Atheism has become a serious, contemporary world view. Advocated by high-profile communicators, such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, atheism is being feted as the intellectually rigorous and emotionally fulfilling science-based position urgently needed for prosperous and peaceful world community. As to its core position, atheism holds that there is such little chance of a supernatural ‘God’ existing, in any older conventional sense, that it is more mature to reject all theistic beliefs. In the heel of the hunt, what was once scorned has become credible.
A mature grasp
There is little doubt that many people desire a new outlook on life, a key to open a mature grasp on the mystery of the universe. And with all of the unseemly conflict in the religious arena, many see atheism as both scientifically and socially credible, able to offer a huge relief from innumerable religious taboos. In a word, atheism brings relief, but not anymore at such a cost. This was well-known to academics in a previous generation, as Sir Julian Huxley describes, ‘For my own part, the sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a supernatural being is enormous.’1 There you have it – enormous relief.
So, there is little doubt that one of the main reasons why people become atheists is to gain this huge sense of relief from oppression that was heightened and intensified in religious meetings and church services. And while Huxley calls the relief he gained ‘spiritual,’ he is clearly referring to mental or psychological relief – the sudden removal of a heavy load or burden.
Any analysis of the rise of contemporary atheism will probably see how a close link with a scientific world view and working to make one synonymous with the other, have sustained this rise. And while ‘atheistic science’ seems a little forced, some may argue that it is intrinsic to the nature of atheism. But certainly the rise of neo-Darwinian evolutionary science has boosted the confidence of atheists. And while Charles Darwin was more of a nineteenth century agnostic rather than a confident atheist, there is no doubt that his theory of biological evolution laid a foundation for an atheistic view of the emergence of life in the cosmos that does not need to resort to explanations of a supreme Designer or Creator.
New world view
With this much said, what I find very interesting is that the relief that came over Huxley when he rejected ‘the idea of God as a supernatural being’ was an experience based on his changed thinking, rather than on any ultimate, objective discovery. It’s almost as if he decided to conduct a thought experiment; reject an idea and believe the result! On that basis, atheism appears to be the ultimate philosophy of convenience; the old way of escaping moral accountability. Although Huxley himself was also not an avowed atheist, more an agnostic moving towards atheism perhaps, some of his thinking has influenced people like Richard Dawkins. But taking a wider look at atheism, is there any meaningful evidence that demonstrates the non-existence of the living God, as self-disclosed in Scripture, coming from atheistic literature or debate? No, atheism is built on a priori assumptions that the advocates are fully entitled to call ‘science,’ if they wish, as long as we keep in mind that such ‘science’ is an ideology sustained by a philosophical belief – naturalism.
Yes, I have no problem in agreeing that our natural human thinking usually finds it agreeable to deny any personal accountability to a Creator. But, at the same time, it strikes me as inconsistent how we also enjoy such wonderful things as, personality, creativity, excitement and curiosity, family and friends, culture – the arts, music and literature, work and leisure, the delights of birdsong, rippling waves and sunsets, colour, shape and movement. Without such things being given by the Personal giver of all things, there would be nothing but utter meaninglessness. Personally, I don’t call that ‘relief.’
Reason to believe
The historic Christian position holds that the central truths of Scripture reveal the character and purpose of the personal, living God: a purpose that following mankind’s fall into open moral rebellion, focuses on reconciling people to God through the saving work of Christ. These central truths are as relevant as ever: revealed by the God of grace and mercy who, ‘has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world’ (New Testament, Hebrews 1: 2).
With this revelation, we have a foundation for the validity of reason, a true explanation of our spoiled and flawed world, and one wonderful remedy, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So, is atheism a valid world view? It’s certainly not new; people have been trying it for thousands of years! But, without a final reference frame, provided by biblical theism – the objective validity of human reason in an amazingly understandable universe – that atheism on its own terms is unable to give, I don’t believe you can come to rational conclusions about anything!