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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Saturday, May 10, 2003

rave on

Over at USS Clueless Steven Den Beste, a committed "mechanistic/materialistic" atheist, has written a very sensible, well-reasoned and non-inflammatory piece on why atheism is a belief like any other, and why, just like any other, it cannot be proven. Den Beste is a breath of fresh air among the vitriolic anti-Christian rantings and ravings of dogmatic atheists who dominate on the Net - and I take my hat off to him. As if in anticipation of my description of the stereotypical atheist he takes as the starting point for his piece a “manifesto” from the blog of a most obnoxious, and all too familiar Internet Infidel, who styles himself as "the Raving Atheist". (No understatement there!) Den Beste then critiques and deconstructs this fellow's metaphysical assumptions. He makes a very useful distinction between "proof atheists" who contend that atheism can be proved to be true, and "belief atheists" who think that atheism is a belief. He is of the latter kind. He summarises his own position thus:

"In broad terms, some atheists claim that atheism is actually a scientific fact and can be proved, thus demonstrating that atheism is different from any other religious belief. They contend that atheism is true where all religious beliefs are false delusions. Other atheists, myself among them, know that it isn't possible to prove that there are no deities. It might be possible to prove that some particular deity with certain characteristics doesn't exist but it isn't possible to produce a blanket proof that there are no deities whatever."

I wonder if Mr Den Beste realises just how prevalent the former style of atheism is!

While we must agree to disagree - as mature adults should - as to what each of us has come to understand as the best picture - and explanation - of ultimate reality, I could not agree more with his conclusion in this matter - a theme I have expressed in various jottings of my own. Another wise atheist I came across on the web also candidly recognised this point: "atheism is about belief, not about knowledge". Yet, since the arrival of the mass medium of the Internet a lot of atheists have suddenly taken to claiming that they are “weak” atheists” (a rather unfortunate term); that their only distinguishing mark is that they are “without” or “lack” a belief in God or gods. Methinks they doth protest too much, but leaving aside that issue, on one level this assertion is obviously accurate. At a deeper level it is profoundly mistaken, in that most such weak atheists disparage religion, belief and faith as irrelevant, unscientific and unworthy of any modern rational human being. But the hard fact is: nobody is without beliefs; nobody lives without “faith”, nobody is without religious impulses, rumours of transcendence or metaphysical underpinnings. Everyone believes in something; everyone takes certain things “on faith”. Indeed so very much of what is most deeply and profoundly held to be "true" and "real" and "meaningful" to the individual human being are matters of faith and belief and not of "knowledge". "Just the facts, ma'am", is well and good in its place but human beings want and need more than mere facts in order to makes sense of their own existence and purpose. Whether this takes the form of some traditional religious belief system or some alternative spirituality, or whether it is subsumed totally under a veneer of secularity is very much beside the point. When the rubber meets the road we are all believers.

As Den Beste also sagely notes:
“I believe that I am not wrong. I have faith that the choice I've made is the right one. I can't convince you that I'm right, but I don't need to. I make no claim that the process by which I came to that conclusion is universal or overwhelmingly convincing to anyone except myself, but I'm the only one I need to convince. I have thought deeply about the issues and I believe I have the right answer…”

To which I can only add “Hear, hear”, or is it “Amen”? As I have often noted the only people who don’t have “faith” are dead… Of course that doesn’t resolve the problem of two people adamantly believing in two diametrically opposed and contradictory worldviews. One or the other may be in for a big surprise! But that’s the glory and the tragedy of humanity. We are free to make choices. According to the Judeo-Christian worldview the God of the universe allows people the right and privilege to choose whom they will or will not serve. Unlike the caricature God that bedevils and haunts dogmatists like the Raving Atheist, my God doesn’t force anyone to “believe” or “do” anything they don’t want to.

Den Beste then concludes: “…That's all that really matters.”

Is it? Here I will pause.
What we are not free to do is to avoid the ultimate consequences of our choices, a point I’m sure that Mr Den Beste would concur with. I must respect him when he comes to the considered opinion that the God I believe in does not exist. In this he is exercising his God-given privilege. Whether it is the right choice, is another matter, an important matter, perhaps the only thing that really matters.

7:04:00 pm