A Question for Atheists

In 2012, a Gallup International poll found that 12% of global respondents identify as “convinced atheists.” In China, the figure is 47%, followed by Japan at 31% and France at 29%. In the United States, self-identified atheists have risen from 1% in 2005 to 5% in 2012. While this is still a very small figure, atheism predominates in certain metropolitan areas and career fields. A friend of mine living in Seattle recently expressed her frustration over the intolerance of the secular Left: “Up there, people think you’re an idiot if you believe in God.”

Make no mistake, even the historically religious United States is becoming increasingly atheistic. Since 2005, America has seen best-sellers on atheism by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and others. Religion is routinely mocked on social media and television, while atheism is portrayed as mature, rational, and tolerant.

America’s religious divide is also generational. Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are the least religious demographic in America, and they are bucking past trends by becoming less religious as they age. Even writing from the Bible Belt, I have observed signs of a rising atheism amongst my high school students. A couple years ago, I was surprised when nine or ten students in a single class decided, unprovoked, to proclaim their atheism (I would never question students about their personal religious beliefs; we happened to be discussing the role of religion in early societies). Their line of reasoning went something like this: “Religion is great for people who find comfort in all that ‘God’ stuff, but as an educated person, I know better.”

Which leads to my question for atheists: where do you get your faith?

I understand people who believe in God, but have been turned off by organized religion. Periodic scandals, perceptions of moral hypocrisy, and revulsion over past misdeeds may be enough to discourage potential followers. On the other hand, a culture steeped in secularism or just general apathy might prevent someone from going to church, though they still believe in God and even pray on occasion. These are the unaffiliated believers, and their position (though not one I would endorse) makes a certain sense. It offers a starting point, at least, from which to move towards a deeper encounter with God.

I also understand people who feel that we humans simply cannot reach definitive conclusions regarding the divine, including some agnostics. Catholicism teaches that the exact nature of God is a mystery beyond humanity’s power to fully comprehend. The Trinity and the Incarnation cannot be rationalized without losing an essential part of their Truth. This makes some people uncomfortable, and they would rather not even attempt to understand something beyond the limits of human reason.

But to look out at creation and proclaim: “I know there is no Creator!” is beyond me. How do you know?

Imagine that I were to place a sealed up cardboard box in front of you and ask you what was inside it. You could shake, smell, and feel the box, but not open it.

If you were to hear clucking and the flutter of feathers, you would rationally suspect that the box contained a chicken. Even if no noises were to come from the box, you would be unable to rule out the possibility that it contained something very light or inanimate.

An atheist is someone who looks at the box and confidently proclaims: “There is nothing inside that box!”

Really? How do you know?

Merriam-Webster defines atheism as “a disbelief in the existence of divinity” or “the doctrine that there is no deity.” Both positions contradict logic and experience, but the latter is just absurd. How can one ever be 100% convinced that God does not exist?

Here’s another popular thought experiment. Imagine the world is made up of little cardboard boxes. You open the first to discover a red ball. You open the second and find another red ball. This goes on for hundreds and even thousands of boxes—all contain red balls. Just as you are about to open the millionth box, I ask you what it contains. “A red ball,” would be your likely answer. But what if the millionth box contains a white ball? You have no way of knowing until you open it.

Atheism is thus unscientific. It presupposes not only that mankind has never discovered support for the existence of a Creator, but that it will never discover evidence of a Higher Power at any point in the future. In fact, much of science already points to the existence of God. The most persuasive of these arguments is the sheer improbability of life in the universe. Scientists used to believe that the only necessary conditions for a planet to support life were size and distance from a star of sufficient warmth. But they have since discovered a multitude of other conditions, the absence of any one of which would render life on Earth impossible. It’s almost as if Earth was designed for life.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of the universe. The Big Bang theory supports the idea of a Creator by positing that all matter originated from a single point. In fact, if one little thing had gone differently at the moment of the Big Bang, none of the elements would have been able to form.

Atheists cannot explain the origin of life. They would rather believe that life originated from an improbably lucky accident or outer space (which, if so, how did it get there?) than entertain the possibility of a creator God.

Ironically, atheism is not without its crowned saint – Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution has long been atheism’s best argument or most cherished dogma, depending on your point of view. Never mind that atheists cannot explain how the universe or life originated; they claim to know that human life evolved from the most basic single-celled organism over millions of years by pure chance.

While persuasive on some level, this argument still has several holes. We can observe natural selection at work, or the process by which a species better adapts to its environment. But, to use the classic example, the fact that more black moths survived to reproduce that white moths in industrial Britain does not in any way refute the existence of God. What we have never observed is a species becoming another species. Currently the best theory as to the mechanism of evolution on a macro scale is random genetic mutation. But this explanation cannot account for the fact that most genetic mutations are harmful and/or can’t be passed on to offspring. The theory of Intelligent Design seems a persuasive alternative to me, but to many atheists this position is no better than Creationism; to be taken seriously, one must deny any role for God at the outset.

So what explains atheism’s appeal, especially among the young, urban, and educated?

My guess is that some people are just confused. They would like to believe in God, but falsely believe God has been disproved by science. Others are apathetic; they just don’t care. But for others, atheism fits nicely into their secular worldview. If there is no God, then I get to be my own god. If I was made not by a Creator, but by a series of lucky mutations, then there is nothing to keep me from remaking myself in the image of my choosing. I get to set my own rules, unconstrained by divine teaching or natural limits. Furthermore, I get the elitist’s satisfaction of believing myself superior to the ignorant masses, along with the occasional chuckle at their expense.

Atheists like to point to all the wars that have been fought over religion, but they ignore the far greater number that have been fought over just this sort of hubris, including the worst tragedies of the 20th century. The Nazis and the Soviets both rejected God, whether explicitly or implicitly, and decided to take human evolution into their own hands. They sought to remake not just society but mankind himself, with disastrous consequences. In the case of the Nazis, they even quoted Darwin in the process.

This is not to say that atheists are bad people—far from it. There can be and have been many good atheists or agnostics, just as there have been religious people who nevertheless committed heinous crimes. To worship is natural, and so is to doubt. But to categorically deny the existence of a Creator is unscientific, and atheism requires far greater faith than Christianity. My question once again for atheists is: where do you get your faith?

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14 thoughts on “A Question for Atheists

  1. I know quite a few of the new millennial atheists, some of them are near and dear. I’ve known them all of their lives and they aren’t atheists but apostate. They know better but they want to live immoral lives and it’s easier to convince themselves there is no God than to contemplate Judgment Day. I’m speaking about young people in America who grew up in Christian homes. I don’t think the same applies to everyone.

  2. I have a difficult time accepting the general “existence as proof of god” line of reasoning. The fact that we exist is not proof that there is a god creator, and subsequently believing as such is more self serving, and a confirmatory bias, than actual proof or evidence of a deity. There’s nothing scientific about the notion of god, and the problem here lies in how we operationally define circumstances, and the quantifiable variables that are being studied.

    For example, we know, without doubt, that the reason bubbles are created on the bottom of a pot of water as it heats up, is because the surface temperature of the bottom of the pot is slightly higher than that of the overall body of water. We know that heat is measurable, therefore mathematical. God is neither mathematical, measurable, or even tangible.

    The probability of life in the rest of the universe, red balls, white balls, and the proposed thought experiments do not lend support for the existence of god, or even the lack of a god – which is my overall criticism of your article.

    • Thanks for your comment. My point is, both Christianity and atheism require “faith” to the extent that neither can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt like your boiling water example. God either exists or He does not. We were either created by a Higher Power or we evolved by a series of improbably lucky events. Based on the available science, I find the former scenario more probable. While you may remain unconvinced, it is important to understand that modern science has not “disproved” the existence of God.

  3. Atheism doesn’t require faith like Christianity or other religions do. When I tell people I don’t believe in deities, it’s based on reasonable certainty, not absolute certainty. That certainty is based on observations, examination of accounts of others, experiences, and evidence offered in support of and against the proposition that deities exist.

    Reasonable certainty is like knowing what color the sky is without having to check it every time. It’s like being able to conclude that it’s raining outside when someone comes in soaking wet and carrying an umbrella. So, if it’s faith that atheists have, then it’s also faith any and every time anyone exercises his or her reason.

      • That’s a pretty big question, and a complete and thorough answer on my part would probably not fit into a comment box. A brief example would be the evidence of God through answered prayers. Some people believe that God has answered prayers in miraculous or mundane ways.

        These experiences are described in ways that don’t exclude other reasonable explanations (like when people claim prayer helped their favorite sports team win a game instead of the team playing well). Sometimes they’re a bit frivolous (like when someone prays to find out which pizza restaurant to order from). Other times, there is simply not enough evidence to know what happened (like when someone prays before almost drowning, only to be washed up on a beach). There even have been fabrications of answered prayer (like some end-of-times preachers use to declare when the end of the world will be).

        I’m providing these examples to suggest that one can conclude that prayer doesn’t do anything except maybe provide some temporary relief. While it doesn’t encompass every reason why I don’t believe in deities, it’s certainly one part of it.

      • Just because not all prayers are answered (as in, people don’t get everything they ask for) is not proof that God does not exist. In my life, there have been times when I know I should have died, but didn’t. The best example I can give you is my two year old son. He was born with transposition of the great arteries, and it was 12 hours before he was able to get the emergency surgery to keep him alive until he could have open heart. All the experts agreed he should have died. I am not exaggerating when I say that over a thousand people prayed for my son. He didn’t just survive, he is the healthiest, smartest little boy you could ask for (albeit a little wild sometimes!) No, I can’t prove it beyond a doubt, but I believe that prayer, along with the wonders of modern medicine, gave me my son back.

  4. “But to look out at creation and proclaim: “I know there is no Creator!” is beyond me. How do you know?”

    FPP, in that you mean your version of the Christian god when you say “Creator”, can you tell me how you know this entity created the universe and not some other god?

    Can you also show me that here is any more reason to believe that your god is eternal and has always been around and not to believe the same about the laws of physics?

    Now, I do know that there is no evidence for any of the essential events of the bible you claim is true. Your god is defined in a certain way and there is no evidence for this god. You may retreat to a vague divinity to avoid answering questions, but that isn’t the god that Christians (I was one) claim to worship.

  5. Pingback: A Question for Atheists - Random musings, rambling opinions

  6. “Faith”
    Faith? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montehighes and thee.
    “Faith” is the closed-minded pig-headed absolute refusal to look at evidence lest God punish you for having a brain. “Faith” is BEYOND stupid. Ignorance is the neutral point between intelligence and faith. Faith is anti-intelligence.

    Also your Schrogingeresque straw man is way off. We are skeptics, first and foremost. We never jump to ANY conclusions. We look at evidence, get as much information as we can, then, if we are unable to completely rule out the impossible like Sherlock Holms would, then we go with Occam’s Razor.

    The box has either a chicken or a toy chicken.

    Oh and Webster is wrong. It’s a lack of belief in a god or gods.

    For the 2nd strawman; why the fuck would you stop at the last box? That makes no sense!

    You third straw man; WRONG! We pre-suppose NOTHING. Maybe you’re thinking of agnosticism, I’ve heard agnosticism described as the belief that God was “unknowable”. I disagree entirely but I have heard that. Atheism is nothing but scientific you moron! We believe in Science, you don’t.

    And… You really think life in the Universe is ‘improbable”? Dude, considdering the sheer number of stars and planets, it’s actually UNlikely that’ll those planets would have missed the spots where they could develop life.

    And again, we don’t know what was before the Big Bang, but I’m going with Occam’s Razor and rule out magic pixies.

    And are you kidding? We have absolutely observed Natural Selection! We FORCED them to do it! You might as well be saying “white man has never observed cotton being picked” and you’d be way off for the exact same reason.
    “We have never observed a species become another species” Yes we have. It’s called speciation.
    And… Are you under the impression that when genes mutate, it somehow knows which mutations will be beneficial and which will not before they actually manifest, and somehow magically choose only bad mutations? And even if that was the case, if a mutant was detrimental but still managed to breed, How the fuck is A GENETIC MUTATION not passed on? It’s DNA! How the hell do you think DNA works? Also, a given mutation might be good in some situations, bad in others, and neutral in still others. How is the DNA supposed to know that before it manifests?

    NOPE! Nope! Nope! “Got Mit Uns” was written on all their belt buckles. Hitler HATED us. He burned the Origin of Species. Think about it, why would Atheists have an ancient grudge against people for supposedly killing someone else’s cult leader?

    • Well, looks like I really struck a nerve there. Let me attempt to respond to your objections.

      First, I disagree with your definition of faith. Faith is not blind. It is not reason’s opposite. Getting on an airplane requires faith, even though it can be scientifically proven that the plane will stay airborne. Crossing a bridge requires faith, even when the engineer swears it will hold. Reason actually leads to faith, as reason tells us that we are not completely in control of things. What allows us to act at all in the face of such uncertainty? In a word, faith.

      The reason I bring up the example of the boxes is simply to demonstrate that it is nearly impossible to prove a negative, in this case to prove that God does not exist. If one leaves the door open even a crack to the existence of God and admits that one cannot know conclusively that He does not exist, then that to me would be agnosticism – a fairly rational stance of unbelief – not atheism.

      The improbability of life on this planet or any has been scientifically demonstrated. Also, reason tells us that everything has a cause. If you follow this regression, then there must be a first cause, an uncaused cause, basically a Creator. This is Occam’s Razor. The theory of evolution has never been “proven.” Some evidence supports it, other evidence contradicts it. What’s undeniable is that the theory of evolution was used to justify Social Darwinism and scientific racism, which contributed to eugenics and genocide.

      Let me leave you with a few quotes:

      “The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Isaac Newton

      “Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but both look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.” Physicist Freeman Dyson

  7. Pingback: Responding to Christian Reason | a small person

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