In the spirit of mutual correction, let’s examine three bad attitudes atheists sometimes bring to the debate over the existence of God.
Bad Atheistic Attitude #1:
“All religion contradicts science.”
Certainly, there are some religious beliefs that contradict science. Some Hindu creationists think modern human beings have existed for billions of years, while some Christian creationists think modern humans are only 6,000 years old. Both of these estimates are far off the mainstream scientific view.
Belief in a God who carefully made the world and watches over it is one of the reasons Christians have desired to explore how the world works through the natural sciences. If the world had no intrinsic order or design, then trying to explain how it works would be like trying to assemble a puzzle that was the result of an exploding toy factory. There would be no guarantee that rational explanations could even be discovered.
The Catholic Church teaches that the first chapters of the book of Genesis are primarily concerned with expressing theological truths, like that God created the world and man’s immortal soul, and not scientific truths about the earth’s physical history.4 As Cardinal Caesar Baronius is reported to have said, “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
Bad Atheistic Attitude #2:
“Religion is just a product of geography.”
Some atheists say that if you were born in India, you would be a Hindu, but since you were born in America, you are probably a Christian. Therefore, your religion has little to do with objective truth and depends only on where and when you were born. But just because someone is born in a place where they fail to discover the right answer about life’s important questions does not mean there is no right answer. This goes for any kind of truth claim.
For all of our political, scientific, and ethical beliefs we would say that even if other people disagree with them, and do not live in places that teach these beliefs as truths, that does not mean these beliefs are false. We can put forward rational arguments to defend these beliefs and then say that those other cultures who disagree are simply mistaken. If we can do this for disputed scientific, political, and ethical beliefs, then why not say we can put forward rational arguments for religious beliefs that are not universally believed but are nonetheless true?
Bad Atheistic Attitude #3:
“All religion is a ‘God of the gaps’ fallacy.”
If our argument for God is that he explains what is currently unexplainable in the universe, then once science does explain a mystery (whether it’s the cause of lightning or the complexity in the human cell), then it will have erased part of our evidence for God. As the Lutheran pastor and Holocaust victim Dietrich Bonheoffer once wrote,
“[H]ow wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat.”
However, atheists should not presume that “gaps” are the only evidence a theist can muster. Thephilosophical arguments from necessity, first cause, design, and morality don’t start from what we don’t know and say, “God must have done it.” Instead, they start from what we do know and conclude that God is the best explanation for certain features of the universe we observe.
An atheist may claim at this point that the theist is saying, “I don’t know how the universe was caused to exist, therefore God did it” and thus is still committing the God-of-the-gaps fallacy. However, the theist doesn’t reason this way. Instead, he reasons about what it means to be a “cause of the universe” and arrives at the conclusion that a being like God is the best answer.