately, something about the atheist anti-religious meta-narrative has bothered me. It took me a while to see it, but I think I’ve finally figured out what, exactly, has stuck in my craw.

The meta-narrative goes something like this: (1) those who practice religion/believe in a higher power are uneducated nut-jobs looking for a crutch to get themselves through life, (2) religion has brought nothing but pain and misery to the world, and (3) rational thinking would force people away from ritualistic reliance on revelation; reason should rule the roost (forgive my alliterative indulgence here). Therefore, we should divest ourselves of the fetters of religiosity and embrace the freedom of rationalism.

In short, theism breeds ignorance, but atheism brings enlightenment.

If you pay any attention to history, you probably spot several of the flaws in this line of thinking. To acknowledge the meta-narrative (and by “meta-narrative” I mean “bigger story being told”) truth, the commitment to a particular faith or value system has, at times, choked the pure exploration of knowledge for its own sake. The meta-narrative will point to the story of Galileo for an example of this. In one version of this tale, the evil religious establishment (the Roman Catholic Church) suppresses the truth of the valiant defender of science and truth, against all reasonable observation. Another version of this tale exists: that Galileo, having previously been wrong about the nature of comets while writing in support of the pope, pushed his agenda of changing the nature of scientific inquiry too far by invoking some hot-button political issues of his day. Galileo, in one of his salvos, actually argued against some of the greatest scientific minds of the timeā€”the Jesuits.

In other words, Galileo thought he was right (although it turns out he was wrong about several things, such as the nature of the tides and circular orbits), and made a rhetorical argument that skewered one of the most powerful religious and political rulers of his day (the pope). That ruler responded with brute force, crushing any chance Galileo had of actually dealing with the scientific issues he’d attempted to address.

I will grant you that the pope was wrong in using the church as an instrument to enforce his will. As a dyed-in-the-wool American protestant christian, I have the same objections to the behavior of some of the pope’s and their ties to (and abuse of) political power as many atheists. I suggest, in contrast to the meta-narrative, that the problem with this is not an issue of religion, but rather an issue of people with power. When you look over history, I believe the more accurate story is not the one which speaks of religions suppression, but rather the story of an engine of economics driving the tools and institutions of power (most often centered in organized religion) to carry out the will of a few. For example, I encourage you to reconsider the actions of Urban VIII in light of the debt and dissension he dealt with at the time of the Galileo affair.

Maybe there’s some truth to the idea of money and evil.

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