Atheism/Atheist

There are many people who do not believe in God. For some the rejection of belief in a divine hand in human affairs is called for by the findings of science. Stegner, for instance, writes that "a belief in God can no longer be defended on rational or empirical grounds" and argues that "the scientific worldview has rendered obsolete the traditional beliefs held by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam."

Other atheists, however, found their point of view not so much in scientific findings as in the convictions that (1) “God” is an idea made up by humans in order to put humans at the center of reality, or to feel better about death, or to make sense of the world in which the find themselves; and (2) that the idea of God is not necessary or even helpful. Even if someone with a white beard made the world, does all that power make “him” (her? it?) right about anything at all? Don’t we still have to decide what is right and what is best? “God” seems like an excuse not to think or take responsibility.

Some atheists go so far as to argue that religion causes great harm in the world, some saying that the world’s “great” religions are really systems of power and control (“Join the church and follow me,” said the first shaman, charismatic leader, or priest who seized the opportunity to turn folk fables into an institution of power and indoctrination).  Once institutionalized, say these atheists, religious systems teach typically followers to accept the existing economic and political systems of power and control, thanks to talk of an afterlife where the weak get rewarded, or of the beauty and justice of God’s plan for each of us, and so on.

There are of course plenty of critics of atheism. David Aikman, for example, argues that atheism has "caused social problems throughout the world" - and is currently involved in an "assault on faith."

For some defenders of faith this assault on God has at its center false claims that science supports atheistic conclusions. Religious voices on that subject are, they say, minimized, ignored, or labeled fanatic. According to this view, there is abundant room for religious faith within a scientific outlook - including ideas about how the world was created. And sure enough many, many scientists are also believers and see no incompatibility.

Some defenders of faith, moreover, argue thatatheism isn’t just wrong but also supports immorality, an anything-goes approach to right and wrong, moral relativism, and (for some) despair and suicide.

Despite the intense differences, dialogue between atheists and theists can be surprisingly productive.  Summarizing his feelings after years of conversation with an atheist friend documented in Purple State of Mind, one man expressed hope that "people of faith come away with a much deeper appreciation of the thoughtfulness of skeptics...Atheists and agnostics aren’t necessarily dismissing God in a casual or offhand way. These are thoughtful people wrestling with life’s biggest issues”(Kant-Rauch, Tallahassee Democrat). One television encounter between a leading Christian scholar of the Resurrection and a well-known philosophical atheist also turned into a book (Resurrected?: An Atheist and Theist Dialogue).

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

-Have you ever participated in a productive conversation with a believer or non-believer (depending on your standpoint?)

-Does the word “atheist” have positive or negative connotations to you? What would you say is behind your answer – or others’ answers to this question?

Conversation Catalysts: 

The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason
Victor J. Stenger (2002)

The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the New Atheism is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness
David Aikman (2008)

Purple State of Mind
Jon Marks, Craig Detweiler (2007) (Documentary)

Resurrected?: An Atheist and Theist Dialogue
Gary R. Habermas & Antony G. N. (2005)
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

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