In The Atlantic, Crispin Sartwell writes refreshingly about his atheism as a faith position.
Atheism embodies a whole picture of the world, offering explanations about its most general organization to the character of individual events.
Ironically, this is similar to the totalizing worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique. Whether theistic or atheistic, they are all matters of faith, stances taken up by tiny creatures in an infinitely rich environment.
It seems to me that both atheists and Christians need to recognise this truth. The Dawkins-style New Atheists are such logical positivists that they shift the whole argument onto an extremely rationalistic footing. They decry “Faith Heads” as fleeing all rationality and define faith as “belief in the absence of evidence.”
In response, many Christians spend their time correcting this false view of faith (and it is false). But all of a sudden the Christian position becomes an insistence that faith is belief because of evidence. The trouble is, it’s not evidence in general that calls forth faith. In the Bible it is ‘the Word’, ‘the gospel’, ‘the grace of God’, ‘the preaching of the cross’ that causes faith. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. You can call that “evidence” if you like but I think both the Christian and the atheist have good reasons to dislike that equation!
Rather than insist that Christianity is also evidence-based, I think it’s much more fruitful to show that atheism is also a faith position. This article does a great job of that – do read it.
What fascinated me was Sartwell’s conclusion. He gives reasons for his ‘faith position’ – the suffering of the world:
Genuinely bad things have happened to me in my life: One of my brothers was murdered; another committed suicide. I’ve experienced addiction and mental illness. And I, like you, have watched horrors unfold all over the globe. I don’t—I can’t—believe this to be best of all possible worlds. I think there is genuinely unredeemed, pointless pain. Some of it is mine.
By not believing in God, I keep faith with the world’s indifference. I love its beauty. I hate its suffering. I think both are perfectly real, because I experience them both, all the time. I do not see any reason to suspend judgment: I’m here, and I commit. I’m perfectly sincere and definite in my belief that there is no God. I can see that there could be comfort in believing otherwise, believing that all the suffering and death makes sense, that everyone gets what they deserve, and that existence works out in the end.
But to believe that would be to betray my actual experiences, and even without the aid of reasoned arguments, that’s reason enough not to believe.
I’d love to chat with Crispin because it seems to me that belief in the evil of evil is a great reason to be a Christian. It’s the Christian who can love beauty, hate suffering and think of those things as “perfectly real.” It seems to me that the materialist account of the world does not see beauty and suffering as “perfectly real”. I write about this in my upcoming book 321 – check out the pre-order page here.
Why are we outraged by evil and suffering? We are outraged. We should be outraged. But why? This question is easy to answer for the Christian but difficult for the atheist. Remember what Dawkins said: ‘at bottom … [there is] no evil, no good.’ For him evil and good are surface-level experiences, not deeply connected to the way things actually are. The nastiness of this world might be unpleasant, painful, grotesque or maladapted to survival. But if, at bottom, there is no evil and no good, then for Dawkins those things are not wrong – not on the deepest level.
Yet when we experience the horrors of this world, we experience them as evil; we feel that they should not be; we cry out for a solution, for justice; and we grieve them as realities that don’t belong. Therefore, even as suffering strikes, the Christian view is not disproved but upheld. For the Christian, evil can never be ‘one of those things’. It is a profound violation of the way life ought to be.
When Christians say ‘God is love’, they don’t then conclude that ‘everything is lovely’. It’s not. But the God of love makes sense of our outrage at everything that is unlovely. He gives us the right to call a bad world ‘bad’. There is much more to be said about suffering in chapters 4 and 8, but for now the point is simply this: the God of Jesus helps us to understand our experience of both good and evil. This God allows us to make sense of the goodness of good and the evil of evil.
Check out Sartwell’s article here
Check out 3-2-1 here