My recent encounters with atheists on this blog have got me thinking again about what atheism is. I write from the perspective of an ex-atheist. From the age of 18 to 23 I called myself an atheist and even joined a Marxist party for a few months. This post is a refection on the limits of my knowledge at that time.
Atheism is the belief that there is no God. This belief is founded on a rejection of claims by theists to know that God exists and a lack of (empirical) evidence. Are these sufficient grounds to be an atheist?
Theistic knowledge is not empirical but revealed. Therefore, my knowledge as a Christian believer is based on the self revelation of God in the bible and creation. I presuppose that a creator God can speak to his creation using the language he created and that the bible proves to be a consistent and reliable record of this revelation. The 39 articles of the Church of England state:
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
Knowledge can, therefore, be represented diagrammatically:
The atheists says “I reject revealed knowledge and have found no empirical evidence for the existence of God therefore God does not exist.” The atheist must assume that he has sufficient knowledge to make his claim.
The problem with atheism is that we don’t know how much we don’t know. If the atheist presupposes that reliable knowledge is empirical then there are a number of questions he must ask about his supposition:
- Is the empirical method the only means available for detecting the existence of God?
- Is it possible that a creator God might have made a universe where his presence is undetectable using empirical means?
- Have all empirical means of detecting God been discovered and the limits of the known universe and its history explored?
- If the fingerprints of a creator God might be discovered empirically how would I know what those fingerprints would look like? If I can’t see them is it because they are not there or because I am looking for the wrong sort of fingerprints?
That’s probably enough questions to demonstrate that the suppositions of atheism require a giant leap of faith. The sum of human knowledge is insufficient as a means for determining the existence or otherwise of a creator God. The atheistic, scientific, empirical search for the non-existence of God is a project which is doomed to fail because no matter how much we know, we will never know how much we don’t know.
Job 38:1-4 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.